Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday readings: Faith is the destroyer of knowledge

Four readings this morning musing on the relationship between religion and knowledge .

First Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) in his medieval best-seller 'Spiritual Exercises' [hat tip Thrutch]:
To arrive at the truth in all things, we ought always to be ready to believe that what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it.
And Tertullian, another prominent theologian back in the early days when people were making up the Gospels, who wote of religion and the resurrection myth that
it is believable because it is so foolish. . . it is certain because it is impossible.
You just can't make this stuff up. In the same tradition is this line from a pre-modern destroyer of knowledge, German nutcase Immanuel Kant, who declared that
I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.
As Christopher Hitchens has been heard to say, religion poisons everything. Observed Ayn Rand:
The alleged shortcut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit, destroying the mind.
Worth thinking about.

UPDATE 1: If you want to see how a prominent contemporary theologians arguing that white is black, have a browse through some of the pseudo-scientific sounding drivel spouted by the so-called 'Intelligent Design' school, or the word games of Alvin Plantinga -- an 'analysis' here for example of the "Free Will Defence" that puts the 'sophist' back into sophisticated.

UPDATE 2: Commenter Matt F. has provided many word games in the comments section here in an attempt to defend what I would characterise as the indefensible. There are more word games at his blog fromMatt, who seems to take Mr Plantinga as one of his models. Matt is himself a contemporary theologian, albeit not yet well known or prominent, but this is what he does professionally. It might be cruel to Matt to attribute to him views which aren't his, but that means however that if he takes his Loyola seriously, his job is "to believe that what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it."

One has that sense when debating him.

Now Matt has repeatedly accused many of us here of erecting strawmen with which to attack religion -- which is an interesting wriggle considering I was quoting some of the church's own founders and defenders -- so I was interested to see the account he has over at his own blog about the exchanges here, since what he's erected over there is a whole field of stunted little strawmen.

Given that Matt is, as I said, a professional theologian, I'm frankly disappointed that what I would call his basic standards of debate are so low, and his thickets of misdirection so tangled.

It is instructive, however, because it indicates how difficult a discussion is when one participant hears only what he wants to hear, just how disappointingly low are a professional theologian's standards of evidence, and how of necessity they need to be in order to believe the "foolish" and the "impossible."

Here's just a few of Matt's strawmen in the most recent posts on his blog which, since the substantive responses should be obvious enough, I'll mostly just point out rather than answer (yes, some grammar has been corrected to make the comments as understandable as I can make them):
  • Says Matt: "In recent correspondence with non-believers I have repeatedly met with the following argument. This is usually touted as a kind of self-evident mantra. [1] There is no proof that God exists [2] It's irrational to believe something unless you have proof. Therefore: [3] Belief in the existence of God is irrational."

    Now he may or may not have been referring to exchanges here at Not PC, but if he is then proposition 2 is misstated. What I've said here is that a proposition without proof is flatly arbitrary, and the arbitrary is out. Arbitrary statements don't even get to be called irrational; they don't even get to the table. Matt then goes on to base a whole post on this misstatement.

  • Matt begins another post: "Not PC has a blog on "How Faith destroys Knowledge". The basic line of argument appears to be as follows: three famous thinkers appear to hold that faith and reason are at odds and that faith is the preferable stance."

    First, as all assiduous listeners of Monty Python are aware, "an argument is a connected series of propositions intended to establish a conclusion." What I posted above was not an argument. It was one post with four quotes, one point and an invitation to think about it; some thoughts for a Sunday on how faith undercuts reason. It was not an argument, however I'm happy for Matt to keep providing evidence for it as a proposition, since it seems to me that his methodology provides abundant evidence for the point.
    Second, the "thinkers" quoted (whose "fame" if at all is irrelevant, and whose thinking is at the very least highly suspect) wrote in a time when clarity was valued. They did not "appear to hold" those views. In fact they did hold them. Specifically they held the view that faith is antagonistic to knowledge and reason, a divorce which those thinkers approved.
    Third, Matt seems to ascribes to me in his tangled way the idea that faith is the preferable stance. As any reader of this blog will know, that is the opposite of the case.

  • Matt again: "PC also makes some fairly dubious clams. He cites Tertullian as a Fidest and states that the Gospels were written around in the third century AD."

