Monday, October 20, 2008

Kyle S on Atonement (BOOK Club 7)

In comments on the previous post, Kyle S has been defending his version of the Biblical theory of atonement from the charge that it "doesn't make sense" (see previous post). I respond below.

Hi Kyle S

You say the Biblical account (or rather, your version of it – many Christians, such as Rev Sam, reject your version) must make sense, “Otherwise, how would we be able to discuss the precise meaning of certain statements or consider possible counter examples?”

As I said, the sense in which it “doesn’t make sense” is not that the words are meaningless, but that the theory is bonkers. E.g. Like believing that fairies are what make the flowers grow (n.b. if you read the preceding post you will see that the context makes it perfectly clear that that is what I meant.)

You then say:

“Most of the responses to me in this thread seem to be along the lines of 'but that doesn't fit well with my understanding of morality'.”

Not quite. I say that these beliefs are not moral truths:

1. All wrong doing must be “paid for” with suffering and/or blood.

2. The sins of one person can be "paid for" with the suffering/blood of another.

3. We are all so utterly steeped in sin, that only the torture and death of a sinless god/man can "pay" the price and save us from… (well, what, hell?)

You can just assert these are moral truths, of course.

However, seems to me, you yourself don’t really buy into this moral point of view: while primitive peoples might have ordered their lives in accordance with it, no modern Christian does. You would surely consider a court that, say, allowed an innocent child to be sacrificed to “pay for” a murderer’s sin to be profoundly immoral. Indeed, somewhat bonkers! This would not “make sense”, morally speaking.

That's precisely my reaction to your little theory about Jesus' blood and suffering "paying for" my sins.

BTW, do you really see each human being as so full of sin that a price must be "paid" in blood, suffering and death, and not just their blood, suffering and death (for that wouldn't be nearly a big enough "price") but that of a sinless god/man? Can't you take a step back and see, not just how bonkers that is, but also what an awful, poisonous word view it is?

101 comments:

georgesdelatour said...

Allow me to offer these lyrics by Ron Sexsmith as a commentary:

God loves everyone
Like a mother loves her son
No strings at all
Unconditional
Never one to judge
Would never hold a grudge
'Bout what's been done
God loves everyone

There are no gates in heaven
Everyone gets in
Queer or straight
Souls of every faith
Hell is in our minds
Hell is in this life
But when it's gone
God takes everyon

Its love is like a womb
It's like the air from room to room
It surrounds us all
The living and the dead
May we never lose the thread
That bound us all

The killer in his cell
The atheist as well
The pure of heart
And the wild at heart
Are all worthy of its grace
It's written in the face
Of everyone
God loves everyone

There's no need to be saved
No need to be afraid
Cause when it's done
God takes everyone

God loves everyone

Nadia Rehman said...

Islam have complete guidelines for humanity.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Nadia. That's handy. Could you fill us in on the Islamic answer to the question I posed two posts ago? (Death to Apostates)

The Barefoot Bum said...

This issue kind of ties in indirectly with a reformulation of the problem of evil.

One rebuttal to the PoE is that we don't know that what see in the world really is "evil"; while perhaps far-fetched, it's logically possible that our world really is the best of all logically possible worlds. Perhaps only an omniscient being can tell what is good and evil in the infinitely long run.

This rebuttal, though, requires us to "bite the bullet" philosophically speaking: we cannot know about good and evil in any naturalistic sense, i.e. by observation or reasoning. Only divine revelation could -- at least in theory -- give us accurate information about good and evil, but even then we have no way of distinguishing true divine revelation from just making stuff up or -- as some Christians (and Muslims assert) -- being fooled by Satan.

Kyle's argument that, "Most of the responses to me in this thread seem to be along the lines of 'but that doesn't fit well with my understanding of morality'. But that doesn't seem to be a very strong, or even interesting argument," causes us to have to bite the same bullet: If penal substitution doesn't fit with our understanding of morality, well, too bad for our (natural) understanding of morality.

Fundamentally, we have a practical problem to solve: How do six billion people share a relatively small planet? We have to come to broad agreement about what we coerce our neighbors to do (or not do) and what we allow our neighbors to do as they please.

If we decide good and evil is not something we can come to broad agreement about, then we have to organize our society on some other basis. But that just moves the problem around; we still need to have words that characterize that which we should compel people to do/not do, or to what ends we should institute compulsion to achieve or prevent. "Good" and "evil" are perfectly good words used to denote such characterizations.

So maybe penal substitution is true. So what? What effect does that have on our practical problems? "Jesus' sacrifice" atoned for "original sin": All right, good on ya, God, thanks for sorting that out for us. What attention do we now need to pay to the issue?

wombat said...

Stephen - The Armstrong reference I was thinking of is "A History of God" p157

The section discusses the idea of muruwah a sort of code of chivalry prevalent in 6th century Arabia.
As Armstrong says by this time it had "served the Arabs well for centuries"

One might reasonably suppose it was common in other tribal societies of the wider Middle Eastern area.

Jonathan said...

Nadia Rehman-

"Islam have complete guidelines for humanity."

True, but they're not very good guidelines.

anticant said...

As one of the more sensible clergymen of my acquaintance once said to me: "Forgiveness is continuous, and does not depend upon our state of righteousness at the moment".

I can live with that. It doesn't even mention God.

wombat said...

One thought did strike me in all the talk of atonement etc. It is that, if we are to make sense of Jesus death in those terms, the only half sensible idea is that God was atoning in some way, presumably for the injustices inflicted upon man.

Even then it was a pretty half hearted affair. the cosmic equivalent of the sort of thing modern politicians offer when they get found out.

It might also explain why we haven't heard anything from Him since...

georgesdelatour said...

Christians believe in an infinitely loving God, Muslims in an infinitely merciful God. As Ron Sexsmith points out, if this is true then all of us, believer and unbeliever alike, must go to heaven when we die. The concept of Hell is absolutely incompatible with a God of infinite love and mercy.

An infinitely merciful God could not possibly want people to go round murdering apostates or blasphemers or gays or adulterers. Don't you agree Nadia?

Andrew Louis said...

Stephen,

“As I said, the sense in which it “doesn’t make sense” is not that the words are meaningless, but that the theory is bonkers. E.g. Like believing that fairies are what makes the flowers grow”

So if we don’t know what causes something, are you suggesting that we just shouldn’t talk about it? At least not until it becomes scientific.

It seems to me that to say “something doesn’t exists unless it’s scientific”, is every bit as dogmatic as, “something exists even if it isn’t scientific.” One side follows the dogma (language) of reason, the other side follows metaphors of the intuition. And as Sam pointed out, we run into problems when we take those metaphors and form a metaphysic around them, and (I’d add) try to apply scientific principles to them. There to, the test of both sides positions is whether or not it works to it’s purpose and is consistent with what we mean (do we understand eachother). Photosynthesis is true because we agree, not because it’s absolutely so outside of our experience. To prove that is impossible.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Andrew

I think you have got the wrong end of the stick. I did not say "something doesn't exist unless it's scientific". I said claims 1-3 above are bonkers - they make no moral sense. I was merely using the fairies hypothesis as an illustration of another bonkers belief, that's all.

Your consensus theory of truth ["photosynthesis is true because we agree"]doesn't hold water, but we'll leave that for another day (or read my entry on Pierce on the sidebar).

Kyle S said...

Stephen said:

1. All wrong doing must be “paid for” with suffering and/or blood.

2. The sins of one person can be "paid for" with the suffering/blood of another.

3. We are all so utterly steeped in sin, that only the torture and death of a sinless god/man can "pay" the price and save us from… (well, what, hell?)

Kyle said:

Hi Stephen,

your response is starting to sound a bit like an appeal to emotion.

However, I don't think I'd really agree with the 'moral truths' you have set out here, but I can see how you might have understood that from what I said.

The idea is not that all wronging doing must be paid for by blood, or that someone can always take the punishment for someone else.

Rather, if we are to be right with God, then our sins must be paid for and that Christ can take our place, not just anyone.

The reason that our debt is so great is that it is not just that we have done bad things, it is that we are living our lives in rebellion to God. He has created us and everything around us, without him we wouldn't even continue to exist, and we have used this gift of life for ourselves, we have sought to live without him.

God character requires that if we are to spend eternity with him, then this sin must be paid for, otherwise we spend eternity seperated from him. This is just the consequence of our actions, we have rejected him, so at some point we must bear the consequences of that and be seperated from him, this is hell.

God could have left it there, but instead, he has provided a way out, at great cost to himself. Christ has died in our place, if we accept him. Christ is your substitute, if you accept him as one. You may say why didn't God just forgive, or why something else. I don't know the answers to all those questions, but this way was unimaginably costly for God, if there was an easier way, then he would have done it that way.

