Thursday, March 04, 2021

On what it is to be a skeptical inquirer: Not enough evidence, or a mind not open enough?

Here is an argument from an essay in psychology on psychic phenomenon. 

We did not examine the data for psi, to the consternation of the parapsychologist who was one of the reviewers. Our reason was simple: The data are irrelevant. We used a classic, rhetorical device, adynaton, a form of hyperbole so extreme it is, in effect, impossible. Ours was “pigs cannot fly”— hence data that show they can are the result of flawed methodology, weak controls, inappropriate data analysis, or fraud. (Reber & Alcock, 2019b, p. 8)

Reber, A. S., & Alcock, J. E. (2019b). Why parapsychological claims cannot be true. Skeptical Inquirer, 43(4), 8–10. 

 I once wrote this in a paper on Hume on miracles. 

Bertrand Russell was reportedly once asked what he would say to God if he were to find himself confronted by the Almighty about why he had not believed in God's existence. He said that he would tell God "Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!"[1] But perhaps, if God failed to give Russell enough evidence, it was not God's fault. We are inclined to suppose that God could satisfy Russell by performing a spectacular miracle for Russell's benefit. But if the reasoning in David Hume's epistemological argument against belief in miracles [2] is correct, then no matter how hard God tries, God cannot give Russell an evidentially justified belief in Himself by performing miracles. According to Hume, no matter what miracles God performs, it is always more reasonable to believe that the event in question has a natural cause and is not miraculous. Hence, if Russell needs a miracle to believe reasonably in God, then Russell is out of luck. Russell cannot complain about God's failure to provide evidence, since none would be sufficient. But God cannot complain about Russell's failure to believe.

16 comments:

One Brow said...

One difference being that, since psi involves the use of energy from things in this universe to alter things in this universe, we should be able to detect its processes in this universe. There is no such restriction on most versions of God.

Victor Reppert said...

Though divine interventions in the universe could fit a pattern that could be detected, and predictions could even be made from that pattern of divine conduct. The difference between this and the effects of unobservable physical particles is not as easily defined as you might think.

One Brow said...

I spoke of processes, not patterns. If I move a bit of iron with a magnetic field, the field can be detected. Psi has no such processes.

I was trying to specifically rule out divine actions, which does not need to have such processes.

Kevin said...

Psychic or paranormal events could be caused by the "spiritual realm", for lack of a better term, which could in theory exert an effect on the physical realm while not itself being detectable.

Perhaps dark matter and dark energy. :)

SteveK said...

If you take the biblical position that God sustains creation, then there’s nothing to detect except God’s intent - which isn’t detectable in the scientific sense.

God causing everything to exist per the natural order and God causing a miracle is the difference between regularity and irregularity and that’s about it.

SteveK said...

If you take the biblical position that God sustains creation, then there’s nothing to detect except God’s intent - which isn’t detectable in the scientific sense.

God causing everything to exist per the natural order and God causing a miracle is the difference between regularity and irregularity and that’s about it.

SteveK said...

So profound a comment that it posted twice for emphasis. Lol.

bmiller said...

That could be paranormal.

One Brow said...

Kevin,

Psi is supposed to be controlled by material processes, as well. So you are hypothesizing material processes that vanish into a non-material existence, and then pop back in.

It's not impossible, but it's not a first option.

Kevin said...

Some sort of goofy quantum entanglement or even an accidental manipulation of dark matter/energy (if they actually exist) would be the only physical methods I could think of that a brain could exert or detect in ways that instruments miss, since dark matter and energy are alleged to exist but aren't detectable, yet exert influence on the stuff we do detect. I make no claim that such things are valid explanations.

The alternative is an exertion of a similar force that God or an angel would use, whatever spiritual "stuff" there is that can manifest physically to some extent. That would only be detectable as an effect, as I would expect even a dark energy manipulation would be detectable on a brain scanner.

Of course it's also possible that all such events are extremely rare and unpredictable so that even though they do occur, they don't occur with enough control or regularity for scientists to catch it. A fun thought experiment anyway.

Starhopper said...

I had a sort of epiphany this morning, reading the 3rd chapter of the Book of Exodus.

Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO AM." And He said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'יהוה, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent Me to you': this is My name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations."
(Exodus 3:13-15)

The problem with Bertrand Russell saying "Not enough evidence," is that he was asking the wrong question. The proper function of science is to ask "What is this?" whereas the proper function of religion is to ask "Who's there?" Moses didn't ask "What are you?" but rather "Who are you?" If you don't get the question right, you end up like the drunk looking for his car keys under the lamp post, when he dropped them 50 feet away in the dark. But he persists in searching in the wrong place, because "The light's better here!"

Papalinton said...

Starhopper: "The problem with Bertrand Russell saying "Not enough evidence," is that he was asking the wrong question."

Russell didn't ask the wrong question. He didn't ask a question at all. He simply stated a fact: "Not enough evidence".

But the drunk under the lamp post analogy is a fitting one of the believer; Under the lamp post trying to read the BIBLE looking for the truth because "The light's better here", while the truth along with the keys is out there somewhere in the dark, waiting to be found through the sciences.

Kevin said...

So if science can't determine something, it isn't true?

Starhopper said...

"Russell didn't ask the wrong question. He didn't ask a question at all."

Until you ask a question, there is no reason to look for evidence.

Victor Reppert said...

"Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know."

― Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science

One Brow said...

Victor Reppert,
"Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know."

― Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science


That is comes from a comparison to religion suggests that this is not intended to be universal in scope.

“Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possiblities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what the may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familar things in an unfamilar aspect”
― Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy