Monday, November 17, 2008

God: Knowing without evidence

In discussion about the existence of God, atheists often demand to see the evidence for God, and, in response, some theists (with some familiarity with the "reformed epistemology" of theists like Alston, Plantinga, etc.) will ask why evidence is needed in order for the belief to be rational/reasonable.

Exactly this has been going on in the comments on my final installment of the God Delusion book club.

If you are scratching your head over this (and some of you clearly are) here is a very brief explanation.

One popular sort of theory of knowledge (knowledge = justified true belief) says that:

a knows that P if and only if:
(i) a believes P
(ii) P is true
(iii) a is justified in believing P

What does "justified" mean? Well, good evidence would provide justification - you infer the belief from this evidence. But a regress threatens. To know A, I infer it from B, but to know B I must infer it from C, ad infinitum. But then no belief will be justified. Global scepticism looms.

One way out of the regress is to either (i) understand "justified" as including non-inferential forms of justification, or (ii) just drop the justification condition and replace it with something else.

Here is an example of the second strategy:

a knows that P iff:
(i) a believes that P
(ii) P is true
(iii) a's belief that P is produced by the state of affairs P via a reliable mechanism

This is a simple RELIABILIST theory of knowledge.

Suppose your senses are reliable mechanisms for producing true beliefs. If there's an orange on the table in front of you, your eyes etc. will cause you to believe there's an orange there. Remove the orange, and that will cause you to stop believing there's an orange there. Because your senses are fairly reliable belief-producing mechanisms, your beliefs "track the truth" in a fairly reliable way.

If that is the case, then you can be a knower. You can know there's an orange on the table in front of you. You can know this, despite not inferring that the orange is there from evidence. You simply, directly, know. Non-inferentially. And, indeed, without justification (unless you want to redefine justification so that being in this situation counts as "being justified").

Moreover, add some philosophers, it is pretty reasonable for you to believe there is an orange there if that is how it directly seems to you.

So you can have a belief, unsupported by any inference, unjustified, yet nevertheless qualifying as both reasonable and (if the reliable mechanism is doing its stuff) knowledge.

Of course, this theory of knowledge is manna from heaven to a theist. They can now suggest they may have a special sense - a God-sensing mechanism ("sensus divinitatis") that is functioning reliably - which accounts for why it just seems to them that God exists. If there is such a mechanism, and it is producing their belief, then (i) it's reasonable for them to believe God exists, and (ii) they know God exists, despite not possessing any evidence or justification.

This is where Kyle is coming from, I take it. Ask a theist what their evidence for God is, and they can say - "I have no evidence. I just know he does". And, if reliabilism is correct, it could be true: they do "just know". In the same way that you can "just know" there's an orange on the table.

Personally, I quite like reliabilism and such "externalist" theories of knowledge ("externalist" means you don't need to know that the conditions for your knowing obtain - you can know without knowing you know).

However, I am, predictably, entirely unconvinced by theistic attempts to use reliabilism to show that their belief in God is reasonable, and, if it's acquired by a reliable sensus divinitatis, knowledge. There are some pretty obvious problems with it (obvious even to many theists, in fact: they certainly don't all go for this stuff).

We did spend quite a lot of time on this stuff a while ago. See here and here.

125 comments:

Kosh3 said...

I don't like externalist conceptions of epistemic justification. They seem to me to be without use - for a belief to be justified, it needs to have been the result of a reliable belief forming process. Well ok, but then how are we going to tell if that is so? We could go again with another reliable belief forming process to tell us the other belief forming process was reliable, but then we have that question once over again but at a different place.

At least with justification as coming from, say, the logical relations between propositions, I can have an intuition when I am justified or not in my belief.

Kosh3 said...

So to pose a question: how are we to tell whether the sensus divinitatis is reliable? If we say 'god would make sure it was' (unless we are sinful, and so have it corrupted) we can no longer use it to justify our belief in god, since we are invoking the idea of god to justify our trusting of that divine-sensing faculty.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Reliabilism doesn't get us out of the infinite regress, it just moves the regress to the determination of whether some mechanism is reliable.

If we say we know that our senses are reliable, then we are saying that some reliable mechanism has provided the knowledge that our senses are reliable. That mechanism can't be our senses, else the argument would be circular, so it must be some other mechanism. So how do we know that other mechanism is reliable? etc. ad infinitum

I think the only way out is to examine what knowledge is for, to ask what purpose it serves. "To know the truth" is simply too vague; what do we mean by "truth"? The correspondence theory of truth (a statement is true if and only if it corresponds to reality) helps, but what then do we mean by "correspond" and "reality"? Why should we even mention reality at the metaphysical level?

What we do have is conscious subjective experience.

Subjective experience has intrinsic value: pain hurts; pleasure feels good. We have a built-in demand to explain and predict our subjective experience.

Subjective experience is both properly basic and falsifiable: that an experience exists entails that we know that it exists; that some experience does not exist entails that we know it does not exist.

We have a method for explaining and predicting our subjective experience: the scientific method. This method has proven reliable by the only criterion that matters: we have used this method with enormous success to explain and predict our experiences.

Motive, opportunity and means. We have everything we need for a phenomenalist theory of knowledge: scientific phenomenalism.

There are objections to this theory of knowledge.

Why should we hold our experiences as special? Because our brains make us do so: pain hurts. We don't have much choice. The universal philosophical refutation is spectacularly ineffective at rebutting a bowling ball dropped on one's foot.

Science is not deductive; we can't deduce the laws of physics from our experiences. Yes, but so what? Deductivism is overrated.

We cannot use scientific phenomenalism to know the truth of statements that do not relate to experience. Again, yes, but so what? Why should I care about some supposed "truth" that cannot possibly ever hurt or help me?

Anonymous said...

Given the contradictory results of the alleged sensus divinitatis - i.e. most people “see” gods, but a majority of those who see can’t agree on the number, nature or identity of these gods - and given also the mutually exclusive nature of god beliefs and their difficulty of testing, about the only thing one can say with confidence is that the majority of sensus divinitatis experiences must be mistaken – scarcely evidence for reliability, I would have thought.

But all who see an orange surely see a small orange globe with a dimpled surface; those with suitable experience (the vast majority, I guess) will also infer it is an edible fruit or perhaps a plastic replica. These inferences are tested very easily.

My comments are doubtless very naïve, philosophically speaking, but the sensus divinitatis argument looks like desperate bollocks.

Kiwi Dave

anticant said...

As BB says, what is meant by "truth"? I keep on asking this on these threads, but no clear answer has yet emerged and I suspect that different people are using the word in very different ways.....

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Louis said...

This reminds me of Rorty’s Antepodeans;
Instead of reporting that they were in pain, the Antipodeans would say, “My C-fibers are being stimulated!” So the question became, do these people have minds? Are they actually feeling pain, or simply reporting the states of they’re nerves? Do they have two feels, the referent and the stimulated nerve?

Assuming we know exactly how the brain works:
Could one then suggest, just as a thought experiment, that there is a physical and phenomenal component in the brain that leads to the belief in God (Stimulated G-fibers)? Not knowing the referent (not having evidence), certainly isn’t enough evidence in this case to say that the experience isn’t true. One could only say, given the lack of empirical evidence, that the way in which the person is reporting the experience doesn’t fit scientific reality. “You’ve spoken incorrectly sir!” But they could respond that, “There isn’t a way to rationally report the experience.” Then perhaps we one can simply say, fine, “It’s just that my G-fibers are being stimulated, but of course no one knows why this happens.”

I think many theists agree that much of religious language is mere metaphor….. I’m not sure anyone would suggest that theists are not having an experience; so what then would be the correct way of talking about it?

Kyle said...

Thanks for raising this again Stephen.

I think there's some confusion about what reliabilists are claiming.

The third requirement for knowledge is, as Stephen points out:

(iii) a's belief that P is produced by the state of affairs P via a reliable mechanism

not

(iii') a's belief that P is produced by the state of affairs P via a reliable mechanism, and a knows that P is produced by a reliable mechanism

This means that there is no regress because all that is required is that it is in fact produced by a reliable mechanism, not that one knows that it is produced by a reliable mechanism.

You don't need to know anything about how eyes work to know that there is a tree outside your window.

We can even have knowledge when the knower does not know how they formed the belief. See the example of chicken sexers here: http://cogprints.org/3255/

David B. Ellis said...

A thought experiment that I once presented to a christian who claimed reliabilism as the basis for accepting religious experience as grounds for reasonable belief in god:

A man begins hearing voices claiming to be from telepathic aliens in the Andromeda galaxy. They explain to him that he is the first and, so far, only human being to develop telepathic abilities and, therefore, to be able to detect their communications. The man cannot verify that he is actually telepathic by detected the thoughts of other humans because BOTH individuals must be telepathic for one to detect the thoughts of the other---so he can only hear the thoughts of the aliens.

So would it be reasonable for the man to believe he is telepathic and the aliens are real or should he think he is having auditory hallucinations?

My reliabilist friend claimed that, if the telepathy actually exists, he would be perfectly reasonable to believe in it (which he was pretty much obligated to do if he wanted to consistently claim the sensus divinitas is rational grounds for belief in God).

I find this utterly absurd for two reasons. First is the fact that we have a very reasonable alternative explanation, auditory hallucination, which is intrinsically preferable as a hypothesis to the other since we already know hallucinations occur while the same cannot be said for telepathy. Second is the fact that the man COULD independently confirm the telepathic communications by asking them to send him information he wouldn't already have but which he could confirm from other sources---thus showing that the information wasn't generated by his own mind.

The reliabilist christian tried to make much of the fact that this appeal to independent confirmation could not disconfirm alternative extreme skeptic hypotheses like that the man was a brain in a vat and the like---but, in my opinion, when absolute skepticism is the only refuge left to you then your argument cannot reasonably be considered anything but a failure.

Stephen Law said...

Yes chicken sexers are a nice illustration. Think of the lucky religious people equipped with a properly functioning sensus divinitatis as cosmic chicken-sexers. They "just know" God exists despite not knowing how they know [or perhaps (unlike the chicken sexers) even whether they know.]

Peter said...

kosh3 writes:
"So to pose a question: how are we to tell whether the sensus divinitatis is reliable?"

- It's reliable just in case it leads to true beliefs (some determinate % of the time). It may be very difficult to tell whether the sensus divinitatus is reliable (perhaps we can only find out after we're dead). But that is not Plantinga's project. Plantinga's project is showing that the question of the rationality of religious belief is not independent of the truth of religious belief. So, if Plantinga's right, the move that people like Russell make when they say "I don't know whether theism is true, but it's definitely irrational" doesn't work.

