Monday, October 05, 2015

What the laws of nature tell us

“But, don’t you see,” said I, “that science never could show anything of the sort?”

“Why on earth not?”

“Because science studies Nature. And the question is whether anything besides Nature exists—anything ‘outside.’ How could you find that out by studying simply Nature?”

--C. S. Lewis

Natural laws only tell you what will happen as long as there is no interference in the system from the outside. Furthermore, those laws can’t tell you if such interference is going to occur.

Here. 

105 comments:

Luke said...

I actually don't think this is a good way to communicate this idea. Instead, I would talk about two ways of dealing with reality:

     (1) bottom-up, generative models
     (2) top-down, comprehensive claims

One way to think of (1) is to consider what can, and cannot, be built with an infinite supply of ten different types of Lego blocks. Suppose that I omitted axles. There would be a great number of things I could not build. Some things, I could jerry-rig with other components, but it would be iffy. Other things I could build just fine. The question, of course, would be whether my given set of Lego blocks can build everything which needs building. Or, does one's generative model well-describe all of reality?

On the other hand, (2) explicitly attempts to talk about "all that exists". For example: reality is all a dream, or there is a dualism of good vs. evil, or there is a dualism of matter vs. spirit. I wouldn't even restrict (2) to a univocal metaphysics.

The big error, it seems to me, is thinking that one has done (1) and (2) at the same time, that one's (1) and (2) mesh together flawlessly, or "flawlessly – ε". For the uninitiated, the concept of "ε" is used in mathematics as an very small number (sometimes infinitesimal); one way to think of it is that if a given estimate is "within ε"—that is it gets the correct answer ± ε—then it's good enough. I find plenty of internet atheists who I would characterize as thinking their conception of reality is "correct to within ε"†.

A major benefit of this approach, at least on first and second blush, is that it need not entail that God breaks laws he made. It need not entail that God ever "interferes". (God is still welcome to act, to heal, to redeem, to create more, etc. But this need not constitute "interference".)

By the way, my analogy of Lego blocks possibly excludes a major category: the matter of how one infers/​presumes causation itself is widely contested in philosophy. See, for example, Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles. So this beast, this set of 'laws of nature', is far from well-defined itself. That some areas of fundamental physics question causation itself (or transitioned from 'prescriptive' → 'descriptive') is something I would like to see explored more deeply.

† A more sophisticated breed will say that their conception of reality is correct up to but excluding a being like God (or, analogically, Being itself). It's not yet clear to me how this materially differs from what I describe as "correct to within ε".

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Natural laws only tell you what will happen as long as there is no interference in the system from the outside. Furthermore, those laws can’t tell you if such interference is going to occur."

Why single out natural laws? All other things suffer from the same deficiency -- nothing can tell us if there is anything outside our "system."

I will repeat this: nothing can tell us if there is something outside our system.

This objection to natural laws is like saying, "Do you know what I can't stand about math class? It doesn't provide us with endless, unlimited power."

Victor Reppert said...

I don't know if it's an objection to natural laws.

It looks as if skeptics have a couple of different lines they can take with respect to miracles. One is to say that, sure, there could be evidence for activity by God, but no one has actually produced real evidence. The second is to say that the apparatus we are stuck with using when we look for evidence makes it the case that we can't consider even the possibility of the miraculous.

But consider this analogy. Laws in the State of Arizona are written by the State Legislature and signed by the governor, etc. but their status as law can be overridden by the action of the federal government. Thus, a state may pass a marriage law that says that only opposite-sex couples can be given marriage licenses, but that can be overridden by action by the US Supreme Court. (Of course, some might be offended by my using Obergfell as a metaphor for God's miraculous activity, but what the heck).

Luke said...

This way of talking about laws makes the matter extremely empirically distant, though. I think there are more productive ways. For example, bring in the concept of Ceteris Paribus Laws, especially as developed by Nancy Cartwright (see for example her How the Laws of Physics Lie). I am told one of her major focuses these days is on what one might call the "extrapolation problem": how do I say what is true of elsewhere, given what I know is true here? Philosophically, this attitude is at great odds with the spirit of those who saw the laws of nature as a timeless, omnipresent, prescriptive force.

I would also reference the works of two Nobel laureates: Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down and Ilya Prigogine's The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature. Both of them challenged the current conception of the 'laws of nature', not just with philosophy but solid science. A slightly more odd, but perhaps still very good work is theoretical Robert Rosen's Life Itself, where he critiques the sort of "mathematical straightjacket" which characterizes many contemporary notions of physical law: the [partial] differential equation acting on a 'state'. Using category theory, he argues that there are more ways one can get entailment (think 'causation', but not necessarily (heh)) than are routinely sought in the sciences. Critically, he thinks that in order to formally define what 'life' is, one has to break out of this straightjacket.

So, the real problem seems to be the idea that we've identified "all that there is", either in terms of entities or causation (interactions between entities). Let us recall that we parted with localized entities with some bitterness (see Bell's theorem). Atomism has died.

Now, I'm not disagreeing with you. In the spirit of Robert Nozick's Invariances, God could always impose another invariant that relativizes everything we know; he wouldn't have to render a single aspect of your empirically grounded knowledge incorrect (our speculations could be wrong). Ontologically this would constitute a change, but epistemologically we couldn't discern a change, at least sans God telling us. However, this just doesn't seem to be as fruitful a strategy in conversation, in comparison to the alternatives I've presented. :-|

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "It looks as if skeptics have a couple of different lines they can take with respect to miracles."

No, they have one line. Wait for good evidence. (Evidence assumes coherence.)

Skeptics on Miracles.™ Waiting for any good evidence since, well, forever.

Gyan said...

Even if one has the Theory of Everything, one can not be sure that the next instant would not bring some entirely new phenomenon, something not accounted for by his "Theory of Everything (so far)"

Gyan said...

Whether a particular event is held to be natural (though unexplained) or a genuine miracle, depends on the philosophy the person bring to the observation.

Victor Reppert said...

It's pointless to wait for evidence if you know in advance that evidence for something is conceptually impossible. You start sounding intellectually dishonest if you demand evidence for something you are convinced cannot possibly have evidence for it because you consider it to be incoherent.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "You start sounding intellectually dishonest if you demand evidence for something you are convinced cannot possibly have evidence for it because you consider it to be incoherent."

You should stop being so dramatic by framing my position with words like "convinced cannot possibly have evidence." I have pointed out the problem -- the incoherence -- inherent in supernatural claims.

Instead of showing me how I'm wrong, you slip into a pattern where you instead frame my position as close-minded, and accusing those who share my position of being intellectually dishonest.

It would be intellectually dishonest for me to pretend that the supernaturalism I have been talking about is in fact somehow coherent. Supernaturalism is not, for the reasons I have described, coherent. Why call the messenger dishonest?

The way to demonstrate your claim -- that supernaturalism could be coherent -- is to show how that claim would work. It's not good enough to say, "Well, I think it's coherent, so there!" You have to actually make it work -- you have to make it do something, or at least show how it could do something without falling apart in the ways I have described.

What would be intellectually dishonest would be to not acknowledge these facts, and to be obstinate for reasons that appear more emotional than intellectual.

TheWarfareIsMental said...

"Waiting for good evidence"

Man, these debates never change. Cool, rational "skeptics" always say this, but, press them for a workable definition of "good evidence" and watch what happens. You'll rarely get it, but if you do, and you supply something that matches, watch as they move the goalposts right on to the next sport let alone field.

Worse than that, this "skeptic" doesn't even appear to understand the difficulty with the request.

Cal Metzger said...

theWarFare: "Cool, rational "skeptics" always say this, but, press them for a workable definition of "good evidence" and watch what happens."

Something that's examinable. Something we can "check" in ways that verifiable, reliable, and objective.

I don't know why any skeptic would hesitate to offer that. Isn't it obvious what we mean by now?

Luke said...

@Victor:

> It's pointless to wait for evidence if you know in advance that evidence for something is conceptually impossible. You start sounding intellectually dishonest if you demand evidence for something you are convinced cannot possibly have evidence for it because you consider it to be incoherent.

It may be worse than this, much worse. Suppose there is some pattern on your perceptual neurons. If you don't have a pattern on your non-perceptual (think: the synapse weights change more slowly) that well-matches the perceptual pattern, you may never become conscious of it. It's sort of confirmation bias in reverse. For more, see Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial).

I would also say that a stricter version which makes the same point can relax "conceptually impossible" to "virtually impossible". The atheist can claim that in principle he would believe in anything, but only with "enough evidence". Frequently, I find this to be erroneous, whether intentionally or unintentionally so.

One of my own observations is that many discussions I've had with atheists on the internet of "What would convince you that God exists?" end up with 'God' being a new set of laws of nature. In other words, they do not have the epistemological and/or ontological resources to ever think that "God as a person" is the best explanation. More evidence is always demanded, even though there are good reasons to think this is an abject failure. See, for example, Charles Taylor's comments on "some differences will be nonarbitrable by further evidence" in pp46–47 of his Interpretation and the Sciences of Man. That article has almost 2000 'citations'.

Yet another way to look at this is to say that humans are the instruments they use to explore reality, and there can be errors in that instrument as well as all other instruments. To latch onto positivism is to assert that the instrument can already observe the entire EM spectrum, instead of just a subsection. More evidence-gathering of that subsection won't necessarily ever prove that it is but a subsection.

Finally, I suggest a look at Roy A. Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality. I see that commenter GREV has been advocating for it. Clouser looks at what he sometimes calls "control beliefs", which are beliefs which do not supervene upon "the evidence", but do bias one's thinking and theorizing one way vs. the other. These beliefs can be impacted by the evidence, but the lack of supervenience seems absolutely crucial to me.

TheWarfareIsMental said...

Skeptics usually ALWAYS offer that, Carl. What I wonder is whether it's obvious TO THEM what they mean. You seem concerned with falsifiability and that's fine, but surely we can agree that different people pack different things into the terms you offer, right?

But more fundamentally than that: don't you see that the very nature of your request disallows it's fulfillment? That's what Vic was getting at in the OP

TheWarfareIsMental said...

Here's how it looks to an outside observer Carl:

1) Carl demands "good evidence" to accept the claim that the "supernatural" exists;

2) Carl defines "good evidence" as that which passes scientific rigor;

3) Scientific rigor can only successful operate in the "natural" world.

See the problem?

Cal Metzger said...

TheWarfare: "You seem concerned with falsifiability and that's fine, but surely we can agree that different people pack different things into the terms you offer, right?"

I didn't even mention "falsifiabliity." We are talking about evidence, not a hypothesis.

TheWarefare: "But more fundamentally than that: don't you see that the very nature of your request disallows it's fulfillment?"

How is asking for evidence that's examinable, that can be checked reliably, verifiably, and objectively, not fulfillable? I can think of just about anything that can be offered that way. What is the evidence for shoes? Look down. You can check them out. Etc.

Cal Metzger said...

TheWarfare: "Here's how it looks to an outside observer Carl: / 1) Carl demands "good evidence" to accept the claim that the "supernatural" exists; / 2) Carl defines "good evidence" as that which passes scientific rigor; /3) Scientific rigor can only successful operate in the "natural" world."