Now, I realise that this will seem far-fetched and totally out of line with what you believe, but then wouldn't you expect your understanding of morality and the world to be radically affected if you thought God existed?

anticant said...

"[God] has created us and everything around us, without him we wouldn't even continue to exist."

What utter twaddle! this is supposed to be a philosophy blog. So PROVE it.

wombat said...

Kyle S. "Rather, if we are to be right with God, then our sins must be paid for and that Christ can take our place, not just anyone."

But thats one of the potentially bonkers bits. It would only make sense if
(i) God got something out of it as restitution for our sins
or
(ii) We the sinners were making a sacrifice to show contrition.

If it's Gods son supposedly being sacrificed, it fails utterly on both counts.

If, of course Jesus was just one of us, not divine or anything, just a really noble (self sacrificing) sort of bloke it makes a bit more sense. Are you happy the Jesus was a mere mortal?

The Barefoot Bum said...

In general, you're making a lot of assumptions about God that don't follow just from omnipotence, etc.

[W]e are living our lives in rebellion to God.

Or so you say. How do I know I'm living my life in rebellion to God? How can I possibly rebel against an omnipotent God? For all I know, God insists only that we "obey" physical "law".

The only people I know I'm rebelling against are priests and self-styled spokesmen for God, i.e. you.

God character requires that if we are to spend eternity with him, then this sin must be paid for.

Or so you say. How do I know that even if a "sin" could exist, that any sin must be "paid for"? And what do you mean by "paid"? If I have more money, can I buy more sin? Are there sales, discounts, mail-in-rebates?

God could have left it there, but instead, he has provided a way out, at great cost to himself.

Or so you say. What does it mean for an omnipotent being to incur a great cost? The concepts do not really fit together that well, in kind of the same sense that water and recursive enumeration don't fit together well.

realise that this will seem far-fetched and totally out of line with what you believe...

No argument there.

[W]ouldn't you expect your understanding of morality and the world to be radically affected if you thought God existed?

Why should it? Nothing at all about morality changes from Deism. You're assuming this radically different morality into existence in addition to "God".

Wouldn't you expect your understanding of morality and the world to be radically affected if you'd been subjected to constant brainwashing and indoctrination into a delusional belief system?

Paul C said...

What Barefoot said. I do wonder why it doesn't occur to Kyle - and others who share his beliefs - that it's not just that we can't follow their reasoning. It's that the language that they use doesn't have any meaning unless you already hold the beliefs that validate that language (indeed, that require that language).

Also:

You may say why didn't God just forgive, or why something else. I don't know the answers to all those questions, but this way was unimaginably costly for God, if there was an easier way, then he would have done it that way.

So you don't know the answer to all those questions, but you're dead certain that if there was an easier way for God, he would have done it that way? How strange that God has made it possible for you to understand one but not the other.

I call bullshit.

Andrew Louis said...

Stephen,

I guess aim was to say/ask, is there knowing outside of reason? And can that knowing be spoken of?

The atheist does not accept non-scientific responses, that's why I jumped to the statement, "something doesn't exist unless it's scientific".

I'll deffinately read the Pierce post.

Andrew Louis said...

Stephen,

one short thing on Pierce (as I don't see the problem) and to hopefully further my point:

If we all come to the same conclusions about a given thing (say gravity), yet on our own terms; we've done so using a tool that we've already before hand argeed upon, that being reason (science, mathmatics). Reason does not necessarily allow us to come to different conclusions. We're all buried in the dogma of reason.

The lizard people example is weak because it depends upon what we mean by lizard people. If we mean it in the literal way that we'd think of it today (green slimmy men), then that certainly isn't *reasonable*, so we'd all certainly not consent.

My arguement from above was to say that God is not something arrived at from reason and therefore does not, and never will, argree with it.

Now you're gonna' make me look stupid, but I feel pretty good about this for now.

Kyle S said...

In this debate I mostly encountered objections of the sort that I haven't explained every detail of the biblical narrative, or that it conflicts with something else you believe.

Let me remind you of the original issue:

I am asking for responses to the charge that the central Christian story of atonement clearly makes little sense.

I have tried to explain it as best I can. Just because I don't understand all of its details completely doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense. Likewise, just because you disagree with it, doesn't mean it doesn't make sense.

Noone here has yet offered an argument that shows that any of it is nonsense.

Also, Anticant, you are always asking for proof, but why do you think that belief in God requires evidential support?

I'm not just trying to avoid the question, or trying to allow a free for all in what we can believe.

There are plenty of things that we all believe without evidence, or on rather flimsy evidence.

Surely you think children can have rational beliefs about lots of things, yet for very few of their beliefs can they offer evidence.

I also have lots of beliefs, such as Columbus crossed the Atlantic ocean in 1492. I'm not sure where I learnt this, perhaps at school. Does that make it irrational. If that is irrational then I would say that most of our historical knowledge, and knowledge about the world is irrational.

So, Anticant what sorts of beliefs do you think require evidential support?

For more on this sort of position go here: http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth02.html

anticant said...

Kyle S:

You ask me why I think that belief in God requires evidential support?

Why do you and Plantinga think that it doesn't?

You pays your money and you takes your choice!

There is, of course, much more abundant reliable evidence that Columbus crossed the Atlantic then there is that the Bible stories about God and Jesus are true.

What sorts of beliefs do I think require evidential support? Useful beliefs, as opposed to the myriad useless ones, of which belief in the existence of gods for which there is no evidence except in the minds of believers is among the most pernicious.

Kyle S said...

You ask me why I think that belief in God requires evidential support?

Why do you and Plantinga think that it doesn't?

You pays your money and you takes your choice!


But it's not that simple. There's something lacking in your position.

You say something like: All beliefs without evidence are irrational.

But that itself is a belief. Where is your evidence?

You may think that I'm just playing games, but it's problems like that that destroyed the verification principle. How do you verify it?

You may think that it is an obvious starting point, but it fails to meet its own standards.

Andrew Louis said...

Anticant,
I think what you said here it key:

"What sorts of beliefs do I think require evidential support? Useful beliefs, as opposed to the myriad useless ones,..."

You find reason useful. Kyle S finds God useful. Perhaps the issue isn't, "how is God rational?", but, "How is God useful?"

By continuing to argue reason over religion, I can't see how we'll ever get anywhere. (I hope I'm wrong though).

theObserver said...

You may think that I'm just playing games, but it's problems like that that destroyed the verification principle. How do you verify it?”

Well, within the context of religion, historical research of early gods, mythology, folk tales etc should led the honest thinker to conclude mysticism and the supernatural have been provably wrong in describing both how our natural world operates and how our natural world came into existence. Having reached this demonstrably reasonable conclusion which most Christians should agree with as they themselves reject all other gods, a rational thinking person should then demand reasonable evidence before accepting of modern day mysticism like Christianity. Therefore given the historic unreliability of Gods/ Spirits etc, it is irrational to accept such belief systems without reasonable evidence.

“You say something like: All beliefs without evidence are irrational.
But that itself is a belief. Where is your evidence?”

I think we can find enough evidence in the medieval and dark ages to support this conclusion! Not to mention modern day woo-woo like "The Secret".

I got a chuckle for example when I learnt people once believed horses peering in through a window caused bad dreams, hence ‘nightmares’. The horse in Fuselis painting makes a lot more sence to me now!

anticant said...

"You say something like: All beliefs without evidence are irrational.

But that itself is a belief. Where is your evidence?"

What I am saying is that all beliefs without supporting evidence are useless in dealing with the real world as it actually is.

Prayer never created a computer or a jet engine, nor will it heal disease or end famine [lots of studies have repeat4edly shown this].

I don't believe in a 'supernatural' God.

I don't believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

I don't believe that life is "fair".

I don't believe that justice and virtue will always prevail.

In order to improve matters, we have to work - not pray.

Surely all this is part of growing up?

I really do wonder what planet people like Kyle S and Sam are living on.....

wombat said...

Re : "All beliefs without evidence are irrational."

Your point is presumably that they can still be true beliefs. How one shows them to be true is another matter entirely.

The problem arises with beliefs that fly in the face of contrary evidence or demand far-fetched assumptions when simpler ones would do.

Kyle S said...

Anticant, are those beliefs supposed to be polar opposites of what I have said? They simply are not. When have I claimed that prayer will create jet engines?

I have noticed that lots of atheists frame these sorts of debates as science vs religion, or reason vs religion. I think this is very dishonest, and is one of the reasons why a lot of theists actually do reject science or reason; they have fallen for this atheist dogma.

