Tom Gilson

Maverick Philosopher: “Some of Us Just Go One God Further”

Bill Vallicella on the New Atheists:

Theist-atheist dialog is made difficult by a certain asymmetry: whereas a sophisticated living faith involves a certain amount of purifying doubt, together with a groping beyond images and pat conceptualizations toward a transcendent reality, one misses any corresponding doubt or tentativeness on the part of sophisticated atheists. Dawkins and Co. seem so cocksure of their position. For them, theism is not a live option or existential possibility.  This is obvious from their mocking comparisons of God to a celestial teapot, flying spaghetti monster, and the like.

For sophisticated theists, however, atheism is a live option. The existence of this asymmetry makes one wonder whether any productive dialog with atheists is possible.

[From Maverick Philosopher: “Some of Us Just Go One God Further”]

His topic is what I have called the Arithmetical Atheism Argument, or the Magic of Misdirection. It’s the atheist’s canard, “everyone’s an atheist, we’re just atheistic about one more God than you.” This amounts to misdirection, in that its apparent reasonability is nothing but illusion. It would be a great argument if it had anything to do with the real question. Its success, however, such as it is, depends on directing one’s attention away from all relevant considerations: for example, “What kind of universe do we live in?” It is the very finality with which such hopelessly flawed arguments are brought forth that produces the asymmetry of which Vallicella speaks.

I expect some atheists to object to his thought that “a sophisticated living faith involves a certain amount of purifying doubt.” It’s not the easiest thing to explain in this format, but he’s right: there is for me a sense of groping toward reality, especially in prayer. Like the Psalms, my prayers are full of questions on the order of, “God, if you’re there, then why … ?” That question ends differently almost every day, for there is so much I don’t understand. I can lean on what I do understand, thankfully, which is enough for now.

————–

While I’m sharing links, I’ll mention a couple more. A new semester is starting soon. Going to college was one of the best things that could have happened to me. For some students it’s one of the worst. Being involved in study and fellowship with other students can make all the difference; it did for me! The Christian Colleges and Universities page has listed their “Top 10 Christian Study Groups,” a guide to getting connected with Christians on campus. A couple of their suggestions are more for high school students, which is fine. I would add InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Navigators to their list.

And one more for you who are social networkers. Other than blogging, I’m pretty far behind the times with that. I have a Facebook page, and I spend probably as much as five minutes a week on it. But that’s my flaw, not yours, if it is a flaw. You might enjoy connecting with others at Christian.com.

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134 thoughts on “Maverick Philosopher: “Some of Us Just Go One God Further”

  1. Can an atheist ever present a non-fallacious “argument” against faith and God (or against free will and meaning) given the nature of their world view? (cue: deafening silence and crickets…)

  2. If one buys into the idea that slogan arguments can be defeated with slogan responses, then it seems the phrase “Most of us just go LESS than one God further” is a great defeater.

  3. I can’t disagree more. The majority of Christians I’ve debated online dare not imagine a world without God. This is because they’re superstitious, and they believe that God is reading their minds and granting their wishes every day. “I prayed for a safe commute, and I braked in time to avoid that accident! Thank God!” They can’t pretend there’s no God without offending him and risking life and limb.

    Actually, I sense that Holopupenko is not one of the superstitious folk who believe prayer works in any specific case, but he can correct me if he is.

    there is for me a sense of groping toward reality, especially in prayer.

    I’m sure it seems that way. How do you check that you’re not guilty of wishful thinking? What are your controls?

  4. DL:

    You have demonstrated quite vigorously and quite often that you do not dare–and hence don’t even entertain, and hence a priori impose personal scientistic limitations upon reality–to “imagine” (and can’t even get straight the difference between and image and a concept!) a world without God. Your first paragraph is an ignorant, pejorative, and ludicrous straw man vision of faith. Go for it: tilt at those windmills!

    Oh, and by the way, PRAYER DOES WORK IN ANY AND EVERY SPECIFIC CASE. But it “works” like a personal relationship between the Creator and beloved creature, not like a scientific experiment. If you want a physical efficient causality to understand God, then your god is Hume–not the Lord your God.

  5. Exodus 17:7; Deuteronomy 6:16; Psalm 78:18-31; Isaiah 7:10 – 12; Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12; 1 Corinthians 10:9.

    You absolutely refuse to accept the fact that “events” are not reducible to going “my way”–and as an example, YOU are a cross we here must bear. Christianity is utterly different from your deep desire to control because it is the Cross. Your scientism UTTERLY blinds you to the other because you reduce objects (including persons) and events first and foremost to testable or measurable or controllable. You foolishly reduce God from THE Lover to a “wish-granter” who you then try to test or control by having Him jump through your silly scientistic hoops. Your will, your interests, your ability to control reality is the only thing that counts. I DARE you to read The Great Divorce as if it were a mirror.

  6. Holopupenko,

    It is a scientific fact that all humans suffer from bias and wishful thinking. If you were really interested in the truth, you would want to use epistemic procedures that guard against human bias and wishful thinking. Yet you reject such safeguards against bias as “scientism”.

    You accuse me of blinding myself to the “other.” What is this “other”? It is nothing more than bias and superstition. If it wasn’t bias and superstition, then it wouldn’t disappear when we do scientific testing. Being skeptical is not about shutting out knowledge because there can be no knowledge where beliefs are indistinguishable from bias and fantasy.

    I’m not even testing God. I’m just watching God and correcting for bias. Apparently, in your theology, we’re not allowed to watch God too carefully because then he won’t show up. Don’t you find it a little too convenient that this is just what we would expect of God didn’t exist?

    Obviously, you are the one who has blinded himself. You’ve locked yourself in a cozy little box of self-reinforcing delusions. It is you who is closing-off doors to knowledge by blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

    And quoting from your Bible? What’s that all about? You’re going to believe the Bible is right because it says that it is right? Do you think that the Bible’s demand that we not test God means that we’re somehow relieved our our duty to the truth? How can you maintain your beliefs with any shred of self-respect?

  7. doctor(logic),

    All humans do suffer from bias and wishful thinking. On that you are correct. But to consider that there is only one means by which to safeguard against error, and that means is through empirical verification in the mode of the physical sciences, is to take a biased position from the start. It is biased in that it is an instrument supremely designed to detect that which occurs regularly in nature, which I’ll call T. If it is the only instrument we use, we will prejudicially conclude that everything that we can know about is T; in fact, we are even liable to conclude that everything that is, is T. But that’s obviously flawed; we’ve only looked for T.

    Further (and you’ve heard these things from us here so very often), the means by which we have concluded everything that can be known is T (the empirical approach) is not itself a member of T. The very processes by which one concludes that empiricism is the only reliable route to knowledge are not members of T.

    If you were really interested in the truth, you would not restrict your investigations to that which so badly prejudices the truths you can find—a prejudice which has hooked you by the proverbial nose and pulled you to the unsupportable conclusion that what you can find by that method is all that is.

    Who says God doesn’t show up?

    And speaking of prejudice, have you been failing to pay attention here? Your final paragraph reeks of stereotyping. We believe the Bible is right because of its historical verification, its empirically (yes, it’s completely appropriate in the right contexts) verifiable textual preservation, its uncanny unity for a volume compiled over many centuries with over 40 authors, its agreement with and usefulness for archaeological studies, its agreement with philosophical insights concerning the ultimate nature of reality, the high existential wisdom on its pages, its uniquely satisfying explanation of human greatness and dignity coupled with human failure, its solution for the problem so described, and the way it has changed our lives. (That short list is developed at length here, which I believe you interacted with when I first wrote it; see also here.) How can you say we “believe the Bible is right because it says that it is right” with any shred of self-respect?

    It’s so sadly ironic. Another way of looking at your approach is, “This method will safeguard me from drawing unsupported conclusions about reality.” Your whole attitude is summed up in, “I don’t want to believe anything that might be wrong.” But that implies a view of reality: that the highest epistemic good is to avoid thinking wrong thoughts. What if that’s not the highest epistemic good? How would you know that, by empirical methods? You couldn’t.

    Finally, what you’re patently trying to do is claim the moral high ground over Holopupenko:
    “if you were really interested in the truth;”
    “don’t you find it a little too convenient;”
    you are the one who has blinded himself… locked yourself in a cozy little box”
    “closing-off doors of knowledge
    accusing him of thinking “we’re somehow relieved our [sic] our duty to the truth

    I urge you to step up with better than that. Your fanatical devotion to empiricism most obviously closes off doors to non-T knowledge. Your atheism has its own convenient features. Your accusations of bias reflect back on you like a laser off a telescope mirror, and your asseverations of your correcting for bias are demonstrably false. Your moral stance cannot be taken seriously, given that the virtues of morality are not members of T, so by your approach they should be regarded as unknowable, “indistinguishable from bias and fantasy.”

    Can’t you see those things, doctor(logic)? What’s keeping you from acknowledging them?

  8. It is a scientific fact that all humans suffer from bias and wishful thinking.

    You needed the MESs to validate for yourself what everyone knows with perfect certitude without any support from the MESs? Really?!?

    I rest my case.

  9. You needed the MESs to validate for yourself what everyone knows with perfect certitude without any support from the MESs? Really?!?

    I rest my case.

    That was my first thought too. It’s as if we didn’t know this before the formal sciences came around – heh.

  10. I wrote this morning’s comment very quickly, in about ten minutes. I didn’t communicate it as clearly as I would have liked. Here now is the same content presented more clearly:
    _____________________

    doctor(logic),

    All humans do suffer from bias and wishful thinking. On that you are correct. But to consider that there is only one means by which to safeguard against error, and that means is through empirical verification in the mode of the physical sciences, is to take a biased position from the start. It is biased in that empiricism is an instrument supremely designed to detect that which occurs regularly in nature, which I’ll call T. Thus if empiricism is the only instrument we use, it will lead us prejudicially to conclude that we can know nothing except T; in fact, we are even liable to conclude that everything that is, is T. But that’s an obviously flawed epistemic policy. To conclude there is nothing but T, on the basis that we don’t know how to eliminate all bias in looking for anything other than T, is nothing short of stupid. (Not to mention biased; but then, I already did mention that.)

    Further (and you’ve heard these things from us here so very often), if all you are relying on epistemically is empiricism, then you have no means by which to say you know that there is nothing to rely on epistemically other than empiricism. The processes by which one concludes that empiricism is the only reliable route to knowledge are not members of T.

    “If you were really interested in the truth” (where have I heard that line recently?), you would not restrict your methodology to that which so badly prejudices the truths you can find. This prejudice has hooked you by the proverbial nose and pulled you to the unsupportable conclusion that what you can find by that method is all that is.

    Who says God doesn’t show up?

    Speaking of prejudice, doesn’t stereotyping fit that category? Your final paragraph reeks of it. There’s no other explanation for you attributing that approach to Holopupenko, since he has never stated it for himself. He and I and other Christians believe the Bible is right because of its historical verification, its empirically verifiable textual preservation (yes, empiricism is completely appropriate in the right contexts), its uncanny unity in view of its being a single volume compiled over many centuries with over 40 authors, its agreement with and usefulness for archaeological studies, its close resonance with philosophical insights concerning the ultimate nature of reality, the high existential wisdom on its pages, its uniquely satisfying explanation of human greatness and dignity coupled with human failure, its solution for the problem so described, and the way it has changed our lives. (That short list is developed at length here, which I believe you interacted with when I first wrote it; see also here.) You’ve seen us discuss these things. How can you say that we “believe the Bible is right because it says that it is right,” with any shred of self-respect?

    It’s so sadly ironic. Another way of looking at your approach is, “My method will safeguard me from drawing unsupported conclusions about reality.” Your whole attitude is summed up in, “I don’t want to believe anything that might be wrong.” But that in itself implies that the highest epistemic good is to avoid accepting wrong beliefs. But how do you know that’s the highest epistemic good? Did you determine its epistemic virtue by some empirical procedure? Can you measure and test it that way? Obviously not. No, your whole approach is undermined from the very get-go.

    Finally, what you’re patently trying to do is claim the ethical high ground over Holopupenko, with phrases like,
    “if you were really interested in the truth;”
    “don’t you find it a little too convenient;”
    you are the one who has blinded himself… locked yourself in a cozy little box”
    “closing-off doors of knowledge
    accusing him of thinking “we’re somehow relieved our [sic] our duty to the truth”

    Your ethical stance cannot be taken seriously, given that the virtues of ethics are not members of T, so by your approach they should be regarded as unknowable, “indistinguishable from bias and fantasy.” Suppose your epistemic virtues are the only true and worthy virtues that exist. Then in that case they could not be known to be virtues at all. You really ought to quit trying to play the game, “I’m more epistemically virtuous than you are;” because your approach is absolutely incompetent to discover or know a virtue. It just can’t. Your virtues are smuggled in from outside your epistemic system. You can’t have both, so which are you going to give up?

    I urge you to step up with better than that. Your fanatical devotion to empiricism most obviously closes off doors to non-T knowledge. Your atheism has its own convenient features. Your accusations of bias reflect back on you like a laser off a telescope mirror, and your asseverations of your correcting for bias are demonstrably false.

    Can’t you see these things, doctor(logic)? What bias on your part is keeping you from acknowledging them?

  11. Let’s suppose we are operating under the multi-part epistemic rule R:

    “I only accept beliefs as knowledge if I can test them in a manner that maximally eliminates human bias; and there is but one method capable of doing that, which is a combination of mathematical and formal logic with empiricism (where empiricism entails prediction and testing).”

    I think that’s a fair summary of your position, doctor(logic).

    We are, by this supposition, operating under the epistemic rule R. We limit all knowledge statements to those that accord with R. Then how shall we answer these questions:

    • Does anything exist that cannot be known by R? Answer: “I don’t know”.
    • Does virtue exist, and in what does it consist? Answer: “I don’t know.”
    • Does meaning exist, and in what does it consist? Answer: “I don’t know.”
    • Do other minds besides mine exist? Answer: “I don’t know.”
    • Is it better to kill or to let live a 15-year-old whose genes might, were she to reproduce, lessen the future reproductive adaptiveness of the human species? Answer: “I don’t know.”
    • Is science good? Answer: “I don’t know.”
    • Is there a better epistemic policy to follow than R? Answer: “I don’t know.”
    • Is it possible that our exclusive reliance on R would lead us to miss important knowledge not obtainable through R? Answer: “Hang on, I have to think about this a while. My reliance on R certainly seems to be a limiting factor to my possible scope of knowledge; but if I’m going to keep relying on R, then I can’t do anything but guess about other possible knowledge. So, same answer: I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But hey, I’m sticking with R anyway, and if I’m missing anything else, well, at least I can rest secure in the knowledge that whatever it may be, I’ll never know it. Even if it’s important!”
    • Is that position really that secure for you? Answer: “I don’t know.”
    • Is R biased? Answer: “I do know! Of course it is.”
    • Do any of these questions matter? Answer: “Would you stop it already? I really, honestly, don’t know!”
  12. And let us not forget the self-proclaimed moral relativist hypocritically appealing to moral claims in an absolutist fashion. Indeed it is abundantly clear DL’s “ethical stance cannot be taken seriously.” But neither can his “science” (read: scientism), his straw men and other fallacies, his a priori prejudices, his neo-Kantian Idealism, his anti-Christian bigotry, his Positivism, his ignorance of the basics of philosophical discourse, etc., be taken seriously. There is no science in his atheism: it’s all about will to power and control. And, we know all this from his own words.

  13. Tom,

    You agree that humans suffer from bias and wishful thinking. What this means is that humans frequently leap to beliefs irrationally. That make poor inferences by, for example, counting the hits and ignoring the misses. The purpose of critical thinking is to weed out irrational beliefs. Even those beliefs that seem obvious must be criticized. Christian superstition does not survive critical thought. When you start accounting for hits versus misses, the perceived effectiveness of prayer vanishes.

    But to consider that there is only one means by which to safeguard against error, and that means is through empirical verification in the mode of the physical sciences, is to take a biased position from the start.

    Empiricism is more than the physical sciences. It’s experience in general. And testing for bias means testing one’s claims against experience, and this almost always involves prediction. The only experience that is always resistant to criticism is the claim that “I am experiencing X” or “I remember things as X”. But any claim of the form “The state of affairs is Y” is potentially vulnerable. Theological claims are of the latter variety. There’s a difference between, say, “I experienced a man coming back from the dead” and “a man came back from the dead.” We’re not even at that level.

    You comment suggests you think there is some other “means” to overcome the human inability to judge statistical claims. I love to know what you think they might be.

    And, as I have said a hundred times, I’m not saying that everything that cannot survive empirical testing must be false. The rules of rational thinking can’t be justified empirically or rationally (because that would be circular). But it is irrational to cite other claims as being beyond criticism just because they get you the conclusions you want to have.

    The claim that God answers your prayers in the physical world IS an empirical one.

    As for the Bible, it contains nothing at all that ancient Middle-Eastern tribesmen couldn’t have figured out on their own. There’s nothing about galaxies, DNA, germs, photosynthesis, nuclear energy or anything else that might (a) be useful, or (b) suggest a source beyond the barbaric tribes who thought the whole book up. (An acquaintance of mine dropped Catholicism (and theism in general) because it didn’t make sense to him that the Bible talked about only the stuff ancient peoples would have known, and not the 99.99999…% of stuff that exists in the universe.)

    Your moral stance cannot be taken seriously, given that the virtues of morality are not members of T, so by your approach they should be regarded as unknowable, “indistinguishable from bias and fantasy.”

    WRONG! It’s always the same error time and time again. “..the ABSOLUTE virtues of morality…” is what you should have written, but had you not omitted the key word, the rest of your error would have been apparent. You think morality doesn’t exist if there’s no absolute morality, but this is wrong. Morality fails to exist only when we stop valuing things. Morality is what we care about. This is a question of value.

    You assume that if we discover that morality has no absolute basis, then our cares vanish, and we no longer value anything. But this is so obviously wrong, I don’t need to explain why.

    Thus, whether morality is absolute or not, Holopupenko cares about truth. He values truth. Okay, that was a leap. Maybe he doesn’t care. But if he doesn’t care, then no rational argument will be persuasive anyway.

    So, I’m calling your bluff. You keep pretending that if there were no absolute morality, you would cease to value truth, your desire for peace, comfort, reduced suffering, etc. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t justify your belief in the absolutes on the grounds that you care about all these things, if you only care about these things because of your belief.

  14. Whose bluff?

    Humans make poor inferences not only by counting the hits and ignoring the misses. They also make poor inferences by starting from wrong premises. Your premise is that there is no knowable truth except that which can be obtained through empiricism and the tools of formal logic (including mathematics). Your premise defeats itself, as I have already written (and which you ignored).

    You continue to stereotype while claiming your method is free of bias. Here’s a recent example:

    But it is irrational to cite other claims as being beyond criticism just because they get you the conclusions you want to have.

    I don’t claim my beliefs are beyond criticism. I have subjected them to considerable criticism, since long before I started writing here. I find that they survive criticism. And it’s not because the get me the conclusions I want. I answered that last time.

    Furthermore with respect to your bias, you completely ignored all that I said about the bias inherent in your epistemology. Completely. Ignored.

    Well, you did admit that “m not saying that everything that cannot survive empirical testing must be false.” Whoopee for you. What you are saying is that what cannot survive empirical testing cannot be knowable; and you feel free to treat it as false or irrelevant. (That’s what I said last time, did you hear it? Did you read my last comment, for crying out loud? I did not say in answer to all those questions, “false.” I said, “I don’t know.” How on earth could you have missed that?? Bias, maybe? Prejudice? Probably.)

    Also completely ignored was this:

    Another way of looking at your approach is, “My method will safeguard me from drawing unsupported conclusions about reality.” Your whole attitude is summed up in, “I don’t want to believe anything that might be wrong.” But that in itself implies that the highest epistemic good is to avoid accepting wrong beliefs. But how do you know that’s the highest epistemic good? Did you determine its epistemic virtue by some empirical procedure? Can you measure and test it that way? Obviously not. No, your whole approach is undermined from the very get-go.

    Your “As for the Bible” is just precious. “As for science,” I could answer,” it contains nothing at all but what can be determined empirically.” Well, that’s all we ought to expect it to have. Does the Bible contain anything useful? It sounds like you don’t consider anything useful at all besides knowledge of galaxies, germs, DNA, photosynthesis, or nuclear energy. How can I begin to describe how insanely truncated that view is?

    You ask,

    You comment suggests you think there is some other “means” to overcome the human inability to judge statistical claims. I love to know what you think they might be.

    Statistical claims are certainly best judged by statistical methods. I’m fine with that. Not all knowledge claims are statistical claims.

    You say,

    There’s a difference between, say, “I experienced a man coming back from the dead” and “a man came back from the dead.” We’re not even at that level.