The Barefoot Bum said...

This means that there is no regress because all that is required is that it is in fact produced by a reliable mechanism, not that one knows that it is produced by a reliable mechanism.

But that doesn't solve the actual problem: We really do need to know which of our cognitive faculties are reliable, and which are not.

The chicken sexers are a bad analogy. There are ways of independently, consciously and explicitly verifying the their abilities: We can prove that their cognitive faculty is reliable, without appealing to the reliability of other cognitive faculties.

We can determine a chicken's actual sex in rigorous ways (e.g. detailed anatomical observation, chromosome analysis) and we can verify that chicken sexers are independently consistent.

More later... have to get to work.

wombat said...

OK then suppose I have this sense - how do I tell I have it?

If I am suddenly able to see a colour I was unable to perceive earlier by virtue of a new colour blindness medicine, the doctors could administer a simple test by showing me cards containing dots etc with the "new" colour. I would not at this point be expected to know what the new colour was but I would know there was a difference.

One view of the SD expressed on this blog was that the sense enabled one to evaluated the "Godliness" of various statements, philosophical positions, moral values etc. ( It might well have been kyle who gave me this impression - so please fell free to correct me kyle. )

Now it would seem to me that it should be perfectly possible in principle to administer a test using this to establish
(a) if a persons SD is in fact reliable and reproducible
(b) the SD works the same for all humans.
(c) it isn't actually another, also perfectly real, facility which is just being mis-interpreted by the subject.

I don't deny that there are practical difficulties. For example we already have grounds to believe that humans reaction to some moral dilemmas is to some extent "built in" - for example the instinctive unwillingness of most people to directly kill someone else even if by doing so they could save a number of other people.

FWIW I suspect that (c) is actually the case and what SD'ers are feeling is simply their moral conscience.

wombat said...

BB "..and we can verify that chicken sexers are independently consistent."

This is the key point. I have argued against the SD in the past on the grounds that it is not verifiable against our other senses in the same way that say seeing an object can be verified by going and touching it. One possible response is that the SD is unique and the thing it reacts to (God) is not otherwise verifiable so we do not have the equivalent evidence of a chromosome count to appeal to. Nonetheless we can still measure possessors of the SD against each other, or indeed themselves at different times, to determine consistency.

jeremy said...

I'm with Barefoot Bum (and Kosh3) on this one: I don't see how reliablilism escapes the regress problem - you seem to simply have shifted the infinite regress' point of commencement, that's all.

Anyone?

Kyle said...

The third requirement for knowledge is, as Stephen points out:

(iii) a's belief that P is produced by the state of affairs P via a reliable mechanism

not

(iii') a's belief that P is produced by the state of affairs P via a reliable mechanism, and a knows that P is produced by a reliable mechanism


Those of you who think that there is still an infinite regress just aren't taking the reliabilist seriously. According to the reliabilist you do not need to know that the mechanism that is producing the belief is reliable. It just needs to be true that it is reliable.

Otherwise how could children have knowledge, or people in pre-scientific communities?

Some of you seem to be making the claim that a reliable mechanism could produce knowledge as long as it is possible to determine that it is reliable. So, the chicken sexer is ok because although she might not be able to show the the method is reliable it is possible. You then claim that the same is not true of the SD because there is nothing to check it against. How do you know that. Maybe it is possible to check it but you have to die first, or something like that.

This extra requirement appears arbitrary. Also, it may mean that you can justify sight, but you cannot justify the use of your senses because you cannot check them against some other faculty.

David B. Ellis said...


I'm with Barefoot Bum (and Kosh3) on this one: I don't see how reliablilism escapes the regress problem - you seem to simply have shifted the infinite regress' point of commencement, that's all.


The reliabilist position (absurd as it is) is that one does not have to confirm that a belief forming faculty or process is reliable to have reasonable belief---that the belief based on the sensus divinitus (or telepathic communication with aliens of my thought experiment---or whatever else you can think of) is reasonable so long as the sensus divinitus actually exists. According to them, one does not actually have to know or even have reasonable basis to believe the sensus divinitus exists to have a reasonable belief derived from it.

Completely nutty, in my opinion, but we need to be clear on what it is they're saying--and which many here seem to have misunderstood.

Kyle said...

I would also like to point out that reliabilism is not a theistic theory. Many atheists and agnostics also subscribe to this theory, and yet deny that there is an SD or that it is rational to believe in one.

Also, if reliabilism is true, then it does not mean that discussing whether particularly faculties are reliable or not is uninteresting or unimportant.

Discussing the reliability of our senses is helpful for determining when we do have knowledge and when we do not. However, such investigation is not necessary for knowledge.

Here is a thought experiment:

Imagine that you wake up tomorrow and your memory has gone except for your concepts.

You look out of the window and see a tree. You form a belief that 'there is a tree'. Do you know this?

Tony Lloyd said...

This dificulty with the regress is because we are mixing and matching our theories of knowledge. There is no regress in reliabalism, as there is no claim to knowing that you know. (I'm with Kyle on this, a bird knows the direction to migrate but does not know that it knows this).

But when we are talking about evidence then we are claiming that we know that we know or that we have a reasonable belief that we have a reasonable belief etc. We can't use reliabalism for that. If we were in the position of the bird, then we couldn't dicuss it. We can discuss it: so there is something else.

A lot of people tend to mix it all up, especially when one philosophy can support one part of their view and another philosophy can support a different part of their view.

I ran into a talk by an apologist called J P Moreland on Youtube(http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=L1_0_QUsNc8&feature=related) In it he argues from a Particularist/GE Moore/"here is a hand" position to the existence of God. He then effortlessly becomes a Proceduralist to put forward the argument from morality before becoming a Reliabalist to disprove evolution!

The Barefoot Bum said...

What we want is something more than saying, "If it is rational to believe in a God, then it is rational to believe in a God." This statement is true, but not at all interesting.

It doesn't help us to simply create synonyms for "rational to believe". Reliabilism seems only to make "produced by a reliable cognitive process" a synonym for "rational to believe."

According to the reliabilist you do not need to know that the mechanism that is producing the belief is reliable. It just needs to be true that it is reliable.

I understand. But the reliabilist is avoiding the question I actually want answered. I'm not a bird, I'm a person: I really do want to know that I have knowledge.

Your "solution" to the regress problem is vacuous; your version of process reliabilism is nothing more than a fancy way of saying, "If it's rational to believe X, then it's rational to believe X." It's true but boring.

jeremy said...

Oooh, I'm beginning to see now. Thanks David, and Kyle.

But then to "claim to know" something (as opposed to actually "knowing" it according to the reliabilists) is easy: just claim to have a reliable mechanism for knowing it.

The interesting part of the discussion should then move on to whether or not the mechanism (i) exists, and (ii) is reliable, no?

Tony Lloyd said...

Form Barefoot Bum :

Reliabilism seems only to make "produced by a reliable cognitive process" a synonym for "rational to believe."

I would agree, and think it is here that it falls down. “Rational to believe” is not a purely descriptive statement. It carries connotations of what we should believe, how we should act.

The reliabilist looks for a mechanism that moves from the truth of the proposition to us holding it. This is just a description of how it is. But that’s what it was designed for. I’m only on the second chapter but Plantinga in “Warrant: The Current Debate” rejects the term “justification” precisely because it is normative. He’s looking for something nicely objective (which he calls “warrant”) and partly because our epistemic rights and duties have a subjective element he kicks them into touch.

This is all fine and dandy for a naturalised epistemology, but only for naturalised epistemology. The reliabilist is just saying how we know, not whether we should or should not think P. But we want to know about being rational, we want to know what we should think. Particularly in a discussion about evidence for God. We cannot ascertain the truth with certainty, so should we or shouldn’t we assent to the proposition “God exists”? Reliabilism cannot help.

The Barefoot Bum said...

There are a number of ways of testing a cognitive faculty for reliability, depending on how we define "reliability".

One way, that works with chicken sexers, is to find independent agreement. If a number of chicken sexers always (or usually, in statistically rigorous ways) come up with the same answer if the communicate only by looking at the same chickens, we have good evidence that either a) they're really sexing chickens, or b) they're *very* good at fooling us. At some point (perhaps after James Randi has investigated the issue) the simplest answer that fits the facts is that a chicken sex really does exist, and chicken sexers can determine it.

Another way, that works with telepathic aliens, is to see if the aliens can give the telepathic human some information that he could not easily receive otherwise, information that can be otherwise confirmable using ordinary senses.

If the telepathic aliens cannot give the human any independently verifiable information, then it become irrelevant whether he's really communicating with aliens, or if he's just having schizophrenic delusions.... although delusion is obviously the simpler explanation.

If Plantinga and other theistic process reliabilists want to restrict their definition of god to include only empirically or naturally unavailable properties, then who cares about this god. If they want to believe it, that's their problem: By definition, it doesn't affect me. As Hume noted, a god with no properties is no god at all.

But of course, the whole point of the theistic project is at best to justify some particular moral beliefs; at worst, it's to justify some particular beliefs about physical reality. Under those circumstances, it's really really important to not only know, but also know that we know.

The Barefoot Bum said...

The reliabilist is just saying how we know

He's not even saying how we know. Without a definition of "reliable" that isn't just "produces true beliefs", he's just making vacuous synonyms.

Stephen Law said...

You are right BB - saying there is a reliable sensus divinitatis is not to explain how theists know.

It is worth clarifying just how mosdest the conclusion drawn by the theistic "reformed epistemologist" is, or rather, should be.

Even if the above stuff about reliabilism is correct, they cannot, solely on that basis claim, with any justification, to actually have a sensus divinitatis.

They are in this kind of situation: I just find myself believing that Tony Blair is in space.

Now, it's possible that Tony Blair is in space, on a secret mission, say, and this is causing me to believe, by some mysterious psychic mechnaism, to believe it.

If that is the case, then (i) (assuming reliabilism) I know Tony Blair is in space.

But of course, it's one thing to say about my belief that it's possibly knowledge (because it's possible it's produced in this way), and quite another to suggest it is knowledge.

Currently I have not the slightest reason to suppose it is knowledge, and in fact very good reason to suppose it isn't.

Is it "reasonable" for me to believe Tony Blair is in space, under these circumstances?

Intuitively not.

Even if, as a matter of fact, I am a knower (because reliably hooked up to Tony Blair via a mysterious psychic mechanism)

Ditto the God case, I think. Kyle may find himself just believing that there is a God. That's how it strikes him. It does not follow that it's then a reasonable thing for him to believe (or at least, he hasn't shown it is). And in any case, all he reasonably claim, on the basis of his having this conviction, is that it's just possible he is a knower, not that it is remotely probable. That's a very, very modest conclusion that I'll happily concede!