In any case, I don't think saying

What I am saying is that all beliefs without supporting evidence are useless in dealing with the real world as it actually is.

gets you out of your hole.

Is this your principle?

AP (Anticant's Principle): Any belief that doesn't have adequte evidence is useless.

But that would mean that AP itself is useless, and yet you seem to be trying to get a great deal of use out of it.

anticant said...

OK, Let me amend Anticant's Principle:

"Any belief that doesn't have adequate evidence is not only useless, but also dangerous."

The evidence for this? Just look around you. Or, as the inscription round the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral says: "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice".

Just one small piece of circumstantial evidence: The murder of Gayle Williams by the Taliban because her baseless religious beliefs contradicted their baseless religious beliefs.

Paul C said...

Noone here has yet offered an argument that shows that any of it is nonsense.

Kyle, you continue to miss the point. Internally your belief system makes complete logical sense; it's been tightly, tightly, tightly coiled over the years.

The problem is that to somebody like me, the very words that you use simply don't make sense; evil, atonement, sin, etc. The problem for this discussion is that you take these words "on faith" and then fill in the gaps later.

If you can't fill in the gaps - as you admit that you can't - you are still perfectly willing to accept the whole edifice. This puzzles me; but more importantly it makes pretty much everything you say incomprehensible nonsense.

The Barefoot Bum said...

To a certain extent, Kyle S is exploiting a certain vagueness in the naturalistic account. This vagueness is superficial, however; it's an artifact of people with a naturalistic philosophy taking certain fundamental ideas for granted, not by any actual holes in naturalistic philosophy.

The charge of "not making sense" is not — as has been asserted time and again — is not made against Kyle's meaning; no one says that we are unable to parse Kyle's statements or somehow relate the underlying ideas to our own ideas.

The charge is, rather, that the truth of Kyle's ideas do not cohere with the ideas we form about the world of reality (specifically about the psychology of ethics), which rest on the evidential foundation of perceptual, sensory experience. That's what "not making sense" means in this context.

Kyle then questions why "making sense" is important or critical in the first place, but this approach brings in the problem of the social burden of proof.

Most people here, I image, come from societies in which freedom of thought is an important political and social right. In that sense, Kyle is free to believe whatever he chooses to believe, no matter how stupid or unjustified we believe his ideas to be. Even if Kyle were to believe (please note the subjunctive) the world is flat and it's "turtles all the way down," well, that would be his political prerogative.

But it's important to note, Kyle, that you came here — we didn't go to you — presumably you have something to say that you think is interesting to the readers of this blog. A bare declaration of your beliefs, standing only on your political right to believe as you please, is not, however, interesting. Not in the least.

We're interested in how you justify your beliefs, how you yourself come to believe they're not just choices but rather that you've found the truth. Not just the bullshit "true for me", which is just a dishonest way of talking about choice, but the more meaty philosophical true for everyone.

If you're not interested in talking about the justification for your beliefs, whatever that justification happens to be, then the only proper response is to pat you on the head, say, "Well, if that's what you choose to believe, it's a free country," and make snide comments behind your back.

The Barefoot Bum said...

AP (Anticant's Principle): Any belief that doesn't have adequte evidence is useless.

But that would mean that AP itself is useless, and yet you seem to be trying to get a great deal of use out of it.


First, this line of attack was fully explored in the early 20th century, and naturalistic philosophy has long since adapted to the weaknesses of logical positivism. Anticant's principle can easily be fixed up by saying any ontological belief requires evidential justification.

This statement is not an ontological belief, so it's not self-refuting, and its evidential justification is irrelevant.

Kyle is making ontological statements — he's talking about the objective truth of specific ethical assertions — so Anticant's principle is still relevant.

Kyle is fighting the last war here.

More to the point, even if any weaknesses were to exist in naturalism, those weaknesses are completely irrelevant to Kyle's fundamental task, which is the justification of his own beliefs.

Kyle rejects (or says he rejects; I'm sure he still drives with his eyes open) the requirement for evidential justification. Note that rejecting justification by the evidence of our senses concedes the point that his ethical principles indeed do not "make sense".

All right, we're skeptics, maybe "making sense" is not the be-all end-all of epistemic justification. If Kyle wants to propose a different method of justification, we're all ears.

Kyle: Can you deliver the goods? Or will you simply continue to nit-pick your superficial and naive (at best) ideas about naturalism?

Eric said...

"any ontological belief requires evidential justification."

While this reformulation may escape the charge of self refutation, it seems open to the charge of leading to an infinite regress, and is therefore at least prima facie suspect.

The Barefoot Bum said...

While this reformulation may escape the charge of self refutation, it seems open to the charge of leading to an infinite regress, and is therefore at least prima facie suspect.

We're skeptics. Everything's open to charges. Everything is prima facie suspect. So make the charge and make the case.

Kyle S said...

But it's important to note, Kyle, that you came here — we didn't go to you — presumably you have something to say that you think is interesting to the readers of this blog. A bare declaration of your beliefs, standing only on your political right to believe as you please, is not, however, interesting. Not in the least.

I thought I was coming here for debate, but apparently I'm just coming before a jury - and a biased one at that. It appears you are prepared to uphold my right to believe what i want, but not my right to a fair trial.

Anyway, I will cooperate as best I can. You said a lot of things in those two posts, so I can't respond to everything at once.

Anticant's principle can easily be fixed up by saying any ontological belief requires evidential justification.

Oh, well that's easy then. I have lots of evidence. For example, I believe (without evidence) that 'if the world exists it was created by God', this combined with some things that I have learned using my senses leads me to the conclusion that God exists.

We're interested in how you justify your beliefs, how you yourself come to believe they're not just choices but rather that you've found the truth.

A very good question.

Firstly, I don't believe that beliefs are always justified by evidence, although clearly they are on many occasions.

However, I don't think that I am alone in this opinion.

For example, I believe that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but I don't have any evidence or an argument for it. I know that evidence for it exists (of course I don't have evidence for that belief either), but do you really think my belief is unjustified until I go and read the wikipedia article about Neil Armstrong?

Or how about my belief that 1+1=2? In fact, I have even believed this in the face of contrary evidence. At school i was shown a 'proof' that 1+1 did not equal 2, but I was unable to spot the trick. In that situation I had evidence against my belief that 1+1=2 but i continued to believe. Is that unjustified.

What if you have evidence, but it is not publicly checkable? Imagine you are in court accused of murdering your boss. The evidence against you: you were heard shouting at you boss and saying I'm going to kill you the day before the muder, you have no alibi, you were seen in the area around the time of the murder, the murder weapon belonged to you. However, you know that you were not the person who committed the murder because you can remember what you did and it wasn't murder, but you have no proof to present in court. In this case should you decide that since memory can sometimes be unreliable you should simply side with the evidence?

What do I think the heart of justification is?

A belief is justified if and only if it is produced by your belief producing cognitive faculties that are properly functioning.

We have lots of sources of belief, our senses, testimony, reason. I also think that we have an awareness of God. Clearly it doesn't work properly, or at all, in everyone, and a great number appear to be very short-sighted, but I don't think that this is a very good reason to doubt this faculty.

If you lived in the land of the blind, and yet had sight would you think yourself deluded? Me trusting my awareness of God is no different to you trusting your senses.

anticant said...

Kyle S:

You say: "I thought I was coming here for debate, but apparently I'm just coming before a jury - and a biased one at that."

You then say: "I believe (without evidence) that 'if the world exists it was created by God'"

Well, if you believe that without evidence, there can't be any debate about it, can there?

It's possible that the world [if it exists!!] was created by "God" [however you define him, her or it] - but, in the absence of any credible evidence, it is highly improbable.

Kyle S said...

Hi Anticant,

I was replying to barefoot bum. He told me that it was ok to believe things without evidence, unless they are ontological beliefs.

'If the world exists, it was created by God' is not an ontological belief, so according to barefoot bum it's ok to believe it without evidence.

Also, believing things without evidence doesn't mean that debate is impossible, or that it is impossible to persuade me otherwise. I believe that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. I don't have evidence for it, but I could be persuaded to change my mind.

Owen said...

>>> (Kyle S) I also think that we have an awareness of God. Clearly it doesn't work properly, or at all, in everyone, and a great number appear to be very short-sighted, but I don't think that this is a very good reason to doubt this faculty. <<<

Actually, I think that's a VERY good reason to doubt that faculty.

Anonymous said...

''If the world exists, it was created by God' Looks like it concerns existence. How is this not ontological?

The Barefoot Bum said...

