Peter Boghossian Pretends To Know What He Doesn’t Know

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This entry is part 4 of 15 in the series Peter Boghossian


Peter Boghossian pretends to know what he doesn’t know. Though he claims to be on a campaign to eradicate faith, which he defines as the unreliable way of knowing that always leads people to pretend to know what they do not know, he makes that very error himself, right in the heart of his complaints about faith.

Parading himself as a paragon of clear thinking, in reality he’s a walking self-contradiction. It’s one of many reasons I’ve been astonished to watch video of his lectures and see people taking him seriously.

If There Is a God Who Can Communicate About Himself…

Boghossian says faith is an unreliable method of knowing. I take it he means one or both of these: either that faith claims cannot be second- or third-person corroborated, or that religious faith-claims compete with no way to adjudicate which one is correct. So it is very possible for a faith-claim to be wrong.

Up to this point I agree. Does that mean, though, that it’s impossible for a faith-claim to be right? In order for that to be the case the following would also have to be impossible (or known to be false): that there is a God who is able to communicate his own reality to humans in such a way that they know some truth about him, but who does not bind himself to communicating in a manner that meets Boghossian’s standards for reliable knowing.

For Boghossian to know that every faith-claim is pretense would entail his knowing that it’s impossible that there be such a God. Further, he must know that when God spoke to Moses, Moses was deluded. He must know that when Jesus prayed to the Father, Jesus was deluded. He must know that when Thomas Aquinas moved from theology and philosophy to an ecstatic vision, he moved into complete delusion. He must know that every single believer in Christ who has expressed a deep awareness of God is deluded.

Can He Know There is No Such God?

Boghossian can have his opinion that all these are instances of delusion (or legend, in some cases, but). But does he have some reliable means of knowing that God has spoken to none of these persons? To be so certain, he would have to know that the God described above could not exist. But in one of his lectures (as I recall; I am not in a good situation to replay it) he was careful to say that his atheism is less definite than that: it is the atheism that says that God cannot be known to exist, not the atheism that says God cannot exist.

Here, however, he is flirting dangerously close to self-contradiction: I do not know whether there is a God who can make himself known to exist, but I do that no God could be known to exist. Therefore if there is a God who can make himself known to exist, he cannot make himself known to exist.

Agnosticism is the safer choice: not that God cannot be known to exist, but that “I cannot determine whether God exists.” (It’s a safer choice with respect to that particular self-contradiction, at least.)

If Boghossian were to take the harder atheistic line instead, then his position would fall into absurdity right there, and he would be obviously wrong.

For the short remainder of this article I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and treat his position as if he were taking the softer agnostic stance.

Lesser Claims Boghossian Might Make

Going back to faith claims, such as those reported in the Bible or by contemporary Christians: he might object that if knowledge is not acquired “reliably” (according to his terms), it isn’t knowledge at all, for it cannot be trusted by others. But this adds an odd and unnecessary layer on the definition of knowledge: why does my knowledge have to be in some form such that others could, at least in principle, verify it?

Take back injuries. They can be notoriously hard to identify and confirm through objective diagnostic measures. Some people use that to their advantage faking back injuries and claiming insurance payments or damages via litigation. It’s not second-person verifiable in many cases. Does that mean that no person with undetectable soft-tissue damage ever knows that his back is sore? Obviously not.

So if I have read Boghossian’s reliability criteria accurately, he’s calling for an impossible standard. Knowledge need not be second-person verifiable to be true knowledge.

The principle extends much further than my simple example. There’s no second person reliability test to confirm that I have tinnitus (ringing) in my ears, but I know — without pretending — that I do. There’s no test even to confirm that I’m satisfied with this morning’s breakfast, but I know I am.

So if Boghossian wants to rule out all faith experiences because they cannot be second-person verified, and are therefore unreliable, he’s establishing a rule that cannot consistently be followed by anyone.

What about the possibility of error that remains, though? Remember, it’s certain that a large proportion of faith claims are false, no matter what you believe about religion, since they contradict one another.

And what about the real possibility that faith-claims, being unreliable, could easily be instances of self-delusion, and that persons who want to live free of delusion must give them up for that reason?

The same answer serves for both questions. Just because all of them can’t be right, though, it hardly follows that none of them is. Some persons’ experiences could be veridical (true-knowledge-gaining). All that would require would be for there to be a God such as I’ve described above.

Pretending to Know What He Cannot Know

Does Boghossian know there is no such God? How could he? Does he know there is no God who has, perhaps, revealed himself to many persons, but has not revealed himself likewise to Boghossian (for whatever reason)?

He can’t. He can only pretend to know it. And he is indeed pretending that very thing. He must be: otherwise he could never claim that faith is pretending to know what one doesn’t know.

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363 Responses to “ Peter Boghossian Pretends To Know What He Doesn’t Know ”

  1. This is parody, right? You can’t possibly expect any reasonable person to take this seriously, can you?

    I expect the “you can’t prove there’s no Santa Claus” retort from schoolchildren, but is this “you can’t prove there’s no Judeo-Christian deity Yahweh” argument you’re positing here serious? Did I accidentally stumble on a parody site?

  2. This whole post assumes an incorrect definition of atheism. It does not mean “we know there are no gods”; it means “we don’t believe there are gods”. It’s the default position. Lack of belief is not a knowledge claim.

    The real question is how do you know there is a God? What process do you use to come to that knowledge?

  3. Since you do not believe true knowledge needs to be second-person verified, how can you make theistic claims to other people? You’re caught in a solipsistic trap here, one in which you can’t verify that your internal experience of God is not mistaken. (You can only validate or acknowledge experience, not its accuracy.) Both you and Peter make claims based on the presumed existence of other minds which carries with it the presumption that claims can verified, dismissed, or at least be shown to be unlikely. Given the convoluted and shadowy definitions of God (or deities), the existence of God to many philosophers appears unlikely.

    If you do believe your internal experience of God is reliable, then you need to answer David P’s question about the process that led to that conclusion.

  4. Are you really seeking God, David? Or, are you just playing games with us? Jesus taught that ones motives has a lot to do with grasping the truth (Matthew 5:8).

    P.S. There have people here, like Victoria, who have been sincerely trying to answer your questions. You do realize that, don’t you?

  5. JAD:
    I’m interested in reality.

    Tom:
    You can claim something about your own experience and that’s fine. In many cases, if it’s important, someone else can make observations to verify what you are saying – prodding your back in various places and watching you wince or whatever.

    Boghossian is more concerned with claims to know things about reality outside of yourself.

    There are lots of religions claiming lots of things. How does one go about evaluating the claims?

  6. It is self evidently true that something has always existed, or is self existent. Since nothing that presently exists in the universe, including the universe itself, can be described as self existent, the ultimate explanation of everything must transcend the universe.

  7. Nathan, it’s not a parody. The challenge I gave Boghossian here is relevant strictly because of the claims he makes. If you think it’s ridiculous, consider the context. Boghossian is pressing a strong claim, a claim that cannot be true unless he knows there is no God. In this post I explained why that is so. I invite you to re-read the post, and this time if you still think it’s wrong, rather than mocking what I wrote, you might actually explain what you think is wrong about it.

    I remind you that this is not what you might have heard before, something like, “you can’t be a true atheist: you can’t prove there’s no God;” or, “you can’t show me I shouldn’t believe in God because you can’t prove there’s no God.” If I were saying that it would be silly.

    But I’m not. I’m saying that Boghossian’s claim to know that all instances of faith are pretending to know what you don’t know could not possibly true unless he knew there was no God such as I described here. That’s a different topic, and in this case a response such as I gave is fully appropriate.

    Phil, that’s a very broad question you asked, and it would help me know what aspect of it to address if you would narrow it down for me a bit. What is it that you specifically want to know in this context?

    David, your comment is changing the subject. You’re asking me to explain or justify what I belief. This post is challenging what Boghossian believes. I’m not going to follow your rabbit trail. Let’s keep the question focused on whether Boghossian can actually know, or merely pretend to know, that all faith-claims are pretending.

  8. I can see how you could say that it is self-evident that we exist, but I don’t understand how you can say it is self-evident that something has always existed, or is self-existent?

    What makes you say that nothing presently in the universe can be self-existent?

  9. JAD, just by way of warning, don’t be led down David’s rabbit trail unless you’re sure you want to be, and only if you make it clearly known that you’ve changed the subject from what was in the OP.

  10. Sure, I was trying to follow Boghossian’s approach to see where it leads.

    To respond to your point. Religions make knowledge claims about the supernatural. The supernatural is not testable. Therefore, religions are pretending to know something they don’t know.

  11. He knows that the supernatural is not testable (by definition – it falls outside of the natural world phenomena we can test). What is he pretending to know that he doesn’t?

    You said some other things are untestable, such as personal experiences that say nothing about external reality. I don’t see the relevance to his claim, unless you are saying that religious knowledge is only a personal experience and says nothing about external reality?

  12. Tom, you have forgotten Boghossian’s definition of faith: pretending to know things you don’t know. Reread your post and substitute these words everywhere you mention faith.

    Boghossian says faith is an unreliable method of knowing.

    Becomes:

    Boghossian says pretending to know something you don’t know is an unreliable method of knowing.

    Well, yes, obviously!

  13. David, do you have any idea how incredibly, superbly, and astonishingly question-begging that approach would be, when the purpose of my post is to show that his understanding of faith (“pretending to know what you don’t know”) is a case of his own pretending to know what he doesn’t know?

  14. You’re mixing together two definitions of faith: your definition and Boghossian’s definition. That’s why it’s so confusing.

    What you seem to be saying is that some of your claims about Christianity are not pretending to know what you don’t know. You are saying they are not faith claims per Boghossian’s definition of faith.

    For example, the claim that God spoke to Moses; how do you know that He did?

  15. Read the post again. It’s about whether Boghossian knows that he didn’t.

    Please study carefully. If you don’t know why I said that, it’s because you haven’t understood the post yet. I’d be glad to answer clarifying questions. But not disputatious questions–not until you demonstrate knowing what you’re disputing.

  16. What you seem to be saying is that some of your claims about Christianity are not pretending to know what you don’t know. You are saying they are not faith claims per Boghossian’s definition of faith.

    What I am saying (to clarify) is that Boghossian doesn’t know that all faith claims are pretending to know what we don’t know. But he claims to know it anyway.

  17. And I’m not mixing two definitions. I only mentioned his definition so that I could identify what I was disputing. Otherwise I spoke of faith-claims.

  18. Do you have evidence of Boghossian saying that he knows for certain that all religious claims are false?

  19. So, Tom, you are saying that when he says ‘faith’ means “pretending to know something you don’t know”, he is pretending to know that this definition is true?

    It seems that you are also saying that atheists are in a position of faith when they claim that the occurrences of the bible did not happen, because they cannot know that. If i was to say that a purple unicorn appears over my shoulder whenever you are not looking, how would you check if this was true?

    To people not told from birth that they should believe things “on faith”, or to “have faith” in the words of a higher authority or book, it is obvious that if someone makes a claim about something happening that breaks the rules of the universe as we see it, they must have some way of backing this information up. “Faith” means that one does not need to back this claim up at all.

  20. Let’s say for the sake of argument there were a God who communicated some truth directly to humans. Let’s take the example of Moses. God has communicated to Moses. How does Moses know that he wasn’t hallucinating or dreaming the whole thing?

  21. if Boghossian wants to rule out all faith experiences because they cannot be second-person verified, and are therefore unreliable, he’s establishing a rule that cannot consistently be followed by anyone.

    It seems to me that something like this was tried before in philosophy with the so called verification principle of logical positivism.
    Generally speaking the verification principle held that “only sentences and propositions that can be verified are meaningful”. One of the problems, among many others, with such a principle is that it itself could not be verified. As an approach to philosophy logical positivism is now defunct. It appears to me that Boghossian is trying to resurrect something like the verification principle. What is that quote about history… “doomed to repeat it.” I’d try to google it but it’s Saturday night.

  22. JAD
    Are you suggesting there’s no evidence to support the claim that “a claim without evidence is unreliable”?

  23. How does Moses know that he wasn’t hallucinating or dreaming the whole thing?

    To answer my own question: He doesn’t know. Humans dream and are also susceptible to hallucinations, hearing voices, sleep walking, and all sorts of temporary and permanent mental disorders.

    To claim that he knew for certain he was speaking to God would be to claim something he couldn’t know. In other words, a pretense.

  24. Tom, I’d like your definition of “knowledge” in the context of the title of this post.

  25. How does Moses know he wasn’t dreaming or hallucinating the whole thing?

    Fair question. Suppose Moses knew just by way of God communicating it to him in such a way that he knew, and that he knew that he knew. In that case he would have knowledge, justified true belief. It would be true by definition of the case (which we are of course considering hypothetically). It would be justified by virtue of God’s making it known to him in a manner that God chose.

    That is either possibly true or not possibly true.

    If it is not possibly true, and if Boghossian knows it is not possibly true, then he could confidently affirm that Moses at that point was pretending to know what he didn’t know. If all other faith-claims are likewise known to be not possibly true, then Boghossian’s overall claim would stand: it is of the essence of faith that it is pretending, and all faith-claims are cases of pretending to know what one does not know.

    That’s the one condition in which Boghossian can reasonably make that claim so confidently.

    But if it is possibly true that Moses was given knowledge by God, then it is possible that not all faith-claims are cases of pretending. In that case Boghossian cannot know that all faith-claims are cases of pretending.

    There is a another relevant conditional fork to consider. Suppose it is not possibly true that Moses was given knowledge by God in the manner described. In that case Moses is pretending to know what he does not know.

    But we also have to consider whether Peter Boghossian knows that this is not possibly true. If (as has already been said) he knows it, then he can confidently affirm what he indeed confidently confirms.

    If on the other hand Boghossian doesn’t know that it is not possibly true. Then he doesn’t know that Moses couldn’t have received that kind of knowledge directly from God. In that case he would be pretending to know what he in fact does not know.

    That’s complicated, I know. Let me try it again in abbreviated form. Let K stand for the case of some person S knowing some information N truly by way of God imparting knowledge of N.

    K is
    Kp => Possibly true, or
    Kn => Not possibly true.

    If Kp, then Boghossian is wrong to say he knows that S is pretending to know that N; for it is possibly true that S actually does know that N.

    If Kn, then there are again two general options. Either

    Kna => Boghossian knows (has justified true belief) that Kn, or
    Knb => Boghossian does not know that Kn.

    If Kna, then Boghossian knows that it is not possibly true that S knows that N because God has made N known to S.

    If Knb, then Boghossian does not know that God has made N known to S. He can doubt that God has done so; he can dispute that God has done so; but if he does not know that God has done so then he does not know that God has done so. In that case, if he claims to know it, then he is pretending.

    So we see there is only one condition in which Boghossian knows that all faith involves pretending to know what one does. That one condition is Kna.

    Now, my claim is that Kna does not obtain and cannot obtain; for Boghossian could not possibly know that which Kna entails him knowing: he could not possibly know that there is no God who can communicate knowledge to humans according to his conditions for reliable knowledge.

    And we do not have to answer your question, how did Moses know? For purposes of this post, where my intent has been to discuss what Boghossian knows, we only have to identify the conditions in which Boghossian could truly know that Moses didn’t know. That’s what this comment has detailed for you. I hope it’s clearer now.

    Phil, I hope this addresses your question as well. If not, then I’ll still need you to be more specific. Thanks.

    (Be aware that I know of Gettier-like concerns related to JTB, but I don’t think they are relevant here. And if that meant little to anyone reading here, that’s okay: again, it’s not relevant here.)

  26. One more thing: David, your comment in 31 is very human-centered, and understandably so. But it veils an assumption: that there is no God who can overcome the human limitation of which you speak there. Which is question-begging.

  27. Tom, I suggest it might be better if you address my question in a separate focused post since you don’t seem to be understanding my simple question.

    You use the word “know” two times in the title of your post above. The title appears to be a claim. What did you mean by the word “know” when you used it in this claim. I’d like a rigorous definition.

  28. How does Moses know that he wasn’t hallucinating or dreaming the whole thing?

    How do you know you aren’t dreaming right now?

    Answer – it depends on what you mean by “know” – the theory of knowledge you choose to adopt. If you choose the traditional justified true belief (JTB) definition of knowledge, then it depends on what your theory of justification consists of.

    The important thing to note about JTB is that it is not a guarantee of truth. We can have knowledge without certainty as long as our justification for believing what we do is undefeated. The skeptical question “how do you know you aren’t dreaming?” does not defeat our justification, which is based on our own trustworthiness.

    In the same way Moses can also claim to know he is hearing from God. He believes he is justified in thinking that it is God speaking, and the skeptic doesn’t defeat that justification.

    There are also alternative definitions of knowledge, such as going down the externalist route of Dretske and Nozick to reject epistemic closure. This basically says you can know what you heard or saw even though you do not know you aren’t hallucinating. Contextualism also accepts this.

    The main point here is that you can validly claim to know something even though you can’t be certain you aren’t dreaming, hallucinating or being deceived by a demon.

    Knowledge isn’t certainty.

  29. Tom, you’re over-complicating and going down a theoretical rabbit hole that really doesn’t make a lot of real-life sense. We all know that our minds play tricks on us and can suffer impairment. This is a fact with plenty of evidence.

    It doesn’t matter if God actually did speak to us. The point is we cannot know for certain that He did based purely on what our mind tells us.

    Relying solely on our minds as a way to know things is an inherently unreliable way to know things.

    If you still insist there is a way for God to speak to us in a way that we know is not our mind playing a trick, I think you need to explain in rough terms how that might be possible – what God could say or do to make us know that what He says is reliable knowledge and not just a figment of our imagination.

  30. David P,

    I suggest you seriously grapple with bigbird’s comment @36. As it is, you are applying your skepticism selectively to encounters with God without providing for us any reason why all your experiences don’t also get swept away by the same reasoning. The question’s been asked before and it seems pointless for us to provide any justification for what we know until you respond.

  31. There is a mistake being made here with regard to Boghossian’s position on the epistemology of faith. He is not claiming that 100% of the time it leads to people having false beliefs about reality, he is claiming that it is an unreliable epistemology.

    He advocates a method of questioning people who think that faith itself is justification enough to hold beliefs about reality, to show that it is not enough to have faith that certain things are true, one must have good reasons and good evidence to be able to say that certain things are true.

    Because religion has a culture of indoctrinating people into thinking that faith is a reliable way to come to knowledge about the external universe, many people in the religious traditions are simply unaware of the flaws in their way of thinking, and these are the people Boghossian would advocate targeting with questions.

    He thinks this method will turn these people into atheists simply because he is confident that there are no justifiable claims being made by world religions, they all claim to know things that there is no way of showing to be true such that people basically believe anything they want as long as it fits with cultural tradition. He may be correct or incorrect about this, it may be that there is good justifications for beliefs in Christianity, however he does not argue for or against this anywhere or at any time, only advocates evidence-based thinking rather than faith-based. (faith under his definition)

  32. Melissa

    Declaring your mind reliable does not make it reliable. What Boghossian is trying to get people to answer is: Given that our minds are capable of playing tricks on us, what can we do to make our knowledge more reliable? (How can we check our beliefs?)

    His answer is: collecting evidence – independent evidence. And until you have such evidence the best you can say about your belief is you have a hunch.

  33. David P,

    You haven’t addressed the question, unless you are arguing that my belief that I ate an apple at MSAC for breakfast is just a hunch unless I can get independent verification. I know that’s what I did and I have no reason to doubt my experience.

  34. Melissa, you’ve merely introduced a false dichotomy.

    It is not whether you have a hunch or whether you have absolute certainty. It doesn’t work that way.

    Belief in things beyond our current mental state are determined inductively. As a result, you will never have absolute knowledge of those things.

    However, we are not responsible for the absolute truth; we, if we are to be rational, are only responsible for positioning our degree of belief to the balance of that inductive evidence.

    Rational belief can be positioned anywhere along the gradient of belief except for the extreme poles.

    You are not absolutely certain of anything since you are not omniscient. Even your most trustworthy senses are not infalible, and that verification depends on other senses that must themselves be assessed for accuracy ad infintium.

    So you can not say you are not absolutely sure of anything if you are human and rational.

    As a human, you a bound to induction, and the appropriate epistemic humility is needed here. But induction can legitimately lead us to a warranted very strong certainty.

    However, faith, in which the degree of belief does not map to the degree of the evidence is irrational, and has no place in the mental life of those honestly seeking truth.

    If you disagree, rigorouly point out where you think I’m wrong.

  35. You have no reason to doubt it because it’s an everyday thing and you’ve had a lifetime of evidence that apples exist and people eat them. Why would you bother to doubt it? You don’t know for certain you ate it. Have you ever said “I could have sworn I turned that light off”? Our mind does play tricks on us. We don’t consciously think about a lot of what we do. You could also have been hallucinating – maybe you ate a mushroom and not an apple. But there is also probably evidence that someone else could verify: the apple core and maybe a till receipt.

    If, however, you told me you “knew” you’d eaten an apple from the tree of knowledge and while doing so a serpent spoke to you and said you had introduced sin into the world (or whatever) then you are talking about something that does not have a lifetime of evidence behind it. You are talking about new knowledge with no evidence.

  36. While my last comment was directed towards Melissa’s comment, those who blunder on epistemology most are theists.

    And worse, these theists, especially bible-believers, will knowingly equivocate on the word *knowledge*. Dishonestly defending an alleged god of honesty? I don’t think so.

  37. Phil,

    If you think I’m equivocating on knowledge, would you please spell that out for me? I’d be glad to correct myself as waranted.

    With respect to the use of know in the title, I trust you know that this is a quote from Boghossian, who defines faith as pretending to know what you don’t know. And while I appreciate your interest in my opening up a new post for the definition of “know,” I still don’t know what you’re looking for there—especially since it’s those very words of Boghossian’s that seem to be the focus of your concern.

    Again, if you see or suspect a problem, would you please tell us what it might be?

  38. In the title of your post you claim Peter does not “know” something. You are going to have to rigorously define your terms including and especially the word “know”. I can’t imagine you are unaware of the various definitions of the term.

  39. David, I could have bet you were going to say I was complicating things unnecessarily. I’m actually simplifying. All I’m saying is that if Boghossian doesn’t know that there is no God who can communicate to humans in such a way that we know truth about God, then he is pretending to know what he doesn’t know.

    But you’re continuing to adopt a human-centered approach, forgetting what it would mean if there was a God who could do that. You write,

    It doesn’t matter if God actually did speak to us. The point is we cannot know for certain that He did based purely on what our mind tells us.

    But it wouldn’t be based purely on what our mind tells us. It would be based on what God did and said in speaking to us.

    Now this is not to be confused (as Melissa has hinted) with ordinary speaking, where we hear voices in our heads. This would be more analogous to a realization, an awareness of truth, impressed in our consciousness in such a way that once God has done this, one has certain awareness that it was God doing it.

    It would be knowledge without testing or second-person corroboration, yes. It would also be knowledge of the sort that could not be passed along to other humans as justified belief; for the justification for the belief would be in the subject’s having had that knowledge given by God.

    You ask for how God might do this, if there is a God. I don’t know. I don’t know how God does anything. I do know that he does not act mechanically, so if you’re asking if God flips a switch in our brains so that we “know,” that’s not the way God works (as Christian understand God).

    But you are complicating things needlessly. All I’m saying is that if Boghossian doesn’t know that there is no God who can impart knowledge to humans, then he’s pretending to know what he doesn’t know.

  40. Thank you for honing in the question somewhat, Phil. My delay has not been because I misunderstood your question, it’s because you asked a much broader question than I really wanted to take time discussing. I wanted to know what you were really getting to so that I didn’t waste time on something else.

    And it’s clear that you’re aiming at something that would be a lot easier to discuss if you would just tell us what it is. Boghossian has not rigorously defined know in his public lectures or his interviews, as far as I’ve encountered. I do not know about his technical writing: but I do know that what he’s putting out before the public is not rigorously defined. How do you think he’s intending us to understand know when he says, “faith is pretending to know what you do not know? Do you think my usage is relevantly different, or sloppier, than his?

  41. It occurs to me that I ought to make something clear here. This is purely parenthetical, but it needs to be said.

    I’m making a minimal case here. There is much, much more that could be said on behalf of faith by taking a long look at the historical record of God’s interactions with his creation. I’m not expecting Boghossian to take that long look, however, or to agree with me that there’s valuable information there, so I’m setting that aside in this post, and concentrating on just one minimal point: that Boghossian cannot know that there is no God who communicates knowledge truly to humans in modes that would not qualify as reliable knowledge as Boghossian understands it. And if Boghossian cannot know that, then he cannot be certain that all faith is pretending to know what one does not know.

  42. Phil and David, the sense in which I’m using know, where God imparts knowledge, is something like having certain and/or incorrigible true belief. I’m not sure there is anything going on like justification of the belief, but the subject is justified in believing it regardless, because the true creator God has caused him to believe it.

    If Boghossian cannot show that this isn’t possibly true, then his criticism of faith fails even on this minimal ground.

  43. Here’s the problem, Tom.

    Your justification for knowing one has had a real experience with a real god, by your own admission, depends on the unsubstantiated assumption that “the true creator God has caused him to believe it”.

    Circular.

    It is like saying you know space aliens exist because they’ve given you a special receiver to hear their claims that they exist. You have evidence for neither the aliens nor the receiver, yet justify belief in each by invoking the other.

    Your position is incoherent.

  44. Phil Stillwell,

    Melissa, you’ve merely introduced a false dichotomy

    It was David P who introduced the false dichotomy, I am arguing against that so we are in agreement and thank you for helping David to understand his error, although you may need to rethink your claim that it is mainly theists who make these kinds of blunders.

  45. So here is the bottom-line.

    It is possible for a faith-claim to be right by accident, but faith-claims are never rational.

    You accidentally placing faith in the right god (if there is such a thing) is not a noble act, and rejecting your god due to the perception that the evidence does not warrant it is noble to the degree that honesty is noble. And any god that would damn a mind for fidelity to the evidence is not just.

  46. Phil Stillwell,

    Your justification for knowing one has had a real experience with a real god, by your own admission, depends on the unsubstantiated assumption that “the true creator God has caused him to believe it”.

    Circular

    This argument may be circular but it’s not an argument I recognise from what Tom has written.

    It is possible for a faith-claim to be right by accident, but faith-claims are never rational.

    Only if you define faith in a way that precludes rational reasoning. We don’t define faith that way and for you to do so is question begging.

  47. @Phil Stilwell:

    Belief in things beyond our current mental state are determined inductively. As a result, you will never have absolute knowledge of those things.

    This is predicated on a *highly* contentious epistemology — a false one I would argue. Furthermore, and depending on what you mean exactly, it is false, demonstrably false, and self-refutingly false.

    Your justification for knowing one has had a real experience with a real god, by your own admission, depends on the unsubstantiated assumption that “the true creator God has caused him to believe it”.

    Circular.

    This is a fallacious argument. Compare: I am having the veridical sense experience of looking at the computer screen and reading the sentence “I am having the veridical sense experience of looking at the computer screen and reading the sentence”. Following your logic, my justification for believing in the experience is circular because it presupposes the existence of the computer screen. Maybe your next move is to protest and say that there is a difference between sense experience of mundane objects and experiencing God. But if God can communicate with us, it is *you* that has to give us a non-question-begging argument to doubt the experience that does not end us in hyper-skepticism. But there is no such argument, that does not itself beg the question against the existence of God.

    Having said this however, arguments from personal experience (and correct me if that is not the context) *only* work for the person that has had said experience. Of what use is a *personal* experience to another person? No use whatsoever. On the other hand, from the occurrence of numerous such experiences, for people of all walks of life, an inferential argument can be mounted, but as with all inferential arguments, even if the evidence is granted to be strong, there is enough wiggle room for the atheist to escape of he is determined to (as he is).

  48. Melissa, Tom clearly said the following.

    Phil and David, the sense in which I’m using know, where God imparts knowledge, is something like having certain and/or incorrigible true belief. I’m not sure there is anything going on like justification of the belief, but the subject is justified in believing it regardless, because the true creator God has caused him to believe it.

    His reasoning is circular since he invokes his god to justify his supernatural reception of the belief, and invokes the supernatural reception of the belief to justify his belief in his god.

    And unless you are defining “faith” as a degree of belief that is commensuate to the degree of evidence available to the one believing, your faith is irrational. If your definition of faith is equivalent to rational belief, you’re not a fan of Jesus who, instead of promoting rationality, blessed more those who believed more upon less evidence, and belittled those who asked for more evidence.