I described what good evidence looks like, because that is what you said skeptics can't or won't do.

Earlier, I also pointed out that even if we had good evidence, I didn't see how that evidence could support a claim of "supernatural," because the concept seems incoherent.

So, two separate things. The lack of good evidence (as I have described good evidence), and the lack of a coherent theory for the missing evidence. So, yeah, a mess.


Luke said...

I hesitate to do this given our history, but...

@Cal:

> How is asking for evidence that's examinable, that can be checked reliably, verifiably, and objectively, not fulfillable? I can think of just about anything that can be offered that way. What is the evidence for shoes? Look down. You can check them out. Etc.

See Charles Taylor's 1971 Interpretation and the Sciences of Man (2000 'citations'):

>>     In other words, in a hermeneutical science, a certain measure of insight is indispensable, and this insight cannot be communicated by the gathering of brute data, or initiation in modes of formal reasoning or some combination of these. It is unformalizable. But this is a scandalous result according to the authoritative conception of science in our tradition, which is shared even by many of those who are highly critical of the approach of mainstream psychology, or sociology, or political science. For it means that this is not a study in which anyone can engage, regardless of their level of insight; that some claims of the form: "if you don't understand, then your intuitions are at fault, are blind or inadequate," some claims of this form will be justified; that some differences will be nonarbitrable by further evidence, but that each side can only make appeal to deeper insight on the part of the other. The superiority of one position over another will thus consist in this, that from the more adequate position one can understand one's own stand and that of one's opponent, but not the other way around. It goes without saying that this argument can only have weight for those in the superior position. (46–47)

The key phrase is "nonarbitrable by further evidence". Do you think Charles Taylor is correct, or incorrect, in saying this? I would also like to know whether you think this "nonarbitrable by further evidence" phenomenon might arise when it comes to interpretations of quantum mechanics or Philosophy of mathematics § Contemporary schools of thought. Then, I would ask you to consider whether we nonetheless have to practice the kind of "interpretation beyond the evidence" (see: Underdetermination of Scientific Theory) that one finds in physics and mathematics, or whether one really ought to not do all that speculating.

jdhuey said...

Of course, if there is indeed something that is "outside" of Nature (whatever THAT means), then I can think of no logical reason that there couldn't be something "outside" of that something. So, the "Supernatural" would have its own supernatural interference. But, if there is one then there could be two and if two then there could be an infinity of "supernatural" realms, each interfering with the one below.

Now, there is no evidence that these infinities of "supernatural" exist but as Victor and others have pointed out it is not reasonable to expect any evidence. So, in light of the lack of evidence we must conclude that there are an infinite number of "supernatural" realms and that each of those realms has a supreme being that is the boss of the realms below it.

Luke said...

@jdhuey:

You are welcome to give a rigorous definition of 'nature'. There are two ways: provide a generative model (e.g. The Standard Model), or make some global claim (e.g. there is matter and spirit). Then we can explore whether your definition might possibly exclude even parts of nature, where 'nature' here is as would be understood by scientists 200 years in the future. No need for the excluded thing to always be considered ¬'nature'.

Randal Rauser's Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism makes me think that the task I've laid out is actually quite the difficult one. This is especially the case given the demise of the idea that there is one scientific rationality and one explicable scientific method. For both of these, feel free to consult:

1. Paul Feyerabend's Against Method
2. Richard J. Bernstein's Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis
3. Rationality and Relativism
4. page 1 of Penelope Maddy's Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method

You could also consult the demise of reductionism, atomism, and other aspects of mechanical philosophy, which used to be thought of as defining what 'nature' is.

Cal Metzger said...

Luke, the passage you cited talks about interpretations in the social sciences. Are you saying that a religion like Christianity is best understood through the social sciences? If that's the case, then it seems that you are ceding the fact that the "evidence" we're talking about with Christianity is in the beliefs of its adherents and is subject to social influences, etc. But that's not what I think most apologists mean when they talk about evidence for their beliefs



Victor Reppert said...

OK, what's the evidence for this one? My perceptions are veridical.

Luke said...

@Cal:

Interpretation is more clearly unavoidable in the human sciences, but as it turns out, it is also unavoidable in the hard sciences. For example, my wife is pursuing her postdoctorate in biophysics and biochemistry; one of the things she does is use FRET microscopy to understand how nucleosomes and DNA interact. The 'observable' data can be explained by multiple different underlying models. The noise is so high that it can be very, very hard to figure out which model is correct. At some point, the scientist merely has to go with which model seems intuitively best, and this is undeniably an act of interpretation.

The human sciences are merely where positivism broke down, where extant models of reality more quickly were rendered insufficient to account for all phenomena. A very poignant study of this breakdown can be found in Kenneth Gergen's Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge. I suspect that a similar breakdown will happen in the hard sciences as well. We already have initial evidence of this, in Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Paul Feyerabend's Against Method. However, the idea of an objective scientific rationality (the summary of a careful analysis of this can be found in pp410–411 of Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy) will die hard.

As to religion being like the human sciences, I should think that would be obvious. Religion is intrinsically interested in the full human experience, in society, as well as humans' interactions with zero or more deities, deities which can be more like persons (analogically or univocally), or more like forces. Religion does not have the luxury of restricting its phenomenon of interest to those which are nicely repeatable, and frequently limitable down to one variable being allowed to change at a time. And so, it will necessarily have a different character than the sciences, including the human sciences. Anyhow, religion is where the 'problem of interpretation' will be maximized, and for excellent reason. This reason has nothing to do with 'religion' simpliciter, and everything to do with the structure of conscious agents in community, in reality.

As to your note on what is meant by "evidence for their beliefs", that depends on whether this "evidence" is exclusively of the kind which can be used by science, or whether it expands to all the experience of human living. Note that humans can act intelligibly on data too noisy for scientists to study and theorize about. It is as if there are three categories of observation: (i) that usable by science; (ii) that usable outside science; (iii) unusable until more observations are made. I wouldn't be surprised if some Christians employ (ii) while others exclude it and side with the scientists on (i). Others probably also include (iii); I am disinclined to do much with (iii).

jdhuey said...

Definition of Nature: that which you find when you honestly explore Reality.

Luke said...

@jdhuey:

I'm sorry, but you just pushed the onus of the definition onto 'Reality'. I do find it curious that you capitalized that word. Perhaps you have some sympathy for Spinoza's 'God'? Einstein did. Anyhow, feel free to define 'Reality'. Some have tried to do this by saying something along the lines of, "The subject matter of physics." A more sophisticated version can be derived from Penelope Maddy's Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method:

>>     But the capital letters aren't just for emphasis: THE WORLD is different from the world. To see this, consider Putnam's formulation of a venerable criticism of correspondence theories of truth:
>>
>>>> One cannot think of truth as correspondence to facts (or 'reality') because … thinking of truth in this way would require one to be able to compare concepts directly with unconceptualized reality—and philosophers [are] fond … of pointing out the absurdity of such a comparison. (Putnam [1976b], p. 110)
>>
>> Putnam is surely right about the popularity of this charge! But this 'Comparison Problem'[11]—how can we compare language with raw reality?—doesn't apply to the Second Philosopher's project: she understands the challenge as explaining the relation between human language use—as described in linguistics, psychology, sociology, etc.—and the world—as described in physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, botany, etc.; she will never be involved in the search for 'a "correspondence" to nominal things' (Putnam [1981a], p. 73) because she is deaf and blind to the lure of the Kantian transcendental project in the first place (see 1.4). Putnam's use of 'THE WORLD' signals the contrast: his metaphysical realist requires a correspondence between language and 'something totally uncontaminated by conceptualization' (Putnam [1981a], p. 54).[12] (101)

TheWarfareIsMental said...

Cal, not Carl. Sorry.

"I didn't even mention "falsifiabliity." We are talking about evidence, not a hypothesis."

In order for a claim (read: hypothesis) to be amenable to scientific rigor, it must be falsifiable. So you can't really discuss the one without the other.

"How is asking for evidence that's examinable, that can be checked reliably, verifiably, and objectively, not fulfillable?"

It's not, when the claim in question is natural, but the problem is you're demanding that supernatural claims also be treated in this way.

"What is the evidence for shoes? Look down. You can check them out. Etc."

C'mon. Be mature about it.

"I described what good evidence looks like, because that is what you said skeptics can't or won't do."

Not quite. I said that's what they rarely do, and that certain things tend to happen when they do. Precision matters.

"Earlier, I also pointed out that even if we had good evidence, I didn't see how that evidence could support a claim of "supernatural," because the concept seems incoherent."

Well, sure, but that the concept "seems incoherent" is really just your opinion. The concept might seem quite coherent to other minds. Why should anybody take your opinion over theirs?

jdhuey said...

Reality: that which could (at least, potentially) hurt you, even if you don't believe in it.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "OK, what's the evidence for this one? My perceptions are veridical."

I trust that we can both assume, for the sake of your question, that we agree (axiomatically) that an external reality exists.

That being the case, you could start with an eye test. We could move on from there.

Luke said...

@jdhuey:

> Reality: that which could (at least, potentially) hurt you, even if you don't believe in it.

Ahh, that is an interesting definition which I find quite rare, in my thousands of hours talking to atheists. Do you think this definition includes 'morality'? Can failure to believe in morality, or believe the right things about morality, hurt you? It seems to me that the answer is "yes", which possibly creates problems for you. I am thinking of James Griffin's conception of 'expansive naturalism' which he discusses in Value Judgement; I found out about this via Fiona Ellis' God, Value, and Nature, where she argues that the move from 'expansive naturalism' to a robust theism is much smaller than one might expect, and much less problematic than one might expect.

Luke said...

@Cal:

> I trust that we can both assume, for the sake of your question, that we agree (axiomatically) that an external reality exists.

Do you also agree (axiomatically) that causation exists? I'm thinking of Hume's comments about causation not coming in through the senses. We could then ask, "Which model of causation?", given there are multiple, and the issue is a very not-settled one in philosophy (per Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles).

When one combines the contingency of (i) percepts which depend on concepts; (ii) multiple options for causation; (iii) multiple conceptions of how fundamental reality works, the "problem of interpretation" seems to get quite large. Here is scholarly literature on each of these:

(i) Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial)
(ii) Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles
(iii) Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy, especially pp410–411

You can also reference Underdetermination of Scientific Theory. I've also written on this myself: phenomenological matching vs. ontological matching.

Victor Reppert said...

The problem of dishonesty has to do with the fact that you are asking for evidence for something when in fact you don't think evidence is a coherent possibility. If you say I don't have any evidence for something, then this is a very different problem from saying that the idea of it is incoherent.

And I said that it makes you appear to be intellectually dishonest. Not that you are intellectually dishonest. Though some people here might go ahead and say that, I was careful not to.

I must say that a bunch of things in science at least look incoherent, such as the wave-particle theory of light, quantum mechanics, etc. I am very often to suspend my tendency to say "seems incoherent, so it is" when the priests in question are wearing lab coats instead of robes.

Cal Metzger said...

@Victor, as I said upthread: "So, two separate things. The lack of good evidence (as I have described good evidence), and the lack of a coherent theory for the missing evidence."

I agree that the wave particle theory could be described as incoherent. But that's not totally destructive, because in that case we have evidence.