In the same way that he should concede that it's just possible I know that Tony Blair is in space...

wombat said...

kyle "You then claim that the same is not true of the SD because there is nothing to check it against. How do you know that. "

No. It's a defence against a move made by SD'ers who try to avoid the issue of what other senses or instrumentality can be used to verify the operation of the SD.

If there were something to check it against then we would all be in business. Any offers?

wombat said...

Is not it possible for kyle to justify his belief on the grounds that he gets the same feeling about this as he does with his other more tangible senses?

Steven Carr said...

What experiences do religious people have which make them know there is a god?

Just listening to them describe their experiences makes it at once clear that their beliefs are no more reliable than someone who just 'knows' that New Catcher will win the 3.30 at Haymarket.

anticant said...

They know all the answers. They know them right, or they know them wrong - but they KNOW them.

Kosh3 said...

Peter:

To say 'it is reliable just in case it causes true beliefs >50% of the time' is a tautology - it doesn't tell us much (as you point out) about whether some particular process is reliable or not. And as you point out, that may be very difficult to ascertain. And that is one of my problems - it is so speculative as to whether any of our beliefs are justified at all.

So all we are left with is 'my belief in god might be justified, if it was caused by a reliable process, but I am damned if I know if it was'. Well, gee.

David B. Ellis said...


But then to "claim to know" something (as opposed to actually "knowing" it according to the reliabilists) is easy: just claim to have a reliable mechanism for knowing it.

The interesting part of the discussion should then move on to whether or not the mechanism (i) exists, and (ii) is reliable, no?


The thing that makes reliabilism essentially useless as a philosophical support for theism is the fact that even the reliabilist christian has no idea, on his theory, whether his belief is rational or not......if he's right that the sensus divinitas exists, his belief is rational.....if he's wrong, it isn't.

I don't see that this has gotten him anywhere in his apologetic endeavors but many of them seem to find it reassuring---which is, I suppose, all that they're really trying to accomplish.

im_michael_young said...

That a belief is caused reliably doesn't give a reason to hold the belief. And so, insofar as we appropriately want reasons for our important beliefs, evidence matters, even if Reliabilism is true. And even if Reliabilism is true, it doesn't follow that we shouldn't want reasons for our beliefs.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Plantinga's project is showing that the question of the rationality of religious belief is not independent of the truth of religious belief.

The dependence of rationality on rationality doesn't follow even from reliabilism.

If a rational belief is one created by a reliable cognitive mechanism, and if "reliable" does not entail 100% perfection, then it may be rational to have a false belief.

Furthermore, suppose I have some cognitive faculty (such as guessing) that is not in fact reliable. Suppose further that I guess something that happens by chance to be true, and I beieve it on the basis of the guess. In this case it's irrational to believe it, even if its true.

Either Plantinga is making his own job harder -- we have to have both a true belief and a reliable cognitive mechanism, or hes just moving the question around.

The Barefoot Bum said...

The dependence of rationality on rationality doesn't follow even from reliabilism.

The dependence of rationality on truth doesn't follow even from reliabilism.

martino said...

OK this is not directly related the issue at hand but has always bothered me about an SD. But note I have not read all the literature on this topic (personally too tedious to do) maybe this has been discussed before.

It is an external critique related and specific to the stereotypical Abrahamic god that omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

Such a god could clearly create an SD module in humans but those that argue to God from a reliabilist SD have I think severe problems to conclude the 3O God given that presumably only one SD conclusion - one religion or sect with that religion is correct and the others must be false.

P: SD generates different conceptions of god and supports mutual incompatible sects/religions is empirically true

1A:If god is omnipotent he must have designed SD this way
a)since many are misled (deliberately by god) to not follow the true path of god and are condemned to hell or
b)if all paths are somehow correct, he has created much unnecessary evil given the emprical and historical evidence of inter-religious violence and worse.
1C: If god is omnipotent then he is not omnibenevolent

2A:If god is omnibenevolent he must have wanted SD to provide non misleading reliability means to know god but
a)since many are misled by SD to not follow the true path of god
2C If god is omnibenevolent he is not omnipotent

I could go on, you get the picture. Of course god works in mysterious ways ;-)

Dr Funkenstein said...

Does reliablism not leave itself wide open to allowing people to be able to believe (or claim to have good reason to believe) just about anything?

I don't know if you remember, Stephen, but I posted a link to an article by John Frame on here a while back that was fairly big on the making grand claims about phenomena that apologists 'knew' with certainty (eg reliability of Scripture, that God communicated with and inspired the writers of said Scriptures, etc etc), yet how all this happened or how this feeling of certainty was reached was simply stated as 'we know without knowing how we know'.

I can see how this would be fine for beliefs we all share that aren't in any way controversial, but obviously those of us in different belief camps to the frankly nonsensical presuppositional apologetics that Frame subscribes to would raise an eyebrow at his statements, given that they are patently just wishful thinking. I cannot see how a believer who 'just knows' the existence of the God of the Bible separates this 'knowledge' from his/her own imagination. After all, as other have pointed out there are a million and one believers of other religions who all also 'know' their mutually incompatible gods exist too.

Dr Funkenstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr Funkenstein said...

Also, seeing as Plantinga has been mentioned here and in a few other posts - I am curious to know, how good a philosopher is he/how good are his pro theistic arguments generally considered to be? Just that his name seems to be the one that gets brought up most often by theists, and his evolutionary argument against naturalism is a very popular one also for theists.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Personally, I think Plantinga has the intelligence of a retarded sea sponge. But I'm just a wee bit biased.

anticant said...

Really, BB, what have you got against sea sponges?

Kyle said...

Pre-theoretically we find ourselves with many beliefs. We are all inclined to believe in an external world, in other minds etc... In fact it would be almost impossible for us to abandon those beliefs.

Some of us also believe that God exists.

As we learn, and experience and analyse we come to abandon some beliefs that we previously held, or hold others more firmly.

This is the only way we can do things. It is impossible to build up our knowledge from the ground, as Descartes tried to. We all have to start somewhere?

What's so wrong with taking God as one of these starting points?

* because not everyone believes this.

I agree that this should cause you to throw doubt on a belief, and it has caused some people to doubt their belief in God. But one could also rationally judge that this disagreement didn't provide enough reason for rejecting the belief. Also, there are lots of people who do agree with me, which provides support for my belief.

* because belief in God is simply irrational

The discussion about reliabilism is in response to this objection. It shouldn't be understood as the claim that this is really what is going on.

Typically the atheist says something like: You can't just take belief in God as a starting point because how could you possibly know it?

Well, there could be an SD, or it could be the testimony of the Holy Spirit or it could be that God designed us to form this belief, yet for some reason it does not work in everyone.

This doesn't mean you can believe whatever you want. I can still consider evidence, and re-evaluate my beliefs.

Psiomniac said...

kyle,

But what about post theoretically? Could it not be argued that when we become reflective we inevitably turn our attention to our core set of foundational assumptions? We all need those, but given our epistemic limitations it makes sense to have a minimal set of such assumptions which are open to revision. A belief in god would be an anomaly if one took this approach, wouldn't it?

Cassanders said...

@kyle
You tabulate two objections, and tries meet their challenge.
---------------------Beginquote
......
* because not everyone believes this.
......

* because belief in God is simply irrational
----------------------Endquote

But there is in my opinion a much bigger problem to reliablilism and SD.

I do support the notion that religious propensities are human universals.

But the *knowledge* of god (godS and DEITIES) provided when humans around the globe employ their alleged SD, yields DIFFERENT AND MUTUALLY EXCLUDING GOD-KNOWLEDGE.

Unless you subscibe to an extremely woolly "holodeism", this would be a serious problem for the usefulness of SD as an epistemic tool.

Cassanders
In Cod we trust

Ron Murphy said...

Kyle,

...But one could also rationally judge that this disagreement didn't provide enough reason for rejecting the belief. - Just as much reason as rejecting belief in fairies.

...Also, there are lots of people who do agree with me, which provides support for my belief. - It doesn't support it because, for most, their route to that belief is by indoctrination from childhood. Because an audience can't figure out how a magician's trick is performed doesn't make it magic. Numbers mean nothing in this context.

Well, there could be an SD, or it could be the testimony of the Holy Spirit or it could be that God designed us to form this belief ... and there could be fairies ... yet for some reason it does not work in everyone. - Not everyone is that gullible.

This doesn't mean you can believe whatever you want. - So what makes your belief viable, when there isn't a shred of evidence for God or SD - they are abstract human inventions.

I can still consider evidence, and re-evaluate my beliefs. - Good. Try these podcasts for starters and then move on to other current evidence that supports physicalism.

Brain Science 42

Brain Science 43

None of the current science constitutes incontrovertible Truth. But then science doesn't claim that - let's leave that to make-believe.

The evidence is mounting to support a consistent model of the mind that casts doubt on many of our core beliefs - a belief in certainty, a belief in divine revelation, and even a belief that rational thought alone is a route to Truth, should there be any such thing as Truth. The imperfect scientific method is currently our best insurance against erroneous beliefs.

wombat said...

A question for those possessing the facility - What does the SD indicate about reliabilism?

Does it feel like a God given truth?

Kyle said...

psiomniac,

I agree that post-theoretically we should refine and reflect upon our beliefs.

But I do, and yet I don't reject my belief in God. It may look like an anomoly to you, but not to me. It plays a very important role in my belief system.

Also, reducing the number of assumptions that we have is clearly a good thing, but you have to stop somewhere. Why not just believe that your mind is all that exists. That would commit you to a lot less, but I don't think it's preferable.

Also, don't you think it's a bit patronising to say things like if I thought about it then I'd see that I don't really need my belief in God.

Many atheists seem to assume that all religious people are indoctrinated and don't think. Until atheists start to recognise that some theists do think about their beliefs these debates aren't going to get anywhere.

Kyle said...

Cassanders and wombat,

I can understand where you're coming from, but I think you're trying to pin down the talk of the SD too much. It's more like a hypothesis.

I have this belief in God, it plays an important role in my belief system. However, people say to me that if I don't have evidence, then that belief is irrational. I think on this a bit, and I realise that a belief doesn't need evidence to be rational. However, it does need something.

I then realise that my belief system already contains the beginnings of a theory, let's call it the SD.

Chrsitianity teaches us that God has given us an awareness of him. This is not a fully worked out epistemology, but it points to some things. I can then use observations to decide what it is like.

