Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rational Reflection and Prior Probability

John:  I have never denied that upbringing has any influence. I suppose my upbringing might have provided a set of initial priors. But when I consider the question of the Resurrection of Christ today, I have to consider all the waterboarding, as Bob would say, all the critical reflection that has taken place since that time. I became a philosophy major because if there were reasons to reject Christianity, I wanted to hear them sooner rather than later.  During my time as a philosophy major, where I encountered Hume's essay on miracles for the first time, and wrote two papers on it. During my time in seminary, I not only encounter more skepticism about the Bible than I had ever encountered before, but also got to know Keith Parsons when we lived in the same house.  My career graduate student was in highly secularized philosophy departments, where I was part of a Christian minority. There was one known believer in the 18-man University of Illinois philosophy faculty. I spent did my dissertation work under a teacher who grilled my arguments incessantly, and while he didn't officially state his own views on religion, certain did not come across as a believer.

Add to that the style of questioning that I consistently engaged in. Coming from the logic-dominated world of chess I was highly resistant to any appeal to blind faith. I've always had trouble with doctrines like biblical inerrancy and papal infallibility.

So I've got a lot feeding into my priors besides my upbringing. Do you deny that?

So, by the time I get to 2010, and I start reflecting on the question of the Resurrection, there is a lot of learning and questioning that has gone on since my upbringing occurred, so if someone says "Well, your priors just come from your upbringing," what that seems to me to be doing is to just ignore or denigrate all the questioning and learning I might have done since. When you imply that none of the thinking and learning I did over a 39-year period has anything to do with why I believe what I believe, that's what makes me irate. If that isn't what you're saying, then you need to be clearer.

Many people come to beliefs which differ sharply from the way they were raised. Bob Prokop and I had a friend, Joe Sheffer, who had no religious upbringing, converted to Protestant Christianity in college, and later joined the Catholic Church. So much for the overwhelming power of upbringing. If upbringing is so powerful, what happened to you?

It would be easy to pick on non-rational factors from your personal story and explain your nonbelief in terms of those things. Your Christian opponents have done it many times. And you don't like it, since it ignores your actual arguments.

There are many reasons that I could give for why I have priors that leave me open to the possibility of a miraculous explanation for the founding of Christianity. One that I have devoted considerable energy to is Lewis's argument from reason. If the physical is causally closed, then of course there can't be any miracles, but I maintain the if the physical is causally closed, then no scientist, mathematician, or philosopher has ever performed a rational inference. I have never seen you deal with that argument in any serious way, but it is very relevant. To give a full account of why I believe what I do would take at least a whole new book, and maybe I will write it.

If we critically reflect on our beliefs, if we consider the views of our opponents, if we take the raft of beliefs that we started with and add planks that are shown to be needed by the evidence and discard those that are shown to be faulty by the evidence, we have done all we can do to discover the truth. I'm not a Cartesian foundationalist. That doesn't mean that bias can't hide from us. Just saying "follow science" doesn't help us much. These questions are not purely scientific questions, nor can they be. Sure, science gives us information that is relevant to these matters, and that has to be considered. But does science really help to answer the question as to whether or not the universe exists contingently, and therefore must depend on something else for its existence? Well may be it does--it seems to be telling us these days that the universe began to exist. But I'm afraid metaphysics, and metaphysical questions (questions that go beyond physics) will be with us always.


Anonymous said...

Vic, let ME be clear here. If I were raised in a Chinese family in China I would think like them. I would believe like them. I would act like them.

Yep, me. I would be a Chinese man in every respect. I am completely a child of my times. I am not very rational, none of us are.

Why can't you admit what I do?

Sheesh, no wonder they're saying your Ph.D. should be revoked over at my blog and that I should ignore you from now on.

My point, since Graham is too dense, is that the only way to break free from our prejudices is to follow the sciences. They are our best and only hope.

Religion does nothing here since we believe what we prefer to believe.

And philosophy? Come on now. Again you cannot be that dense. Tell me which philosophical opinions have a consensus to them? Philosophy uses the biases we inherit and then constructs reasons why our biases can be justified.

I value philosophy and yet I don't. Philosophy based on the sciences is the only thing I value for breaking down our inherited biases.

And yes, I was lucky to be exposed to the sciences, and philosophy, but that's the point. What if you were so exposed? What then? You do not have the intellectual muscle to invent philosophy on your own or the sciences. So we got lucky being born and raised the way we were. I admit this. It is non-controversial and unproblematic.

Why is it you kick against the goads?

Now without your biases toward your particular religion tell me the order of the priors that would justify your faith.

The AfR is NOT your prior. You had priors before that which led you as a philosopher to come up with it in the first place and one of the reasons I do not value philosophy divorced from the sciences which can and does lead smart people to justify what they already believe.

Oh, but there are deal ears here. And blind people.

Only if you admit you are a child of your times can I take you seriously. And once you do then you might justify Christianity without them.

Can you do it?

I think not.

Anonymous said...

Corrections, that's

What if you weren't so exposed..

And once you do then you must justify Christianity without them.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"My point, since Graham is too dense, is that the only way to break free from our prejudices is to follow the sciences. They are our best and only hope."

Needless to say, that doesn't challenge his social conditioning, for his faith in science is, itself, a reflection of his social conditioning. A reflection of his modern, Western outlook.

Science is not a way of taking the Outsider Test, for to test his beliefs against science is, itself, a reflection of a particular, insider perspective.

Victor Reppert said...