    We have reliable reports from people who experienced Jesus coming back from the dead. We’re not at the level of experiencing it ourselves; but hey, have you experienced for yourself the direct observation of red-shift, or of analyzing the genome? You rely on testimony, too. Not all knowledge is by direct personal experience.

    And you can’t call my bluff on morality the way you’ve tried.

    So, I’m calling your bluff. You keep pretending that if there were no absolute morality, you would cease to value truth, your desire for peace, comfort, reduced suffering, etc. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t justify your belief in the absolutes on the grounds that you care about all these things, if you only care about these things because of your belief.

    You get it wrong over and over again “It’s always the same error time and time again.” It’s not that I believe that if there were no absolute morality I would cease to desire those things. It’s not about the psychology, it’s about whether the psychology makes an ounce of logical sense. Or is your nom-de-blog doctor(feeling)? If the non-empirical were only fantasy, then those moral feelings or concerns would be knowable only as fantasy, for all knowledge of them is non-empirical. That’s what I wrote last time. If they were fantasy and I cared about them, then I would be caring about what I could not know as anything better than fantasy. And if in my fantasy I thought truth was important, then I would have to consider it important to recognize that my concern for truth was itself based on knowledge no higher than fantasy.

    Further: In your excoriation of Holopupenko you made the assumption that he ought to care about your moral opinion. But your moral opinion, by your own approach, is indistinguishable from fantasy. Sure, Holopupenko cares about truth, but he at least has a reason to care about it. You have only fantasy, if you believe what you are saying. So it comes down to: “Holopupenko, I don’t have anything but fantasy on my side, but I know you care about truth, so I’m going to wave your own truth-concern at you like a weapon, even though I don’t have solid epistemic grounds for giving #&[email protected]$ about truth.”

    Meanwhile you say you care about bias, and you ignore all that I wrote to you last time about your own. I’ll wave your bias-concern weapon back at you. And I do have solid epistemic reason to ground my own bias-concern. You, sir, are intractably, completely, horribly biased, as evidenced by your prejudicial approach to knowledge and your persistent stereotyping.

    Do you even care about that?

  15. dl,
    Please reconsider the following. Although technically unfalsifiable, it does strain credulity for anyone who has put even a little time into the subject:

    As for the Bible, it contains nothing at all that ancient Middle-Eastern tribesmen couldn’t have figured out on their own. There’s nothing about galaxies, DNA, germs, photosynthesis, nuclear energy or anything else that might (a) be useful, or (b) suggest a source beyond the barbaric tribes who thought the whole book up.

    Yet, curiously, it seems Hebrew cosmology is radically different from its ancient near east counterparts.

  16. Tom:

    It was not in jest that C.S. Lewis noted that one should not accept a room renter (I’m paraphrasing from memory) who is an atheist because you cannot trust them to fulfill their end of the bargain. It’s even more so for an atheist who is an adamantly self-declared moral relativist. The broader point is, of course, that one cannot place any ultimate trust in an atheist to fulfill ANY rational bargain–including discussions aimed at arriving at truth. (That this applies to postmodernists is true, but another whole blog entry.)

    That’s amply demonstrated in what you pointed out regarding DL’s latest evasiveness (“… you completely ignored… Completely. Ignored.”) He simply doesn’t care: he ignores because for him it’s “right” to ignore and evade. ANYTHING goes for a moral relativist because it is not truth which he serves or pursues but power and control. That’s part of the joke superstitious joke known as atheism (superstitious in the sense of fearing broader deeper truths and applying the defense mechanism of a cult-like adherence to anti-scientific and pseudo-philosophical nonsense) he’s been trying to foist upon us these three or so years. You ask him whether he has any self-respect?!? What could that possibly mean to a moral relativist… and hence, what does he care?

    Now, add to that the very nature of atheism: a direct and intentional violation of the 1st Commandment. Sin. Sin dehumanizes. It wrecks havoc to our rational and willful capacities as human persons.

    Both these components are a volatile and violent mixture opposed to reason and truth. Power, control, the “I” as supreme. That’s what one stares in the face when confronting atheism.

    At the end, you ask whether DL cares about is problems and evasiveness and bigotry and… ad nauseum. The terrible truth is, no, he doesn’t.

  17. Your reference to power and control, Holopupenko, is on the same lines as what I was trying to get at when I spoke of him waving truth-concern at you like a weapon. There’s nothing backing it, from his epistemic stance, but power and control. He knows that you are concerned about truth:

    Thus, whether morality is absolute or not, Holopupenko cares about truth. He values truth.

    Therefore he knows he has an instrument he can use on you.

    I used the “bias-concern-weapon” on him in reply. I don’t have a principled objection against using forceful arguments. I’m strongly in favor of it, in fact, even if such arguments are arrayed against my own position.

    But doctor(logic)’s weapon and mine are significantly different. On his own epistemic principles—if he is going to regard himself as doctor(logic) rather than doctor(feeling)—the truth-concern weapon is vapor. That is, his concern for truth has an emotive basis for him, but on his epistemic principles he cannot show that it has a rational basis. I’ve argued that above.

    So in deploying the truth-concern weapon on you—again, if he is acting as doctor(logic) rather than doctor(feeling)—he is deploying something he can know to have force only because you care about it. Otherwise its force (as far as can be known) is not in itself or in any other grounding. Its force or value is not empirically demonstrable, so for consistency’s sake he ought to regard it as no better than fantasy. It is useful not because it is knowably real but because whether it is real or not, it is powerful. It is therefore a naked power play.

    That’s not to deny that you and he have a shared concern for truth. You have a truth concern, and he has a kind of truth concern. That’s part of being in the image of God, though like everything else about us humans, it can become seriously distorted. But on his epistemic principles, his truth-concern is really a set of the Emperor’s New Clothes, it is if viewed through the lens of grounded rationality rather than of emotive feelings about truth. He feels truth is important, but he has no reason to regard truth as important, since on his view, truth’s importance cannot be known, and what cannot be known ought not be relied upon.

    My use of the bias-concern-weapon is also quite admittedly a power play, but it’s not empty or naked like his use of the truth-concern-weapon. My concern regarding bias is not based on self-defeating premises; arguably it has real content to it. That is, I can rationally hold that I have actual reason to believe bias is a matter of concern; and if it really is a genuine matter of concern, it’s more than a power play to introduce it into the discussion. It matters. It’s not just a weapon.

    Reidish, thank you for calling his bluff on Hebrew cosmology.

  18. Tom,

    Your premise is that there is no knowable truth except that which can be obtained through empiricism and the tools of formal logic (including mathematics). Your premise defeats itself.

    Every system of beliefs is going to have some foundational assumptions that cannot be proven within that system. I’ve been clear about this, and you mocked me for it, but I think you’re going to agree with me when you think about it.

    What I think you’ll agree with is that one ought to keep one’s foundational assumptions to a minimum. If I found my beliefs on the assumption that undetectable pixies are pulling the levers behind reality, and that I can never have any experience that would contradict that founding assumption, then I’m trapping myself, right? It’s not a necessary assumption, and once I’m committed to it, I can never escape.

    Clearly, we ought to accept the smallest number of assumptions we possibly can, and infer everything else from experience.

    But your complaint (by analogy) is that by relying only on the minimum number of assumptions, I won’t be able to bring myself to believe in undetectable pixies, and that by relying on experience, I am therefore blinding myself to them. It ignores the fact that there are countless other arbitrary assumptions I could have made, and that picking any one of these blinds me to all the rest. So, for example, by arbitrarily deciding to believe in undetectable pixies, I blind myself to faeries, orcs, gremlins, and countless other undetectable realities that are all equally likely, a priori.

    Second, your argument appears to assume that it is better to believe something true for irrational reasons than to be a rational person and miss hidden truths. Do you really believe this?

  19. Tom,

    It’s not that I believe that if there were no absolute morality I would cease to desire those things. It’s not about the psychology, it’s about whether the psychology makes an ounce of logical sense.

    I think it’s funny that you’re calling me “doctor(feeling)” as if my position on morality is somehow illogical. My position on morality is that, fundamentally, morality is descriptive. To complain that my picture of moral reasoning doesn’t descent from some absolutely real moral axioms kinda begs the question, don’t you think?

    If the non-empirical were only fantasy, then those moral feelings or concerns would be knowable only as fantasy, for all knowledge of them is non-empirical.

    I don’t think you know what empirical means. Empirical means from experience, and moral feelings are experiences, so you’re just wrong about this. Moral feelings are completely real, empirical, and even scientific.

    What isn’t an empirical is the claim that there is an absolute morality beyond any form of verification. No experiment, indeed, no experience of any kind could ever make us more or less confident that moral reality was one way or another. That’s why the idea of moral realism is nonsense. No matter what happens, people do what they want to do. Moral realism is an attempt to rationalize those wants as the spooky influence of some metaphysical reality. Every time I ask you to escape your bias on this issue by considering the implications of a hypothetical moral reality that is at odds with your own idealizations of morality, you refuse. I’m sad that you can’t do this.

    If they were fantasy and I cared about them, then I would be caring about what I could not know as anything better than fantasy. And if in my fantasy I thought truth was important, then I would have to consider it important to recognize that my concern for truth was itself fantasy.

    Surely, you must be able to see the problem here. Feelings are real. They are not fantasies. Bad inferences from feelings could be fantasies, but not the feelings themselves. If you care about truth, you care about truth.

    You should spell out your position in general terms, and you’ll see that it makes no sense. You seem to think that an absolute ought has motivational power. It has no motivational power at all. It is merely an abstraction. One can only accept an ought on grounds of a desire for something.

    I do not desire to be good if being good means I have to cause extreme suffering to others. I will not burn someone at the stake for the sake of being absolutely good. Such an act would be extremely evil, from my subjective point of view. It goes against all of my desires. So, if God tells me it is good to burn people at the stake, why would I want to be good?

    You miss this in every one of these discussions. If you don’t care about your feeling of respect towards the truth, an absolute moral law that says you should respect the truth won’t be compelling to you. We are not compelled in moral arguments by abstractions, but by feelings, cares and sympathies. What makes a person rational is that they care to use rational methods. Those rational methods can never by justified on any rational grounds without circularity.

  20. Tom,

    Further: In your excoriation of Holopupenko you made the assumption that he ought to care about your moral opinion.

    No. He doesn’t give a &%^* about my moral opinion, and I know that. But I am not appealing to his respect for my opinion. No one does that, despite your insinuation that people do. What Holopupenko may care about, and what I am appealing to, are his own moral opinions.

    If H cares about truth, he’s not going to blind himself to truth, just because I say he shouldn’t. If my argument makes sense to H when he evaluates it from his own perspective and according to his own cares, then it will be convincing.

    If Hitler returns and tells you that you shouldn’t enslave people if you care about their quality of life, you may shudder at his gall and his hypocrisy, but that doesn’t mean his claim would not be compelling when you repeat it in your own voice.

  21. DL

    If I found my beliefs on the assumption that undetectable pixies are pulling the levers behind reality, and that I can never have any experience that would contradict that founding assumption, then I’m trapping myself, right? It’s not a necessary assumption, and once I’m committed to it, I can never escape.

    Try as you might, this doesn’t parallel belief in God at all. God is detectable, just not in the way you demand he be. You have trapped yourself into believing that God must be detectable in a scientistic or statistical way — and apparantly you are commited to that belief. What happened to your rule – minimizing foundational beliefs?

    I could use this opportunity to drum up some catchy slogan like, “Some of us just go one foundational belief further”, but I will resist the urge. 😉

  22. SteveK:

    The desperation to save a world view (atheism) that is dying the death of a thousand qualifications is palpable in most of DL’s responses. He, conveniently, doesn’t even adhere to his own Cartesian masthead. Let him be…

  23. doctor(logic),

    It’s not just that you’ve made some minimal unprovable assumptions. It’s that (in your own words) your epistemic stance entails that certain beliefs or conclusions are “indistinguishable from fantasy.” Which conclusions? Those that cannot be verified either by empirical means or by logic.
    h
    I applied that to one of your beliefs: that there is some value in being committed to the truth. I was wondering how you could show that that value is something other than fantasy, based on your own epistemic principles. You say now,

    Every system of beliefs is going to have some foundational assumptions that cannot be proven within that system…. What I think you’ll agree with is that one ought to keep one’s foundational assumptions to a minimum…. Clearly, we ought to accept the smallest number of assumptions we possibly can, and infer everything else from experience. [Emphasis added.]

    The question is not whether I agree with it. The question is whether you can say it coherently yourself. I call on you to quit telling me what Holopupenko or I think about things, and make coherent statements for yourself—which you have not done.

    This latest attempt of yours fails on grounds of circularity. Why do we have to have foundational assumptions? Why ought we keep those assumptions to a minimum? I think you would say it is because (from Occam’s Razor) it is a good rule for directing us toward the truth. The next question then, is, why should that matter? It doesn’t, unless one has a commitment to the truth, which was what I was asking about: “Why have a commitment to the truth?” You assume that we ought to have a commitment to truth, which is why we need foundational assumptions; but what you are assuming is the same thing you are trying to explain. If your epistemic principles can’t even (non-circularly) get as far as telling us whether we should care about what is true, doctor(logic), then they fall very far short.

    Or do you just say that commitment to truth is one of the necessary foundational assumptions? That’s a category error. A commitment is not an assumption. An assumption is of the form “x is true.” A commitment is of the form, “I will y.”

    Now for the second part of your 10:48 am comment I have two responses. You say,

    But your complaint (by analogy) is that by relying only on the minimum number of assumptions, I won’t be able to bring myself to believe in undetectable pixies, and that by relying on experience, I am therefore blinding myself to them

    Your word “undetectable” is tendentious. I am not saying you ought to accept epistemic principles that would allow you to detect the undetectable. I am saying there may be entities detectable by means other than those you admit, and you ought not to limit your epistemic methods such that you fail to detect the detectable. Keep “pixies” out of it (also tendentious). It is indisputably the case that if your epistemic approach is competent only to detect natural phenomena, and if you conclude from that approach that only natural phenomena exist, then you’re being epistemically blind.

    It’s like—yet unlike—the pre-van Leeuwenhoek world saying microbes don’t exist. They didn’t see them because they didn’t have the tools to detect them. But the better analogy would be to one who says microbes don’t exist because I refuse to look through a microscope. If you limit your truth-seeking principles to those which can only see one kind of thing, you’re in no position to say that another kind of thing does not exist.

    Second, I refer back to what I wrote already: you assume that I agree that on your epistemic principles (not mine, but yours), there is a reason to care whether I’m right or wrong about the existence of pixies. You haven’t got any way to establish that. So (on your principles, not mine), why not say, “Fine, go ahead and believe in pixies. Why not?”

    Going on:

    Second, your argument appears to assume that it is better to believe something true for irrational reasons than to be a rational person and miss hidden truths. Do you really believe this?

    You assume that your epistemic principles are the only rational ones. On this you are simply wrong. Even if you don’t see that, though, you can at least see that what you are appealing to here in support of your conclusion is the point that’s in dispute. It’s begging the question. Only doctor(illogic)—or doctor(ill-logic)?—would think he could get away with that.

    I think it’s funny that you’re calling me “doctor(feeling)” as if my position on morality is somehow illogical. My position on morality is that, fundamentally, morality is descriptive.

    Descriptive of what? On your view, it’s descriptive of feelings. You said it yourself. I didn’t say that was “illogical;” you put that term in my mouth. I would say instead that it is non-logical or a-logical. Whether or not it denies logic, it also doesn’t spring from logic. It springs from feelings (on your view). So your ethical stance cannot be regarded as the product of doctor(logic).

    I accept that moral feelings can be known. I also agree with you,

    What isn’t an empirical is the claim that there is an absolute morality beyond any form of verification.

    What’s also not empirically knowable, given that I have moral feelings, is why I should care about my moral feelings. The only answer on your view is feelings, doctor(feeling).

    No experiment, indeed, no experience of any kind could ever make us more or less confident that moral reality was one way or another. That’s why the idea of moral realism is nonsense.

    You’re just wrong on that. An experience of God could make us more confident of the nature of moral realities. If you say that is impossible in principle, then you’ve just given away your game. You might as well say it more plainly: “I’m right, you’re wrong, and nothing could ever show otherwise.”

    You seem to think that an absolute ought has motivational power. It has no motivational power at all. It is merely an abstraction. One can only accept an ought on grounds of a desire for something.

    I do not desire to be good if being good means I have to cause extreme suffering to others. I will not burn someone at the stake for the sake of being absolutely good. Such an act would be extremely evil, from my subjective point of view. It goes against all of my desires. So, if God tells me it is good to burn people at the stake, why would I want to be good?

    I said above that duties are not good in themselves; they are good in virtue of some other thing toward which they tend. My love for God is the motivational power for my desire to conform to his good character. That’s not an abstraction, it’s real. And your counter-factual about doing extreme harm to others is either completely devoid of context or so counter-factual it has no relation at all to reality. Or both.

    Further: In your excoriation of Holopupenko you made the assumption that he ought to care about your moral opinion.

    No. He doesn’t give a &%^* about my moral opinion, and I know that. But I am not appealing to his respect for my opinion.

    You made an appeal based on concern for truth. On what basis did you make it, then? His concern for truth, or yours? (I wish I could suppose you were appealing to an objective duty to pursue truth, but I know better than that!) If it was based on yours, then it was unsupported and unsupportable, as I said above; but never mind, you’ve just said that wasn’t what you were appealing to. If it was based on his, then that translates to, “Based on your sense of epistemic duty, the grounding thereof, and the principles that flow from it—all of which contradict my epistemic principles—I appeal to you to accept my epistemic principles.” Or, based on not-A, I appeal to you to accept A. (Tell me again those foundational epistemic principles you adhere to? Were non-contradiction and non-circularity among them?)

    Again, I call on you to quit appealing to our own sense of truth, duty, fairness, morality or any such thing in support of your conclusions. The question is not whether we agree with you on those things. If we do, we agree for reasons that you explicitly deny. The argument pertains to matters on the level where those reasons reside.

  24. I think I addressed all you wrote in your most recent comment, doctor(logic). I didn’t respond to your point on Hitler, but that was just an illustration, I think. Now it’s your turn again. I invite you to use your computer’s find-on-page feature and search for “ignore,” “bias,” “prejudice,” and “stereotype.” You have taken a shot at addressing some of what you previously ignored, but you’re still ignoring your own stereotypes and prejudices; and I’m not at all confident you’ve faced the implications of your epistemic principles’ inherent bias.

  25. Why do I care about your addressing those things I just mentioned? Is it because I’m hurt by the prejudices or stereotyping? No, it doesn’t bother me in that way. Is it because I have to win this argument? Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, there’s some intellectual satisfaction in the give-and-take, but I know from long experience that to set “winning” as a goal is to chase a vapor. Chances are, both of us think we’ve out-argued the other, but there’s no NCAA, MLB, NFL, or NBA to set the rules. There are no referees; there is no scorekeeper. No one is going to pronounce one of us the winner here. In a sense there’s no such thing as “winning.”

    The reason I ask you to face these realities of your argument here is because I’m hoping that you’ll take a close look at the logical and ethical inconsistencies of your own position, and learn something about yourself from that close look. I’m even hoping that by learning something about yourself, you’ll give yourself freedom to be open to realities you have so far refused to allow into consideration. I’m hoping you’ll learn some of the sorts of things that we all seriously need to know about ourselves and about real life.

  26. Tom,

    “Why have a commitment to the truth?” If your epistemic principles can’t even get as far as answering that question, doctor(logic), then they fall very far short.

    No system can answer that without circularity, especially not yours. Any reasoned attempt you make to justify your own epistemic principles or to justify any claim of truth with rely upon that same commitment to truth or those same epistemic principles. Now, either that means all systems fall very short, or else you’ll need to retract your statement.

    A person either has a commitment to truth and reason or they don’t. And if they don’t already have that commitment to truth and reason as a compulsion, then they cannot be reasoned into it. At best they can be conditioned into having the compulsion by linking some non-rational desire with rational competence.

    I have a commitment to truth and rationality. That commitment isn’t based on some rational argument because it cannot possibly be. I would have had to have the commitment to appreciate the rational argument in the first place. I’m perfectly happy to admit that being rational is a bias. I think you have a commitment to truth and reason, too, or else I wouldn’t be here writing this.

    I am not saying you ought to accept epistemic principles that would allow you to detect the undetectable. I am saying there may be entities detectable by means other than those you admit, and you ought not to limit your epistemic methods such that you fail to detect the detectable.

    Why be so coy? Why not state clearly your epistemic principles, and explain why they don’t run afoul of well-understood human anti-rational biases?

  27. Tom,

    If it was based on his, then that translates to, “Based on your sense of epistemic duty, the grounding thereof, and the principles that flow from it—all of which contradict my own views—I appeal to you to accept my epistemic principles.” Or, based on not-A, I appeal to you to accept A.