  49. So here’s the problem, Tom.

    Your justification for knowing one has had a real experience with a real god, by your own admission, depends on the unsubstantiated assumption that “the true creator God has caused him to believe it”.

    This is clearly circular.

    It is parallel to saying you know space aliens exist because they’ve given you a special receiver to hear their claims that they exist. You have evidence for neither the aliens nor the receiver, yet justify belief in each by invoking the other.

    Your position is therefore incoherent.

    So here is the bottom-line.

    Though it is possible for a faith-claim to be right by accident, faith-claims are never rational.

    The accidental placing of faith in the right god (if there is such a thing) is not a noble act, and rejecting your god due to the perception that the evidence does not warrant it is noble to the degree that honesty is noble. And any god that would damn a mind for fidelity to the evidence is not just.

    So, unless you are defining “faith” as a degree of belief that is commensurate to the degree of evidence available to the one believing, your faith is irrational. If your definition of faith is equivalent to rational belief, you’re not a fan of Jesus who, instead of promoting rationality, blessed more those who believed more upon less evidence, and belittled those who asked for more evidence.

  50. Phil Stilwell @ 42:

    Belief in things beyond our current mental state are determined inductively. As a result, you will never have absolute knowledge of those things…

    Well you started out on the right foot, but it was just bait and switch.

    Karl Popper said, “No matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.” As a matter of fact a species of black swan was discovered about 300 or so years ago in Australia. Popper’s point was that a reliance on induction could very easily lead one to a false conclusion. Indeed, it’s impossible to reach a universal simply by observing particulars.

    It is not irrational to believe that black swans might exist. There is nothing irrational about believing one religion out of many might be the true one.

  51. #56 states…

    This is predicated on a *highly* contentious epistemology — a false one I would argue. Furthermore, and depending on what you mean exactly, it is false, demonstrably false, and self-refutingly false.

    …and then does not provide the argument.

    I’m not the least bit interested in unsubstantiated opinions.

    The latter argument is completely unrelated to my argument. Read it carefully this time. Tom said…

    Phil and David, the sense in which I’m using know, where God imparts knowledge, is something like having certain and/or incorrigible true belief.

    …and…

    I’m not sure there is anything going on like justification of the belief, but the subject is justified in believing it regardless, because the true creator God has caused him to believe it.

    …so I directly responded with…

    So here’s the problem, Tom.

    Your justification for knowing one has had a real experience with a real god, by your own admission, depends on the unsubstantiated assumption that “the true creator God has caused him to believe it”.

    This is clearly circular.

    It is parallel to saying you know space aliens exist because they’ve given you a special receiver to hear their claims that they exist. You have evidence for neither the aliens nor the receiver, yet justify belief in each by invoking the other.

    The 2nd half of #56 is no defeater for my argument. It depend on the sense of sight that most sighted individuals have assessed to be highly accurate prior to seeing and independent of the sentence. Others around us can also validate the accuracy of our sight by our behavior. Any god-sensor detecting non-trivial information from a real god will have visible measurable consequences. When you are ready to statistically test for the superior knowledge of christians, let me know. I’d like to be a monitor of the process.

    But surely you know Tom argument is argument is circular. You’re just pretending that you don’t. If a Mormon came up to you claiming that the “burning in the bosom” he felt was validation of his god, and that he knew the “burning in his bosom” was and accurate reflection of his god’s presence because his god said it was, you’d quickly point out the circularity in this, right? Now simply be consistent and apply this to your own claim of a god-sensor.

    Let me give you a hint.

    Instead of a circular argument in which the existence of god is validated by a god-sensor whose accuracy is validated by god, you could have that god-sensor instead validated by its clear superior predictive power above anything current science offers. Does it work as advertized? Does it have any exhibited efficacy over placebo and/or the Islamic god. That would be validation. Your affirmations just don’t cut it. This is not time for make-believe.

  52. (If this discussion is headed where I think it is, I will later be proposing we survey ‘genuine’ Christians on what exactly the spirit of their god reveals to them. I’m going to make the prediction now that I’m going to encounter all kinds of evasive tactics in the attempt to avoid committing to clear claims of what can actually be “known” through this alleged spirit of their god who can allegedly lead them into all truth. This will be true for exegetical issues, moral evaluations, and assessments of divine causation in contemporary events. We’ll see.)

  53. Phil Stilwell,

    Your justification for knowing one has had a real experience with a real god, by your own admission, depends on the unsubstantiated assumption that “the true creator God has caused him to believe it”.

    This is clearly circular.

    It is parallel to saying you know space aliens exist because they’ve given you a special receiver to hear their claims that they exist. You have evidence for neither the aliens nor the receiver, yet justify belief in each by invoking the other.

    Your position is therefore incoherent.

    Just restating your argument without addressing the problems that have been raised will not move the conversation forward. (Edited to add that I Phil’s latest comments became visible after I wrote this.)

    In your parallel example you say you have neither evidence for the aliens or the receiver and yet you clearly do because you experienced the alien giving you the receiver. ie your belief in both the aliens and the receiver is justified by your experience unless you have reasons to doubt that experience.

    So, unless you are defining “faith” as a degree of belief that is commensurate to the degree of evidence available to the one believing, your faith is irrational. If your definition of faith is equivalent to rational belief, you’re not a fan of Jesus who, instead of promoting rationality, blessed more those who believed more upon less evidence, and belittled those who asked for more evidence.

    “Christian faith is at bottom trust in and obedience to the free and gracious God made know in Jesus Christ” – Migliore in Faith Seeking Understanding.

    Given this understanding of faith, your assertions about Jesus are unsubstantiated.

  54. Phil,

    When you are ready to statistically test for the superior knowledge of christians, let me know. I’d like to be a monitor of the process.

    I hardly think it’s necessary to statistically test for Christians superior knowledge – it’s quite obvious that our knowledge of God is superior to anyone else’s. 🙂

    If a Mormon came up to you claiming that the “burning in the bosom” he felt was validation of his god, and that he knew the “burning in his bosom” was and accurate reflection of his god’s presence because his god said it was, you’d quickly point out the circularity in this, right?

    The argument isn’t circular.

  55. David P,

    I missed your comment at 43.

    If, however, you told me you “knew” you’d eaten an apple from the tree of knowledge and while doing so a serpent spoke to you and said you had introduced sin into the world (or whatever) then you are talking about something that does not have a lifetime of evidence behind it. You are talking about new knowledge with no evidence.

    Not no evidence, there would be your experience which does count as evidence. We encounter new knowledge every day so that is a useful criteria for deciding which experiences are real and which are not.

  56. Cute. But not a coherent response, Melissa.

    For if I observed the actual space alients putting in a transmitter, I would then have real evidence.

    Don’t stretch my example to improperly accommodate your god.

    Here, try this. Tell me what divine knowledge you have privy to as a Christian, give me 10 other genuine Christians, and I will send you surveys to test the congruency of your reception of your divine signals.

    Convergence will be the type of evidence for an actual spirit of the god of the universe. No convergence will be indicative of either an impotent or non-existent god.

    I don’t think your god exists. But give me your 10 true Christians and prove me wrong.

  57. And I do need a response to the following.

    Rational belief is a degree of belief commensurate to the degree of the evidence available to the one with the belief. True?

  58. Tom asked in the O.P.:

    Boghossian can have his opinion that all these are instances[vision’s of Moses… Aquinas etc.] of delusion (or legend, in some cases, but). But does he have some reliable means of knowing that God has spoken to none of these persons?

    That’s the point I asked about above(@ #61). How can one arrive inductively at the conclusion that no true religion exists? You may be warranted in doubting a true religion exists but you cannot claim that it is logically impossible… If it’s logically possible how can it be irrational?

  59. Phil,

    For if I observed the actual space alients putting in a transmitter, I would then have real evidence.

    Don’t stretch my example to improperly accommodate your god.

    It wasn’t clear from your example that 1) the receiver was implanted in you; 2) that you had no recollection of the aliens. I hardly think it’s fair to expect that I would have understood that from what you wrote. It’s still not clear that any of the “parallel” examples or Tom’s original claim do involve circularity. You definitely haven’t shown that to be the case. My suggestion is that you set out the premises of the argument uou think is being made so we can see where the circularity is.

    Your further discussion on Christian knowledge of God shows so little knowledge of Christian thought that it’s very difficult to know where to begin to correct your errors. For now I will just propose that you are conflating knowledge and information, and that you are treating God as an object but He is a subject.

    Rational belief is a degree of belief commensurate to the degree of the evidence available to the one with the belief. True

    I prefer the term reasonable but I broadly agree which is why I could not be an atheist – the evidence in my opinion just doesn’t lead in that direction

  60. Phil, you know that an argument is circular if the conclusion is contained or assumed in one or more of the premises, right? So I would ask you to identify which conclusion I’ve argued for that is contained in which premise.

    It appears to me you have misidentified the conclusion here. That’s why you think, incorrectly, that my argument is circular.

  61. @Phil Stilwell:

    I’m not the least bit interested in unsubstantiated opinions.

    So the quoted part was:

    Belief in things beyond our current mental state are determined inductively. As a result, you will never have absolute knowledge of those things.

    First you make a completely unsubstantiated epistemological claim and then you have the chutzpah to complain about “unsubstantiated opinions”? Second, there are whole bodies of knowledge “beyond our current mental state” (which I take it to mean what is accessible to us by introspection — and that is why I did not expand the argument, because I may be misreading you) that are not “determined inductively”: mathematics is the obvious example. So your claim is false. The claim is also self-refutingly false because if you were correct, then there could be no knowledge, not even inductive one. For a taste, look up Goodman’s grue and blean. It is also self-refutingly false, because you go on to claim a piece of absolute knowledge that is not determined inductively, namely: “As a result, you will never have absolute knowledge of those things.”.

    It depend on the sense of sight that most sighted individuals have assessed to be highly accurate prior to seeing and independent of the sentence. Others around us can also validate the accuracy of our sight by our behavior. Any god-sensor detecting non-trivial information from a real god will have visible measurable consequences. When you are ready to statistically test for the superior knowledge of christians, let me know. I’d like to be a monitor of the process.

    You are missing the point of the argument, and nothing you said here is a response to it.

    One thing we can agree, though: I am not interested in your unsubstantiated opinions either.

  62. The god-sensor thing is doubly silly. What’s the control condition? Shall we statistically test whether this universe is more likely to have a god than some comparison universe ( p < .05)?

    Or shall we test believers' knowledge in two conditions: one, where the Christian God exists, and the other where he does not?

    But this is all a distraction, as G. Rodrigues said already.

  63. This short video by Alvin Plantinga entitled “Sure Faith Without Proof” might be more along the lines of what Tom is talking about.

    Rational belief is a degree of belief commensurate to the degree of the evidence available to the one with the belief.

    It would be irrational to exclude one’s own experiences from the evidence available, even though that evidence is obviously subjective.

  64. Whet does it matter whether one’ s worldview can be proven true, if it provides one with the grounds for living a meaningful life?

  65. “Whet does it matter whether one’ s worldview can be proven true, if it provides one with the grounds for living a meaningful life?”

    Yeah, that whole truth thing is so 10 minutes ago.

    (Not to mention that os’s above is a “truth statement’ making his viewpoint self-contradictory and further no one’s worldview can be proven to be true or false making os guilty of failing to understand the basic concept he thinks he is addressing.)

  66. Tom’s argument is not logically circular. If his position is drawn from Plantinga’s epistemology, as it appears, then the idea is that what distinguishes merely true belief from knowledge is that knowledge is true belief produced by a belief-forming module that is directed at truth and functioning properly in the environment for which it is designed.

    One may, of course, raise questions about the adequacy of epistemic externalism, or (more narrowly) reliabilism, or (still more narrowly) Plantinga’s version of it. The issues involved in epistemic circularity are very tricky. But to confuse it with logical circularity is to confuse a version of reliabilism with an internalist, justification-based epistemology and to confuse the causal condition of the former with a premise of the latter. Whatever else it is, it isn’t that.

  67. Does the moon exist? How do we know? Most people know because they can see it. But, what about a person born blind from birth? How does he know the moon exists? Because he has no way of perceiving it, he has a reason for doubting it’s existence, especially if, because of his blindness, people have been playing tricks on him throughout his life. However, even if he strongly believes this, he has no way of knowing, when he hears other people talking about the moon, whether or not people are “pretending to know what they do not know”. I would say the Peter Boghossian, who is spiritually blind, is in an analogous situation. (Ephesians 4: 17 & 18)

  68. Well, Melissa,

    Your persistence in rewriting my analogy into something that accommodates your god is…well…interesting.

    If you really want to see the aliens implant the transmitter, ok.

    Please forgive me, but I will not be dialoging with you in the future.

  69. G. Rodrigues, so much incoherency and so little time.

    Let’s start with your claim that mathematics is not inductively learned.

    Explain…rigorously.

  70. Tom, do you believe the following?

    1. You have “incorrigible true belief” that your god exists through the “sense” god gave you.

    2. You know with full certainty that this sense exists and is accurate because god told you it exists and is accurate.

  71. Nathaniel, describe to the best of your ability the actual process in this module Plantinga proposes.

  72. Phil,

    Your persistence in rewriting my analogy into something that accommodates your god is…well…interesting.

    ???

    Really, what is wrong with you? I merely pointed out that it wasn’t clear from what you originally wrote what the exact conditions were that you were imagining in your hypothetical example, I did not try to rewrite it. I then asked you to write out the argument formally so that we could see for ourselves if it was circular, I don’t think it is.

    Having a temper tantrum about something I didn’t write is hardly adult behaviour, nor is ignoring the rest of what I wrote in response to your earlier demands.

    You can take or leave this next piece of advice: Read what people have written and respond to it.

    For example you write to G.Rodrigues “Let’s start with your claim that mathematics is not inductively learned.” and yet his actual claim was that mathematics is not determined inductively and in this he was picking up on your original language. Now, G. Rodrigues actual claim is obviously true to anyone who has done mathematics – are you seriously disputing it?

    Second example: @82 is not the argument that Tom presented.

    I am not going to waste my time explaining it to someone who has shown no interest in actually understanding what has been written so far, especially in light of the arrogant condescension, demanding tone and complete cluelessness about your own areas of ignorance in the topics being discussed.

  73. Well, give Melissa enough rope…

    In your parallel example you say you have neither evidence for the aliens or the receiver and yet you clearly do because you experienced the alien giving you the receiver.

    Melissa claims to have not rewritten my analogy. It seems that lying is not a problem if it furthers the Lord’s work. How shameful.

  74. I think some of you are completely missing the point that any incorrigible true belief is dependent on the incorrigibility of the sensory apparatus. And the accuracy of that apparatus must be assessed by another apparatus, and so on ad infinitum. Unless your mission, you don’t have access to justified absolute certainty. If you claim to have some sensory apparatus that detects your God with absolute accuracy, and your basis for the accuracy of that sensory apparatus is the word of your God, you have a major problem. It’s called circularity.

    You are going to have to coherently explain the unshakable foundation of your absolute certainty. I don’t believe you can.

  75. Phil,

    Be honest and quote from the correct context. There is nothing in what I wrote that constitutes lying. I’ll help you along so you can follow the conversation.

    You @59: “It is parallel to saying you know space aliens exist because they’ve given you a special receiver to hear their claims that they exist.” (notice there is no indication that the person was unaware that the aliens gave them a receiver)

    Me@64:”In your parallel example you say you have neither evidence for the aliens or the receiver and yet you clearly do because you experienced the alien giving you the receiver.”

    You @67: “For if I observed the actual space alients putting in a transmitter, I would then have real evidence.

    Don’t stretch my example to improperly accommodate your god.”

    Me @ 70: “It wasn’t clear from your example that 1) the receiver was implanted in you; 2) that you had no recollection of the aliens. I hardly think it’s fair to expect that I would have understood that from what you wrote. ” (Notice that I am not rewriting the analogy here but explaining why I misunderstood his original comment)

    You @80: “Your persistence in rewriting my analogy into something that accommodates your god is…well…interesting.”

    Me @85: “I merely pointed out that it wasn’t clear from what you originally wrote what the exact conditions were that you were imagining in your hypothetical example, I did not try to rewrite it.” (This last phrase was in response to his suggestion of persistent rewriting)

    You @86: “Melissa claims to have not rewritten my analogy. It seems that lying is not a problem if it furthers the Lord’s work. How shameful.”

    So it’s clear, I’m sure to everyone else, that I was not lying.

  76. Phil,
    In #70, Melissa explained why she said the comment that you quoted in #86. Why did you say in #80 that Melissa had a “persistence in rewriting my analogy” when clearly she did not do that in #70? Persisting means to continue, and in #70 she did not continue to rewrite your analogy.

    So Phil, quote the portion of #70 where Melissa is persisting to rewrite your analogy, or apologize for what you said in #86.

  77. I CLEARLY wrote in #52…

    It is like saying you know space aliens exist because they’ve given you a special receiver to hear their claims that they exist. You have evidence for neither the aliens nor the receiver, yet justify belief in each by invoking the other.

    Melissa first writes…

    In your parallel example you say you have neither evidence for the aliens or the receiver and yet you clearly do because you experienced the alien giving you the receiver.

    …then clearly writes later…

    It wasn’t clear from your example that 1) the receiver was implanted in you; 2) that you had no recollection of the aliens. I hardly think it’s fair to expect that I would have understood that from what you wrote.

    It’s nothing personal. I just don’t dialog with liars.

  78. Phil,

    It is clearly very personal when you call someone a liar, especially when there is a question mark over how well you are communicating. Yes you stipulated that the person had no evidence that aliens or the receiver exists but I didn’t think that was included as part of your analogy because that would make your reasoning fallacious. If you stipulate that the aliens claims heard by the person are not evidence for aliens or their receivers you are just begging the question against alien receivers, you need to argue this point if you want avoid question begging.

  79. Chuckle-chuckle. I introduce an incoherent analogy parallel to the incoherent stance of Tom to illustrate the incoherency of Tom’s stance, and I am told it can’t be used since it is incoherent. 😉

    Now, do any of the rest of you have any real argument for what serves as the warrant necessary to claim an “incorrigible” belief that your god is real? I’m really getting tired of the evasion.

  80. I’m just waiting for Peter Boghossian to come in here and say:

    Tom says that when I describe faith as “pretending to know what you don’t know”, I’m only pretending to know that, but he can’t really know that—in fact he’s only pretending to know that I’m pretending to know that faith is “pretending to know what you don’t know”.

    Because then I can respond with:

    But Peter, you can’t really know that Tom is only pretending to know that you’re pretending to know that faith is “pretending to know things you don’t know”—you’re only pretending to know that.

    Of course, there’s a chance I would be only pretending to know that 🙂

  81. Phil,

    Chuckle-chuckle. I introduce an incoherent analogy parallel to the incoherent stance of Tom to illustrate the incoherency of Tom’s stance, and I am told it can’t be used since it is incoherent.

    I would not chuckle too loudly because the joke is on you. First look up the meaning of incoherent because it is not a synonym for fallacious. Secondly your “parallel” begs the question in the opposite direction to what you are claiming Tom has done, so it’s no parallel. Do you understand that you can’t just stipulate that an experience is not evidence for God, aliens or whatever, you have to provide an argument, but a person is entirely justified in accepting their experience of something as evidence for that something unless there is a defeater that would lead them to believe that their initial interpretation of their experience was wrong.

    Now, do any of the rest of you have any real argument for what serves as the warrant necessary to claim an “incorrigible” belief that your god is real? I’m really getting tired of the evasion.

    We have evidence in the form of philosophical argument, historical events (namely the resurrection), personal experience etc. It is a cumulative and detailed case, you can pick up some of the particulars from many of the posts on this very blog.

  82. Today’s christian walks up to you claiming to have a spherical cube of gold in their pocket, offer flakes of what could be gold, then says they’ve made a “cumlative” case for the existence of their spherical cube of gold.

    Laughable.

    You have a god that is logically incoherent on many fronts. (Debate me formally on this if you dare. I’ll set up a blog. Equal number of words. Proposition: the biblical god is logically incoherent.)

    You do NOT have incorrigible knowlege of your god. Present your case that you do, then prepare for me to promptly dismantle your case.

    But enough evasion, huh?

    Tom, you have a couple question above waiting for your response.

  83. Tom, do you believe the following?

    1. You have “incorrigible true belief” that your god exists through the “sense” god gave you.

    2. You know with full certainty that this sense exists and is accurate because god told you it exists and is accurate.

    In your response you will demonstrate that either you have a absurdly circular argument, or that you do not have any foundation for your claim of incorrigible knowledge of your god. Choose a horn.

  84. Phil, you haven’t read and/or haven’t agreed to abide by this site’s discussion policies. The notice is clearly linked above the combox.

    See item 5 with respect to all your comments. See item 2 and the “Starbucks Standard” with respect to numbers 86, 90, 92, and 95, where you have laughed at your interlocutors and called them liars.

    There’s also the imperious tone you employ in your demands in #81 and #83, and your repetitions of your questions to me.

    So from this point forward your comments will go into moderation, and I will release them only selectively and for reasons I choose case by case.

    You will undoubtedly write a follow-up comment in which you accuse me of cutting you off because I/we cannot answer your arguments. Nothing could be further from the truth: I invite dialogue and debate from the strongest opposition to my position. See this morning’s blog post.

    No, I am doing this because strong argument is not correlated with one’s ability to speak in an insulting tone; and because I’ve chosen from the beginning for my blog to be a kind of rousing online coffee-table discussion, where anything goes except for outright rudeness.

  85. Tom, I agree the insults are completely unnecessary. We can argue our ideas without resorting to derision. Can you give Phil a warning on this instead of directly going to moderating his comments? Would that be fair?

    Apart from the unnecessary word “absurdly” in Phil’s #96, the question seems reasonable to me and I would be interested in your response to it.

  86. Besides, your arguments aren’t that strong.

    (a) You won’t answer questions like those that I asked you in #71.
    (b) You completely misread the intent of this blog post, wherein the point was not to prove that God imparts knowledge through his own means, but to show that Boghossian’s claim doesn’t stand unless he can prove that God doesn’t do that.
    (c) Thus most if not all of your argument here amounts to a demonstration that you did not or cannot read what you’re responding to.
    (d) Besides being rudely demanding, your challenge to G. Rodrigues’ concerning mathematics and induction is obvious smoke-blowing: you place the entire burden on him and demand that he do all the rigorous work.
    (e) You complained in 62 that G. Rodrigues “did not provide the argument” in 56. When he did, however, in #72, you ignored it.
    (f) Your demanding of rigorous answers, and your ignoring answers and/or questions returned to you, smacks of the old argumentum ad fragenblitzen, in which the person peppers with short questions that require long answers, and claims victory when no short answers are quickly forthcoming. Yours is a special case, however, because you claimed victory by ignoring answers or questions returned to you.

    I’d still be interested in letting your answer to #71 come through moderation and be posted here. If you had thought about the questions I asked there, you might not have spent the rest of your time here trying to prove I was wrong on this thread concerning an assertion that I didn’t actually make on this thread.

  87. David, thanks for the question. While you were posting it I was writing #99, where I invited him to answer #71.

    His problem before and since #71 has been that he has been gleefully accusing me repeatedly of circularity concerning an argument he thinks I’m making. It turns out that I’m not making that argument, so his accusation is mistaken, and his mirth is (shall we say) misdirected.

    If he’ll engage the actual topic of discussion, and do it with an awareness that the world is filled with persons who are actual human beings even if they disagree with him, then his comments will appear.

    Usually, by the way, I give a person a warning before sending them into moderation, but Phil’s tone here has been more insulting than most.

    If he doesn’t come back and re-engage with #71 as a human being among fellow human beings, then I’ll answer my own questions there anyway, which will also answer your question in 98.

  88. There are three primary reasons that I could never become an atheist:

    1. Theism is the best explanation why anything at all exists. (That is just not an assertion; I can prove it.)

    2. Most atheists are angry people who show contempt towards people with whom they disagree. (Jesus, on the other hand, taught us that we should love our enemies.)

    3. Despite all their pretension and posturing, atheists aren’t very good at reasoning.

    I think we have seen a good demonstration of #3 on this thread. I can understand maybe trying to use fallacious logic to try to trick people you scornfully regard as ignorant. But would an ethical person do something like that? Would a person who claims to be a champion of reason continue to use fallacious arguments after it’s been pointed out to him?

    (Of course maybe this is just true of the so-called “internet atheists”.)

  89. JAD,

    As to your #1 point, might that be better stated:

    Atheism isn’t the best explanation for anything.

    I’m not sure I’ve can back up all the possible ramifications of that but I can think of a quick (and pretty important) dozen as I’m sure most can.

  90. JAD,

    In my view, your reasons 2 and 3 are unnecessarily insulting stereotypes (and quite possibly factually incorrect).

    Both “sides” of this debate have strong emotions on the topic and sometimes these emotions come out in an unproductive way. Critical thinking is difficult for anyone, not just atheists. All we can all do is try our best and help each other (kindly) to understand any mistakes.

    I suggest we all try to drop the attitude and the insults and work together to establish what’s true. It doesn’t have to get personal. We can keep the focus on the ideas and genuinely try to understand each others’ views. Maybe we’ll all learn something.

    Theism is the best explanation why anything at all exists. (That is just not an assertion; I can prove it.)

    I’ll take the bait. Please go ahead and prove it.

  91. @David P:

    Please go ahead and prove it.

    It is not hard; just think a little bit about what kind of being would have to be that could serve as an explanation for everything that exists, including matter, energy and spacetime. You will very soon find that you will get something pretty close to what everyone calls God.

  92. JAD
    The comments for the thread have gone off in all kinds of directions. I found Tom’s original post difficult to follow, but I think the main question he was asking was along the lines of:

    Does Boghossian know that is impossible for God to give humans reliable knowledge? If so, how does he know? If not, is he (Boghossian) therefore pretending to know something he does not know?

    What do you think? Am I understanding what Tom was saying?

  93. Phil,

    Nathaniel, describe to the best of your ability the actual process in this module Plantinga proposes.

    If you really want to know, your best option would be simply to read Plantinga’s own description in his Warrant trilogy. It’s not the sort of thing that lends itself to being condensed into a combox; that would only be liable to lead to misunderstandings. But it’s out there in public, so there’s nothing hidden here.

    The philosophical literature on reliabilism will help you to see the distinction between the causal condition in an externalist epistemology and a reason in an internalist epistemology. Many good introductions (by BonJour, Crumley, Feldman, Fumerton, etc.) cover this distinction.

  94. @David P:

    Is that the same concept as “mother nature”?

    No (actually, the more appropriate answer would be a Huh? with a picture of a stunned look to accompany it).

  95. Tom, If that is your argument, I would ask: do you really believe that it is not only possible but the truth? How strongly do you believe it? And why?

  96. David, yes.

    I believe it quite strongly, because it’s clear that God spoke to the prophets in that way.

    I’m not going to go into why I am convinced that’s the case, though. Unless you’d like to re-read the entire content of the blog since I began it, that is.

  97. So you’re saying the person receiving the revelations would know for certain (not just believe but know) that he was not imagining it. How does he know for sure? How does he distinguish that knowledge from the strong feeling that a false prophet or a delusional schizophrenic might have?

    The knowledge can’t be stored in or even processed by the brain because as we know the brain is fallible. It is a fatty, gray network of axons, synapses and neurons processing electrical and chemical signals, easily disturbed, full of imagination, daydreams. It frequently plays tricks, and suffers from a host of cognitive biases.

    So it must be some other undetectable magic mechanism, right?

    And the words coming from the person’s mouth must be directly from this magic source – not processed by that person’s fallible brain. So the magic source must be able to control the person’s body in a similar way to the brain.

    Is that what you’re saying?

  98. I’m also interested in when exactly Dr. Boghossian claimed to know anything about reality for certain. The speeches I’ve seen (e.g. the Easter bunny one) start with an explicit statement that he is willing to change his view on anything, given sufficiently strong evidence.

  99. Melissa

    OK, so you acknowledge that the knowledge from the prophet could be wrong?

    Out of interest, what are your thoughts on this question: How does he distinguish that knowledge from the strong feeling that a false prophet or a delusional schizophrenic might have? (Especially considering these kinds of claim are not uncommon – there’s someone like this in every town / mental institution).

  100. David, this is not a blog post on how we know Scripture is true. It’s a minimal-case argument for why Boghossian is wrong. The two conclusions require different kinds of arguments, overlapping slightly to be sure, but not necessarily to any great degree.

    Melissa, if you want to go there feel free, but I didn’t bring up the prophets for that purpose. There are stronger ways to introduce Scripture’s veracity than that.