The statement that one is a child of one's times is less than clear. Are we affected by our the time and place of our birth, of course. But there is a difference between an originating cause and a sustaining cause. My parents' lovemaking was the originating cause of my existence. But I could have drowned in the Cross-Cut Canal near my home when I was 14, or died from food poisoning at 35, or died for any number of other reasons since. You need a lot more to explain why I am alive today than just how I began my life 57 years ago.

And why does the influence of one's upbringing have to be non-rational. Couldn't I have been raised with reasons to believe?

The fallacy here is that you are conflating the question of how my beliefs originated with the question of how my beliefs are sustained. The originating cause of my life does not sustain that life now. The originating cause of my beliefs was not sufficient to sustain my beliefs now, though it may have played a role.

You are assuming that whatever the originating causes of my beliefs might have been, those must be now be sufficient to sustain my belief now. I can imagine numerous scenarios in which future learning would have undermined my beliefs.

I read Bertrand Russell's The Value of Free Thought, and heard my philosophy teacher talk about Kierkegaard, and wondered if my beliefs were reasonable or not. So I questioned them. I exposed myself to the best reasoning I could find on both sides of the issue. I was a damn nuisance to my Christian friends.

The advice "follow science" is too vague. Science does not directly address the question of Christianity. People like Dawkins who claim to speak on behalf of science are speaking as amateurs when they talk about religion.

Shouldn't I ask the question how science is even possible? That's the question the AFR asks, and that's why it's relevant here. So, I should follow science and adopt a philosophy that makes science impossible?

I hate to say it, but people over in your echo chamber want to revoke the Ph.Ds of everyone who defends Christianity. Real Christian brainwashing factory, that Illinois philosophy department.

Victor Reppert said...

Given the amount of non-rational influences that there are, and how difficult it is to be rational, the way one tries to be rational is by working hard at it, and considering reasons on both sides. I've done that the best I know how, with a lot of help from my friends and professors. There's no magical mantle of science that you can put on that will be helpful. That's the most fundamental point on which you and I differ.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

I find it interesting Mr Loftus talking about The Chinese. I was visiting my wife's uncles church a Chinese Methodist one. Which was mainly 1st generation Christians. They were still very Chinese still just not buddhist any more. Obviously there priors were challenged.

unkleE said...


I admire you for continuing to address these questions, though I wonder whether it is necessary. You seem to be seriously grappling with the issues whereas John seems to be speaking from a position he regards as not needing any further argument. You thus show yourself to be more open-minded than John and more willing to reason rather than simply assert.

It is obvious that not all upbringings in the US are the same, nor is upbringing the only factor determining what a person believes. John's argument can only be statistical, identifying a tendency, not determinative, and only deals with one of many possible factors involved. And if it was successful, it would undercut all arguments, including his own. By focusing on what he thinks is pre-determined, he misses the opportunity to discuss the interesting factors that explain why you and he differ.

And his argument is very US-centric. The real action in world christianity is happening elsewhere, in China and Asia generally, in Africa, in South America and even in the middle east, where millions upon millions of people are making the outsider test irrelevant by choosing to follow Jesus out of a very non-christian background.

Having said all that, thanks, Vic, for all your thoughtful posts on this and every other topic. More power to your blog in 2011!!!

Emanuel Goldstein said...

John says they are saying Vic'c Ph.D should be revoked over on John's blog.


At least he got a Ph.D., Johnny...and not some "equivalent".

Emanuel Goldstein said...

John, you say if you were raised in a Chinese family in China you would be like them?

Well, if you had been raised in a Nazi family in the Third Reich would you be a Nazi?

And if you were, how could you condemn them?

You are "kicking against the pricks."

Emanuel Goldstein said...

John says to trust Science over at his blog.

But he is not an expert in science...he could not even get decent grades in High School Algebra.

I can bet he can not explain Quantum Mechanics by mathematical formulas, but he accepts it.

I bet he can not use Calculus to explain the orbit of the planets.

And his own atheism is Non Falsifiable, because he can always fall back on "chancedidit" as he explains in the last chapter of WIBA, and hence is not Scientific.

He is appealing to authority blatantly.

Thomas Caballeros said...

"Sheesh, no wonder they're saying your Ph.D. should be revoked over at my blog and that I should ignore you from now on."

So the supposed advocates of "Free Thought" would like to destroy someones livelihood by canceling there educational credentials, and for what reason? For daring to disagree with them?

Anonymous said...

Vic said, The advice "follow science" is too vague. Science does not directly address the question of Christianity.

Oh, but it does.

And there are several occupations that are conducive to non-belief most of which are science related.

Anthony Fleming said...

Mr. Loftus, you wrote, "Science is not a way of taking the Outsider Test, for to test his beliefs against science is, itself, a reflection of a particular, insider perspective."

Mr. Loftus, I don't see the outsider test as a bad idea. However, I don't think you solve it by giving it the objective standard of science. For one, science presupposes certain truths that you would not value if you were raised in a different country, like logic. Some are abandoning logic, like many of my practical atheist peers. There is a book I just recently saw at my library called The upside of irrationality : the unexpected benefits of defying logic at work and at home by Dan Ariely.

Science cannot in and of itself prove science. We assume the universe is uniform and that science can be done. Science has had some major discoveries, but we do not have evidence that science will eventually lead us to the truth in all areas of inquiry. This is something science takes on faith. We may believe we have the truth and that science will eventually line up with our beliefs (something more believable now than 50 years ago) while science believes it will eventually come to the truth through evidence. There is however no evidence for this claim in terms of all inquiry.