Does it function properly in everyone? Clearly not, either everyone has one but it doesn't work in some people or not everyone has one.

For those who have one that at least functions a bit does it produce total agreement? Clearly not.

Like most faculties the SD probably needs training. As children we all need to learn how to use our senses - this is well documented by experimental psychologists. Or take the example of chess. If you had never seen the game before, then when you saw two people playing you wouldn't have a clue what was going on. However, if you are an experienced player, you could look at a game half-way through and know immediately who is in the stronger position.

I don't know much about the SD, but your comments might help me to figure out a bit more about it. Maybe it isn't even a single faculty, or perhaps it is more like God speaking (I mean this figuratively, not in the hearing voices sense) through our 'ordinary' faculties.

But, I don't need to answer those questions for my beliefs in God to be justified. Just like I don't need to understand how the eye works to be justified in believing what it is telling me.

wombat said...

kyle -"I think on this a bit, and I realise that a belief doesn't need evidence to be rational. However, it does need something."

Surely as soon as it "needs something" as you put it, it becomes at least in part rational?

Sure it doesn't need to be a product of a chain of deductive reasoning, it can be a direct sense of some sort (hence the SD). Once you express any sort of reason for the belief, even if it is just a vague feeling it is an attempt at rationalisation isnt it?

Stephen Law said...

Kyle suggests the SD can be trained. We did look at that suggestion before:

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2008/03/religious-experience-more-on-telescope.html

I will try to find time to give a fuller response to Kyle bit later but a preliminary thought is this.

Suppose I find myself believing in an all-powerful, all-evil creator God. I make this a foundational belief, along with belief in the reliability of my senses. Trouble is, belief in the reliability of my senses quickly reveals overwhelming evidence against my God hypothesis (way too much good stuff). hence it is now unreasonable for me to maintain it.

Well, we have an analogous situation with those who make belief in the good God hypothesis foundational. Given our senses are reliable, they reveal overwhelming evidence against that hypothesis (way too much bad stuff).

There is, in addition, plenty of evidence that the "SD" is highly suspect - (i) the fact that many lack it,(ii) the fact that it gives wildly conflicting verdicts [what is it that all religious experiences have in common? er, um...] (iii) the fact that it is very prone to the power of suggestion [tell people to expect an experience of X and that's probably what they'll experience], (iv) the fact that its results are highly culturally specific [what is experienced is determined by national borders, in many cases, like UFO abduction reports], (v) the SD's alleged results can be pretty well-explained without invoking the supernatural [knowing what we do about human psychology, what we value, what we fear, and so on, you would expect these sort of reports anyway, whether or not there is an SD]. And so on and on.

Under these circumstances, then, how can it be reasonable to believe in a good God - simply because that's what you find yourself strongly believing?

[[Incidentally, reliabilism, as I introduced it [as a theory of knowledge], does not deliver the claim that a belief produced by the SD would be "reasonable". For that, you need, say, (i) a reliabilist theory of justification or reasonableness (far less plausible than the reliabilist theory of knowledge) or (ii) to appeal to some such principle as - it's reasonable to suppose things are as they appear to be, given no evidence to the contrary, or (iii) to appeal to a sort of foundationalism on which foundational beliefs automatically qualify as reasonable until such point as they are revealed not to be reasonable (this seems to be Kyle's strategy).]]

Steven Carr said...

Plantinga claims his belief in the Christian god is justified, even if there is no evidence for it, and even if he cannot come up with any arguments for god.

Plantinga claims he can come up with arguments for his god, but that he does need these arguments for his belief to be justified.

Meanwhile, Plantinga demands that atheists abandon the problem of evil, if there is a logical possibility that their argument is invalid, even if nobody can demonstrate that.

So Plantinga claims his beliefs are justified without evidence, while atheists should abandon their arguments , even if there is no more than a logical possibility that they might be wrong.

The hypocrisy stinks.....

Steven Carr said...

KYLE
Just like I don't need to understand how the eye works to be justified in believing what it is telling me.

CARR
Sadly, Kyle and Plantinga claim to believe there are supernatural demons who are highly motivated to attack their senses and reasoning and are perfectly capable of doing so.

Like many Christians, they do not actually believe what they claim to believe, or else they would never say they were justified in trusting their senses, what with their claimed beliefs that demons are capable of tricking their senses.

Kyle said...

Wombat,

there must be some miscommunication here. I do do believe that belief in God is rational. I'm sorry if I gave some other impression. What I do deny is that evidence plays an important role in that.

Stephen,

I agree with many of the problems that you raise, such as the power of suggestion. Christians need to learn from these things.

I do not think that we can determine by mere reflection using the SD what God is like.

Also, the SD does not provide a feeling or experience. It is more like the way we know that 1+1=2 or that torturing babies is wrong. Perhaps the second example here is unhelpful because reflecting on it generates an emotional response, but it is not the emotional response that justifies the belief.

Ron Murphy said...

Kyle,

Many atheists seem to assume that all religious people are indoctrinated and don't think. Until atheists start to recognise that some theists do think about their beliefs these debates aren't going to get anywhere. - I'm sure some do, but they still bolster up their belief with unsubstantiated claims and appeals to tortured speculations about Truth and Knowledge.

...I think you're trying to pin down the talk of the SD too much. It's more like a hypothesis. - That's all it is, as is the God hypothesis itself. But there isn't any observation or tests that support it, and nor is there any means of testing predictions based on it - i.e theolgy - all of it.

...and I realise that a belief doesn't need evidence to be rational. - That depends on what you want to do with it. When I'm at the cinema I believe Superman has super powers - I suspend disbelief, rationally, in order to enjoy the experience. But I don't let it guide my life.

Christianity teaches us that God has given us an awareness of him. - Only if you first accept the unsubstantiated God hypothesis. Without that the Christian faith is another myth. Even with the base God hypothesis (intelligent source of the universe) it's still more probable that the Christian story is myth, as there are many similar one.

This is not a fully worked out epistemology, but it points to some things. - It points to itself. It's circular. That then begs the question of what else it has going for it. Well, no evidence, no testable predictions, ... What?

Does it function properly in everyone? - Does it function properly in anyone? How do you know?

For those who have one that at least functions a bit... - How do you know????

Like most faculties the SD probably needs training... - What? It can't even be shown that it exists, so this is a tremendous leap! How can you possibly think that is the case with sufficient confidence that you can draw anything from it?

As children we all need to learn how to use our senses - this is well documented by experimental psychologists. - That's not all that's well documented. Follow up the neuroscience podcasts I posted about earlier - from this web site. It may not be conclusive but it puts SD and other speculative claims about what we know into perspective.

Maybe it isn't even a single faculty, or perhaps it is more like God speaking (I mean this figuratively, not in the hearing voices sense) through our 'ordinary' faculties. - You seem to put some reliance on evidence. What evidence do you have that we have anything other than our 'ordinary' faculties?

But, I don't need to answer those questions for my beliefs in God to be justified. Just like I don't need to understand how the eye works to be justified in believing what it is telling me. - They aren't just like each other - poor analogy. You come to believe what the eye tells you from long term personal experience and corroboration with others - real corroboration by comparing evidence - that's why it's justified. God has zero corroborating evidence.

Belief in God is more like belief in a football team - despite all the evidence to the contrary I still believe Manchester City are the greatest football team. I'm justified in believing this only in so far as I'm not required to produce evidence. I'm also justifed in damning all unbelieving Manchester United supporters to hell - a practice I anticipate taking part in within the next few weeks when our teams next meet. But beyond the context of a football game I require far more than wishful thinking to justify my beliefs. All your explanations about God and SD appear more like my wishful thinking about Manchester City.

The Barefoot Bum said...

What's so wrong with taking God as one of these starting points?

What's so wrong with taking any arbitrary belief as a starting point?

As Quine has shown, we can hold any belief as true "come what may" and construct not only a perfectly logical structure around that belief, but also an empirically correct structure, a structure that is not contradicted by any perceptual evidence.

Indeed we can take any finite number of arbitrary beliefs, hold them as true, and construct an empirically correct structure around those beliefs.

The problem is that for certain beliefs, the number of auxiliary belief that serve no other purpose than to "save" the foundational belief can grow rather large.

So the question should be not "why not hold thus-and-such belief as foundational" but rather to give a positive reason to hold a belief as foundational. Indeed not just a positive reason, but a compelling reason.

For example, it seems physically impossible for me to doubt the existence and content of my subjective experiences as experiences. Even if I'm having an "hallucination" or an optical illusion, I'm physically incapable of believing that I'm not seeing the pencil bend when I put it in water.

So, why not take God as a starting point? Because I simply do not have to. It's not directly compelling in the same sense that my subjective experiences as experiences are compelling.

Also, reducing the number of assumptions that we have is clearly a good thing, but you have to stop somewhere. Why not just believe that your mind is all that exists. That would commit you to a lot less, but I don't think it's preferable.

Why shouldn't it be preferable? Always beware of the obvious; human beings tend to take the obvious as a priori. Look at the actual argument for rejecting solipsism, and then apply it to theism.

You're equivocating here between phenomenalism and solipsism.

Phenomenalism is the idea that the mind is all we can take as foundational. Unlike phenomenalism, solipsism is a theory.

Solipsism is a bad theory, because it's not the simplest theory that accounts for the phenomenal facts. We must explain why some experiences (such as emotions) can be altered just by thinking about them, and some experiences (such as perceptions) cannot be altered just by thinking about them. Even the solipsist must construct some theoretical structure that maps precisely to ordinary realism, but has to add the hypothesis that all this "reality" exists in the mind, and that the mind somehow manipulates itself into believing its all consistent.

Many atheists seem to assume that all religious people are indoctrinated and don't think.

We don't assume that. We conclude it on the basis of long experience and a great deal of evidence.

[The SD is] more like a hypothesis.

It cannot be like a hypothesis. It either is a hypothesis or it isn't. If it really is a hypothesis then you must support it evidentially. Since you explicitly reject evidentiary support for this statement, it is not a hypothesis. No logically possible evidence could convince you that you do not have an SD.

So what it it, then? It's clearly an auxiliary belief to support the belief in god "come what may", and an example of the rococo logical structure necessary to support belief in god in the teeth of the actual evidence.

The Barefoot Bum said...

The fundamental problem with your methodology, Kyle, is that it holds any and every logically consistent structure as equally rational, be it Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, paranoid schizophrenic delusions, shape shifting lizard people and Time Cube.

You've set much too low a bar for the rationality of belief.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Also, the SD does not provide a feeling or experience. It is more like the way we know that 1+1=2...