Which is yet another good reason why we shouldn't use the "evidence for" method you espouse -- it would prevent us from recognizing evidence that compels us to find new ways to explain reality.

Cal Metzger said...

Luke: "The noise is so high that it can be very, very hard to figure out which model is correct. At some point, the scientist merely has to go with which model seems intuitively best, and this is undeniably an act of interpretation."

I don't understand this. If there is no way to discern objectively when a model is better than another model then, well, there's no way to distinguish between your competing hypotheses. What am I missing here?

And then you go on to cite a bunch of other tangential or largely extraneous materials and... wait a minute. Is this Luke also Luke Breuer? If so, then I know where this trend is heading.

Victor Reppert said...

VR: "OK, what's the evidence for this one? My perceptions are veridical."

CM: I trust that we can both assume, for the sake of your question, that we agree (axiomatically) that an external reality exists.

Now wait a minute. You are the one asking for evidence for everything. Now you say there is something that doesn't need evidence. Why?

Cal Metzger said...

Warfare: "In order for a claim (read: hypothesis) to be amenable to scientific rigor, it must be falsifiable. So you can't really discuss the one without the other."

I disagree. I can claim that there are shoes on the floor. Sometimes a claim is as simple as that. Hypotheses are about explanations. Claims can be about hypotheses, or they can be about evidence.

Me: ""How is asking for evidence that's examinable, that can be checked reliably, verifiably, and objectively, not fulfillable?"
Warfare: It's not, when the claim in question is natural, but the problem is you're demanding that supernatural claims also be treated in this way.

I think you mistyped above -- I think you meant to begin, "It is, when the claim..." That aside, if supernatural claims can't be checked, then I don't know what to do about them. I'm a skeptic, and I try not to be gullible, so, well, I guess I do know what to do with them.





Cal Metzger said...

Me: "I described what good evidence looks like, because that is what you said skeptics can't or won't do."
Warfare: "Not quite. I said that's what they rarely do, and that certain things tend to happen when they do. Precision matters."

Because I agree precision does matter, I will point out that you wrote, precisely (emphasis mine): "Man, these debates never change. Cool, rational "skeptics" always say this, but, press them for a workable definition of "good evidence" and watch what happens."

I was precise. You falsely accuse me above of misrepresenting what you said, then go on to misrepresent what it is you said. And then you proceed remonstrate me for the behavior that you are displaying. Um, project much?

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Now wait a minute. You are the one asking for evidence for everything. Now you say there is something that doesn't need evidence. Why?"

You are free to quote me saying, "We need evidence for everything." If you cannot, you should withdraw that claim.

I am skeptical. I am not a solipsist. I accept that in order to function meaningfully we have to accept a minimum set of axioms -- these are: an external reality, other minds, and maybe a couple of others.

Don't you find it telling that everyone here tries so very hard to point out some supposed chink or inconsistency in some trivial aspect of anything I write or diver to some extraneous topic rather than deal with the substance of criticism of supernatural claims?

Cal Metzger said...

Me: "Earlier, I also pointed out that even if we had good evidence, I didn't see how that evidence could support a claim of "supernatural," because the concept seems incoherent."
Warfare: "Well, sure, but that the concept "seems incoherent" is really just your opinion. The concept might seem quite coherent to other minds. Why should anybody take your opinion over theirs?"

You are free to demonstrate to me that supernatural claims are coherent. When two people disagree about coherence, the best thing to do is show how the thing is coherent by making it productive. Coherent explanations actually do things.

If I say that something seems incoherent, and explain why, and you say you disagree, I couldn't care less. If you can produce something (rather than merely disagree), then you will persuade me. But if you can't do that, then I stand by my claim of incoherence, and point out that your opinion otherwise can be dismissed alongside all other incoherent claims without production.

Cal Metzger said...

Me: "What is the evidence for shoes? Look down. You can check them out. Etc."
Warfare: "C'mon. Be mature about it."

I seriously don't know any easier way to explain it.

Luke said...

@Cal:

> I don't understand this. If there is no way to discern objectively when a model is better than another model then, well, there's no way to distinguish between your competing hypotheses. What am I missing here?

What you're missing is that scientists publish papers and take a particular interpretive stance when there are other options that other scientists intuitively prefer. You seem to have a simplistic understanding of how science is actually done; if I were to take a very uncharitable view, I would say that you would have partaken in the excommunication of Paul Feyerabend from the philosophy of science indicated at Against Method § Scholarly reception. But that is simply a very uncharitable view; hopefully you are more evidence-based in your understanding of "what science is" and "how science is done". Feyerabend was likely more evidence-based than his peers. Ultimately they did come around.

Would you like some specific examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about? If so I will try and provide motivating examples, but I will ask, as a prerequisite, for you to indicate how you would integrate such new evidence into your belief system. You seem to be quite surprised by this fact I allege is true, and I want to get some idea of what would happen to your conceptions of "what science is" and "how science is done", were I to demonstrate that this fact is, indeed, true.

> And then you go on to cite a bunch of other tangential or largely extraneous materials and... wait a minute. Is this Luke also Luke Breuer? If so, then I know where this trend is heading.

It is; note my "I hesitate to do this given our history, but...". You may engage or disengage as you wish, but my suspicion is that @Victor will not tolerate some of the ways you have engaged me in the past.

I'm also happy to [temporarily] ignore the stuff you have described as "tangential or largely extraneous materials" for the time being and focus on the very concrete point I made, to which you responded with "I don't understand this."

Cal Metzger said...

Luke: "What you're missing is that scientists publish papers and take a particular interpretive stance when there are other options that other scientists intuitively prefer...Would you like some specific examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about?."

No. I don't really even know what you're driving at per my stated criticism of supernatural claims here, so unless you want to provide a path for some kind of cogency to this discussion I don't really care one way or another.

Per my criticism of supernatural claims here, why don't you write a short, explicit (one or two sentence) reason why you think the above is relevant.

TheWarfareIsMental said...

Let's ignore the bullshit, here's the meat:

That aside, if supernatural claims can't be checked, then I don't know what to do about them.

Well, one thing you can do is stop asking people to check them.

Luke said...

@Cal:

You originally asked:

> Cal: How is asking for evidence that's examinable, that can be checked reliably, verifiably, and objectively, not fulfillable?

It's not clear here, that you are aware that this sentence has been problematized in multiple ways.

Thomas Kuhn showed in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that different scientific paradigms consider different things "evidence", and will look at given evidence differently. So when you say "objectively" if you imply a single point of view, you err. If you imply a multiplicity of plausible points of view, then your use of "objectively" is put in question.

Paul Feyerabend showed in Against Method that the idea that there is one articulable "scientific method" is false. Philosophers of science believed this, but they believed it in spite of the evidence. So not only is "the evidence" not objective, but neither is the method used to collect the evidence, evaluate it, etc.

Further development of these two ideas can be found in SEP's Underdetermination of Scientific Theory and Theory and Observation in Science develop this idea further. See also Richard J. Bernstein's Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis.

Taking a different approach, in On Physics and Philosophy, Bernard d'Espagnat looks at precisely what this "empirical reality" thing can be—which is one way to generate your "objectively", to justify it epistemically and ontologically. He updates philosophy with the quantum physics known by 2006. What he finds is that in an important sense, "empirical reality" is a construct of human thought. It is slightly more than this, but it most definitely does not connect directly to "ultimate reality". See pp410–411 for a summary of this.

The underlying claim here is that you inevitably take an interpretive stance with respect to all reality, and that interpretive stance does not supervene on the evidence. This problematizes your "objectively". It says that some of the way you look at reality just doesn't come from "evidence". And yet, you write as if the only a priori aspects of your epistemology are sort of banal and not at all tendentious. I hold that this is completely false, and betrays a naive evidentialism that, irony of ironies, needs to face up to the evidence.

TheWarfareIsMental said...

@Luke

I applaud your patience

TheWarfareIsMental said...

@Luke,

Just because it goes along with what you're trying to get Cal to grok:

http://www.thewarfareismental.net/b/?s=cathode+rays

Legion of Logic said...

Cal is hilarious in his self confidence, but at some point one has to quit attempting to convince the blind.

Luke said...

@TheWarfareIsMental:

Thanks, and great nick. I recall hearing that Freud believed that psychological suffering could be 100x as bad as physical suffering. Given that one only has subjective evidence of this—the self-report of a person who has undergone each kind of suffering—I wonder if @Cal would discount it. I do think the warfare is more mental than physical, of spirit and not flesh and blood.

As to your website, have you come across William C. Wimsatt's Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality? It seems to be in the same vein as your Asteroids, Cathode Rays & Requisite Knowledge, II. Also, I would highly suggest a look at Roy A. Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality. Clouser gets at the most fundamental beliefs we have, beliefs which bias us towards looking at realities in some ways but not others. Importantly, they don't entail very specific theories. I'm halfway through and it's fascinating stuff—possibly very relevant to conversations like the one with @Cal. I need to digest it a bit more, and perhaps find a conversation buddy.

@Legion:

Another great nick. :-) I am tempted to disagree: @Cal may well be a lot more consistent than most atheists I've encountered. This doesn't mean he's right, but instead that if he's wrong, it's in an interesting way that could be instructive to tease out. The trick is that he will be extremely sensitive to anything that can possibly be construed as misrepresenting his position. And thus, one has to be very, very careful in criticizing it. There is a way to be philosophically careful in this way; one sees in in scholarly work such as Gregory W. Dawes' Theism and Explanation and Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles. One tends to make missteps in this process, and it seems that @Cal is wont to label one a "Christian apologist" after some small number of missteps. At least, that happened to me.

In my experience, the kind of patience I am exhibiting here has borne great fruit. However, it came at great cost, so whether it was worth it is not a clear "yes" for everyone. I am learning to be more efficient at such things, though. Furthermore, @Cal probably has to be on better behavior in this blog, than in other places I have engaged him, where the blog owners were atheists and at least a bit biased against me.

Legion of Logic said...

The initial posts i saw from Cal were nothing but childish insults with a couple of points thrown in. Lately he has been more mature, but first impressions are important.

Years ago I tried it your way, but after a while I learned that certain personalities are not open to actual dialogue, and will not actually consider points made against them. The sheer amount of juvenile antics he opened with have pretty well diminished any reasonable expectation I would have of him being open to conceding anything - his contempt is documented, regardless of behaving himself lately.

Your patience is noble. I no longer utilize it. I'm tone for tone, flawed though that makes me.

Cal Metzger said...

Warfare: "Let's ignore the bullshit, here's the meat:"
Me: "That aside, if supernatural claims can't be checked, then I don't know what to do about them."
Warfare: "Well, one thing you can do is stop asking people to check them."

Since my initial comment here all of my replies to you have followed your comments to me. If you want me to ignore you I am happy to.

As I read our discussion, I have replied to virtually all of your comments and questions, and I then showed how you had tried to misrepresent what you had written previously. I imagine that your pride has been hurt, and so you resort to portraying my participation here as "bullshit."

Imagine my disappointment at being asked to ignore your comments going forward.

Cal Metzger said...