I thought I was coming here for debate, but apparently I'm just coming before a jury - and a biased one at that. It appears you are prepared to uphold my right to believe what i want, but not my right to a fair trial.

Get down off your cross, we need the wood. You're not going to go to jail if you "lose", so quit whining and start debating.

Oh, well that's easy then. I have lots of evidence. For example, I believe (without evidence) that 'if the world exists it was created by God', this combined with some things that I have learned using my senses leads me to the conclusion that God exists.

"If the world exists it was created by God" is not a complete premise; you need to be more specific about what you mean by "created by" and "God". Presumably "God" refers to some sort of "entity" or something like that that does or does not exist. It therefore is an ontological premise.

More importantly, you're not concluding that God exists, the existence of God (an ontological statement) is embedded in your premises; you're indirectly assuming the existence of God. Again, you're free to assume whatever you please, however stupid we might find it, but I can assure you that many readers here (myself included) do indeed find embedding the existence of God in one's premises to be stupid.

It is useless to use evidentialism in a way that can prove anything at all.

P1: If the world exists, then I'm the king of Moldavia
P2: The world exists
----
C: Therefore I'm the king of Moldavia

You can substitute anything you like for "I'm the king of Moldavia" and "prove" it.

Just creating a valid syllogism is not a proof of the truth of the conclusion. It's merely a demonstration that the conclusion follows validly from the premises. The truth of the premises is still in just as much doubt as when we started.

For example, I believe that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but I don't have any evidence or an argument for it.

You don't? The idea just magically popped into your head? Remember: someone telling you that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon is in fact evidence. The exclusion of hearsay from legal evidence is a matter of efficiency, not epistemology.

I have absolutely no interest in correcting your naive and unsophisticated failure to understand naturalism. As I noted before, even if naturalism were to completely fail, it does not help your position at all.

What I want to know is why you believe what you believe, and I why I might be persuaded that your beliefs are actually true.

The Barefoot Bum said...
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The Barefoot Bum said...

A belief is justified if and only if it is produced by your belief producing cognitive faculties that are properly functioning.

This is philosophical bullshit. I understand that it's not your philosophical bullshit, that this bullshit has been promulgated by professional philosophers, but it's bullshit nonetheless. It's blatantly circular.

I also think that we have an awareness of God.

Why do you think we have an awareness of God? Since God is something we can have an awareness of, it's some kind of ontological something. You can say that we have some sort of subjective experiences, but reasoning from those experiences to the conclusion that those experiences are an awareness of something requires a justification.

Clearly it doesn't work properly, or at all, in everyone, and a great number appear to be very short-sighted, but I don't think that this is a very good reason to doubt this faculty.

This is nonsense. That some (faculty of) awareness doesn't work properly or at all in everyone is the reason to doubt the faculty. to doubt is to examine; since there's a difference between people where this faculty works one way (being aware) and where it's another way (being unaware), we have to examine the question and determine which side is correct, i.e. whether awareness is delusion or unawareness is ignorance.

Kyle S said...

I have stated my position. Here it is again:

A belief is justified if and only if it is produced by your belief producing cognitive faculties that are properly functioning.

We have lots of sources of belief, our senses, testimony, reason. I also think that we have an awareness of God. Clearly it doesn't work properly, or at all, in everyone, and a great number appear to be very short-sighted, but I don't think that this is a very good reason to doubt this faculty.

If you lived in the land of the blind, and yet had sight would you think yourself deluded? Me trusting my awareness of God is no different to you trusting your senses.

Remember: someone telling you that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon is in fact evidence.

In that case I have lots of evidence that God exists. Lots of people have told me that he does.

Presumably "God" refers to some sort of "entity" or something like that that does or does not exist. It therefore is an ontological premise.

'If the world exists, then it was creatd by God' does not commit me to the existence of anything. This statement could be true and yet nothing exist at all.

I don't really believe that this can be believed without evidence, but I'm trying to understand what you think needs evidence, and what does not.

You said that only ontological beliefs require evidence, but that is clearly too permissive.

Kyle S said...

Sorry, I posted that last comment before I read your latest post. I don't have time to reply again now. I'll write something later.

Kyle S said...

This is philosophical bullshit. I understand that it's not your philosophical bullshit, that this bullshit has been promulgated by professional philosophers, but it's bullshit nonetheless. It's blatantly circular.

That's it? That's your knock down argument?

Why is it circular?

You can say that we have some sort of subjective experiences, but reasoning from those experiences to the conclusion that those experiences are an awareness of something requires a justification.

How do you justify using your senses? You cannot prove that the external world exists without first using your senses.

Also, very few people have even attempted to justify using their senses, does that mean that everyone elses perceptual beliefs are unjustified?

Eric said...
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Eric said...

"any ontological belief requires evidential justification."

Barefoot Bum, it seems to me that this principle leads to an infinite regress because the sort of evidential justification that could be used to support an ontological belief would, I would think, presuppose at least one ontological commitment. This ontological commitment would then have to be justified, and so on.

So, I suppose the question is this: Can you provide an example of an ontological belief that can be justified without a commitment to at least one additional ontological belief (which would then, per your principle, have to be justified, and so on)?

The Barefoot Bum said...

Kyle S: Why is it circular?

The formulation is circular because we can determine that a cognitive faculty is functioning properly if and only if it produces true beliefs.

In that case I have lots of evidence that God exists. Lots of people have told me that he does.

This is what I'm talking about when I say you have a very deficient understanding of naturalism and evidentiary reasoning, and I don't have the time or inclination to correct you. You reject evidentiary justification anyway, so it's a waste of effort. If you're interested, I've written extensively about the Scientific Method.

Make your non-evidentiary case.

How do you justify using your senses?

I don't have to justify using my senses. My senses present impressions to my consciousness with inexorable, irresistible force. My brain (and yours) is nothing more (or less) than a machine to manage sensory impressions.

Of course you're free to deny the use of sensory impressions. Drive home from work tomorrow with your eyes closed, and I will be most impressed. Otherwise, we can take reliance on sensory impressions as mutually stipulated.

wombat said...

Kyle S "I also think that we have an awareness of God. Clearly it doesn't work properly, "

What form does this awareness take?

A) For you? (I realize here that you may in fact be one of those who does not possess a fully functioning awareness.)

B) For others who you have met?

Kyle S said...

The formulation is circular because we can determine that a cognitive faculty is functioning properly if and only if it produces true beliefs.

What do you mean by this. That we would never know that someone's cognitive apparatus was malfunctioning? That's clearly not true, psychology has given us loads of examples, in fact some people with cognitive malfunction know that they have malfunction.

Perhaps you mean that we could not know that that we were functioning properly unles a significant number of us were - it might be the case that we are all malfunctioning and yet think we are functioning properly. Of course couldn't this charge be laid against your defense of the senses below?

All that the theory requires is that it is true that our cognitive faculties are mostly functioning properly most of the time, not that it is known. This belief does not enter into the justification of the theory, so it is not circular.

I don't have to justify using my senses. My senses present impressions to my consciousness with inexorable, irresistible force.

Why can't it be the same in the case of awareness of God. I don't understand why you think that the awareness of God obviously needs justification and yet the senses don't.

I'm finding this whole discussion quite frustrating. When I state something you seem to be to make a very short and vague reply dismissing it. Then when I crticise something you have said, you simply say that I don't understand.

You also consistently misrepresent what I have said. Nowhere have I said that I don't trust my senses or that I don't think beliefs can be justified by evidence.

Kyle S said...

Hi Wombat,

What form does this awareness take?

I can only really speak for myself, in the same way that we don't really know what it is like for someone else to see a red ball, but we suppose that it is very similar to our own case.

The faculty that I think it is most similar to is our awareness of a priori truths.

I can just 'see' that 1+1=2, and in the same way I can just see that God exists. It is not a senuous experince, there is no warmth that accompanies it, or shining light. It is just the case that when I grasp the proposition I come to believe it.

Also, the a priori helps to understand why the awareness of God varies so much. Just as a talented mathematician can spot that certain things are true or false straight away, others will not have a clue, or even get it wrong.

wombat said...

Kyle S.

You said - "The faculty that I think it is most similar to is our awareness of a priori truths..."

Your comparison with maths is interesting. It makes it clear that it is not a straightforward sense impression like seeing or hearing. It seems to be an interpretation of some sort. After all I may receive the idea of "1+1=2" through several alternative sensory pathways; which one in particular does not influence my appreciation or otherwise of the equation.

So what things does it apply to? When does it operate?

Kyle S said...

Hi Wombat,

You don't learn mathematical truths using your senses. Your senses might help you grasp the concepts involved. You cannot see (in the literal way) that 1+1=2. Numbers are not properties of objects. When you hold your hand in front of your face you are seeing five fingers, but you are not seeing the number five.