This is nonsense. I know that 1+1=2 on the basis of the evidence of manipulating physical objects. I also know that 1+1=2 is a theorem of arithmetic because I can formally derive it from the axioms.

Again, you are taking the "obvious" as a priori.

Kyle said...

Barefoot Bum and Ron Murphy,

I think if you both just relax for a moment, and take a step back you'll realise that you haven't been listening to me.

Your criticisms all come from within your own way of looking at things, based on your foundational beliefs. I realise that you try to give reasons for accepting those foundational beliefs, but your reasons all assume that your foundational beliefs are true.

Unfortunately, I can't do much better, but what I'm trying to do is show that my foundational beliefs are rational (if they are true).

We can still debate whether it is true, but that debate must not assume that the atheists foundational beliefs are all true.

Psiomniac said...

Kyle,

But I do, and yet I don't reject my belief in God. It may look like an anomoly to you, but not to me. It plays a very important role in my belief system.
I apologise that I gave you the impression that you haven't thought about it. That wasn't my intention.

Also, reducing the number of assumptions that we have is clearly a good thing, but you have to stop somewhere.
My idea is that you stop at the minimal set that is useful. To deny the principles of reason is self refuting and to deny all evidence of the senses is self stultifying. So we can see how such a minimal set might be settled upon.

Why not just believe that your mind is all that exists. That would commit you to a lot less, but I don't think it's preferable.
In addition to what I've said above, the Barefoot Bum has answered this.

Also, don't you think it's a bit patronising to say things like if I thought about it then I'd see that I don't really need my belief in God.
I didn't say that. What I meant was that belief in god would be an anomaly within the minimal set strategy, which is my world view. I said why it makes sense to me. There is no guarantee that it will be best for everyone.

Until atheists start to recognise that some theists do think about their beliefs these debates aren't going to get anywhere.
I don't find this kind of generalising statement to be helpful to the debate.

I think if you both just relax for a moment, and take a step back you'll realise that you haven't been listening to me.
From where I'm sitting I'd say you have this backwards. I'll say why:

Your criticisms all come from within your own way of looking at things, based on your foundational beliefs. I realise that you try to give reasons for accepting those foundational beliefs, but your reasons all assume that your foundational beliefs are true.
What I and others have expounded is not a set of foundational beliefs, rather it is an analysis of something more fundamental: how do you settle on your set of foundational beliefs? We can look at my strategy and yours and we can compare and contrast. This is what I don't think you have been listening to, certainly in terms of what I have said.

Kyle said...

psiomniac,

I apologise for some of my remarks, I've been getting a little carried away.

I largely agree with what you said in your last post.

However, I don't wish to lean so heavily on minimising pre-theoretical commitments.

We have many sources of knowledge, our senses, intuition, reason, testimony, possibly the scientific method should be included here, it depends how you want to carve it up. Anyway, it amounts to the sorts of things we are inclined to believe.

It seems difficult to pre-theoretically justify taking aspects of this and allowing it to sit in judgement over our other beliefs. They are all fallible. I realise that arguments against reason are self defeating, but it is clearly limited. The fact very clever people disagree and that paradoxes are easy to generate show this.

It seems to me that it is preferable to take them all, and to allow them each to play off each other.

I realise that you have no desire to include any kind of religious belief in this, but from my point of view that simply leaves you with an impoversihed world view. I am no more inclined to give up my belief in God, than I am my belief that my senses are reliable, and this is true even after I have thought about it a lot.

Psiomniac said...

kyle,

We have different world views, mine has a minimal set of foundational assumptions that are revisable in the light of evidence.

Yours is slightly different to mine as it includes as foundational a belief in god.

I too see a role for intuition, our senses, testimony, reason and so on and I accept that reason is limited; I wouldn't claim otherwise.

It is perfectly understandable to me why you would see my system as impoverished. But I don't see this as to do with a lack of desire on my part to incorporate a foundational belief in god. For me, this is just not feasible, whether I want it or not.

Kyle said...

The impoversihed claim is perhaps only a negative thing from my point of view. It is likely to be an unnecessary decadence from yours.

It is kind of like the difference between someone who is living in a tent, surviving only on the bare necessities and getting closer to nature, and a person who is very wealthy and travels a lot and enjoys all the fine things that money can buy. Each will think that the other is missing out on something, but for very different reasons.

Ron Murphy said...

Kyle,

Your criticisms all come from within your own way of looking at things,... - yes - ...based on your foundational beliefs. - I don't think my beliefs are as foundational as I think you think they are.

I have ideas or thoughts about topics that could be construed as beliefs, to the extent that I don't feel the need to have to justify them every time they occur, but on the whole these are based on experiences, some of which I don't have a conscious memory of. But if any of those beliefs are questioned, either explicitly by being asked a question, or implicitly by contradictory experience, then I'm prepared to re-evaluate - if it's worth the effort. I'm not aware of anything I simply believe foundationally in the sense that I think you mean that term.

I'd say all the beliefs I do have that have been questioned but which I still retain have either a substantial evidentiary explanation, or they remain un-answered but stand as working models to be refuted whenever the evidence arises.

I might say I believe in the scientific method, but that's only because it appears to provide the most reliable results overall. And the scientific method is only a formalised and more rigorous version of what we do naturally - have experiences and evaluate them in order to make predictions in order to make decision.

That seems quite different to your belief in God.

... but that debate must not assume that the atheists foundational beliefs are all true. - I didn't think we were assuming that. And what about the theists foundational beliefs? It appears, from what I understand about what you are saying, that your belief in God is foundational. Can we also not assume that, and start from there?

The Barefoot Bum said...

Actually, Kyle, what we want to do is find some set of foundational beliefs that we *both* believe are true, and try to justify your additional beliefs in those terms.

If there are *no* foundational beliefs we have in common, then in what sense are we communicating at all?

I submit that there are some beliefs we have in common: You have acknowledged, for example, that the scientific method as applied to the senses is a legitimate epistemic method. In fact, I further submit that *all* the beliefs that the naturalist holds as foundational you hold as well. So you have to somehow justify holding *additional* beliefs as foundationally true.

Your defense seems to be that we can rationally hold any old beliefs as foundationally true. I haven't seen any methodology from you other than, "You hold beliefs as foundationally true, why can't I?"

So you're on the horns of a dilemma. If we can indeed rationally hold any old beliefs as true, then "rationality" doesn't mean anything. Calling your beliefs "rational" just means at best that they're internally logically consistent; at worst it just means they're just beliefs. But all sorts of belief, and especially mutually contradictory belief-sets (such as atheism and theism) are internally inconsistent. Can we have two mutually contradictory belief sets and call *both* of them "rational"? But if rational means "logically consistent" we have a real problem: the set of atheism + theism is irrational, therefore we have to hold that the union of two sets of rational beliefs can be irrational. This result seems deeply problematic.

Psiomniac said...

Ron Murphy,

I think I might have introduced the term 'foundational beliefs' to this discussion.

In order to proceed with life we must make some working assumptions. Imagine we start out wondering what principles to adopt in order to make sense of the world. We have two main policy decisions to make:
1. How many working assumptions or principles do we adopt?
2. What should the status of those assumptions be in the light of contrary realities?

My world view seeks to keep the number of such assumptions to a minimum and these assumptions are revised in the light of available evidence and principle 1.

An example might be to proceed on the assumption that the future will resemble the past. This is a foundational belief in the sense I meant.

The Barefoot Bum said...

But all sorts of belief, and especially mutually contradictory belief-sets (such as atheism and theism) are internally inconsistent.

But all sorts of belief, and especially mutually contradictory belief-sets (such as atheism and theism) are internally consistent.

The Barefoot Bum said...

An example might be to proceed on the assumption that the future will resemble the past. This is a foundational belief in the sense I meant.

This is not a foundational belief. It can be justified scientifically using simpler foundational beliefs.

We hypothesize that the future resembles the past (time invariance) as the simplest theory to explain the phenomenological agreement with (more-or-less) immediate perception with memory.

Eric said...

It seems to me that a lot of the critics of knowledge externalism are confusing it with justification externalism. In other words, they miss the distinction between knowledge and justified belief (both, of course, with respect to externalism).

Ron Murphy said...

Psiomniac,

Yes, that's fine - I agree they are working assumptions. My point is that any of those beliefs are open to examination. Even a belief in God was at one time a reasonable working assumption - all sorts of unexplained stuff happened, so let's suppose a god did it. But so much of what was once mystery has been subjected to examination, and good working alternative explanations found, that the God-did-it explanation just doesn't cut it any more.

An example might be to proceed on the assumption that the future will resemble the past. - By induction, and the limitations of induction are acknowledged.

Psiomniac said...

The Barefoot Bum,

This is not a foundational belief. It can be justified scientifically using simpler foundational beliefs.
I disagree, since for the scientific method to have validity you must already assume that the future will resemble the past. So any such justification will be circular.

Psiomniac said...

Ron Murphy,

Yes, that's fine - I agree they are working assumptions. My point is that any of those beliefs are open to examination.
I agree with you there. How a belief in god might survive that process I'm not sure.

- By induction, and the limitations of induction are acknowledged.
You can't use induction to justify a belief that the future will resemble the past without circularity.

Ron Murphy said...

Psiomniac,

How a belief in god might survive that process I'm not sure. - It doesn't, since there's no evidence for the belief.

You can't use induction to justify a belief that the future will resemble the past without circularity. - The logical circularity inherent in induction isn't a problem in practice. Our experience is based on induction - we remember stuff, recognise patterns and make predictions based on that limited information, building experience. That's pretty much all we do.

The Barefoot Bum said...

I disagree, since for the scientific method to have validity you must already assume that the future will resemble the past. So any such justification will be circular.

"Resemble" is unacceptably vague. Sometimes the future and the past are the same, sometimes they're different.

You should argue the point, not simply assert it. Just because it's an article of faith among certain philosophers doesn't mean we have to accept it uncritically. Present company excluded, philosophers are often as dogmatic as theologians.

Like I said before, the ideas of "future" and "past", and specific relationships between the future and past, are scientific theories to account for specific features of commonality between perceptual experiences and memory experiences.

The Barefoot Bum said...

The logical circularity inherent in induction isn't a problem in practice.

There is no circularity in the scientific method, which does not make primary use of Humean induction.

anticant said...

This thread has become deeply uninteresting. Kyle's position is that he believes what he chooses to believe - that God exists - and that evidence is irrelevant.

All his arguments boil down to pure assertion, and so I don't understand why the non-believers bother to engage with him. He is a waste of time. He reminds me of Francis Bacon's observation in his "New Organon" of 1620 that

"the human understanding when it has adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate."