    No, irrelevant as it might seem, in fact I make no such claims. I do not "cite" Tertullian as "a Fideist." I simply quoted what he said. And what I call him is "another prominent theologian back in the early days when people were making up the Gospels."
    You'll notice too that I do not "state" that the Gospels were written "around the third century AD." Tertullian's dates were 155-230 (ie., the second to third centuries). The earliest surviving copies of the Gospels were dated from the fourth century, and were probably written somewhere in the second or third (arguments about for the age of their composition still rage). However, quite apart from being irrelevant to any current argument here, from the distance of the twenty-first century what I said is more than accurate enough. And it wasn't "stated" as a "claim."

  • He carries on in this manner, ascribing to me all sorts of things I haven't said and positions I haven't taken, eg,"First, [PC] provides some counter examples to anti-evidentialism..." and "Second, he offers some criticisms of the Kalam Cosmological Argument...". In other words, he faults me for insufficiently countering in the comments section two very specific theological sallies, when my response was simply to two fairly general and poorly argued points.

  • There is more of this, as you'd expect, but what he's working up to is this, right at the conclusion of his substantive post: "I suspect however that PC has not read Christian thinkers he has read Ayn Rand and various libertarian caricatures of Christian thinkers. On the basis of these caricatures he denigrates Christians as irrational and politically dangerous."

    Now Matt is entitled to suspect what he likes, and he may think what he likes about who and what I've read, but it's frankly surprising to see such firm conclusions drawn on the basis of one post containing only four quotes, one point and an invitation to think about it. And this from a professional theologian.

    And this is the reason I've taken the time with these trivialities here, since the rigour with which we demand evidence for our views is the measure of our commitment to the reality of those views.

    One would be sorely tempted to point out that Matt's apparent disdain for standards of evidence is hardly surprising, since christians are used to making up their minds based on scanty or non-existent evidence -- which was the partial point of my the original post, if you'll recall, and also of many comments -- and fortunately for us Matt himself provides us with an tip that is like a signpost for those of us curious about christian epistemological standards. Says Matt: "you can rationally believe certain things, in certain situations, without evidence."

    You really couldn't make that up.
UPDATE 3: Matt has another go. Make of it what you will.

UPDATE 4: Links fixed. Matt's professional description amended.

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60 Comments:

Blogger Comrade MOT said...

While there may be minimal scientific evidence for religion, and no religion may be the "defualt". There is absolutely not positve evidence that there is not god, that is entirely based on "faith" a lot of athiests have. Is it not more logical to be agnostic. Sure I dont expect you to change the way you live based on somthing that you think there is no evidence for. But you can nver say "there is no god" only, "There is not evidence for god".

On the matter of evidence for god, god is the only explanation that I can come up wit for the cause of the big bang. What caused the start of the universe? From physics Energy-matter is constant, so where did it come from at the big bang? If it sat there condensed an infinately long time ago,what started the bang?

Our inability to explain this does not prove god, but god is the best explanation that I can come up with so far.

9/23/2007 03:52:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

COMRADE, you said, "There is absolutely no positive evidence that there is not a god... But you can never say "there is no god" only, 'There is not evidence for god;."

But there is no evidence for fairies at the bottom of my garden, spiders on the far side of Mars, or an unlimited bar tab at my local with my name on it.

Until or unless evidence exists for any of these (or for gods, dragons, unicorns or centaurs), then as far as reason and good sense are concerned, they're part of the realm of myth, legend and wishful thinking respectively.

"What caused the start of the universe?"

This is a question that is doubly meaningless. Existence exists. There is no start to existence, though there may be changes to the form in which existence is constituted (through hypotheses such as the big bang for example). But here you're proposing god simply to plug gaps in your knowledge, sort of like a dog-ate-my-homework line.

And even if you reject that obvious point -- that existence has always existed -- and you insist on hypothesising that a god kicked existence into existence, then your hypothesis poses a further who question: who kicked your god into existence, and who kicked her god into existence, etc., etc., etc.

"God done it" is not an explanation, but an admission one doesn't yet have one.

9/23/2007 04:45:00 pm  
Blogger Comrade MOT said...

But there is no evidence for fairies at the bottom of my garden, spiders on the far side of Mars, or an unlimited bar tab at my local with my name on it.

