Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Accuse the other side of confirmation bias, and then maybe you won't have to confront it in yourself

VR: "Not everyone can be right, but people who are wrong can be wrong without irrationality."

Cal: But do you accept that confirmation bias is real, and that if one is wrong because of its effects the one would be irrational? 

Because it seems like you're trying to say that confirmation bias isn't real, and that it doesn't affect thinking in a way that would make one irrational. If that's the case, you'd be wrong on both counts. 

VR: No, neither. First, what I am questioning isn't the reality of confirmation bias, nor the fact that it can lead to irrationality. Satta M's description seems accurate: 

It's more like the Principle of Total Evidence- actively seeking out evidence that disconfirms your hypothesis, not just that which confirms it.

Fine, I get that. People should look for reasons on both sides, and failure to do so leads to mistakes. You could get the right answer while suffering from confirmation bias, but you decrease your chances if you do.

My complaint is not with the idea. But the idea, it seems to me, is best used as a tool for self-evaluation. Insofar as my memory is accurate, I am privy to all of the information that goes into my decision to believe this or that. You are not privy to that information. Consequently, you are not in a position to figure out what I have considered and what I haven't.

It isn't just a matter of what you read, it is also a matter of how charitably you read it. If I trust the authority of someone who tells me "Sure, read this stuff, but make sure you don't buy any of it, because you don't want any of your money going for that guy's royalties, since the stuff he writes sucks so badly," then even if you read stuff from that side you will be reading it not to understand it, but to look for something to pounce on.

It seems to me that, when confirmation bias is used as a tool not for self-analysis, but to explain the disagreement of our opponents, it goes something like this.

"I know I have analyzed this issue correctly, and cannot possibly be wrong. So there must be some explanation for why someone whose intelligence is supposed to be a great or greater than mine has come to the opposite conclusion. I know, it's confirmation bias!" That is, rather than seeking to understand one's opponents position and to figure out whether perhaps there is a parameter of the issue that one has failed to consider, you use the idea of confirmation bias to say "Mistakes were made, but not by me." It just seems to me that the people who yell the loudest about other people's confirmation bias look like people who suffer from it most themselves, and don't realize it. People use the idea of confirmation bias to do exactly what the idea of confirmation bias should teach you NOT to do. It's like the people who listen to sermons some vice in church and start thinking of who other than themselves ought particularly to listen to that message.
I happen to have spent some time in Barnes and Noble the other day, and paged through the Loftus volumes The Christian Delusion and The End of Christianity. Both those volumes include good, interesting, challenging stuff for Christian apologists. The funny thing was that both books contained endorsements by Christians, and even Christian apologists like Randal Rauser and Matt Flanagan. They both said that while, of course, they didn't agree with the conclusions of Loftus et al, they thought that reading the contents of those books would be helpful for anyone trying to think through apologetical issues. What strikes me as odd here is that I don't think John would be caught dead putting an endorsement on some volume by apologetical authors, such as True Reason or Contending with Christianity's Critics, suggesting that the contents of that volume would be a worthwhile challenge for atheists. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Is unbelief a function of intelligence?

Apparently not, based on these studies provided by Joe Hinman.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Kelly Clark on Irrationality Charges against Atheists

Here.  I am inclined to throw irrationality charges around like manhole covers. They inflame discussion unnecessarily and are harder to prove than the claims you are trying to defend. It's easier to argue "P is true," than to argue "P is true, and every one who believes not-P is guilty of such and such and intellectual failure.

Is Confirmation Bias Avoidable?

It seems to me that the defense of any position can be attributed  to confirmation by its opponents. It is a charge that proves everything, and therefore nothing.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Twitter Exchange between Jeff Lowder and Peter Boghossian about my two posts

Here.  I am afraid Boghossian has no idea, and wants to have no idea, what I am talking about. Of course I didn't say his teaching methods were modeled after the professor in God is Not Dead. He needs a course in basic reading comprehension if he thinks that. What I said was that having a course at a public university that brings up religious issues, and in that course makes it evident that if they have certain religious views and express them in the course, they cannot get a passing grade, or will not have the same chance to get a passing grade as those who adopt another religious perspective, then serious questions from the point of view of the Establishment Clause have to be raised.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A State Religion in Texas?

If you go by the actual words of the Constitution,all it says is that Congress shall make no law establishing religion.
So, presumably, the State of Texas could make the Southern Baptist church the state religion. 

The Supreme Court would not permit it, however.

Why I have a dog in the fight amongst atheists

I think we DO have to make a serious distinction amongst atheists, and I don't say that because some atheists are nicer to people like me than others. At times when some barriers between people have been coming down, having a society this not only disagrees about religion, but fragments over it, is a serious problem that is not good for a free society.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What I meant when I said skeptics need the hallucination theory