Likewise I come to grasp the concept of God by reading the Bible or talking to people, but in it not in that way that I come to believe.

wombat said...

Kyle S

"Likewise I come to grasp the concept of God by reading the Bible or talking to people, but in it not in that way that I come to believe."

I am having difficulty parsing this. Typo perhaps?

Kyle S said...

Sorry, that should have read:

Likewise I come to grasp the concept of God by reading the Bible or talking to people, but it is not in that way that I come to believe.

The Barefoot Bum said...

All right, Kyle, let's talk more about evidentiary justification.

Evidentiary justification first requires that we state our evidence in non-ontological form, without talking about that evidence in terms of any conclusions. Rather, we have evidence with internal characteristics.

(Applied to experiential, phenomenological evidence, we have to state our experiences without discussing those experiences in ontological terms. We cannot, therefore, talk directly about experiencing an "awareness of God"; we are drawing our conclusion before consciously examining the evidence. Rather, we have to describe these experiences in terms of their intrinsic character, and then apply the next steps to decide if they are best explained as an "awareness of God.")

The next step is to determine the best theory: i.e. the simplest explanation that logically accounts for the neutrally-stated evidence.

This is the point where "awareness of God" hypothesis really falls down, simply because an omnipotent God cannot logically account for any evidence. To be an account, the specific character of the evidence must follow from the hypothetical theory, entailing that the opposite of the evidence is logically precluded by the theory. But an omnipotent God by definition precludes nothing. So we have to add specific characteristics to God. (Usually we add the characteristic that it's God's "intrinsic nature" to want thus-and-such.)

Furthermore, we want all these local individual accounts to cohere in a global way; this requirement is just our "simplest explanation" writ large; accounts that cohere do so because they have features in common, and the sum total of mutually coherent accounts is simpler than the sum total of incoherent accounts.

This methodology is hard to see because we often unconsciously draw conclusions about reality from our perceptions, especially our conclusions about the ordinary world. We don't see brown and green pixels on our eyeballs and go through a rigorous, conscious process and draw a conclusion, we just see a tree. But that's not because these conclusions are not susceptible to scientific investigation, but rather because the work of drawing those conclusion has been performed by evolution, not by conscious, scientific thought.

Also, I've stated the scientific method in linear form for simplicity. However since we cannot and do not start from a clean slate, we cannot ever make purely phenomenological statements. Thus science is a dialectical process, where we take existing theories, try to see where we can take out an ontological assumption or state some piece of our theory more neutrally, and modify the theory accordingly.

This rather long comment (that took me an hour to write, an hour probably wasted) is still an enormous oversimplification of scientific, evidentiary reasoning. Tens of thousands of philosophers and science have devoted considerable time to working out the subtleties of this mode of reasoning and making each of the steps more rigorous and well-defined.

The Barefoot Bum said...

...state some piece of our theory more neutrally, and modify the theory accordingly.

should read:

...state some piece of our evidence more neutrally, and modify the theory accordingly.

Kyle S said...

This methodology is hard to see because we often unconsciously draw conclusions about reality from our perceptions, especially our conclusions about the ordinary world. We don't see brown and green pixels on our eyeballs and go through a rigorous, conscious process and draw a conclusion, we just see a tree. But that's not because these conclusions are not susceptible to scientific investigation, but rather because the work of drawing those conclusion has been performed by evolution, not by conscious, scientific thought.

Are you saying that you are justified in believing that the external world exists because evolution told you so? That what it sounds like.

The reason I'm asking these questions is because your theory seems to suggest that you know nothing.

wombat said...

Kyle S. "Likewise I come to grasp the concept of God by reading the Bible..."

OK. Does this awareness as you experience it ever mis-fire?

You might have had something like one of those double-take moments where something that seems at first glance to be one thing is in fact another. e.g. seeing someone who you think you recognize but who in fact turns out to be someone else entirely.

Kyle S said...

Hi Wombat,

there is a problem here in that beliefs produced by our awareness of God do not come with a sign attached that says 'this is brought to you by the awareness of God', so it's hard to tell if it has or could go wrong.

However, I have had beliefs that have been false that have been very much like ones that are produced by the awareness of God.

anticant said...

"However, I have had beliefs that have been false that have been very much like ones that are produced by the awareness of God."

H'm. How do you distinguish betwee the two?

Kyle S said...

How do you distinguish betwee the two?

You can't, but I don't see why that matters.

You can't distinguish between halucinations and genuine perception.

anticant said...

So you don't know whether you are a man dreaming that you are a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that you are a man?

Maybe you are a poached egg!

wombat said...

Kyle S.

Part of the reason for asking is to try to get a feeling for what believers are experiencing. Thanks for putting uup with my curiosity.

As to the indistinguishability of hallucinations and genuine perception I think I would have to disagree.

Firstly there are instances of people who recognize that they are hallucinating whilst they are doing so. e.g. experienced drug users. I suppose this is not dissimilar to being aware that you are dreaming at the time.

Secondly one often realises the difference afterwards. Again when you wake up from a dream you may remember the sense impressions quite vividly - e.g. colours of things but you accept it as a dream.

But neither of these are always the case. Provided that the hallucination is plausible and you are not under conditions of physical stress or pharmacological influence anyone might be unable to make a distinction.

You said the sensations from some of the false beliefs were "very much like"
the others. At first reading I thought that you implied they were subtly different like say seeing red is different from seeing pink. They are still both seeing. If there is a difference however subtle it might be possible to learn more from this sense or at least more about it

So how did you tell that the beliefs that you had which were false were, in fact, false? Did the "sense of correctness" fade with time or what?

The Barefoot Bum said...

Kyle: I'm justified in believing in objective reality because it's the simplest scientific theory that accounts for my perceptions.

I do in fact believe in objective reality because my brain is the product of evolution.

The reason I'm asking these questions is because your theory seems to suggest that you know nothing.

That's an odd interpretation. What do you mean by "know"? I mean by "know" justified by the scientific method. Since the method does exist, and since it does produce actual results, I therefore do know things.

This method lets me predict future experiences with great accuracy and detail, and it allows me to share knowledge with others, two things that God-talk fails to provide.

The Barefoot Bum said...

You can't distinguish between halucinations and genuine perception.

If you can't distinguish between them, then you're using two different words to discuss the same thing.

But of course you can distinguish between hallucination and perception: hallucinatory experiences don't cohere with anything; our perceptual experiences cohere with each other very closely.

wombat said...

"But of course you can distinguish between hallucination and perception: hallucinatory experiences don't cohere with anything;"

Yes. but this highlights one of the problems. Unless there is anything else to contradict it strongly enough a hallucination will still be convincing.
Not only that but part of the halucination is often simply in the interpretation of the senses. Whilst in the grip of it someone may well believe the false interpretation.

OK Pink elephants flying round the room are a real stretch and won't survive much of an encounter with any other experience but what of a simple auditory hallucination of someone shouting in the distance?

Ron Murphy said...
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Ron Murphy said...

Kyle S

You can't distinguish between halucinations and genuine perception. - and I'd add misunderstandings and instances of deceit, wishful thinking, ...

This is the problem for basic theism (there is a personal God), and for religion (the interpretation and implementation of this personal God's intentions).

We start with our senses, which are fallible, and make the best of them by the application of scepticism, reasoning, testing, falsification, repeatability, and any other tools at our disposal. The formalised modern implementation of all this is the scientific method, but that is grounded in the natural tools we acquired through evolution, some of them so basic that all living organisms have them - if it 'hurts' avoid it, if it's 'pleasurable' do it. BB's 'drive with your eyes shut or with them open' being an example. We learn not merely to trust our senses, but how to judge when and to what extent we can trust our senses, through the application of those tools.

I might disagree with the core God hypothesis of theism, but my senses and thinking tools can't help me prove there is no God. What they can do is compare this hypothesis with countless others. For me the result is that the God hypothesis has no sensory or scientific foundation.

But, I can go further with regard to other aspects of theism and religion, such as Jesus being God, the resurrection, atonement, sin, the requirement of death for Islamic apostates or the sinfulness of birth control for Catholics and all the other trappings of religion. They fail when scrutinised by the most basic tools that humans rely on. They are founded only on suspect thought processes piled one on top of another, over several centuries and millennia.



...but I don't see why that matters.

This is the beef most atheists have with most theists: on the one hand, theists are telling everyone else how to live their lives, and in many cases imposing their beliefs, often in cruel ways that appear contradictory to the tenets of the religion concerned; whereas, on the other hand, the worst imposition atheists impose on theists is insult - which, ironically, some followers of the all loving God see as fit reason to become violent.