Kyle's 'arguments' are simply irrational and not worthy of serious discussion.

Kosh3 said...

There is no circularity in the scientific method, which does not make primary use of Humean induction.

What method of reasoning does the scientific method use? What is Humean induction, as opposed to (some other?) induction?

Stephen Law said...

Hi Kyle

You said: "I am no more inclined to give up my belief in God, than I am my belief that my senses are reliable, and this is true even after I have thought about it a lot."

I am sure this is true, but of course, that doesn't mean you are being rational/reasonable.

In fact, given what your senses reveal (about the reliability of your alleged "SD", the effects of the power of suggestion, the wildly differing verdicts it produces, etc., the extraordinary ability of religion to get smart people to believe silly things while nevertheless supposing they are being "reasonable", etc.], about the literally unimaginable quantities of pain and suffering that have existed in the world for hundreds of millions of years) and what reason reveals (e.g. about the coherence of the suggestion that there is an intelligent being existing non-spatially and non-temporally [which. I'd suggest, makes about as much sense as a chair existing non-spatially and non-temporally]), I suggest you are definitely not being reasonable.

I think you need to show that you are being reasonable, before you can reasonably claim to be being reasonable, right?

Stephen Law said...

" I said: I think you need to show that you are being reasonable, before you can reasonably claim to be being reasonable, right?"
sorry Kyle that was not v clear. what I mean is - given all the above stuff, isn't the onus on you to explain how you are being reasonable, in the teeth of all this evidence to the contrary?

It won't do just to wheel out your example of the innocent man who is reasonable in maintaining he didn't commit the crime despite strong looking evidence that he is guilty.

The analogy would be this - we are now presenting the man with very strong evidence he did do it - e.g. high quality videotape of him apparently committing the crime, as well as strong evidence that his conviction of his own innocence is highly untrustworthy - e.g. it's very likely to be a result of him having been, say, brainwashed a la the Manchurian candidate (n.b. I am not saying you, Kyle, are brainwashed, btw). Still reasonable of him to believe he didn't do it?

No.

anticant said...

He isn't reasonable, so why bother reasoning with him? Like all theists, he only uses reason so far as it suits him - and when he has no option, like when deciding whether or not it's safe to cross the road.

Psiomniac said...

Ron Murphy,

It isn't a problem in practice because we proceed on the basis of some assumptions that seem to work. I'm not sure we disagree on this.

Psiomniac said...

The Barefoot Bum,

"Resemble" is unacceptably vague. Sometimes the future and the past are the same, sometimes they're different.
Ok, I accept that criticism. Do you have a better suggestion?

You should argue the point, not simply assert it.
So far you have not argued the point that an assumption that the future will resemble the past can be justified by recourse to simpler scientific concepts. You have just asserted that this can be done. Ideas of 'past', 'future' and the specific relations between them might all break down tomorrow. Just in time for tea. Nothing in what you have said can justify the assumption that this will not be so without circularity.

Just because it's an article of faith among certain philosophers doesn't mean we have to accept it uncritically.
Well I haven't but it seems self evident that your scientific theory involving specific relationships between 'past' and 'future' depends on the observation that past futures stand in certain relations to past pasts. But to assume that this will hold in the future is to assume that the future will resemble the past in just this way. So it is circular to assert that this foundational belief can be further broken down in any significant way, pedantry aside.

Dr Funkenstein said...

Why are people arguing over the problem of induction? I thought it was pretty common knowledge that it hasn't been solved, and all people basically have to assume the future will resemble the past for practical purposes - unless I am wrong that there is no solution, of course?

Psiomniac said...

dr funkenstein,

The Barefoot Bum seems to take a different view that involves a justification of this assumption in terms of more properly basic concepts. He might be right but I await a compelling argument from him.

Kyle said...

Stephen,

It seems to me that you are making three objections:

1. If we really have an SD why do people have wildly different and often obviously false religious beliefs?

2. The problem of evil.

3. Belief in non-spatial, non-temporal things is just a bit weird.

I am only going to respond to 1 and 3 at the moment. I will return to 2 later, but it requires more attention that I can give it at the moment.

1. When people have false memories we do not really attribute those beliefs to memory. There are lots of examples of people claiming to remember things that are not true, but these are not really memories. Likewise with the SD, if someone claims to know in the 'religious way' (whatever that means) something that is false, then they are not really using the SD just like false memories are not really memories.

Also, the SD may be more like an aquired skill than a faculty. Being able to tell what instruments are being played by listening to a piece of music, or what genre it is from. So, the fact that it produces differnet results is not surprising. Religious people need to be a bit more humble about their knowledge claims, and reflect on things a bit more.

3. For a start I'm not sure that God is non-temporal. Some philosophers of religion think he is, others disagree, but nothing that I have read has yet convinced me either way. If anyone has an argument that shows that the concept of a non-temporal being is incoherent I would greatly appreciate it.

However, belief in non-temporal and/or non-spatial things is not limited to theists. Consider propositions, minds, numbers, sets, properties and states of affairs. No doubt there are things that are difficult to explain if you believe in such things, but there are also many problems in believing that only concrete things exist.

The Barefoot Bum said...

$#%P234*#@#$@ Blogger ate my comment.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Kyle: Your argument seems to be:

P1: Memory is unreliable
P2: SD is unreliable
-----
C: SD is just as veridical as memory

I apologize, Stephen, but this has to be the most retarded argument I've heard quite some time.

Anonymous said...

I know I am acquiring basketball skills if over several trials the ball goes into the basket more often than it used to.

If the SD is an acquired skill, how do you know you have acquired it?

My apologies if this is a double post. My first submission vanished.

Kiwi Dave

Stephen Law said...

Hello Kyle

You characterize my objections to you maintaining you are being reasonable in believing in God (just because it seems to you that he does) like so:

1. If we really have an SD why do people have wildly different and often obviously false religious beliefs?

2. The problem of evil.

3. Belief in non-spatial, non-temporal things is just a bit weird.

Actually, 3 is not my intended objection, and 1 is a weaker version of what I intend.

Let me answer your response to 1, first.

You say:

“When people have false memories we do not really attribute those beliefs to memory. There are lots of examples of people claiming to remember things that are not true, but these are not really memories. Likewise with the SD, if someone claims to know in the 'religious way' (whatever that means) something that is false, then they are not really using the SD just like false memories are not really memories.”

This is no answer, I’m afraid. Suppose large numbers of telescope-like devices are handed out. A few are real super-telescopes. The rest produce various convincing illusions. The fact that people’s reports of what they see through their telescopes when they look at other planets, say, wildly conflict should make them pretty distrustful of what they see through their own, no matter how convincing it might seem (and even if, as a matter of fact, they happen to be one of the lucky few with a real, reliable telescope).

In response to this objection to their claim to be “reasonable”, it obviously won’t do for them to say, “Oh, but me and my friends have true telescopes – those others are not really telescopes at all”. Even if this is true, they are not in a position to know it’s true. Which is why it remains unreasonable of them to trust their telescope.

Ditto your suggestion that you and your co-believers have a true sensus divinitatis, whereas those who significantly disagree with you do not.

There is, in addition, the problem that not only do the experience and beliefs supposedly delivered by SDs and other alleged mechanisms wildly disagree, the power of suggestion also clearly strongly shapes what people experience/believe. Christians acquire one sort of experience or belief, Muslims another, Hindus another, Ancient Romans another, Ancient Norse another. Some experience ghosts via some such mechanism, others fairies, others demons, others aliens, and so on and so on. And these experiences/belief etc. almost invariably closely reflect their culture and upbringing. As of course, do yours. So, not only do your experiences/beliefs conflict with those of many others also claiming to have an SD, your own beliefs/experiences, like theirs, happen very closely to match precisely what we’d expect you to experience/believe if the power of suggestion was working in your case too. This gives us, and you, even more reason to doubt your belief/experience.

The point you add about there being a skill involved in using the SD correctly also runs into the problem I raised in earlier posts that you can only be said to acquire a skill if it’s possible to check how you are doing against some independent standard of correctness. People acquire the skill of reading MRI scans through practice – they look at scans, describe what they see, then check against records etc. of what was actually present to see how well they are doing. If you similarly have acquired such a skill in using your SD apparatus, when do you practice, and how? How do you test how well you are doing? What do check your success/failure against?

Let’s now look at 3. You say my objection is that non-temporal/spatial things are “weird”.

This misunderstands my objection. I do not object to non-temporal/spatial things per se. I object when it’s claimed that there is an X that exists non temporally/spatially, when the concept of x is essentially rooted in the temporal/spatial. Hence my example of a chair existing non-temporally/spatially. The idea is a joke. But now consider the notion of agency – of belief/desire psychology, of intelligence, creativity and design. All these concepts are rooted in the temporal order. I cannot make any sense of someone designing and creating something, but not in time, for example. These are essentially temporal notions.

But then if God is non-temporal, he cannot be a creator or designer. Indeed, he cannot be an agent.

Now you may say “You take us too literally. God is, in a mysterious way I can’t fully explain, an agent, creator and designer.” But then I can say that about the chair that exists non spatially and non-temporally. Its legs extend downwards from its seat, but in a mysterious, non-spatial way! That would clearly be an evasive, bullshit response, right?

The notion of a cosmic person of a non-temporal, non-spatial sort really does not make sense. Or, if it does, please explain how!

wombat said...

kyle - re miscommunication. You may be right - I need to be clearer - I'll get back to that point when I am less muddled.


Turning to more recent posts. You said

"1. When people have false memories we do not really attribute those beliefs to memory."

The point is surely that they do.

Its worth separating out the different types of "false memories" here.

a) Sensations of memory unrelated to reality. - deja vu.

b) Fantasies possibly induced by external suggestion, trauma etc. the sort of things turned up by some psychiatrists.

c) Memories of genuine sensations which are interpreted wrongly in the present. e.g. a small child sees a really ugly animal and remembers it the following day as a monster. This can be fixed later if the child learns that the thing was really a breed of dog she hadn't seen before or some.

d) Genuine memories of non-existent things.
The mind is very good at filling in details that weren't really there. This is a huge problem for the police and courts when considering the testimony of eye witnesses for example. What is remembered seems often to be not the world as it was or even the witnesses view of the world but how the witness interpreted it at the time. To take another example it can be shown that humans colour perception is limited to the part of their vision and the brain often fills in the colour for us.

I guess (b) is the one you are arguing against and I agree there.
I would contend though that (c) and (d) are genuine memories, we can't just assume that memory behaves like a videotape.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Psiomniac: "Resemblance" and "reliability" are vague by themselves; they are relations, not primary, foundatinal concepts. To make resemblance precise, you have to talk about what specifically you are comparing, and what precisely are the points of resemblance. That the past "resembles" the future doesn't tell me anything specific about how the past resembles the future.