  101. He has strong evidence to support that view – e.g. the unsubstantiated claims of faith healers, homeopaths, dousers, the mutually contradictory claims of prophets from different religions, the number of people who have claimed to be the messiah or hear voices – and no evidence to the contrary apart from what you claim happened, but that’s not hard evidence. That’s conjecture.

    He has got brains as an epistemologist which is why he doesn’t accept conjecture as a reliable way to know things.

  102. David P,

    I only commented to put a stop to your “magic mechanism” proposal. Let’s stay on topic shall we? It’s unlikely a more in depth discussion of revelation will be fruitful.

  103. ???

    I’m talking about his view that getting thoughts out of thin air, even if the person is sincerely convinced they are supernaturally inspired, is not a reliable way to knowledge. Evidence and reason is far more reliable.

  104. David P,

    He has evidence that there are people who have been mistaken in their faith claims. That is not evidence that all faith claims are pretending to know what you don’t know.

  105. David P,

    I’m talking about his view that getting thoughts out of thin air, even if the person is sincerely convinced they are supernaturally inspired, is not a reliable way to knowledge. Evidence and reason is far more reliable.

    What’s your evidence that all faith claims are about getting thoughts out of thin air.

  106. He has evidence that there are people who have been mistaken in their faith claims. That is not evidence that all faith claims are pretending to know what you don’t know.

    Correct. As far as I know he never claimed that they all were with certainty. He’s prepared to change his view.

    He claims what he says on the basis of strong evidence confirming it and no evidence to the contrary.

    Feel free to remove the words “thin air”, if you like. It doesn’t change the gist of the post without those words.

  107. I chuckle when I see people saying things like “no evidence.”

    It is the most obviously wrong, most easily disproved of all anti-faith claims.

  108. At least you admit that there’s a possibility you are wrong about your beliefs. That is a chink of light as far as I’m concerned.

  109. At least you admit that there’s a possibility you are wrong about your beliefs. That is a chink of light as far as I’m concerned.

    David this thread would be much shorter and clearer if you’d accept that claiming knowledge is not the same as claiming certainty. Nothing is absolutely certain in science, faith or life in general. We all know this, so why the comment above?

    As for evidence: read Licona or NT Wright to learn about historical evidences for the Christian faith, read Aquinas, WLC or Plantinga to find philosophical arguments for the faith, and read Plantinga for an explanation of Christian warrant. And read a few Christian biographies to get to grips with how faith has made a radical difference in people’s lives.

  110. The more I think about it, the more the more puzzled I am that Boghossians would equate faith and belief with pretending. There is a reason that pretend is a different word. It doesn’t mean the same thing.

    Compare the following sentences:

    1A. People use to believe that the sun revolved around the earth.

    1B. People use to pretend that the sun revolved around the earth.

    2A. The terrorists who flew planes into the Twin Towers on 9-11 believed that they were doing God’s will.

    2B. The terrorists who flew planes into the Twin Towers on 9-11 pretended that they were doing God’s will.

    3A. Michael Phelps believed that he could become a world class swimmer.

    3B. Michael Phelps pretended that he could become a world class swimmer.

    Clearly pretending is not the same as believing.

  111. Two things here. One, it’s not “pretend” it’s “pretend to know.” Include those two additional words in there and it comes out quite different. Different enough to make it make sense that way? I don’t think so.

    Two, Boghossian wants to make “faith” a strictly religious word, defined as he defines it, and never used in any other context at any time for any reason. Your examples with “belief” have nothing to do with “faith” in his terms.

    And how will he accomplish this wresting of “belief” away from “faith”? By authoritarian force expressed in whatever rhetorical tricks he can muster.

  112. Boghossian wants to make “faith” a strictly religious word, defined as he defines it.

    I don’t think Boghossian intends to limit “faith” to only religious faith. People who believe that things like homepathy, astrology, feng shui and crystal healing actually work are (according to Boghossian’s theory) using the same “faith” epistemology to arrive at their beliefs as religious people.

    Take the example of homeopathy. A person may begin by hearing reports of its success and decide to “see for themselves”. After meeting a charismatic homepathy practicioner they decide that they have faith in this person and this translates to faith in homeopathy. From then on, they attribute any positive improvements in their health to homeopathy and, in doing so, their faith is galvanised.

    Had this person investigated homeopathy rationally—looked at randomised controlled trials, examined the claimed mechanisms of effect to see if they square with human physiology—they would have rightly rejected it out of hand.

  113. Fair enough. Although I’d be interested to read a blog post looking at things like homeopathy and the like, explaining how believing in these things is different to believing in faith healing, or indeed to believing in God.

  114. Boghossian wants to make “faith” a strictly religious word, defined as he defines it, and never used in any other context at any time for any reason. Your examples with “belief” have nothing to do with “faith” in his terms.

    I was wondering about that which is why I included a religious example.

    2A. The terrorists who flew planes into the Twin Towers on 9-11 believed that they were doing God’s will.

    Their motives were religious, were they not? And how is that different from my other examples?

    Also, we could rephrase the sentence:

    2C. The terrorists who flew planes into the Twin Towers on 9-11 had faith that they were doing God’s will.

    How is that different from:

    3C. Michael Phelps had faith that he could become a world class swimmer.

    I don’t see that as an illegitimate use of language and it’s not necessarily religious in that context. No doubt Michael Phelps had a lot of faith in himself.

    Yes obviously, Boghossian’s rhetoric is just another example of post modern, neo-authoritaian political correctness.

    Also, the Greeks during during Plato’s time had a term for “philosophers” who relied on rhetoric over reason. They were called sophists. They were accused of engaging in sophistry not philosophy.

  115. Yet Another Tom,

    Homeopathy is the type of thing that can be investigated by the natural sciences. Christian doctrine is not – for that we need philosophy, history etc.

  116. Homeopathy is the type of thing that can be investigated by the natural sciences. Christian doctrine is not – for that we need philosophy, history etc.

    Can faith healing, for example, be investigated by the natural sciences, given that it claims to be able to influence our physical reality (e.g make a physical disease go away)?

  117. Miraculous healings are by definition not repeatable or controllable, so no.

    What about crystal healing? The people promoting that say that it’s miraculous. Do you think it can be investigated by natural sciences?

  118. We might descibe many things as miraculous that doesn’t qualify them as actual miracles in the technical sense. we could set up an experiment to determine whether crystal healing works because we are able to have a control group. You cannot do that in respect to the actions of God.

  119. We might descibe many things as miraculous that doesn’t qualify them as actual miracles in the technical sense.

    What is the “technical” definition of a miracle?

    we could set up an experiment to determine whether crystal healing works because we are able to have a control group. You cannot do that in respect to the actions of God.

    We can set up a controlled experiment to test faith healing: those who have the disease and don’t pay money to a faith healer.

  120. But even though we cannot conduct controlled faith healing studies, we can investigate them through forensic/journalistic/historical methods. See Keener, Miracles for a long study of that nature.

    Controlled, statistical studies are for the purpose of discovering regularities in nature and tendencies evident in large groups of people. Miracles, if they happen, are not regularities in nature, and are not performed by large groups of people. So the statistical method is inappropriate to the task. David, if you choose not to believe in God because a method that’s intended to discover only that which is not God does not discover God, you have chosen on irrational grounds.

    So is there any method that can reliably detect miracles? Again, read Keener. The short version is yes, already mentioned above: forensic/journalistic/historical methods. Was person P sick or crippled? Was there prayer? Did person P get better in ways that medical science cannot explain?

    I could tell you of my friend Connie who had severe epilepsy and was healed instantaneously through prayer. I could tell you of my own instantaneous healing from chronic bronchitis.

    How statistically significant are these healings? Wrong question. It’s how significant they are. If miracles are rare, but they happen, then the naturalistic story is inadequate. In fact it only takes one genuine violation of the natural order to demonstrate that the natural order does not rule over everything.

    There are questions there still concerning epistemology, and how we can be sure miracles are happening. That’s the positive argument that can be made, but which I’m not pressing here. David, before we could go down that road, I’d want to know whether you’ve accepted the negative argument I’ve made against your reasoning.

  121. Tom, if you got run over and prayed and your leg grew back then I might be interested. I’d still look for a natural explanation (stem cells?)

    Believing in miracles puts the brakes on trying to find out about how nature really works. Why bother to look for another explanation when you already believe you have a perfectly good one?

    The point is that explanations are only as good as their evidence. You could say that pixies and fairies made it happen. There’s just as much evidence for that explanation as any other supernatural explanation. Unless you have concrete evidence of what you are saying, you are pretending to know when you don’t.

  122. @David P:

    And that’s why I don’t believe in God.

    I take it that what you mean by this is:

    (A) You (David P) do not believe in God because the methods used to prove His existence are not open to your personal verification; therefore, so the reasoning goes, there is no rational basis to accept them — or to put it in slightly different terms, if you accepted them, you would accept them only on Authority.

    Is (A) an accurate rendering of your position?

  123. No, David, there’s not as much evidence for pixies and fairies as any other supernatural explanation, and you’re being irrational here.

    If my leg grew back after amputation, following prayer, it would be irrational for you to insist on a natural explanation to the exclusion of all other explanations. Sure, you still could: for after all (if I may paraphrase you), why bother to look for another explanation when you already believe that somewhere someday somehow somebody will provide you a perfectly good one? But don’t you see how weak that promissory-note explanation is? Is it really any stronger than an existing theistic explanation?

    Believing in miracles does not put the brakes on trying to find out about how nature really works. The historical record strongly shows that’s not the case. Strongly. You have made a theological (yes, theological, in the sense of socio-religious belief systems) statement there with no empirical support; and in fact you are wrong. People who believe(d) in miracles include Galileo, Brahe, Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, Faraday, Mendel, Linnaeus, Agassiz, von Braun, Collins, and many others great investigators of nature.

    How many Christians commenting here are physical scientists and/or mathematicians? How many are social scientists? Can you really believe none of us is interested in finding out about how nature works?

    But I’m afraid (if I may paraphrase you again) your beliefs about this will put the brakes on your trying to find out how belief in miracles really affects people. I’m afraid you’ll take the role of the one who’s blocking explanations.

    You say that explanations are only as good as their evidence. More accurately, explanations can be worse than their evidence, but they cannot be any better (except by accident).

    One way they can be worse is if you prejudge the matter, as you have announced here that you are doing.

    Another way they can be worse is if you refuse pertinent forms of evidence, which you announced in 148 you are doing, I think; though I asked you in 150 to clarify that. You have not answered that question yet.

    Another way they can be worse is if you fail to recognize real distinctions, as you have done here with “pixies and fairies.”

    David, I’m thinking of you as a person, a fellow human being, who has chosen your position on these matters for reasons that are identifiably poor and/or completely wrong. It’s painful to see you doing that. Would you reconsider, please?

    In your most recent comment you introduced a set of thoughts that were tangential to the argument I had made in the previous comment. You deflected my question at the end of 150. I’m going to ask you this time not to do that.

    Look through 150 again, and also this comment: is its reasoning false? Are there identifiable logical fallacies? Have I introduced false or weak evidence and built an argument upon it? If so, point that out, please, and show how that hampers the argument you think it’s intended to support. Otherwise, think through what I’ve said. And watch yourself for this, please: don’t let your anti-supernaturalism prevent you from doing a genuine logical analysis. Don’t let it keep you from answering the questions with which I began this paragraph. Don’t let it keep you from asking yourself, “okay, then, now what?”

  124. I am not closed to changing my mind about God. There are many ways in which He could demonstrate His existence to me – such as by causing major changes in the laws of nature or highly improbable events (e.g. making the moon sprout legs and do a moonwalk, draining the sea one day and then refilling it the next day, helping someone to win all the lotteries in the world every week for a year). I would also need a lot of evidence that it was not just me going bonkers or being deceived by fellow humans in some way.*

    I accept many things on authority. I don’t have time to check everything for myself. If it makes sense (doesn’t contradict what I already believe to be true), and there is evidence that people have applied reliable methods for gathering and evaluating evidence, I’ll probably accept it. My rating of how sure I am will not be as high as if I looked at the evidence for myself.

    Climate change is a good example. I am willing to believe that climate change is happening because there is a broad consensus among scientists that it is. It seems to me to be a reasonable hypothesis, given what I do know. I’m willing to accept their conclusion. However, as I haven’t tested the hypothesis myself, I would not claim to know that it’s true to a very high level of confidence.

    I don’t believe in God because it makes no sense to me (it contradicts natural laws that I believe are true) and has no real evidence. It is just a bunch of assertions. That’s not evidence. Evidence that people made the assertions is not evidence either.

    I reject supernatural explanations in general because they put the brakes on looking for natural explanations (as I said, in #151). That is not to say that scientists cannot have religious beliefs, and that some of them may use science as “a way to understand God”.

    However, the things you have said about miracles that they “cannot be tested”, that “statistical significance is irrelevant” (confirmation bias) and how anecdotal evidence (cherry picking) supports the case are the direct opposite of a scientific way of approaching the issue.

    * Derren Brown, in one of his TV shows, managed to convince a guy that an apocalyptic meteor shower was on its way. Derren redirected the guy’s smartphone via a proxy server so that the normal websites he viewed could have fake news items inserted into them. He also had the real BBC newsreader read a pretend bulletin that was fed into the guy’s house as part of the news. All his friends were in on the prank. If someone wants to trick you, it may not actually be as hard as you might think, even in this day and age.

  125. Controlled, statistical studies are for the purpose of discovering regularities in nature and tendencies evident in large groups of people.

    I agree with you on this; however…

    Miracles, if they happen, are not regularities in nature, and are not performed by large groups of people. So the statistical method is inappropriate to the task.

    If this is true then, having identified the regularities in nature using statistical methods, we ought to be able to use those same methods to identify when our data does not behave like the regularities in nature—that is, when a miracle occurs, it should be irregular.

    For example, say we use statistical methods to determine that, on average, 0.1% of patients with a particular disease who are diagnosed as terminally ill actually end up making a full recovery. For the purposes of this example we’ll assume this 0.1% is based on a study group in which all the patients are atheists who don’t believe in miracles. They may have been misdiagnosed or they may have recovered for reasons hitherto unknown to science, but in either case, nobody is claiming any miracles have taken place. To the best of our scientific knowledge we can conclude that that’s just the regular order of nature for patients diagnosed with this particular disease: 0.1% recover on average.

    Now say we look at people who have been diagnosed with this same disease who go to see faith healers. What percentage of this group do we expect to recover? If the regular order of nature were to continue then we would expect to see 0.1% of these patients recover. If we see a significantly larger proportion recover (and we have powerful mathematical tools to help us identify what is significant and what isn’t) then we may conclude that faith healing is effective. In this case, whether you choose to call it a miracle or not is beside the point: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and an effective healing technique by any other name would still be as effective.

  126. David P,

    Here’s the problem I see with your position. You say you cannot accept the position that God exists on a faith basis. That there isn’t enough evidence for you. But the truth is you accept the position that God doesn’t exist on a faith basis. You have no better evidence, if not quite a bit worse evidence, that God doesn’t exist than we do that he does. You are making the same leap of faith as we are.

    Now tell me if I’m wrong but you probably don’t see it that way. You think non-belief in God is the logical starting place and that you’re justified in not believing if God isn’t “proven” to your satisfaction. But the truth is neither non-belief nor belief in God are logical starting places. (Pascal put this to bed a few hundred years ago.) We all begin without “proof” of the validity of either position as we all have to make a decision. A decision based on faith as, of course, proof is not available to any of us.

  127. Yet Another Tom,

    A miraculous healing by God is not a “technique”, it is the free action of God.

  128. David,

    You didn’t answer my questions. You continue to believe falsehood about supernatural explanations putting the brakes on natural exploration — in spite of the evidence I’ve presented.

    You explain that my approach to miracles is the direct opposite of a scientific approach, ignoring the fact that I had already told you virtually the same thing, adding that there are good reasons for it, and what we can do about it in view of that.

    Why???

    When someone provides evidence that something you have said is false, what makes you get anywhere in your simply repeating it? What do you have against taking evidence into consideration?

    When you ignore additional information related to something we agree on in part, what good do you think that does you? What do you have against that information? What do you have against evidence?

    For you have clearly ignored information and evidence.

    Why???

  129. @David P:

    I accept many things on authority. I don’t have time to check everything for myself.

    Finally, a little bit of rational thinking from you.

    If it makes sense (doesn’t contradict what I already believe to be true), and there is evidence that people have applied reliable methods for gathering and evaluating evidence, I’ll probably accept it.

    Just to spoil it all over again…

    (1) Making sense, or being coherent, is not the same thing as not contradicting what you already know. But what the parenthetical remark is really saying is that you are not open to change your mind when one of your beliefs is contradicted by the evidence. Now, I am pretty sure that this is not what you want to say, but I find the slip — to call it that — perfectly in character.

    (2) So you start, very reasonably, to concede that you cannot check everything for yourself, but now you are saying that “evidence that people have applied reliable methods for gathering and evaluating evidence”. And how can you check for *that*?

    (3) And en passant, the problem is not merely the practical incapacity to check things for oneself, but also the practical incapacity to even *understand* what exactly you should be checking.

    I presume you accept the existence of the Higgs boson. Do you even understand the Standard Model of elementary particles? Yang-Mills gauge theories? If I tell you that the strength of a gauge field is the curvature of a connection on a G-principal bundle (the gauge potential) over Minkowski space, where G is the gauge group; that matter fields are represented by sections of associated vector bundles given by some linear representation of G; that the quantum state spaces are then the Hilbert L^2- spaces of such sections, etc. and etc., can you even tell if I am talking correct mathematical physics or just plain gibberish? Symmetry breaking? Ever calculated scattering cross sections? Renormalization?

  130. Here’s the thing, G. Rodrigues. You believe in miracles. That puts the brakes on your interest in exploring natural explanations. Therefore your last paragraph there is just plain gibberish.

    Sure, that’s as ad hominem as any argument ever uttered, but it follows from what David has affirmed twice here now on his own authority, so how could it not be true?

  131. A miraculous healing by God is not a “technique”, it is the free action of God.

    If it’s a free action by God, does that mean it’s independent of whatever actions we as humans take (such as praying or paying faith healers)?

  132. Yes. Not orthogonal, but independent in the sense of not being tied in a direct cause-effect relationship. In other words, God has freedom to choose.

  133. @Tom

    I come from a different paradigm, and it is therefore difficult for me to understand your thinking. It is not helped by the fact that there are multiple messages coming at me here, covering several topics from several angles.

    If you would like me to address a particular argument, please write the argument again clearly and concisely and I will try to address it.

  134. “If it’s a free action by God, does that mean it’s independent of whatever actions we as humans take (such as praying or paying faith healers)?”

    It might be or God may choose to work through someone’s prayers. (I’ll leave out faith healers, it’s too broad a term.)

  135. Tom,

    I did not state my true problem in my last message because I didn’t want to offend you. My problem is that I cannot discern your arguments from those messages. As you know, I had similar problems understanding the OP because there were so many overladen threads of ideas.

    Please can I ask you to take a bit of time to express again, as clearly and concisely as you possibly can, one particular argument you want me to address?

  136. David, this is a direct quote from #153. If this is unclear, then ask questions about it, please.

    Believing in miracles does not put the brakes on trying to find out about how nature really works. The historical record strongly shows that’s not the case. Strongly. You have made a theological (yes, theological, in the sense of socio-religious belief systems) statement there with no empirical support; and in fact you are wrong. People who believe(d) in miracles include Galileo, Brahe, Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, Faraday, Mendel, Linnaeus, Agassiz, von Braun, Collins, and many others great investigators of nature.

    How many Christians commenting here are physical scientists and/or mathematicians? How many are social scientists? Can you really believe none of us is interested in finding out about how nature works?

    But I’m afraid (if I may paraphrase you again) your beliefs about this will put the brakes on your trying to find out how belief in miracles really affects people. I’m afraid you’ll take the role of the one who’s blocking explanations.

  137. In fact it only takes one genuine violation of the natural order to demonstrate that the natural order does not rule over everything.

    I’ve always wondered about the extreme outlier data. What might they be telling us? The fact that 95% of all results show that cause X produces effect Y is interesting, but an equally interesting question is why it didn’t happen in 100% of the cases? If nature is regular and predictable then there should be no exceptions. There must be other variables in play.

  138. “I am not closed to changing my mind about God. There are many ways in which He could demonstrate His existence to me…”

    What this appears to be saying is that you are willing to submit to God if He will submit to You first. Is that correct?

    The miracles we see in Scriptures usually fall in to two categories:

    1) God demonstrating His power in calling someone to do His work.

    2) Someone coming to God in faith (belief that God can do what is being asked of Him) for healing or assistance.

    If 1), then you may want to consider the lives of individuals called in this way (Moses, Peter, Paul, etc). Is this what you are asking God to do with you?

    If 2), then you’ll need to set aside your pride and ego and submit (i.e., yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another) to God first.

  139. Tom,

    You seem to be telling me that some people who believe in miracles are also great scientists.

    I totally agree with this and I may have been loose with my language earlier. I assumed you would understand my point from the context.

    What I meant is that deciding a particular event is a “miracle” puts the brakes on you discovering more about that event. Why would you continue to look? Or at least why would you look so hard when you already have an explanation that explains all the facts?

    Also note that “putting the brakes” on does not necessarily mean that you stop entirely. It just means that your efforts slow down. Your heart is not in it.

    Someone who does not believe in miracles will continue to retain their original vigor in searching for a naturalistic explanation. Until they find one they will be honest and say “I don’t know”. Anyone who says “I know” about a miracle is pretending. They don’t know. They are making it up. They have no reliable way to know.

  140. By jumping to unwarranted conclusions based on insufficient evidence.

    How is it possible to determine that an event is a miracle and does not have a natural explanation?

  141. “Only if He wants me to believe in Him.”

    So God must submit to you. The Greeks had a word for this. I’ll pretend to believe you know what it is.

  142. David P

    What I meant is that deciding a particular event is a “miracle” puts the brakes on you discovering more about that event. Why would you continue to look? Or at least why would you look so hard when you already have an explanation that explains all the facts?

    This doesn’t sound right at all. If God acts then concluding that God acted doesn’t put the brakes on anything. You’ve arrived at your destination – the truth. Continuing to look for the truth as if it had not been discovered makes no sense.

    This is not to say that there aren’t MANY other things to discover about the event. Nothing is stopping you from looking into those other details. For some reason you think everything comes to stop. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  143. “By jumping to unwarranted conclusions based on insufficient evidence.”

    And you know this how?

    Is this a warranted conclusion based on sufficient evidence or are you just pretending to know this? If the former, please provide that evidence.

  144. David P,

    How do you know you’ve hit the truth?

    The answer to this question has been going on for a long time here. I need not repeat everything that has already been said.

    If you don’t know when you’ve hit the truth then there’s no truth that I can expose you to that would change this because you would be unable to recognize it as the truth.

    You’re chasing your tail, David.

  145. “I refer you to SteveK’s answer.”

    No. You made an assertion. Provide evidence for that or retract it.

  146. @SteveK

    People have always loved to attribute events and phenomena to God or gods. “God did it!” is a great explanation. The Romans made an art out of it. It’s a better response than “Stop asking questions” or “Just because” or “I don’t know” because they all sound unknowledgeable. And who wants to sound unknowledgeable?

    Through science we now know about plate tectonics, how friction in storms creates static electricity, how volcanoes form, how tornadoes form etc. We don’t know everything. There are lots of answered questions, but saying “God did it” is not a real answer is it? There’s no real evidence to support it. It’s just supposition. It might make you feel knowledgeable, but it’s all a pretense.

    If you think about it, you don’t know that a miracle is really a miracle and there is no natural explanation. How can you actually know that?

    An event may be unexplained and may seem to contradict nature, but it’s an unwarranted jump to say that therefore it is a miracle. You just don’t have evidence to support that leap. You only have evidence that it’s unexplained. The best you can say is “It’s very strange. We don’t know how that happened. Perhaps it was a miracle!”

  147. David P @ #154:

    I am not closed to changing my mind about God. There are many ways in which He could demonstrate His existence to me – such as by causing major changes in the laws of nature or highly improbable events (e.g. making the moon sprout legs and do a moonwalk, draining the sea one day and then refilling it the next day, helping someone to win all the lotteries in the world every week for a year). I would also need a lot of evidence that it was not just me going bonkers or being deceived by fellow humans in some way.*

    Frankly that is an impossibly high standard… No Christian has come to faith in Christ that way. People come to Christ not by demanding more revelation, but by responding to the revelation that He has already given. I think the obstacle for you, David, is more a matter of the heart and will– You have to be willing to believe. You’re using the intellectual stuff as an excuse and as a smokescreen. That’s plain for everyone to see.

    So, what is your purpose for being here?

  148. David P,

    If you think about it, you don’t know that a miracle is really a miracle and there is no natural explanation. How can you actually know that?

    Nonsense and I can prove it using similar examples. Do you know what love, truth and justice are? Of course you do. If I came to you and said what you’ve said here – hey David, if you think about it you don’t know what love is – you’d think I was a bit looney.

  149. Frankly that is an impossibly high standard

    Not impossible for God. I mean that’s the point of the tests: if God really is the all-powerful being you make Him out to be then this kind of thing should be a doddle for Him.

  150. Love is an abstract term we use to label a set of feelings and thoughts. Everyone experiences it differently.

    What has that got to do with an evidential basis for the truth or falsity of miracles? I don’t understand your line of reasoning.

  151. David P,
    You know and recognize the four causes all the time in your everyday life. Therefore it’s possible that you’d know and recognize a miracle when you saw it because it would involve those same four causes.

  152. You might suspect a miracle, but how would you know it was a miracle? How would you establish that your suspicions were true or false?

    A miracle is not subjective like love. It’s a claim about objective reality.

  153. @188
    I cannot boil down a miracle to what you insist it be boiled down to. You insist that it be boiled down to physical data and that cannot be done.

    You know intentionality, love, justice, etc when you see them carried out but you don’t question those things and demand they be put under a microscope so that you can confirm and thus truly know what these things are – as if justice or intentionality can be seen in a jumble of physical data.

    You couldn’t do that even if you wanted to, But you insist on doing that with miracles. Why?

  154. David P @182

    Do you have proof for this or it this another unwarranted conclusion based on insufficient evidence?

    Two areas of equivocation:

    1. Roman polytheism is not the same as the Christian understanding of God. Trying to lump all religions into one pot is intellectually lazy.

    2. Science can only explain natural events. Since God is above nature, He is outside of the realm of scientific inquiry.

    So to change one of your statement:

    “If you think about it, you don’t know that a natural event is really a natural event and there is no miraculous explanation. How can you actually know that?”

    As SteveK pointed out, you are back to chasing your tail. The very cynicism you apply to knowledge of miracles can be applied to knowledge in general.

    Consider this (as has been pointed out to you in other areas):

    You exist because God is.

    What amount of scientific evidence can you acquire to disprove that statement? What amount of physical evidence would be needed to support that statement?

  155. This is just going to go round and round and round because David can keep asking for evidence of this and evidence of that and then never choose accept any evidence given. None of it will ever be good enough. At the same time though David believes what he does about the nature of the universe with far less evidence that he’s been given about God or miracles. He holds his faith position without challenge as I explained here.

  156. David P.
    A miracle event involves the four causes, some of which are not available to scientific discovery and detection – so the philosophers of science tell us.

    That’s what the whole ID debate is all about, David. Can design causality be quantified? If so then I guess divine causality can also be quantified because they both involve final causality. But philosophers of science say neither can because, in principle, both are not the kind of things that science can detect.

  157. @toddes and BillT
    Sigh – you are right – we have said the same things in other words in many places already, with the same obtuse responses.

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/08/peter-boghossians-pretend-arguments/#comment-68191
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/08/peter-boghossians-pretend-arguments/#comment-68206
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/08/peter-boghossians-pretend-arguments/#comment-68228
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/08/peter-boghossians-pretend-arguments/#comment-68284

    The problem is that David refuses to talk about specific Christian miracle accounts, and how they differ from pagan mythologies in both documentation and characteristics. It’s like the guy has never read C. S. Lewis on Miracles.

    SteveK hit the nail on the head here (echoing both the LORD Jesus and Paul in the NT)

    Frankly that is an impossibly high standard… No Christian has come to faith in Christ that way. People come to Christ not by demanding more revelation, but by responding to the revelation that He has already given. I think the obstacle for you, David, is more a matter of the heart and will– You have to be willing to believe. You’re using the intellectual stuff as an excuse and as a smokescreen. That’s plain for everyone to see.

    David is insisting that God perform miracles that would be completely out of character for Him to perform, like asking Jesus to turn stones into bread. This is not logikos ( here), but hubris.