You wrote, "Religion does nothing here since we believe what we prefer to believe."

In terms of my experience with religion this is not the case. I am a minister and yet I can safely say in my own experience and well as many others whom I know this is not the case. For a long time I did not want Christianity to be true, however, God still got a hold of me in some amazing ways.

However, even if my experience is invalid that kind of blanket statement does not alleviate science. If we believe what we prefer to believe then science is no exception. Many of the scientists I met spend their time debating each other when they aren't debating Christians. I like to think of an illustration from Christopher Hitchens, whom I find the most intelligent (by far) of the new atheists and incredibly interesting. Anyway, he starts off comparing Dawkins and Collins beliefs on when the human race began. Wouldn't you know there is a 100,000 year difference there. Where is the science that tells us what science to follow?

Anthony Fleming said...

I know the problem with the point I just made so I am going to go further. I have been reading a book lately called Wisdom From Philosophy to Neuroscience. I was anxious to see the major problems that neuroscience found especially in terms of morals. This is number 7 on your list of professions that lead people to become atheists. Anyway, the problem is they borrow from Christianity and other moral philosophies to come to their conclusion. Most of the time their conclusions sound something like this, "something lights up in the brain before someone makes a decision so therefore the decision is made before they choose A or B." Really messed up, my computer lights up before I choose what to click but that doesn't mean the computer chose for me. Second, they test only with things we consider as moral. They can't figure out if there are certain things moral or not that we don't know about (which would be most beneficial). So they borrow from these religions on morals to figure out why they are considered morals and then tell us they aren't really moral. The next thing they say is, "because this area lights up we know whats going on in the brain and therefore this must be all that is going on." Overextending science is what I call it.

Also, what are you exactly trying to achieve here? Do you want us to rational accept your case for our irrationality?

Anthony Fleming said...

Last but not least, science itself cannot tell you what science is best, or good, or right. It may be able to tell you what you may feel and why you may feel it (still a long shot). It cannot tell what you are thinking, it cannot see your immaterial thoughts. There is no science that regulates science. It is only about whether it is best for the human race, or planet, or animals etc or not. Which one should we value? Mother nature? Human beings? Animals? Aliens in outer space? Science can tell us what (in natural terms) may be best for these things but it cannot tell us which one we SHOULD value. Should we value mother nature at the expense of the human race? Science can tell us how to do it but it cannot tell us if we should do it.

These are values once again that can be affected by the material and data of your priors. Therefore science is not out of reach of the outsider test, unless you want to presuppose that we are superior to the planet and should be valued above other life forms, in which case you have no reason to believe that based on scientific evidence. This is not believed by all cultures or people, especially those with different priors.

Now if it would be found that it is best for the human race not to live by logic (which would still need a reason) then logic would should be abandoned if you want to presuppose the superior value of the human race.

My point is that science is limited and not something you can just "follow." If you could then how much evidence should you have before you believe something? Where is the evidence for how much evidence one should require in order to believe something?

Science now has gaps and that always leaves room for a new possible theory that will change everything like from Newtonian physics to quantum. You probably know that though, Dinesh brought up in your debate with him.

Victor Reppert said...

Nothing on that list of scientific developments logically entails the falsity of Christianity, and some of the claims involved there are open to debate within the scientific community. I should do a post on your list.

Anonymous said...

Vic said, Nothing on that list of scientific developments logically entails the falsity of Christianity...

Of course not silly. What are you expecting from the opposition, an airtight case? Think about what you're asking for.


A Mormon and a Muslim would say the same exact thing.

Victor Reppert said...

And they'd be right. But could you make a list of instances where scientific evidence has helped Christianity, and then argue that the negatives outweigh the positives?

Anonymous said...

Listen up Vic, science has solved a lot of things. Take for instance pre-Copernicus. There wasn't a good explanation for the cosmos so guess what? God did it. Then there wasn't a good explanation for the different species of animals and guess what? God did it. In every century God did it was the standard explanation. And in each century that explanation was a false one as it stands. More and more Christians have retreated God from having a direct influence on the universe relegating him instead to the sustainer and creator.

All you do with science is to take the latest findings and then find a mystery and say this is where God id still active. It's the same paradigm though, based on an argument from ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should tell us what scientific discoveries actually support the Bible? I mean as positive evidence not negative evidence. And while you're at it tell us which scientific discoveries were predated in the pages of the Bible, that is, what did the Bible tells us that predated science as proof there is an omniscient god?

Why didn't your god tell us that drinking polluted water would kill us, or that lead poisoning would do the same, or which poisonous plants and creatures would kill us if bitten? Many people, mostly children had to die in every part of the globe because your god was too busy telling us how to use our penises.

And where in the Bible can we find your god telling us how to discover penicillin, or a vaccine for tuberculosis, or polio. Some information during the Bubonic Plague and the wold-wide Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, premature ejaculation:

Some information during the Bubonic Plague and the wold-wide Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918 would have been helpful such as a vaccine, or information about quarantining people.

But no.

Come on Vic, really. Can you actually believe that an omniscient perfectly good being told us more about using our penises than some really good and helpful information like that?

Your really baffle me. The ONLY explanation that fits the data is that you are delusional.

Anthony Fleming said...

Mr. Loftus,

Why is it wrong for God not to have told everyone the things you are accusing him of? Are you affirming his existence, accusing him of evils, and then denying his existence at the same time? What is the source of good you are using for the evil you are accusing him of?