    Nice try, but H’s commitment to truth and rationality does not entail his epistemic principles. Nor yours. If it were clearly, logically shown that your epistemic procedures were inconsistent, wouldn’t you change your procedures? Perhaps you and H really are more committed to your procedures or your conclusions than to truth and reason. If that is the case, then we have no common ground, and, as you say, the argument doesn’t work.

    I hope you can see, Tom, that the point of these philosophical discussions is to allow our commitment to truth and reason to override our attachment to specific procedures and conclusions. The characterization of our debate in the quote above doesn’t do justice to the process.

    So, let me recapitulate my position. The principles of rationality are logic (and logical consistency), self-knowledge, and inductive inference from experience (empiricism). These principles cannot be justified by any rational argument without circularity. Moreover, our commitment to rational principles is a bias that is not something that can be argued for. The commitment to reason cannot be argued for because we would need that commitment to appreciate the argument. Nevertheless, a person can be influenced to be more rational by leveraging that persons other biases.

    Thus far, your response has been to use two lines of attack. First, you have argued that my epistemic principles cannot justify themselves. My answer to that should be clear by now. It is impossible for epistemic principles to justify themselves. If a man rejects rational epistemic principles and clings instead to his own illogical epistemic principles, then that man’s principles will simply be judged as poor by the rational thinkers around him (if any). When the man asks the rationalists why he should change, the rational thinkers can only reply that they value consistency, and by noting that the man’s personal principles are illogical.

    Second, you have argued that unless I accept that moral principles have an absolute grounding, then we have no common ground from which to reach shared conclusions. However, you did this with the oversimplification of the appeals process. Clearly, we can have common ground if we both value truth and rational thinking, whether or not those commonly-felt epistemic virtues have an absolute basis.

  28. Tom,

    A few loose ends:

    Second, I refer back to what I wrote already: you assume that I agree that on your epistemic principles (not mine, but yours), there is a reason to care whether I’m right or wrong about the existence of pixies. You haven’t got any way to establish that. So (on your principles, not mine), why not say, “Fine, go ahead and believe in pixies. Why not?”

    This is a good illustration of the point I have been making. The only answer is that I am compelled to value (care about) truth by my biology and psychology. I cannot possibly have a rational reason to care about truth and reason because I would need to care about truth and reason for such a reason to have any traction with me.

    I didn’t say that was “illogical;” you put that term in my mouth. I would say instead that it is non-logical or a-logical. Whether or not it denies logic, it also doesn’t spring from logic. It springs from feelings (on your view). So your ethical stance cannot be regarded as the product of doctor(logic).

    Correct.

    Logic deduces conclusions from assumed premises. I don’t deduce my morality from assumed premises. I compulsively value some things and not others. Statistically, most people share core values: a desire to reduce suffering and increase joy.

  29. An experience of God could make us more confident of the nature of moral realities. If you say that is impossible in principle, then you’ve just given away your game. You might as well say it more plainly: “I’m right, you’re wrong, and nothing could ever show otherwise.”

    I know I have moral values because I feel them directly. I value joy and reduction of suffering, for example.

    Let’s suppose I have some other moral value, X. I know my value of X is my own bias. How could an experience of God reveal the absolute moral truth I am corect to value X or not? What would that experience be like?

    Note that it cannot be a sudden realization that I now value ~X. My lack of value of X is no different in its appearance than may original value of X.

    I’ll put it another way. Suppose that I alter your brain so that your moral biases get flipped around. I’m sure you agree that this would not reveal anything about absolute moral values. Similarly, suppose, in 300 years, Mars is colonized by humans, and then infected by some unknown virus that tampers with human/Martian moral values. How could we possibly convince our Martian brothers they were morally wrong, or vice versa?

    What possible experience can tell you that your moral values are absolutely right or wrong? It can’t be anything physical, and it can’t be how you feel (since that’s the same as your bias), and you reject the idea that it can be anything predictive. I’m not begging the question on this issue. I’m looking for an answer from you that isn’t logically inconsistent.

    I said above that duties are not good in themselves; they are good in virtue of some other thing toward which they tend. My love for God is the motivational power for my desire to conform to his good character. That’s not an abstraction, it’s real.

    Kinda sounds like you’re talking about a bias, no?

  30. I have lots of things I could say in answer, doctor(logic), but I’m still waiting for you to respond to what you’ve ignored so repeatedly here. Search “bias” above, or search “microscope” for one term that will zoom in on it. I said some time ago it was your turn now, and it’s still your turn on that one.

  31. Tom,

    You said:

    It is indisputably the case that if your epistemic approach is competent only to detect natural phenomena, and if you conclude from that approach that only natural phenomena exist, then you’re being epistemically blind.

    It’s like—yet unlike—the pre-van Leeuwenhoek world saying microbes don’t exist. They didn’t see them because they didn’t have the tools to detect them. But the better analogy would be to one who says microbes don’t exist because I refuse to look through a microscope. If you limit your truth-seeking principles to those which can only see one kind of thing, you’re in no position to say that another kind of thing does not exist.

    I think I’ve addressed this before, but I’m happy to tackle this particular example more directly.

    The analogy to our situation is not me failing to through a microscope. The analogy is you asking me to look through a kaleidoscope, telling me that eventually I’ll see something that I’ll find significant about the cosmos.*

    You accept that my epistemic approach (let’s call it the naturalist approach) is a valid one, but you think it is limited. You don’t reject logic and induction. However, you claim there are additional techniques/principles (which you have yet to explicate) which yield truths that the naturalist approach cannot see, but which do not contradict the naturalist approach. These additional techniques are very mysterious, and you don’t seem to want to discuss them. Instead, you just want to criticize the limits of the naturalist principles.

    That said, I think I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that if I open my heart to Jesus, I’ll start to see him. If I believe he exists, and I start praying and looking for responses, I’ll see him. But I won’t see him if I try to control for my own anti-rational bias.

    The problem is that, under the naturalist approach, we are all but certain that humans are biased against rational thinking. We know that when they look through a kaleidoscope or when they look at a Rorschach inkblot, they’re going to see something. Eventually, random patterns are going to match something meaningful. It’s called pareidolia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia).

    The religious approach to “knowing” is to amplify that non-rational bias as much as possible, and to isolate beliefs from criticism and testing, so they cannot be seen for the biases that they really are.

    So if you really have a microscope and not a kaleidoscope, go ahead and prove it. Because, so far, logic and induction tell us that you’re just fanning the flames of your own bias, and not accessing knowledge at all.

    *Actually, it’s worse. You’re handing me a Jesus kaleidoscope, and telling me to meditate on thoughts of Jesus while I peer through it. You’re confident that I’ll see Jesus in it. And so am I. You primed me with a suggestion, and ask me to fan the flames of that suggestion with your kaleidoscope. This is the Christian way to “knowledge”.

  32. Tom,

    I just want to be clear. The approach you’re recommending is all but guaranteed to find something, just like the Rorschach test is guaranteed to find something. The Jesus kaleidoscope will always register a result with the viewer, as will the Kali kaleidoscope or the Thor kaleidoscope. It’s not a test of truth. You’re believing what you want to believe.

    The way to escape human bias is with prediction. But you rule this out because you know it will fail for your religion. You (and your theological ancestors) concoct a story about how God doesn’t want to be tested. But that’s just a smokescreen. If you watch me live my life, you’re not testing me. If you’re just avoiding your own bias, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. It’s certainly possible for God to have been visible in a way that goes beyond kaleidoscope bias. You only reject the idea because you know God doesn’t exist in that way. Kaleidoscope bias is the only way you can see God.

  33. doctor(logic), let’s keep ourselves focused on the question. You have accused me of epistemological bias. I have counter-accused you of the same bias, and you have repeatedly ignored it. You did it again: instead of responding to the point at hand, you accused me of bias all over again. There’s no need for you to do that, your accusation has already been delivered, thank you.

    Now to the point, please: Do your epistemic principles allow you or do they not allow you to see anything other than natural phenomena? Is it not true that your approach has a certain potential blindness to it, such that if there are supernatural realities, the tools you allow yourself to use could never see or know it? Does that not inherently prejudice the conclusions you could come to, and that you have in fact come to? Is it not true that you are living as if you knew for certain there are no supernatural realities, when such certainty is not warranted by your epistemology?

  34. Tom,

    Do your epistemic principles allow you or do they not allow you to see anything other than natural phenomena? Is it not true that your approach has a certain potential blindness to it, such that if there are supernatural realities, the tools you allow yourself to use could never see or know it? Does that not inherently prejudice the conclusions you could come to, and that you have in fact come to?

    I think our definitions of natural and supernatural are different.

    I think you consider non-physical to be roughly synonymous with supernatural, whereas I think that these terms are orthogonal.

    For me, natural means regular, described by a rule, at least for a time. For example, your personality is relatively fixed, so it is regular, and I can know it to exist. It could change over time, and if it changes enough, you might become a different person as far as I could tell, but your personality is static enough that I can know it. I can make statistical predictions about the way you will write, and what you will write about, etc. If your personality changed so frequently and dramatically that I couldn’t predict what you would say or do, not even statistically, then it would make no sense for me to even say you had a personality at all.

    Now, for you, personality might be supernatural. That is, for you, personality might be something that can’t be fully described by chemistry. However, that’s not a deal-breaker as far as my epistemology is concerned. My epistemology can see personality as long as there’s a regularity to be seen. Remember, empirical means based on experience, not just physical experiment.

    If God exists, he could easily present himself with regularity and a stable character. He could easily be seen by my epistemology, even though he is non-physical and supernatural by your definition.

    However, God can hide from us, too. In order for me to see God and know that I’m not just imagining him or thinking wishfully, God has to be visible to a degree that’s stronger than other known confounding factors. I know that I am susceptible to anti-rational biases, and that if I don’t account for these biases (e.g., using statistical methods) I might see God even if he didn’t exist. That is, there is noise in my experience that results from anti-rational biases. If I set my threshold for belief too low (i.e., in the noise), I’m guaranteed to believe, even in things that aren’t real. If God interacts so weakly with my experience that he falls below the noise level, then he effectively hides from me.

    And, again, there’s no reason in principle why God must do this. God doesn’t have to hide below the noise level just because he is supernatural.

    So, the answer to your question is No. I am not biased against supernatural phenomena. I am no more biased against supernatural phenomena than I am against natural phenomena. If claims of natural phenomena fall below the noise level, then I won’t believe those claims either.

    You claim that God won’t be tested, but what you mean is that any attempt I make to overcome my own anti-rational biases will result in the God effects vanishing. I still have no idea why you can’t see this as an excuse for pandering to anti-rational bias.

    Is it not true that you are living as if you knew for certain there are no supernatural realities, when such certainty is not warranted by your epistemology?

    No, I don’t live as if I knew for certain that there are no supernatural realities. I don’t believe there are any supernatural realities, but belief and certainty are two different things. I can be persuaded to believe in supernatural realities by evidence that is better than the noise level. It’s just that such evidence does not exist. And, when it comes to religious claims, the noise level is deafening.

  35. Tom:

    I’m been trying very hard not to dive into much detail of DL’s sometimes quite outrageous nonsense, but his latest stumblings (again!) are astounding. Example:

    I think you consider non-physical to be roughly synonymous with supernatural.

    Absolute, unadulterated, self-serving nonsense. This is precisely the kind of ignorance (and there’s LOTS of it) that DL tries to foist upon us because by defining terms as only he wants them defined (to a priori support his general position), he “wins”. (Remember, for him it’s largely about controlling reality.) He’s trying to tell you what the world is like, and then to show you you’re wrong. That’s, at a minimum, unscientific.

    About 2,400 years ago Aristotle demonstrated that the form of a rational animal cannot be material. He didn’t do it by means of the MESs and he didn’t do it by the asinine straw man caricature of which DL (without basis) accuses us, namely that we supposedly assume the immaterial. Aristotle REASONED from observations of the material world (empirically, i.e., by employing his senses) to inescapable conclusions.

    The flat-landing assumption hiding behind his “reasoning” is astounding: basically (paraphrasing you a bit, Tom) DL believes one can ONLY reason from material/physical sensory (empirical) observations to the existence only material/physical objects–question-begging along the way, of course, of reason the human capacity to reason can ONLY be a material-based thing. When you challenge him on that approach, he ILLICITLY backs up to his usual hand-waving “get out of jail” card: one has to assume some things and keep that at a minimum. And we chase him even on that, and he continues to evade, obfuscate, pontificate, etc.

    Here’s the core of why his position is so astoundingly absurd, and why I now consider him not just a pseudo-intellectual but an anti-intellectual: to limit the scope of reason to ONLY being able to know material/physical entities is (a) unscientific, (b) pseudo-philosophical, (c) emotionally-tied to unsupportable presuppositions. To limit the scope of reason is to operate to a very significant extent against reason/intellect. To work per se against the human capacity for reason/intellect is to hold an anti-intellectual position. Let me be clear: to “beat up” faith or moral objectivity or the existence of the immaterial realm he must first limit the accepted range of human reason so that outcomes fit his preconceived notions. That is why DL is anti-intellectual.

    In is in this respect (i.e., the rejection of anything other than scientistic categories) that DL doesn’t accept anything BUT scientistic blinders to epistemically lock himself into his own mind (recall: he is an neo-Kantian Idealist who has claimed that we can never know the object itself but only ideas of the object), and is exactly what you’ve pointed out and which he keeps on evading (there are no sanctions against himself being evasive because that is his moral relativism at work), and for which he desperately feels the need to obfuscate through qualifications… over and over and over again. Humans can ONLY reason to the existence of the material/physical. He can’t claim this as a “working assumption” because it’s not a basic principle or axiom but a personal opinion that screams for support. (If he tries to claim it’s an axiom, not only does he not understand what an axiom is but he’s feeding us a “just so” story: it’s that way because I choose it as my starting point and there’s no reason to question it.) Don’t hold your breath waiting for it…

  36. DL,

    He [God] could easily be seen by my epistemology, even though he is non-physical and supernatural by your definition

    You always say this, but your past comments lead me to think it’s not true. Here are the kind of things I’ve heard you say.

    1) Something that is both regular and unexplained by current known natural laws.
    – Rational inference = natural
    – Irrational inference = supernatural, because of “gap” thinking.

    2) Something that is both irregular and explained by natural randomness.
    – Rational inference = natural
    – Irrational inference = supernatural, because it violates parsimony.

    3) Something that is both irregular and unexplained by current known natural laws.
    – Rational inference = natural
    – Irrational inference = supernatural, because it’s blind faith.

    4) Something that is both regular and explained by current known natural laws.
    – Rational inference = natural
    – Irrational inference = supernatural, because it violates parsimony.

  37. A simple test: Try arguing for the supernatural soul and you’ll see 1-4 in action depending on the specific subtopic being argued. The supernatural is never a rational option for DL.

  38. doctor(logic),

    You are willing to admit God into your belief structure if he acts like one of his own creations. You would have made a good Greek or Roman pagan–their gods acted a lot like humans.

    You say,

    I know that I am susceptible to anti-rational biases, and that if I don’t account for these biases (e.g., using statistical methods) I might see God even if he didn’t exist. If I set my threshold for belief too low (i.e., in the noise), I’m guaranteed to believe, even in things that aren’t real. If God interacts so weakly with my experience that he falls below the noise level, then he effectively hides from me.

    And, again, there’s no reason in principle why God must do this. God doesn’t have to hide below the noise level just because he is supernatural.

    You know, for one who doesn’t believe in God, you sure know a lot about what he has reasons to do or not to do. You know a lot about the limits on his ability to communicate, too. If he can’t communicate through statistical regularities, he can’t communicate. He can’t communicate through testimony, design, the moral sense, conscience, the sensus divinitatus, the natural order, a burning bush, a personal incarnation, a resurrection, or the body of believers down through history.

    This god you’ve concocted is a pathetic piece of work. No wonder you don’t think he exists. But you sure do know an awful lot about him. You know something about human psychology, our epistemic biases, too; and you are certain this god you’ve thought up is so small and stupid he can only think of one way to get past that problem.

    But no, you’re not the least bit biased. You’ll let God make himself known to you any way he wants to, as long as he who will do things doctor(logic)’s way (and only doctor(logic)’s way). You’ll let God be whatever kind of God that God wants to be, except for personal and creative; because to be personal and creative is to change one’s regularities in the world.

    That’s just where this fails:

    I am no more biased against supernatural phenomena than I am against natural phenomena. If claims of natural phenomena fall below the noise level, then I won’t believe those claims either.

    Knowable phenomena are contingent and generally regular (except of course for the phenomena that aren’t regular, like almost everything interesting or creative that humans do). You are biased toward knowing that which is contingent and generally regular. If that’s the kind of god the knowledge of which you want to reject, by all means do so.

    And doctor(logic), pardon me for catching you in a lie, but I think you really do live as if you knew for certain there are no supernatural realities. You may say you don’t claim to know that for certain, but you can’t fool me into doubting you live as if you were certain. If you had any other attitude you would at least wonder. You don’t wonder enough.

  39. Good analysis, SteveK. Supernaturalism will always be an option for doctor(logic) as long as its expression in the world is neither irregular nor regular, nor anything in the cracks between.

  40. Tom and SteveK:

    What the both of you articulated reflects Stephen Jay Gould’s flawed NOMA opinion. That’s what DL wants: to define the rules of the game to match support his preconceived notions, then to tell the rest to us to go off into the corner and have fun talking about God… while the serious folks (scientismists) deal with the world on their own terms. In fact, the joke is on DL: he’s been tilting against windmills and arguing against reality by using the rules of the game he invented in his little closed-minded corner. Time for a pity-party, I guess…

  41. Holopupenko,

    Dude, you’re losin’ it.

    DL believes one can ONLY reason from material/physical sensory (empirical) observations to the existence only material/physical objects

    Try reading my post again.

    If God exists, he could easily present himself with regularity and a stable character. He could easily be seen by my epistemology, even though he is non-physical and supernatural by your definition.

    Thanks for misstating my position, as always.

  42. Tom,

    He can’t communicate through testimony, he can’t communicate through design, he can’t communicate through the moral sense, he can’t communicate through conscience, he can’t communicate through the sensus divinitatus, he can’t communicate through the natural order, he can’t communicate through a burning bush, he can’t communicate through a personal incarnation, he can’t communicate through a resurrection, he can’t communicate through the body of believers down through history, he can’t communicate through fulfilled prophecy.

    He can communicate through any of these things if he does so above the noise level. Let’s take a few of these as examples.

    Testimony: It is plainly obvious that there would be testimony about deities or supernatural occurrences if deities or supernatural occurrences did not exist. We see it every day. 60 seconds of Google and I find this:
    http://www.expsy.com/types-of-psychic-experiences.php

    You don’t want to tell me that this testimony is true, do you? If not, you’ll have to admit that there’s plenty of noise out there in testimony-land.

    Moral Sense: moral sense is perfectly compatible with evolution. It has evolutionary advantages for social groups. The existence of a moral sense isn’t a very good communication from God, is it?

    Resurrection: there is more evidence for vampires than there is for the Resurrection. The records are more recent, and we have names and dates.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire#Medieval_and_later_European_folklore

    And, my favorite, sensus divinitatus: what’s the difference between sensus divinitatus and the pure bias to believe in God? Or demons? Or spirits? Or vampires? The psychic site that I linked to is a superb example. It shows how people can condition themselves to believe in their psychic intuitions as if they were real. Check this out:
    http://www.expsy.com/developing-your-abilities.php

    The rabbit or hare might be a warning to be wary of those around you. Better to flee than to risk great loss by standing your ground. Now that you have met your guides, ask them their names. They might be hard to understand, but you can ask again each time you gain entrée to your secret place until you are certain you know by what name each wishes to be called. You might ask them what you are to learn from them. Again, it could take some time to truly understand, so be patient.

    If an unwitting fellow decides to play this psychic game, what do you think are the odds that he’ll be able to come up with a name for his animal guides? I bet the odds are pretty high. The psychics basically say that “If only you’ll trust that you can sense the names of your animal guides, you’ll find them.” Sound familiar? Should we take the sensus animalus of these psychics as evidence that animals are spirit guides? If not, why trust that sensus divinatus is evidence for God?

    sensus animalus is a bias, and the psychics running that web site want you to amplify it to the maximum degree possible. This is just what your religion does. It’s pretty organized about it. Might explain the “body of believers down through history”, eh?

    Fulfilled prophesy: This is a good one. How precise were the prophesies? Not at all. Did the NT authors know about the prophesies? Yes. Were they in a position to portray Jesus as fulfilling the prophesies? Yep. And that’s why Jesus rides into Jerusalem straddling two mules at once. I guess it kinda fits: the rodeo theme goes nicely with the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.