@Luke, per our previous discussions (and as noted by others with whom you have interacted) your comments tend to ramble on and fire a scattershot of links and unfinished thoughts. I asked you, as you have been asked in the past, to try and refine or distill your points. You continued on, as you have in the past.

Specifically, I asked you to try and do this:

Me: "Per my criticism of supernatural claims here, why don't you write a short, explicit (one or two sentence) reason why you think the above is relevant. [The above was, Luke: ""What you're missing is that scientists publish papers and take a particular interpretive stance when there are other options that other scientists intuitively prefer...Would you like some specific examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about?."]

You wrote a 363 word reply to my request. I don't see your answer anywhere in there.

Luke said...

@Cal:

> per our previous discussions (and as noted by others with whom you have interacted) your comments tend to ramble on and fire a scattershot of links and unfinished thoughts.

Curiously enough, folks who are more aligned with my point of view seem to think what I write is frequently commendable. It is as if the person's starting point strongly influences his/her evaluation of my arguments.

> You wrote a 363 word reply to my request. I don't see your answer anywhere in there.

Well, I gave you philosophy of science which makes clear that one must "take an interpretive stance with respect to all reality". I also gave you science where I claimed the same thing had to be done.

Perhaps this bit was unclear: the only thing I can really say about a "supernatural belief" is that it does not supervene on the evidence; it brings something to the evidence which was not in the evidence. I have shown, via multiple ways, that you bring something to the evidence which is not in the evidence. Now, you might be tempted to respond this way:

"Obviously I presuppose that there is an external reality and that my senses are sufficiently veridical. But these are not particularly objectionable presuppositions!"

I would respond to this by claiming that you also have to presuppose a metaphysics of causation, and that is a matter where there is great disagreement (as I indicated in comment #1, with citation). After all, the Christian argues for agent causation, while the atheist probably must refuse to believe in any such thing. And yet, can the difference be decided on natural grounds, by beliefs supervening on the evidence (on 'nature')? I think I have made a good case for the "no" answer. And so, one must have 'supernatural beliefs'. Beliefs which go beyond 'nature', which go beyond our sense perceptions.

Cal Metzger said...

@Luke,

I asked for you to try again to answer my request:

Me: "Per my criticism of supernatural claims here, why don't you write a short, explicit (one or two sentence) reason why you think the above is relevant. [The above was, Luke: ""What you're missing is that scientists publish papers and take a particular interpretive stance when there are other options that other scientists intuitively prefer...Would you like some specific examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about?."]

And you wrote another, slightly less long (this time 313 word) answer to my request that still doesn't answer my request.

I've found that when someone struggles to summarize their thinking that's because they don't really understand what it is they're trying to say. In that way, communication isn't just about making yourself understood; it also reveals what you yourself understand.

Luke said...

@Cal:

Here's how I see our conversation:

Cal: "[...] evidence that's examinable, that can be checked reliably, verifiably, and objectively [...]"
Luke: Interpretation is unavoidable, everywhere: in social science, quantum mechanics, mathematics, and philosophy of science.
Cal: "Luke, the passage you cited talks about interpretations in the social sciences."
Luke: Interpretation is unavoidable, everywhere. Here's a specific science example.
Cal: "I don't understand this. If there is no way to discern objectively when a model is better than another model then, well, there's no way to distinguish between your competing hypotheses. What am I missing here?"
Luke: You seem to not understand how science is actually done. You're missing the fact that interpretation is unavoidable, everywhere. I can give you more details on the specific science example.
Cal: "Per my criticism of supernatural claims here, why don't you write a short, explicit (one or two sentence) reason why you think the above is relevant."
Luke: Your "evidence that's examinable, that can be checked reliably, verifiably, and objectively" has severe conceptual problems. It ignores the fact that interpretation is unavoidable, everywhere.
Cal: "You wrote a 363 word reply to my request. I don't see your answer anywhere in there. "
Luke: I gave you philosophy of science and science to support the claim that: Interpretation is unavoidable, everywhere. But we might disagree on "supernatural belief", so let's clarify what might be a valid definition of that term: "belief which doesn't supervene on the evidence."
Cal: "And you wrote another, slightly less long (this time 313 word) answer to my request that still doesn't answer my request."

I don't see how I'm avoiding your request. Perhaps someone else can help explain, if you cannot or will not. If you disagree with how I've framed our interchange, do articulate why. You actually seem to be the one avoiding the main issue, from my point of view.

Cal Metzger said...

Luke, why is "Interpretation is unavoidable" relevant to my criticism of supernatural claims?

Are you saying that because interpretation is unavoidable, we can't know anything?

Are you saying that because interpretation is unavoidable we cannot ever agree that shoes exist?

Are you saying that because interpretation is unavoidable we supernaturalism is coherent?






Luke said...

@Cal:

> Luke, why is "Interpretation is unavoidable" relevant to my criticism of supernatural claims?

Hey, you are the one who wrote:

> Cal: "Cool, rational "skeptics" always say this, but, press them for a workable definition of "good evidence" and watch what happens."
>
> Something that's examinable. Something we can "check" in ways that verifiable, reliable, and objective.

You seem to think that 'verifiable', 'reliable', and 'objective' are all important terms. So I am fully within my rights to problematize one or all of them. I chose to focus most on 'objective'. This word denotes that "which person" observes a phenomenon is irrelevant, that as long as they all follow the same method, they will see the same thing. Such a person will properly note "the evidence", and with enough people observing the same phenomenon, cognitive biases are successfully filtered out. The reason you can trust such a process is that "the evidence", with a properly disciplined observational method, will lasso all minds into believing the same things.

The idea I was attacking, which I thought would be obvious, is that:

     (1) "belief-formation based on the evidence" causes reliable convergence in belief
     (2) "belief-formation not based on the evidence"—e.g. supernatural beliefs—fails to cause reliable convergence in belief

I have shown that (1) is false, based on the evidence. I have shown it to be false in many ways. Seeing as you have used (2) as a reason to reject "supernatural belief", I think I am well within my rights to problematize (1), which serves as the contrast which allows (2) to be dismissed, instead of being the best we have got. My fundamental thesis is that interpretation is a fact of life, that we cannot escape it, even in the hard sciences. I should think this is clear, especially when looking at my summary of our conversation.

> Are you saying that because interpretation is unavoidable, we can't know anything?

We probably disagree on what the word 'know' means, given your use of 'objective'. By your 'know', the answer might be "no".

> Are you saying that because interpretation is unavoidable we cannot ever agree that shoes exist?

We certainly can agree. If you had bothered to read pp410–411 of Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy, you would see a rigorous argument for precisely what kind of agreement is going on, and what kind of agreement is not going on.

> Are you saying that because interpretation is unavoidable we supernaturalism is coherent?

No, I am saying that your particular defeater of 'supernaturalism' (whatever that is) fails.

Cal Metzger said...

Luke: "I have shown that ["belief-formation based on the evidence" causes reliable convergence in belief] is false, based on the evidence. I have shown it to be false in many ways."

Sure you have.

Cal Metzger said...

Luke: "No, I am saying that your particular defeater of 'supernaturalism' (whatever that is) fails."

As I pointed out upthread, I don't care.

That's because when two people disagree whether or not something is coherent, the only way to resolve the issue is for the proponent of coherence to produce something.

Coherence doesn't just mean "makes sense to me" -- it also means that its parts can be productive, do something, etc. I say it's incoherent. You disagree. I don't care (and I'm right) until you can persuade me I'm wrong by producing something with the concept of the supernatural.

Legion of Logic said...

See what I mean?

Cal Metzger said...

@Luke, I have pointed out that supernaturalism seems incoherent.

You disagree with me by writing, "No, I am saying that your particular defeater of 'supernaturalism' (whatever that is) fails."

You seem to be unaware that by by stating you don't know what supernaturalism is you are de facto agreeing with me in my assessment that the concept is incoherent.

Odder and odder.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "See what I mean?"

Bluster much?

Luke said...

@Cal:

> That's because when two people disagree whether or not something is coherent, the only way to resolve the issue is for the proponent of coherence to produce something.

Oh, but you just said something entirely different from talking about "the evidence". After all, there are [at least] two major kinds of truth claims:

     (1) about what already exists
     (2) about what can be brought into existence

Many of the truth-claims in the New Testament are of type (2). They require dedicated human action, also known as "long obedience in the same direction". You know, the same kind of dedicated work that scientists in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did, in spite of folks such as:

>> In 1590, skeptics still doubted whether humans can find universal regularities in nature; by 1640, nature was in irremediable decay: but, by 1700, the changeover to the "law-governed" picture of a stable cosmos was complete. (Cosmopolis, 110)

One way that 'grace' has been thought of is as a transformative force which flows from the supernatural to the natural. One could see the supernatural as a realm of possibility, which God wants to actualize, but preferably with human cooperation (e.g. Mt 18:19). So, beliefs about the supernatural would be verified or falsified by action, and the truths thereby demonstrated would be of type (2), although in the very doing, in the actualization, they shift from (2) → (1). The Bible talks about this actualization:

>>     For the earth will be filled
>>         with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
>>         as the waters cover the sea.
>> (Habakkuk 2:14)

The difference between (1) and (2) is that you have to believe ahead of the evidence to investigate (2). Another word used is 'trust', which is probably a better translation of the NT Greek words pistis and pisteuō than 'believe' or 'faith', given how those words are used these days. And so, I like to talk about "tentative belief", or "belief which precedes the evidence". Any inventor knows that some beliefs precede the evidence. Any good scientist knows this, too. But perhaps you are neither a good inventor, nor a good scientist.

Cal Metzger said...

Luke, a solid tip to you is that when you want to convince skeptics that you have good evidence for the claims of the bible you should avoid quoting the bible as evidence.

Luke said...

@Cal:

> Luke, a solid tip to you is that when you want to convince skeptics that you have good evidence for the claims of the bible you should avoid quoting the bible as evidence.

If that's what you think I was doing, I think you might want to re-read what I wrote.

That being said, when you want to say that we should use "the evidence", are you supporting that claim with anything other than... "the evidence"? I will give a shot at "anything other", via this bit of yours:

> Cal: Coherence doesn't just mean "makes sense to me" -- it also means that its parts can be productive, do something, etc.

Your "be productive" clearly depends on what people subjectively consider "productive". Basic examples would be the necessities of life, but people clearly want more than that, for this conversation would be impossible otherwise. But this requirement, being enslaved to subjective desires, falls to the same criticism that goes after Christians: "You believe in the Bible because you want it to be true." Well, if Cal Metzger requires that something "be productive", that is merely code for "getting what Cal Metzger wants", or "getting what some subset of people want".

What other bases do you have for valuing "the evidence" above all else†? Let's start a list:

     (1) because "the evidence" says so
     (2) because doing so is "productive"

Care to add to the list?

† If you caveat this with "(i) my senses are reliable" and "(iii) there is an external reality", I will force the matter of "(ii) causation exists", at which point this comment is relevant and we enter the world of interpretation.

cl said...

@Cal,

Since precision does matter, here's where you're correct: I *DID* mess up earlier with regard to your reply to my first comment. When I made my first comment, I had a quick thought: "You should go back and correct that so pedants don't run with it. Add the word 'mostly' so you can't be accused of making an all-exclusive generalization."