If you don't believe he exists and it is irrational to believe he exists then make your case. If you believe he exists but don't agree with him then make your case. Either way, decide what argument you are going to use.

Your arguments can actually be extended into things going on today. Where is God with all the people starving in Honduras and Haiti? Where is God with all that is going on in Africa? Christians have the same questions, the difference is that they do something about it. No where in the Bible do we have the guarantee that this life is all that we have offered to us, in fact it is quite the opposite. If there is a heaven, an eternity, then the problems here are small compared to what's coming. That is why the first question must be tackled as to whether there is a God or not. Whether Christianity is true or not. If it is, those allegations are simply empty ignorant accusations made without full understanding.

Anthony Fleming said...

I wrote, "If there is a heaven, an eternity, then the problems here are small compared to what's coming."

Correction, "If there is a heaven, an eternity, then the problems here may be not worth remembering when contrasted with what is promised."

Victor Reppert said...

What does delusional mean, over and above having a false belief?

So science can't support religion? The Bible says that there was a beginning. Science seems to be confirming that claim.

There's nothing essential to Christianity about certain things having primary divine causes, except critical miracles like the Resurrection. What's more, the very possibility of science requires such things as intentionality, mental causation in virtue of propositional content, necessary logical truths, which are impossible on an atheist world-view. These things just don't fit into a naturalistic ontology.

Anonymous said...

Delusional means maintaining a belief despite overwhelming evidence.

The very fact that you claim that what I argue for does not logically entail the non-existence of your god is delusional. For why should you demand this high standard of proof before you see the evidence is overwhelming, even if it isn't an airtight case?

Victor Reppert said...

Because I don't buy the case. I've been underwhelmed by this kind of argument for a long time. Atheists haven't even shown me how science is so much as possible on their world-view. There are logical, not just explanatory, gaps, between the mental and the physical, such that, if we try to describe the mental as physical, we find ourselves explaining it away. You can take all the outsider tests you want, but in the final analysis, unless there is a God, all your thoughts are ultimately the result of irrational causes. (Yes, Anscombe, I know all about non-rational v. irrational, but irrational is proper usage here). You don't believe anything for the reasons you think you do. You believe them because the physical world happened to shake out in your brain the way it did. The only way you could believe what you believe for the reasons you think you believe them is if God is real and the ultimate source of logic and reason, and the creator (albeit perhaps through an evolutionary process) of the human mind.

Anonymous said...

More negative evidence Vic. We cannot quite explain the processes of the brain so insert your god.

Plus there is counter-evidence that disconfirms the existence of the mind or the soul, something required of your argument. A crowbar to the brain changes one's personality and thought patterns. A stroke does likewise. With drugs we can change a person's perceptions and thoughts.

Come on. You know these things.

If there is a mind how in hell does it tell your brain what to think, or your body to move?

There isn't even a good reason why your god had to create us with brains if there is a non-localized mind. Give me one. Don't go Berkley on me to save your faith either. But I do think I might push you into holy spirit epistemology though, if I do anything, for you're likely to do whatever it takes to continue believing.

So you know the drill.

No wonder neurologists are mostly nonbelievers Vic. can you explain that?

Victor Reppert said...

No, this is not something that brain mapping is going to solve. It has to do with a logical difference between the physical and the mental.

Brain and mind are related to one another. Sure, if you clobber my radio receiver, the signal doesn't come through. That doesn't mean the radio is an ultimate source of news and entertainment.

Why do I need a radio if those waves are flying through space. But I can't tune them in without it.

I think BDK has critiqued this argument, but I suppose he's delusional, too.

Anthony Fleming said...

Dinesh tackled that issue in his book Life After Death: The Evidence. A injury to the brain that causes different human functionality does not mean that is the only place that thinking happens. A computer hardware may be damaged but that doesn't mean the software wouldn't run well if put into another computer. The fact that a crowbar to our head causes impairment doesn't mean that is the source of the reasoning.

Anonymous said...

Anthony Fleming said...The fact that a crowbar to our head causes impairment doesn't mean that is the source of the reasoning.

Soooo, unless disconfirming evidence proves something you can always retreat to what is possible despite the evidence.

I wish I had a dollar every time a Christian punted to the mere possible.

I'm only looking at what is probable.

Anonymous said...

Vic, I cannot convince you otherwise.

But why does the brain of chimps who must eat to survive demand a god? This is how brains have evolved. In fact we have three brains built on top of one another. We still have the reptilian brain Vic, underneath it all. You do know this, right? When did the mind arrive on the scene Vic? And how did that species gain it?

Anthony Fleming said...

My point was to refute your point. The fact that someone is impaired because of a blow to the head does not mean the brain was the only source of what was going on.

I cannot think my thoughts are material. If we are both thinking of pickles our brains do not show the same activity. If my thoughts are not material then perhaps there is something else going on up there (my head) than just material activity.

The fact that many neurologists are atheists doesn't prove anything. The science could be attractive to people who are atheists.

Also, neuroscience interests me which is why I brought up something that had to do with neuroscience earlier in this post.

Anthony Fleming said...

Also your point is not uncomfortable to me, it would be more expedient in these types of discussions if we could leave those types of assumptions to ourselves.

I great as a Christian Catholic who had many problems with the idea of life after death. The idea of our bodies ending in the ground was always more attractive to me than the idea of an afterlife. I don't know you, I can only see your ideas and I don't claim the omniscience to know your motives behind your posting. Perhaps we could share that mutual respect.

Anonymous said...

Vic, when it comes to the justification of knowledge I'm a pragmatist. It works.