Even if the statement were made more precise, to make "the past resembles the future [in precisely thus-and-such ways]" a foundational concept entails that "past" and "future" are also foundational concepts. We'll also have to make the description of the specific points of resemblance foundational.

The notion "the past resembles the future" embeds a lot of metaphysical baggage, in just the same sense that "proof of Goldbach's conjecture" is not a "simpler" way of referring to the proof of Goldbach's conjecture.

Scientists don't actually use Humean induction (formally different from mathematical "induction", which is a rigorously defined axiom). Scientists do not say, "X happened n times, therefore X will always happen."

Rather, they hypothesize a mechanism, and say, "if this mechanism exists, then X will always happen." We can then use statistics to precisely quantify how well actually observing X supports the existence of a mechanism.

In the case of the "past resembles the future", all that we need to take foundationally are our perceptual experiences and our subjective experiences of memory. Again, we can use statistics to precisely quantify how well agreement/disagreement between memory and perception supports the idea that memory "really does" represent the past, and how well agreement/disagreement supports the idea that some particular memory "really doesn't" represent the past.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Note that anything that can be established as a metaphysical principle can also be established as a scientific hypothesis. The difference is not in their form -- both are in a sense "assumed" -- but how they are evaluated: A metaphysical principle is accepted uncritically; it is true "come what may". A scientific hypothesis is evaluated over how well it corresponds to the actual evidence, and how it compares to competing hypotheses.

The Barefoot Bum said...

When we have some set of evidence that does not agree perfectly, we have very rigorous statistical methods that can quantify the agreement/disagreement. If there are a finite number of "fake" telescopes (that deliver images determined by chance) and at least two "real" telescopes (that almost always deliver the same images), we can eventually always find the two real telescopes in finite time.

Even if the SD were only partially reliable, so long as there are a finite number of people and at least two people with a "true" SD, we can find the people with a true SD in a finite amount of time.

Psiomniac said...

The Barefoot Bum,

I think we are in danger of talking past one another. In the portrayal of the world view I gave, I assumed that not only are concepts such as 'past' and 'future' foundational, but so are the relations between such concepts. Indeed it is difficult to define 'past' or 'future' without recourse to their relation to each other and how we are going to treat time.

In order to carry out any evaluation of putative mechanisms scientifically we must make a de facto assumption that the future will stand in relation R to the past. Therefore it is a foundational assumption since you cannot justify it by appeal to memory or perception or statistics without circularity. That science doesn't really work via induction is irrelevant, although I realise that criticism of the principle of the uniformity of nature often happens in that context, (for example that unless the universe ceases to exist the future will both resemble and differ from the past in infinitely many ways hence the principle is vacuous).

Now, I don't doubt that you could give a far more rigorous formulation of the correct foundational assumption referred to by me as 'the future will resemble the past'. It was after all a quick example to try to give the sense of what was meant by foundational assumptions.

The notion "the past resembles the future" embeds a lot of metaphysical baggage, in just the same sense that "proof of Goldbach's conjecture" is not a "simpler" way of referring to the proof of Goldbach's conjecture.

I'm not sure what you mean here. As yet no proof has been found but that is perhaps not relevant to what you were getting at.
Perhaps you meant:
'"proof of Goldbach's conjecture" is not a simpler way of stating the proof of Goldbach's conjecture'? After all, the phrase does the job of referring perfectly well.

Kyle said...

Stephen,

since I think the the problem of evil is the most important objection to theistic belief, I have decided to give it a bit more attention on my own blog.

I have put up a post laying the groundwork. I think I have set the scene up fairly, but if you think I've misrepresented the argument please let me know.

I'm happy for you to copy all or part of it over to your blog if you prefer.

I will attend to objections 1 and 3 in this thread a bit later.

Kyle said...

Stephen and Wombat,

I think we are going down an unfruitful route in this discussion about the SD.

My claim is that we can know that God exists on the basis of a reliable method or mechanism, if there is one. I do not need to know what that mechanism is to have knowledge, it just has to exist.

I call it the SD but I don't really know what it is like. I have suggested some possibilities, but it doesn't really matter if they are wrong. I'm not relying on those guesses to justify my belief.

Stephen, your argument shows that the SD cannot be thought of as analogous to each of us being handed special type of telescope. That's fine, we've narrowed down the possible ways of conceiving of the SD, but that does not prove that it does not exist.

3. Thanks for those further remarks Stephen, I understand your objection now.

You're quite right to point out that talking about non-spatial, non-temporal chairs is nonsense because presumably chairs are necessarily physical.

Perhaps your argument could count as a reductio of the suggestion that God is non-temporal. I might be persuaded to accept that.

However, I'm not sure there really is a problem about talking of non-temporal being as acting. I think our concepts of these actions are temporal concepts, but why couldn't a non-temporal being act temporally?

anticant said...

"I might be persuaded to accept that."

Surely your 'SD', if it really existed, would inform you of the nature of God?

You don't seem to have a clue.

anticant said...

"I might be persuaded to accept that."

Surely your 'SD', if it really existed, would inform you of the nature of God?

You don't seem to have a clue.

Kyle said...

Surely your 'SD', if it really existed, would inform you of the nature of God?

Why?

Stephen Law said...

Hello again Kyle

You say:

“My claim is that we can know that God exists on the basis of a reliable method or mechanism, if there is one. I do not need to know what that mechanism is to have knowledge, it just has to exist.

Stephen, your argument shows that the SD cannot be thought of as analogous to each of us being handed special type of telescope. That's fine, we've narrowed down the possible ways of conceiving of the SD, but that does not prove that it does not exist.”

My point, Kyle, is that we have some analogous cases – the telescope case, and Tony Blair in space case, where, even if produced by a reliable mechanism, (i) it certainly is not reasonable for the believer to claim to have a reasonable belief - indeed, their belief clearly is not reasonable, and (ii) in the telescope case it doesn’t even sound plausible to say that the subject with a genuine telescope “knows”.

Now these cases, especially the TB case, look very much analogous to the SD case. So it seems we can draw at least the conclusion that, whatever your belief is, it ain’t reasonable, and we have also raised substantive doubts that, even if your belief is produced via a reliable mechanism, it counts as knowledge.

I thought you were maintain your belief, based on an apparent SD, is reasonable, but I guess you aren’t, or aren’t any more. Anyway, the onus is now clearly on you to show that, even if produced by a reliable SD, your belief is reasonable. The telescope and TB in space cases appear to show it’s not.

I granted earlier that it’s just possible you know that God exists via and SD, but of course that’s not to say it’s remotely probable, or that it’s reasonable for you to suppose this. After all, it’s just possible there are fairies at the bottom of the garden. Fact is there's no good reason to suppose the SD exists, and very good reason to suppose it doesn't.

On 3 you say:

You're quite right to point out that talking about non-spatial, non-temporal chairs is nonsense because presumably chairs are necessarily physical.

However, I'm not sure there really is a problem about talking of non-temporal being as acting. I think our concepts of these actions are temporal concepts, but why couldn't a non-temporal being act temporally?”

My reply: Well he could act temporally once he enters into a temporal setting (though how can a non-temporal being do that – this also seems nonsensical, like talking about the number five making an appearance in Swindon). But in any case God is supposed to have created the universe, including time and space, and so his “design” and “creation” of this temporal universe would have to be non-temporal. But that’s nonsensical, I’m suggesting.

But anyway, even setting this objection to one side, the points I made about SDs and reliable mechanisms appear to have demolished the case for saying that your beliefs, if acquired by a reliable SD, thereby qualify as “reasonable”. They don’t. You are being highly unreasonable - epistemically irresponsible - in maintaining them.

anticant said...

Why indeed? As you can't provide any proof that it DOES exist, the issue is irrelevant and you are simply spouting loads of waffle, piffle, codswallop and bullshit.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Psiomniac: You're correct: "the proof of Goldbach's conjecture" does not state the proof of Goldbach's conjecture in a simpler way than actually explicating the proof.

In order to carry out any evaluation of putative mechanisms scientifically we must make a de facto assumption that the future will stand in relation R to the past.

Yes, we must make that assumption, but the assumption takes the form of a hypothesis, not a metaphysical premise. Or, rather, many specific hypotheses: all time-invariant physical laws state a particular relation between the future and the past, and there is no simpler way of stating (in general) the actual relations between the past and the future than to enumerate all the time-invariant physical laws.

The point of calling these relations hypotheses instead of metaphysical assumptions is to take out the circularity, to all these hypotheses to be supported by the phenomenological evidence.

It was after all a quick example to try to give the sense of what was meant by foundational assumptions.

We are, I think, using "foundational assumptions" in a different way.

If you look at the core of physics — especially with "deductivist" eyes — then it looks exactly like foundational assumptions in the same sense that the Peano's axioms (or set theory) are the foundational assumptions of arithmetic.

The core of physics comprise a number of assumptions (including more rigorous formulations of "the past resembles the future") but they are not foundational assumptions: They are not accepted as true "outside" the system of physics and methodological naturalism. The experimental (ultimately phenomenological) evidence is foundational, i.e. accepted "outside" the system.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Kyle: My claim is that we can know that God exists on the basis of a reliable method or mechanism, if there is one. I do not need to know what that mechanism is to have knowledge, it just has to exist.

This is true, but it's vacuous. We actually do want to know whether or not such a mechanism exists and, if it exists, how it works.

We don't have to know we know to know, but we do want to know we know. We are philosophers, not animals or children.

The problem with theism and SD is that we do know we know, and we understand how we know, and we understand what it means to know. According to what we do know and understand, theism is ludicrously irrational and the SD is just a desperate maneuver to exempt theism from critical scrutiny.

It might be the case that theism is rational; according to what we do know, we don't currently know anything with absolute certainty.

But "might be the case" is a very thin thread on which to hang a belief system; any and every (internally consistent) belief system might be true. And, since I presume that you do not hold all belief systems, I can conclude you did not pick Christianity out of all belief systems just because it might be true.

Psiomniac said...

The Barefoot Bum,

Thanks for that clarification, it was helpful. I don't think we have a substantive disagreement, perhaps just a difference of emphasis or terminology.

Kyle said...

Stephen,

Your objection seems to be that reliability is not enough, and you use illustrations to show this. You are quite right about this reliability is not enough.

There are subjective requirements as well. The belief produced should appear obvious or self-evident or natural (I don't think these are distinct concepts), it should be stable and it should be believed in the basic way. These subjective factors combined with reliability make the belief acceptable.