There is actually evidence against these things, but sure they cant be "disproven" as such. However, a better analogy, is: "am I wearing a red T-shirt while typing this comment". You have no evidence that I am, but you will never prove whether I am or not.

"There is no start to existence". physics, the laws of thermodynamics, say that the entropy(disorder) of the universe is always increacing, that means that going back in time
the universe must have been infinitely ordered. Since you say that it has always existed it must have been infinitely ordered for an infinite period and then started the disorder? Or it has been increasing in disorder for an infinite period of time? How could either of these happen?

God can be infinite because he doesn't have to obey the laws of physics, he only makes them. He can be infinite. Sure the "explanation" using God is a bit like "fairies in the back garden" but is it any better than: "Energy-matter is constant but once a long time ago it appeared from no-where."
Or "matter has exhisted for an infinite period of time, and entropy has always been increacing so it has taken an infinite time to reach this level of disorder."

Why is it okay to have non-god theories that defy all we know about physics and logic, but not to have a "God theory" that defies what might seem logical. The big bang theory with god creating it fits physics the best. Sure that doesn PROVE anything though.

9/23/2007 09:12:00 pm  
Anonymous David S. said...

There is no objective evidence of god. Is that in itself proof that god does not exist? No, it is not. However, For me at least, there is more evidence to suggest that religion and indeed the belief in god evolved by natural means, than to suggest it was a result of interaction with a deity. A point of view which is only supported by Xth generation anecdotal evidence.

The question as to whether god exists can only be answered logically with, "I don't know".

However we can be of the opinion that religions are man-made without compromising that standpoint.

9/23/2007 09:18:00 pm  
Anonymous Angloamerican said...

I think it's because God's got a lot of baggage. Once you factor God in you start accepting talking snakes, global floods, sacrificing sons and other such nonsense.

I think Eternal Recurrence makes a lot of sense - Nietzsche thought so too.

9/23/2007 09:31:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

Just to be pedantic, the quote from Kant is:

"I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith."

9/23/2007 10:25:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

The Tertullian strawman is trotted out by the second libertarian in as many weeks.

Try the google search that Matt refers to here http://mandmandmandm.blogspot.com/2007/09/perigo-on-faith-reason-and-tertullian.html

Madeleine

9/23/2007 10:49:00 pm  
Anonymous Angloamerican said...

Faith is not wanting to know what is true. - Nietzsche

9/24/2007 06:14:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

Comerad Mot

What is the evidence against the fairies at the bottom of my garden?

LGM

9/24/2007 06:39:00 am  
Anonymous LGM said...

Mandm

Do you believe in God?

LGM

9/24/2007 06:53:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

comarade mot,

I want you to picture a block. Now imagine slicing that block into many layers. Imagine that each layer constitutes a moment in time and that the block is the space-time continuum.

Right now, you perceive the layer you are in. But there are versions of yourself in other layers. Moments in your past each have a past version of yourself and moments in your future each have a future version of yourself.

Note that the other layers still exist regardless of which moment you perceive yourself to be in (and , of course, each version of yourself perceives itself to be in its own layer or moment).

We can slice the block at a different angle to obtain a different set of layers or moments. That's what happens in relativity when an observer is in relative motion with respect to yourself: that observer partitions space-time differently so that events simultaneous in your layer are not simultaneous in their layer.

Regardless of how the block is partitioned into moments, it exists eternally and independent from how it is layered, ie, independent from time. So the past, present, and future are all equally real and extant. The big-bang did not create the block, the big-bang is an event in space-time. It is a vertex on the block.

The picture of the universe I have just described means that other versions of yourself (future and past versions) exist. They do not come into existence when the future becomes the present nor wink out of exsitence when the present becomes the past. These versions exist eternally, each in their own layer.

This picture is somewhat simplified because reality actually has a branching structure: for each given moment there are many possible successor futures versions of yourself, not just one. This is a consequence of the Multiple Worlds Theory of Quantum Mechanics. So as well as other versions of yourself existing in the past and future, there are other versions of yourself existing at the same time as you. You cannot see these versions, however, because each exists in a separate universe that has branched off ours. Other times in fact are examples of other universes.

So reality can be partitioned into layers that we call moments and it can also be partitioned into layers that we call universes.