John Shook is the leading pragmatist thinker in our generation. You should get and read one of his many books.

With pragmatism we need no more justify what we know than that it helps us survive. I'm an atheist because Christianity does not work. Atheism does.

You do know the critiques of the correspondence theory, right?

But that's still another aspect to your argument. Why do we need a mind if what we think helps us survive? If pragmatism is what we all use to justify knowledge then your argument cannot even get off the ground.

There's nominlism too you know, from the likes of William of Occam, that a proper concept of God is that he created reason, and if that's the case he could have created a different world with different a different kind of reasoning as bizarre as that sounds, he could even have created an irrational world. Then some believer in that different world would claim, similarity as you do, that such a world is evidence that such a god exists. That is one reason why god-hypotheses don't work.

So there are many different kinds of arguments and evidence you have to deal with to make your case, and quite frankly I'm not interested. For even if you are right there are a thousand gods who could fit the bill and another reason why god-hypotheses don't work.

Anthony Fleming said...

Mr. Loftus, I have a question for you. How much evidence should be required for someone to believe any particular proposition?

Anonymous said...

The evidence should be at least 51% to accept something and then there is still room for doubt depending on the probability.

Anthony Fleming said...

Where is your evidence for that proposition?

Anonymous said...

Oh come on now.

It's the evidence of life itself. the evidence that my wife loves me is in her deeds. From those deeds I conslude how probable it is that she loves me.

This isn't hard to understand.

Anthony Fleming said...

So I can't give evidence of life itself that God loves me and that he has proven himself to me?

Anthony Fleming said...

I'm off for the night. Look forward to continuing this tomorrow. By the way, good choice for your new computer.

Victor Reppert said...

The trouble with pragmatism is that it leaves you with no answer to the guy who says "I don't care whether it's delusional or not. It makes me happy. Works for me." According to pragmatism, it is the height of rationality, not irrationality, for people to believe what they prefer to be true.

Lots of people would be less happy, even if atheism is true, if they became atheists. Others, of course, wouldn't. But for those people who are happier as believers, you do them a disservice if you get them to reject what makes them happy, even if it is true (and what does "true" mean to a pragmatist, anyway).

If you are an anti-pragmatist, you can say that people ought to believe what is true whether it makes them happy or not. So you might be doing them a service by debunking their religion. But not if you are a pragmatist. Do you know some people have taken their own lives when they lost their faith?

Anonymous said...


Wish I had been near my computer several hours ago, when you used Copernicus as a point in the phony Science vs Religion issue. Sorry, but you can't use him for "your" side. Copernicus was a life-long devout Catholic - in fact, he was a Bishop. He was a theist, a Christian, a Catholic, and a scientist - all without any contradiction.

Mr Veale said...


Stop hiding your replies to me on separate threads, ya big chicken! Now I've got to read through 42 comments to catch up!

O, and Happy New Year!

Mr Veale said...

"My point, since Graham is too dense, is that the only way to break free from our prejudices is to follow the sciences..."

I'm going to label that reply 'specious, naive twaddle'.

For example - which social scientific model of the sciences should I follow? Is history a science (it follows a different methodology?) Or do you mean science as wissenschaft?

Once again - nice soundbite, shame about the argument.


Anonymous said...

John Loftus continues to make grand claims about science, and yet he has no scientific background himself.

In fact, it was pointed out that many of the theories he relies on, from Quantaum Mechanics to "multiverse" ideas (and these are just examples) are beyond his ability to explain using any higher level mathematics.

And yet he relies on them, not even fully understanding them.

And so he continues to rely on authority.

And, in the end, in the last chapter of WIBA he falls back on his ultimate explanation for it all...CHANCE.

That is his word...CHANCE.

Hence, John's arguments comes down to "CHANCEDIDIT", and this is no more demonstrable than is his ability to solve a Calculus problem.


An Actual Freethinker

Anonymous said...

Vic said: The trouble with pragmatism is that it leaves you with no answer to the guy who says "I don't care whether it's delusional or not. It makes me happy. Works for me."

Such ignorance Vic. Surely you teach philosophy. Damn I become less impressed every day.

The counter-argument here is that it does not work for him, and I'm making it. Again, touch the cover of the Cambridge Companion to Pragmatism ed. by John Shook.

Vic said: According to pragmatism, it is the height of rationality, not irrationality, for people to believe what they prefer to be true.

People believe things that are destructive to themselves and the world, Vic. The goal of the pragmatist is to help people see that what they prefer to believe does not work.

I would have thought that you addressed these concerns when making you case for the AfR. Because of these trite and ignorant answers of yours my guess is that you haven't.

John Shook, okay? No more ignorance.

Anonymous said...

More ignorance, this time from Bob Prokop on Copernicus.

Read Richard Carrier's chapter in The Christian Delusion on science.

Look what a Christian scholar said of it:

From Dr. Kenneth J. Howell, author of God's Two Books: Copernican Cosmology and Biblical Interpretation in Early Modern Science:

I liked Richard Carrier’s chapter on science. I see within it hope for an advancement of knowledge. When dealing with the ancients, Carrier is superb.

Anonymous said...

Graham, I was purposely hiding from you?

Damn, you found me.

Let's start over.

Close your eyes (oh, sorry, they're already closed) and count to ten.

And I'll hide again.

GREV said...

Graham -- John's comments often make for interesting sound bites but not much more.

Anonymous said...

Vic, I'm new to this blog but I'm struck by the calm rationality with which you answer challenges, and the patience with which you respond to the constant subject changing of your challengers.