I don't care if you believe in these theistic fictions, but I do care if you (or if not you many other theists) want to impose the consequences of your beliefs on me, or to acquire political and social advantages because of your beliefs.

That's why it matters.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Unless there is anything else to contradict it strongly enough a hallucination will still be convincing.

The point of ordinary perceptual experiences is that they do cohere, and they cohere in ways that are not analytic. If we are to explain this coherence, we must form a scientific theory that posits stable properties of something outside our conscious minds, i.e. reality.

Hallucinations, however, don't have any coherence that needs to be explained; they are just random. They especially do not cohere with the words we hear from other people.

There are people who do and say things that lead us to conclude — as the best scientific theory — that they are drawing conclusions from experiences that are idiosyncratic, that the experiences they feel are perceptual are not shared by other people.

Scientific theories are never certain; it's possible, but highly unlikely, that everything we ascribe to reality is due to pure chance.

But nu, we do the best we can with what we have. The point is that theism isn't the best we can do; far from it.

The Barefoot Bum said...

(More precisely, the ways in which some of our experiences (those we typically label as "hallucinations") cohere only in ways such that the best scientific theory to explain them does not need to posit anything outside the subconscious mind. The best scientific explanation of our ordinary perceptual experiences, however, does need to posit things outside not only our conscious minds, but our ordinary subconscious minds as well.)

wombat said...

BB - In general I agree - coherence is the key. However I do believe that unless the hallucination is subject to a challenge it may be believable.

Now the stereotypical visual hallucinations are rapidly blown away I agree as is anything which is subject to (dis)confirmation by others. Nonetheless in the absence of these challenges how can one distinguish hallucinations?
As you point out the larger and more comprehensive hallucinations will lack internal coherence so they will get thrown out as well. Nonetheless a modest hallucination involving no obvious reference to the external world might be difficult to detect.
Lets say for example I hear something, say a dog, yapping outside the house.
I can believe this at least until I look out of the window or go outside. Even then if the experience is transient I would probably sat "Its gone now". It would only be if I had some other point of reference such as other peoples statements or CCTV footage that I could discount it.

What about purely internal hallucinations? That is to say ones about the state of my own body or mind.
Not actually sure these are possible but can't think why not either, they seem to be possible with all the other senses. Does deja vu qualify as a hallucination about ones memory?

It seems to me that such internal senses are to some extent shielded from challenge. I can't for instance ask anyone else what I am feeling can I.

The Barefoot Bum said...

If we can't reliably distinguish some experiences as perceptions or hallucinations, then we can't distinguish them, and we must remain agnostic.

Kyle's position is -- as I understand it -- that we can distinguish between them, but we have no naturalistic evidentiary basis to do so.

wombat said...

BB,

"...we must remain agnostic."

I really, really hate saying this as I'm beginning to sound like I am trying to have the last word.

In general I agree, but (there that was the bit I didn't like!)
we can justifiably lean towards the hallucination interpretation if the experience is very unlikely.

Kyle S.

I would still be interested in how you settled on the truth/falsity of beliefs that you came by using this particular awareness.

anticant said...

I wouldn't!

Kyle S said...

I'm sorry for dis appearing for a while.

Hi Wombat,

I may have stated my views in a slightly unhelpful way for the sake of brevity. Let me try and explain:

In life we form beliefs all the time, you couldn't stop it even if you tried, it's what our brain does.

Some of these beliefs we think come from a certain faculty, maybe the senses or memory. Some beliefs come from something that is definitely not a faculty of ours, testimony. And some are unclear, intuition.

I have noticed that I form beliefs, such as 'God exists' and 'God is speaking through the Bible'. So, in it a sort of conjecture that there might be a faculty that produces these.

I don't hold very strongly to the idea that this is a faculty, but it seems possible to me.

The way I differentiate between true and false beliefs (that I take to be formed by this faculty) is rather similar to the way I differentiate between true and false memories. If I remember something then I take it to be true unless I have some outweighing evidence to the contrary, or that over time it fades and I come to doubt that it was genuine.

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

Kyle S said...

Hi Barefoot Bum,

I can't believe that you think that the external world if the best explanation of your sensory experiences. There is two problems with it. Firstly, it just doesn't fit with what people actually do, and two, there are lots of explanations of your sensory that do not posit an external world.

One:

People believe in an external world long before they can argue the case. In fact my grandmother believes in an external world and she definitely could not argue for it, does that make her irrational?

Also, young children form beliefs about the external before they are able to make inferences, so it seems one does not need an argument to believe in the external world, it also seems to suggest that we are biased before we even consider the question.

Two:

An external world of objects that it like your experiences hardly seems to be the only explanation of your experiences. It could be that you are only a mind, and that nothing else exists. The regularity exibited by the world perhaps demonstrates that your mind likes regularity. That is much simpler.

Perhaps you don't like that explanation for some reason. You could explain it by one of Descartes Demons, or Berkeley's God, or an evil scientist on Alpha Centauri, the possibilities are endless. Many of these are as good as, if not better, than the external world hypothesis.

You don't have to go to the extravagent extents of suggesting that things continue to exist when you do not perceive, we could even get rid of beliefs about past and future.

The only reason are compelled by the 'evidence' for the external world is that they can't help believing the conclusion.

I'm not trying to argue for scepticism, it is clearly false, but it is not clearly false because the external world is the best explanation.

wombat said...

Kyle S.

Glad you've reappeared.

Somewhat clearer.

I am somewhat troubled by your second belief though, which seems to have survived the test you describe. The Bible is full of contradictory, ambiguous and downright unpleasant stuff which ought by your method have been sufficient to disconfirm your initial feeling about it.

Kyle S said...

Hi Wombat,

You say:

The Bible is full of contradictory, ambiguous and downright unpleasant stuff which ought by your method have been sufficient to disconfirm your initial feeling about it.

I think you are rather overstating this point. I admit that some parts of the Bible are difficult to understand, and that at times it seems to contradict itself, but I don't think there are any clear examples of outright contradiction.

Think about how reason works. It is quite easy to come up with paradoxes or to argue for things that are clearly false. Such things shouldn't cause us to abandon reason.

Likewise, I don't believe that the Bible is easy to understand, or that I will ever settle all the objections that have been raised against it, but I haven't seen the sorts of problems that should cause one to doubt it's authority.

The Barefoot Bum said...

wombat: Don't worry, you won't have the last word. :-D

We have to drill down to what we mean by "unlikely". That can mean only that some experience (or its facile interpretation) fails to cohere with the rest of our experiences.

Kyle:

I can't believe that you think that the external world if the best explanation of your sensory experiences. There is two problems with it. Firstly, it just doesn't fit with what people actually do, and two, there are lots of explanations of your sensory that do not posit an external world.

I said it was the best explanation, not the only explanation.

And it's irrelevant that people don't think consciously about whether or not reality is the best explanation; if they did think consciously about it, they would come to that conclusion.

But, as I mentioned before, most people's beliefs about reality are shaped by evolution, not conscious thought.

The regularity exibited by the world perhaps demonstrates that your mind likes regularity. That is much simpler.

It's only "simpler" if you handwave around the enthymemes. You have to be rigorous before you can evaluate simplicity.

Many of these are as good as, if not better, than the external world hypothesis.

So you say. First descrobe your theory rigorously, with no enthymemes (hidden assumptions) so that the hypotheses rigorously lead to the conclusions verified by experience, and then count the premises.

I'm not going to do your philosophical work for you, Kyle. Just because you happen to say that some theory is simpler doesn't mean it actually is.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Kyle: I haven't seen the sorts of problems that should cause one to doubt [the Bible's] authority.

Precisely what kind of authority are you talking about? What sort of problems would cause you to doubt its authority?

Kyle S said...

Barefoot Bum:

in some places you seem to state that for one to form beliefs on the basis of experience an argument is required.

e.g. You can say that we have some sort of subjective experiences, but reasoning from those experiences to the conclusion that those experiences are an awareness of something requires a justification.

In other places you seem to deny this.

e.g. I don't have to justify using my senses.

You later to try to argue that your senses are a source of information about the world, but that it is not important to know these arguments.

Is a person required to justify the use of their senses or not?

Kyle S said...

What sort of problems would cause you to doubt its authority?

If you could show me that something that it taught was false.

What sort of problems would cause you to doubt the authority of your senses?

The Barefoot Bum said...

Again, Kyle, we're going off track. The point is not to justify empirical science. The point is for you to persuade us that your belief in God is not ridiculous, ludicrous, fit only for credulous children.