Well, I didn't do that, but responded to you as if I had, so my bad there. Sorry. But, here's the funny thing: all you saw was intentional misrepresentation, which you then used to launch into this armchair analysis of how my pride must be hurt and all that. Pretty funny how we kind of make ourselves see what we *WANT* to see, right?

Your "shoe" comment can only reveal one of two things: profound, wanton ignorance of the subject matter, or childish flippancy that would be better placed on Dawkins' blog.

DO you *REALLY* think that the "look down at my shoe" approach is appropriate in this matter? Do you really not see the problem?

Again - since I noticed you avoided this - is the problem:

1) Carl demands "good evidence" to accept the claim that the "supernatural" exists;

2) Carl defines "good evidence" as that which passes scientific rigor;

3) Scientific rigor can only successful operate in the "natural" world.

See the problem?

Ball's in your court. Cut the shit and address the meat.

cl said...

@Legion,

"after a while I learned that certain personalities are not open to actual dialogue,"

Yep, that's exactly why I don't comment on 95% of these threads anymore. It's literally a waste of everybody's time in most cases. Take, for example, the following from Cal, to Luke, emph. mine:

"I say it's incoherent. You disagree. I don't care (and I'm right) until you can persuade me I'm wrong by producing something with the concept of the supernatural."

That attitude, right there, is the problem. It's like a little five-year-old. Cal's one of the guys who's already got it all figured out. He wins by default! And I bet it's like this every time, but you'd be more equipped to remark on that.

cl said...


@Luke,

Thanks for the reading suggestions. I do intend to get back to all this "POR" stuff at some point in life. Hell, reading your comments actually motivates me. I can tell you've practiced your approach with much thought.

At any rate, here's just a few of my thoughts as an outsider watching you and Cal:

"I don't see how I'm avoiding your request. Perhaps someone else can help explain, if you cannot or will not."

Honestly Luke, the problem I see is that you're giving Cal the benefit of the doubt. You're assuming he is intellectually pliable, or open to correction, when his comments in this thread suggest otherwise (but I sense that you know this and proceed willingly despite). Take this one, for example:

"I've found that when someone struggles to summarize their thinking that's because they don't really understand what it is they're trying to say."

See how disgustingly arrogant that is? Here you've spent quality time trying to articulate a very significant point that positivists like Cal typically miss. I see it! Others see it! You're making sense, great sense at that. I can tell very strongly that you understand what you're trying to say, and that you've researched it thoroughly. What I can't understand at all is how / why Cal can be so willingly blind to an important issue. It's almost as if it's easier or less cognitively dissonant for him to pretend he doesn't get it.

I mean, you could tell him to go read about Hawking's model dependent realism, but honestly he doesn't strike as a person with much patience or willingness to learn. He said it himself: "He's right, until you prove him wrong."

Alternatively, you could stop wasting your time on somebody who will just reply with "Sure you have" when they can't get what you're trying to say.

Luke said...

@cl:

Thanks for the vote of confidence. I indeed have practiced my approach (over 15,000 hours over more than 15 years). Although, I've only gotten into scholarly-level literature in the past three years. It's been very interesting to make the transition, after so many hours spent talking to atheists on the internet. I'm glad I can be a source of motivation!—I find those sadly lacking in this domain. :-(

Thank you also for the observations. I'm afraid @Cal will simply write you off as a sophist (I mean, "Christian apologist"), as he has written me off, but at some point he might have to face the fact that he's acting like Ken Ham in doing so. (I say this using what is almost certainly his conception of Ken Ham, by the way. I need not take any stance on Ken Ham, myself, and can thereby avoid much kerfuffle.)

Even if @Cal himself is a hopeless cause (and I do not actually believe he is), I think there are many, many people like him out there. Therefore, whether or not I convince him does not dictate success or failure of my ultimate project. And hey, perhaps he can convince me I'm thinking about some things wrongly—whether globally, or in the details. He will likely have to demonstrate respect and the ability to charitably interpret what I say in order to do this, although I have developed the skill to derive truth from even the most antagonistic opponent. There was a great First Things article a while ago on how atheists are under-valued by Christians; I agree wholeheartedly with it. Christians especially ought to be able to discern between what is kalos and what is kakos, in ever-more-diverse situations (Heb 5:14).

Note also that @Cal is right in a sense: I could write shorter comments if I had greater command of the material. For example, if I were a professor with two decades of teaching under my belt, I could almost certainly be more succinct. His mistake is to think that his own behavior merits this level of competence and expertise. It clearly doesn't. Nevertheless, this exchange with @Cal will likely help me say things more succinctly, perhaps to the next person like him, if he "burns out" on me.

I will continue to give @Cal the benefit of the doubt, as I believe this is demanded by 2 Cor 5:16. I believe God sees us not as we are, with all our faults and foibles, but as we could be. Well, he sees both, but it is critical that he sees the second and makes the second as likely as possible. I think Christians are called to do the same for others, whether they believe in Jesus Christ or not. Possible exceptions are 1 Cor 5:1–5 and 1 Tim 1:18–20, but I'm inclined to be very careful in applying those. While this strategy does fail with some, it produces amazing, glorious results in others. :-)

Legion of Logic said...

Spot-on bluster is an interesting concept.

Luke, while we should certainly be charitable, Jesus and the apostles also had little tolerance for foolishness and hypocrisy. Cal by all appearances is one of those really common New Atheists who blazes onto a forum with guns blazing, arguing with blunt contempt and petty insults, and then gets butt hurt when they encounter Christians who respond in kind, who openly display contempt at such ridiculous chest thumping. There are two of us at least he has stopped responding to because of this. Seems cowardly in the sense that a bully doesn't pick on those who fight back.

Now I am certainly willing to engage someone like Cal, but as I said, I will match tone for tone, and will treat any atheist as much like a juvenile as they are behaving. Cal, by all appearances, is unable to be charitable toward Christians, and has proven that charity toward him has no positive effect. And so, I will treat him as he deserves. Probably why he won't respond to my replies to him anymore.

Cal Metzger said...

As I wrote to Reppert upthread, I find it telling that most everyone here tries so very hard to point out some supposed chink or inconsistency in some trivial aspect of anything I write, or divert to some long-winded and extraneous topic, rather than deal with the substance of my criticism of supernatural claims.

Still, a little housecleaning before I wrap things up here:

CL (TheWarfare?): "Since precision does matter, here's where you're correct: I *DID* mess up earlier with regard to your reply to my first comment. When I made my first comment, I had a quick thought: "You should go back and correct that so pedants don't run with it. Add the word 'mostly' so you can't be accused of making an all-exclusive generalization.""

That's not where you messed up. Where you messed up was by writing, in response to my explaining which of your claims that I was responding to:

Legion: "Not quite. I said that's what they rarely do, and that certain things tend to happen when they do. Precision matters."

To repeat: Where you messed up was by denying that I had quoted you accurately, and following up this denial with your scolding "Precision matters," as if you were being impeccable and I had misrepresented. In fact, I was accurate, you made a false statement, and then try to pass off that you were somehow being precise and I was not.

Do you now understand how you messed up?

CL (TheWarfare?): "But, here's the funny thing: all you saw was intentional misrepresentation, which you then used to launch into this armchair analysis of how my pride must be hurt and all that. Pretty funny how we kind of make ourselves see what we *WANT* to see, right?"

No. I insinuated that you were guilty of psychological projection ("Project much?"), which is not an accusation that you intentionally misrepresented. I don't think that those who seem like they are psychologically projecting are (ever) conscious of this fact.

But yes, precision does matter.

Luke said...

@Legion:

You have a good point on not wasting time, and how Jesus dealt with hypocrites. However, he nevertheless found really clever ways to shut up hypocrites, and you might see me as looking for such ways. :-)

As to "match tone for tone", in my experience that is frequently unproductive when the tone is negative. However, it could be that I myself am bad at this. It is my experience that I'm very bad at mocking and doing all the things one does with negative tone in discussions online. :-|

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "There are two of us at least he [Cal] has stopped responding to because of this. Seems cowardly in the sense that a bully doesn't pick on those who fight back."

You have yet to address a comment to me in this thread. But you have made numerous peanut gallery comments.

It doesn't seem like I'm the one who's being cowardly.

Luke said...

@Cal:

> As I wrote to Reppert upthread, I find it telling that most everyone here tries so very hard to point out some supposed chink or inconsistency in some trivial aspect of anything I write, or divert to some long-winded and extraneous topic, rather than deal with the substance of my criticism of supernatural claims.

I wonder if I'm included in that "most everyone". If the answer is "yes", then we would have you on record implying that your use of 'objective' was "some trivial aspect" of what you wrote—or "some long-winded and extraneous topic":

> TheWarfareIsMental: Cool, rational "skeptics" always say this, but, press them for a workable definition of "good evidence" and watch what happens.

> Cal Metzger: Something that's examinable. Something we can "check" in ways that verifiable, reliable, and objective.

(I added the bold.) You would be on record as having stated that your definition of what "good evidence" is doesn't really need to contain the term 'objective', or that it trivially entails 'objective'; both of these are demonstrably false, ironically by looking at the evidence. For those actually interested in "the evidence", you can peruse the first few pages (that's a Google Books link) of Nancy Cartwright's Philosophy of Science (NDPR review). You will probably be able to discern a strong connection between my comments in this thread and the first few pages of that book. This is somewhat coincidental, as I only just started reading that book this morning, with the only other direct exposure to Cartwright being the first 1/5 of her How the Laws of Physics Lie.

My first reply to @Cal in this thread was a criticism of this 'objective', asserting the necessity of interpretation. As can be seen in the subsequent conversation (overview with mini-summaries), @Cal can be seen to constantly avoid this fact-claim.

cl said...

Okay. I just learned something, and it goes something like this if I were to articulate it: some people are so convinced in their own correctness and so into arguing that if you provide them ANY other possible out or response besides the meat of the subject matter in question, you set yourself up for abject failure. Notice in this thread how every one of Cal's responses to me conveniently dodge the important questions? So let's just try this, instead of giving Cal more power to derail the conversation, let's just keep putting him on blast until he can respond intelligently. If he can do so, we may have a semblance of a productive conversation. If he can't, well... I don't think anybody will really be surprised. Typical atheist, right?

Cal,

1) Call demands "good evidence" to accept the claim that the "supernatural" exists;

2) Call defines "good evidence" as that which passes scientific rigor;

3) Scientific rigor can only successful operate in the "natural" world.

Do. You. See. The. Problem. Yet?

Legion of Logic said...

Interesting. Got my threads mixed up. Point conceded, Cal. Responses forthcoming.

Legion of Logic said...

So. Coherence of the supernatural.

Frankly, I find the objection to be a load of crap. First off, talking about ghosts when discussing what evidence one would expect if the universe was created by a deity is about as valid as dismissing sociology as a valid science because it doesn't have the same level of experimental power as, say, chemistry. So talking about ghosts is irrelevant when discussing God or any other deity, unless ghosts are considered a piece of evidence in favor of said deity. The shoe objection can be equally applied to evolution or quantum mechanics, since I neither see new life forms arising nor do I see particles popping into existence. Both evolution and QM have their own systems of verification, though, which I will cover farther below.