    And that is why I’m not going to waste further time on it.

  158. Yes, Victoria. That’s how it is pretty regularly. People come here and challenge our faith positions which is perfectly all right. But they never have to defend theirs. It’s actually worse than that. They get to assume the position of not having any faith position. It’s just those religious folks that have those things.

  159. The skeptic says this:
    “I know love causes certain behaviors because I’ve seen it do that. I’ve seen love in action.”

    They never seem to say this:
    “How can I claim to know that love causes certain behaviors, Mr. Science, unless you can explain the causality of love in quantifiable physical terms?”

  160. A miracle, philosophically stated, is a change in the real world beyond both (a) the efficacious capacities of the nature of the thing changed/affected, and (b) the efficacious capacities of the natural causes that may or may not be involved in the miracle. It is not within the nature of a rock to fly through the air, but it’s not a miracle for me to hurl a rock through the air because it’s within my nature to do so.

    From that perspective, it is impossible to “detect” a miracle directly by means of the natural sciences. One can only “see” a miracle through philosophical reasoning (say, reflection upon apparent anomalies in scientific investigations of, e.g., miraculous healings) or faith or both. If one a priori imposes the notion that only natural scientific means can validate or “see” anything at all, then one is (a) philosophizing anyway, and (b) philosophizing badly: it’s a self-defeating proposition that fails its own test. (Hence, the dishonesty and stupidity of the question “how would you know it’s miracle?”: a non-starter spawned by a weak mind imposing personal scientistic limitations.) Of course there is good, hard evidence for miracles… but it demands an openness to and optimism for the capacity of human reason to see beyond mere literal interpretations or scientistic impositions. (It’s also why the usual suspects either avoid philosophical thinking or try to reduce it to a MES basis.)

    BTW, Divine Causality cannot be “quantified” because the first accident of real being is “obtained” through observation and measurement of material objects and physical phenomena: God is not a cause among causes. One can only reason from the former to the latter philosophically and perhaps (depending on the situation) guided or supported by revealed knowledge and faith. See Michael Dodds’ book on Divine Causality.

    You’re wasting your time with these trolls, gentlepersons: they do NOT want out of their boxes… and they want to drag you in. (It’s a pearls-before-the-swine thing.) Honesty is not a category even possible to be non-reductively explained by atheism.

  161. We are so far apart in our views of what constitutes a reliable process for achieving knowledge, I don’t know how we can reconcile it.

    All I can say is that there is evidence to show that the scientific method works in the realm of nature. If supernature has an effect on nature then we can use science to examine it. If it has no effect on nature then any explanation goes. They have equal validity. Pixies and fairies is equally valid (has just as much evidence) as any other supernatural explanation.

    You tell me that the Roman polytheism is not the same as the Christian understanding and I’m not saying that your version of God is the same. I’m saying that, as far as I know, they are both equally lacking in testable evidence to support them. (Unless you can show me otherwise. I am always willing to change my mind.)

    In no other area of your life would you believe something that goes against what you know about nature just because someone said it. You’d want evidence, and if it were a very important belief – something that would make you dramatically change the way you live your life – you’d want strong evidence that you can test yourself. With religion you have a blind spot.

  162. David P,

    “With religion you have a blind spot.”

    You understand this applies back to you as well.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say that miracles no longer occur. How do you use the scientific method to show that they did not occur in the past?

  163. @197

    All I can say is that there is evidence to show that the scientific method works in the realm of nature.

    Ya think?

    If supernature has an effect on nature then we can use science to examine it.

    Dumb. The natural sciences examine… well… natural things. To claim otherwise is, ironically, to do what ID proponents want: to expand the natural sciences (and its categories of causality) to capture non- (as opposed to un-) scientific objects. You can’t even tell us what a “nature” is.

    So, DavidP, you’ve displayed remarkable ignorance and have attempted to impose arrogant restrictions on human knowledge… all to benefit your personal and subjective needs. Okay, I’ll play: what exactly is directly accessible to the modern empirical sciences about the “scientific method”? You must point to observable/measurable properties of this thing you refer to as the “scientific method.” If you can’t, better to keep your yapper shut.

  164. David P @ 197,

    Have you verified every resource and link on that site or are you taking the truth of it on faith?

  165. We are so far apart in our views of what constitutes a reliable process for achieving knowledge, I don’t know how we can reconcile it.

    You can start by being open to the wisdom of others who know more than you and not a priori dismissing things out of hand like you’ve done here many, many times. It’s your own fault.

  166. @David
    yeah, right (snort in derision). I prefer to get my information from professional historians, archaeologists and Biblical scholars. Even Bart Erhman, who is a first rate NT scholar and textual critic, even though he is no supporter of Christian Theism, would laugh at such a web site. The days are long gone when serious professional scholars whose business is to know these things doubt the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

  167. @Victoria

    Yes, and in so doing you show exactly the confirmation bias you accuse me of. Do you think that “scholars whose business is to know these things” will be racing to deny the existence of Jesus? What you don’t see is that religion is a billion dollar industry. I don’t know your financial investment, but you are emotionally invested up to your eyeballs. Do you really believe you can think straight about it?

  168. “What you don’t see is that religion is a billion dollar industry.”

    Sorry for the tu quoque but isn’t science a billion dollar industry? Have you read about the amount of fraud occurring in some scientific circles and academia?

  169. Yes, toddes, and it’s disappointing, but not exactly shocking. Luckily there are mechanisms that tend to correct these problems – eventually.

  170. @David
    Do you even know who Bart Erhman is?
    I’m talking about NT scholars at secular universities and non-evangelical schools of theology (like Princeton or Harvard Theological Seminaries) who would not call themselves Christian Theists, or those who downright deny the possibility of miracles. You can read James Charlesworth or James Tabor for instance. James Tabor was involved in the Talpiot Tomb discovery a while back (they claimed it contains the remains of Jesus and His family – hardly the opinion of someone who thinks Jesus never existed).

    These scholars don’t doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure, because they understand the kind of historical evidence we have for Him. When I said ‘whose business it is to know’, I am referring to knowing the facts of history.

    I hate to stoop to this level, so I say this advisedly – David, you are a blind, obtuse fool.

  171. Let’s just look at one claim of that web site: that Nazareth never existed in the 1st century.

    This is the most recent archaeological discovery
    http://www.antiquities.org.il/article_Item_eng.asp?sec_id=25&subj_id=240&id=1638&module_id=#as – scroll down to the bottom.

    So, tell us, David, have you personally vetted every reference on that web site for yourself?

    Do you know how archaeology has given us a picture of 1st century Palestine, and how easily and naturally the NT Gospels fit into that picture? Have you done the scholarly research on this?

  172. David P @ #154: I am not closed to changing my mind about God. There are many ways in which He could demonstrate His existence to me – such as by causing major changes in the laws of nature or highly improbable events…

    Me @ #183: Frankly that is an impossibly high standard…

    David P @ #185: Not impossible for God. I mean that’s the point of the tests: if God really is the all-powerful being you make Him out to be then this kind of thing should be a doddle for Him.

    Not true, because God has already revealed his standards:
    Romans 1:18-20, Matthew 4: 5-7

    God’s will is God’s standard.

  173. Here’s what’s interesting to me, David. First of all, I appreciate your hanging in there with us in this conversation. You’re showing a lot of resilience.

    Besides that, though, I’m finding it intriguing the way you ascribe difficulties of understanding to differences in worldview (see 163, . Worldviews are typically interpretive lenses. They can also act as information sieves, determining what we do or do not allow into our awareness and interpretive schemas.

    And you’re letting your worldview manage your thinking in both ways, at hyperspeed. For example:

    – You won’t allow in non-scientific information sources.
    – You won’t allow in our explanations for why your insistence on science is inappropriate for some purposes. See #150, second paragraph
    – You won’t allow in any reasoning that can differentiate God from pixies and fairies. It’s obvious they are not the same conceptually, and should not be equated argumentatively.
    – You won’t allow in miracles unless they involve a moonwalk or something equally outrageous. More on that below.
    – You won’t look with us at how miracles are determined to be miracles (see 170, 171, and 172).
    – You play ridiculous word games: when asked what it means for God to submit to you (174), you respond logikos (176). Look, if there’s a God, then that’s hubris, and logikos is the furthest thing from sensible. Even if you just want to entertain the question of whether there is a God, then the same is true: for you will admit into your conceptual framework no God except one who is lesser than you. That’s not looking for truth. That’s shielding yourself from options.
    – You make an unwarranted assumption when you think miracle explanations have anything in common with the Romans’ “God did it!” (182). They don’t.
    – You seriously overstate the “no real evidence” shtick (182). No real evidence? What’s a miracle claim if not evidence — especially if it holds up to serious examination.
    – You expect God to overturn nature for you (185) as if he were a performing monkey. Sure, he could make the moon sprout legs if he chose, but his miracles are never that kind of violation of the natural way of things. They are rather restorations of the natural way of things, the way they were intended to be from the beginning.
    – Your statement, “A miracle is not subjective like love. It’s a claim about objective reality” ignores your own position! If it’s a claim about objective reality, then it can be determined to be a miracle because of its place in relation to objective reality. But yes (and you missed this) there remains room for judgment with respect to any miracle claim; to that extent it’s subjective. But even subjective information can be true, for example, that Beethoven wrote great music.
    – You repeat that science works in the realm of nature (197). Then you go off the rails and tell us science can test supernature, too! But how? What predictable regularities will it examine? Science can help in one way: measurement and diagnosis, for example the change in MRI readings before and after prayer (see Keener for multiple examples). But that’s only for description, not for explanation. Why is that not clear to you? Why do you insist that science be used for investigations outside its scope?
    – But you go over the cliff, not just off the rails, with JesusNeverExisted.com. This is utter ahistorical silliness, spouted by one who claims to have regard for knowledgeable authority and for evidence, but with no foundation in genuine scholarship whatsoever. You blame our differences in opinion on dollars. Wow. As if there weren’t money in finding out Jesus never existed. Have you any idea how much money Dawkins and Hitchens and Harris and Ehrman and Pagels and all the other skeptics have made off that? And yet even they don’t say Jesus never existed! There are mechanisms in history to correct erroneous beliefs, too, and you would do well to apply them to yourself at this point!

    “With religion you have a blind spot,” you tell us. Wow. Do you not realize your own?

    David, you’re deeply entrenched in irrationality here. Now, hear me carefully. There are those who think it is of the essence of rationality to come to naturalistic conclusions (discussed here). It isn’t. It isn’t even of the essence of rationality to come to true conclusions. If Michael Jordan were to conclude that the earth is round because basketballs are round, that would be true yet irrational.

    The essence of rationality is to be able to follow a train of thought from evidences and premises, using appropriate reasoning processes, to a justifiable conclusion. It involves evaluating evidences, which you like to do of course, but it also involves doing that in non-question begging ways, which seems difficult for you since you insist on either naturalistic answers or a God who would submit to you if he existed. Both of those routes are guaranteed to miss the existence of the Christian God, if that God exists. They define him out of existence prior to any evidence. Thus your approach is question-begging.

    Your rational methodology is based on an inappropriately limited toolkit of science only. But you couldn’t explain to us using science only why science only is the right approach, could you?

    You’ll charge those who dispute your beliefs with bias, but you won’t recognize it in yourself.

    David, there’s a lot in this comment. I’m poking you with a sharp stick here, hoping you’ll finally say “ouch!” And maybe then you’ll realize the sharp stick is one you’ve whittled and are pointing at yourself; and the only reason it’s hurting you is because another human being has come into close enough contact with to cause your own stick to poke you in the gut. And then maybe you’ll drop the stick: your own irrationalities, of course. If it hurts enough to hold it, maybe you’ll drop it.

  174. Tom Gilson says:
    August 13, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Yes. Not orthogonal, but independent in the sense of not being tied in a direct cause-effect relationship. In other words, God has freedom to choose.

    If, as you say, there’s no direct cause-effect relationship, this would imply that the probability of being healed conditional on prayer or faith healing is no different to the base probability of being healed.

    In more formal terms we can express it as:

    P(healed|prayer)=P(healed|faith healing)=P(healed)

    This would also fit with the empirical evidence that has been gathered.

    Would you agree with this probability estimate?

  175. YATom, you say,

    If, as you say, there’s no direct cause-effect relationship, this would imply that the probability of being healed conditional on prayer or faith healing is no different to the base probability of being healed.

    No, it wouldn’t. Please re-read what I wrote there.

  176. Well I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly you meant by “orthogonal” (I looked it up in the dictionary but I couldn’t see how any of the definitions it gave would relate to this) but the rest of what you said seemed to imply that you thought the two variables (“being healed” and “prayer”) were independent in the statistical sense, meaning uncorrelated.

    Either way, I take it from the comment above that you think the two are correlated and the probability of being healed conditional on prayer (or conditional on seeing a faith healer) is greater than the underlying probability of being healed. I would express your theory in formal terms as:

    P(healed|prayer)>P(healed)

    and

    P(healed|faith healing)>P(healed)

    Would this accurately represent your beliefs?

  177. Have you read the Koran and the Book of Mormon and L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics? Have you looked deeply into the evidence for their claims? Have you tried to open your heart to their gods? If not, why not? On what grounds do you reject these other religions? You are surely aware of the passion and commitment of their followers – the strength with which they are convinced that their story is the truth. Yet you cannot all be right.

    Isn’t it really down to luck which religion you happen to be introduced to at the right time in your life? You didn’t really make a rational choice between them, did you? Doesn’t this bother you? If not, why not?

  178. YATom,

    Not quite. You’d have to specify the research conditions and operationalize the measurements appropriately. On a global scale, though, where God isn’t regarded as the supernatural equivalent of a lab rat in a maze, or (silliness of all sillinesses) a “blind” participant in a triple-blind study (prayee, researcher, and God), yes it would represent my beliefs.

  179. I’ve studied Islam, Mormonism, and Dianetics, and their evidences.

    What does this have to do with what I wrote to you about, though? Why are you bobbing and weaving so vigorously?

    That sharp pain you’re feeling is your own irrationality prodding you in the gut.

  180. I’m not feeling any pain. I’m perfectly comfortable with “we don’t know” as the current answer to life’s big questions.

    What about the Tao Te Ching and the Shruti? What I’m getting at is that they are many religious texts and people believe them just as strongly as you. You cannot all be right. (You could all be wrong, though.)

    People generally follow the religion which is most common in their environment and usually that of their parents. Does this not strike you as a tad irrational? Essentially for most religious people it’s pretty much down to luck of birth which religion they follow. That doesn’t bother you?

  181. Nope. As you know, I’ve rejected the supernatural as an explanation on the grounds is useless, so books about the supernatural aren’t top of my list of things to read. That’s not to say I won’t read them at some point. I think you can glean something useful from almost any book.

  182. David (@220), you’re incompetent.

    I did not write a post on whether you know or not. I didn’t even write a post on life’s big questions. I wrote a post on your essential failure to conduct yourself rationally in these discussions.

    That’s not “I don’t know.” That’s, “I think I’m a lot smarter than these guys, but if I took Tom’s criticisms to heart instead of sloughing them aside, the way I just did again, I’d have to recognize that my performance here is filled with fallacies. And I don’t know if I like that about myself.”

    Your claim is superior rationality but your performance is rationally incompetent, for the reasons specified above.

    Is that clear yet? How much more plainly do I have to spell it out?

  183. You mean to tell me that I can’t reject something I haven’t studied, but you can? You’ve accepted a worldview. So have I. Each of our worldviews excludes others, where the others contradict ours.

    But you’ve made the howler mistake of lumping all beliefs into one bucket and thinking they’re all on a par with one another. Is the Tao Te Ching even about the supernatural? Or are you displaying your further incompetence?

  184. I’ve explained my reason for rejecting them. I don’t believe in the supernatural. What is your reason for rejecting them?

    With regard to Taoism, I don’t think they have deities but they have some pseudo-sciency / supernatural stuff about life energy Chi, I believe. Anyway I’ve not read it. Buddhism I think has some very sensible concepts in it. Even Christianity has sense in it. It’s just mixed together with really unhelpful ideas (like the whole concept of sin) and supernatural ideas.

  185. Tom
    I have to tell you, I don’t feel irrational rejecting the choice to choose between imaginary friends. But that’s just me.

  186. So now it’s about whether you feel irrational.

    Didn’t it occur to you what an extremely irrational method that is for judging rationality?

    Maybe you intended sarcasm there, but if so your timing is terrible.

    Why not look at whether your participation here has actually demonstrated rationality?

    Lest you demonstrate a further error, let me head it off by clarifying what I am trying to induce you to feel. I’m not trying to get you to feel irrational. I’m trying to get you to recognize by way of rational argument that you have been demonstrating irrationality — whereupon I would hope that you would feel the pain of the difference between your desired self and your actual self.

    (I thought I’d better say that before you answered that I was the one trying to mix feelings and rationality.)

    You’re still deflecting. Probably less painful that you.

  187. According to this source, the 5 year survival rate for people with stage IV colorectal cancer is 6%. We can probably expect this number to improve as medical treatments advance, but nevertheless if we were to randomly select 1,000 people who had just been diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer then, absent any other information about them, it is reasonable expect to come back in 5 years’ time and find around about 60 of them still alive, give or take.

    If we were to select 1,000 people who had been diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer AND who intended to pray for recovery and/or visit a faith healer, how many of these people would you expect to still be alive 5 years later?

  188. I’ve explained my reason for rejecting them. I don’t believe in the supernatural. What is your reason for rejecting them?

    My reason: I believe in Christ.

    Think too what different religions require of you. Many don’t require you to do anything. Whether you believe they are true or not makes no difference. So we can safely dismiss these as inconsequential and not worthy of consideration. I don’t need to study Buddhism when Buddhism “works” even if I don’t believe it’s true. I can live the life of a Buddhist while believing it is false. You cannot do that with Christianity.

  189. YATom, you haven’t specified the conditions very well.

    How many people in the “control” group pray, or have friends who pray? What God do all the involved persons pray to? What are God’s purposes with this group? What would God’s purposes be for a study of this sort?

    Some people scoff at that last question. They’re looking for a study that will demonstrate the existence of God*.

  190. I’m not looking for a study that will prove or disprove the existence of God. I’m looking for a study that will tell me whether paying money to a faith healer or spending an hour a day praying will improve my chances of survival if I ever get diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer.

    In the example I gave the “control” group is the underlying population, some of whom pray and some of whom don’t. If we select a sample that is different from that overall population with respect to the variable we are investigating (in this case that would mean selecting a sample in which the proportion who pray is different to the proportion of the overall population who pray) then, if our variable (praying or not praying) is correlated with the outcome we are investigating (survival) then we will expect to see a different outcome in our selected group than that of the overall population.

    (To save on typing, I’m just going to talk about “prayer”, but you could substitute “faith healing” and my point would remain the same).

    What happens if a very high proportion (say, 95%) of the overall population also prays? In this case, our sample (in which 100% of people pray) will not be very different to the overall population and we would expect a result that is very similar to the overall population (around 6%). What will this tell us? Not a lot in terms of the relative effectiveness of praying vs not praying, but it will tell us a great deal in terms of the absolute effectiveness of prayer (if you pray, your chances of survival are going to be very close to 6%). To understand the relative effectiveness we would need to take a non-representative sample (one in which none of the sample prays) and compare the survival rate of this sample.

    So yes, it’s important to know the proportion of the underlying population who prays, so that we know how different our sample is from the overall population, but once we’ve determined this underlying figure, no matter what it is, we can select a sample that will give us information about the correlation between prayer and survival.

  191. What I really want to know here is what you believe and why you believe it.

    If I were to pick 1,000 Christians who have just been diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer and paid for them to visit a faith healer (let’s say I let you choose which faith healer), how many of them would you expect to still be alive 5 years later and what reasoning did you base that expectation on?

    As far as I am aware, nobody’s done this experiment and I certainly don’t have the resources to do it myself so I’m not going to hold you to your number, but I would like an honest answer. What would you actually expect?

    Another way to approach it might be to pick a number at random and ask yourself “How surprised would I be if it turned out to be this number?”, then try that again with different numbers until you arrive at a number that feels right, then ask yourself “Why does that number feel right?”

  192. As far as I am aware, nobody’s done this experiment and I certainly don’t have the resources to do it myself so I’m not going to hold you to your number, but I would like an honest answer. What would you actually expect?

    Studies like this are almost impossible to control for a number of reasons that this thread has probably already covered.

    However I would expect to see some people miraculously healed. By that I mean I expect to see some people with stage 4 cancer who are prayed for by someone experienced in this area, and who then within a few days or weeks are declared free of cancer by their oncologist.

    By miraculously healed I do not mean people who go through 3 rounds of chemo who are declared in remission a year later.

    If you drop by my church I can introduce you to a woman who only a couple of months ago was given a diagnosis of stage 4 lymphona and only a few months to live, who is now free from cancer.

  193. I would expect to see some people miraculously healed. By that I mean I expect to see some people with stage 4 cancer who are prayed for by someone experienced in this area, and who then within a few days or weeks are declared free of cancer by their oncologist.

    How many people?

    And how many people (even the ones that aren’t “miraculously cured”) do you think will still be alive 5 year later? If I had cancer and was considering paying to see a faith healer I wouldn’t really care that much whether it took 3 days or 3 years for me to get the all-clear from my oncologist, I would care that seeing the faith healer increased the probability that I would recover at all.

  194. Tom,

    I don’t look on it as a question of rational or irrational. I think I’m being rational given my knowledge/beliefs (and lack of beliefs) and you’re making rational choices given your knowledge/beliefs.

    The real question is what causes the difference between our knowledge/beliefs? What epistemology are we using? Is it reliable? Does it help us to find more true beliefs and reject more false beliefs?

    That’s the difference between you and me. I’m far more willing to reject swathes of beliefs if they lack falsifiability. You are far more willing to accept them.

    I believe my policy reduces the chances that I will believe things that are false, while I accept that I may not believe some things that may be true.

  195. How many people? And how many people (even the ones that aren’t “miraculously cured”) do you think will still be alive 5 year later?

    I don’t know how many people would still be alive. God doesn’t play by our rules and experiments.

    But I know He does heal some people miraculously because I’ve seen it happen. Thus I would expect to see some miraculous healings amongst Christians who were prayed for. I wouldn’t expect to see any in a control group of 1000 atheists.

    If I had cancer and was considering paying to see a faith healer I wouldn’t really care that much whether it took 3 days or 3 years for me to get the all-clear from my oncologist, I would care that seeing the faith healer increased the probability that I would recover at all.

    Christians with a genuine healing ministry don’t take payment for praying for people to be healed.

    But I agree to some extent – if I had cancer I would get certainly try to be prayed for by someone known to be gifted in this area of ministry.

    And I would certainly rather be healed in 3 days rather than through 3 years of chemo.

    But there are no guarantees. I’ve also seen a young mother in my church die from cancer in recent months. She too was prayed for but she did not experience healing.

  196. Swathes of belief?

    I reject swathes of belief, too. I reject all pantheisms and polytheisms. I reject the notion, recently popular among a few prominent scientists in particular, that the universe created itself from nothing. I reject the belief that ethics are determined by individuals or cultures. I reject the belief that life lifted itself by its bootstraps out of Darwin’s “warm little pond” or any other origin that could be taken to symbolize. I reject the belief that humans are ontologically continuous with the rest of nature in every way. I reject the popular belief among naturalists that humans lack libertarian free will.

    I reject the belief that the natural world is all there is, and that or natural explanations could ever, even in principle, be sufficient to explain human reality.

    All of these beliefs lack falsifiability, and I reject them.

    But I also reject them because they are rationally deficient.

    The real difference between you and me is that you don’t see theism clearly for what it is, whereas I see naturalism clearly for what it is. You see theism as the theory or belief that God is as God* is, but it definitely is not. You see it as failure to reject unfalsifiable beliefs, but it isn’t any different than your naturalism in that respect, as I have shown you.

    But you won’t admit you’re wrong, even though I have shown you.

    You won’t acknowledge your rational fallacies, even though we have all been showing them to you. This is sad.

    You’ll continue to think you are rational given your knowledge/beliefs. Apparently “rational given your knowledge/beliefs” includes the freedom to base your knowledge/beliefs on irrational reasoning, such as we have shown you.

    You won’t look at yourself in the mirror.

    You won’t, that is, unless you man up and decide to face hard facts about yourself.

    You could still do that. You could still re-read what’s been said here, especially what I’ve been telling you most recently, and you could ask yourself, “Are these criticisms accurate in their details?” If you find that they are, you could ask yourself, “How many of them?” If you find that a significant proportion of them are, you could ask yourself, “Does this mean my rationality isn’t what I thought it was?”

    You could still do that. A man of intellectual integrity certainly would. A man of cowardice or dishonesty would evade, bob, and weave.

    Which are you?

    Man up, my friend.

  197. YATom,

    I’m not big on faith healers, but I’ve known some people who seem to see more than the usual success when praying for healings. I agree with bigbird. I won’t give you numbers, but I would expect to see some people healed.

    Interestingly, there’s a lot of research out there indicating that frequent pray-ers and churchgoers are healthier on the whole than the rest of the population.

    I suggest you take a look at Keener’s Miracles. My only complaint about that study is that it’s too long: it has too many well-attested miracle accounts in it, along with a very careful philosophical accounting for the reasonability of miracles. I’d like to see someone condense it for general use.

  198. That’s the difference between you and me. I’m far more willing to reject swathes of beliefs if they lack falsifiability. You are far more willing to accept them.

    What justification do you have for using falsifiability as your criteria for truth?

    Kuhn et al rejected falsifiability in science as an idealist view of science that isn’t actually practised. Kuhn for example pointed out that scientific observation is influenced by the paradigm in which it occurs. It is very difficult to be objective.

  199. Tom,

    Do you agree that there are (and have always been) charlatans and mentally disturbed people in the world spouting all kinds of nonsense?

    Do you agree that we need a reliable method to determine what to believe and what not to believe?

    What is your method? Please explain it, as I cannot understand it from your previous comments. It seems incoherent and unreliable to me.

  200. Actually, David, the ball is in your court.

    I’ve asked you a lot of questions you haven’t answered.

    You first. Look in the mirror. Show your intellectual integrity. Then this conversation will be worth picking up again with new topics.

  201. Bigbird

    Thanks for the question.

    What justification do you have for using falsifiability as your criteria for truth?

    It is not actually my criterion for truth. It says nothing about whether a claim is true or false.

    It is a criterion for deciding if an explanation can be shown to be true or false. If there is no way to show it is true or false then it is epistemologically-speaking unreliable, at least as far as I can see. Maybe you can show otherwise?

  202. David, I don’t know how the rules were set, requiring the person who is accusing another person of being irrational to go first. If those were the rules, I could refer you to #218 and #221.

    But what if I were to give you a logical reason for my position? Your pattern here, demonstrated repeatedly and persistently, has been to evade and deflect. What that means to me is that I’m writing to someone who won’t engage with what I write. Why would I want to waste my time on that?

    And why would I want to try to conduct a rational conversation with someone who won’t demonstrate the most basic form of intellectual integrity: facing rational criticism and considering what it means?

    No, as long as you won’t answer my questions, I’m not following you onto another topic. You can read elsewhere on this blog if you want to know the basis of my beliefs, but for this thread I’m waiting for you to man up and look yourself in the mirror.

  203. Or–if you want to know more about why I believe what I believe, you could look at the source documents. After all, it would help the conversation along considerably if you showed some interest in the what and not just the why.

    I’ve read dozens of naturalistic books. I know what I’m talking about when I criticize naturalism.

    That’s a matter of intellectual integrity, too, now that I think about it.

  204. David at 248: No, you’re evading again.

    My position is explained in many locations on this blog. I’m not averse to explaining it. I’m averse to changing the subject here.

  205. Maybe you can write a blog post to describe it to other people, not just me? I would have thought people would be interested.

  206. I won’t give you numbers, but I would expect to see some people healed.

    If neither you nor bigbird will give me numbers, can you at least tell me how surprised you would be if, out of our sample of 1,000 patients, we came back 5 years later and found that 60 were still alive?

  207. Tom, what I’m interested in is not the particulars of a specific application of your epistemological method, but the method itself.

    See #243

  208. It is not actually my criterion for truth. It says nothing about whether a claim is true or false. It is a criterion for deciding if an explanation can be shown to be true or false. If there is no way to show it is true or false then it is epistemologically-speaking unreliable, at least as far as I can see.

    This is a logical positivist view – that only claims that be falsified are claims worth considering.

    Your claim itself cannot be falsified, can it?