Do you ever receive challenges that actually make you have to think hard or are today's post and comments an exception to the rule?

Mr Veale said...

I seek him here, I seek him there...the odd chap who thinks reading Richard Carrier is informative

Al Moritz said...

Being both a scientist (a biochemist) and philosophically sufficiently informed, I am rather amused at John's naive trust in science to give us the only and all relevant answers.

John's thinking is along the lines of the typically circular atheist argument:

1) Since I don't believe in anything beyond the natural world, I only trust in science, in what I can measure and observe scientifically, under the assumption of natural causes

2) Science does not find anything beyond what it establishes with its particular method, the scientific method, relying on what it can measure and observe scientifically, under the assumption of natural causes

3) Hence, nothing exists beyond what can be measured and observed scientifically, beyond the natural world

The circular "I told you so!". The conclusion that nothing exists beyond the physical world is already baked into the premise.


Of course, there are scientists who have the same attitude as John, that science is the one and only one discipline able to give us answers to all the relevant questions. But that claim of exclusivity to science does not make them better scientists, it only makes them confused analytical thinkers.

Science cannot answer all the relevant questions. For example, *why* are the laws of nature what they are? Science is very good at explaining *how* the laws of nature work and in answering the "why" questions arising from that, e.g. why does the sun "rise" every morning? But the *why* of the laws of nature itself is a question outside the realm of science. After all, by which kind of observation or experiment would you answer the question? Of course, you could try to answer the question about the particular physical constants of our universe by the multiverse idea. Two problems here:

a) Multiverse is outside the particle horizon of our universe and thus by definition unobservable, outside of the reach of science.

b) Even if a multiverse could be observed, the next (philosophical) question would arise: why this particular multiverse and not any other? And more general: Why in the first place is there order of physical laws instead of chaos?


I agree with John that "science works". However, one reason why it can give us so clear-cut answers to many questions lies precisely in its self-restriction of methodology. This self-restriction is necessary for science to be science; in contrast to ID advocates I am no proponent of "extending" the methodology of science.

Mr Veale said...

Right, let's see if I can make some sense out of this.

1) We'll ignore the question begging and ignorant assertion - "Religion does nothing here since we believe what we prefer to believe."
You shouldn't really blather on about how our religious beliefs are forced on us by our culture, and how religious beliefs make many people miserable (eg. "our inherited biases) and then come off with a statement like that.

2) "the only way to break free from our prejudices is to follow the sciences. They are our best and only hope." etc. etc. blah, blah, blah

This confuses consensus with truth. And it suggests that you don't take the craft of the historian very seriously at all, John.
The scientific community has in the past rejected action-at-a-distance, atoms, the corpuscular theory of light and has taught that aether and phlogiston existed.
Furthermore, a brief glance at the history of science shows that non-rational forces can work to create a strong consensus in the Scientific Community. I can recommend Fabulous Science: Fact and Fiction in the History of Scientific Discovery by John Waller.
It simply isn't the case that Science always tends towards consensus. For example, what is the fundamental unit of selection in evolution? At least we can hope that theorists could resolve that question. But consider two others that may never, and probably never will ever, be answered the same way by every researcher. (a) How should we interpret Quantum Mechanics? (b) What is the connection between the brain and conscious experience?

In any case, how will the Sciences ever create a consensus on the issue of Human Rights? I suggest that you read Walter Gratzer's The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-deception and Human Frailty on the topic of eugenics. Why did Britain refuse to adopt eugenic policies? Because individual liberties are so vital that they should never be placed at the mercy of "the experts" - by which Parliament meant "Scientific Experts".


Mr Veale said...

I'll just add that there isn't one scientific methodology. On one account Scientists attempt to Infer to the Best Explanation; but they have this in common with every rational discipline.
And this is exactly what Philosophers like Swinburne and Michael Banner are trying to do - justify Theism via Inference to the Best Explanation.

Now there are three fairly serious posts objecting to your "Sciencey Soundbites". Without relying on 'your-mates-who-wrote-some-chapters for-you-in-a-book-that-some Christians-thought-OK-or-maybe-even-quite-good' can you give us a semblance of a reply? Please? As a New Year/Late Christmas present?

Or you can think up new insults for Christians. It's all good fun either way (-:


Anonymous said...

Al said John's thinking is along the lines of the typically circular atheist argument:


Science focuses on that which is detectable and its hallmark is doubt. The the adult attitude toward claims.

If your God is not detectable and cannot be apprehended by an adult attitude I can't help him.

Al again, Science cannot answer all the relevant questions. For example, *why* are the laws of nature what they are?

"Why" questions like why does this universe exist? Science is attempting to answer that very question. The "God did it!" answer has been shown to be wrong ever time so far. And at every stop gap there we find Christians moving the goal posts again and again, "Ummm, okay God didn't solve that question but here's another one." I wish I could take you back through time on this to get a perspective on how the god-hypothesis has continually retreated in the face of science.

Now here they are again moving the goal posts as science advances.

Mr Veale said...

"Science focuses on that which is detectable and its hallmark is doubt."

Again, lovely catchphrase, but utter tosh. Was Eddington wrong to vociferously advance General Relativity before he had definitive proof? Was Galileo wrong to criticise geo-centrism before he had anything close to definitive proof?

Should physicists contemplating MWI just pack it in because these are, in principle, beyond direct detection? What about Dark Energy or Dark Matter? Can't get them in a test tube - so should we give up?


Mr Veale said...