Two, I agree with Richard Dawkins that a created universe would look very different than a naturalistic universe. He and I disagree about the conclusion, though. He says this universe looks uncreated, I say I have no reason to expect that a universe would even exist without a creator, let alone one with properties to enable sentient life. Such exercises are futile, however, since we only have one universe to observe and the God question is officially undecided, which brings me to my third point.

You are seeking experimental, physical, verifiable evidence for God's existence, and that simply cannot be provided. God as defined is not a part of the physical world, regardless of whether or not he can choose to interact with it. Thus, the only evidence any scientific endeavor would ever be able to study would be an event that left behind some sort of physical scarring on the ground, or archaeological finds, or miracles today. Such things are not all that useful even if located, because it cannot be said that the findings were obviously of a divine source. There could always be a naturalistic cause for most events.

However, I firmly believe that the features of nature and reason disqualify atheism as a valid viewpoint. No reason to expect anything contingently existing to exist in of itself. Nothing in the universe is permanent. Not one thing. Thus I find it absurd to say that the universe / multiverse / whateverse is a self-established phenomena of permanence, both past and future, that is made up entirely of contingent, non-permanent parts.

I can't meet your unreasonable demand to Luke of stating one's point in a couple sentences without being snide.

cl said...

@Legion,

You are seeking experimental, physical, verifiable evidence for God's existence, and that simply cannot be provided.

That's it, right there. Nailed it. The typical atheists' inability and/or lack of desire to understand this never ceases to amaze me. Do you think they secretly realize the stupidity of the request? Or do you think most are just dupes??

Luke said...

@cl:

> 1) Call demands "good evidence" to accept the claim that the "supernatural" exists;
>
> 2) Call defines "good evidence" as that which passes scientific rigor;
>
> 3) Scientific rigor can only successful operate in the "natural" world.

There are three problems already:

(ii) Given Paul Feyerabend's Against Method, what is "scientific rigor"? One can also consult Ian Hacking's worries in "Language, Truth, and Reason" (also a chapter in Rationality and Relativism) that fields of discourse produce their own 'rigor' and self-reinforce.

(iii) What is the definition of "the "natural" world"? If it's "what science studies" (see excerpt here), then that's an awfully weird definition of "natural"—it excludes much about human relationships, like the stuff that currently isn't repeatable enough to be the subject of scientific research. If it's something else, is that a coherent 'thing', or is it babbling to try and restrict what can be legitimately talked about?

(i) Given (ii) and (iii), the definition of 'supernatural' is deeply problematized. For example, it didn't always used to mean 'non-natural':

>>     In his historical tracing of the meaning of the word "supernatural," de Lubac further noted that, despite the specifically Christian shift in its range of implication, the essential contrast, up until the High Middle Ages, remained one between natural and moral and not natural and supernatural. The former distinction though, de Lubac argued, itself reflected the authentically Christian sense of the notion of the supernatural. For on the one hand there was created nature; on the other hand there was created spirit, which was free, and intellectually reflexive ('personal'). This 'moral' realm was in some sense not just created; it bore a more radical imprint of divinity: the imago dei.
>>     In de Lubac's view, what undoubtedly upset the reign of the natural/​moral schema was the irruption of Aristotelianism. (The Suspended Middle, Kindle Locations 156–165)

Cal Metzger said...

I'm going to start to close this one down; I think the reasonable people are off this thread, and I'm going to start exiting.

@Luke, it just seems that you mostly like to hear the sound of yourself pontificating. I don't, and I'm rarely sure what your point is, and I'm pretty confident that you rarely address the issues I raise with anything of substance, so I bid you adieu.

CL: "The typical atheists' inability and/or lack of desire to understand [that seeking experimental, physical, verifiable evidence for God's existence simply cannot be provided] never ceases to amaze me. Do you think they secretly realize the stupidity of the request?"

As I pointed out in an earlier thread, physical evidence for a god'd existence is pretty much what the bible tries to sell. You can try and explain to your fellow Christians why they are stupid to believe the bible should fortify their religious belief -- I don't think they'd accept it as well from me.

And I will say goodbye to you as well. You and Luke seem to get along swimmingly, and I expect you will enjoy each other's company more now without my participation.

Legion of Logic said...

Awww, right when I threw down a post too. Guess my post just wasn't reasonable enough to ridicule.

CL, the answer would be dupes. As in, they are so duped by both the worship of science and their own powers of reason they can't comprehend the possibility they could be wrong due to science not being the arbiter of truth. I'm not sure why I continue getting involved in these, I have to pretty much address the same nonsense every time.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "Frankly, I find the objection [coherence of the supernatural?] to be a load of crap. First off, talking about ghosts when discussing what evidence one would expect if the universe was created by a deity is about as valid as dismissing sociology as a valid science because it doesn't have the same level of experimental power as, say, chemistry. So talking about ghosts is irrelevant when discussing God or any other deity, unless ghosts are considered a piece of evidence in favor of said deity."

You seem to be addressing my pointing out that the term "supernaturalism" is incoherent, and then you go on to fortify my point by making some arbitrary distinction between ghosts and deities. I couldn't care less. That is what I am trying to say about the incoherence of supernaturalism. So, while objecting, you appear to agree with my underlying point. Supernaturalism is an incoherent concept.

Legion: "The shoe objection can be equally applied to evolution or quantum mechanics, since I neither see new life forms arising nor do I see particles popping into existence."

We have evidence for shoes (as it turns out we can see them, among other things). We have objective evidence for evolution (the fossil record, dna, human selection on breeds like dogs and varieties of plants, viruses, lab results like Lenski's bacteria, and on, and on). We have loads of evidence for quantum mechanics. You seem to have not understood (at all) my point about shoes; shoes are among the many, many, many things for which we have evidence. They are the simplest, fastest example I could think of. And that is the point of shoes, and other kinds of evidence. They are all available, in ways that we can check, objectively, reliably, and verifiably.

That's just you first paragraph. It doesn't make any meaningful objection to my points so far. I may press on to the rest of your comment, but I am starting to think that you are all lining up, saying anything, just hoping that I'll take the time to respond. You all seem, frankly, kind of like these needy, attention-seeking, broken records. I am not sure I am doing you any, or anyone else, any good.

I may just watch some tv, or go to bed.

Luke said...

@Cal:

> I don't, and I'm rarely sure what your point is, and I'm pretty confident that you rarely address the issues I raise with anything of substance, so I bid you adieu.

You are probably the only person in the thread who thinks that my point is anything but blindingly obvious. When you're the only person, you ought to start wondering whether you're the broken link. Well, many people do this, at least. Apparently you're a rare bird:

> Cal: I don't care (and I'm right) until you can persuade me I'm wrong by producing something with the concept of the supernatural.

Any normal person would notice the pattern in this conversation reconstruction: "interpretation is unavoidable, everywhere". They would see this as a direct response to your:

> Cal: "[...] evidence that's examinable, that can be checked reliably, verifiably, and objectively [...]"

However, according to you the objection to your "objectively"—which is extensively documented at the SEP articles Underdetermination of Scientific Theory and Theory and Observation in Science—is either "some trivial aspect" or a "diver[sion] to some long-winded and extraneous topic". Apparently, you think that "reliably, verifiably, and objectively" is an unproblematic statement when judged by (i) evidence of how science is actually done; (ii) recent philosophy of science. You seem oblivious to the problems of positivism.

What you are, quite simply is a fundamentalist, by a technical definition provided by an extremely well-respected sociologist:

>> Resistances to pluralism have been conventionally subsumed under the category of "fundamentalism." I am uneasy about this term; it comes from a particular episode in the history of American Protestantism and is awkward when applied to other religious traditions (such as Islam). I will use it, because it has attained such wide currency, but I will define it more sharply: fundamentalism is any project to restore taken-for-grantedness in the individual's consciousness and therefore, necessarily, in his or her social and/or political environment. Such a project can have both religious and secular forms; the former concerns us here. (The New Sociology of Knowledge, 41)

"can be checked reliably, verifiably, and objectively" ⇒ "approval of positivism" ⇒ "don't want alternative interpretations to be allowed at the table" ⇒ "attempting to restore taken-for-grantedness"

Legion of Logic said...

We are "lining up" because you come to a Christian site and say ridiculous things. Are we supposed to ignore them?

I couldn't care less about "supernaturalism" if the term is supposed to incorporate every possible supernatural entity that has ever been proposed. I would agree such an endeavor would be useless. But that does not mean that any proposal of a "supernatural" entity or force is therefore also incoherent. One can reasonably differentiate between the likelihood of, and reasons to believe in, ghosts and God, without being a hypocrite. Can you not understand that very simple concept?

If you had reading comprehension, you would realize that I said later on after mentioning the shoe that evolution and QM had different standards of evidence that are verifiable. You don't, so you didn't. You seem to only see what you want to see. At any rate, go ahead and get the last word in, because I'm done typing to the blind.

CL, it also occurred to me that by saying God is not verifiable by science, atheists take that as a weakness of the God hypothesis, when really it is a weakness of science. Logic leads to God, but science can't get you there. The reliance on scientific validation to know what to think is tragic, really.

Luke said...

@Legion:

> As in, they are so duped by both the worship of science and their own powers of reason they can't comprehend the possibility they could be wrong due to science not being the arbiter of truth. I'm not sure why I continue getting involved in these, I have to pretty much address the same nonsense every time.

I recently got Tom Sorell's Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science from the library and it's very interesting. One of the thing he does is take a long-term view and look at what scientistic folks predicted would happen, and then what did happen. There's a lot of nonsense which can be spun in the short-term, while much settles in the long-term. And so, I find looking at history a good way to test ideas. If the person you're talking to doesn't care about history, perhaps you can decide not to care about him/her.

Another great book is Richard J. Bernstein's Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. He explores the shift away from modernism and foundationalism in the philosophy of science, and explores the need for interpretation. He keys a bunch off of Thomas Kuhn (e.g. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions), Peter Winch (e.g. The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy), and Paul Feyerabend (e.g. Against Method). It's a massive rejection of positivism, and eviscerates @Cal's brand of positivism.

From there, you might like Roy A. Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality. He argues that anyone who seriously theorizes has 'religious beliefs', in the sense of having an idea of what fundamental, unconditioned reality is. That reality can be personal or impersonal, pantheistic or pagan (that is, reductionistic), etc. The idea is that these 'religious beliefs' powerfully influence which theories and explanations we steer towards, and which ones we steer away from. Or, which theories never even enter our minds.

And if you have any reading suggestions for me, or other suggestions, feel free to post them. :-) For all the nonsense in this thread, I learned some things, and learned how to say some things better. My vote is "worth it", but I'm an odd duck.

Cal Metzger said...

Luke: "You are probably the only person in the thread who thinks that my point is anything but blindingly obvious."

I think I understand that you have raised the issue that we experience the objective world subjectively, which is maybe interesting in some other discussion but doesn't have any traction with the my objections here. Btw, I've read Lakoff, Kuhn, et al. probably decades before you came across them, I'm largely in agreement with model dependent realism or structural realism or whatever one cares to call it, so pretty much all of your dilettantish linking and cite dropping just makes you seem like someone who's desperate to impress, rather than someone who understands the underlying concepts well enough to cut to the heart of an issue. You have an act, I just don't think it's very convincing.

cl said...