    So what makes your claim reliable, epistemologically-speaking?

  209. If neither you nor bigbird will give me numbers, can you at least tell me how surprised you would be if, out of our sample of 1,000 patients, we came back 5 years later and found that 60 were still alive?

    I don’t believe experiments like these have much chance of showing anything in particular. There are too many variables involved. It could well be that roughly 60 are still alive – that wouldn’t surprise me particularly.

    My question for you: If you met someone diagnosed with stage 4 cancer who was expected to die soon, and then a week later met them again and they were completely clear of cancer after being prayed for, what would you conclude?

  210. This is a logical positivist view – that only claims that be falsified are claims worth considering.

    Your claim itself cannot be falsified, can it?

    So what makes your claim reliable, epistemologically-speaking?

    Are you saying it is false? In which case, you’re saying it can be falsified and you’ve just put a gaping hole in your argument.

    It’s a paradox. (I believe the reason for the paradox is that it’s an equivocation – in this case due to mixing ideas at different levels of semantic abstraction.)

    In any case, the question I’m far more interested in, is not about logico-semantic tongue twisters, but practicalities: Is the concept of falsifiability useful? For me, it is incredibly useful and there is a lot of evidence (in terms of scientific progress) that as a core assumption it helps us reliably to gain knowledge and avoid blind alleys.

    If you have a more reliable method I would be pleased to hear about it.

  211. Are you saying it is false? In which case, you’re saying it can be falsified and you’ve just put a gaping hole in your argument.

    Not at all. I’m saying the claim can’t be falsified. Therefore the claim itself does not qualify as reliable (under the criteria of the claim).

    This (I believe) is one of the reasons why logical positivism faded – it undercuts itself.

    Is the concept of falsifiability useful? For me, it is incredibly useful and there is a lot of evidence (in terms of scientific progress) that as a base assumption it is an excellent way to reliably gain knowledge and avoid blind alleys.

    Really? What evidence do you have that falsifiability is an excellent way to reliably gain knowledge and avoid blind alleys?

    “Scientific progress” is too general a claim to qualify as evidence (in my opinion). What’s a good example of how falsifiability has significantly contributed to a scientific advance?

  212. To clarify for David’s sake: there’s a difference between being false and being not-falsifiable. There are things that could be false without being falsifiable, and things that could be true without being falsifiable in principle, for example the theory that there are other minds besides my own. A likely example of the former would be brain-in-a-vat theories, and a likely example of the latter would be the theory that there are other minds besides my own. Neither of these is empirically falsifiable, but they are either true or false regardless, and in practice we can confidently say that we know the first is false and the second is true.

    So falsifiability is ruled out as an overriding criterion for truth, and even for knowledge of truth.

    Of course if something is actually falsified, or if it actually survives multiple varieties of attempts to falsify it, then the falsification criterion is helpful. But those are two special conditions that apply to a specially circumscribed set of circumstances. It’s useful, as you say, but only where it’s useful; and just as it would be silly to use a chainsaw to wire your electric light switch, so would it also be foolish to use falsification where it isn’t the right tool. Not everything works that way; and just because something is difficult or impossible to falsify in principle it doesn’t mean it isn’t true or can’t be known to be true.

    Now here’s the question for you to consider carefully.

    Is there anything bigbird and I have written on this topic that fails the test of evidence and/or logic? If so, what is it? I don’t want you just re-parroting your falsification epistemology, I want you grappling with this criticism and considering whether you can defeat it. If you can, then I’ll have to change my mind about it, and I will.

    But if you can’t defeat it — if you find that the premises are based on good evidence, the logic is sound, the examples relevant — then intellectual integrity would lead an honest man to changing his mind and agreeing that his falsificationist epistemology is a baseless standard for pre-judging truth.

  213. “Scientific progress” is too general a claim to qualify as evidence (in my opinion). What’s a good example of how falsifiability has significantly contributed to a scientific advance?

    What scientific advance has not used falsifiability? It’s part of the method. Science doesn’t prove theories, it looks for evidence that contradicts them. If such evidence is not forthcoming, trust in the theory is strengthened. If evidence is found that contradicts the theory, the theory is abandoned or altered (or trust in the theory is weakened, depending on the strength of the evidence against it). You can only do that if it’s possible to come up with evidence that would show the theory to be false. If it can’t be falsified, we can’t do that.

    An example is the theory of evolution. One way it could be falsified is if we were to find to find fossil remains of modern day species in lower sedimentary layers. They haven’t been found. In fact, what has been found perfectly matches what we would expect if evolution were true.

  214. Not everything works that way; and just because something is difficult or impossible to falsify in principle it doesn’t mean it isn’t true or can’t be known to be true.

    I’m not saying it is. In fact, I wrote:

    It is not actually my criterion for truth. It says nothing about whether a claim is true or false.

    It is a criterion for deciding if an explanation can be shown to be true or false. If there is no way to show it is true or false then it is epistemologically-speaking unreliable, at least as far as I can see.

    Note that I said it is a criterion, not the only possible criterion. There are other ways to show (and gain confidence) that something is true or false without actually falsifying it.

  215. I’m saying the claim can’t be falsified. Therefore the claim itself does not qualify as reliable (under the criteria of the claim).

    A claim about claims is semantically different from one of those claims, as it is a claim at a higher level of abstraction. The word “claim” is what Korzybski calls “multiordinal”.

  216. What scientific advance has not used falsifiability? It’s part of the method. Science doesn’t prove theories, it looks for evidence that contradicts them.

    Science primarily tries to confirm theories by experimental evidence. Popper first conceived of the importance of falsification in 1934 as an answer to the problem of demarcation, and there is widespread disagreement about its use and importance. Science generally does not look for evidence that contradicts theories.

  217. Note that I said it is a criterion, not the only possible criterion. There are other ways to show (and gain confidence) that something is true or false without actually falsifying it.

    So what are they, in your view?

  218. Analysis and replication. What I think you are referring to when you say “confirmation”.If several independent teams find no fault in the thinking behind an experiment and replicate the results of the experiment then it adds credence to the claims.

    Predictions. Predicting what should happen in some situation and then testing it. Failure does not necessarily invalidate the theory – it could be experimental error etc. Success adds credence. Predicting additional effects that should occur if the theory is correct and then going out and looking for them.

    Tom, are you going to write about your epistemological method for determining whether a supernatural claim is true or false?

  219. David P, it is interesting how the phlogiston theory satisfied your criteria and was accepted for 100 years, despite being utterly wrong.

    More generally, your view does seem to fit what is known as verificationism, whereby legitimacy (or as you put it epistemological reliability) can only be bestowed on a statement if there is some way to determine whether it is true or false.

    Is that a correct interpretation of your view?

    That view has long been recognized to be self-refuting, despite your weird reference to differing semantic levels.

  220. Yes and probably the majority of our current theories are wrong. There’s even a theory about the half-life of theories.

    The only way to find the mistakes is to look for them. The phlogiston theory was a useful stepping stone to deeper knowledge.

  221. Yes and probably the majority of our current theories are wrong. There’s even a theory about the half-life of theories.

    So now I’m confused. You think possibly the majority of our current scientific theories are wrong. But you also think the method of obtaining these theories is epistemologically reliable (and you have no apparent basis for this view either).

  222. We are not omniscient. Our perceptions are limited. We can only do the best we can. We could give up or we can keep trying to find out. Science is the most reliable method we know for improving our knowledge of reality. Unless you know a more reliable one?

    Science is a bit like driving a car – a continual process of making mistakes and correcting them based on feedback from reality. This is how we make progress. If we don’t test our models of the world against reality we soon find ourselves driving into a ditch. Our models are maps and the map is not the territory.

    Some of the things we have found out through this process have proven extremely valuable and exciting. Using them we’ve landed a car on Mars, explored the bottom of the ocean, connected the world, and dramatically increased the average lifespan. The theories may not be completely right – like Newton’s theories weren’t quite right, but that doesn’t stop them being extremely useful under certain conditions.

  223. I don’t believe experiments like these have much chance of showing anything in particular. There are too many variables involved. It could well be that roughly 60 are still alive – that wouldn’t surprise me particularly.

    There’s a theory I’ve read, which I find quite compelling, about “belief in belief”. The theory states, roughly, that our true beliefs are what we expect to happen, subconsciously in effect, and these beliefs might not necessarily be the same as what we profess to believe.

    This isn’t about people lying and saying one thing while thinking another, this is about people honestly stating that they believe X, when in fact they subconsciously expect Y to occur.

    This was illustrated quite nicely in recent times when people were going on about the supposed “rapture”. There were some people who genuinely believed that the rapture was going to happen and they sold their houses and quit their jobs because they genuinely expected to be beamed up to heaven. Then there were other people who didn’t sell their house or quit their job, or even stop contributing to their retirement savings, but who still “believed” in the rapture. They still went around earnestly telling people that the rapture was coming and defending this “belief” against naysayers, but as the day grew nearer, they started making excuses in advance like “it won’t all happen at once—it might take a few weeks or even months before we see anything”.

    If we use a narrow definition of “belief”, being “what you subconsciously expect to occur”, it is clear that this second group of people did not really expect the rapture to occur. They may have believed that they expected it to occur, that is, they genuinely thought of themselves as someone who expected the rapture to occur, but when you examine their behaviour it is quite clear that they weren’t really expecting it. This is “belief in belief”.

    (If you’re interested, there is a much better explanation of this phenomenon here)

    Now the reason I was asking you about faith healing, and what your expectations were regarding its effectiveness, was because I wanted to know whether you really believe in faith healing, or whether you only believe you believe. Given your reluctance to make a prediction, the fact that you were making excuses in advance for why the experiment would show that faith healing is ineffective, and your statement that you wouldn’t be surprised if the result did come out at 60, I think it’s fair to conclude that you don’t actually believe in faith healing, but rather you only believe that you believe in it.

    When I analyse my own beliefs, I find it much more useful to ask myself not “What do I believe?”, but rather “What do I actually expect to observe?”. I think you should give this a try yourself. At worst it will waste a few seconds of thought, at best it could illuminate beliefs that you never knew you held.

    My question for you: If you met someone diagnosed with stage 4 cancer who was expected to die soon, and then a week later met them again and they were completely clear of cancer after being prayed for, what would you conclude?

    I’m not an oncologist, but if I had to guess I would say they were probably misdiagnosed. I wouldn’t be very confident in that guess though.

    I’d want to gather as much data as possible about their lifestyle, treatment regime, genetics and anything else I could think of (including the prayer), so that it can be compared with other patients who have also “beaten the odds”, in the hope that a connection can be found and a new discovery made. Whilst I wouldn’t discount the prayer, I would be careful not to fall for post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.

  224. Given your reluctance to make a prediction, the fact that you were making excuses in advance for why the experiment would show that faith healing is ineffective, and your statement that you wouldn’t be surprised if the result did come out at 60, I think it’s fair to conclude that you don’t actually believe in faith healing, but rather you only believe that you believe in it.

    I have already told you I expect to see some people miraculously healed when they are prayed for by a Christian with a healing gift. I have seen this happen more than once, and I am sure I believe it. I can’t be much plainer than that.

    When it comes to “faith healing” (whatever you mean by that – it’s unlikely we share a common meaning), I think it is extremely unlikely that a valid experiment like you describe can be devised, and so I don’t have any particular expectation of its success or failure.

    What you have identified with your pseudo-psychology is that I don’t believe in your experiment.

  225. I have already told you I expect to see some people miraculously healed when they are prayed for by a Christian with a healing gift. I have seen this happen more than once, and I am sure I believe it. I can’t be much plainer than that.

    That’s not an answer to the question I asked though. Sure it’s somewhat related, but it’s not a real answer. Kind of like if you ask someone “Did you bribe that senator” and they reply with “I’ve never given that senator any money”. It might be a true statement, but it doesn’t really answer the question.

    Now I’m sure you do genuinely believe (that is, expect to see) that some people in the sample will be given the “all clear” shortly after being prayed for. In fact, I would expect to see the same thing myself, and here’s why:

    I expect to come back after 5 years and see 60 people out of the original 1,000 still alive (consistent with the base rate). My understanding of how Stage IV cancer works is that you either recover completely or you die within 5 years. This means that those 60 people will all be given the all clear at some stage over the 5 years. If they are all seeing their respective doctors around once a month and the timing of when they recover is distributed randomly, you would expect, on average, one person out of the 1,000 to get the all clear each month over the next 5 years. Therefore, the probability that one of the patients is given the all clear a short time after being prayed for is quite high, just through random chance. If instead of praying for the patients we instead took them to shake hands with Michael Jordan, we would expect exactly the same thing: some patients would be “miraculously” cured after shaking Michael Jordan’s hand.

    When it comes to “faith healing” (whatever you mean by that – it’s unlikely we share a common meaning), I think it is extremely unlikely that a valid experiment like you describe can be devised, and so I don’t have any particular expectation of its success or failure.

    I said before that I was using “Faith Healing” and “prayer” interchangeably and specified as a condition of the study that you would be the one who would choose the healer. I can broaden that condition if you like and say that you can select the patients (based only on their religious convictions, obviously) as well as choosing who prays for them and what that prayer entails. All I would be doing is checking back in 5 years’ time to see how many recovered and how many didn’t.

    If you think this experiment wouldn’t be “valid”, please explain why you think so (does it omit relevant variables? Is the sample size too small?), but please don’t just say “It’s not valid” without giving a good reason.

  226. Yet Another Tom,

    Please have a look at the first quote here. As I said way back in the conversation you are treating prayer as a technique.

  227. If they are all seeing their respective doctors around once a month and the timing of when they recover is distributed randomly, you would expect, on average, one person out of the 1,000 to get the all clear each month over the next 5 years. Therefore, the probability that one of the patients is given the all clear a short time after being prayed for is quite high, just through random chance.

    The timing of when people recover from stage 4 cancer is not distributed randomly. Chemo and/or surgery does not work that fast. People do not get diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and have no trace of it within 4 weeks as a result of medical treatment.

    If you think this experiment wouldn’t be “valid”, please explain why you think so

    Let me quote from C.S.Lewis to try to give you an understanding of why your experiment is unlikely to yield any useful results:

    “Other things are proved not simply by experience but by those artificially contrived experiences which we call experiments. Could this be done about prayer? I will pass over the objection that no Christian could take part in such a project, because he has been forbidden it: “You must not try experiments on God, your Master.” Forbidden or not, is the thing even possible?”

    “I have seen it suggested that a team of people—the more the better—should agree to pray as hard as they knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients in Hospital A and none of those in Hospital B. Then you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures and fewer deaths. And I suppose you would repeat the experiment at various times and places so as to eliminate the influence of irrelevant factors.”

    “The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” says the King in Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiment. You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery. But you can have no motive for desiring the recovery of all the patients in one hospital and none of those in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering should be relieved, you are doing it to find out what happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of your prayers are at variance. In other words, whatever your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not praying. The experiment demands an impossibility.”

  228. As I said way back in the conversation you are treating prayer as a technique.

    Melissa, I agree with you that prayer shouldn’t be treated as a “technique”, for the simple reason that it’s demonstrably ineffective. The only reason I am forced to treat it as a technique here is because millions of Christians (not to mention other religions) the world over treat it as one.

    How many people say “I’ll pray for you” when something bad happens? How many churches organise prayer sessions when there’s a natural disaster? These things are all said with the clear implication that praying for a certain outcome to occur is going to somehow increase the probability of that outcome actually occurring. Even bigbird here is treating prayer as a technique when he talks about people being “miraculously” cured of cancer after being prayed for by “a Christian with a healing gift”.

    And if prayer isn’t a technique – if you don’t do it to increase the probability of a particular outcome occurring – then why do you do it? I can understand people sending out prayers of gratitude when they experience good fortune–in fact, I think it is quite healthy to pause and reflect on the role that luck plays in many of our successes, lest we come to think ourselves more deserving of success than others who may have worked as hard but who experienced bad luck along the way–but when people ask for things in prayer, what are they hoping to achieve if not an increased probability of that thing occurring?

    The timing of when people recover from stage 4 cancer is not distributed randomly. Chemo and/or surgery does not work that fast. People do not get diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and have no trace of it within 4 weeks as a result of medical treatment.

    So let me see if I understand your theory correctly. You think that if we selected 1,000 Stage 4 cancer patients who happened to be Christians and got a “Christian with a healing gift” to pray for them, then we would see “some” recover quickly (within a few weeks of the prayer) but that after 5 years the survival rate would be in line with the base survival rate for the overall population of Stage 4 cancer patients. However, if we took a sample of 1,000 atheists and made sure nobody was praying for them we would see the same survival rate after 5 years but no “miraculous” cures (i.e. nobody recovering abnormally quickly). Is that what you are proposing?

    “The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” says the King in Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiment. You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery.

    I’m not suggesting that we get experimenters to parrot off prayers and see what happens. I’m saying that we find a “Christian with a healing gift” and get him/her to genuinely pray for these people to recover, just as he/she would any other cancer patient that came along asking for help.

  229. So let me see if I understand your theory correctly … Is that what you are proposing?

    You don’t, and no. I’m saying that i) I’ve seen miraculous healings from stage 4 cancer, so I know they happen, and ii) there are a number of obstacles to conducting a rigorous scientific experiment in the efficacy of prayer for healing – so I don’t have any particular expectation of a study looking at this.

    I’m saying that we find a “Christian with a healing gift” and get him/her to genuinely pray for these people to recover, just as he/she would any other cancer patient that came along asking for help.

    In that case, I would certainly expect far more than 60 people healed – although many would criticize this as a non-rigorous study.

    If you are genuinely interested in the efficacy of prayer for healing, I suggest you consult the Global Medical Research Institute for information and case studies. Randy Clark is well known for his healing ministry, and he has partnered with academics to found this institute to record and study instances of healing.

  230. Yet Another Tom,

    No, Christians should not treat it as a “technique” any more than my asking my husband to make the bed after he gets out is a “technique” to reduce my load of housework.

  231. No, Christians should not treat it as a “technique” any more than my asking my husband to make the bed after he gets out is a “technique” to reduce my load of housework.

    If the objective you are trying to achieve is to have your husband make the bed, then asking him is a very good technique for achieving that objective: it will significantly increase the probability that he will make the bed.

    If your objective is to reduce your load of housework, then you could argue that asking your husband to make the bed is one possible technique, but I bet there are many better ones.

  232. In that case, I would certainly expect far more than 60 people healed – although many would criticize this as a non-rigorous study.

    Would you criticise it as a non-rigorous study? Would it increase your confidence in the effectiveness of prayer if it came out with a result significantly more than 60? Would it reduce your confidence if it came out at less than 60?

    Suppose you found one particular Christian whose “healing gift” was particularly strong (they had an abnormally high success rate, proven over many rigorous studies), would you not try to find out what approach he or she was taking and see if it could be replicated by others to the same effect?

  233. Yet Another Tom @278

    Charming. There’s not much I can say to someone who treats persons as objects.

  234. Charming. There’s not much I can say to someone who treats persons as objects.

    I don’t understand what you mean by that.

    All I was saying is that, if you would like your husband to make the bed, asking him is probably a better idea than saying nothing and hoping he just figures it out for himself.

  235. Would you criticise it as a non-rigorous study?

    Read the C.S.Lewis quote I posted. Read some of the academic reviews on research on the efficacy of prayer. It may not be possible to have a truly rigorous study. God is not an experimental subject to be examined like a lab rat.

    In any case, I am not very interested in criticizing studies on the efficacy of prayer. I believe miraculous healings occur – I don’t need any convincing. I’m just pre-empting what I’ve seen many times before from people whose worldview excludes miraculous events. They are the ones who criticize studies like these. But we’ll see – take a look at my link below.

    Suppose you found one particular Christian whose “healing gift” was particularly strong (they had an abnormally high success rate, proven over many rigorous studies), would you not try to find out what approach he or she was taking and see if it could be replicated by others to the same effect?

    Randy Clark’s ministry sees a lot of amazing healings which is why I posted the link to the site that is collating data on these. I know what his approach is – he spends most of his time training churches around the world.

    Also see Iris Ministries, which regularly sees miraculous healings in Mozambique. This study details significant improvements in hearing and sight.

  236. I think a careful definition of “technique” might help advance this discussion. Any takers?

    The definition I’ve been working with is “Any action that you can take that increases the probability of a particular outcome occurring.”

  237. God is not an experimental subject to be examined like a lab rat.

    Do you think the natural, physical world around us is an experimental subject to be examined like a lab rat?

    In any case, I am not very interested in criticizing studies on the efficacy of prayer. I believe miraculous healings occur – I don’t need any convincing.

    Can you please clarify what you mean by this. It sounds like you’re effectively saying “I don’t care about any new evidence that comes along—I have my belief and I’m sticking to it.” I hope this isn’t what you mean.

  238. Do you think the natural, physical world around us is an experimental subject to be examined like a lab rat?

    Of course. But the ultimate subject of the experiments we have been discussing is not the physical world – it is attempt to determine if prayers to God – an omniscient, omnipotent being – result in miraculous healing. He may or may not cooperate in such an experiment – who knows?

    Can you please clarify what you mean by this. It sounds like you’re effectively saying “I don’t care about any new evidence that comes along—I have my belief and I’m sticking to it.” I hope this isn’t what you mean.

    The original comment was pointing out that any positive study on prayer is invariably rejected by atheists as lacking in methodology – which is why an experiment needs to be rigorous if it is to be accepted. But I doubt that is possible.

    Anyway to clarify: I have seen miraculous healings, and I’ve talked to people who have experienced them. There are people in my church who have been healed from stage 4 cancer. So it would take a great deal of “new evidence” to alter my belief that it happens. And given I doubt a rigorous study can be performed, why would a new study make any difference to me?

    PS Can you please recount what you think of the Iris Ministries study?

  239. Of course. But the ultimate subject of the experiments we have been discussing is not the physical world – it is attempt to determine if prayers to God – an omniscient, omnipotent being – result in miraculous healing. He may or may not cooperate in such an experiment – who knows?

    If God changes something in the physical world, then we should be able to ascertain exactly what God has changed, providing we understand the physical world well enough to know what would’ve happened had God not intervened.

    In the past, when we were more ignorant of the regularities natural world, it was very easy to conclude that God had intervened here or there, when we observed something we couldn’t explain naturally (like a rainbow, for example). The more we learn though, the more we realise that those observations that we previously put down to God intervening were in fact just nature following its own regularities (light refracting off water droplets in the air) and in fact, had those observations come out differently (had we not observed the rainbow when we did), then that difference would have been evidence that God had intervened. What was previously an abnormal “act of God” became a normal, expected consequence of natural phenomena.

    Therefore, to the extent that God influences nature, studying nature is studying God. You can’t do one without the other, unless you want to conclude that God only acts within the laws of nature, and then we’re into a whole other argument.

    PS Can you please recount what you think of the Iris Ministries study?

    It looks promising. Some next steps could be:
    1. Repeat the study with a larger sample size (11 and 14 are quite small numbers).
    2. Try modifying some of the variables to see if you can improve the success rate and/or better understand the underlying mechanism of action.
    3. Run a follow-up sample to see whether the improvements in sight & hearing are permanent or only temporary. If they’re temporary, see whether the same intervention as last time produces the same results and measure the duration.
    4. See whether those whose sight/hearing have been improved can be taught to also use the same technique to improve the sight/hearing of others (then the healing could spread quickly across the country as more and more people go from being healed into being healers themselves).

    These are just the first things that came to my head.

  240. If God changes something in the physical world, then we should be able to ascertain exactly what God has changed, providing we understand the physical world well enough to know what would’ve happened had God not intervened.

    Yes and no. If someone has stage 4 cancer, and then suddenly does not have stage 4 cancer after having had prayer for healing, then indeed we can ascertain what God has changed. This is, however, anecdotal.

    As I’ve tried to explain, conducting a rigorous scientific study of miraculous healing is an entirely different matter, and I doubt if it is possible. It assumes the co-operation of God and of all the people involved, both of which are dubious.

    These are just the first things that came to my head.

    Are you an atheist?

  241. @YATom

    In the past, when we were more ignorant of the regularities natural world, it was very easy to conclude that God had intervened here or there, when we observed something we couldn’t explain naturally (like a rainbow, for example). The more we learn though, the more we realise that those observations that we previously put down to God intervening were in fact just nature following its own regularities (light refracting off water droplets in the air) and in fact, had those observations come out differently (had we not observed the rainbow when we did), then that difference would have been evidence that God had intervened. What was previously an abnormal “act of God” became a normal, expected consequence of natural phenomena.

    Therefore, to the extent that God influences nature, studying nature is studying God. You can’t do one without the other, unless you want to conclude that God only acts within the laws of nature, and then we’re into a whole other argument.

    You seem to be confusing not having a modern mathematical descriptive framework for the properties and dynamics of a physical / natural system (i.e. the general regularities) with not being able to recognize that ‘nature’ behaves in regular ways. Attributing the regular behaviour of nature to the God Who created and sustains His creation and having a certain level of descriptive sophistication are not mutually exclusive. Psalm 19:1-6, for example, attributes the observable regularities of the heavens to God’s handiwork.

    Let’s go with a concrete example (yet again) – In John 2, John describes an event that took place at the wedding feast in Cana – Jesus transformed water into wine instantaneously, and those who knew the details of the event recognized immediately that something completely outside the normal behaviour of nature had occurred. Why? Because they had no idea that water does not spontaneously turn into wine in this manner? Hardly, they knew perfectly well how wine was made – they knew about fermentation; the fact that they did not know about the detailed biochemistry of the process in the way that a 21st century vintner knows doesn’t matter here.

    When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, after being 4 days in the tomb, Martha knew perfectly well that dead people don’t normally and spontaneously become alive again. See John 11, especially John 11:39.

    If you have not done so, I suggest you read C. S. Lewis’ Miracles.

  242. @283 Technique – the means/method by which a rational agent makes an artifact. An artifact is NOT a natural thing: art imitates nature (Aristotle, Physics 194a13ff and 199a8ff)–not the other way around. Technique is closely related to “technology,” which is knowledge applied to making an artifact. By the way, planes are artifacts just like the Mona Lisa is an artifact (art). I’m on a college visit with my daughter, so forgive the off-the-top-of my head response… and, yes, I recall Aristotle “verses” like some people recall Bible verses… which is a clear sign of a get-a-life geek.

  243. Yes and no. If someone has stage 4 cancer, and then suddenly does not have stage 4 cancer after having had prayer for healing, then indeed we can ascertain what God has changed. This is, however, anecdotal.

    Suppose we identify what we think is a regularity in nature (eg “People with Stage IV cancer don’t recover overnight). We can test this knowledge by making predictions about what observations we will make (we predict we will observe patients not recovering overnight), and if our observations consistently match our predictions the we can have a high level of confidence in our theory.

    Now suppose one day we make an observation that goes against our prediction (a patient does recover overnight). We can conclude from this that one of 3 things is true:

    1. Our theory wasn’t quite right—nature isn’t quite as regular as we thought it was—and we should update our theory to say “Most stage IV cancer patients don’t recover overnight, but occasionally they do and we don’t yet know what causes it”.

    Or

    2. Nature is just as regular as we thought it was, we just made a mistake in our observation (eg the patient didn’t actually have cancer to begin with or we got our patients mixed up or something)

    Or

    3. Nature is as regular as we thought it was and we didn’t make a mistake in our observation, but something outside of nature intervened.

    For centuries, Option 3 was the go-to hypothesis whenever we made an observation that our existing theories couldn’t explain. We now know that that many of our previous theories weren’t quite right (eg “the sun is never blocked out in the middle of the day”, or “all babies are born with 10 fingers and 10 toes”), and we’ve improved them. Obviously this doesn’t rule out Option 3 for other theories, but it does mean we should be less eager than we previously were to conclude that a certain observation was caused by something supernatural.

    Are you an atheist?

    Does the answer to that question make a difference to the arguments I have presented?

    Studies I’ve read about psychology suggest that, if you think I’m a Christian, you will be more inclined to believe my arguments and more likely to overlook small flaws in reasoning that I might make, but if you think I’m an atheist, you will be less likely to believe my arguments, even when they are sound. Neither of these sound like a good outcome to me: if I am making flaws in my reasoning then I want you to find them and correct them so that I can bring my beliefs closer to the truth, but I also don’t want you to twist my words and manufacture flaws of reasoning that aren’t there. I’m not suggesting that you would do this deliberately of course—if I’m correctly interpreting the studies then these sorts of things happen unconsciously, so neither of us would necessarily be aware it was happening.