In other words, that's not a definition, John, it's a stipulation, and a pretty poor one at that!

Mr Veale said...

As a matter of fact, it would mean that Science should abandon consciousness studies! Absolutely crazy talk, dude!

Al Moritz said...


your reply demonstrates that you have not at all understood my points that you replied to. Instead you give old, quick standard answers that do not even address the points that I raised. Have you even read carefully?

Anonymous said...

My reply went straight into Vic's spam holder. This has happened before with other posts. I'll try again, but if that doesn't work I'll leave it up to Vic to release it.

Mr Veale said...

It popped up on my Google Mail account John, but minus a link that you wanted me to listen to.

It is quite funny, and on point (well, in your own inimitable way of being on point). But I'll leave my reply until it appears here! (If Vic's spam-o-meter disnae release it I could copy paste it).

In the mean time, thanks for the chat and debate this year. It's been great craic!


Victor Reppert said...

Even if atheism is true, I think there are plenty of people who would not benefit from deconversion, at least as individuals. This would be an example.

I don't believe, for example, the Dr. Martin Luther King could have done what he did on behalf of African-American rights had he been an atheist.

On the other hand, the argument might be made that, assuming atheism is true, widespread atheism would be beneficial on the whole for the human race if atheism were widely accepted, even if in individual cases it might be harmful.

On the other hand if atheism is true, our cognitive proclivities evolved, and evolution knows what it's doing, surely???

More seriously, pragmatism isn't a response to the AFR, because even define truth pragmatically, you still have to explain why people have propositional attitudes, and how there can be absolute logical laws that have no particular location in space and time. If there is no mental causation, then science cannot exist. But if atheism is true, there is no real mental causation.

Anonymous said...

Vic, the brains of dogs, donkeys, and dolphins, work to help them survive. The brains of chimps, chicks, and chipmunks help them survive. The brains of pigs, porcupines, and platypuses help them survive. If their brains had not evolved like they did then these animals would never have survived.

Or, do they have souls/minds too? You really need to do some more study in zoology. There are precursors found in animals of what we've evolved into. There is morality, consciousness, toolmaking, community, and communication.

And they need a god for this?


Then neither do we.

And I suspect you have never considered pragmatism as a defeater for your whole argument given your responses. Pragmatist epistemology is the theory of evolution. That what the brain evolved into works to help us all survive in our environments.

Anonymous said...

And, Vic, do you know how to release spam from you box? Please do it with my previous post.

Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

Vic, do some brain research too. I cannot imagine a philosopher making an argument without understanding the science of the brain.

So, along with studying up on evolution, study zoology, and neurology.

This is what I mean when I say philosophical conclusion divorced from the sciences is bunk for the most part.

Then after boning up on these sciences do some study on pragmatism.

You know the books.

And I'll tell you what, if this only entrenches you in your delusion then you can thank me when you write your magnum opus on the subject.


Anonymous said...

And provide a theory on the relationship between the mind and the brain once you understand the brain too.

Anonymous said...

And explain why you know for sure your god could not have created a world with a different kind of logic, and along with it show us why god-explanations are helpful at all when in that different world believers would use that different world to argue this is proof such a god exists.

Anonymous said...

Good luck Vic.

be sure to cite me as a helpful provocateur when you write your magnum opus.


Anonymous said...

Oh, but wait, if you resort to saying that despite what the sciences teach us your god could still exist anyway, you have already conceded that his existence is improbable, and your argument fails.

Al Moritz said...

A Happy New Year to everyone!

John says:

Or, do they [animals] have souls/minds too? You really need to do some more study in zoology. There are precursors found in animals of what we've evolved into. There is morality, consciousness, toolmaking, community, and communication.

The issue is not morality, consciousness, toolmaking, community, and communication.

The issue is rationality. Primitive toolmaking does not require rational inference. There are studies that show that primates do not exhibit causal inference, which is an essential part of rational inference and at first glance would appear relevant to toolmaking.


Neuroscience is irrelevant to the Argument from Reason. Let me quote a passage from Feser's refutation of Churchland:

"For starters, let’s take Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) hylemorphic dualism. The A-T view is that the intellect is immaterial, but that sensation and imagination are not. Hence it is no surprise at all that neuroscience has discovered various neural correlates of mental imagery and the varieties of perceptual experience. Moreover, A-T holds that though intellect is immaterial, its operation requires the presence of the images or “phantasms” of the imagination. Hence it is no surprise that neural damage can affect even the functioning of the intellect. Most importantly, the soul, of which intellect, sensation, and imagination are all powers, is not a complete substance in its own right in the first place, but rather the form of the body. The way intellectual and volitional activity relates to a particular human action is, accordingly, not to be understood on the model of billiard ball causation, but rather as the formal-cum-final causal side of a single event of which the relevant physiological processes are the material-cum-efficient causal side. That alterations to the body have mental consequences is thus no more surprising than the fact that altering the chalk marks that make up a triangle drawn on a chalkboard affects how well the marks instantiate the form of triangularity. It is important to emphasize that none of this involves any sort of retreat from some stronger form of dualism, as a way of accommodating the discoveries of contemporary neuroscience; it is what A-T has always said about the relationship between soul and body. There is absolutely nothing in modern neuroscience that need trouble the A-T hylemorphic dualist in the slightest."

The link is:

The link to the other parts is:

Al Moritz said...

The objection of course is that a soul (and an immaterial God) is conveniently out of the realm of any type of verification (except by referencing the supposed problem it is solving and saying, "Look -- it wouldn't work any other way")

My response:

An approach that "appeals to a separate entity for which there is no precedent" and saying that "Look -- it wouldn't work any other way" is not uncommon also in science. Newtonian and Einsteinian gravity was defined from such an approach. A current issue that clearly falls under this approach is dark matter. Nobody has ever seen it (that's why it's called 'dark') and nobody has detected it. It is without precedent -- all known matter is not 'dark' (i.e. it can be detected by its emitted radiation) yet still dark matter is seen as the only possible explanation for the apparent much greater mass of galaxies than accountable for by visible matter. This greater mass is necessary to explain galaxies’ behaviour of rotation and coherence -- "look -- it wouldn't work any other way". Yes, in principle dark matter should be detectable someday by some scientific method, but let's suppose you could look in the future and confidently tell scientists that they will never detect it, or at least none of them in their lifetime. Would that render the hypothesis of dark matter unscientific? Of course not. So I would not lightheartedly dismiss such an approach to things.

Posing a soul of course is not a scientific question like dark matter, but a philosophical one since a soul is immaterial, but my more general point, using these examples from science, is about the rationally permissible, and appropriate, approaches to things.

Al Moritz said...

Correction (inserted in bold):

There are studies that show that primates do not exhibit causal inference, which is an essential part of rational inference and at first glance would appear relevant to also primitive toolmaking.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't it amaze you that in order to defend your Christian faith it takes an enormous amount of knowledge and argumentation (according to Christians).

It should.

Anonymous said...

oops, I should add that the alternatives are emphatically not between your particular brand of Christianity and atheism. That is a misnomer.

Al Moritz said...


referring to your link: one issue is theism in general, the other is Christian theism in particular. Theism in general can rationally be defended on philosophical grounds, while Christianity is better argued for on historical grounds, on considerations how divine revelation unfolded in the course of human history.

Proper analytical thinking mandates not to confuse these two things, general theism and Christianity, and I don't.

Proper analytical thinking also mandates, however, not to pretend that while the God of philosophy does not automatically imply the Christian God, the latter cannot be arrived at under additional considerations. Prerequisite for this would be that the attributes of the God of philosophy are contained in those of the Christian God. They are, while the particulars of the Christian God confer additional attributes.

If on the other hand, theism in general could not be rationally be defended on philosophical grounds, the case for Christian theism would fall as well. But this is not the case, as I and fellow theists believe.

So in the end, yes, on a strictly philosophical basis it is simply about theism vs. atheism, not about Christianity vs. atheism, Islam vs. atheism etc.

Mr Veale said...

Should I copy/paste your message John? Or is the audio file important (it's the only bit that didn't make it to my Google Mail)?


Victor Reppert said...

I actually agree with Bill Hasker on dualism with respect to animals. Thomists aren't materialists with respect to animals. That was Descartes.

Al Moritz said...


In Thomism, material entities consist of form and matter (prime matter), and in living beings the soul is the form of their matter. This does not mean that animal souls have to be immaterial, just like the form of a rubber ball does not make the rubber ball immaterial, and it does not mean an adherence to vitalism either. So to say that 'Thomists aren't materialists with respect to animals' appears to me a misunderstanding of Thomism.

Thomism further holds that humans are the only ones with a rational soul, and on philosophical considerations this soul must be immaterial. It is still 'the form of the body', however.

I see no problem in viewing animals as biochemical machines, and I see no reason to do otherwise. I say this as someone who has dogs and exchanges affection with them.

I do indeed believe that there is an ontological chasm between humans and animals.

Hasker was led to his considerations by rejection of Cartesian dualism. Yet Thomism does not hold to such a kind of dualism, and the Cartesian interaction problem does not exist:

Anonymous said...

Graham, I guess Vic doesn't know where his spam folder is, Okay, shoot.

Here's the music clip.

GREV said...

Maybe it is just me but I feel the need to ask -- has anyone read Absence of Mind? Great Read.

Wonderful comments Mr. Moritz and Mr. Fleming.

Mr Veale said...

Message from J Loftus to G Veale

Graham. Listen to yourself, okay? You are only proving my point.

I wrote:

"the only way to break free from our prejudices is to follow the sciences. They are our best and only hope."

I should have added "Obi Wan Kenobi at the end, sorry.

Graham said: a brief glance at the history of science shows that non-rational forces can work to create a strong consensus in the Scientific Community.

Duhhh. Do you see what's going on here? Do you have the eyes? Of course, yes, yes, yes.

Now think about this. Science is done by scientists, okay? Let that sink in for a moment.

Listen to this while you think.

Come right back, okay?

[edited out the dots in hopes the spam folder won't catch this]

Ready now?

If scientists are fallible with testable results then How much more is religion when it's not dealing with testable results!

Get the point!

Do you actually think that by showing us what you did it helps your case?

No, it damns it.

Since we are such fallible humans then even science gets it wrong sometimes. But then this makes science out to be our best hope.

Religion is no hope at all.

Please, oh please, tell me you understand this. Please.

Again, if there are disputes between scientists themselves who are working with testable experiments then how much less can we trust the results of religionists.

Science is still our best hope even granting that scientists are fallible human beings. In fact, science progresses despite the fact that scientists are fallible human beings. This gives us a good reason, no, a compelling reason to trust the sciences.

Al Moritz said...

John says:

In fact, science progresses despite the fact that scientists are fallible human beings. This gives us a good reason, no, a compelling reason to trust the sciences.

As a scientist, I agree.

At least when it comes to the self-limited field of scientific investigation, natural causes in the natural world.