Wow. After all that, Cal pusses out. What a joke.

I just *KNEW* he wouldn't tackle the problem head on. Oh well, we tried, you can lead the atheist to water but can't make them drink!

Just let the audience make note: most of the time, the atheist's cries are more for attention than genuine discussion.

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

Luke said...

@Cal:

> I think I understand that you have raised the issue that we experience the objective world subjectively, which is maybe interesting in some other discussion but doesn't have any traction with the my objections here. Btw, I've read Lakoff, Kuhn, et al. probably decades before you came across them, I'm largely in agreement with model dependent realism or structural realism or whatever one cares to call it, [...]

It's curious that it takes so much work to get you to say such things. You say you like model dependent realism. But it offers the possibility of there being multiple live models of a given phenomenon, as well as multiple phenomena. When there are multiple live options, whence your 'objective'? You seem to be shooting yourself in the foot, here.

You've also utterly failed to note the extent to which your beliefs simply do not supervene on the evidence. For example, you haven't articulated why we ought to prefer a non-agent-cause metaphysics of causation, to one which contains agent causes (possibly including God). From Hume we have a very good argument that we do not receive data about causation via sense experience. And yet, you completely gloss over the troubling, interpretation-requiring question of "which metaphysics of causation"? In case you think this is academic, note Sean Carroll's waffling between "laws of nature" and "unbreakable patterns" over at his Post-Debate Reflections. You can also see that very influential philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright takes this matter of causation seriously, starting in her How the Laws of Physics Lie, and summarized nicely in Nancy Cartwright's Philosophy of Science.

You gloss over all of this and assert "objective", as if it's not problematic. It is, per some very influential philosophers of science. A very good critique is found at pp410–411 of Bernard d'Espagnat's On Physics and Philosophy. But of course, you rationalize your unwillingness to investigate this with "some trivial aspect" or a "diver[sion] to some long-winded and extraneous topic". You don't come out looking good when you do this.

> so pretty much all of your dilettantish linking and cite dropping just makes you seem like someone who's desperate to impress

You're welcome to tell yourself this, but I gain nothing from impressing folks. I want to deepen and correct my understanding, not get patted on the back.

> You have an act, I just don't think it's very convincing.

Many here probably think this describes you, quite well. I do find such symmetries curious.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "We are "lining up" because you come to a Christian site and say ridiculous things. Are we supposed to ignore them?"

No, but it would be refreshing to see some truly consider the problems I raise, instead of circling the wagons in the typical show of human groupishness. I suppose I was hoping that here, in friendly territory, some or one of you would see the difficulty in resolving the problems I raise, and start down the road to doing your own inquiry.

Here's what kills me on some of these sites: I don't think I'm the smartest guy, or the best educated guy, but it's so flipping easy for me to expose the holes in your guys' thinking. Huge, gaping, obvious problems. And it's not like I'm some magician. But as long as I stay consistent, and remain modest in what I know, and answer honestly (things that are actually very easy to do), then I find that it's really, really, really easy to be right. And I think it's funny the contrast between what I can simply express, and the contortions and inconsistency you guys have to defend.

So I know it won't be today, and it won't be this week, but maybe in the next few months, or years, the fact that I raise these obvious problems, and the fact that the responses are so weak and obviously unsatisfying, will contribute to someone doing their own thinking and research and breaking free of the fetters of superstitious thinking.

Some people are, I think, flawed thinkers, and I know I can't do anything to help. But some are decent (or better) thinkers, but they're hamstrung by the things that trap us all -- our history, our identity, our emotional attachments, etc. I've been lucky through most of my life in that my family and circumstances haven't demanded much from what I believe, and for that I think I owe a debt of gratitude.

So, out of that compulsion, I have brought my (basically performed) outspoken rudeness and bluntness and irascibility to you all.

You're welcome.

Luke said...

@Cal:

> Here's what kills me on some of these sites: I don't think I'm the smartest guy, or the best educated guy, but it's so flipping easy for me to expose the holes in your guys' thinking. Huge, gaping, obvious problems.

Another instance of symmetry: folks here think that the same criticism applies to your thinking. Your response? Here it is:

> Cal: I don't care (and I'm right) until you can persuade me I'm wrong by producing something with the concept of the supernatural.

You ask this, without giving a rigorous definition of 'supernatural' or 'natural'. I provided a start to a rigorous definition of 'natural', but it was left to wither. Why don't you give a formal definition of 'supernatural' or 'natural'? Prove the following true:

> Cal: But as long as I stay consistent, and remain modest in what I know, and answer honestly (things that are actually very easy to do), then I find that it's really, really, really easy to be right.

After all, if you're going to criticize the supernatural, you ought to be able to define what you're criticizing, right?

cl said...

"No, but it would be refreshing to see some truly consider the problems I raise, "

Now isn't *THAT* interesting, coming from the guy who refuses to truly consider the problems raised!

Legion of Logic said...

A particularly obnoxious brand of New Atheist is the one who will not acknowledge you have considered and addressed his point unless you agree he is right. Another form of this is the ever present "You only disagree with the arguments because you don't understand them." Seriously, what can you do with that sort of "argument" except laugh?

Luke said...

Well, suffice it to say that if @Cal cannot define basic terms such as 'objective' and 'natural' and 'supernatural' such that they mesh with some established scholarly literature, then the joke is on him. I tried to help him out:

> Luke: the only thing I can really say about a "supernatural belief" is that it does not supervene on the evidence; it brings something to the evidence which was not in the evidence.

Of course, if one frames the matter this way—that a "supernatural belief" is any belief that is not "based on the evidence"†—that problematizes the alleged gratuitousness of 'supernatural'. So the next step is to allege that there are two absolutely unproblematic a priori beliefs which are ok to make:

     (1) My senses are sufficiently reliable.
     (2) There is an external reality.

This really does seem pretty innocuous. Sadly, it omits causation. All the contentiousness, all the tendentiousness, is hidden away, ferreted into that suppressed premise—as I said in comment #1. Are there agent causes? Only impersonal causes? What you presuppose here has great implications. What you presuppose here does not come from "the evidence"—unless you have a good answer to Hume on not receiving causation through the senses. I'll bet @Cal does not have such an argument.

Oh, I forgot that I have this:

> Cal Metzger: My intention, as I stated earlier, is to make online apologists appear as they are: ridiculous.

How, precisely, @Cal defines 'apologist', I don't know. The standard definition is people who offer arguments for why they believe what they believe. Perhaps @Cal thinks this is a terrible behavior. Or perhaps he means to poison the word 'apologist'. Some excellent ways to poison words, and thereby discussions and efforts to seek what is closest to the truth:

     (a) to refuse to define them
     (b) to suppress crucial aspects of a definition
     (c) to push the onus onto other words in the definition

It seems that @Cal has done at least (a) and (c); I forget if he's done (b).

† I said 'supervene' in my comment to @Cal because it is a more precise term and disallows equivoation, where on the one hand 'based on' means 100% based on, and on the other hand 'based on' can sneak in a priori beliefs.

Cal Metzger said...

Luke: "After all, if you're going to criticize the supernatural, you ought to be able to define what you're criticizing, right?"

I have stated that I don't think supernatural is a coherent concept. You should understand that asking me to define something that I think is incoherent is like insisting that I take everything out of a box that's empty.

Legion of Logic said...

Well Cal did make himself appear ridiculous, and since he is an internet atheist apologist, he was largely successful in his goal of making Internet apologists appear ridiculous.

Cal Metzger said...

Just the last wrapping up because Legion complained that I didn't deal comprehensively with one of his last comments:

Legion: "You are seeking experimental, physical, verifiable evidence for God's existence, and that simply cannot be provided."

Good. You agree with me on my first problem with supernatural claims. There isn't any good evidence.

Legion: "God as defined is not a part of the physical world, regardless of whether or not he can choose to interact with it."

I don't really care about definitions. We can change definitions, and create them for anything. I can define a wizard, and write a book about one. Definitions allow for logical consistency (and we can even change our definitions), but definitions are really just a logical tool with language.

I care about descriptions. Because descriptions are something we can check out for ourselves.

Legion: "Thus, the only evidence any scientific endeavor would ever be able to study would be an event that left behind some sort of physical scarring on the ground, or archaeological finds, or miracles today."

Well, no. First, you'd have to describe what a supernatural event would look like, and as I've said many times now, I don't think you will be able to do that. That's because the idea seems incoherent. But, if you can describe what a supernatural event would look like, and you can make that description work -- have it do something for you -- then I will be persuaded that I am wrong about supernaturalism being an incoherent concept.

But that's what you have to do. You don't get to merely say you disagree with me. And you don't get to announce that you're right because you've persuaded yourself. You have to come up with a working description of supernaturalism, and make it do something. Then, I (and everyone else) will actually be persuaded, the same way that we're persuaded about all real things.

Legion: Such things are not all that useful even if located, because it cannot be said that the findings were obviously of a divine source. There could always be a naturalistic cause for most events."

Correct. And the above is one reason why supernaturalism is an incoherent concept. Which is another way of saying that it seems like you agree with me on both of the claims I have been making here.

Legion: "However, I firmly believe that the features of nature and reason disqualify atheism as a valid viewpoint."

No one cares. A lack of belief in gods is not something that fails without your approval or support. It fails when you can provide good evidence for a god.

Legion: "No reason to expect anything contingently existing to exist in of itself. Nothing in the universe is permanent. Not one thing. Thus I find it absurd to say that the universe / multiverse / whateverse is a self-established phenomena of permanence, both past and future, that is made up entirely of contingent, non-permanent parts."

No one cares. Reality doesn't wait for your blessing in order to be. You should maybe try and get over yourself a little.

And with that I think I'm done.

Legion, it appears that you agree with me on the substance of my criticism here but that somehow doesn't affect your reasoning. Whatever.

Luke, maybe try and write a whole comment someday where you just state what you think, and why you think it. Without a lot of tangential references, irrelevant links, and less of a desperate "gotcha this time!" attitude.

Legion of Logic said...

So "no one cares" is now a valid rebuttal. I see.

To everything that Cal said...no one cares. Am I doing it right?

Luke said...

@Cal:

> I have stated that I don't think supernatural is a coherent concept.

Ok. How about 'natural' and 'objective'? Are they coherent concepts? Is 'science' even a coherent concept, given stuff like this from influential philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright?

>> In this book Nancy Cartwright argues against a vision of a uniform world completely ordered under a single elegant theory, and proposes instead a patchwork of laws of nature. Combining classic and newly written essays, The Dappled World offers important methodological lessons for both the natural and the social sciences, and will interest anyone who wants to understand how modern science works. (The Dappled World, dust cover)

Let us recall that über-naturalist Penelope Maddy was reduced to telling stories to define what 'science' is:

>>     A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what 'science' must be, no determinate criterion of the form 'x is science iff …'. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines 'trust only the methods of science'. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn't a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has no theory. Since its contours can't be drawn by outright definition, I resort to the device of introducing a character, a particular sort of idealized inquirer called the Second Philosopher, and proceed by describing her thoughts and practices in a range of contexts; Second Philosophy is then to be understood as the product of her inquiries. (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1)

Rigor and coherence—perhaps not your strong suits, @Cal? After all:

> Cal: I don't really care about definitions. We can change definitions, and create them for anything. I can define a wizard, and write a book about one. Definitions allow for logical consistency (and we can even change our definitions), but definitions are really just a logical tool with language.
>
> I care about descriptions. Because descriptions are something we can check out for ourselves.