The conception of reality that I have described is an inescapable conequence of quantum physics and reality. It is a block-universe picture where "time", "space" and "universe" are emergent, but where
everything that ever happened to you and will happen to you exists eternally.

If you are interested, this recent New Scientist article discusses some of the concepts I have raised.

9/24/2007 07:09:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

Opps, link here.

9/24/2007 07:15:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

BRIAN S: Oops, well spotted. My memory failed me. Fixed now.

COMRADE: Fact is, old thing, that time is in the universe; the universe is not in time.

Claims for which there are no evidence are not in fact genuine hypotheses, they're simply arbitrary claims. And arbitrary claims are out.

M&M: Your strawman claim is itself a strawman.

9/24/2007 09:29:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

comrade mot,

Pulling the discussion back to matters at hand:

The idea that there is a god is irrefutable, but nevertheless it is false.

If it seems strange that an irrefutable statement can be false, consider this example:

There exists a Latin formula, which, if pronounced in proper ritual manner, cures all diseases.

This is irrefutable because it is impossible to try out all Latin formulae in combination with all methods of pronouncing it.

Nevertheless, although people have believed in something like the above statement for over 2000 years, it goes against everything we know about disease, biology, and physics. It doesn't solve any problems concerning the cure of diseases and in fact introduces a whole host of new problems.

Karl Popper, to whom I owe my example, said that "every rational theory, no matter whether scientific or philosophical, is rational in so far as it tries to solve certain problems."

The theory that there is a God doesn't solve any problems about the universe. Moverover it just shifts the problem, and needlessly introduces a whole host of other philosophical problems. That is why although it is irrefutable, we can see that it is false.

9/24/2007 09:53:00 am  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

Brian S said...
although people have believed in something like the above statement for over 2000 years, it goes against everything we know about disease, biology, and physics. It doesn't solve any problems concerning the cure of diseases and in fact introduces a whole host of new problems.

I think that PC has stated something like that before here at Not PC. I recalled that it was stated that if the claim doesn't integrate well with other faculty of knowledge, then the claim must simply dismissed on that basis. I would give my own example, a psychic claims that he/she could talk to the dead or even foresee future events. This claim has to be dismissed outright no ifs no buts, since to accept the claim one must be ready to dismiss the established conservation principles (energy, momentum, charge, spin, etc) of (Newtonian) Physics.

9/24/2007 11:09:00 am  
Blogger Comrade MOT said...

How ever clever you PC and David s may seem with your philisophical explanations about time, they are certainly no more reasoned or beleivable than god. Time then must have had a beggining, how did it beging? Whether the appearance of matter occured in an already exhistant universe or not, does not change the fact that it can't have been there infinitely or "just appeared".

All scientific theories are base on somthing that explains a phenomena, and all evolve based on new evidence. Based on current evidence, god is a reasonable explanation.

9/24/2007 12:38:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

Not PC

You cite Tertullian as an example of how faith destroys knowledge and cite the *believe because its absurd* quote ( I note Lindsay did the same last week)

In my latest blog, I noted that the statement you attribute to Tertullian is widely recognised as a misquote and in fact his position is not that one believes things because they are absurd.


Hence your position is a strawman.

Your response is to simply assert without proof that I am attacking a straw man.

I see who is it that asserts things without proof when the evidence is against them again?

Matthew Flannagan

Matt

9/24/2007 01:27:00 pm  
Anonymous lgm said...

Matthew Flannagan

Do you believe in God?

LGM

9/24/2007 01:49:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

Not PC

First the “fairies and spiders on mars examples” are further straw men. Some Christian Thinkers have argued that you can rationally believe certain things, in certain situations without evidence. It does not follow from this that one can believe any old thing. Nor does it follow that the mars and spider examples meet the conditions they lay down. Once again you have no knowledge of the positions you attack.

I could give you examples, Pascal and James for example state that only in cases of forced choice between live options where the evidence is inconclusive can you believe in things without evidence. Spiders on Mars is not such a case. Similarly, Plantinga has a fairly sophisticated epistemological theory which allows belief in God to be held without evidence and its not clear or obvious his theory entails one can do the same with spiders on mars.