Does my belief in God meet this requirement?

Well, it does seeem obvious to me, it is stable and I do hold it in the basic way.

The Barefoot Bum said...

There are subjective requirements as well. The belief produced should appear obvious or self-evident or natural (I don't think these are distinct concepts), it should be stable and it should be believed in the basic way. These subjective factors combined with reliability make the belief acceptable.

I don't understand how these requirements relate to truth. It seems a key component of what we mean by "truth" is true for everyone. But we observe that people have different subjective opinions about what's obvious, self-evident and "natural"; these components do not help people come to agreement.

Islam seems obvious, self-evident and "natural" to Muslims. Are you going to get into truth relativism or are they somehow mistaken?

Second, by definition, this methodology never lets us find surprising truths: anything that contradicts our intuitive ideas about what's obvious, self-evident and "natural" would ipso facto be rejected.

These requirements don't seem at all interesting or useful; it seems you've just picked some subjective properties about your beliefs and elevated them to an epistemic method.

Third, you seem to be using "self-evident" in a imprecise way. It's not just a synonym for obvious; in its more precise meaning, it means properly basic, i.e. the truth of a belief is a sufficient direct cause for believing it. But of course the truth of Christianity never actually directly causes anyone to believe it; one must physically read the Bible to even know what Christianity is, much less come to believe it. The truth of Christianity might or might not be (it's not) obvious or natural once you read the Bible, but it's not literally self-evident.

Kyle said...

Barefoot Bum,

It seems obvious to me that there are subjective requirements for knowledge. For example, imagine Fred and Bob are standing outside. Fred sees a tree and says 'There is a tree over there'. Bob has a look, but because his view is obscured by a wall he doesn't see a tree. Fred knows there is a tree because of his subjective relationship with the tree, Bob does not. However, that does not mean that there being a tree there is true for Fred, but not for Bob.

Fred knows there is a tree there as long as there really is a tree there and he is standing in the right relationship to it (in this case the seeing relation). Fred does not need to know that he stands in this relationship, it just needs to be true that he does. Also, it does not matter to Fred's knowledge that Bob cannot see the tree.

The requirements that I set out do not relate to truth, they relate to rationality.

It is true for both Fred and Bob that there is a tree there, but it is only rational for one of them to believe it.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Anyone such as myself who endorses phenomenalism will of course endorse the idea that there are subjective requirements — i.e. requirements specified as properties of minds — to knowledge; in fact, all the requirements will fundamentally be subjective.

The question is: what specific subjective requirements? Will any old subjective requirements do?

Stephen Law said...

Hi Kyle

You say reliability is not enough:

"There are subjective requirements as well. The belief produced should appear obvious or self-evident or natural (I don't think these are distinct concepts), it should be stable and it should be believed in the basic way. These subjective factors combined with reliability make the belief acceptable."

These subjective requirements could be satisified in Tony Blair in space case, yet it still would not count as a reasonable belief. Your SD case looks analogous. Explain why it isn't.

So, your belief looks very irrational indeed, just like that of the person who thinks Tony Blair is in space.

In fact your irrationality may be even deeper, because (you do seem to be ignoring this fact) you have been given plenty of strong evidence that your beliefs are not, actually, a result of a reliably functioning SD.

Kyle said...

These subjective requirements could be satisified in Tony Blair in space case, yet it still would not count as a reasonable belief. Your SD case looks analogous. Explain why it isn't.

If the Tony Blair in space belief meets all these requirements then it could count as knowledge. The reason that it seems so unacceptable is that we believe that humans do not have this ability.

Imagine that we made contact with aliens, and this alien species had the ability to tell when people were in space. It seems obvious to me that they could know that Tony Blair was in space. So it's not obvious that the Tony Blair case is a clear cut example of an unreasonable belief.

It is unreasonable for humans, because humans don't have that ability.

So, your belief looks very irrational indeed

I actually agree that my belief looks very irrational to you, it should, if you are a naturalist.

You have a very good argument that I am irrational.

1. Kyle's belief in God is only rational if the supernatural exists

2. If naturalism is true, then supernaturalism is false

3. Naturalism is true

4. Therefore, Kyle's blief in God is irrational

There's nothing wrong with that argument, as long as naturalism is true.

However, we disagree over that.

you have been given plenty of strong evidence that your beliefs are not, actually, a result of a reliably functioning SD.

We also disagree about that.

anticant said...

If Tony Blair isn't in space, where is he?

wombat said...

Kyle - "It seems obvious to me that they could know that Tony Blair was in space."

Why would you believe this?

(i) They are aliens so they know about space.

(ii) They are aliens so they could have abilities we know nothing about.

(iii) They are obviously far superior (they traveled through space didn't they?) so we should accept their claims without need for further justification.

While (i) is admittedly facetious, (ii) seems overly charitable and (iii) would see us fall to an invasion without a fight.

Unless the aliens offer more evidence it does still not seem plausible based on what we know about Tony Blair.

wombat said...

anticant -

Where is he?

Wherever theres a quick few quid to be made from gullible Americans, I expect

Kyle said...

Wombat,

I mean it seems obvious to me that if that species had a reliable mechanism for telling whether there was a person in space, then they could know that Tony Blair was in space.

Of course, whether or not we should believe them is another matter.

The Barefoot Bum said...

We come back yet again to the point: We are philosophers, not children or animals. We want not only to know, but to know that we know.

anticant said...

Some of us are professional philosophers. Some of us are amateur philosophers. Some of us are just bullshitters.

wombat said...

kyle -

It is obvious provided that the mechanism is reliable. Ok but must it not also be obviously reliable? Otherwise we cannot distinguish between a bunch of aliens who have the ability and another lot who don't. Unless we have a reliable mechanism for knowing all about aliens.
Which we are not claiming.

Kyle said...

We are philosophers, not children or animals. We want not only to know, but to know that we know.

Barefoot Bum,

I'm not sure why you think this is a criticism of what I have been saying. It appears to be a statement about the desires of philosophers. I have said nothing about what the desires of philosophers are or should be.

Wombat,

You seem to be saying that the aliens can't have knowledge unless WE can know they have knowledge. That seems odd. Why should it matter to the aliens knowledge what we do and do not know?

wombat said...

No. I am saying we cannot claim that the aliens have knowledge unless we know this to be the case.

The Barefoot Bum said...

You have stated repeatedly that we don't have to know we know to know. This is perhaps true, but irrelevant. If we ourselves, you and me, are not interested in knowing that we know, and knowing how we know, we are not doing philosophy.

You and I are both commenting on the blog of a professional philosophers. If we are not doing our best to actually do philosophy (I think every conscious person is well served by doing -- not just reading or learning -- philosophy), we should be commenting elsewhere. I hear lolcats are quite popular.

anticant said...

I am an amateur philosopher. I hope that Stephen, who is a professional one, will explain to Kyle what philosophy is about and ask him to at least attempt a rational discussion which consists of more than mere assertion if he intends to continue posting here.

Kyle said...

Wombat,

I agree with you about that. But I am not saying that you know that I know God exists. Just that I know God exists.

Barefoot Bum,

I am saying that it is possible to know without knowing that you know. I am not saying that you shouldn't try to find these things out.

Also, although I may not be trying to prove to you that I know (so that you can know that I know), I am trying to convince you that it is possible to know that God exists without being able to prove it.

I don't see why that wouldn't be part of philosophy. Philosophers talk about all sorts of things that don't count as trying to know that you know. In my defence, I am only repeating what other philosophers have said. I recognise that it is contentious but no one has yet raised the objection that it is not philosophy, that seem a bit dogmatic and authoritarian.

anticant said...

I am not no one. Your contention is about as sensible as your saying that you are Napoleon, or a poached egg, and that you have no need to prove it - you just KNOW it.

Very philosophical!

wombat said...

Kyle "I agree with you about that. But I am not saying that you know that I know God exists. Just that I know God exists."

I think that is the nature of my objection. I don't think it is reasonable for you to make the claim if you subscribe to the reliabilist theory. Someone else could do so on your behalf of course if they had grounds for believing in the reliable mechanism.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Kyle: I am trying to convince you that it is possible to know that God exists without being able to prove it.

I think we conceded this point a week ago. Yes, it's possible. So what? That's a very trivial, boring statement. Anything (well, just about anything) is possible. Snore.

Wake me up when you have something interesting to say.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Kyle

You say:

"If the Tony Blair in space belief meets all these requirements then it could count as knowledge. The reason that it seems so unacceptable is that we believe that humans do not have this ability."

You are changing th subject here. I said it was unreasonable for me to believe TB is in space under these circumstances. You've gone back to the knowledge claim. I say - you are unreasonable in maintaining belief in God on the basis that this is how it strikes you. The mere fact that your belief could be a result of a reliably functioning SD is beside the point, as the same is true of my belief that TB is in space. Even if my belief is a result of some such reliable mechanism, it remains epistemically highly irresponsible for me to maintain it.

You say:

"You have a very good argument that I am irrational.

1. Kyle's belief in God is only rational if the supernatural exists

2. If naturalism is true, then supernaturalism is false

3. Naturalism is true

4. Therefore, Kyle's blief in God is irrational

There's nothing wrong with that argument, as long as naturalism is true.

However, we disagree over that."

Er, I have never offered any such argument. This is the sort of strawman argument that theists like to attribute to atheists, however!

Kyle you also say:

"[quoting me]You have been given plenty of strong evidence that your beliefs are not, actually, a result of a reliably functioning SD.

We also disagree about that."

It's not enough to disagree with me. You have to show why the very good reasons I have given for supposing you are being highly irrational or not, in fact, good reasons.

The key one is: the Tony Blair in space case shows that, whether or not you have a reliable SD, and "know" by means of it that God exists, your belief in God, like my belief that Tony Blair is in space, is highly unreasonable.

It really does matter that you have no reason to suppose you have a reliable SD, and have now been given very good grounds for supposing you haven't (just as in the Tony Blair case).

You need actually to deal with these objections rather than just say "I disagree".

anticant said...

You'll have a long sleep, BB. Kyle simply KNOWS that God exists. That's all he really has to say, though he pours out thousands of words around it.

Either God exists, or he [she or it] doesn't exist. If God exists, Kyle is correct. But that in no way advances the knowledge of those of us who do not know, or do not believe, that God exists.

If God does not exist, Kyle is just plain wrong. If he KNOWS God exists, it is up to him to produce some evidence of that 'fact' which will convince at least some of us sceptics.

But he can't and won't.

End of topic - and hopefully, end of this increasingly boring thread which isn't going anywhere.