So you throw around criticisms of incoherence—which mean conflicting definitions or self-contradictory definitions—and then you say you "don't really care about definitions". You properly describe how wiggly definitions can be, but don't see any problem in letting them be wiggly like that in conversation. Perhaps this is because you depend on this flexibility of definition to engage in your apologetics? Oh wait, maybe you don't actually defend much of a position at all; maybe you go on the attack, exploiting the asymmetry that is: it's easier to criticize a given position than defend a competing position.

Luke said...

As a general note to Christians in this thread, there might be reason to resist this idea of 'nature', or more properly, 'pure nature'. I've been reading John Milbank's The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural and he has been making a lot of sense. Here's a representative bit:

>>     In this way (here elaborated) de Lubac turned the tables on his opponents. The supposition of an actual identifiable pure nature in fact ruins the articulation of divine gratuity and can historically be shown to have done so. The gift of deification is guaranteed by no contrast, not even with Creation, never mind nature. How could it be, since like the Creation, it is a gift to a gift which, in this spiritual instance, the gift then gives to itself in order to sustain its only nature? How could it be guaranteed by contrast, since the gift of deification is so much in excess of Creation that it entirely includes it? In the ultimate experience of the supernatural natural which orients it, namely the beatific vision, our entire being is transfigured by the divine light. Here we become the reception of this light and there is no longer any additional 'natural' recipient of this reception. But this ensures, and does not destroy, radical gratuity. This is perhaps the subtle heart of de Lubac's theology. (Kindle Locations 384–390)

This is a mainstay of Hans Urs von Balthasar's theology as well; from Roger Olson's The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction:

>>     Balthasar calls belief in "pure nature" theologically dangerous. Every theologian writes out of a context of concern. Balthasar's overriding concern was with religious and secular belief in "pure nature." To him, religious belief in pure nature leads to secularism. And secular thought has to reduce nature to pure nature—nature stripped of grace, divorced from the supernatural, shorn of mystery and depth. And he saw the culprits all around him.
>>     For Balthasar, the ultimate villain is "the catastrophe of nominalism."[143] Nominalism is the denial of the reality of universals such as truth, beauty, and goodness. It reduces these to concepts if not mere words. The result of nominalism, which lies at the root of modernity, is "a desiccated and dreary secularized Christianity"[144] bereft of everything that makes Christianity beautiful. If beauty is just in the eye of the beholder, as nominalism has it, then even Jesus Christ is not truly beautiful. The root problem of modernity and the religions of modernity, including most modern theology, according to Balthasar, is lack of aesthetics: [quotation snipped] (600)

If Milbank, de Lubac, and Balthasar are sufficiently correct, then we should expect folks like @Cal to have a serious problem defining what is 'natural'; I think my Maddy excerpts in this thread demonstrate this. There is also Randal Rauser's Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism for an intro to the matter.

Luke said...

Because I've already invested so much time in this thread (screw the sunk cost fallacy)...

I think the best way to characterize @Cal Metzger is that he much prefers going on the attack over defending his own position. This gives him a distinct advantage, because no system of thought is entirely consistent and sound. (You can explore the tradeoffs of being rationally pure vs. empirically adequate in William James' Pragmatism; even his 'tender-minded' vs. 'tough-minded' dichotomy is revealing.) Or, as Wayne C. Booth put it in Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent:

>>     In one definition of the word, it is of course impossible to find any assertions of full skepticism; even silent enactments are difficult. A good general rule is: scratch a skeptic and find a dogmatist. (56)

This isn't the only way that @Cal is clever, though. He also seems to play a game of switching between rational purity and empirical adequacy as is convenient. So, for example, we have from him that "Supernaturalism is an incoherent concept." Now, suppose we try to probe that claim of 'incoherent'. @Cal will lead you to believe that he'll respond appropriately:

> Cal: But as long as I stay consistent, and remain modest in what I know, and answer honestly (things that are actually very easy to do), then I find that it's really, really, really easy to be right.

Here is confirmation that consistency is important. But is that consistency of the 'rational purity' kind, or consistency of the 'empirical adequacy' kind? The ambiguity is absolutely delicious. Following is evidence that @Cal cares less about 'rational purity' than 'empirical adequacy':

> Cal: I don't really care about definitions. [...]
>
> I care about descriptions. Because descriptions are something we can check out for ourselves.

Now, the irony is that descriptions require definitions. To avoid this, @Cal insists on utility:

> Cal: When two people disagree about coherence, the best thing to do is show how the thing is coherent by making it productive. Coherent explanations actually do things.

But what is the utility of advanced pure maths? (Sometimes the utility only comes 50 years later!) What is the utility of the Higgs boson? And, prior to a culture which can support the idea of "Everyone should be equal before the law.", how do we measure the utility of such an idea[l]? Now, the real world needs robustness to errors on theory, where theory doesn't well-match reality. This is the difference between engineering and [especially: theoretical] science. But @Cal seems to be taking advantage of this to avoid any and all investigation of the substrate of his thinking—while attacking the substrate of others' thinking. Well, I say: No more!

Legion of Logic said...

You're right, Luke, though it isn't just Cal. Roughly 100 percent of the atheists I encounter have no desire to defend philosophical naturalism or whatever they claim to adhere to.

Luke said...

Hmmm, I think I may have found a way to encounter slightly higher quality atheists than you. :-) But there are still plenty I encounter who are closet dogmatists masquerading as skeptics.

Legion of Logic said...

Do tell!

Luke said...

Maybe some other day. A sink leak and a wonderful new opportunity are sapping the kind of energy it would take to dredge up examples. The kind of analysis I did with @Cal in this thread was almost autonomic for me, whereas your request is a good one, but effort-full. :-/

Gyan said...

Luke,
"good answer to Hume on not receiving causation through the senses."
I think GEM Anscombe rejected this view. From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
"she further rejected the Humean view that causation is not observable in a single instance. On her view the particular cause produces the particular effect. Anscombe produced examples from ordinary language that seemed to show that we do perceive causation. Such examples are abundant. “I saw her clean the dishes” reports the perception of a causal process."

Luke said...

@Gyan:

I'm aware of G.E. Anscombe via a comment on de Koninck Project: Indeterminism and Indeterminacy, which references Anscombe's "Causation and Determination". I haven't read that paper, although it is on my [very long] reading list. I tend to read such things "on demand", e.g. when a discussion online pushes toward deeper knowledge in some area.

I'm also aware of stuff like this, from Paul E. Griffiths' What Emotions Really Are: The Problem of Psychological Categories:

>> Children do not create concepts simply by grouping particulars on the basis of overall similarity. Instead, they create causal explanatory theories of particular domains and cluster instances according to their possession of theoretically significant properties in the these schemes of explanation (Keil 1989). (6)

Griffiths also talks about 'feature selection' being a very complex and important deal (178ff). To what extent some model of causation is involved in 'feature selection' I'm not sure, but I could easily see it being a Big Deal.

See also this bit by Charles Taylor, essay "Overcoming Epistemology":

>>     Kant already showed that the atomistic understanding of knowledge that Hume espoused was untenable in the light of these conditions. If our states were to count as experience of an objective reality, they had to be bound together to form a coherent whole, or bound together by rules, as Kant conceived it. However much this formulation may be challenged, the in­coherence of the Humean picture, which made the basis of all knowledge the reception of raw, atomic, uninterpreted data, was brilliantly demon­strated. How did Kant show this? He established in fact an argument form that has been used by his successors ever since. It can be seen as a kind of appeal to intuition. In the case of this particular refutation of Hume (which is, I believe, the main theme of the transcendental deduction in the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason), he makes us aware, first, that we wouldn't have what we recognize as experience at all unless it were constru­able as of an object (I take this as a kind of proto-thesis of intentionality), and second, that their being of an object entails a certain relatedness among our "representations." Without this, Kant says, "it would be possible for appearances to crowd in upon the soul and yet to be such as would never allow of experience." Our perceptions "would not then belong to any expe­rience, consequently would be without an object, merely a blind play of representations, less even than a dream."[16] (Philosophical Arguments, 10)

Furthermore, I've read some of Rom Harré's Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity and a tiny bit of Roy Bhaskar's The Possibility of Naturalism: A philosophical critique of the contemporary human sciences.

———

I wonder though, if this damages my point about Hume. After all, what the naive evidentialist believes is that how 'the senses' work is a simplistic thing where disciplined, repeated observations will clear up errors. When one starts integrating models of causation into perception, this simplicity seems eviscerated. Treating the two aspects as logically distinct seems valid, even if there is no such ontological distinction.

Thoughts?

David Brightly said...

Sadly, Cal was never able to articulate his scepticism regarding the supernatural beyond a kind of robust common sense---What are you guys talking about, isn't it perfectly obvious that the world we see around us is all there is? And going back to the original post, What outside? There is no outside. This is it. All rather refreshing, I thought. To undermine this some pretty heavy intellectual artillery was trundled up, but I suspect it has left Cal's intuition quite unscathed. Many, many people have supernaturalistic intuitions, who haven't been exposed to intellectual argument of a destructive or indeed constructive kind. The challenge, surely, is to articulate these convictions in such a way as to give Cal pause. After all, he is being told that he is overlooking something that is staring him in the face.

Luke said...

@David:

> What are you guys talking about, isn't it perfectly obvious that the world we see around us is all there is?

Heh, this would be Scottish Common Sense Realism and perhaps the Baconian method, and while both were popular in the 1800s, they both got swept away, at least as far as the academy was concerned (see Christian Smith's The Secular Revolution). The irony is that many used Scottish Common Sense Realism in a conservative way, to disallow 'innovation'. "What we have works for us; it's productive. Why change?" Imagine if the scientists during the scientific revolution were to be confronted with the following talk by (to pick a villain atheists love) a Christian skeptic (-strikethrough-, _underline_):

> Cal': You are free to demonstrate to me that -supernatural- _scientific_ claims are coherent. When two people disagree about coherence, the best thing to do is show how the thing is coherent by making it productive. Coherent explanations actually do things.

Well, the first success which really gave preference to Galileo's theory over others was his accurate prediction of the phases of Venus (see The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown). But of what use did this esoteric theory have for feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, curing the sick? It's not "productive"! We want real things, things to help those in need. Why waste time and money and intellectual resources on this nonsense? What we have is plenty good enough for keeping time.

Not only this, but there was a "problem of empirical rationality" which mirrors the current "problem of moral rationality", a.k.a. "evidential problem of evil":

>> In 1590, skeptics still doubted whether humans can find universal regularities in nature; by 1640, nature was in irremediable decay: but, by 1700, the changeover to the "law-governed" picture of a stable cosmos was complete. (Cosmopolis, 110)

It is as if there must be evidenced-based hope for reality being more ordered than previously thought.