    This god you’ve concocted is a pathetic piece of work. No wonder you don’t think he exists. But you sure do know an awful lot about him. You know something about human psychology, our epistemic biases, and you are certain he is so small and stupid he can only think of one way to get past that problem.

    Please explain how any of the “ways” you cited get past the problem. They very plainly fail to do so.

    And doctor(logic), pardon me for catching you in a lie, but I think you really do live as if you knew for certain there are no supernatural realities. You may say you don’t claim to know that for certain, but you can’t fool me into doubting you live as if you knew for certain.

    Wow!

  43. Steve,

    Allow me to correct you. Assuming natural means physical and supernatural means non-physical (which is your definition, not mine):

    1) Something that is both regular and unexplained by current known natural laws.
    Could be either natural or supernatural.

    2) Something that is both irregular and explained by natural randomness.
    Is probably natural.

    3) Something that is both irregular and unexplained by current known natural laws.
    Could be either natural or supernatural.

    4) Something that is both regular and explained by current known natural laws.
    Is probably natural.

    Thank you!

  44. doctor(logic), let’s just disagree on whether the evidence for vampires is better than the evidence for the resurrection. I am quite sure you’re wrong, but this isn’t the place for me to show it (again).

    That we have a moral sense may be compatible with evolution. The existence of real good and evil is not. Again, on this you have often been wrong, but so be it.

    As for testimony, the signal certainly does rise above the noise, when all the evidences for biblical testimony is taken into account. Frankly there is nothing else in all of religious history to compare. Christianity uniquely places its founding in history, where it’s not just a matter of spiritual “wisdom” but of events whose historical veracity is open to examination.

    You made a poor choice of a favorite: the sensus divinitatus. You’re saying there’s no way for a human to distinguish that from other internal experiences. But in saying that you’re also saying there is no God who can communicate to humans through internal experience; that if there is a God, maybe he can create the universe and all language and all communication; but he can’t do that.

    Fulfilled prophecies? Not conclusive, but the NT writers could have caused them to be fulfilled (as you say) only if they made up the whole thing. Scholarship agrees that they didn’t.

    Please explain how any of the “ways” you cited get past the problem. They very plainly fail to do so.

    See above. Note also that your insistence that you know everything about God (even though you’re sure he doesn’t exist) remains an epistemological, existential, and above all spiritual problem for you. Feel free to say wow again.

  45. Tom,

    Can you conceive of any circumstances for cases 1 and 3 in which you would conclude supernatural?

    In case (1), Harry Potter magic fits the bill. If we can cast spells that implement our will in violation of physical laws, then we would be reliably demonstrating that the will is at least as fundamental as physics.

    The same goes for prayer. If prayer worked better than placebo, that would go a long way to showing that our will and the will of the deity are more fundamental than physics.

    For (2), you can’t really conclude anything at all. If you have some patternless phenomena, the cause could be natural or supernatural, but you can’t tell which. A completely irregular phenomenon is unexplained.

  46. Tom,

    That we have a moral sense may be compatible with evolution. The existence of real good and evil is not. Again, on this you have often been wrong, but so be it.

    You actually used the word “real” before the words “good and evil”! I don’t believe it! But I like it!

    Note also that your insistence that you know everything about God (even though you’re sure he doesn’t exist) remains an epistemological, existential, and above all spiritual problem for you. Feel free to say wow again.

    I did not say that I know everything about God. I never have. I just pointed out that, given what little we know, God doesn’t have to hide.

    If I see a man walking towards me on the sidewalk, then given my lack of information, I can say that the man need not steal my wallet. I’m not saying that I know the man is a good man. I’m just saying that I don’t know he’s a bad one.

    Similarly, if a God exists, given our lack of information, I’m not the one claiming to know God when I point out that God need not hide from us.

    Maybe God is compelled to hide from us for some reason, but if you say he is compelled, then you are the one who claims to know God, not me.

    Your position on what I think God would do is confused. On the one hand you admonish me for considering all the possibilities equally, and then you turn around and admonish me for predicting what God would do one thing in particular. Surely, I can’t be doing both.

  47. Tom,

    You made a poor choice of a favorite: the sensus divinitatus. You’re saying there’s no way for a human to distinguish that from other internal experiences.

    What do you think of those psychic links? Don’t you think that people who claim to have psychic abilities think that their feelings of ESP are distinct from their other feelings? And yet we know that they are frauds.

    At least the psychics sometimes claim to know something verifiable. They turn out to be no better than random guessing. Now, why should I believe (no, why should YOU believe) that your ESP is better than theirs just because your claim is so much harder to verify? What makes your sensus so infallible and the psychics’ sensus so incompetent?

  48. Quick reply to your last question: It’s not about sensus. It’s about divinitatus. Knowledge of God is God’s to communicate. He has done so in many ways, but this one in particular is a matter of Person-to-person initiative.

    If you continue to insist that God the creator can’t overcome the problem you continue to pose (which I continue to answer), then you have an epistemological, existential, and above all spiritual problem.

  49. re your 10:06 am response, I never said you claim to know everything about God either. I just said you seem to know enough about God to conclude that you can set his revelatory and epistemological rules for him. “Given what little we know,” you say, “God doesn’t have to hide.” What do you know about God that leads you to think that is true?

  50. re your 9:18 am post, I don’t believe you. I think you would say Harry Potter magic (if it existed) was an expression of unknown physical laws. I think you are so entrenched in your physicalism you wouldn’t budge for anything less than a close look at yourself: your logical inconsistencies, perhaps, your own mortality, or something else that revealed itself to you as much bigger than yourself. Maybe even God.

  51. When people have come here telling of their personal encounters with the supernatural (remember the guy who saw the face in the picture?), DL has gone to great lengths to argue that the rational conclusion – for them! – ought to be delusion or something like it, no matter how convincing it appeared.

    So I expect if DL witnessed the resurrection event himself, his own a priori rules require that the rational conclusion ought to be delusion no matter how convincing it appeared. Same with Harry Potter, so I’m not buying it. It’s never an option – never.

  52. Another thing…”above the noise” is a red herring. Don’t you have a mind, DL, with the ability to perceive and think on your own?

    You mean to tell me that the little boy crying wolf all day long means that your first personal encounter with the wolf ought to be dismissed as delusional because there’s just too much noise? A pity that you let others do your thinking for you.

  53. And DL’s comment to go with that link.

    That story at NovaScotiaScott is a very sad one. Yes, he’s a poor dupe!! He either imagined the picture, or he’s been had.

  54. Don’t necessarily want to relive the past, but I want to give more evidence that rules 1-4 are the norm for DL.

    My response to DL’s checklist requirement:

    Okay…when Scott has completed your checklist and he has concluded that his belief is rationally justified what should he do – think of himself as a deluded religious fool or a person with a rationally justified belief?

    What should you and I do considering we don’t know Scott from Adam and we weren’t there to experience what he claims – call him a deluded religious fool because everyone knows God isn’t real?

    DL’s response, demonstrating that scientism rules above all – even if your experiences and your mental faculties speak against it.

    By checking beliefs, I don’t mean checking your belief that you experienced something. That was never in doubt. It was never really in doubt that Scott believes he saw a picture versus a mirror. The question is whether there actually was a picture versus a mirror.

    If there had been a picture versus a mirror, why was Scott the only one who noticed it? Does this normally happen to people? No. Does it normally happen to Scott? No. So why should Scott believe it himself? Isn’t it more likely that he saw a picture of Jesus in or on one of the books, and confused this with the mirror? Of course it is.

    The elephant in the room is that you think no belief or recollection is too far-fetched to doubt. And the only reason you believe this nonsense is to preserve your faith.

    Let’s put it in general terms. The laws of physics are highly predictive and reliable, and we all think it very foolish to bet against physics (e.g., jumping off a building and expecting to live). We think this because physical laws have been observed countless times. Suppose Alf sees phenomenon X just once. Phenomenon X violates the known laws of physics. Alf must believe he saw X, but should Alf believe X actually happened?

    This question is rationally answerable, and it’s not a matter of opinion. Alf needs to compare the probability that a person misinterprets sensory inputs or falsely remembers certain facts, with the probability that the laws in question would be broken. It’s very VERY simple.

  55. DL:

    You are HILARIOUS–really. I didn’t misstate your position (a lie you employ to deflect being caught): you actually amplified my point with the example you provide. What’s more you REALLY are an amateur trying to act like a know-it-all: you have a Wiki-level knowledge of the word “epistemology” that you bandy about without realizing your ontological flatlandedness drives the nonsense you spout.

    Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this kind of entertainment.

  56. Tom,

    Quick reply to your last question: It’s not about to my sensus. It’s up to divinitatus.

    If you continue to insist that God the creator can’t overcome that problem, then you have an epistemological, existential, and above all spiritual problem.

    It’s not about whether God could inspire a sense in humans that God exists. It’s obviously true that he could do so. The problem is that humans can inspire those same feelings in themselves without God’s help. The psychics I linked to prove this (as do many other similar cases). So if you want to escape your biases, then you’ll need something a lot stronger to go on.

    Surely you can see what I am on about in all of these posts.

    P(T|sd) = P(sd|T) P(T) / (P(sd|T) + P(sd|~T))

    T is the theory that God exists. It’s not at all obvious that God would inspire a sensus, but let’s just assign a probability of 0.5 to P(sd|T). And let’s set the prior P(T) to 50%, too. Your problem is that P(sd|~T) is approximately 1, i.e., many people would have a sensus even if God does not exist. So, even giving you favorable odds on P(sd|T), the best you’ll come up with is a 1 in 7 shot that God exists. It’s 6 times more likely that God doesn’t exist.

    And this pattern is repeated over and over. In every case, P(e|~T) is way too large for you to conclude T. P(e|~T) is what I mean by bias. Now, the closer your signal is to the noise, the more care you need in accounting for statistics.

    In the case of sensus divinitatis where the noise is six times bigger than the signal, you need to understand the bias to a precision 1 part in 7. In a psychological experiment, that’s a tall order.

    And, to repeat again, I’m not saying God can’t inspire a sensus divinitatis. He can, by definition. I’m just saying that we can also inspire it in ourselves with very high reliability, and with little conscious deliberation. Anyone who cares about the truth of this matter would want to know if they are sensing God or just thinking wishfully. But your answer to them is that in trying to eliminate their own wishful thinking from the equation, they would be testing God, and God would then refuse to appear. But that would mean that our experience would be exactly the same as if God didn’t exist. Wanna tell me how it them becomes rational to believe in God?

    BTW, if P(T|e) is much less than 1 for all your evidences, you can’t combine them all to conclude that P(T|all e) is high. In other words, when I knock out the leg of the chair you’re sitting on, you can’t say the chair is held up by all the legs working together when each of them has already been knocked out independently.

  57. Tom,

    I just said you seem to know enough about God to conclude that you can set his revelatory and epistemological rules for him. “Given what little we know,” you say, “God doesn’t have to hide.” What do you know about God that leads you to think that is true?

    Nothing! If I know nothing about God, I ought to treat a yes/no question about him as a 50/50 proposition. Whether God has to hide from us is a yes/no question. Consequently, I’m perfectly reasonable in saying that, from my data-poor epistemic perspective, God doesn’t have to hide.

    This should be pretty plain.

    I have a friend named Pat. That’s all I’m telling you. With what little you know, Pat need not be female. Do you have a problem with that inference?

    Suppose you said to me “With what little I know, Pat need not be female.”

    How stupid would I look if I responded “What do you know about Pat that leads you to think that is true?!!”

    I’d look pretty stupid because you’re not telling me that Pat has to be male. You’re merely expressing your lack of knowledge about Pat’s gender. You’re saying that, given what you know (i.e., not Pat’s gender), Pat could be male.

    It doesn’t matter that Pat is actually female. At some future time, given more information, you could discover that Pat does actually need to be female to be consistent with that new data.

    Similarly, there might be some actual reason why God has to hide from us. But why are you coming down on me for saying that God doesn’t have to hide given that we are unaware of reasons why God must necessarily hide?

  58. I disagree with the whole deus absconditus thingy as it is applied here. God existence is fully revealed in what has been made and it is only by an act of willful blindness that we fail to see the evidence which reveals His existence as a necessary being. The deus absconditus is only “hidden” in the sense that we cannot know God personally (as a person) through the effects which reveal his neccesity. His personality is only revealed to us through his word, written and incarnate.

    Many, many, many philosophers and prophets have concluded the neccesary existence of “some” divinity to which they ascribe contradictory attributes. Only one tradition has received direct communication. That direct communication conforms to the reality of the world in which we live, answering such questions as “Where do I come from?” “What am I?” “What went wrong?” “How do we fix things?” “Where are we going?”

    Former Zen Buddist monk interviewed about the nature of reality – great listen.
    http://www.theologynetwork.org/world-religions/table-talk-011–interview-with-an-ex-zen-buddhist.htm

    Particularly when he is asked about how much “faith” it takes to be Christian.

  59. Dave,

    God existence is fully revealed in what has been made and it is only by an act of willful blindness that we fail to see the evidence which reveals His existence as a necessary being.

    Necessary for what?

    We see a natural universe, most of which is explained by natural laws. However, no set of natural laws and conditions can explain itself. But no set of supernatural laws and conditions will explain itself either. There can never be an answer to “why is there something rather than nothing?” because the answer would be another “something” that needs the same kind of answer.

    Clearly, you don’t like the idea that the natural world exists without a cause. So you propose that there is a being that caused the universe, and you call that being “necessary” to indicate that this being is without a cause of its own. What’s the point? Instead of saying Y has no cause, you propose an X to cause Y and say X has no cause. And yet you know nothing about X, and consequently nothing new about Y. Why not cut out the middle man and call the physical world “necessary” in the same sense?

    So, I disagree that the natural world makes God obvious.

  60. doctor(logic),

    The question we’re facing, as you recall, is whether your epistemology is biased against awareness of the supernatural. Let’s keep that in mind.

    You have recently asked how we could distinguish a true experience of God from a false one. Christian Smith wrote a good piece in Books and Culture about this recently, unfortunately available to subscribers only. He took a nicely balanced look at both sides of the question. It is not one to sweep aside, as if Christians’ conviction of the sensus divinitatus is exempt from criticism or from careful review.

    But if it is not to be swept aside, then it is not to be swept aside, which is what you seem to do. You say that we know that some numinous experiences are false, and I agree. But there are many such experiences that cannot be explained in ordinary ways. Not widely reported here, but well known to those familiar with the case, is the Muslims in North Africa and the Middle East regularly experience visions of Jesus Christ instructing them to drop Islam and follow him. Dreams and visions of this sort are so common that among Muslim converts to Christianity (of which there are thousands daily), the conversation often begins, “Tell me about your vision or dream.” It’s hard to interpret that as anything other than what it appears to be on the surface: a genuine experience of Jesus Christ.

    So we have on the one hand knowledge that humans can experience false religious experiences. It seems to me you take it that this necessitates we interpret every religious experience as false. This answers the question of the hour. The question of the hour is not whether some or all religious experiences are genuine, it is whether your epistemic approach is biased. Which it is: for it will not admit that no person having a religious experience should ever interpreted it as an experience of God.

    ut your answer to them is that in trying to eliminate their own wishful thinking from the equation, they would be testing God, and God would then refuse to appear. But that would mean that our experience would be exactly the same as if God didn’t exist. Wanna tell me how it them becomes rational to believe in God?

    Oh, heavens no but you’re wrong on this. If someone has a religious experience I strongly encourage them to corroborate its truth by ordinary means like its accord with other knowledge. That’s why I can so easily discount Mormon religious experience: Mormonism overall is so obviously refuted.

    This is wrong and/or irrelevant, by the way:

    BTW, if P(T|e) is much less than 1 for all your evidences, you can’t combine them all to conclude that P(T|all e) is high. In other words, when I knock out the leg of the chair you’re sitting on, you can’t say the chair is held up by all the legs working together when each of them has already been knocked out independently.

    You’re not knocking out any legs. You’re saying at most, “that leg is not strong enough to hold up all your beliefs.” It depends of course on how near zero P(T|e) is in each case. You have for some reason assigned it a value of much less than one in all cases, which has some drastic effects on how you view the whole. I don’t know how you can assign it a value so near zero in the case of the origin of the universe, of the universe’s fine-tuning for life, or the origin of the first life. The evolution of species is at best an alternative possible explanation to theism, but I don’t see anything about it that entails that God be written out, even if Darwin was right as to the phenomenology of evolution. The same could be said of human experience of consciousness, meaning, value, and so on: you can propose a solution on evolutionary/naturalistic terms, but I don’t see how you can assign it a high probability.

    Except for this: you could do it on the basis of what you take to be background knowledge leading to prior probability assessments. Which is just what you told me I couldn’t do with theism. It’s a cumulative case approach.

    If you want to put it in Bayesian terms, try reading the paragraph you wrote to me about this, only using the term P(~T|e).

    Whether God has to hide from us is a yes/no question. Consequently, I’m perfectly reasonable in saying that, from my data-poor epistemic perspective, God doesn’t have to hide.

    Try this instead: try dealing not with some unknown quantity “God,” and deal with the God of Christianity. You’re not data-poor with respect to that God. See whether you can just wave your hand at this God and say, “Hey you up there! You don’t got no reason to hide, y’hear?”

    If you’re interested in hearing why he might not agree with your position or even with its premise, I could share some of what he has said about it.

    We see a natural universe, most of which is explained by natural laws. However, no set of natural laws and conditions can explain itself. But no set of supernatural laws and conditions will explain itself either. There can never be an answer to “why is there something rather than nothing?” because the answer would be another “something” that needs the same kind of answer.

    This is philosophically naive. It is conceptually possible that God is eternal and non-contingent; that there exists some transcendent being that it is the kind of thing that could be that way. Do you think it is conceptually possible that nature is eternal and non-contingent? It has nothing to do with “liking” the idea that the natural world exists without a cause. It has to do with whether it is conceptually possible. Is nature (with its laws of thermodynamics as one relevant consideration) the kind of thing that could have existed since eternity past? Is there anything we know about nature that gives us anything to think it could be uncaused or self-caused? Nothing.

  61. Just for laughs, I’m going to put this out for an informal vote. Among those of us who reject or at least doubt that the universe exists without a cause, how many hold that position because we “don’t like the idea”? (cf. doctor(logic)’s 8:42 am comment).

    You can count me as one for whom liking or disliking has nothing to do with it. How about the rest of you?

  62. Clearly, you don’t like the idea that the natural world exists without a cause.

    Hi DL

    Clearly you don’t like logic.

    My opinion has nothing to do with “like” or “dislike”. And it is not simply “my” opinion, there are, at this precise moment, hundreds, if not thousands, of cosmologists working on the question. The standard answers are not, and never have been, that the cosmos began to exist without a cause. The answers have been a) an eternal universe in which case matter and the laws which govern it take the place of God; or b) the universe had a beginning caused by a “multiverse”; or c) the universe had a beginning cause by divine fiat. In each case “logic” demands that anything which had a beginning requires a cause.

    The eternal universe has pretty much bit the dust (although I see a Chinese cosmologist claims to have developed a cosmology which would revitalize the concept) so we are left with the universe which had a beginning. If it had a beginning it requires a cause. If you don’t like the rational demands of logic I suggest you change your name.

  63. The irony behind DL’s emotive claim that the universe has no cause, i.e., that it’s existence is a hard fact and we just need to accept it, or in rigorous philosophical terms it’s existence is necessary, is that this very same idea was one of several that had to be cleansed from thinkers to make it possible for the MESs to have arisen in the first place (ref. Jaki & Duhem). DL has actually swallowed–hook, line, and sinker–an idea which prevented the MESs from having developed as a self-sustaining human endeavor in any culture or period other than High Medieval Europe. In this sense–hence the irony–DL, for all his scientistic blathering, is actually working against the MESs.

    (1) Why is the idea that the universe is necessary (hence non-contingent) destructive of the MESs? Because if, at the psychological level, one believes the universe has no cause, one will not find it important to understand the existence of the universe, i.e., at best one may study mechanism but not causality writ large. If an entire society believes this, then the MESs cannot arise: why study the universe and all it contains if the universe has no cause, i.e., what possible end does it serve to study the world around us other than for the proximate good of an immediate gain… like control and power? Moreover, just like for the Ancient Greeks, the question “why is there something rather than nothing? is deemed meaningless and not even permitted to be asked. Surely one can see that such a belief is unscientific, pseudo-philosophical, and hence intellectually bankrupt.

    (2) So, DL is wrong about the lack of a cause for the existence of the universe, and is woefully ignorant of the historical irony to which he so tenaciously clings (because he LIKES it that way): we know HOW (in what way) DL is wrong, and so we can avoid Bulverism when we now address WHY (what animates the error) DL is wrong. First, DL must cling to his view because he a priori believes atheism to be true. Second (and we’ve covered this before), DL imposes an illicit pseudo-philosophical interpretation upon the mathematical formalisms of quantum mechanics: he believes those formalisms actualize reality–despite the fact that they are abstractions from reality that merely describe reality in a limited way.