Second, you response to the kalam cosmological argument is unsound you state “This is a question that is doubly meaningless. Existence exists. There is no start to existence, though there may be changes to the form in which existence is constituted (through hypotheses such as the big bang for example).*

But this is another straw man, those who propose this version of the cosmological argument do not claim that *existence* started to exist ( an absurd claim) they claim the spatio temporal universe began to exist. Your conclusion follows only if one assumes that the spatio temporal universes is the totality of existence which of course begs the question.
You then state

*then your hypothesis poses a further who question: who kicked your god into existence, and who kicked her god into existence,*

Again this shows you simply are unfamiliar with the cosmological argument Those who argue in this way argue the universe has certain features (contingency or finite past) which mean its existence requires explanation they conclude that therefore there must be a being that *does not* have these features to explain this. So it’s false the question arises at second remove. Of course simply actually reading a defender of the argument would have cleared this up.

So I stand by my claim that you like Lindsay simply engage in straw men.

9/24/2007 01:51:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

igm

Yes I do.

So what?

9/24/2007 01:52:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Matt, I note you misquote the quote you note.

I do not say Tertullian says "believe because its absurd," which I understand would be a mistranslation.

I say "believable because it is so foolish," -- foolish being a better translation, I understand, of Tertullian's word 'ineptum.'

So that's one fairly obvious strawman disposed of. I didn't misquote.

Your second strawman is to say that Tertullian's position "is not that one believes things because they are absurd."

Well, read in context, (and by your own admission in your post), that's precisely what he's saying. Said Big T.: "...the son of God died; it is by all means to be believed because it is [ineptum]. And he was buried and rose again; the fact is certain because it is impossible."

In other words, only a religious miracle could be so contrary to nature -- so, therefore, something so contrary could only be a religious miracle.

Such is the foundation of faith: belief contrary to nature.

So that's the second strawman disposed of.

9/24/2007 01:58:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

MATT: Wilhelm Windelband's excellent 'History of Philosophy' offers a fair summary of the position:"...With Tertullian, the content of revelation is not only above reason, but also in a certain sense contrary to reason....The gospel is not only incomprehensible, but is also in necessary contradiction with worldly discernment: credibile est quia ineptum est; certum est, quia impossibile est--credo quia absurdum" (p. 225). It is believable because it is foolish, it is certain because it is impossible--I believe it because it is absurd."

Or as Paul's letter to the Corinthians suggests, God's wisdom is so great that it appears "foolish" to our finite minds, and the more foolish, therefore, the more believable.

9/24/2007 02:06:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

PC

See my comments at
http://mandmandmandm.blogspot.com/2007/09/perigo-on-faith-reason-and-tertullian.html

More recent research suggests that Tertullians meaning is very different. In fact Tertullain is following Aristolle.

Now your welcome to suggest Aristotle is an example of faith destroying knowledge if you like. I doubt that you would want to.

I disagree with your reading of Paul as well he said that the Gospel appeared foolish from the mindest of contemporary Greeks.

Matt

9/24/2007 02:20:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

MATT, you said: "More recent research suggests that Tertullian's meaning is very different."

In fact I've quoted him correctly.

In fact the apologetics to which you refer to are neither recent (it's from 1916), nor research -- they're just another example of the means by which Aristotle was co-opted to provide apologetics for theological nonsense.

The church co-opted Aristotle for long enough in defence of its absurdity. It's time to take Aristotle seriously, and to reject the absurdity.

You also "disagree with [my] reading of Paul as well: he said that the Gospel appeared foolish from the mindset of contemporary Greeks."

In fact, he said a lot more than that. He disparages human reason in comparison to God's wisdom, and he warns against the dangers of philosophy, speculation and argumentation.

He says in 1 Corinthians, for example, "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified; unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness."

Given that "the mindset of contemporary Greeks" was both vigorously pagan and profoundly reasonable, it's no wonder at all that to them the Gospels appeared foolish. They were and are.

9/24/2007 02:37:00 pm  
Anonymous JC said...

"I disagree with your reading of Paul as well he said that the Gospel appeared foolish from the mindest of contemporary Greeks."

I'd also make a similar comment about the Ignatius Loyola example. He was a soldier who held strong soldierly views, so when he says white must be viewed as black because a higher authority says so, he is simply repeating the soldiers creed of unflinching obedience. Then too, he is offering the comment in the context of a Catholic retreat where a good many ideas are pushed to their limits.