Of course, you don't need to persuade us of anything. It's a free country, you can have whatever ridiculous beliefs you want. If you want to believe in God, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, shape-shifting lizard people, timecubes or the Cubs chances in the 2009 World Series, that's fine. Believe what you want; without credulous fools we'd have a lot of priests out of work.

I'm still waiting for you to start a serious discussion.

Kyle S said...

This is an important issue to what we are discussing.

You claim that I have not given adequate defense of the awareness of God, but by your own standards you seem unable to give an adequate defense of your senses.

The debate seems to be running like this:

K: Gives reason for thinking that there is an awareness of God.

B: That is not a good reason because of p.

K: But if p is true, then there is no good reason to accept the testimony of our senses.

B: You are going off issue, so I refuse to comment.

wombat said...

Kyle S.

"If you could show me that something that it taught was false."

Lets leave out miracles etc. (allegorical) or footling factual inaccuracies. The ancients weren't always the best informed after all and can be excused a little leeway I think.

How about the dietary laws in the OT.
Is it really wrong to eat shellfish?

Was it really Ok for that slaughter of other tribes e.g the Midianites?

Kyle S said...

Hi Wombat,

Thank you for your comments.

1. Laws in the OT

Many of the laws given in the OT are to a nation, so there is a certain amount of pragmatism involved. If you were to look at the laws in our country, you would certainly not think that they were clear examples of wrongdoing. Is it clearly wrong to drive more than 70mph? Or to build a house without planning permission?

Societies will be forced at some point to make illegal things that are not wrong in themselves. God's people are no longer a nation, so these laws do not apply, but we can still learn from them. For example, the OT says that if you have steps up to your roof, then you should install a rail around the edge, this seems to be some sort of health and safety regulation, so it teaches us that it is important to make sure your property is not unsafe.

2. The wiping out of other tribes and nations.

You must understand this within the narrative of the Bible. God is a holy and powerful God, and he is the sustainer of all things. People have used the gift of life and continued existence to rebel against God. this is unacceptable. God was using the nation of Isreal to punish othe evil nations. He also used other nations to punish Isreal.

The Barefoot Bum said...

But, Kyle, you're not giving a reason to believe in God.

There's simply no controversy over allowing perceptual facts into evidence.

However, "I saw God" is not an perceptual fact. It's a conclusion, and allowing perceptual facts into evidence is not to allow intuitive conclusions.

If we go one level deeper, we can talk about experiential facts, but the justification is more complicated. But in the same sense as above, "I feel God" is still a conclusion, not a experiential fact.

Fundamentally I don't have to justify taking perceptual facts as an evidentiary foundation the issue is not in controversy. What's controversial is how you draw conclusions from those facts. Those are two different issues, as has been explained to you time and again.

You have two choices: If you want to use well-accepted scientific epistemology to draw conclusions, then you don't need to explain or justify the method: We all know how science works, and most of the readers here accept it as sound. But you do need to actually use the method in the well-accepted manner: you must present facts, not intuitive conclusions, and you must create a rigorous theory that accounts for those facts. Then we can evaluate the theory's accuracy and simplicity.

Alternatively, you can propose an alternative method for drawing conclusions. But if you're going to present an alternative, you should at least describe that method, and explain why it is not vacuous, i.e. show it cannot be used to justify any conclusion at all.

The Barefoot Bum said...

(Kyle: If you take the Bible as authoritative with regards to truth, i.e. the Bible is true by definition, then it is analytically impossible to find any part of it false.

In order even in principle to find any part of the Bible false, you would first have to deny its authority and say that there was some other method to determine truth to which one could submit truth claims of the Bible.)

Kyle S said...

If I go outside and look at a tree, then it seems to me that there is a tree there. This is not a conclusion this is a statement about my experience 'I am being appeared to treely'. You say that this is evidence for the conclusion that 'there is a tree'.

I agree with you on that. However, you object to me doing something like this: It seems to me that God exists, I have an apparent awareness of God's existence, and I conclude from this that 'God exists'. This is not an undefeatable belief, it has the same sort of status as the tree belief, it could be wrong but I have good prima facie reason for believing it.

I claim that there is no obvious epistemic difference between these. You disagree.

It is the nature of your disagreement that I don't understand. You say that perception is acceptable because science has proved it to be acceptable. But that can't be the case. That would mean that a child who is unable to understand science is not justified. People living in the amazon rainforest who have had no contact with outsiders are unjustied. All those people who existed before the scientific method are unjustified. If you developed global amnesia would that mean that you are unjustified in taking the evidence of your senses at face value?

I believe that we have lots of sources of belief, many that we can both agree on: the senses, testimony, reason etc... I just go one further.

Aside:

I don't think the Bible is true by definition.

The Barefoot Bum said...

If I go outside and look at a tree, then it seems to me that there is a tree there. This is not a conclusion this is a statement about my experience 'I am being appeared to treely'. You say that this is evidence for the conclusion that 'there is a tree'.

Light is striking your eyeballs, creating a pattern of neurological events. Your preconscious mind is interpreting this information, using very complicated neural structures, drawing a conclusion, and presenting the conclusion to your conscious mind that you see a tree.

Cross your eyes, and your preconscious mind will draw a different conclusion, that there are two trees, and present that conclusion to your conscious mind.

What's important is that these conclusions drawn by our preconscious minds are not rigorous (although they are often true).

It's insufficient in a philosophical sense to simply say, I know a tree exists only because my preconscious mind presents me with the conclusion that a tree exists. In a philosophical sense, we want a more rigorous connection between the perception and our interpretation of reality.

You might object that people who do not apply this philosophical rigor are being "irrational". Perhaps so, but calling some mode of thought irrational is not to call it false, just insufficiently rigorous.

Now, as it happens, we can rigorously, scientifically justify the conclusion that one sees a tree when one has a particular pattern of sense impressions. And we can scientifically justify why our preconscious minds consistently come up with true beliefs under ordinary circumstances. Therefore, we are justified under ordinary circumstances in trusting our preconscious minds... keeping in mind that if we're ever in doubt, we can apply full scientific rigor to decisively get at the real truth.

Thus it is with God... Our preconscious minds draw particular conclusions. They might or might not be correct. Since we are in doubt, we must -- just as when we are in doubt about what conclusion to draw from the evidence of our senses -- apply rigorous scientific reasoning to determine what conclusions to draw from the experiences you call experiences of God.

The Barefoot Bum said...

That would mean that a child who is unable to understand science is not justified. People living in the amazon rainforest who have had no contact with outsiders are unjustied. All those people who existed before the scientific method are unjustified.

Indeed: none have a conscious rigorous scientific justification for their beliefs. So what? Just because their beliefs are not consciously justified doesn't mean they're false.

Kyle S said...

Just because their beliefs are not consciously justified doesn't mean they're false.

How is that person supposed to make a subjective distinction between perception and guessing?

You haven't answered the question about how we justify beliefs in our daily lives.

Consider this example:

Imagine you are in court accused of murdering your boss. The evidence against you: you were heard shouting at you boss and saying I'm going to kill you the day before the muder, you have no alibi, you were seen in the area around the time of the murder, the murder weapon belonged to you. However, you know that you were not the person who committed the murder because you can remember what you did and it wasn't murder, but you have no proof to present in court.

In this case how is science going to help you out?

The Barefoot Bum said...

How is that person supposed to make a subjective distinction between perception and guessing?

By applying a conscious, rigorous process, i.e. science.

You haven't answered the question about how we justify beliefs in our daily lives.

They're usually not, which is why people have a lot of false, stupid beliefs when they go outside the environments where their beliefs evolved.

Imagine you are in court accused of murdering your boss. The evidence against you: you were heard shouting at you boss and saying I'm going to kill you the day before the muder, you have no alibi, you were seen in the area around the time of the murder, the murder weapon belonged to you. However, you know that you were not the person who committed the murder because you can remember what you did and it wasn't murder, but you have no proof to present in court.

In this case how is science going to help you out?


Science would help by examining more facts.

Memory itself is a real fact and could in principle (if we had much-improved brain scanning technology) be admitted as evidence.

More importantly, you present -- absent memory -- a very weak circumstantial case. There definitely could be a weight of facts (videotapes, witnesses, fingerprints and other forensic evidence) that would lead me to doubt the veracity of my own memory: the simplest explanation that accounted for all the facts might well be that I've somehow formed a false memory.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Empirical science is much much more than just "I see X, therefore X is true." It's not scientific to say only "I see a tree, therefore a tree exists." And it's equally unscientific to say only, "I feel God, therefore God exists."