    We are, currently, limited to what we can know about quantum mechanical reality and so we are forced to employ statistically-based mathematical formalisms to describe that reality. But what those formalisms tell us is not only what we do know within a range of possibilities, but even more importantly what we don’t know, i.e., there are epistemic limits currently unassailable. Yet, even if we can never know, this in no way supports the view that underlies DL’s error: namely, that limitations on our knowledge (epistemic limits) somehow impose ontological status upon reality.

    More concretely, just because we are currently forced to rely on statistically-based mathematical formalisms doesn’t mean the quantum mechanical entities themselves are random by their very nature–that’s both a category error and a non sequitur. A chance event is two or more intersecting lines of causality–we may not yet know those causes, but that doesn’t support the conclusion that there are no causes.

    That’s what’s largely animating DL’s personal opinion that the universe was not caused: if causality can be eliminated at the quantum mechanical level, it’s only a small step to abandoning it whenever convenient… Iike for the universe. For DL that rejection of the universe serves an a priori goal: the existence of the First Uncaused Cause is not needed.

    Imagine that: misinterpreting the epistemic efficacy of highly-abstract statistically-based quantum mechanical mathematical formalisms in the vain attempt to eliminate causality in order to support an a priori emotional need of atheism.

    You’ll notice, admittedly, DL didn’t state this in the current string because here he’s more facile about it (in fact, DL did voice what I noted in my numbered point (2) above under separate cover): he just wants us to accept without question (as a brute fact) that the universe has no cause. In other words, he wants us to stop thinking about it or questioning and just accept it as one of his axioms. He want’s us to become like him: closeded-minded to posing difficult questions–especially if such questions are inaccessible to the MESs.

  64. David Berlinski talked about his book The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. The book argues that science has never been able to prove the nonexistence of a God or explain the start of the universe. Following his prepared remarks he answered questions from members of the audience.

    http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/204696-1

  65. doctor(logic), maybe you would consider trying this on for size: Clearly, you don’t like the idea that the natural world exists with a cause.

    The default position in science (as you know) and in all of life is that phenomena have causes. You’ve made quite an exception here. Why? What don’t you like about the universe having a cause?

    (P.S. I almost hesitate to post this, because I don’t want to derail you from responding to the substantive comments recently made. I thought this inconsistency of yours worth pointing out, but it’s more for you to think about than it is for all of us to discuss.)

  66. Tom:

    Actually, it’s not just the universe that’s uncaused for DL: even that, if considered alone, would be difficult for him to swallow. As I’ve noted, he needs a “precursor” to “get the ball rolling”: it’s his illicit interpretations of quantum mechanical formalisms (imposing ontological randomness from epistemic limitations), which “permit” him to jettison the Principle of Sufficient Reason, from which he springboards to denying a cause to the universe.

    DL tries to “answer” your question in the first paragraph of comment 66, but in a way that makes the ignorance of Dawkins look good. The “someTHING” appeal, after all the electrons spilled in this blog alone, sets a new standard for ignorance. It’s not only that he’s intellectually unequipped to address the question (by his own rules of the game), he refuses to by hand-waving it away.

  67. DL

    There can never be an answer to “why is there something rather than nothing?” because the answer would be another “something” that needs the same kind of answer.

    Not if the “another something” is a different thing. A thing unlike the something it created. That would satisfy all the requirements. If that thing is unlike the created thing, would you expect to gain knowledge about it the same way? No, of course not. But that is exactly what your worldview requires.

    Your worldview requires that you use scientism for everything. You wouldn’t use a hammer for everthing, would you? The theist next to you says, “try dropping the scientism because that only works for the created thing” and you dismiss it as nonsense because you like and prefer hammers. You just know that scientism works for everything.

    Which is the reason why you can never see the Holy Thing that is unlike the created thing.

  68. Good point. The final answer to why there is something rather than nothing must be either that something is necessary or that something is contingent. But a contingent something in that context is nonsense, for upon what would it be contingent? It’s just pushing the question back to an infinite regress. But if there is a necessary something, then the answer to your question is, “because it is necessary that there be something.” But this something could hardly be of the same order as the physical world, for the physical world is in every sense contingent, to the full extent of our scientific knowledge and also our philosophy.

    Aquinas and others since him have identified that necessary something as pure Being; that which is, and is not created.

    Why is it necessary that God be? Before you identify that as the same question with a different predicate, recognize how different the predicate is. The question is not why it is necessary that there exist some ultimate that partakes of being. Rather it is that Being must be. It cannot be physical, for the physical is that which partakes in being. In order for contingent events to follow out of Being, it is necessary that this Being not be some abstract, but that it be able to stand in causal relationships, and to create that with which in stands in a causal relationship. Obviously we are speaking of God. (That’s a brief outline, obviously;More here.)

    Anyway, this could go ’round the mulberry bush, I want to return to the question. You claim that Christian epistemology is biased, doctor(logic). I think we’ve demonstrated that yours is at least as biased. What say you of that now?

  69. (P.S. I [Tom] almost hesitate to post this, because I don’t want to derail you [DL] from responding to the substantive comments recently made. I thought this inconsistency of yours worth pointing out, but it’s more for you to think about than it is for all of us to discuss.)

    Did I mention DL’s evasiveness?

  70. Tom,

    Sorry for the delay. I’m super busy at work, and only have a few hours free each week. I know you guys miss me. 😉

    But if it is not to be swept aside, then it is not to be swept aside, which is what you seem to do. You say that we know that some numinous experiences are false, and I agree. But there are many such experiences that cannot be explained in ordinary ways.

    First of all, there’s a huge leap from something being unexplained to God being the explanation.

    For example, Uri Geller’s trick was initially unexplained. If we are to use your mode of inference, we ought to have believed he had magical powers. Eventually, debunkers showed that he was bending spoons with physics, and that his telekinesis was a matter of his blowing on book pages to make them move.

    You have to admit that when it comes to overturning vast mountains of physical experience, you need controlled experiments. Otherwise, there are plenty of frauds ready to pull the wool over your eyes (and, sometimes, their own eyes) for love or money.

    Dreams and visions of this sort are so common that among Muslim converts to Christianity (of which there are thousands daily), the conversation often begins, “Tell me about your vision or dream.” It’s hard to interpret that as anything other than what it appears to be on the surface: a genuine experience of Jesus Christ.

    One has to be very gullible to read anything into this story but bias. It’s the old ghost story routine.

    If people who had never communicated with each other we’re independently coming up with shared, verifiable information under controlled conditions, you would have an excellent case. But this story is broken on just about every level.

    Each vision of Jesus is probably inspired by another. It’s not as if these people have never heard of Jesus. They have heard of Jesus from their friends. These people have the means, motive and opportunity to claim visions. Being a visionary brings status among their peers. Moreover, none of the claims are verifiable. While it might be possible to convince ourselves that the person really believes what they are saying, there’s no reason to believe that what they are saying isn’t just copied from someone else’s fantasy.

    I’m sure I’ve told you this story before. When I was a kid, UFO’s were all the rage. Much of this was due to the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I found UFOs and contact with aliens to be an inspiring idea. I envied the leading characters in that film. I so much wanted to see a UFO that, one evening, I interpreted a mundane experience as a UFO sighting. I proceeded to tell all my friends about my UFO sighting. Some were interested, most were not. I eventually gave up on the story, and faced up to the fact that I had fallen for the ghost story syndrome, but things might have been different had I fallen in with a group of ufologists.

    Alien spacecraft sightings didn’t appear until the idea was spread in popular culture. Wishful thinking and a desire to be part of the elite are powerful motivations for convincing oneself that one has seen something paranormal. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and predict the stories from Africa are being reported by Christian missionaries as “too powerful to be dismissed,” or something like that.

  71. Tom,

    So we have on the one hand knowledge that humans can experience false religious experiences. It seems to me you take it that this necessitates we interpret every religious experience as false.

    No, it’s not a matter of necessity. I’m saying that there’s a lot of noise. I’m asking you for the kind of skepticism you would have in the face of a Uri Geller. Until Geller came along, I had not heard of spoon bending. There are all sorts of unique facts about Geller and his claims that might distinguish him from his predecessors. But he still claims to violate physics with his will. Something that has never been seen before. Many people found Geller to be credible. According to their gut, Geller’s fans judged his presentations to be credible. But gut is rubbish in these cases. Give me a controlled test. If you had Geller’s powers, wouldn’t you welcome a controlled test?

    Back to your claim. I am not saying that because there are N (where N is extremely large) cases of fraud and self-delusion out there that every paranormal claim must be false. I’m saying that paranormal claims face an immediate 1/N hurdle that needs to be overcome before we look at the particulars. The good news for people with paranormal powers is that 1/N is easy to overcome, even if N is in the millions or billions. Most instrumentation is reliable to 1 part in 1000 or better. With repetition and with redundant instrumentation, we can overcome 1/N even for very large N. But to do this, you need control. You can’t do it with gut or flimsy eyewitness reports.

    Oh, heavens no but you’re wrong on this. If someone has a religious experience I strongly encourage them to corroborate its truth by ordinary means like its accord with other knowledge. That’s why I can so easily discount Mormon religious experience: Mormonism overall is so obviously refuted.

    Christianity is obviously refuted. It involves a resurrection. A resurrection is a 1/N where N is much greater than a billion. As evidence, you offer the testimony of the founders of your religion. It’s no contest.

  72. Tom,

    It depends of course on how near zero P(T|e) is in each case. You have for some reason assigned it a value of much less than one in all cases, which has some drastic effects on how you view the whole.

    What are you talking about? I assigned priors of 0.5. How is that near zero?

    I don’t know how you can assign it a value so near zero in the case of the origin of the universe, of the universe’s fine-tuning for life, or the origin of the first life.

    Whenever you look at a set of present facts and ignore the historical and causal links between them (perhaps because those links are unknown), you’ll erroneously conclude that there is a very low probability of finding just that permutation of facts.

    For example, there are countless possible surnames any person could have. Yet everyone in your house has the same surname, and each of those surnames is less than 500 characters long. What are the odds?

    A priori, the odds are infinitesimal. Your names have all been fine-tuned in some way! Of course, we know that surnames are inherited, as is abode, so there’s a simple causal link that renders the super-improbable into something that we expect to see.

    Now, from our perspective, we see the parameters of the universe as independent variables. However, we are also ignorant of the physics behind those apparently independent parameters. Once we know the physics, the fine-tuning might go away.

    However, the problem is that you don’t offer a solution. Your solution is to propose that there is a black box that serves to generate the fine-tuned parameters. You don’t know what is in the black box, but you know that whatever is in there makes it possible for us to observe our universe as it actually is.

    Well, I can do exactly the same thing. I can say that I have a theory of everything in my black box. I know no details of this theory except that it must, as a constraint, predict what we currently observe. How do I know that my theory of everything predicts what we see as a constraint and not as a result of knowledge? Because it fails to predict the data in advance. Whatever I data I get tomorrow, my theory is consistent with that data by definition, not because of a prediction.

    This is exactly what you are doing with God. Your theory is that there is a black box (God) that outputs the world we see as a constraint. And the reason we know it is a constraint is that you never make any predictions beyond known physics. Worse, you insist that we cannot make predictions in principle, all but guaranteeing that your “theory” remains nothing but a placeholder for an explanation. If you knew the mind of God to the point that you knew he would, say, save a baby from a burning building, then you would have a proper theory. But you can’t explain anything at all. Everything that happens is just a constraint.

    For this reason, you can’t explain fine-tuning of physical constants. God didn’t need to make physics at all, let alone physical constants.

  73. Tom,

    Except for this: you could do it on the basis of what you take to be background knowledge leading to prior probability assessments. Which is just what you told me I couldn’t do with theism. It’s a cumulative case approach.

    I can cite Bayesian inferences that have strong inferential power. You can’t. That’s the difference. It’s not a question of priors, but of specifics.

    If you want to put it in Bayesian terms, try reading the paragraph you wrote to me about this, only using the term P(~T|e).

    I don’t think you understand the point of the Bayesian inference. The point of Bayesian inference is to update confidence based on past experience. If you have an event where the signal to noise is too low to make an inference, then your experience isn’t going to drastically alter your beliefs.

    P(~T|e) = P(e|~T) P(~T) / (P(e|~T) P(~T) + P(e|T) P(T))

    We know for a fact that humans make up stories. P(e|~T) equals 1. Make the priors 50%, and they drop out. P(e|T) is 0.5 because God may or may not inspire a sensus. In fact it’s probably a lot less than 0.5 because inspiring sensus is just one of countless ways he could communicate, but leave it at 0.5. If we were initially equally torn between T and ~T, after applying our knowledge of psychology, we will be 66% confident in ~T.

    sensus divinitatis is not a good test of theism. Don’t you see? The false positive rate is extremely high. You’re looking for a needle in a haystack. You can do it, but only with really good statistics.

    If you’re interested in hearing why he might not agree with your position or even with its premise, I could share some of what he has said about it.

    Circular logic.

    It is conceptually possible that God is eternal and non-contingent; that there exists some transcendent being that it is the kind of thing that could be that way. Do you think it is conceptually possible that nature is eternal and non-contingent?

    Of course. The way you use the term contingent is in the sense of “it could not have been any other way.” Suppose that I drop two masses on the Moon, and they hit the ground at the same time. We say this is contingent because we can imagine that there might be other factors or forces that might interfere. Our experiment is perfectly controlled, and we might be unaware of a gravity wave approaching from space. Or maybe the laws of physics are such that Einstein is just an approximation.

    However, if physicalism is true, then the contingency in the experiment is epistemological. If the universe as some initial conditions and fixed laws, then everything we see necessarily follows from the initial conditions and the laws.

    Why doesn’t God have a prior cause? Just declaring him not to need one is arbitrary, and if I can declare God not to have a cause, then I can declare the first event in the universe to not have a cause. Just declaring God to be transcendent does no work. It just says that God is not like events inside the spacetime continuum. But the Big Bang is not like events inside the spacetime continuum either, because it is an event at the edge (on the boundary) of the spacetime continuum, and it doesn’t have to obey the same rules as events inside.

  74. Huh?

    For example, Uri Geller’s trick was initially unexplained. If we are to use your mode of inference, we ought to have believed he had magical powers. Eventually, debunkers showed that he was bending spoons with physics, and that his telekinesis was a matter of his blowing on book pages to make them move.

    You have to admit that when it comes to overturning vast mountains of physical experience, you need controlled experiments. Otherwise, there are plenty of frauds ready to pull the wool over your eyes (and, sometimes, their own eyes) for love or money.

    1. Do you think an experience of God is a “trick” that has gone unexamined for all these thousands of years? Wrong.
    2. Vast mountains of physical evidence for what? There is no physical evidence to overturn with respect to one’s experiencing God internally. None.

    One has to be very gullible to read anything into this story but bias. It’s the old ghost story routine.

    Can you honestly, with a straight face, tell me that the evidence this provides can represent nothing whatsoever except for the power of suggestion—and then say that your view is not biased? “Each vision of Jesus is probably inspired by another,” you say. Fact is, that’s not true. But you don’t need to know that as a fact. All you need to see is that your interpretation of it is based on no knowledge of the phenomena. It’s based on “probably,” not on evidence. Based on “probably” and not on evidence, you lunge to an interpretation that supports your pre-determined conclusion. But you’re not biased? doctor(logic), I’ve been calling on you for days now and I call on you again: take a close look at yourself! You’re biased. You’re blind to it. Open your eyes!

    You assume I’m not skeptical of claims of religious experiences. Wrong. (Again.) When I first heard these reports of Muslims’ visions, I said to myself, that’s interesting, I wonder if it’s true. So I started asking people who had reason to know. I heard it from one person who actually experienced visions prior to converting from Islam. I did the work. And you sit in your desk and tell me I didn’t. It’s the only way you can deny my conclusions and support your predetermined position, isn’t it? DON’T YOU SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING? YOU’RE COMMITTING YOUR OWN CONFIRMATION BIAS!

    Christianity is obviously refuted. It involves a resurrection. A resurrection is a 1/N where N is much greater than a billion. As evidence, you offer the testimony of the founders of your religion. It’s no contest.

    Guess what, doctor(logic). The “founders of my religion” knew that resurrections were not normal occurrences. Its improbability only counts against naturalistic explanations, not against supernatural, theologically integrated (therefore not ad hod) explanations. Also not ad hoc: the founders of Christianity happen to be people who knew and experienced Jesus’ resurrection. Well, how surprising is that? What did you want, a whole bunch of people saying “We saw Jesus fully alive in glory after he was dead, and we’re here to tell you he was always a fraud”? Only a strong bias would expect something so ridiculous.

    Mormonism is refuted because of the large number of provably wrong assertions it makes, especially with respect to archeology and to the parentage of Native American populations. The Bible, in contrast, stands supported by archeology so completely that it is used as a sourcebook to guide archeological research.

    You asked,

    What are you talking about? I assigned priors of 0.5. How is that near zero?

    I guess you were gone too long and forgot what you wrote. But you might have taken the time to read what you thought you were refuting just now. Here’s the full context from which you took the partial quote you were responding to when you asked me that question.

    This is wrong and/or irrelevant, by the way:

    BTW, if P(T|e) is much less than 1 for all your evidences, you can’t combine them all to conclude that P(T|all e) is high. In other words, when I knock out the leg of the chair you’re sitting on, you can’t say the chair is held up by all the legs working together when each of them has already been knocked out independently.

    You’re not knocking out any legs. You’re saying at most, “that leg is not strong enough to hold up all your beliefs.” It depends of course on how near zero P(T|e) is in each case.

    I was responding, in other words, to your claim that you were “knock[ing] out the leg of the chair.” You may have said P(T|e) was 0.5 earlier, but in this paragraph you were claiming something much stronger than that.

    You say,

    Now, from our perspective, we see the parameters of the universe as independent variables. However, we are also ignorant of the physics behind those apparently independent parameters. Once we know the physics, the fine-tuning might go away.

    Really? How so? Will some non-fine-tuned equation explain fine-tuning? If you ask me (or if you ask David Heddle, physicist at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator, and associate professor of physics at Christopher Newport University), if there is some physical necessity behind observed fine-tuning, that physical necessity must be mighty powerfully fine-tuned. Good luck escaping fine-tuning that way.

    However, the problem is that you don’t offer a solution. Your solution is to propose that there is a black box that serves to generate the fine-tuned parameters. You don’t know what is in the black box, but you know that whatever is in there makes it possible for us to observe our universe as it actually is.

    No. No. No, and again no. What is this “black box” idiocy? God is not a black box hypothesis conjured up to explain fine-tuning. God is known in many ways, and fine-tuning is one of the ways that support our confidence in the knowledge of God. It’s also one of the ways we can logically and reasonably find fault with other explanations of the reality in which we live.

    For this reason, you can’t explain fine-tuning of physical constants. God didn’t need to make physics at all, let alone physical constants.

    Well, good for you understanding something about this God you don’t believe in and that you think is a block box about which nothing can be understood. Small contradiction there, but you evaded it last time I brought it up, so I have little hope of getting further with you on it this time.

    My uncle once told me as we were picking strawberries in his garden, “God could have made a better berry than the strawberry. But he didn’t!” Now, that was intended obviously more as his opinion on strawberries than on the ontological variances of edible fruits in God’s kingdom. But he had a good point: God is free to do what he does. Your insistence on God being predictable in order to be known is contrary to all good sense. We’ve been through that recently, but in your bias you cannot see it.

    This is an incredibly classic version of it in action:

    We know for a fact that humans make up stories. P(e|~T) equals 1.

    There you have it. No matter what evidence is adduced, whether archeological, testimonial, philosophical, historical, the probability of that evidence existing given there is no God is 1. Is that unbiased?

    You say that sensus divinitatus is not a good test of theism. You are so human-centered you will never see what I’ve said a dozen times already in this thread. The implication of what you’re saying is that God, if he exists, cannot overcome human limitations. Guess what: the kind of God we’re talking about here can overcome human limitations. You haven’t begun to address that. It’s probably not very convenient for you even to see it, given your bias.

    You accuse me of circular logic without my even having made an assertion. Aren’t you embarrassed? Don’t you see how illogical you’re being? In the passage I wrote, which you thought you were refuting, I offered to explain a certain position with respect to the God of Christianity. It’s not circular, my friend, for me to explain my position in terms of my position. It’s not circular for me to say (as I did) that your attempted refutation of my position does not take into account the particulars of my position. OPEN YOUR EYES!