JC

9/24/2007 02:43:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

Not PC

Actually your comments about Paul do not substantiate what you contend.

First,

*He says in 1 Corinthians, for example, "For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified; unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.*

Exactly from the perspective of Greeks it is foolishness.

"the mindset of contemporary Greeks" was both vigorously pagan and profoundly reasonable, it's no wonder at all that to them the Gospels appeared foolish. They were and are.

Well I agree if you maintain that pagan Greek philosophy was reasonable then you’re correct.

However, now we have a nice circle. Christianity disparages reason why because you interpret Paul to say so, and you interpret Paul to say so because it was in fact unreasonable.

As to your other comments, you are welcome to dismiss anything you disagree with as “not research” or “apologetics” but simply calling positions names like this does not prove anything.

The reality is PC your blog simply asserts that faith is contrary to reason because you can cite three people who in one sentence ( divorced from their overall writings) who seem to say this and Ayn Rand agrees with you.

Along the way you mistakenly interpret Tertullian as a fidest and then simply dismiss studies to the contrary as *apologetics*.

You make dubious claims such as that the Gospels were written in the third century as though they were fact. And appear to not even understand the cosmological argument, or anti-evidentialist views of faith and reason.

If Ayn Rand says so is sufficient to justify this, then it’s you who possesses blind faith.

9/24/2007 03:12:00 pm  
Anonymous Angloamerican said...

You can't deny that people fall back onto faith when reason is insufficient. If you don't have a good enough reason for believing something then you are on shaky ground indeed. It's unreasonable but that doesn't sound good so why not re-label it as faith? It's a little more than Ayn Rand's say so methinks.

9/24/2007 05:29:00 pm  
Anonymous lgm said...

MandM

I read your comments and blog and wondered whether you were really a believer. Hence I asked. That was all.

However... then you asked, "So what?"

Well it means that it is not possible to have a logical and reasoned discussion with you on the topic. Your beliefs will mean you'll reject serious consideration of anything contrary. Arbitrary assertion will rule!

It also explains why you and your husband tie your thinking up in knots, playing complicated word games, wriggling and struggling to evade reality. You're wasting your time with such sophistry and nonsense.

Life is not a mind game.

LGM

9/24/2007 05:32:00 pm  
Blogger Comrade MOT said...

Not PC you have failed to respond to my point:
"How ever clever you PC and David s may seem with your philisophical explanations about time, they are certainly no more reasoned or beleivable than god. Time then must have had a beggining, how did it beging? Whether the appearance of matter occured in an already exhistant universe or not, does not change the fact that it can't have been there infinitely or "just appeared".

All scientific theories are base on somthing that explains a phenomena, and all evolve based on new evidence. Based on current evidence, god is a reasonable explanation."
or mandm's point:
"Second, you response to the kalam cosmological argument is unsound you state “This is a question that is doubly meaningless. Existence exists. There is no start to existence, though there may be changes to the form in which existence is constituted (through hypotheses such as the big bang for example).*

But this is another straw man, those who propose this version of the cosmological argument do not claim that *existence* started to exist ( an absurd claim) they claim the spatio temporal universe began to exist. Your conclusion follows only if one assumes that the spatio temporal universes is the totality of existence which of course begs the question.
You then state

*then your hypothesis poses a further who question: who kicked your god into existence, and who kicked her god into existence,*

Again this shows you simply are unfamiliar with the cosmological argument Those who argue in this way argue the universe has certain features (contingency or finite past) which mean its existence requires explanation they conclude that therefore there must be a being that *does not* have these features to explain this. So it’s false the question arises at second remove. Of course simply actually reading a defender of the argument would have cleared this up."

9/24/2007 07:35:00 pm  
Anonymous lgm said...

Comerade Mot

I'm still very interested in your evidence against the fairies at the bottom of my garden. Have you got any evidence against them or was your statement merely a lie?

LGM

9/24/2007 08:06:00 pm  
Blogger Comrade MOT said...

IGM I was not lying, however, I must concede that it is hard to differentiate sometimes between lack of evidence for and evidence against. I must concede that my argument about the beginning of matter is rather better.