Our naive intuitions are just not rigorous enough to be trusted absolutely. We must examine our naive intuitions with scientific rigor to determine when and under what conditions they are and are not reliable -- and also examine reality with equal scientific rigor to account for why they are or are not reliable under different conditions.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Also, because we make actual decisions after a finite time examining a finite amount of evidence, we can come only to a probabilistic conclusion: we might be incorrect.

But it means something very specific to say that a scientific conclusion is incorrect: It means that we would draw a different conclusion if we had more evidence.

It does not mean that there can be any false statement such that we would conclude its truth from an examination of all the evidence.

Ron Murphy said...

Kyle S to BB:

"You claim that I have not given adequate defence of the awareness of God, but by your own standards you seem unable to give an adequate defence of your senses."

I don't think our senses alone can be defended as a reliable route to truth, but when subject to sceptical scrutiny, testing, etc (see my earlier post) the resulting experience of using the senses plus critical thought provides the most coherent truth we can get at. Your awareness of God doesn't provide anything but a re-affirmation of itself based on the presumption there's a God in the first place. There is no experience of God that can be distinguished from the hallucinatory, and nothing about your God that can be shown in any way to require what all religions require with respect to God.

You can dream or hallucinate about fairies, but, based on your senses plus critical thinking, and with no presumption that they do exist, you conclude that they don't exist and that your experience was a dream or an hallucination. At least I assume you do.

But one might presume fairies do exist. Using our most reliable tools of the senses plus critical thinking what might we expect to see or otherwise experience as a consequence of fairies existing? We might expect to see them occasionally and capture them on VT - unless they choose to make themselves invisible to us and our instruments. Perhaps we might expect to see the consequences of their magical powers (miracles) - unless they choose not to make their miracles subjectable to scrutiny. Any fairy-ist could concoct any number of excuses as to why they still exist but they fail to conform to our understanding of the normal material world. Is all that is required to sustain a belief in fairies is that the fairy-ist presumes that they do exist, and that any 'experience' that is unexplained by ordinary sensory means is evidence that they do exist.

In what way is your God different? Perhaps he isn't.

The Barefoot Bum said...

You find the word "sense" at the root of a lot of our epistemological words and phrases such as "sensible", "nonsense", "doesn't make sense".

The project that I'm interested in is understanding, organizing and being able to predict my subjective experiences. Pain hurts and pleasure feels good: that's how the brain works.

I think what Kyle is groping at is this. Suppose we found the best possible scientific theory, which by definition would explain all of our experiences in the simplest way. By what virtue would we believe that scientific theory has anything whatsoever to do with the truth?

The problem is, suppose science really does have nothing whatsoever to do with truth. Then what? We're screwed. The truth is simply unknowable, since our subjective experiences are all we have to work with.

Kyle S said...

We seem to have a major disagreement about knowledge.

I hold to the majority view that knowledge is a very common thing, that there are many beliefs that are both true and enjoy a positive epistemic status sufficient for knowledge.

On the other hand, you seem to think that knowledge is in fact very rare. This is an unusual and uncommon view. You seem to think that knowledge is true belief that is justified by science. The best that prescientific societies could hope for was simply true belief.

Memory itself is a real fact and could in principle (if we had much-improved brain scanning technology) be admitted as evidence.

This wouldn't really be of much use. It would simply show that the defendant wasn't lying. There is no cognitive difference between a genuine memory and a false memory.

Don't you think there are cases when one should reject the evidence, simply on the basis of what you believe, not on the grounds of stronger evidence?

After all, there are cases of people being sent to prison for murder, who were in fact innocent, and not becuase the court failed in it's weighing up of the evidence. In those cases do you think that the defendent was being irrational to continue protesting innocence?

Ron Murphy said...

"[1] Don't you think there are cases when one should reject the evidence, simply on the basis of what you believe, not on the grounds of stronger evidence?

[2] After all, there are cases of people being sent to prison for murder, who were in fact innocent, and not becuase the court failed in it's weighing up of the evidence. In those cases do you think that the defendent was being irrational to continue protesting innocence?"

[1] - No. That sounds dumb.

[2] - The innocent man has stronger evidence, as far as he is aware - his senses: he didn't do it. He just can't convince the court of the case. If the evidence upon which the court bases its case is very strong (but incorrect) the innocent man may even, quite rationally, begin to doubt his own innocence and his own sanity. But, in your hypothetical case you are giving us the third party knowledge that he is in fact innocent because he didn't do it. In normal cases this knowledge isn't available, barring witnesses that didn't come forward or other unexamined evidence.

The court is mistaken, but on the presumption that someone must have done it, and our man fits to the satisfaction of the court, the court finds him guilty.

The possibility of such mistakes is one of the reasons why the death penalty is opposed. If it later evidence becomes available at least some reparation can be made for jailing the innocent man.

In a similar way some intelligence had to create life - so God is the guilty party. Who else could it be? In God's case the theist jury is presuming guilt and manipulating the evidence to convict, and wants a sentence of eternity.

Poor old God gets a really tough deal, particularly in Christianity. First he's crucified, and then he's condemed to an eternity of running Heaven Wing, for people who are never going to turn up. What's more, for all those atheists proclaiming God's non-existance, let alone his innocence as the creator, theists are also condeming them to eternal Hell Wing.

Clearly we need a campaign of protest ouside churches - "Release the Jerusalem Three!", "God Is Innocent!"

Hope you're not on the jury should I be mistakenly accused of murder. Apparently the non-doubt in your beliefs could prove to influence what is otherwise a good idea - the presumption of innocence.

The Barefoot Bum said...

I hold to the majority view that knowledge is a very common thing, that there are many beliefs that are both true and enjoy a positive epistemic status sufficient for knowledge.

Basically, I agree. This view accounts for the fact that people have in the past expressed many beliefs we now believe to be false: their beliefs in general did not rest upon a sound epistemic basis. It also accounts for many beliefs contradicted by scientific reasoning. It also accounts for a lot of mutually contradictory beliefs: they can't all be true, therefore the majority must be false. A reliable epistemic basis should not produce so many false beliefs.

This wouldn't really be of much use. It would simply show that the defendant wasn't lying. There is no cognitive difference between a genuine memory and a false memory.

Irrelevant. It's still a fact, and it has to be accounted for by any theory. If we could prove that the defendant really did have a memory of not killing the victim, the prosecutor would have to explain why and how the defendant acquired that false memory.

Don't you think there are cases when one should reject the evidence, simply on the basis of what you believe, not on the grounds of stronger evidence?

First, keep in mind that what I believe is evidence. My beliefs are not always veridical: the content of a belief is not always true, but that I believe X is indeed a fact, and if the fact of that belief is relevant to a theory, the theory must account for the fact.

But, in general, no, never. There is never any ground to reject evidence, to say that some theory might be true even if it entails a statement that contradicts the facts in evidence.

After all, there are cases of people being sent to prison for murder, who were in fact innocent, and not becuase the court failed in it's weighing up of the evidence.

That's simply not the case: every innocent person sent to prison happened because the court did indeed fail to weigh up the evidence. Because courts make decisions in finite time, we know these failures can and will occur. Indeed the only way we ever know that an innocent person has been falsely convicted is because more evidence compels a different conclusion.

But again: all of this is beside the point. Presumably you assert that you know a god exists. Even if evidentiary, scientific epistemology were found not relevent to knowledge about god(s) — even if science were found totally unreliable — that wouldn't help your case one bit.

You either are or are not making a truth claim about reality. If you're not making a truth claim about reality, then we have nothing to discuss. If you are making a truth claim about reality, you must show us a method that consistently validates truth claims and that I can employ using the information available to me to validate your specific claim.

Simply saying that people's beliefs are generally reliable, people believe in God, therefore we have sufficient epistemic basis to believe in God is insufficient. Simply because my beliefs are just as a priori reliable as yours and I do not believe any God exists. You must show why my beliefs are unreliable and your reliable.

Science decisively breaks the symmetry in my favor. If you reject science, you must show me an alternative method that breaks the symmetry in your favor. (And simple popularity will not do; there have been too many circumstances where the majority has been found to be mistaken.)

The Barefoot Bum said...

Sorry... I quoted the wrong paragraph above.

I agree with this paragraph:

On the other hand, you seem to think that knowledge is in fact very rare. This is an unusual and uncommon view. You seem to think that knowledge is true belief that is justified by science. The best that prescientific societies could hope for was simply true belief.

Yes. Knowledge is rare, and the best that prescientific societies could manage was simple true belief. Evolution accounts for the fact that prescientific societies did in fact have many true beliefs even lacking a rigorous epistemic method.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Kyle: I wrote earlier this year about process reliablism. I also wrote something similar in response to this thread: Reliable belief-producing faculties.