I need to clarify what i mean by "need." I do not mean they need this or any theory to avoid irrationality charges. I also don't mean that there aren't those for whom the "Humean trump card" is enough, that is, the supernatural character of an actual resurrection is sufficient to render any alternative account more plausible.
On my own view, however, there are bound to be people who, without irrationality, are going to come at these accounts with different prior probabilities for all sorts of reasons. I am not a foundationalist about antecedent probabilities. I think people are going to be coming at this question of resurrection from all over the map. Some will be theists already who think Christianity is pretty plausible on independent grounds. Some people think it's a crazy idea.
I think even a skeptic would have to say we have good reason to think that the Christian movement began when people, starting in Jerusalem started proclaiming that a recently crucified leader had been resurrected. The people who recorded these accounts look as if they were trying to be accurate, Luke especially. If you look at stories like stories like Philostratus' Life of Apollonius, you get so little care for accuracy that you have the guy showing up in Nineveh some seven centuries after it was destroyed. Luke, on the other hand, in Acts, gets a bunch of government forms right on the money, just for starters. Ancient mythmakers just don't work their butts off to be accurate. It's hard for me to believe that Luke was sitting around thinking "Gosh, I've got to get a lot of the mundane stuff right here, because in 1900 years some archaeologists are going to go through and find all these cities and figure out whether I got that stuff right."
The behavior of the apostles makes no sense unless they sincerely believed that Jesus was resurrected. Some of them claimed to have seen Jesus resurrected, including, by the way, the Apostle Paul.
Dawkins once said that while he thought it was possible to be an atheist without evolutionary theory, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Admittedly, someone with a low enough prior for a resurrection can, without irrationality, say that he doesn't have a good theory about what happened, but that whatever it was, it wasn't a resurrection, since that's maximally improbable from the point of view of their own credence function. The hallucination theory, if it works, is a big step in the direction of providing an answer to the question, "If it wasn't a resurrection, then what DID happen?" Otherwise, you've got something that's a big mystery on atheist assumptions that does make sense on the hypothesis that Christianity is true. Can a rational person admit this and stay atheist? Sure.But I think an honest atheist would have to admit that some significant pieces of evidence support the Christian claims.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Christianity and the game of telephone


Why I think skeptics need the hallucination theory

Let me explain, as best I can, what the skeptic has to deal with in this debate. According to the accounts, Christ was executed by crucifixion, dead and buried. The crucifixion was instigated by people in the Jewish leadership, and carried out by the Romans. Yet, within a short time, you have a bunch of people, starting in Jerusalem, and working their way outward to the rest of the empire. Peter, in Acts, makes this statement at the Gate of Jerusalem:

If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

In other words, he is telling the people responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus that Jesus had been resurrected, and therefore vindicated. Even if these accounts are were not completely accurate, the presence of people so firmly convinced that Jesus was resurrected that they were willing to risk a similar fate needs explanation. It is extremely difficult to resist the conclusion that the people who promulgated this message were profoundly convinced of the resurrection, because they were literally betting their lives on it.

Of course, there are people who think there was no historical core to the Christian message, and that Jesus never even existed. But this is an extreme position that most skeptics find don’t find defensible, and it makes it even more difficult to explain the spread of Christianity through the Empire.

Unless the extreme skeptical position is defensible, how do we explain the spread of Christianity? If the body was stolen, who would do it, and why would they. Some people have tried to say Jesus survived his crucifixion, but that seems really implausible. To say everyone forgot where Jesus was buried and went to the wrong tomb doesn’t make much sense either. Hallucination theory explains the Christian movement without making the movement and out and out fraud.

ECREE and Neil Armstrong

Some people have used extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to argue against the moon landings. They happened a long time ago (though not as long ago as the resurrection, supposedly), we don’t find people going to the moon at all these days, so how do we know the whole thing wasn’t just made up?

Peter Boghossian, God is Not Dead, and the Establishment Clause

From MCFA: 

“To prevent doxastic closure it’s also important to read the work of noted apologists. The only two I’d suggest are Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, though I’d urge you not to buy their books; their projects don’t need your support. If you must buy one of their books buy it used and support a local bookstore, this way the author doesn’t receive any royalties.” (Kindle Locations 3419-3421).

Remember the debate surrounding God's not Dead? I watched the movie and for the most part I didn't care for it, because most real atheist professors don't act like that atheist professor in the movie, who tries to get the class to sign an atheist statement in order to avoid dealing with the problem of God in the course. Even the most virulently anti-religious philosophy professors that I have encountered (and I have encountered a few) don't act like this, and it's a mistake to tell Christians that this is what they should expect in philosophy courses, including those taught by staunch atheists. 

But people like Boghossian, I am afraid, make God is not Dead look realistic. 

What is more, I do think the fictional professor in God is not Dead DOES violate the Establishment Clause, because he puts requirements for passing the course on believing students that he doesn't put on nonbelieving students. 

Boghossian's course, I think, also violates the clause. That is because while he presents arguments against his own view, he provides a message in required course material that he, the professor, considers their arguments so unworthy of being taken seriously that students shouldn't provide royalties to the authors by buying their books. A teacher can say what he thinks in class so long as he also says there are intelligent people who think the opposite, and in the last analysis it is their responsibility to decide the issue for themselves. 

As Randal Rauser says 

If this really is his advice, then I must say it is absolutely terrible advice. Simply reading or listening to somebody you disagree with doesn’t prevent cognitive closure. The only way to do that is to read your opponents with charity. Needless to say, when you preface the advice to read somebody with the proviso that their works are so bad (and harmful) that you ought never pay money for the books if possible, you have undermined any hope in your reader of engaging their works with charity.


If you do this on the public dime, then you are shoving your religious views down the throats of your students, and the fact that atheism is not a religion in some other important sense does not exempt you from the force of the Establishment Clause.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Peter Boghossian's Atheism Course

Apparently Boghossian can get away with a teaching a New Atheist apologetics course at a public university, on the public dime.  Of course he denies this.

Just as the purpose of religious studies is not to convert students to a particular faith tradition, this course is not about “converting” students to atheism.

But his textbook is A Manual for Creating Atheists, written by him.

See this discussion here.