    Why doesn’t God have a prior cause? Wrong question. We know that there must be some entity that has no prior cause, on pain of impossible infinite regress. The question is whether God is the kind of being who could conceivably fit the description of having no prior cause, and of course also whether the Big Bang is the kind of event that could happen uncaused or self-caused. You say the Big Bang doesn’t have to obey the same rules as events inside, which is true. Are you satisfied with that? Does it feel better to you than acknowledging God? On this, you have nothing to go on. No evidence, no logic, no laws, no reality, no observation. But you lean on it.

    And you accuse me of bias. Astonishing. Wake up.

  75. Every problem doesn’t always require a hammer to fix it. They key is knowing what tool to use. Put down the hammer of scientism, DL. Please.

    If you only knew how ridiculous it looks when you try to use it on problems that can’t be answered this way, nobody would have to ask you to put it down. You’d do it willingly.

    The person who refuses to loosen their tight, white-knuckled grip on a tool that CAN’T solve the problem – that person has a bias problem.

  76. DL,
    What is the rational conclusion, supernatural or natural, to the reality of statistically repeatable non-physical causes?

    If it could be either one, then what do you propose next that will allow us to get to the answer?

  77. Tom,

    If you ask me (or if you ask David Heddle, physicist at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator, and associate professor of physics at Christopher Newport University), if there is some physical necessity behind observed fine-tuning, that physical necessity must be mighty powerfully fine-tuned. Good luck escaping fine-tuning that way.

    As you may recall, I have a degree in high energy theory. When physicists refer to fine-tuning they refer to the fact that the physical constants have such widely varying values. That problem may be illusory, if only we knew why the apparent differences weren’t just random values.

    You say that physics may ultimately be fine-tuned, and that’s quite possible. But your God is far more fine-tuned. We’ve been over this a zillion times already, but you don’t seem to appreciate the issue at all. In the general sense of the term, fine-tuning means that things are a certain way, but we could imagine many more ways they might have been. God does not solve this problem because God is even more fine-tuned.

    It’s like this. Based on observations, I find that my physical theory, T, fits the data. You say, but why T?

    I cannot say why T, and there are countless other T’s that I could imagine. But I can at least say that T predicts the observations and future observations (because it was fine-tuned to do so).

    In your case, your theory is G, God. If I ask why G? Why did God make a universe that can be described by T, you have no answer. There are countless possible universes God could have made, so G is fine-tuned just like T. And you’re in worse shape because G can’t predict anything at all. The only predictions you get are from T, not G. You took the sum of human experience to fine-tune your G, and you still can’t tell me anything about tomorrow.

    G is trivial, and will always be. It isn’t a real theory at all. It refers to the mind of God, and you don’t know enough about the mind of God to predict anything at all.

  78. Tom,

    You assume I’m not skeptical of claims of religious experiences. Wrong. (Again.) When I first heard these reports of Muslims’ visions, I said to myself, that’s interesting, I wonder if it’s true. So I started asking people who had reason to know. I heard it from one person who actually experienced visions prior to converting from Islam. I did the work.

    You sought out the person who was alleged to have had visions, and he told you that the he had indeed had visions? That’s doing the work?!!!

    I fail to recall saying that the person experiencing the visions was mythical. He can be as real as you and me, and that doesn’t solve your problem. The problem is that people will report things that are not true. They want to believe something, and so they’ll report their daydreams as truths, if it’s necessary for them to believe. And if you believe and have visions of your own, that only makes him feel better.

    You have zero evidence that this person did not report his fantasies as truths. You also have zero evidence that this person was isolated from suggestion apart from his own word (if he even gave that assurance).

    Look, I’ve heard that there are people who go to fairy conventions and take classes on how to see fairies. Many of them see or have seen fairies. Given what we know about human psychology, is this good evidence for fairies?

    Suppose I “do the work” and seek out a person who was alleged to have seen a fairy. This person confirms that the stories of his vision were true. Should I now take this as strong evidence that fairies exist?

    Better question: is it more likely that this person’s vision was true and fairies exist, or is it more likely that he’s deluding himself?

  79. Tom,

    Well, good for you understanding something about this God you don’t believe in and that you think is a block box about which nothing can be understood. Small contradiction there, but you evaded it last time I brought it up, so I have little hope of getting further with you on it this time.

    I claimed that God could do more than physics. That he wasn’t limited to physics. How does acknowledgment of broader possibilities mean I understand God better? Don’t I understand him less?

    Indeed, it seems the reverse is true. You are claiming to know God really well by ignoring all the things a god could and might have done.

    You’re claiming fine-tuning is a problem for physics, but not God. It’s a double standard.

    You say that sensus divinitatus is not a good test of theism. You are so human-centered you will never see what I’ve said a dozen times already in this thread. The implication of what you’re saying is that God, if he exists, cannot overcome human limitations.

    What do you mean by \overcome\ in this context?

    Humans will naturally report things that did not happen when there’s a big enough emotional draw, and when they don’t take precautions to avoid self-delusion. This is the human limitation. It means that there will often appear to be a signal even when there isn’t one.

    If God exists, he can certainly inspire a vision in a person, and he can certainly appeal to the emotional draw of eternal life, fellowship with other believers, etc. But how does this get around the \limitation\?

    P(e|~T) = 1, hence fairies, visions of other gods, idols, UFO’s etc.

    How does God change Bayes Theorem for rational humans?

    If I do a rain dance for the rain god, and after several days, rain comes, does this prove that the rain god exists? Now, the rain god can get around human limitations, but how does this help? The rain would have come anyway, as far as we know. If the rain god was responsible for the rain on this occasion, how does that get around my epistemological limitations?

  80. Tom,

    We know for a fact that humans make up stories. P(e|~T) equals 1.

    There you have it. No matter what evidence is adduced, whether archeological, testimonial, philosophical, historical, the probability of that evidence existing given there is no God is 1. Is that unbiased?

    I thought you agreed that people can bring themselves to things that aren’t true, as in the case of ghost hunters, cults, fairies, etc? If they can do this then
    P(people having visions of the paranormal|~god inspiring those visions) = 1

    What am I missing?

    You say the Big Bang doesn’t have to obey the same rules as events inside, which is true. Are you satisfied with that? Does it feel better to you than acknowledging God?

    Ooh! A glimmer of hope.

    I’m satisfied that the Big Bang model actually predicts something. God predicts nothing at all, and represents the man’s arrogant predilection for seeing the universe in his own image.

    Could the Big Bang be only part of the story? Sure. Does it bother me one way or the other? Nope. For all I know, there is an infinite regress of explanations. Doesn’t really matter to me. Could there be a god? Could we be living in a simulation? Sure. But I see no evidence to suggest that either of these is more true than an infinite regress of explanations or a simple Big Bang model.

    What does feeling have to do with it?

  81. doctor(logic),

    Let us keep the question before us. You say that my position is plagued with bias, whereas yours is maximally free of epistemological bias. I don’t want to lose sight of the purpose of this discussion.

    I’m aware of your degree in physics.
    You say,

    You say that physics may ultimately be fine-tuned, and that’s quite possible. But your God is far more fine-tuned. We’ve been over this a zillion times already, but you don’t seem to appreciate the issue at all. In the general sense of the term, fine-tuning means that things are a certain way, but we could imagine many more ways they might have been. God does not solve this problem because God is even more fine-tuned.

    What is the problem of God being fine-tuned? I don’t see it. I don’t even know what it means for God to be fine-tuned. Fine-tuned for what, in what circumstances? We have a conception of God that, in general terms, says he is pure being, knowledge, wisdom, creativity, power, love, holiness, etc., and has been that way eternally. There is no internal inconsistency there, no contradiction, so the only conceivable problem to it is “where did God come from?” That problem has an answer: God is necessary, and did not come from anything.

    Naturalism has a conception of the universe that says it came to be a finite time ago out of unknown causes, and for unknown reasons it has come to be hospitable to life. It looks suspiciously like there was external causation involved in its having that fittedness for life, for the universe itself could not credibly be thought to have monkeyed with its own parameters. It also looks like there was billions of years’ foresight involved in that fittedness, but naturalism says foresight does not exist in nature. So we have two internal contradictions here. Further, it is difficult to see how the universe could have existed from eternity past, for various philosophical and scientific reasons (the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the impossibility of traversing an actual infinite).

    So your to quoque falls far short, the problems are not comparable. (See also here. It’s not as if we haven’t already dealt with this. Or make that a singular first-person instead; you didn’t respond to it.)

    I find that my physical theory, T, fits the data. You say, but why T?

    There is no physical theory for fine-tuning.

    If I ask why G? Why did God make a universe that can be described by T, you have no answer.

    He did it based on his loving personal choice. That’s an answer.

    G is trivial, and will always be. It isn’t a real theory at all. It refers to the mind of God, and you don’t know enough about the mind of God to predict anything at all.

    Your insistence that knowledge always entails prediction is trivial, and it is biased toward the natural. You’re still guilty on that count. See also above about black box idiocy.

    You sought out the person who was alleged to have had visions, and he told you that the he had indeed had visions? That’s doing the work?!!!

    You discount it all without even bothering to find out what visions people have had? That’s not biased?!!! (It was more than one person by the way; there are many reports of this nature, and I’ve checked out many.)

    You have zero evidence that this person did not report his fantasies as truths.

    What’s your *blinking* evidence for my not having evidence? Have you examined my evidence? Do you know the reports, how they have been delivered, how they have been tested? Look, for present purposes, I don’t even need to deliver that information to you. Your quick and absolute (“zero evidence,” you say) dismissal without asking any further questions is prima facie evidence of your bias!

    What do you mean by \overcome\ in this context?

    See here, here, here, here, and here, and please refrain from asking questions that have been answered so often before.

    I thought you agreed that people can bring themselves to things that aren’t true, as in the case of ghost hunters, cults, fairies, etc? If they can do this then
    P(people having visions of the paranormal|~god inspiring those visions) = 1

    What am I missing?

    You’re missing the fact that your epistemology is incompetent to see anything but the natural. Therefore your claim that your approach is unbiased falls flat on its nose.

    I’m satisfied that the Big Bang model actually predicts something. God predicts nothing at all, and represents the man’s arrogant predilection for seeing the universe in his own image.

    Wow.

  82. As you may recall, I have a degree in high energy theory. When physicists refer to fine-tuning they refer to the fact that the physical constants have such widely varying values. That problem may be illusory, if only we knew why the apparent differences weren’t just random values.

    It is often said that “religion” is a “science stopper” – that religious people don’t question “why” something is as it is, they just say “goddidit” and carry on. I always thought this a particularly specious argument and, given its demonstrable falsity, wondered why so many naturalists use it.

    Then the light went on, naturalists use this argument to deflect attention from their own “science stopping” beliefs; The tendency of the naturalist is, instead of saying “goddidit”, to attribute inexplicable phenomena to “random values” or imagined yet unobserved forces (dark matter/energy).

    “The possibility of life as we know it depends on the values of a few basic physical constants and it, in some respects, remarkably sensitive to their numerical values. Nature does exhibit remarkable coincidences.” Martin J. Rees, Cambridge University Professor

    “The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural ‘constants’ were off even slightly.” Paul Davies, Theoretical Physics, Adelaide University.

    “A common sense interpretation of the data is that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with Chemistry and biology.” Sir Fred Hoyle, Cosmologist

    “The thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency – or rather Agency – must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled across scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?” George Greenstein, Astronomer.

    As for science and prediction… consider the following.

    “The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Bible as a whole.” Arno A. Penzias, Nobel Laureate

  83. Tom,

    We have a conception of God that, in general terms, says he is pure being, knowledge, wisdom, creativity, power, love, holiness, etc., and has been that way eternally.

    Are you saying that these attributes necessarily result in exactly the universe we see with the physical constants we see, the bodies we have, the color of our skin, the kind of biology we have, etc?

    If you answer No, then your God theory is massively underdetermined just like a physical theory, and you have a fine-tuning problem. Why did God choose to make the universe and us the way we are instead of the countless ways we are not. Why make us at all?

    If you say “because” then I can say “because” about a physical theory. If you say it’s because THE God is the type of God who wants us to be the way we are, then I can say that THE Theory is the type of Theory that causes us to be the way we are.

    Do angels have biology? Do they need a physical universe? Can they interact with our universe?

    If so, then physicality is optional as far as God is concerned.

    On the other hand, if you want to say that things are necessarily exactly the way they are based on the vague attributes you started from, then you have some explaining to do. What is it about, say, holiness (whatever that means) that forces God to make me with an appendix?

  84. Tom,

    With regard to my question, I went back and looked at all your links. They all basically say the following:

    You’re saying there’s no way for a human to distinguish that from other internal experiences. But in saying that you’re also saying there is no God who can communicate to humans through internal experience; that if there is a God, maybe he can create the universe and all language and all communication; but he can’t do that.

    What you have written above supposedly contradicts what I am saying, but I still don’t know what you mean.

    When you say God can communicate with us through internal experience, I completely agree. He could make you see visions, dreams, hear voices, etc. Trivial stuff for the master of the universe.

    The problem is not that he is incapable of causing internal experiences, but that we would have those experiences whether he was communicating with us or not. So how are we supposed to tell the signal from the noise?

    Obviously, the people who claim their visions are real, whether they be of Jesus or fairies, have come to believe that their visions are communications of some kind. I assume you don’t mean that the mere gut belief in those visions is an indication of communication. If that is what you meant, then the fairies are communicating, too.

    So, given that people have a tendency to have visions, what is a rational person to do when God sends him a message? Must a person believe all his visions? Must I believe your visions if you sincerely believe in them?

  85. Tom,

    I thought you agreed that people can bring themselves to things that aren’t true, as in the case of ghost hunters, cults, fairies, etc? If they can do this then
    P(people having visions of the paranormal|~god inspiring those visions) = 1

    What am I missing?

    You’re missing the fact that your epistemology is incompetent to see anything but the natural. Therefore your claim that your approach is unbiased falls flat on its nose.

    Natural or unnatural, don’t you see the dilemma? Which visions am I to believe are real? Yours? The fairy watcher’s? All of you? Only my own visions? Visions of people whose premises I agree with? Is it impossible for a person to be mistaken about their visions? What are you trying to say?

    No, no. Tell me, what is your epistemology? If I’m so biased, and you’re not, then please go ahead and tell me how a person should arrive at beliefs. I’ve got statistics on my side. What do you have? A better gut than me? If that’s the case, why are you arguing with me? I’m just physically incompetent at epistemology, and you shouting at me isn’t going to give me any hints.

  86. doctor(logic),

    Are you saying that these attributes necessarily result in exactly the universe we see with the physical constants we see, the bodies we have, the color of our skin, the kind of biology we have, etc?

    If you answer No, then your God theory is massively underdetermined just like a physical theory, and you have a fine-tuning problem. Why did God choose to make the universe and us the way we are instead of the countless ways we are not. Why make us at all?

    Could you do me a favor and show me how God’s choosing what he chooses is even slightly similar to the cosmological fine-tuning problem? God is free. He didn’t have to make us just the way we are, and it’s no hit upon theology to say so. Your objection here is so far from relevant to the doctrine of God, it could only be explained by your being blinded by your scientism.

    If you say “because” then I can say “because” about a physical theory. If you say it’s because THE God is the type of God who wants us to be the way we are, then I can say that THE Theory is the type of Theory that causes us to be the way we are.

    No, you can’t. You have to have present some credible way of thinking that THE theory ought to be taken as the kind of thing that could be that kind of thing. To present God as free, eternal, necessary, and creative is by no means ad hoc. To present a physical theory as creative and having the foresight to produce a universe fit for us is to present something very different from what all other physical theories are.

    Frankly it stuns me that you can see this as a tit-for-tat. “My dad can beat up your dad,” and “my physical theory, if it’s true, could do anything your God could do, if God is true.” That’s terribly divorced from reality.

    The problem is not that he is incapable of causing internal experiences, but that we would have those experiences whether he was communicating with us or not. So how are we supposed to tell the signal from the noise?

    That’s a good question, which I’m actually addressing in a blog post I interrupted writing in order to answer you here. But it’s irrelevant to the current question, which is whether your epistemology is biased. Your epistemology takes it as always and in principle impossible for God to solve that problem in human circumstances. It says, “There cannot be a God who can be known through internal experience.” That goes far beyond epistemology, into ontology of the deepest and most ultimate sort. If you are committed to that so-called epistemic principle come God or 40 days of high water, then you are committing yourself to an ontology at the same time. Any epistemology which by its very rules predetermines an ontological conclusion is by definition biased toward that conclusion.

    I note with some bemusement that you keep wanting to argue the value of my epistemic approach. I keep trying to get you on the subject, which I first brought up here, and tried to being you back to here, here , here , here, here especially, here, here, here, here especially also, and, finally, here.

    Now, if you think your epistemic approach is in principle capable of detecting without bias the actions of a free, sovereign, creative God, if one exists, the time has come for you to explain how that would be possible. This is at least the twelfth time I’ve put the question to you. The time has long since passed for you to quit acting like you haven’t been asked.

  87. Maybe a direct quote of some comments way up the thread would help you recognize what the question is.

    I think I addressed all you wrote in your most recent comment, doctor(logic). I didn’t respond to your point on Hitler, but that was just an illustration, I think. Now it’s your turn again. I invite you to use your computer’s find-on-page feature and search for “ignore,” “bias,” “prejudice,” and “stereotype.” You have taken a shot at addressing some of what you previously ignored, but you’re still ignoring your own stereotypes and prejudices; and I’m not at all confident you’ve faced the implications of your epistemic principles’ inherent bias.

    And also,

    I have lots of things I could say in answer, doctor(logic), but I’m still waiting for you to respond to what you’ve ignored so repeatedly here. Search “bias” above, or search “microscope” for one term that will zoom in on it. I said some time ago it was your turn now, and it’s still your turn on that one.

    Note: I am still waiting for you to respond more substantively to what you’ve ignored so repeatedly even since I pointed out how repeatedly you had been ignoring it.

  88. You asked,

    If I’m so biased, and you’re not, then please go ahead and tell me how a person should arrive at beliefs.

    You used “if” in reference to your bias. That’s not exactly addressing the question, and it sure isn’t recognizing the flaw in your epistemology. I didn’t say there was no room for bias in my belief. I’m just trying to get you to see the full-fledged bias, epistemic prejudice, and also social stereotyping you’ve been committing here.

    What I’m really trying to get you to do is look yourself square in the eye and say, “You know, if those theists are right and I’m wrong, I could never for the rest of my life know it even if it were true—not unless I changed my epistemic principles to some that could detect a God if one existed—a free, sovereign and creative God like theists talk about.”

    If you won’t admit that to yourself, then at least recognize that we all see it for what it is. You’ve been saying we can’t see the truth because our methods are biased. You’ve been trying to tell us yours is the minimally biased approach to knowledge. I’m saying that your supposed minimally biased approach is absolutely guaranteed to determine a non-theistic outcome by virtue of the kind of approach that it is. It isn’t just biased, it’s 100% blind from birth to recognizing possible realities.

    If you won’t see it as such, you’re blind too.

  89. Tom,

    I’m just trying to get you to see the full-fledged bias, epistemic prejudice, and also social stereotyping you’ve been committing here.

    The issue isn’t bias, but anti-rational bias.

    Under my epistemology, I cannot accept accept that there can be square circles or that 1 + 1 = 3. This is a bias. I can’t come up with a reason for rejecting contradictions that doesn’t beg the question on contradictions. It’s a bias towards rational thinking. There are certain paradoxes that I cannot accept because I have this bias. I’m sure you agree here.

    So what is a rational bias when it comes to induction?

    Well, a rational bias with respect to induction is a set of procedures for forming beliefs from experiences. I’m going to refer to these procedures as Q.

    So, I believe (or have increased confidence in) proposition P when J(P) > J(~P)

    However, if my procedures are such that J(P) = J(~P) then it is irrational for me to give more credence to P than to ~P.

    Suppose that there are three possibilities: P1, P2, P3. A priori, knowing nothing more than the fact that there are 3 possibilities, I must grant each an equal probability. Why? Because a priori probability grants are part of process J, and if there are no experiential grounds for granting one possibility more credence than the others, then probability must be split evenly. J(P1) = J(P2) = J(P3).

    My claim is that if people will report paranormal visions whether or not they are occurring (something you agree with, btw) then it is not rational under J to grant more credence to Christianity than to fairies or the countless other paranormal sighting people are subject to.

    This is a rational bias, not an anti-rational one.

    You are the one guilty of anti-rational bias. You have a contradictory epistemology J’ that leads you inexorably towards the beliefs you want to have.

  90. Tom,

    What I’m really trying to get you to do is look yourself square in the eye and say, “You know, if those theists are right and I’m wrong, I could never for the rest of my life know it even if it were true—not unless I changed my epistemic principles to some that could detect a God in principle, a free, sovereign and creative God like theists talk about.”