  244. Psalm 19:1-6, for example, attributes the observable regularities of the heavens to God’s handiwork.

    It’s all well and good to attribute the “observable regularities of the heavens” to “God’s handiwork”, but does doing so improve your ability to predict anything?

    If Theory A is a mathematical model of the moon’s orbit around Earth and the Earth’s orbit around the sun that doesn’t take into account “God’s handiwork”, and Theory B is mathematically identical to Theory A except it states that the movements are caused by “God’s handiwork”, is Theory B going to predict, say, the next solar eclipse (or any other observation for that matter), more accurately than Theory A?

  245. @283 Technique – the means/method by which a rational agent makes an artifact. An artifact is NOT a natural thing: art imitates nature (Aristotle, Physics 194a13ff and 199a8ff)–not the other way around.

    I’m not entirely convinced by this definition. Is there a clear delineation between what is an “artefact” and what is “natural”? For example, would you describe a red rose as a “natural” thing, or an artefact?

  246. Too ignorant to warrant a response.

    Tom: I’m really, truly sorry… but, come on… this is why dealing with atheists is such a waste of time. This is an example of why the forum is losing its luster for me. There is more going on here than sheer ignorance…

  247. Too ignorant to warrant a response.

    Please accept my apologies for getting my rose facts mixed up. I’ll re-state and clarify my point using a different example: the Hybrid Tea rose.

    You have proposed a definition of “technique” which involves a rational agent making a thing called an “artefact”, which you have loosely defined as something that is “NOT natural”. I am genuinely unsure whether something like a Hybrid Tea rose is “natural” or not, and I could make an argument both ways:
    1. A Hybrid Tea rose is a flower and flowers are plants and plants are natural.
    2. Roses that occurred in nature, prior to any influence by humans, were not like Hybrid Tea roses. Humans selectively interbred roses of different colours and types and this resulted in the Hybrid Tea rose. Using this “technique” they created the “artefact” of the Hybrid Tea Rose.

    The same (to a greater or lesser extent) could be said for many dog breeds, cattle, sheep, wheat, corn and other crops. Which category do they fall into?

  248. Are you an atheist?

    Does the answer to that question make a difference to the arguments I have presented?

    It is not unreasonable on this forum to put your cards on the table – and quoting a psychological theory as a reason why not is rather disingenuous. If you really think this is is the case, then it seems likely by your theory if you are an atheist you are less likely to believe my arguments because I’m a theist – so we have an unequal playing field, do we not?

    What I’m interested in is your reaction to 1) my account of a rapid healing of stage 4 cancer after prayer and 2) the Iris Ministries study – and your current beliefs or lack thereof do make a difference.

    Re 1) what is your tentative conclusion, based on what you have heard so far? Hume’s view that no testimony is ever reliable enough to confirm a miracle? Or are you withholding judgement and seeking further investigation to rule out a possible natural explanation?

    Re 2) you said “it looks promising”. If you are an atheist, the possibility of healing miracles is not “promising” – it should force a re-evaluation of your worldview. If it doesn’t, you are either taking the Hume route or again requiring further investigation.

  249. It is not unreasonable on this forum to put your cards on the table – and quoting a psychological theory as a reason why not is rather disingenuous. If you really think this is is the case, then it seems likely by your theory if you are an atheist you are less likely to believe my arguments because I’m a theist – so we have an unequal playing field, do we not?

    I agree it’s not unreasonable, I just don’t think it’s optimal.

    It would have been better if I didn’t know what your religious beliefs were either, because then I would be less biased too, but it’s too late for that, so I’ll have to just try and do the best I can with the weight of bias hung around my neck. If you would like me to hang a weight of bias around your neck too by telling you what religious beliefs I do or don’t hold then I can do that, but I wouldn’t see it as “evening the playing field”, I’d see it as “unnecessarily weighing down a fellow climber”.

    If you’ll permit me a somewhat clumsy metaphor, I see us all as climbers trying to make our way up the “Mountain of Truth and Understanding”. By climbing together we have a better shot at reaching the top, and weighing each other down doesn’t help anyone.

    What I’m interested in is your reaction to 1) my account of a rapid healing of stage 4 cancer after prayer and 2) the Iris Ministries study – and your current beliefs or lack thereof do make a difference.

    Your account of rapid healing of stage 4 cancer leaves me with more questions than answers. My default response to an unexpected observation is to gather as much data as I can about it and then start generating hypotheses that fit the data. I don’t really have a lot of data to work with here, so there are a few naturalistic hypotheses I can think of that could fit the data, as well as many supernatural ones. Given the large number of potential hypotheses, I wouldn’t place a high degree of confidence in any of them, natural or supernatural.

    As for the Iris Ministries study, based on the limited data available there’s an obvious hypothesis that bears further investigation: that close proximity prayer causes improvements in the sight/hearing of people whose sight/hearing is impaired.
    Assuming this hypothesis stands up after further testing, then we can say that we have gained knowledge—that is, we can make accurate predictions about future observations. We still don’t understand the mechanism, but we’ve learned something, which is a step in the right direction! With more investigation we can learn more and then hopefully we’ll eventually understand the underlying mechanism.

  250. It would have been better if I didn’t know what your religious beliefs were either

    I don’t see how you can have meaningful discussions with people if they aren’t prepared to reveal where they are coming from.

    With more investigation we can learn more and then hopefully we’ll eventually understand the underlying mechanism.

    But with this comment you’ve told me all I needed to know.

  251. It’s all well and good to attribute the “observable regularities of the heavens” to “God’s handiwork”, but does doing so improve your ability to predict anything?

    If Theory A is a mathematical model of the moon’s orbit around Earth and the Earth’s orbit around the sun that doesn’t take into account “God’s handiwork”, and Theory B is mathematically identical to Theory A except it states that the movements are caused by “God’s handiwork”, is Theory B going to predict, say, the next solar eclipse (or any other observation for that matter), more accurately than Theory A?

    You have missed the point entirely, and you certainly don’t understand the relationship between the Biblical doctrines of Creation and Providence, and the Modern Empirical Sciences – those of us who are both Christians and professional scientists ( like Holopupenko and myself) understand far better than you what that relationship is and what it implies.

    This article by Harvard trained astronomer Owen Gingerich may help you to see the point:
    http://godandnature.asa3.org/1/post/2013/08/today-on-god-nature-magazine-do-the-heavens-declare-the-glory-of-god-a-sermon-by-own-gingerich.html

    I would also recommend that you (and our interested readers) visit the American Scientific Affiliation web site ( http://www.asa3.org ) and browse the resources there. This is an association of professional scientists and other scholars, who are Christians – we are dedicated to understanding and articulating the relationship between science and (the Christian) faith.

    You also did not even come close to addressing the real issues about the miraculous – I gave you a specific example of a miracle account – are you going to address that?

  252. Sigh.

    This is not the first time I’ve run into “knowledge equals predictability.”

    This won’t impress every reader here, but once I was in a seminar led by William Lane Craig. During the Q&A time I raised my hand and asked his advice on how to answer that belief. He looked at me with this semi-stunned, quizzical expression, and said, “Tell him he’s wrong.” He looked around the group then and said, “Next question?”

    I think it’s that obvious and plain, too. Take the knowledge that God holds a special providence over creation. If it’s true, it might lead to nothing scientifically predictable in this lifetime. So what? If it’s true, then it’s true, and my goodness but it’s important!

    It means the universe is moral. It means spiritual realities are realities. It means we’d better pay attention to whether it has implications beyond this life. It means we would do well to study and found out what else we can know about this God.

    And maybe that’s the best effect, the highest project of all: studying to know the highest and best of all that is. You’d be astonished at the depths there are there to explore. It’s uplifting: the more you contemplate perfection, the less content you are with pettiness. The more you understand love the more you can practice it.

    So enough with this knowledge-requires-predictability nonsense. It’s only true if you beg the question grandly (and miserably!) on the existence of God, of other minds, of so much more than that! Let it go, let go of the fallacy it’s driving you to, and try to think more openly and sanely. Okay?

  253. I don’t see how you can have meaningful discussions with people if they aren’t prepared to reveal where they are coming from.

    As I said in my previous comment, I am prepared to reveal where I’m coming from, I just don’t think it is helpful to do so. However, if it will make you happy to know: I am an atheist (not that anyone hadn’t figured that out already).

    Another example of this principle is if we were to discuss a new taxation policy that has been proposed. If neither of us know which politician proposed the policy then we can discuss it on its merits, but as soon as we know who proposed it, our opinions about the policy itself will be clouded by our opinions on the politician who proposed it, and those opinions are irrelevant to the question of whether it is a good policy or not.

    Sure, in most cases we can probably guess which politician proposed the policy anyway, but not always. And even if we have a pretty good idea of who we think it was, that small doubt will help to reduce the impact of our bias.

    We all have our biases, but there are measures we can take to reduce their impact, even if it’s only just a little bit.

  254. You also did not even come close to addressing the real issues about the miraculous – I gave you a specific example of a miracle account – are you going to address that?

    I would take the same approach to these unexpected observations (raising from the dead & water into wine) as I would to the observation of someone recovering from cancer.

    My three initial hypotheses would be:

    1. Our theory wasn’t quite right—nature isn’t quite as regular as we thought it was—and we should update our theory to say “Mostly people don’t raise from the dead/water doesn’t turn into wine, but sometimes it does and we don’t know why”.

    Or

    2. Nature is just as regular as we thought it was, we just made a mistake in our observation (eg. the reports we heard were false, the person wasn’t actually dead, etc.)

    Or

    3. Nature is as regular as we thought it was and we didn’t make a mistake in our observation, but something outside of nature intervened.

    I think it’s fairly safe to reject Hypothesis number 1 based on our knowledge of chemistry and biology, which leaves us with 2 or 3. Again, I don’t have enough data to be able to place much confidence in any one specific hypothesis, so I’m going to say I really don’t know what actually happened.

  255. I think it’s that obvious and plain, too. Take the knowledge that God holds a special providence over creation. If it’s true, it might lead to nothing scientifically predictable in this lifetime. So what? If it’s true, then it’s true, and my goodness but it’s important!

    Yes, if it’s true, it’s terribly important. But if it isn’t true then millions of people are wasting their time spreading “knowledge” that isn’t true when they could be out there discovering knowledge that is true.

    So let’s not beg the question by assuming that the knowledge “God holds special providence over creation” is true knowledge, and let’s not beg the question by assuming that it’s false knowledge either.

    How can we differentiate between true knowledge and false knowledge then? I’ve offered a way to differentiate, which you have rejected on the basis that it’s “wrong” (according to William Lane-Craig), which you then argue is “obvious and plain” and that it’s “only true if you beg the question on the existence of God (and other things)”. Those were the only objections I could find in your post, but let me know if you have others.

    I’ll go through them one by one:

    1. “William Lane-Craig said that it was wrong” – This is an appeal to the authority of William Lane-Craig. Suppose I quote another respected authority who contradicts this. How do we settle it? Do we appeal to a yet higher authority? If God exists then presumably God is the highest authority we can appeal to, but if God does not exist, then the highest authority we can appeal to is the reality of what we can actually observe to happen. Of course, now we’re back to square one. Unless there’s a reliable way to differentiate between whether God exists or not, then we’re just picking our preferred authority and running with it, and then we’re question-begging again, aren’t we?

    2. “It’s obviously and plainly wrong” – Unless you’re actually omniscient, then what you’re saying here is “it feels obviously and plainly wrong to me“. Well it doesn’t feel obviously and plainly wrong to me.

    3. “It’s only true if you beg the question on the existence of God (and other things) – Whether or not God exists, if I can reliably predict a future observation, I think it’s fair to say I have “knowledge”. The question is really “Is prediction the be-all and end-all of knowledge?”. Let’s suppose that there are other types of knowledge that don’t give you any power to predict observations “in this lifetime”. How then do we differentiate between true knowledge of this type (eg “God holds special providence over creation”, according to you anyway) and false knowledge (eg. “Eating pork is a sin”, which I assume you believe to be false)?

  256. YATom:

    Actually, when I said “this won’t impress everyone here,” I was acknowledging that an appeal to WLC’s authority meant nothing. I knew that when I wrote it. I just shared it as a story.

    What’s obviously wrong about the predictiveness rule for knowledge is that you have to hammer so many crazy things into its Procrustean bed. Do you know whether your toe hurts? Do you know whether you’re reading this? Do you know whether you love your significant other? Do you know what a table is? Do you know the meaning of the word “run”? Do you know another meaning for the same word? Do you know the where to find Italy and Greece on a map? Do you know the name of the Greek counterpart to Jupiter? Do you know your parent(s), or whoever may have brought you up?

    Sure, you can mash all these into a statistical/predictive framework, but the difficulty of doing so, the unnaturalness, the not-being-what-it’s-really-like that it requires, ranges from strong to overwhelming.

    How do we differentiate true and false knowledge? Whew, that depends on the topic area. Specifically with respect to eating pork, there’s a whole lot behind that knowledge. It has to do with how we know that we have a trustworthy and reliable revelation from a real and true God, and understanding whether that revelation forbids eating pork.

    How do we know about that revelation from a true God? We have history, we have philosophy, we have current experience with God, especially in prayer. Some of it’s subjective, as it ought to be: it’s a spiritual relationship. I don’t apologize or hide from that for an instant. Some of it’s objective. I recommend Cold-Case Christianity for a readable compendium. Or for the questions you’re raising, better yet, Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition.

    Please don’t expect a one-paragraph answer. I can catalog categories of ways we can know, apart from statistical/predictive knowledge theory, but it would take a while to lay out an example of how we really know God is real and his revelation to us is trustworthy.

  257. What’s obviously wrong about the predictiveness rule for knowledge is that you have to hammer so many crazy things into its Procrustean bed.

    It doesn’t seem at all crazy to me to say “The extent of your knowledge about something is the extent to which you can predict future observations relating to that thing”.

    Do you know whether your toe hurts?

    Yes. I can predict that in the next instant (and the instant after that, etc.) I will not feel the sensation of pain from my toe. I can also predict that if I touch my toe I will not feel a sensation of pain.

    Suppose I tested either of those predictions and they came out wrong (my toe did actually hurt): quite clearly in this case my knowledge is false.

    Do you know whether you’re reading this?

    Yes. I can predict that in the next instant (and the instant after that, etc.) I will have this text in my field of vision and I will be interpreting it and processing it with my brain (I’m don’t know which part of my brain, but I know enough about brains to know that my brain is doing the processing).

    Suppose I tested that prediction and it came out wrong (an instant later I noticed that I was actually in the shower), then this would clearly indicate that my knowledge was false.

    Do you know whether you love your significant other?

    Yes. I can predict that when I think about my wife, or when I am in her presence, I will experience an emotion that I call “love”. I also know that the emotion I call “love” is basically the same thing that other people refer to when they talk about “love” because I can predict the way other people will describe “love” and the sorts of behaviours it will elicit from them, and I also use those same descriptions and observe those same behaviours in myself.

    Suppose I tested this prediction and noticed that the way I behaved and felt about my wife was not how I predicted it to be. Again, this would indicate that my knowledge was false.

    Do you know what a table is?

    Yes. I can predict that, when I use the word “table” in conversation with other people, they will relate that word to roughly the same concept that I also relate it to. I can test this prediction by asking questions about “tables” and predicting how they will answer. I can also predict what a dictionary might give as a definition for the word “table” and I can predict the sorts of things I will see if I type “Table” into a Google image search.

    Suppose I tested these predictions and found that when I said to people “I have a table in my lounge room” and they reacted “Seriously!? Isn’t that dangerous? It could attack you at any minute. Do you feed it?”. And I asked people “What do tables look like?” and they said that they were large, brown and hairy with big teeth and sharp claws. And then I looked up “table” in the dictionary and the description was “any of the plantigrade, carnivorous or omnivorous mammals of the family Ursidae, having massive bodies, coarse heavy fur, relatively short limbs, and almost rudimentary tails”. And then I did a Google image search and sure enough, there were images of big brown creatures with large teeth and sharp claws. If I observed all these things, it would quite clearly indicate that my “knowledge” of what a table is, wasn’t true knowledge at all.

    Do you know the meaning of the word “run”? Do you know another meaning for the same word?

    Yes. Just as with the example above, I can predict what concepts people will associate with the word “run”. I can also predict that, due to the multiple meanings of the word “run”, some sentences might be ambiguous to people, such as “I’m running the GOR this weekend”. If the person knows nothing about me and doesn’t know what the GOR is then they won’t know whether I’m going to be sitting at a computer all weekend “running” a report, or out in the sunshine “running” a marathon.

    Do you know the where to find Italy and Greece on a map?

    Yes. I predict that if I point to a certain region on a map and say “Is this Italy?”, most people will answer “Yes”.

    Do you know the name of the Greek counterpart to Jupiter?

    No, actually. And what’s more, I know that I don’t know (which is different to having false knowledge), because I can predict that I will try to retrieve this information from my memory and it won’t be there. If I had false knowledge then I would say “Yes, I know because I predict that when I say to people that Aries is the Greek counterpart to Jupiter, they will agree with me, and it will appear in books etc.” (Unless of course the answer actually is Aries, in which case my knowledge that “Aries” is the wrong answer, is false knowledge).

    Do you know your parent(s), or whoever may have brought you up?

    Yes. I can predict that when I search my memory of my childhood, I will remember my parents’ faces, their names and many activities that we did together. I also predict that when I speak with them, they will recall the same events. I can also predict that when I speak with my sister, she will recall our parents and give roughly the same description as I would. I also know a lot about them because I can predict how they will respond to all kinds of things (what foods they will like, what jokes they will find funny, what opinions they will espouse on certain matters).

    Sure, you can mash all these into a statistical/predictive framework, but the difficulty of doing so, the unnaturalness, the not-being-what-it’s-really-like that it requires, ranges from strong to overwhelming.

    I can understand why it looks like I’m “mashing things into a predictive framework”, but that’s just because we don’t normally consciously think about the predictions that we’re making. But if you do stop and think about it, you’ll find that’s exactly what’s going on in our heads all the time. We are using our knowledge to anticipate the observations that we are going to make. When our knowledge is true, we observe that which we anticipated we would; when our knowledge is false, we observe something other that that which we anticipated.

    Most of the examples of knowledge you gave above are examples of knowledge about other people, or about concepts – the concept of a “table”, for example. It is tempting to think that this type of knowledge is different from knowledge about physical things (such as the knowledge that if you throw a ball into the air it will fall back down), but it really isn’t. Concepts, such as the concept of a “table” or of the country “Italy”, only exist inside people’s minds, so any knowledge you have about those concepts is really just knowledge of other people’s minds, which you can use to predict other people’s behaviour.

    People make the mistake of thinking that the concept of a “table” exists outside people’s minds – that somehow the pieces of wood stuck together in my living room have an inherent “tableness” to them that transcends human thought – but this is an example of the mind projection fallacy. And yes, I include the concept of “love” in this too. Love is an emotion that exists inside minds: a rock cannot love because it doesn’t have a mind.

  258. It doesn’t seem at all crazy to me to say “The extent of your knowledge about something is the extent to which you can predict future observations relating to that thing”.

    It sounds nonsensical to me. It seems to say knowledge of history (in fact any non-repeatable event) is not knowledge at all.

  259. It sounds nonsensical to me. It seems to say knowledge of history (in fact any non-repeatable event) is not knowledge at all.

    Every event that occurs leaves a trail of evidence, like ripples in a pond after a rock is thrown in. The greater your knowledge of the rock, the greater your ability to predict the ripples. And if you can’t predict the ripples, it means you lack knowledge of the rock.

    Some events, leave only very subtle pieces of evidence that are very difficult to identify, making it difficult to establish whether our knowledge of these events is true or not. Effectively this means we don’t have much knowledge about those events. Other events are well documented (they might have been recorded using video, audio or some other means), in which case we can predict a great deal about them (we can predict what the video/audio/etc. will show) and therefore our knowledge is great.

    Now I may observe an event personally and “record” that event in my memory. In that case, my “knowledge” is actually knowledge of my own memory: my ability to accurately predict what I will observe when I recall that memory. The extent of my knowledge of the event itself is the extent to which my memory is an accurate reflection of what really happened. If this event happened to leave very little evidence, other than my own memories, then my knowledge about it is indeed limited. I can predict, based on previous research, that my own memory is quite unreliable, so if the only predictions I can make about the evidence resulting from a particular event are predictions of what is in my own memory (i.e. if I can’t verify my memories against any other observable evidence), then I genuinely do not have a great deal of knowledge about that event.

  260. Every event that occurs leaves a trail of evidence, like ripples in a pond after a rock is thrown in. The greater your knowledge of the rock, the greater your ability to predict the ripples. And if you can’t predict the ripples, it means you lack knowledge of the rock.

    A historical event is just that – it happened in the past. There’s nothing to predict in the future about it.

    You have a very strange view of what knowledge is.

  261. A historical event is just that – it happened in the past. There’s nothing to predict in the future about it.

    Of course there is. I predict that if I come back in 5 minutes time and check this page, I will see this comment. If my prediction is correct, it implies that my knowledge about the historical event of me posting this comment is true knowledge. If my prediction is false, then it implies that my knowledge of that event is false (I may have just imagined typing it, or perhaps I didn’t actually hit the “Post Comment” button).

    Using my knowledge of historical events I can predict all kinds of future observations, such as:

    I predict that if I type “2012 Olympics 100m final” into YouTube I will see a video of Usain Bolt winning the race.

    I predict that if I walk into the kitchen I will find an empty pizza box from my dinner last night.

    I predict that if I check the call history on my phone, the most recent phone call will be to my wife. I can roughly predict when that phone call occurred (between half an hour and 2 hours ago), and I can roughly predict the call duration (between 5 and 15 minutes). I can’t predict any more accurately than this because my knowledge of this event is limited.

    These are all predictions about future observations which relate to past events. The extent of our knowledge about those past events is the extent to which we can accurately predict future observations that are causally related to them.

  262. YAT:

    And can you make some kind of verifiable prediction based off your knowledge that knowledge leads to verifiable predictions? (One that doesn’t beg the question, that is.)

  263. And can you make some kind of verifiable prediction based off your knowledge that knowledge leads to verifiable predictions? (One that doesn’t beg the question, that is.)

    Yes. I predict that if you begin to view knowledge as the ability to predict future observations, and you genuinely reject knowledge that doesn’t increase your ability to predict future observations, then ultimately (perhaps after an initially difficult transition period) you will feel happier, more fulfilled and be more productive than you are now.

  264. Indeed. Unfortunately, I think the comedy was unintentional.

    Not entirely unintentional. Out of respect for the people reading them, I do try to keep my comments from being dull, particularly the longer ones.

  265. YAT @ 313:

    I’m sorry, I think I phrased myself poorly in 311. I meant “Can you make a verifiable prediction which will prove your theory of knowledge correct?” Feeling happier, more fulfilled and more productive doesn’t really do the trick, since it might be that “knowledge is the ability to predict future observations” is just a comforting illusion.

    (Although, if you want to go down that route, religious people are generally “happier, more fulfilled and more productive” than atheists, so…)

  266. I’m sorry, I think I phrased myself poorly in 311. I meant “Can you make a verifiable prediction which will prove your theory of knowledge correct?” Feeling happier, more fulfilled and more productive doesn’t really do the trick, since it might be that “knowledge is the ability to predict future observations” is just a comforting illusion.

    So you’re asking me to prove that “knowledge is the ability to predict future observations” by giving you a prediction about a future observation that depends on this knowledge being true? And you want me to do this without begging the question (that is, assuming that knowledge is the ability to predict future observations)? Well that’s a lovely paradox isn’t it? By saying “Can you make a verifiable prediction which will prove your theory of knowledge correct?” you’ve basically already assumed that a verifiable prediction is necessary to demonstrate knowledge, haven’t you?

    Unless you’ve assumed that prediction is only a sufficient requirement for knowledge, but is not necessary. In which case, you want me to prove that it’s necessary, and I’m allowed to assume that it’s sufficient (as you already have), does that sound reasonable?

    If my theory is correct, then it means that the only way to establish whether or not a piece of knowledge is true is to test it. If my theory is false, then there must be some method for differentiating true knowledge from false knowledge, which doesn’t result in some kind of prediction (obviously I don’t know what this method would be because I don’t actually think there is one).

    Consequently, my theory requires that, where two people hold contradictory “knowledge”, and that “knowledge” does not result in any kind of prediction that can be used to test it, they will have no way to independently verify which one of them is correct, so they will need to resort to violence, coercion, indoctrination, intimidation or a combination thereof in order to convince each other that their respective “knowledge” is true and the other is false.

    Therefore, my prediction is that I will observe people using violence, coercion, indoctrination, intimidation or a combination thereof to convince others that their “knowledge” (which can’t be demonstrated via predicting future observations) is true.

    (Although, if you want to go down that route, religious people are generally “happier, more fulfilled and more productive” than atheists, so…)

    I wouldn’t expect the majority of atheists to know that knowledge is the ability to predict future observations. Sadly, most atheists probably don’t think about it all that much.

  267. I should add that, just because my prediction in 316 came out true, doesn’t necessarily prove that my theory is correct. If my theory of knowledge is correct, then the only way to prove something is to literally be able to predict everything that is causally related to it. The best we can do is have a degree of confidence in our knowledge that is based on its predictive power.

    There are, of course, other theories that would make the same prediction as my theory, such as the theory: “There are methods to independently verify that knowledge is true, even if it doesn’t result in prediction, but few people know those methods and therefore they resort to violence, coercion, indoctrination, intimidation or a combination thereof in order to convince each other that their respective knowledge is true and the other is false.”

    How do we know whether this other theory is true or whether my theory is true? Well the other theory also makes a prediction: it predicts that there is some other method that people are using to independently verify and agree upon which knowledge is true and which is false, without resorting to violence, coercion, indoctrination or intimidation.

    I’d also add to like one more thing to that list: appeals to wishful thinking. Many people use the following reasoning to convince others that their “knowledge” is true:

    1. If this knowledge is true, then it means your life has meaning and you are loved unconditionally and you have an immortal soul and all kinds of other happy things.

    2. But if this knowledge is false, it means that the universe is uncaring, that your life has only the meaning that you and other people give to it, that when you die the only things that remain of you are a lifeless body (that will decay or be cremated) and the memories of you that remain in the minds of those who are living (and those whom they share those memories with, who may not yet be born).

    3. You’d much rather live in a world where this knowledge is true than one in which it isn’t.

    4. Therefore, this knowledge is true.

    And I think we can all agree that this reasoning is flawed.

  268. If David P is still reading, he might be interested in hearing from a fellow atheist on the topic ‘Jesus never existed’, and why it’s nonsense.

    My hope is that you will more readily accept arguments from a fellow atheist. The blog post in the form of a very detailed book review.

    Oh, and the same atheist shreds the nonsensical belief that the dark ages were dark and that the Church hindered science. Again, it’s in the form of a detailed book review.

    Makes me wonder why the guy is still an atheist. 🙂

  269. @318

    Why is he still an atheist? Because he wants to be, i.e., he’s made a conscious, real, non-reducible choice… hence rendering his assertion that there is “no free will”… stupid.

  270. YAT:

    “So you’re asking me to prove that “knowledge is the ability to predict future observations” by giving you a prediction about a future observation that depends on this knowledge being true? And you want me to do this without begging the question (that is, assuming that knowledge is the ability to predict future observations)? Well that’s a lovely paradox isn’t it? By saying “Can you make a verifiable prediction which will prove your theory of knowledge correct?” you’ve basically already assumed that a verifiable prediction is necessary to demonstrate knowledge, haven’t you?”

    Yes. Basically I suspect that you can’t know that your theory is knowledge is correct, and if you try and justify it you’ll end up either begging the question or contradicting yourself. I’d be interested to hear a justification that doesn’t do either of those things.

    “Consequently, my theory requires that, where two people hold contradictory “knowledge”, and that “knowledge” does not result in any kind of prediction that can be used to test it, they will have no way to independently verify which one of them is correct, so they will need to resort to violence, coercion, indoctrination, intimidation or a combination thereof in order to convince each other that their respective “knowledge” is true and the other is false.”

    I can know something which can’t be independently verified. E.g., I know that I had coffee with my breakfast last Tuesday, but nobody can verify it. So I think your point here is something of a red herring.

    “I wouldn’t expect the majority of atheists to know that knowledge is the ability to predict future observations. Sadly, most atheists probably don’t think about it all that much.”

    They probably don’t. I was just making the point that, if you want to claim that your theory of knowledge leads to more happiness and that we should all accept it for that reason, you should also accept theism for the same reason.

    “I’d also add to like one more thing to that list: appeals to wishful thinking. Many people use the following reasoning to convince others that their “knowledge” is true: [snip] And I think we can all agree that this reasoning is flawed.”