    This depends. If God isn’t going to make it possible for a person with a rational epistemology to see him, then, no, even if you are right, I could never know it. I just don’t see what this is meant to prove.

    Look, consider other possible worlds in which God intervenes to a greater or lesser degree. Right now, you think that in this world, the divine inference dial is turned up high enough that rational people can see God. Let’s say the dial is turned to 5. I disagree because I think the ambient noise is at the equivalent of an 8 on the dial. We’ll never see a signal of 5 unless we get scientific statistics, and you admit we don’t have those.

    Imagine we turn down the meter to a lower level, i.e., we’re looking at a possible world in which the frequency of visions is lower. Does it ever become rational to not believe in God no matter how low you turn the dial?

    Suppose you answer “Yes, if God interfered less (say, a 2 on the dial), it would become irrational to believe he existed.” Wouldn’t you become subject to the same criticism you just gave to me?

    I could say that “In the world where divine interference is dialed to level 1, God exists, but you can’t rationally believe in him because your epistemology won’t allow it!”

    But why would my criticism be compelling to you? Would you rather believe irrationally than be wrong? It certainly seems to me that the rational epistemology procedure, J, minimizes the number of things you’re likely to be wrong about. You’re guilty of special pleading if you make an exception for your own version of God.

    If you say that you would believe in God no matter how low the interference dial is set, then you’re begging the question because your epistemology is such that it’s always rational to believe in God, even if he doesn’t exist.

    In my case, I’m saying that God can make it rational for us to believe in him. As it stands, the ambient noise is equivalent to an 8 on the dial. All God has to do is turn the divine interference dial up to an 8.1, or some number greater than the noise, and we’ll all see him and believe in him. We’ll be able to test scientifically to remove the noise, and then we can see him.

    Are you going to tell me now that my rational epistemic procedures can’t see a God who evades rational epistemic procedures? Gee, I think I can live with that.

  91. This talk of dials and noise levels is metaphor for something that DL isn’t explaining very well.

    If 100 people are in a room with you, all telling you things about the reality of the room that may or may not be true, how does this “noise” prevent you from discerning reality properly using your God-given mind? This I-can’t-know-anything-about-reality-because-it’s-too-noisy-in-here argument sounds like a non-sequitur to me, unless your knowledge comes from the 100 people in the room – then I can see how you would be confused.

    See the boy who cried wolf in #58

  92. If God isn’t going to make it possible for a person with a rational epistemology to see him, then, no, even if you are right, I could never know it.

    Especially after all the e-ink spilled here, this really, truly is a STUPID and biased thing to say. In one fell swoop doctor(bias) imposes his personal and intentionally-limiting understanding of what “rational epistemology” is and hence what it means to “see.” He himself has never “shown” us–so that we can “see”–even straight-forward things like the human artifacts known as beings of reason (such as the scientific method or the rules of chess)… and yet doctor(bias) tries to take on God and then foolishly claim God can’t be “seen” under his own narrow-minded, reasoning-limited belief’s?

    There is no other way of putting it: doctor(bias) has made a really, truly STUPID assertion.

  93. doctor(logic),

    I had a busy weekend; my apologies for the delayed response.

    I had a point by point response written and I have just deleted most of it. It really comes down to this, starting with your closing remark:

    Are you going to tell me now that my rational epistemic procedures can’t see a God who evades rational epistemic procedures? Gee, I think I can live with that.

    It is not God who evades, it is you. You have designed your epistemic procedures such that God can only reveal himself to you if he does it your way. You’re willing for God to come to you only on your own terms. What kind of demon from hell would tell God, “hey you, if you want me to follow your ways, then you have to follow my ways first”?

    The first and fundamental sin of angels and men was, and remains, pride: putting self above God.

    Try this instead. Examine yourself and see what your answer is to the following questions.

    If there were a God who ruled over all creation, including my own life, would I want to know it to be so?

    If Jesus Christ were actually God as the Christians claim, and if his purpose on earth really were to redeem people like me from our rebellion against God, would I be willing to accept that reality?

    If there really were an eternal future ahead of me, with a choice of either life with God or an existence separated from all of his goodness (which is all the goodness that there is), would I want to know about it?

    If the above were actually true, would I be willing to be shown that it is true? Would I have the same willingness even if it meant accepting knowledge that came to me by means I have hitherto not thought rational or possible?

    If that knowledge were in some way tied (because this God is a personal God) to my willingness to accept its reality, do I have any shred of that willingness? Or do I mock even the possibility of a being whose self-revelation to me could be based in part on my willingness to receive it?

    Notice the conditionals. I’m not asking you necessarily to accept that there is a God, or that there may be means to know him that you have not hitherto accepted. I’m asking you, if there is a God, and if he could be known by means other than those you have described as rational, would you want that knowledge of that God?

    Or, to rephrase all the above in simplest terms: If it were true, would I want to know that truth or not?

    Think long and hard about that, and be honest with yourself.

  94. You have designed your epistemic procedures such that God can only reveal himself to you if he does it your way. You’re willing for God to come to you only on your own terms. What kind of demon from hell would tell God, “hey you, if you want me to follow your ways, then you have to follow my ways first”?

    The first and fundamental sin of angels and men was, and remains, pride: putting self above God.

    Very good, Tom. It’s ego of a particularly self-centered and repugnant kind we see in DL–maintained even in the face of his ignorance, bigotry, arrogance, bias, and fallacious arguments. Bill Vallicella makes a similar observation in his post “On Hitchens and Death” (http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2010/08/on-hitchens-and-death.html): blinded by the “light” of their own egos. (It’s not an accident these guys arrogantly term themselves “brights”… when, in fact, they’re black holes in the making.)

  95. Tom,

    In my previous comment I explained my epistemology, and why I think that the alternative to my epistemology violates non-contradiction. I thought it was the perfect opportunity for you to explain your epistemology, and why yours would not violate non-contradiction.

    Instead of telling me about your own epistemology, or addressing the specific issues I raise, you essentially ask me if I am sufficiently emotionally motivated to discard my epistemic principle of non-contradiction in order to be able to believe in a treasured conclusion. The answer would be no. Who would want to do that?

    You espouse wishful thinking. If I desire X to be true, and I would like to know that X is true if it is true, then I ought to adjust my epistemology so that I can come to believe X is true.

    The problem with that approach is that you will come to believe X whether or not X is true. Moreover, if I preferred ~X, then using your epistemology, I get to believe ~X instead.

    You don’t advocate an epistemology – a way of knowing. You advocate a way of believing. It’s as if you can’t tell the difference between knowledge and belief.

    You accuse me of evasion, but that what all of you are guilty of. I’ve made a clear and simple case for my position. From you I get psychoanalysis and claims that my avoidance of non-contradiction is some sort of anti-rational bias (when, in fact, it is a pro-rational bias). If you don’t have a formal response to my argument, and do not wish to state your own epistemological rules, just say so, and I’ll accept that.

  96. DL,
    Speaking of evasion, I would appreciate a reply to comments 100 and 83 as they have to do with explaining your epistemology.

  97. DL,

    you essentially ask me if I am sufficiently emotionally motivated to discard my epistemic principle of non-contradiction in order to be able to believe in a treasured conclusion.

    You obviously haven’t been paying attention. We are asking you to drop the unwarranted foundational belief in scientism as a means to knowing what scientism can’t discover – the supernatural. An unwarranted foundational belief that you can easily drop without violating non-contradiction, and at the same time, will make it possible for you to know more about reality.

    Are you sufficiently motivated to do that, or are you too emotionially committed to scientism as a means to knowing the supernatural? For kicks, read comment 23 again.

  98. doctor(logic), when you wrote this,

    you essentially ask me if I am sufficiently emotionally motivated to discard my epistemic principle of non-contradiction in order to be able to believe in a treasured conclusion. The answer would be no. Who would want to do that?

    You were just evading. Let me repeat the final form of the question:

    If it were true, would I want to know that truth or not?

    How you mangled that into this other form is totally beyond me.

    Here it is again, DL: If it were true, would you want to know it?

    Note the converse: If it were true, would you prefer not to know it?

    What’s your position?

    I’m not about to advocate any epistemology until you come around to a decent response to the challenge I’ve put to you more than a dozen times in this thread: the bias of your own epistemology. You may think you can play a game of, “Well, instead of answering Tom’s question, I’m going to make him answer one of mine.” But in a comment on August 4, almost two weeks ago (!), I pointed out to you that it was your turn. It still is.

    I strongly suspect that your answer to the question I just repeated here is no, you wouldn’t want to know it if it were true. I strongly suspect that’s the motivation behind your epistemological bias. You haven’t seen or acknowledged that bias, so I have decided to explore its possible roots. Only you can tell me if I’m right or wrong. You had a really clear, simple, direct question put to you last time, and instead of answering it, you said there was something wrong with the question—which you explained by totally distorting what I had asked.

    So even though I know you have a Ph.D. in physics, and even though I know you’re fully literate, I’m going to take the time to ask it again. It’s not hard, but I think you might need a second, no make that a third chance:

    If it were true, would you want to know it?

    Note the converse: If it were true, would you prefer not to know it?

    What’s your position?

  99. Tom,

    Of course, if P is true, I want to know that P is true, i.e., I would want to believe P because I can justify my belief that P better than I can justify my belief that ~P. To know P is to at least have a justified belief that P.

    In other words, I am curious, and I care about the truth.

    I also accept that there will be some things that I cannot know or believe because I lack the necessary justification. I accept that there are some things that I could never know if they were true, because their truth, by definition, would make my knowing them impossible.

    I think my answer to this question is (and has always been) crystal clear.

    Now, if you’re done with the psycho-analysis, you can get back to substantive issues.

  100. In other words, I am curious, and I care about the truth.

    No, you most certainly do not.

    You care about “truths” that meet your unwarranted, a priori, unscientific, pseudo-philosophical, presuppositions because–as Tom nailed perfectly–you prefer not to know truths that threaten your subjective preconceived notions. You hide behind labeling uncomfortable questions as being illegitimate, You hide behind “justified belief” that only fit your personal parameters, you hide behind subterfuge and fallacy, you hide behind rhetorical tricks like labeling criticisms “psycho-analysis,” you hide behind invented “axioms,” you hide behind your misuse of science (a.k.a., scientism) to arrogantly ram down critical thinkers’ throats. You resemble so much the ghosts of Lewis’ The Great Divorce that it sends chills down my back.

    You are one of the most fearful and threatened people I’ve ever encountered.

    But that’s atheism, isn’t it? A desperate, whining fear of Someone they assert with certitude that just can’t exist. The irony is that indeed, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s not so much God that needs an explanation of His existence as atheists need a psycho-analysis of their fears. Fearing Truth: how self-denigrating can a creature be to itself? The only thing left is the black hole of their inflated egos.

  101. DL,

    I can justify my belief that P better than I can justify my belief that ~P

    Should that justification be limited to scientism as your only means to gather information about reality, or should it go beyond that to include other ways of knowing about reality?

    If it is the latter, then explain how your belief that naturalism is the better justified belief when compared to not-naturalism (which is supernaturalism).

    Rationally speaking, what does “better justified” look like? Is that a rational preference, or desire, similar to one’s rational preference for vanilla over chocolate?

  102. Thank you for answering the question, doctor(logic). You covered it in the abstract, which does satisfy the question as I summarized it in one sentence.

    Would you care to make it less abstract? To speak of the Christian affirmations I gave earlier rather than speaking of P or ~P? If Christianity were true, would you want to know it?

    The question is not psycho-analysis. The topic is bias, isn’t it? Let me quote a few of your statements from this thread.

    The majority of Christians I’ve debated online dare not imagine a world without God….

    You can’t justify your belief in the absolutes on the grounds that you care about all these things, if you only care about these things because of your belief….

    This is a good illustration of the point I have been making. The only answer is that I am compelled to value (care about) truth by my biology and psychology….

    Clearly, you don’t like the idea that the natural world exists without a cause. So you propose that there is a being that caused the universe, and you call that being “necessary” to indicate that this being is without a cause of its own….

    The problem is that people will report things that are not true. They want to believe something, and so they’ll report their daydreams as truths, if it’s necessary for them to believe. And if you believe and have visions of your own, that only makes him feel better….

    So much for asking us to stop the psycho-analyzing. Sauce for the goose…

    But since we’re talking about feelings, maybe it will make you feel some better if I tell you I’m about ready to present an answer to the epistemology question you’ve been asking. It will start in the next comment, which will be introductory to more that will follow.

  103. Now to begin my own position on epistemology—still hoping that you’ll give a more concrete answer than “P” to the prior questions—I have an observation and a question.

    You are quite convinced that the sensus divinitatus signal cannot be distinguished from the noise of other impressions people experience, many of which are uncontroversially false impressions. I think you have stated your position emphatically enough that I could fairly re-word it as follows:

    Necessarily, all impressions that could be taken as experiences of God must be tested against all other like impressions; and without doubt and without exception, statistical analysis of such impressions mitigates against drawing a conclusion in favor of such impressions’ veridicality.

    Is that a fair statement of your position?

    (You may think I’m dancing around my epistemology by asking about yours instead. That’s not the case. I’m trying to lay a groundwork for showing you what my epistemology includes. I don’t think I can do that without being careful to distinguish it from your conceptions. I’ve tried, and it hasn’t worked, so I’m taking a more careful approach.)

  104. Tom,

    If there is a God who rules over all creation, including my own life, would I want to know it to be so?

    Yes.

    If there really were an eternal future ahead of me, with a choice of either life with God or an existence separated from all of his goodness (which is all the goodness that there is), would I want to know about it?

    Yep.

    I’m asking you, if there is a God, and if he could be known by means other than those you have described as rational, would you want that knowledge of that God?

    Assuming my set of “means” are not complete, and there are other rational means I have neglected, sure. If you’re asking whether I’ll reject what I consider to be rational/consistency constraints, you already know my answer.

    Necessarily, all impressions that could be taken as experiences of God must be tested against all other like impressions; and without doubt and without exception, statistical analysis of such impressions mitigates against drawing a conclusion in favor of such impressions’ veridicality.

    Is that a fair statement of your position?

    I’ll say yes with some clarifications.

    First, I probably wouldn’t use the terms “necessarily” or “without doubt”. I harbor at least some doubt about everything, even if that doubt can be made arbitrarily small. Anyone can make a mistake, right?

    Second, testing “impressions that could be taken as experiences of God must be tested against all other like impressions” is rather vague. And the use of your term “mitigates” is ambiguous. I assume you don’t mean that I necessarily think the sensus could never be found valid in principle, because that’s not my position. (Not unless you redefine God such that the sensus could never be found valid.)

    My position is this. We have to factor in (in the Bayesian sense) the likelihood of those impressions existing even if God did not exist. And, one way of doing this is to see if similar impressions are known to occur and be taken as evidence for some other claim that contradicts your theology.

    Another way to do so is to see if we can inspire a sensus for something that does not exist. It seems quite apparent that we can. The fairy watchers or psychics that I linked to say that if you focus and try to feel a sensus from fairies or animals or dead people, or whatever, you will succeed. And I believe that this is true. If true, this is extremely powerful evidence that sensus is a human bias, a suggestion, or a concoction from the subconscious. Some people say they can tell when they are being watched. A sensus of being watched, if you like. Experimentally, it turns out that they cannot. But it’s easy to see how some people might translate a childhood experience of being watched-over by parents and teachers into a persistent gut expectation of being watched – an expectation that surfaces when normally louder thoughts are quiet.

    I’m sure you are already aware of this array of evidence. And I look forward to hearing how your epistemology will deal with it, and counter Bayes Theorem.

  105. Thank you, doctor(logic).

    You said,

    If you’re asking whether I’ll reject what I consider to be rational/consistency constraints, you already know my answer.

    You take it as a given that like experiences need to be subjected to like tests. If I believe God has spoken to me, and someone else believes he has seen a faerie, and someone else believes she was abducted by aliens, then all of these should be made subject to the same kind of evaluation.

    So there are two considerations following on that.

    You claim to know that the sensus divinitatus is the sort of experience that cannot be distinguished from other internal experiences, qua experience. How do you know? You say that persons report them in similar ways (“It was so convincing. It seemed so real.”) But you are unaware of or have discounted differences; for example persons all over the world who have had visions of Jesus without having any prior predisposition to follow him; or visions of Jesus in the form of an actor who portrays him in the “Jesus” film, an image they had never had opportunity to see before.

    Note that I am saying two distinct things here.

    One, you assert that experiences of God are indistinguishable in kind from other paranormal experiences. I don’t know how you know that, and I don’t know how you can insist on it without begging the question of God’s existence and ability to commmunicate.

    Two, there are tests for paranormal experiences. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

    First, to wrap up a topic. We’ve been focusing on the sensus divinitatus as one means of knowing God. But the question has not actually been, how does one know God; not for most of this thread, at any rate. The current question hasn’t even been about the veridicality of the sensus divinitatus; rather it has been about how to assess its veridicality, and whether there is bias involved in approaches to such assessment. In other words, the question has been whether my epistemic principles are much more biased than yours, or vice-versa.

    Your out-of-hand rejection of the sensus divinitatus (until your most recent post, thank you) has been a clear example of your epistemic bias, as witnessed (again) in point one above. But the sensus divinitatus itself was never the point. I have not been using it to demonstrate the reality of God; I have been pointing toward your view on it as one illustration of your epistemic bias, a bias by which you effectively, a priori think you have cut off God’s ability to communicate in that way.

    How do we test the reality of that which is considered paranormal? One way to do it is to say, “If we can’t control for it, can’t count it, can’t predict it, it’s nothing but psychology.” That’s simple and quick. It’s unbiased with respect to everything except for, perhaps, some reality that isn’t that mechanical. Like God. Which is what I’ve been saying about you: you have that bias.

    Tests for spiritual experiences are encouraged in Christianity (1 John 4:1), and they are considerably more reasonable than declaring all non-controllable, non-predictable reality invalid. Some such tests include:

    • How many people report like experiences (millions upon millions)
    • Whether there is theoretical justification for the experience (hundreds of thousands of volumes written, both in philosophy and theology; one special case for such testing is that if the experience contradicts Scripture, Christians count it as non-veridical)
    • Whether there is historical credibility to the claim (the Bible’s record as history is unmatched for its era, and I’ve already spoken of its archaeological accuracy)
    • The moral and psychological condition of the people claiming the experience (for which see a good proxy here)
    • Whether other knowns about reality are contradicted by the experience. I don’t know of any, and believe me, I’ve looked.
    • Whether any of the experiences are in fact predictive, such as those I mentioned above, people seeing visions of a Jesus they had never seen before

    You could say that any paranormal experience is prima facie false, regardless of tests like these. You couldn’t say it, though, without severe epistemic bias.

    Another way to do so is to see if we can inspire a sensus for something that does not exist. It seems quite apparent that we can.

    Are you sure? Besides the question-begging I noted on this earlier, you might want to know that neuropsychological studies reported in Beauregard’s The Spiritual Brain indicate that not all numinous experiences are at all alike.

  106. Regarding supernatural experiences: We are told that the supernatural realm is filled with beings that have various personalities and abilities. What DL cannot control as a variable in his Bayesian analysis is mistaken identity and deception. A 100% failure rate may be the result of being deceived by a supernatural being 100% of the time, and not indicative of human bias and wishful thinking.

    If DL disagrees, I’d like to know where and how he accounts for this.

  107. Tom:

    Here’s a link to an interesting trashing, in the NY Times–of all places, of Dawkin’s philosophical ignorance… that–surprise, surprise–mirrors the foolishness spouted by doctor(bias): http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/08/richard-dawkins-taken-to-the-cleanersin-the-new-york-times.html. doctor(bias’s) attempt to transfer the concept of “necessary being” from God to the material universe–and then to characterize it as an axiom–is a precious gem of ignorance and bad reasoning.

    … sorry, forgot to add these two excerpts:

    “Religious believers often accuse argumentative atheists such as Dawkins [read: doctor(bias)] of being excessively rationalistic, demanding standards of logical and evidential rigor that aren’t appropriate in matters of faith. My criticism is just the opposite. Dawkins [read: doctor(bias)] does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires.”

    “Secularism can never truly rest on reason, but only ‘faith,’ as secularists themselves understand that term (or rather misunderstand it, as we shall see): an unshakeable commitment grounded not in reason but rather in sheer willfulness, a deeply ingrained desire to want things to be a certain way regardless of whether the evidence shows they are that way.” [fits… err, predicts doctor(bias) wonderfully well.]

  108. Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires.

    Pretty much sums up the reason why many of these debates occur in the first place. Not all debates, but many. I liken it to ‘debating’ a young teenager who – as smart as they would like to think they are – clearly doesn’t meet the standards of rationality when it comes to various topics.

  109. Thanks for the link, Holo, and good point, SteveK. I put a comment there, ending with,

    {Dawkins is] the only person I know of who thinks he can refute A by rebutting not-A.