    We can, although I can’t say I’ve encountered it all that often; and, when I have, the people who use it tend to be the “spiritual but not religious” type rather than orthodox Christians.

  271. Yes. Basically I suspect that you can’t know that your theory is knowledge is correct, and if you try and justify it you’ll end up either begging the question or contradicting yourself. I’d be interested to hear a justification that doesn’t do either of those things.

    Show me a theory of knowledge that doesn’t beg the question or contradict itself when you try to prove that you “know” the theory is true. As soon as you say you “know” that it’s true, someone’s entitled to ask “how do you know?”, and then your choices are either begging the question (“Using my own theory of knowledge, I am demonstrating that my theory of knowledge is correct”) or contradicting yourself (“I’m going to use a different theory of knowledge to try and prove that my theory of knowledge is correct, even though I don’t believe that this other theory of knowledge is actually correct”).

    This is why I started with the assumption that being able to predict future events is sufficient to demonstrate knowledge. I think this is a pretty safe assumption: if I can accurately predict what will happen when you mix two different chemicals together, then this clearly demonstrates that I have some kind of knowledge about those two chemicals. Obviously it doesn’t mean I know everything about them, but it does demonstrate that I absolutely know something about them. The extent of my knowledge, is the extent to which I can predict other future observations relating to those two chemicals.

    Do you think it’s possible for someone who genuinely has no knowledge about something to still be consistently able to predict future observations about that thing? Because that’s what you would have to think in order to disagree with my assumption that prediction is sufficient to demonstrate knowledge.

    As for my theory that prediction is necessary to demonstrate knowledge. In order to disagree with that, you need to show me some way of resolving two contradictory pieces of “knowledge”, without using prediction, and without resorting to violence, coercion, indoctrination, intimidation, appeals to wishful thinking, or a combination thereof (perhaps I should add one more, although it’s really just a combination of coercion and indoctrination: bald-faced assertion, as evidenced in William Lane-Craig’s “Tell him he’s wrong. Next question?”).

    I can know something which can’t be independently verified. E.g., I know that I had coffee with my breakfast last Tuesday, but nobody can verify it. So I think your point here is something of a red herring.

    Firstly, I will say that, prior to reading your post, I had no knowledge about your breakfast last Tuesday, so we didn’t have any conflicting knowledge that had to be resolved. Nevertheless, let’s say I wanted to be difficult and decided to be sceptical about your claim that you had coffee with your breakfast last Tuesday. In this case, there would be plenty of ways you could establish this knowledge independently, by making predictions.

    You could start by explaining how you know that you had coffee with your breakfast last Tuesday. Is it because you know you have coffee with your breakfast most mornings and you don’t recall last Tuesday being any different? If so, then we can predict that you will have coffee in your cupboard, perhaps a coffee machine or at least a mug with coffee stains on it, your friends and family will tell us that you have coffee most mornings, and there are probably transaction records dating back for some time showing that you regularly buy coffee.

    Maybe you specifically recall last Tuesday’s coffee because it was particularly memorable for some reason. The more detail you provide about the event, the more predictions we can make and the better we can verify what actually happened.

    We can also rely somewhat on your own memory (fallible though it may be). We can predict that if your memory is correct then when we ask you for specific details you will give an internally consistent account of what happened that matches any physical evidence we can obtain (suppose you say that you cleaned your machine afterwards and that you only do this once a month, we can look at the cleanliness of your machine to verify that).

    The extent of my knowledge regarding your breakfast last Tuesday is the the extent to which I can predict future observations that are causally related to it. Therefore, at the moment, the only thing I know about your breakfast last Tuesday is that you claim to believe that you had coffee. Given I know of no reason for you to lie, and given I know that lots of people have coffee for breakfast in the morning, I would estimate the probability that you actually had coffee with your breakfast on Tuesday to be around 95%, but if something really important depended on it, I wouldn’t rely on that knowledge.

  272. YAT:

    Show me a theory of knowledge that doesn’t beg the question or contradict itself when you try to prove that you “know” the theory is true. As soon as you say you “know” that it’s true, someone’s entitled to ask “how do you know?”, and then your choices are either begging the question (“Using my own theory of knowledge, I am demonstrating that my theory of knowledge is correct”) or contradicting yourself (“I’m going to use a different theory of knowledge to try and prove that my theory of knowledge is correct, even though I don’t believe that this other theory of knowledge is actually correct”).

    Innatism, maybe? The idea that we are born knowing, e.g., that the laws of logic are true, seems knowable by introspection, and intuitively much more plausible than your idea that we know these laws by making predictions based off them.

    (And note that appealing to introspection in this case isn’t a contradiction, because there’s nothing about innatism which requires innate ideas to be the only knowledge we have. Hence it’s quite consistent for a innatist to use other methods of knowledge as well.)

    As for my theory that prediction is necessary to demonstrate knowledge. In order to disagree with that, you need to show me some way of resolving two contradictory pieces of “knowledge”, without using prediction, and without resorting to violence, coercion, indoctrination, intimidation, appeals to wishful thinking, or a combination thereof (perhaps I should add one more, although it’s really just a combination of coercion and indoctrination: bald-faced assertion, as evidenced in William Lane-Craig’s “Tell him he’s wrong. Next question?”).

    Show that one of them rests on a logical fallacy or on unsound premises.

    (And yes, I’m sure if you try hard enough you can squeeze this into a “I predict…” format, but that doesn’t change the fact that nobody actually thinks like that in real life.)

    “Firstly, I will say that, prior to reading your post, I had no knowledge about your breakfast last Tuesday, so we didn’t have any conflicting knowledge that had to be resolved. Nevertheless, let’s say I wanted to be difficult and decided to be sceptical about your claim that you had coffee with your breakfast last Tuesday. In this case, there would be plenty of ways you could establish this knowledge independently, by making predictions.”

    I remember it because I stubbed my toe as I was making it. My toe has since fully healed, my cups have all been washed, and anything I had last Tuesday has long since passed through my system. There were no other witnesses to my breakfast that morning. Nevertheless I am justified in my knowledge that I had coffee last Tuesday, even though there’s no way for anybody else to verify it.

  273. If David P is still reading, he might be interested in hearing from a fellow atheist on the topic ‘Jesus never existed’, and why it’s nonsense.

    My hope is that you will more readily accept arguments from a fellow atheist. The blog post in the form of a very detailed book review.

    Oh, and the same atheist shreds the nonsensical belief that the dark ages were dark and that the Church hindered science. Again, it’s in the form of a detailed book review.

    Makes me wonder why the guy is still an atheist.

    I must thank you for posting this. I found it really interesting.

    I’ve never really bought into the whole “Jesus is a myth” thing, but it was interesting to learn a bit more about the historical records that we do have concerning his life.

    More interesting to me than the “Jesus myth” stuff though was the piece about mediaeval science and the role of the Church. It almost seems like conventional wisdom these days that the church in the mediaeval period oppressively persecuted scientists who didn’t tow the line, but having read that review and given it more thought, the idea that the Church would feel threatened by science back then really doesn’t make much sense at all. During that period, the Church had very little to fear from science, and everything to gain from scientific discoveries, so it would have no reason at all to persecute scientists or really hinder their work in any way.

    It is all too easy to view history through the lens of today’s world and assume that the anti-science movement we see from religious organisations these days has always existed, but like many all-too-easy conclusions, this one comes out resoundingly false. So thank you (and Mr O’Neil) for helping me to shed this false belief!

    It does also make me wonder whether the popular narrative around the fall of Islamic science at the hands of religious fundamentalism is similarly misconstrued. Somehow I suspect not, but I’d be interested to learn more about it.

  274. “It does also make me wonder whether the popular narrative around the fall of Islamic science at the hands of religious fundamentalism is similarly misconstrued. Somehow I suspect not, but I’d be interested to learn more about it.”

    I wouldn’t say “religious fundamentalists”, because that brings in anachronistic connotations of Bible-bashers and Taliban militants, but I’d say that certain developments in Islamic theology did bring the golden age of Islamic science to an end, yes. In particular, the embrace around the 10th century or so of nominalism (the belief that no universals exist, only particulars; taken to its logical conclusion, this means that any scientific experiment only tells you about the particular thing being experimented on, not about the general class of objects to which it belongs, because of course such a class only exists in our minds and not in objective reality), occasionalism (the rejection of secondary causes; so heating water doesn’t cause it to boil, rather God intervenes directly to make it boil when it happens to be near a source of heat) and voluntarism (the belief that the will is metaphysically prior to the intellect, so there’s no reason to think that God will always act in rationally-knowable ways). These three together made the fundamental nature of the universe seem utterly mysterious, as everything that happened was directly caused by the inscrutable will of God; hence we can only know what individual actions God might perform, and trying to discover any underlying laws behind them was a waste of time.

    (Incidentally, this conclusion is quite similar to that advanced by David Hume in the 18th century; luckily for the advance of science, however, most people didn’t in practice pay much attention.)

  275. (And note that appealing to introspection in this case isn’t a contradiction, because there’s nothing about innatism which requires innate ideas to be the only knowledge we have. Hence it’s quite consistent for a innatist to use other methods of knowledge as well.)

    It’s not a contradiction, but my word! does it beg the question: “I can discover knowledge through introspection because I was born with that knowledge, and I know that I was born with it because I can discover it through introspection”.

    Also, if there are other “methods of knowledge”, what are they? And do you seriously reject prediction as a way to demonstrate knowledge? In my experience, whenever someone claims to know something and other people are sceptical, they are usually called on to prove it, and that proof invariably involves some kind of prediction, whether it is explicit or implicit.

    Show that one of them rests on a logical fallacy or on unsound premises.

    How do you establish whether or not the premises are sound or not? And how do you establish that your rules of logic are true?

    (And yes, I’m sure if you try hard enough you can squeeze this into a “I predict…” format, but that doesn’t change the fact that nobody actually thinks like that in real life.)

    People don’t consciously think like that–and maybe the word “prediction” carries too much baggage to be useful in making the point that I’m trying to make–but whenever you walk into your bedroom and reach for the light switch you’re making a prediction. You’re predicting that the action of flicking the switch will result in the outcome of the light going on. Sure, it doesn’t feel like you’re making a prediction: it just feels like knowledge that you possess (“I know that flicking this switch will result in the light going on”, although you probably don’t even consciously think about it at all), but until you actually flick the switch, you don’t really know that the light will go on, you only predict it.

    You could probably substitute the word “predict” with “expect” here, and it might match more closely with how knowledge feels, but they are effectively the same thing, for the purposes of understanding how knowledge really works.

    If you are really interested there’s a more technical explanation of this concept here.

    I remember it because I stubbed my toe as I was making it. My toe has since fully healed, my cups have all been washed, and anything I had last Tuesday has long since passed through my system. There were no other witnesses to my breakfast that morning. Nevertheless I am justified in my knowledge that I had coffee last Tuesday, even though there’s no way for anybody else to verify it.

    Did you tell anyone the story of how you stubbed your toe while making coffee? Did you buy any bandages to treat your toe? Did it bleed into your sock or even your shoe? Could you demonstrate how and where you stubbed your toe? (If where you say you were when you stubbed your toe doesn’t fit with where you would be whilst making coffee, this might indicate an inconsistency in your story).

    In any case, given how popular coffee is with breakfast, you could probably pick a person at random and there would be a better than 50% chance that they had coffee with their breakfast last Tuesday, so I really don’t need much data at all to be confident that you had coffee with your breakfast last Tuesday.

  276. SteveK says:

    Makes me wonder why the guy is still an atheist.

    Just poking my nose into this discussion, since it has been brought to my attention that a couple of my reviews have been thrown into the mix and then I noticed SteveK’s comment above. I realise it was followed by a smiley, but thought it worth addressing anyway.

    The two articles in question are reviews where I tackle some pseudo historical positions that are often used by my fellow atheists: the idea Jesus never existed and the idea that Christianity caused the “Dark Ages” and retarded scientific inquiry in the Middle Ages. As a rationalist, I dislike poor historical arguments, especially ones tainted by ideological bias. As a student of history who strives to be objective, I also try to ensure my own philosophical positions (eg my atheism) don’t get in the way of my objectivity.

    This is why I criticise atheists who misuse history. I also criticise Christians who do the same thing – see my review of Rodney Stark’s very weak book on the Crusades, for example.

    I remain an atheist because I find all the arguments presented and reasons given for belief in any God or gods unconvincing. And because my study of the history of various religions, especially 30 years detailed study of the origins of Christianity, indicate to me that this “God” is yet another story we humans tell ourselves about ourselves and nothing more.

    This is a fairly dispassionate and generally un-ideological position – which differentiates me from the “New Atheist” style of anti-theistic zealot. And which also means I can objectively acknowledge historical ideas – like the existence of a historical Jesus or the falsity of the “Conflict Thesis” – without that having any impact or even relevance for my atheism. It’s not an ideology for me, just a philosophical position.

    Holopupenko says:

    Why is he still an atheist? Because he wants to be, i.e., he’s made a conscious, real, non-reducible choice… hence rendering his assertion that there is “no free will”… stupid.

    I was raised a Christian and was very happy as one. I can assure you that I did not “want” to be an atheist at all – I came to this position reluctantly, but through being intellectually honest. I couldn’t pretend what I wanted to be true (Christianity) still made sense to me. So – wrong. And you should also not make assumptions about what positions atheists hold on free will.


    Yet Another Tom says:

    So thank you (and Mr O’Neil) for helping me to shed this false belief!

    You’re welcome. I’m glad you are open to carefully and objectively considering history objectively. Perhaps atheism isn’t an ideology for you and is just a position as well. I find that’s actually a much more rational approach than that of the “New Atheists”.

  277. YAT @ 325:

    “Also, if there are other “methods of knowledge”, what are they? And do you seriously reject prediction as a way to demonstrate knowledge?”

    Wait, are you talking about methods of knowledge — i.e., how we know something — or ways of demonstrating knowledge — i.e., how we show somebody else that we know something? Those two aren’t the same, and it might be helpful to clarify.

  278. I find that’s actually a much more rational approach than that of the “New Atheists”.

    Indeed. Whilst rational thinking tends to be a good predictor of atheism, atheism tends not to be such a good predictor of rational thinking.

  279. Thanks, Tim O’Neil. I was just being playful with my question about you still being an atheist, hence the smiley face.

  280. BTW, Holopupenko’s statement about “no free will” wasn’t an assumption. It was based on what David, the person in question, had written elsewhere.

    Welcome to the discussion, Tim. I’ve been slammed with unexpected problem-solving duties in my day job this week — you know how that can go sometimes — so I haven’t been able to be involved.

  281. Your opinion that rational thinking predicts atheism is provocative, and it begs for quantitative support. At what r-value? What p-value? Given persons A and B, where B scores one standard deviation higher on a rational thinking scale, how much more likely than chance is it that B is an atheist? Does this marginal likelihood rise to the level of ordinary-language prediction? What kind of studies is this based on?

    Above all, how could rational thinking predict atheism but not the other way around? Either they’re correlated or they’re not.

  282. Wait, are you talking about methods of knowledge — i.e., how we know something — or ways of demonstrating knowledge — i.e., how we show somebody else that we know something? Those two aren’t the same, and it might be helpful to clarify.

    The two are more closely related than you might think.

    What I’m talking about is how you know whether the knowledge you hold is in fact true knowledge or not. So, in effect, it’s demonstrating to yourself that you know something, which as it happens, follows much the same process as demonstrating to someone else that you know something.

    For example, I know that if I hold a baseball out in front of me and let go of it, it will fall to the ground. How do I know that this is true knowledge? I’ve tested it many times, with many different objects. On the other hand, up until I saw SteveK’s post and went on to read some of Tim O’Neill’s writings on science in the Middle Ages, I “knew” that the “Dark Ages” were caused by Christianity. How did I know that this was true knowledge? Well, I didn’t really, did I? I never bothered to test it, I just accepted it as true because it kind of felt right, and because it seemed obvious. If I’d started making predictions like “I predict that when I look through some historical records of science in the Middle Ages I will read of a litany of scientists being persecuted at the hands of the Church”, and then tested those predictions, I would’ve learned very quickly that my “knowledge” was false, and at the same time I would have acquired new knowledge that more closely resembled the truth. Until you actually make the prediction and test it, you really don’t know whether your knowledge is true or false. And if in fact your knowledge is false, can you really call it “knowledge”?

  283. Your opinion that rational thinking predicts atheism is provocative, and it begs for quantitative support. At what r-value? What p-value? Given persons A and B, where B scores one standard deviation higher on a rational thinking scale, how much more likely than chance is it that B is an atheist? Does this marginal likelihood rise to the level of ordinary-language prediction? What kind of studies is this based on?

    I’m not aware of any formal study that’s been done, so I’m very much basing this on my own experience of people who take a particular interest in applying rational methods to their thinking.

    Above all, how could rational thinking predict atheism but not the other way around? Either they’re correlated or they’re not.

    Quite easily: if you encounter someone who frequently and deliberately applies rational methods to their everyday life (such as those found in this handy checklist), there is a very high probability that they are an atheist; however, if you meet someone who is an atheist, there is a low probability that they apply the methods of rationality to their everyday life.

  284. Mr. X:

    What do you mean by “law” of logic? Is it something out there, e.g., directing traffic, actualizing/ordering propositions into syllogisms? Would you be shocked to learn there are no such things as “laws” of logic or science… except in a very analogous sense? Think about it this way: laws in the primary analogate sense demand a rational agent understanding and subject to a law giver. But even in that case, what exactly is the ontological status of those “laws”? Extending from this: do you think atoms in a working fluid of a thermodynamic system “adhere” to or “follow” or are “guided by” these things we call “laws”… or do they behave per something immanent to them, i.e., their natures? If I’m correct, you’re looking at “laws” in a Newtonian sense: as some kind of external, compelling “forces” acting upon passive objects. You may want to reconsider that: all contingent beings “have” natures, and the order (the regularity, the orderliness, the directedness… the telos) you see in the Universe is not an external imposition but based in the natures of contingent beings (kangaroos behave like kangaroos–not like rocks). The much more important question becomes what is “order” and from what does IT arise? That’s really what Aquinas’ Fifth Way is about, for example: it’s NOT about design (as externally imposed): Divine Providence does not “direct” traffic… it “guides” by virtue of creating natures that the “guide” themselves. In other words, God is not some grand billiard player pushing things around like other causes (miracles not withstanding as direct interventions): He is the Ultimate Cause that maintains all contingent beings in existence at every moment–contingent beings who act in orderly ways. And, punning aside, thank God He–Logos–created an orderly universe: order is presupposed (but not explained) by science, and we KNOW things by means of the sciences… including the science of philosophy.

    Food for thought.

  285. Holo @ 335:

    I’m aware that the laws of logic and of nature are only “laws” in an analogical sense. When I mentioned “the laws of logic”, I was just using it as a general term for principles such as “a thing can’t be both X and non-X at the same time” which are the basis for rational thought.

  286. Do you “know” that the laws of logic are correct

    Because I’ve tested them, and they work. I’ve used logic to make deductions about what ought to happen in a given situation and then, sure enough, that thing happened.

    or that 2 + 2 = 4? How?

    I hope you’re not bored of this answer yet, because it’s the only one you’re going to get for questions of the type “How do you know…?” (unless the answer is “I don’t”): I know that 2 + 2 = 4 because I tested it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve picked up two things, then picked up another two things, and looked down expecting to see 4 things in my hands and found that there were… exactly four things in my hands!

  287. … and when you picked up 1,000,000 things in each hand you knew you were holding 2,000,000 things …

  288. But seriously, all this prediction talk is muddying the waters. You admit that you trust your deductive reasoning skills to a point. Some knowledge cannot be tested before we act on it, we just have to consider the evidence and reason to the best explanation, then act on that. When you are surprised because what you expect didn’t happen, then you were wrong, either because you didn’t have enough information or there was an error in your reasoning. Therefore if I was to point out to you an error in your reasoning or evidence that you were unaware of, and if you were being rational you would reconsider your position. This is “another method that people are using to [snip] agree upon which knowledge is true and which is false”. I’ve removed the words independently verified because that was just begging the question on your part.

  289. Oh sure, we can combine different pieces of existing knowledge together and form “new” knowledge. And we can have confidence in that “new” knowledge without testing it directly, because we have confidence in the existing knowledge that went into it (included in that “existing knowledge” would be our knowledge that the line of reasoning we used to arrive at the new knowledge is in fact a valid line of reasoning). However, if we hadn’t tested the existing knowledge, then we would have no way of knowing whether it is true, and therefore no way of knowing whether our “new” knowledge is true either.

    You are quite correct that if you were to point out an error in my reasoning, or a new piece of evidence that I wasn’t aware of, then I would be rational to reconsider my position, and that this would resolve the disagreement. However, this method of resolution only works if I agree with you that my reasoning was incorrect, or that the new evidence you have proposed is real (or if I somehow convince you of the opposite).

    How can you convince me that my reasoning is flawed, without me actually testing my own reasoning somehow? I could make up all kinds of rules of logic and reasoning and use them all I liked to “prove” any number of things, but unless you got me to compare those rules of logic to what actually happens in reality, why would I have any reason to change my position?

    As for new evidence: if there is a piece of evidence that I don’t know about–and this piece of evidence would cause me to change my position, were I aware of it–then quite clearly there is no way that I would have predicted that this evidence would exist, using my current knowledge. If my current knowledge had predicted that this evidence existed, then I wouldn’t be being rational if I reversed my position as a result of this new evidence, would I?

  290. YAT,

    The intent of my post was to establish that new knowledge can be obtained without testing and that we can come to agreement without testing predictions, indoctrination, violence etc. You agree with that and I am not going to chase you down your “predictions” rabbit trail.

    I will just say that the reason why I am not a naturalist is because I do not “predict” that beings with free will, rationality, intentionality will arise and because meaning (not value), morality and even causality become problematic (ie they are not predicted) given naturalism.

  291. The intent of my post was to establish that new knowledge can be obtained without testing and that we can come to agreement without testing predictions, indoctrination, violence etc. You agree with that and I am not going to chase you down your “predictions” rabbit trail.

    I realise this. And the intent of my response was to establish that this “new” knowledge is either:

    1. A combination of, or a logical extention of, pre-existing knowledge that itself necessarily resulted from testing predictions.

    Or

    2. The result of new evidence that was not predicted by any existing knowledge.

    We are continuously making predictions from our knowledge whether we notice it or not. And when new evidence comes along we automatically compare that evidence against what our existing knowledge would predict. If the state of our knowledge is that some swans are white and others are black, the evidence of seeing a black swan doesn’t change our knowledge; however, if the state of our knowledge is that all swans are white, then the evidence of seeing a black swan will change our state of knowledge. The only reason this evidence changed our state of knowledge is because our existing knowledge did not predict it.

    Most of the time all this happens way below the level of perception, which is why you don’t think about it the way I’m talking about it, but the process of updating our knowledge based on whether our existing knowledge would have predicted the evidence we are observing is the very essence of rational thinking.

    I will just say that the reason why I am not a naturalist is because I do not “predict” that beings with free will, rationality, intentionality will arise and because meaning (not value), morality and even causality become problematic (ie they are not predicted) given naturalism.

    Ok, that’s a lot of predictions! Which is good. I’ll start with the first one because I want to make sure I’m understanding your predictions properly. Are you saying that, in a naturalistic universe, where everything is just made up if quarks obeying simple physical laws, nothing can have free will? And because you have observed that people appear to have free will, this shows that the prediction “nothing has free will” is a false prediction, thereby rendering the “knowledge” of naturalism false?

  292. Yet Another Tom

    I’d just like to say thanks for your patience at explaining these ideas about predictions and knowledge. I have to admit that I was skeptical at first, but I have changed my mind thanks to your detailed explanations.

  293. I’d just like to say thanks for your patience at explaining these ideas about predictions and knowledge. I have to admit that I was skeptical at first, but I have changed my mind thanks to your detailed explanations.

    Thank you! If you’re interested on reading more (better written and more thorough) writing about rational thinking, I can highly recommend the site Less Wrong (http://lesswrong.com/) as a resource. It has had an enormous (positive) impact on my own thinking, for which I am very grateful. It’s a big site with lots of resources, but I think this is a good place to start.

  294. @Yet Another Tom:

    I do not know any other way to say this, so I will just say it: you have absolutely no idea of what you are talking about. Neither about mathematics (and I am not even going into philosophy), nor about the empirical sciences, nor the relation about the two.

    And the intent of my response was to establish that this “new” knowledge is either:

    1. A combination of, or a logical extention of, pre-existing knowledge that itself necessarily resulted from testing predictions.

    Or

    2. The result of new evidence that was not predicted by any existing knowledge.

    (1) This is false; it is demonstrably false, it is self-refutingly false and it is saddled with at least one vicious regress. To see that it is false, observe:

    Theorem (Lambert): the number pi is irrational.

    So go ahead, tell us how Lambert’s theorem fits in your view of knowledge. This should be really fun. Here is another example, which I picked out because its proof is still fresh on my mind:

    Theorem (Linton): the dual (contravariant) functor on the category of Banach spaces and linear contractions is monadic.

    To borrow from Clint Eastwood, go ahead, make my day: explain what successful predictions lead to this theorem or what prediction it entails.

    (2) To see just how badly you misconstrue the relation between mathematics and the hard, empirical sciences, consider the following: start with two glass of water; pour the contents of one into the other; we end up with one glass of water; ergo 1 + 1 = 1. But if 1 + 1 = 1 then 1 = 0. Wow, I just proved that Arithmetic is inconsistent. If you understand what is wrong with this “example”, you should be able to understand why your response to “2 + 2 = 4?” being “it is a prediction after all” is just asinine.

    So please, please, for the sake of intellectual sanity, just stop with this ignorant sillyness.

  295. Let’s not forget that atheists, in particular, cannot (and in some cases) will not (because of prior unscientific commitments) distinguish between what prediction is and what dependence is. (This distinction is crucial in understanding what causality is vs. the operational application of efficient causality by the MESs, and it lies at the base of understanding why, e.g., certain dumb interpretations of quantum mechanical findings do nothing to challenge causality writ large.)

    This game of “prediction rules” started with DL’s nonsense, and continues with those like YATom who, indeed, don’t have a clue. It’s a Wikipedia type of approach to reality: cherry-pick something unauthoritative that seemingly supports your world view, don’t understand it… let alone challenge it, and then bandy it about pretending to be an expert… all while making a fool of yourself.

    Come on, YATom: put your money where your mouth is. The onus is on YOU since you so categorically tried to define for us what counts as valid knowledge. Let’s see you address G. Rodrigues’ questions.

  296. So please, please, for the sake of intellectual sanity, just stop with this ignorant sillyness.

    It really is just that. I know this because I predicted someone like you would come here and say that to YAT. 😉

  297. (1) This is false; it is demonstrably false, it is self-refutingly false and it is saddled with at least one vicious regress. To see that it is false, observe:

    Theorem (Lambert): the number pi is irrational.

    So go ahead, tell us how Lambert’s theorem fits in your view of knowledge. This should be really fun. Here is another example, which I picked out because its proof is still fresh on my mind:

    Theorem (Linton): the dual (contravariant) functor on the category of Banach spaces and linear contractions is monadic.

    My theory of knowledge requires that, if new knowledge comes about other than as a result of a prediction being tested, then this knowledge is necessarily a combination of pre-existing knowledge that itself was tested.

    You can think of knowledge as being like a deck of cards, where each card is a piece of knowledge that is the result of a prediction that has been tested against realty. You can build great edifices of knowledge by carefully stacking the cards on top of each other, but if just one of those cards represents “knowledge” that is not based on the direct observation of our physical reality, then the entire structure will… well, you know the rest.

    If my theory is wrong, then that means someone ought to be able pick a piece of “knowledge” that has no basis in reality, throw it into the mix, and their great edifice of knowledge will still somehow be “true”.

    Now as it happens, this sort of thing happens all the time in the field of mathematics. For example, a mathematician might introduce a piece of “knowledge” such as “A sphere consists of an infinite number of points and is therefore infinitely divisible”. As soon as she does this though, she’s no longer talking about any real object in this physical universe: she is essentially engaging in make-believe. Very rigorous, formally-defined make-believe, sure, but make-believe nonetheless. And if this mathematician starts using this make-believe knowledge to tell me what I can and can’t do with physical spheres that I might encounter in the real world, I’m entitled to tell her to go back to her Magical Banach-Tarski Fantasy Land, because in the universe I live in, spheres are made of matter, and matter doesn’t work like that.

    The extent of your knowledge is the extent to which you can predict future observations. So now that you have triumphantly flopped out your own enormous knowledge of mathematics and waved it around for all to see, it’s fair to ask what all that knowledge means.

    Well, given that your knowledge of the field of mathematics far exceeds my own, you will be much better able to predict what result another mathematician who is following the same rules of mathematics as you will get when performing a given calculation. And to the extent that this calculation represents something that’s actually going on in reality (i.e. to the extent that the mathematic rules that you used to do the calculation came from testing predictions against reality), your superior knowledge of mathematics will translate into superior knowledge about reality itself. But you cannot just make stuff up and expect it to apply in the real world. Reality doesn’t care what assumptions you make—it will do its own thing regardless.

    (2) To see just how badly you misconstrue the relation between mathematics and the hard, empirical sciences, consider the following: start with two glass of water; pour the contents of one into the other; we end up with one glass of water; ergo 1 + 1 = 1. But if 1 + 1 = 1 then 1 = 0. Wow, I just proved that Arithmetic is inconsistent. If you understand what is wrong with this “example”, you should be able to understand why your response to “2 + 2 = 4?” being “it is a prediction after all” is just asinine.

    Perhaps you have been spending too much time in Mathematical Fantasy Land, where reality is not a constraint, because the equation you have drawn here “1 + 1 = 1” bears absolutely no relation to the description of reality that accompanies it. To explain, I’ll start with your initial condition and build the equation from there.

    You said yourself that our starting point is with two glasses of water, so the first item in our equation should be a “2”.

    We perform an operation by taking one of the glasses and emptying it, and then all of a sudden it has gone from being “a glass of water” to being “not a glass of water”. Therefore, by performing this operation we have removed “a glass of water” from the equation. How do we represent this? By subtracting 1. Our mathematical representation now becomes “2 (our starting condition) – 1 (our operation)”. What about the other glass that we poured the water from the first glass into? Has it changed? Well, yes, but has it changed from being “a glass of water” into being “not a glass of water”? No, it hasn’t, so we don’t need to add any more mathematical operators to this side of the equation.

    What are we left with after performing an operation on the initial condition? What is our result? Well, quite clearly we now have one glass of water. So what does our equation look like then, showing our initial condition, our operation and our result?

    2 – 1 = 1

    So no, you haven’t proven that Arithmetic is inconsistent. All you’ve demonstrated is that, when you’re making observations about reality and forming these observations into knowledge, if you misinterpret the observation, you will end up with knowledge that is wrong. Scientists, by the way, have been making this mistake for centuries—misinterpreting observations and forming scientific theories that are wrong—but when they do, it’s usually because the thing they are observing is really complex, making it difficult to interpret. I guess it takes a religious pure mathematician—divorced from reality on two counts—to misinterpret something as rudimentary as a couple of glasses of water.

  298. in the universe I live in, spheres are made of matter, and matter doesn’t work like that … But you cannot just make stuff up and expect it to apply in the real world.

    Why does knowledge have to apply directly to the real world? In the real world, there is no thing as a sphere, only objects that approximate spheres. Is string theory knowledge?

    It’s been fascinating to watch how you have twisted and turned to try to apply your concept of “prediction” to everything. It seems you are an empiricist struggling to justify how to apply your epistemology to things are broadly accepted as knowledge but not empirically demonstrated. It has resulted in you trivializing the term “prediction”, to the point that it is completely meaningless.

    I should add that your epistemology is something you’ve made up too, and while I can predict that you will make further posts about it, or even that if I scroll upwards I’ll see posts about it that I have prior knowledge of, those “predictions” have no bearing on whether your epistemology should actually be classified as knowledge.

  299. YAT,

    Are you saying that, in a naturalistic universe, where everything is just made up if quarks obeying simple physical laws, nothing can have free will? And because you have observed that people appear to have free will, this shows that the prediction “nothing has free will” is a false prediction, thereby rendering the “knowledge” of naturalism false?

    Correct. And I “predict” that you will propose that free will is an illusion and in support of your position put forward the Libet (or similar) experiments. *Yawn*

    You can think of knowledge as being like a deck of cards, where each card is a piece of knowledge that is the result of a prediction that has been tested against realty. You can build great edifices of knowledge by carefully stacking the cards on top of each other, but if just one of those cards represents “knowledge” that is not based on the direct observation of our physical reality, then the entire structure will… well, you know the rest.

    It seems from what you have written here that you are using “tested” to mean based on direct observation of a physical reality. If that is the case then, for example, the conclusions from Aquinas’ 5 ways, comply with your definition of knowledge because they begin from various observations of our world (eg. that contingent beings exist) to show the existence of God. I guess your option (if you truly want to be rational) is to show how they are unsound or to accept the conclusion that God exists. My “prediction” is that you will do neither.

  300. @Yet Another Tom:

    If my theory is wrong, then that means someone ought to be able pick a piece of “knowledge” that has no basis in reality, throw it into the mix, and their great edifice of knowledge will still somehow be “true”.

    What do you mean by ‘knowledge will still somehow be “true”’? Your whole schtick has been that the defining characteristic of “true” knowledge is that it makes testable predictions about physical reality. So what you are saying boils down to, “my theory is wrong if a piece of knowledge that makes no testable predictions about physical reality makes no testable predictions about physical reality”. What a marvelous piece of circular “knowledge”! And if there can “true” knowledge without making testable predictions about physical reality, then you have just conceded the point.

    And if this mathematician starts using this make-believe knowledge to tell me what I can and can’t do with physical spheres that I might encounter in the real world, I’m entitled to tell her to go back to her Magical Banach-Tarski Fantasy Land, because in the universe I live in, spheres are made of matter, and matter doesn’t work like that.

    “Physical spheres”? So what is a “physical sphere”? “spheres are made of matter”? Really? No one ever held that the Banach-Tarski paradoxical decomposition entailed anything about the physical nature of matter; this is just an invention of yours. The theorem is a formal truth, and as such is about formal being, not about the physical nature of matter. But of course, the latter distinction is anathema because it would mean that there are truths that are not about physical reality, or that there are different sciences which with its own proper subject matter and methods of demonstration, so quite ironically (but not unexpectedly) it is *you* that cannot disband the Banach-Tarski paradox quite so easily with a mere wave of the hands — do you want me to expand on the details, for why this is so?

    Perhaps you have been spending too much time in Mathematical Fantasy Land, where reality is not a constraint, because the equation you have drawn here “1 + 1 = 1″ bears absolutely no relation to the description of reality that accompanies it.

    What part of

    If you understand what is wrong with this “example”, you should be able to understand why your response to “2 + 2 = 4?” being “it is a prediction after all” is just asinine.

    don’t you understand, that you have to lecture, with all the serious pompousness of a buffoon, about what you demonstrably know nothing about? Not only you fail to read competently, but when you get a smidge closer to the truth (“misinterpret the observation”), in what is otherwise a pitiful display of ignorance, you fail to take the due consequences.

    But I ask again. What predictions lead or are entailed by:

    Theorem (Lindemann): the number pi is transcendental.

    What tests could verify it? Are you going to say that the piece of mathematics in the above theorem is not knowledge? That it is “make-believe”? Even better, define what is a prediction. You have been bandying around the word with the gleeful abandonment of a drunkard, showing no inkling of understanding what it really is.

  301. I’m a Christian and I believe for reasons I find hard to explain. I’ve been reading this site and finding it very helpful at giving me ways to better verbalize my thoughts and enrich my understanding. At the same time, I have to say I have been quite shocked at the superciliousness of some (actually a lot) of the Christian commenters. It makes me feel very uneasy and embarrassed. I hope that the non-Christians visiting this site do not assume that the mix of Christians here is representative. We are not all out to insult and belittle you at every opportunity. Please don’t think that.

  302. What do you mean by ‘knowledge will still somehow be “true”’? Your whole schtick has been that the defining characteristic of “true” knowledge is that it makes testable predictions about physical reality. So what you are saying boils down to, “my theory is wrong if a piece of knowledge that makes no testable predictions about physical reality makes no testable predictions about physical reality”. What a marvelous piece of circular “knowledge”! And if there can “true” knowledge without making testable predictions about physical reality, then you have just conceded the point.

    You’re close. My “schtick” has been to say “The extent of your knowledge about something is the extent to which you can predict future observations relating to that thing”. And along the way I’ve probably been lazy with the way I’ve communicated things and slipped in the implication that the “thing” that your knowledge relates to necessarily has to involve reality. I apologise for that.
    I have also been using the idea of “Truth” to relate exclusively knowledge about reality, an oversimplification that may or may not have done more harm than good.
    And yes, I’m using the word “prediction” in a different way to how it’s normally used, because the concept I’m trying to convey here doesn’t actually have a commonly-understood word attached to it, and “prediction” is the closest commonly-understood word I can think of. You might say that the area of concept-space encompassed by the word “prediction” has the most overlap with the area of concept-space I am trying to talk about. Other words that also overlap this area of concept-space to a greater or lesser extent are “expectation” and “belief”. If that helps at all.
    The difficulty when discussing abstract things like this over the internet is that it’s really difficult to gauge what concepts certain words are attached to in other people’s heads. Particularly when you’re a newcomer into an existing community that already has a great deal of common knowledge. The inferential distances are great, and the text-based medium carries a low bandwidth, so it often takes a fair few back-and-forths before you’re even close to being on the same page.
    I think (hope) we’re starting to get a bit closer to understanding where each other is coming from. So let me try to cover off what I think is some common ground–some things we do agree on–so that we can focus better on those areas we don’t agree on.
    You (G. Rodrigues) know a lot about mathematics. You know that, in mathematics there are things called Spheres that have an infinite number of points, can be divided infinitely, and can therefore be duplicated by deconstructing and reconstructing them (as per the Banach-Tarski). You no doubt know many other things about Spheres–many things I don’t know.
    What does it mean for you to have all this knowledge that I don’t have? Under my theory of knowledge, it means that if someone described a particular mathematical sphere to the two of us, you could make many more predictions about that sphere than what I could make (such as the volume of a given segment of that sphere, the area contained within any given three points on its surface, and no doubt many other things that I can’t even comprehend in my current state of knowledge). None of this is necessarily knowledge about reality of course, because (as has already been pointed out) Spheres don’t actually exist in real life, only things that, to a greater or lesser extent, approximate Spheres (let’s call them spherical objects). So yes, you can hold a great deal of knowledge that can be completely “True” without actually reflecting reality in any way.
    As it happens, in reality there are quite a lot of spherical objects about the place. Because of this, a lot of your knowledge about Spheres can also translate into knowledge about spherical objects. Not all of it, of course (the Banach-Tarski paradox being the famous example), but a lot of it. Under my theory of knowledge, the extent of your knowledge about spherical objects is the extent to which you can predict future observations relating to spherical objects (again, these predictions might include the volume of a segment, the surface area contained within three points, etc.), but importantly, the extent to which your knowledge of mathematical Spheres will translate into knowledge of spherical objects in reality is the extent to which those spherical objects actually resemble mathematical Spheres. This is what I was trying to get at when I was talking about stacking many pieces of knowledge on top of each other to create new knowledge. You can combine your knowledge of mathematical Spheres (that doesn’t directly relate to reality), with your knowledge of the extent to which spherical objects resemble Spheres (which necessarily came from testing predictions about how closely those spherical objects resemble Spheres), and arrive at true knowledge about spherical objects and, therefore, true knowledge about reality.
    What does this mean for bigbird‘s question about String Theory? Well, I’ll start by saying I know very, very little about String Theory, but if what I do know about it is correct, it can be used to make predictions about reality, but these predictions are no better than the predictions that can be made using other, simpler theories. Therefore, whilst I can’t really say that the theory is wrong as such (as far as I’m aware it doesn’t make predictions that conflict with what we observe in reality), it doesn’t (yet) offer us any useful knowledge about reality that we couldn’t get elsewhere. Consequently I wouldn’t consider it rational to “believe” in String Theory.
    I hope all this goes some way toward clarifying some of what I’ve been talking about. If not, please let me know and I’ll try again.

  303. I’m a Christian and I believe for reasons I find hard to explain. I’ve been reading this site and finding it very helpful at giving me ways to better verbalize my thoughts and enrich my understanding. At the same time, I have to say I have been quite shocked at the superciliousness of some (actually a lot) of the Christian commenters. It makes me feel very uneasy and embarrassed. I hope that the non-Christians visiting this site do not assume that the mix of Christians here is representative. We are not all out to insult and belittle you at every opportunity. Please don’t think that.

    I would go a step further and say that I hope the non-Christians (and Christians) visiting this site do not assume that the comments on this site are representative of the individuals making those comments.

    One of the quirks of human psychology is that we tend to feel threatened when someone challenges our beliefs, particularly those beliefs we cherish the most. And when we feel threatened we tend to get defensive, which can cause us to behave differently to how we normally would. When this effect is combined with the shroud of anonymity afforded us by the internet (and the difficulty communicating all the subtleties of our language in a text only medium), it is quite easy for people who are genuinely good-natured, respectful, kind and loving to come across as being supercilious and belligerent.

    I would be astounded if I met anyone in this discussion in person and found them to be anything but decent, intelligent human beings, and I find that trying to interpret the comments I read here through that lens makes for a much more productive conversation.

  304. YAT
    I think everyone will agree that to have knowledge of something or someone means you know what to expect, at least in some limited sense. To have knowledge of a table means I can confidently “predict” that it won’t function as a refrigerator or a lamp. The knowledge of a table as a table comes first by way of sense data and reason. Your knowledge of the thing allows you to make successful “predictions”, not the other way around — successful predictions don’t make the knowledge.

  305. @Yet Another Tom:

    The difficulty when discussing abstract things like this over the internet is that it’s really difficult to gauge what concepts certain words are attached to in other people’s heads.

    Sorry, but as far as I and this particular discussion is concerned, this is simply not true. It would be true if I *misunderstood* you, but that is *not* what is happening. What is happening is that your “theory” is a barely coherent mess, betraying a good deal of ignorance of the subjects involved. And when I charge you with ignorance, I am not hurling an insult: to be ignorant of is literally to not know of, and that is what your comments show. And I know you are ignorant not just because I know more mathematics than you; but because, among other things, I have spent time in the lab, going through all the motions from the theoretical side to the experimental side, because I have read a little bit about the matter, etc. But at the end of the day, even all this ends up being quite irrelevant. What is relevant is that I have given *arguments* for why you are wrong and you have not addressed them, but rather dug in your heels and spun a long winded story about misunderstanding.

    Under my theory of knowledge, it means that if someone described a particular mathematical sphere to the two of us, you could make many more predictions about that sphere than what I could make (such as the volume of a given segment of that sphere, the area contained within any given three points on its surface, and no doubt many other things that I can’t even comprehend in my current state of knowledge).

    This is just wrong on so many levels, it is hard to know where to start. Starting with things you have *not* done:

    (1) You have not defined what a “prediction” is, so I do not know what you mean when you say I could make “more predictions” than you. You have just given a *particular* scenario and threw around equivocations, possibly in the expectation that something will stick. Particular examples do not yield definitions. This is not how men of a scientifick cast of mind proceed.

    (2) You have also not explained how knowledge can be “True” if it is not about reality. You have also not explained how exactly in the knowledge about spheres some gets translated to reality and some does not; you have not explained what does it mean to say that some concrete physical object “approximates” a mathematical object. You bandy around lots of phrases, which on the surface mean something plausible, but even if one clarification question is made, it all collapses into straw. Furthermore, as if the previous was not enough, you systematically conflate reality with the physical universe, which is just begging the question as part of the dispute is whether reality is exhausted by what can be said about the physical universe.

    (3) This is more a corollary of (1) and (2), but I single it out to make a different point. You have not answered my question: what predictions lead or are entailed by Lindemann’s theorem: the number pi is transcendental. This is the third time I am making this question and your refusal to answer leads to the obvious conclusion: because your “theory” cannot account for it. Since your “theory” cannot account for one very simple example of mathematical knowledge it has therefore been rendered false, because you proposed it as a *universal* theory of knowledge. And I have not even gone and showed the similar problems with other fields such as History or Metaphysics.

    But even your proposed scenario is just confused and if anything, it further reinforces that your “theory” is what Pauli famously termed “Not even wrong”.

    (4) Suppose instead of me and you you have two mathematicians. Now what? Will you say that one mathematician makes more predictions than the other? How do you know? What does this even mean? In fact, in one rendering of the problem, it is easy to prove that they would make exactly the same number of predictions: a countable infinite number of them. I can give the details if you want them. So your predictive theory is vacuous.

    But it gets worse.

    (5) Suppose in your scenario instead of me and you, there is Player1 and Player2. Player1 makes one prediction “The area of the sphere is 4 pi r^2” and Player2 makes two predictions: “A sphere is a sphere” a “a sphere is not a cube”. According to your theory you are bound to say that Player2 made more predictions than Player1. But I can perfectly well play the role of Player1 and you the role of Player2, since surely you know that “A sphere is a sphere” a “a sphere is not a cube”, so your theory is wrong.

    (6) In the sequel of (5), maybe you will say that everything you could possibly know about spheres, I also know. But this is a *vacuous* prediction, because by hypothesis we have already granted that I know more about spheres than you. Maybe you can alter the prediction to if I *would* disclose everything that I know about spheres, then it *would* be found that I know more about spheres than you. But then, this is not a *prediction* but a claim about possibility, so your “theory” collapses into nothingness.

    And finally, some of the reasons why your theory is “not even wrong”.

    (7) What you are saying is that knowledge of spheres now should be recast in terms of the *subjects* that possess such knowledge. But this is a complete conceptual muddle. Knowledge about spheres is knowledge about spheres not about persons or the things they would say about spheres. Knowledge about spheres implies absolutely nothing of interest about the possessors of such knowledge outside the vacuous statement that they possess such knowledge.

    (8) Suppose I claim the following “At least on sphere is green”. It is a prediction about spheres. Obviously, it is a wrong prediction (not that you have defined what a prediction is, but I will assume you would agree). But why is it wrong? Not because we can point to reality and say “spheres are not green”. For one, because some spheres in reality are indeed green. But this is not quite right either, for as you have already conceded, (mathematical) spheres do not exist in physical reality, so there is nothing to point out in physical reality that could decide the matter. So why is it wrong? It is wrong because we know what a sphere *is*, or in traditional Scholastic jargon we know their essence, and spheres are not material objects and therefore, as a matter of necessity, they cannot be green or of any color whatsoever. It is a category mistake. So the prediction is wrong on the grounds of the *essence* of spheres, essence which is grasped intellectively. But this means that we arrived at true knowledge without making any predictions whatsoever. And if we can arrive at true knowledge without making any predictions whatsoever, it is *irrelevant* whether we *can* indeed make some predictions — even if they are the completely irrelevant “predictions” as in (7) above.

    (9) In fact, to even make a prediction, you must have the *true* knowledge about what a given theory entails. Your account gets things upside down. But knowing what a theory entails is a matter of *reasoning* that cannot be arbitrated by any experience, for that would be completely circular. It is true that if some scientifick theory about the physical world is advanced, ultimately, it is experience that dictates whether the theory is correct or not, but neither all theories (not only in the broad Aristotelian sense of science, but including such knowledge of concrete particulars as History) are scientific theories, whose strength is *also* their limitation, neither is reality exhausted by what the modern empirical sciences tell us there is.

    If you have nothing else to add, I think I am done here.

  306. (1) You have not defined what a “prediction” is, so I do not know what you mean when you say I could make “more predictions” than you. You have just given a *particular* scenario and threw around equivocations, possibly in the expectation that something will stick. Particular examples do not yield definitions. This is not how men of a scientifick cast of mind proceed.

    Prediction is the expectation, in advance of an event, what the outcome is going to be. Predictions can be more or less precise: predicting a result of “X will happen in 4-6 months” is more precise than “X will happen in the next 12 months”, but both are predictions, and if they are correct, then both demonstrate knowledge (obviously one demonstrates greater knowledge than the other).

    To your example of the proof that pi is transcendental: the only thing I “know” about transcendental numbers (or at least I think I know it, because I’m really only trusting those bits of the Wikipedia article about transcendental numbers that actually think I understood) is that they are not a root of a rational number. So the only prediction I can make from this knowledge is that you can keep multiplying pi by itself as many times as you like you will not end up with a rational number. Not a very impressive prediction, I know, but my knowledge of mathematics is not very impressive so what do you expect? If I had more knowledge of mathematics then I expect I would be able to make better predictions.

    (4) Suppose instead of me and you you have two mathematicians. Now what? Will you say that one mathematician makes more predictions than the other? How do you know? What does this even mean? In fact, in one rendering of the problem, it is easy to prove that they would make exactly the same number of predictions: a countable infinite number of them. I can give the details if you want them. So your predictive theory is vacuous.

    Are you saying here that if you took two mathematicians with different amounts of knowledge about mathematics then, not only would they each be able to make a countable infinite number of predictions, but the set of Person A’s predictions would be exactly the same as the set of Person B’s predictions? Even though their knowledge was different? Suppose B knew everything that A knew about mathematics and then some more, would there be predictions that B could make that A couldn’t? Or would A be somehow able to make all the predictions that B could, even though A’s knowledge was less than (and entirely encompassed by) B’s?

    (7) What you are saying is that knowledge of spheres now should be recast in terms of the *subjects* that possess such knowledge. But this is a complete conceptual muddle. Knowledge about spheres is knowledge about spheres not about persons or the things they would say about spheres. Knowledge about spheres implies absolutely nothing of interest about the possessors of such knowledge outside the vacuous statement that they possess such knowledge.

    I’m not suggesting that we “recast” knowledge of spheres in terms of subjects that possess such knowledge. Knowledge about spheres may happen to also give us knowledge about other people (or computers) who also know about spheres, but that is obviously not the be-all and end-all of knowledge about spheres.

    (8) Suppose I claim the following “At least on sphere is green”. It is a prediction about spheres. Obviously, it is a wrong prediction (not that you have defined what a prediction is, but I will assume you would agree). But why is it wrong? Not because we can point to reality and say “spheres are not green”.

    We can’t point to reality and say that “Spheres are not green” but we can point to mathematics and say “Colour is not a property of spheres” (unless I’m mistaken about mathematics). My grasp of mathematics is a little hazy, but correct me if I’m wrong on the following:

    1. A unique sphere can be represented mathematically.

    2. The fact that this sphere is unique means that it is mathematically different in some way to all other possible spheres (i.e. there is some mathematical operation, or series of operations, that you can perform on this sphere that will give a different result than if you performed that same operation any other possible sphere).

    3. If you specify a sphere and I specify a sphere and there is no mathematical operation or series of operations that can differentiate between these two spheres then it means, in effect, that they are the same sphere. If I understand mathematics correctly then that’s what it means for two things to be equal.

    4. If I specify that the “colour” of my sphere is “green”, yet there are still no mathematical operations that would distinguish between our two spheres, then those two spheres are still equal, for the reason outlined in 3.

    5. Therefore, “colour” is not a property of spheres, and if I were to say “I know that my sphere is green and yours isn’t” then I would be pretending to know something that I really didn’t know.

    This to me seems like a much clearer way to explain why it is wrong to describe a sphere as “green”, rather than saying that it is wrong on the grounds of the “essence” of spheres. The word “essence” doesn’t really mean anything to me here, because it doesn’t really give me any more information than I had beforehand. Unless there is a particular formal definition of “essence” that I’m unaware of?

    (9) In fact, to even make a prediction, you must have the *true* knowledge about what a given theory entails. Your account gets things upside down. But knowing what a theory entails is a matter of *reasoning* that cannot be arbitrated by any experience, for that would be completely circular. It is true that if some scientifick theory about the physical world is advanced, ultimately, it is experience that dictates whether the theory is correct or not, but neither all theories (not only in the broad Aristotelian sense of science, but including such knowledge of concrete particulars as History) are scientific theories, whose strength is *also* their limitation, neither is reality exhausted by what the modern empirical sciences tell us there is.

    Reality may not be exhausted by what the modern empirical sciences tell us there is–there is undoubtedly much more for science to discover–but if you think you know something about reality that is not based on any empirical result, I am curious as to exactly how you think you know it.

  307. YAT,
    Now you are saying predictions serve to demonstate the knowledge we have, but not all knowledge can be demonstrated via prediction. It seems you’ve strayed from your original theory.

  308. @Yet Another Tom:

    the only thing I “know” about transcendental numbers (or at least I think I know it, because I’m really only trusting those bits of the Wikipedia article about transcendental numbers that actually think I understood) is that they are not a root of a rational number.

    This is not correct: a transcendental number is a number that is not the root of a polynomial with rational coefficients. I realized now that I started with Lambert’s theorem (pi is irrational) but ended up with the stronger result of Lindemann (pi is transcendental). Go with the former if you want, it is irrelevant as it will lead to the same results — showing the absurdity of your “theory”.

    So the only prediction I can make from this knowledge is that you can keep multiplying pi by itself as many times as you like you will not end up with a rational number.

    You are equivocating as this is not a prediction, but *demonstrative* knowledge entailed by Lambert’s theorem. And if you wish to maintain that you are using prediction in this extended sense, then once again, your “theory” collapses into vacuousness.

    Are you saying here that if you took two mathematicians with different amounts of knowledge about mathematics then, not only would they each be able to make a countable infinite number of predictions, but the set of Person A’s predictions would be exactly the same as the set of Person B’s predictions? Even though their knowledge was different?

    Yes, that is exactly what I am saying, or more precisely, on one understanding of what you mean by “making a prediction”, since what you are saying is not at all clear.

    I’m not suggesting that we “recast” knowledge of spheres in terms of subjects that possess such knowledge. Knowledge about spheres may happen to also give us knowledge about other people (or computers) who also know about spheres, but that is obviously not the be-all and end-all of knowledge about spheres.

    First, what your *intention* is, is irrelevant — after all, I am not a mind reader. What is relevant is what you claim and what logically follows from it. And I stick by what I said. Second, the be-all and end-all of knowledge about spheres is knowledge about spheres, because knowledge about spheres, like all mathematical knowledge, is theoretical knowledge (roughly, knowledge for the sake of itself), in opposition to practical knowledge (roughly, knowledge for the sake of something else).

    1. A unique sphere can be represented mathematically.

    A sphere *is* a mathematical object. Period (and I leave open what exactly is a mathematical object, since this is a notoriously difficult and vexing question). Mathematical objects are not the sort of objects that can be the bearers of material properties like having color and this follows from what kind of objects, their essence, they are — or more precisely, what they are not, e.g. material.

    2. The fact that this sphere is unique means that it is mathematically different in some way to all other possible spheres

    Huh? How can a sphere be unique if it is “different in some way to all other possible spheres”?

    As far as uniqueness, it depends on how you define Sphere. From the purely mathematical side, if you define the n-Sphere (just copy the usual definition of sphere to higher n) as the equivalence class of manifolds *homeomorphic* to S^n then by results of Smale (n >= 5), Freedman (n = 4) and Perelman (n= 3), there is only one n-sphere for each n (the case n= 1 is trivial and n = 2 is dispatched by the classification theorem of surfaces). However, if you define n-Spheres as the equivalence classes of manifolds *diffeomorphic* to S^n then the situation is much more complicated. In n = 3, there is only one by Moise’s theorem. For n = 7, Milnor in a ground-breaking paper proved that there are 2 7-Spheres which are homeomorphic but not diffeomorphic. Brieskorn then showed that there are exactly 28 non-diffeomorphic, but homeomorphic, 7-Spheres. On the other hand, very little is known about the case n = 4.

    3. [snipped]

    I suggest you read up on Leibnitz’s indiscernability of identicals. I warn you however that the consensus seems to be that, in general, x = y imples Px = Py for every (suitable) predicate P but that the converse does *not* hold. This is true however (or some version of it is true) for mathematical objects as mathematical objects are theoretically very well-behaved and have very strict identity conditions. On the other hand there are some complications around here as well, so…

    This to me seems like a much clearer way to explain why it is wrong to describe a sphere as “green”, rather than saying that it is wrong on the grounds of the “essence” of spheres.

    It may be clearer, but it is wrong — see above.

    Reality may not be exhausted by what the modern empirical sciences tell us there is–there is undoubtedly much more for science to discover–but if you think you know something about reality that is not based on any empirical result, I am curious as to exactly how you think you know it.

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, have you not been paying attention?

  309. What an excellent strawman you have built. I especially like how you take us step by step through the construction of it, without even asking the man directly whether one of the stages is an incorrect representation of his view. Well done.

  310. Stile, you’re welcome to show me where I’ve misrepresented him. You’re not welcome simply to throw around argument-labels without backing up what you say.