    I’m just glad he never held an endowed Oxford chair as Professor for the Public Understanding of Logic.

  110. Since Dawkins just came up in this subject, I want to share a quote with all of you that I only recently – just today, in fact – became aware of.

    The kind of God that I would respect people for believing in, would be the kind of God of the deists, who set the universe up in the first place, who set up the laws of physics, perhaps in such a way that it would be likely to bring the conditions for evolution into existence. Something of that sort…

    Guess the source. Or just google it and pretend you guessed it!

  111. In one breath, Dawkins would say that he respects you for believing in a deist God, and in the next breath he would chastise you for believing irrational, superstitious nonsense because everyone knows there’s no credible evidence for God’s existence. 😉

  112. Tom,

    You claim to know that the sensus divinitatus is the sort of experience qua experience that cannot be distinguished from other internal experiences. How do you know?

    There are many sensus-type experiences that have been documented, including the kinds I referred to. And, in each case, I presume the experience must be slightly different. That is, sensing a ghost feels different from sensing a fairy or sensing God.

    I think it’s also the case that sensus experiences are associated with other emotions. For example, is the sensus divinitatus associated with any other feelings? Euphoria perhaps? Wonder? Awe? A sense of being part of something greater?

    Similarly, the sense/sensus of being in the presence of a ghost might be associated with chills, terror, emptiness, helplessness, sadness and awe.

    This raises an important question: what is the sensus?

    (1) Does the sensus consist merely of having the emotions, then rationalizing the emotions as the presence of God?

    (2) Is the sensus an abstract affirmation of the proposition “God exists”, and this proposition inspires the emotions?

    (3) Do both (1) and (2) happen simultaneously?

    If (1) is true, then the sensus can be explained by natural inspiration. For example, walking into an elaborate cathedral might inspire the emotions, and then the subject will rationalize contact with God.

    If (2) is the case, then what does abstract affirmation of a proposition feel like? I put it to you that abstract affirmation of a proposition (i.e., if the feelings are subsequent to the affirmation) feels the same whether it’s “God exists” or “This fairy’s name is Lucy” or “This wombat’s name is Albert” or “I am in the presence of the ghost of my lost child”.

    If (3) is the case, then we’re just saying that we can’t tell which of (1) or (2) is the case.

  113. Tom,

    Continued…

    We know that we can inspire feelings in other people. This is what cathedrals were built for. So, if (1) is the case, it’s not surprising that an organization (often backed by the state) which does its utmost to inspire a sensus divinitatis with choirs, missionaries, ornaments, paintings, costumes, prayers and other rituals will see most instances of it.

    Psychologists would argue that (1) is true, and that the sensus is a figment of the left brain trying to account for all the feelings felt by the right brain. We know that the left brain’s job is to justify what the right brain believes, and so it attributes the feelings of euphoria and wonder to an external cause.

    You say:

    But you are unaware of or have discounted differences; for example persons all over the world who have had visions of Jesus without having any prior predisposition to follow him

    According to whom?

    Tom, why do you think we bother with controls in experiments, especially in psychological experiments? Is it for kicks? Why do we use double-blind testing?

    Isn’t it because (a) people remember history the way they want to, (b) they lie, ( c) they act in order to gain social standing among their peers (e.g. violence in a drug gang). Isn’t it because uncontrolled influences can easily turn a non-signal into an apparent one?

    These biases are well-documented scientific facts:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

    It’s common in paranormal stories for people to claim to have been skeptics beforehand. That doesn’t make their stories significantly more believable.

    Frankly, people would claim these experiences even if they did not have them, or even if there were no ghosts or gods.

    The same is true for ghost stories. Ghost stories are notorious for hanging on coincidences, and such. I just Googled “i didn’t believe in ghosts until”. It’s not hard to find this stuff. Should we grant ghost stories more credibility because the people telling them claimed to be skeptics? (Like the apostles!!!)

    It’s rich and outrageous that you accuse me of bias when you ignore this issue.

  114. Back to your statement:

    But you are unaware of or have discounted differences; for example persons all over the world who have had visions of Jesus without having any prior predisposition to follow him

    We are in the situation in which there are many kinds of sensus experience, E1 (God), E2 (ghosts), E3 (fairies), … etc.

    You are saying that E1 (the sensus divinitatis) signifies a metaphysical truth, but the others do not. I am treating them all equally. Why am I the one who is biased?

    Let’s revisit what we know:

    (1) Feelings associated with En can be stimulated by our peers. Cathedrals bias church-goers to feel like they’re in the presence of God. Don’t you agree?

    (2) Since external influences and expectations alter the sensus, they need to be controlled for if we are to conclude that that a sensus has something other than a natural cause.

    (3) None of the information you provide is the result of controlled experimentation.

    Frankly, I don’t think any of the anecdotes you cite are reliable. You yourself are in the business of inspiring the sensus. It’s what you do for a living. It’s what missionaries do for a living. And I’m supposed to take your word for it that you guys (as a movement, as an industry) had nothing to do with the sensus divinitatis or visions of Jesus in the cases you cite? And if you had at least something to do with it, how much? You don’t know, and you don’t seem to care to know.

    You seem to follow up by saying that the sensus divinitatis isn’t a proof for God by itself. Well, no. In fact, it’s not evidence for God at all unless you can pull out the signal from the noise, and you have made no effort whatsoever to do so.

    I’ll give you another analogous situation. It is extremely common for people to claim to have some psychic ability. But we know that cold reading is a skill one can learn, and a skill that some people use without knowing what they are doing. Now, is it you position that ANECDOTES of accurate psychic readings are good evidence for psychic powers? Do these psychics who live in shacks by the side of the highway really have powers? I don’t think you believe it, and I certainly don’t. There are too many natural explanations for the phenomenon, and every time their powers are tested in a controlled environment, their powers disappear.

    The same is true for ghosts. Send people into a haunted house (tell them it’s haunted). After one person says they see a ghost (whether or not they do), at least some of the visitors will claim to have seen or heard or felt something. Yet no traces show up on recordings or any other kind of sensor. Should we believe in ghosts?

    I ask you again, what is your epistemology? What are your guiding principles? It seems to me that your epistemology is founded on your own gut reaction to anecdotes. You are the one who is biased. You like paranormal stories about God, but dislike paranormal stories about everything else. You case your beliefs on stories and anecdotes that seem plausible to you. You eschew statistical proof because it “tests” God. Well, statistical proof tests ghosts, fairies, bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, aliens, and a bunch of other paranormal stuff that’s based on anecdotes. What makes you so special?

    BTW, the Bible is a bunch of anecdotes.

  115. doctor(logic),

    In your 10:37 pm comment you dispensed with the sensus divinitatus by labeling it sensus, and considering it the same as the other putative sensuses. There’s some fancy equivocation there, to start with. Why do you suppose the sensus divinitatus ought to be in the same category as any sensus mundus? That’s the question I asked earlier.

    Your persistent flaw is that you insist it is entirely up to humans to establish a knowledge-based relationship with God. Or in other words, your persistent flaw is your insistence that God cannot be a God, he can only be an experience-stimulus to be evaluated with other experience-stimuli.

    Apart from that, your two options presented for “what is the sensus are terribly under-informed. Perhaps your error is in thinking that the sensus is some experience from which we infer God. It is not. It is the actual experience of God. I’m sure you’ll howl objections on the order of, “but you must somehow make an inference to God, otherwise how do you know it’s God?” I have more to say about that below, but let’s start with this alternative to what you wrote earlier.

    (1) Does the perception of light consist merely of having the emotions, then rationalizing the emotions as the presence of light?

    (2) Is the perception of light an abstract affirmation of the proposition there is light here and this proposition inspires the emotions?

    (3) Do both (1) and (2) happen simultaneously?… If so then we’re just saying which of (1) or (2) is the case….

    Psychologists would argue that (1) is true, and that the sensus is a figment of the left brain trying to account for all the feelings felt by the right brain.

    It’s just ludicrous to suppose those are the only proper two options for assessing the experience of light, or in fact the experience of anything, including God.

    According to whom?…

    There you go with more evidence-free conclusion-jumping. We know that people can draw wrong conclusions from non-controlled experiences, therefore when people draw conclusions from such experiences, we know that they are wrong. That’s silly. It just isn’t the case that there is only one way in the world to be confident of others’ testimony of their experiences. I listed a host of ways that we can double-check the veridicality of experiences, and you insist instead that there is only one.

    I’ll grant you points for persistence, at least. Would that you would persist in something more sensible than that. It’s rich and outrageous that you find it rich and outrageous that I see bias in your approach.

    We are in the situation in which there are many kinds of sensus experience, E1 (God), E2 (ghosts), E3 (fairies), … etc.

    You are saying that E1 (the sensus divinitatis) signifies a metaphysical truth, but the others do not. I am treating them all equally. Why am I the one who is biased?

    I am not saying that E1 signifies a metaphysical truth. I am saying that it communicates, imparts, or in fact actually is awareness of the reality of God. This is much stronger than mere signification. Your perception of light does not signify to you that there is light in the room. It just is the awareness of light.

    How is that different from the experience of ghosts or fairies? Well, for one thing, it’s not an experience of ghosts or fairies, it’s the experience of God. For another thing, see the abundance of confirming evidence in comment 114. If you were really treating these all equally, you would pay attention to confirming evidence.

    But you completely ignored most of it. The rest you dismissed as “anecdotes.” Or maybe you think there’s nothing at all in any of it but anecdotes. That would be silly. It would mean the denial of knowledge gained through theory, through common experience, through history, through psychology, through logical analysis and through prediction. (I’m just going through my bullet points here; you can look back and see how these all relate to those points.)

    Your utter dismissal of all of this, just because people can be wrong on what you assume are similar topics—begging the question in the process as you do so—is a clear expression of your intractable bias.

  116. Why do you suppose the sensus divinitatus ought to be in the same category as any sensus mundus? That’s the question I asked earlier.

    DL has already outlined the category of sensus naturalus – that which is best explained in terms of the natural – so anything that falls outside of that must be best explained by the supernatural. The problem as I see it is that DL doesn’t allow any such explanation to exist. If something can’t be explained in terms of the natural, it must be unexplained and unknownable or the result of bias or wishful thinking. According to who?

    See scenarios 1-4 and DL’s continued evasion of my repeated questions.

  117. Tom,

    Your persistent flaw is that you insist it is entirely up to humans to establish a knowledge-based relationship with God. Or in other words, your persistent flaw is your insistence that God cannot be a God, he can only be an experience-stimulus to be evaluated with other experience-stimuli.

    And fairies cannot be fairies, and ghosts cannot be ghosts? Listen to yourself!

    It is inevitably going to be up to humans because it is impossible for God to impart knowledge in the way that you think he can. Knowledge is (at least) justified belief. So he not only has to modify our brains to impart belief, but also impart justification. And he can’t be self-justifying from our limited perspective. For him to be self-justifying we would have to ALREADY have an epistemology in which feeling God exists was adequate justification for believing he exists (which is circular for the purposes of this discussion).

    (1) There is some phenomenon, X.
    (2) I intuit that X is an awareness that Y exists.
    (3) If Y exists, Y would have the power to cause X.
    (4) It’s also possible that some natural cause, Z, could account for X and my intuitions about X.
    (5) If I try to verify whether Z is causing X and my intuitions about X, then Y would cease causing X, and the effect would disappear.
    (4) Therefore, I ought not try to see if Z causes X, and should instead simply take X as justification for believing Y exists.

    Am I to take this as your epistemology?

    Or putting it another way:

    If there is a supposed supernatural cause, S, for some phenomenon, P, but natural causes could also be responsible for P (or report of P), we ought not try to control for those natural causes if S would be unhappy about our attempts to impose controls and would frustrate any attempt to impose controls.

    Is that it?

    Cos’ if that’s it, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff you should believe in, too. Like fairies and ghosts and mediums and psychics and alien conspiracies…

    As for the perception of light, are you being serious? Light is predictive, and light is something that we can control for in experiment. It’s something we do quite a lot. We can create light and darkness. In fact, there’s a delusion in which some blind people believe they can still see. If you were correct, we could never know that they were wrong.

    I am not saying that E1 signifies a metaphysical truth. I am saying that it communicates, imparts, or in fact actually is awareness of the reality of God. This is much stronger than mere signification. Your perception of light does not signify to you that there is light in the room. It just is the awareness of light.

    I don’t think you know what you are talking about.

    Is the person with delusional sight also aware of the light in the room? No. And there are ways to know, and they involve prediction.

    The sensus divinitatis is not predictive. There’s no way to tell whether you’re wrong or right. You won’t bump into walls if you’re wrong. And, if we could control to see if natural causes account for the sensus, you would disqualify the test because you think God rejects controls.

    You have yet to admit that controls have any value. If natural causes can account for any religious phenomenon, you actively don’t want to know about it. It’s like a self-imposed ignorance. Instead, you want to be informal, and use your gut to judge the veracity of claims (e.g., about visions of Jesus), because (for some reason) that’s highest level of testing that you think God is comfortable with. The visions of Jesus are not predictions. They are anecdotes from uncontrolled subjects. Please.

    I was promised an outline of your epistemological procedures. If you don’t want to give it, we can end this discussion here.

  118. DL, you write,

    It is inevitably going to be up to humans because it is impossible for God to impart knowledge in the way that you think he can.

    Q.E.D.: bias.

    I’m okay with ending this discussion here. I promised you some epistemology if we could get past your own epistemological bias, which never happened. In fact I delivered to you an abbreviated form of it in advance.

    As long as you:

    • continue to demand evidence for a God who finds it impossible to impart knowledge
    • deny even the possibility that a perception of God could be veridical
    • are unwilling to think that the sensus divinitatus could be anything but a delusion
    • insist that God must subject himself to controls and prediction in order to be able to communicate
    • insist that visions are “uncontrolled anecdotes” without even bothering to ask me for evidence otherwise (much less looking for it yourself)
    • make up absurdities like point 5 of my supposed epistemology above, repeatedly ignoring what I wrote about this more than three weeks ago, and which has been brought up more than once since (e.g. comments 114 and 126)

    … this conversation can only be about your demand for knowledge of a god of some sort that you have made up for yourself, and about your twisted distortions of what you want to believe I believe.

    Even apart from your perversions of what I have written, I don’t have time to argue about a god that neither you nor I believe in. It’s too bad you’re not willing to have a conversation about a God at least one of us thinks exists. It would at least have the potential being an interesting and relevant conversation.

    More than that, it’s too bad you’re not willing to see the even the possibility of the reality of the God who loves you and gave himself for you. You won’t understand this, but I have a heavy heart for you. It’s not about the argument. It’s about life.

  119. I think it might be useful at this ending point to review the long list of your twisted statements in this thread, doctor(logic). This is not about arguments we disagreed on. I’m only including things you’ve said that were factually wrong, most of them tendentiously and prejudicially false; which you should have known were false before you wrote them, or if not, then you should have at least acknowledged the corrections when they were provided for you.

    In other words, these are items on which you displayed no discernible interest in the truth. Ironic, since the whole point of this thread has been how we discover truth. (The last item on this list is in a different category. It’s not a falsehood, but it’s something else that honesty might have acknowledged after the fact.)

    1. Distortion on why we believe the Bible. Pointed out to you here. Your acknowledgment of that is missing.
    2. Inaccurately stereotyping on Christians’ believing what they want to believe. Pointed out to you here. Your acknowledgment of that is missing.
    3. Closely related: inaccurately claiming that Christians won’t subject our beliefs to criticism. Pointed out to you here. Your acknowledgment of that is missing.
    4. Serious misstatement regarding the Bible’s content. Pointed out to you here. Your acknowledgment of that is missing.
    5. Misrepresentation of my approach (“undetectable pixies”). Pointed out to you here. Your acknowledgment of that is missing.
    6. Misrepresentation of what theism says it means to be absolutely good. Pointed out to you here. Your acknowledgment of that is missing.
    7. False statement on Christians’ willingness to corroborate experiences. Pointed out to you here. I don’t think you acknowledged that.
    8. Misrepresentation of why we believe the universe has a cause for its existence. Pointed out to you here and here. I can’t find any place where you acknowledged it.
    9. Evidence-free distorted imagined picture of how visions and dreams have led Muslims to Christ. Pointed out to you repeatedly. No acknowledgment; just repeated evidence-free imaginings on your part.
    10. Evidence-free assertions that I have zero evidence for my statements on the matter. Pointed out here. Did you acknowledge that?
    11. Mangling my position on your epistemic principles. Pointed out here and here. Your acknowledgment of that is missing.
    12. And finally, charging me with psycho-analyzing when you had been doing it yourself all along. Your acknowledgment of your blatant hypocrisy on that is missing.

    That’s a lot for a thread in which you posted 45 items: approximately one unacknowledged, uncorrected, tendentious and prejudicial falsehood for every four times you said anything.

    But your 45 comments here represent only half that many sessions; you divided up your comments on several occasions, posting several of them in a row, obviously pre-written for separate posting. (I’m not criticizing that; it’s helpful for keeping thoughts organized.) So we might also say that half the times you sat down to comment here, you produced a flagrant falsehood. I don’t know of any time you sat down to comment here when you expressed a willingness to own up to any of those falsehoods.

    Do you really have a commitment to honesty and truth, doctor(logic)? I put the question to you for you to ask yourself.

  120. Tom,

    I could make a scorecard just like yours, showing that you have contradicted my explicit statements in almost every one of your comments, and that you have continually been evasive, especially on the issue of controls. I can’t be bothered to waste my time on making a scorecard of my own. I’m happy to let my comments stand on their own merit.

    The Christian evidence you provide is no better than the evidence for UFO’s, fairies or ghosts, so claiming that my rejections of your evidence constitute falsehoods is a stretch. Go and ask ghost-hunters or ufologists whether they are uncritical in their acceptance of their beliefs, and I doubt they’ll admit it. But you seem to think that your strident claims that you’re a critical thinker make you a special case. They don’t. You’re not a critical thinker. Making gut assessments (e.g., about which Christian claims you’ll accept or reject) doesn’t make you a critical thinker. It makes you a reflective person, a pondering person, but not a critical thinker.

    And, by all means, keep your epistemological principles and procedures a secret. I just wish you would have told me they were a secret a couple of weeks ago.

  121. doctor(logic),

    If you had indeed made a similar “scorecard,” here’s what it would have done. It would have given me an opportunity to examine myself and see whether I have committed demonstrable errors of fact with reference to clear facts related to your position, and whether I have acknowledged or failed to acknowledge such errors when you pointed them out to me. I wouldn’t mind having that opportunity. I would request that you not include disagreements over arguments, just as I have not included disagreements over arguments in this list. Those are not matters of honesty but of logic, interpretation, and evaluation of evidences.

    I did not say that your rejection of our evidence constitutes falsehoods. I did not make that stretch. I said that you had misrepresented our position with respect to our evidences. You can disagree with our interpretations and call them false; that’s normal in these kinds of discussions. But to say that we believe x when in fact we believe y, and to fail to acknowledge corrections of that kind of fact, is dishonest.

    Thus your second paragraph just now is utterly irrelevant to my last posting. To reject a misrepresentation of our position is not good faith argumentation, as I think you might agree.

    If I have failed to practice honesty, I would certainly want to correct that.

    You have that opportunity already. Rather than looking squarely at the truth or falsehood of your statements, you have returned an empty tu quoque.

    In a battle of exposed falsehoods I would be happy to be the loser. I would be happy to say, “you know, you’re right, I did get that wrong.” I’m committed to learning from others and owning up to my failings.

    I’m not committed to giving up what I am convinced are good principles of evidence and reason. My epistemology is not a secret. I have shared it in abbreviated form on this thread. (If you want to know more about it, you could pick up Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief; I accept his approach pretty much as he wrote it.) I would have been glad to come out with more of it, but you didn’t even hear what I did say about it; or to be more precise, you rejected it based on illegitimate standards.

    Anyway, if you care to do a battle of the tu quoques, know that I’m willing to pay attention to what you say and take it to heart. If it’s what it takes to maintain truth and honesty in my communications, I’ll be just fine if I come out the loser.

  122. Getting to know God by inviting him to demonstrate his divine nature under some controlled, lab-like conditions is like getting to know your wife by inviting her into the lab for a series of physicals and double-blind tests.

    Why would anyone think this is the way you get to know someone – human or otherwise? Yes, of course, you’d have facts-o-plenty, but you wouldn’t know anything significant or meaninful about the person – which is the stuff that counts.

    My suggestion to DL is that God – just like any human – doesn’t care how many facts you collect about him via your controlled testing. If God is highly predictable then what does that tell you about God’s divine nature? Not much, really. It’s not very important information to have. He wants you to know the deeper, more important things about who he is, and for that, you have to get out of the lab.

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