As I commented however, I did not claim that they could be disproven. Difficulty does lie also with the deffinition of what a fairy is it helps to know the characteristics of somthing to be able to show evidence against it.
The evidence is:
No fairies have ever been seen. no any evidence of hiding places
(while there is no proof, there are claims of contact with God, God does not have to be visable to create the universe.)
the exhistant of fairies defies all knowledge of physics chemistry and biology. (God is claimed to be the creater of physics chemistry and biology is not part of it.)

There are no scientific anomalies associated with the environment/life known to inhabit back yards, that can be best explained by the existance of fairies.

I conceed that Im a bit thin on positive evidence, however when I make that comment I was more thinking of spiders on mars. mars has been observed to have no spiders or the ability to sustain such complex life. The unlimited bar tab has evidence against, in that barman has no motive, has no motive not to inform "Not PC" of his tab.

We can not make such assumptions about motive of an entity that is responsible for creating the universe.

9/24/2007 09:05:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

LGM

Your response is simply arbitrary assertion. You assert that because I believe in God I am therefore irrational etc. You then simply assert that I am a sophist, engage in word games etc. None of this constitutes a reasoned argument of any sort. Interesting how those who claim to follow reason instead of faith seem so unable to actually do so.

Anglo-American.

Actually, a little knowledge of epistemology shows that one cannot believe everything on good reasons. To reason to some conclusion requires an appeal to premises one already rationally believes. If I need good reasons for everything then I would need to reason to these premises from others, but then I would need to reason to these from yet other premises and so on, hence rationality requires that something’s be believed without reason. Otherwise one can believe nothing at all.

What is needed is an argument (i.e a reason) that belief in God cannot be one of these things. Until one is forthcoming, all we have is an assertion, based on no reasons at all. That theism is irrational because it’s based on no reasons at all. That’s self contradictory nonsense. The fact that some people maintain it despite its clear absurdity shows the irrational faith of atheists.

9/24/2007 10:48:00 pm  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

Mandm said...
... belief in God ...

Do you believe that Jesus Christ walked on the surface of the water according to the bible?

9/24/2007 11:54:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

LGM,

The theory of rationality that you have criticised is the justificationist theory of rationality. In a nutshell, a justificationist:

1. Accepts any proposition that can be justified.
2. Accepts only propositions that can be justified.

As you pointed out, this leads to infinite regress or an appeal to self-evident axioms. So both criteria cannot be satisfied simultaneously. Hence the justificationist theory cannot itself be justified.

Fortunately there is an alternative, namely the criticalist theory of rationality, which was first proposed by Karl Popper. A criticalist:

1. Rejects any proposition that has been successfully criticized.
2. Rejects any unnecessary limits on criticism.

Here, both criteria can be satisfied simultaneously, and there is no problem applying the theory to itself (we reject it if it can be successfully criticized).

9/25/2007 12:01:00 am  
Anonymous AngloAmerican said...

Excellent comments Brian S. The God theory isn’t particularly helpful or descriptive in itself. Saying that God created the Universe is almost meaningless unlike evolutionary theory which describes a process. They are not competing arguments. It is when people start to describe the personality and motivation of God that things truly descend into the irrational. I suspect the theists on this thread are hesitant to delve too deeply into what comes next when you accept that a sentient entity created the Universe as it is too vulnerable to criticism.

9/25/2007 06:51:00 am  
Anonymous lgm said...

Matthew, you've demonstrated the correctness of what I concluded about you. You've immediately responded to my answer with your intellectual wriggling- more word games. It means nothing.

That's the trouble with your approach. You fail to deal with reality, merely engaging in a series of floating intellectual abstrations and day-dreams. That approach gets you no-where fast except mired in a swamp of self-generated BS. In the end none of it is real. It's just intellectual masterbation.

---

Remember, YOU ASKED ME, "So what?" You were asking me what the significance of your reponse to my question was. All I've done is answer!

What I did not do was engage you in an argument about the existence of God. I'm not interested in your opinions on the matter. They are not worth anything, as they are corrupted at source.

---

What I have direct experience of is the nature of people who profess to believe and also of those who engage in complex word games, mind games, dilution of meaning, evasion of logic and the like. An important characteristic of such people is that their belief in God prevents them from seriously considering the nature of the reality that surrounds them. They are far more comfortable "interpreting" it through the burkah of their faith. Now that's their choice, but I'm not into that sort of thing. It teaches nothing serious about reality.

When I asked you whether you were a believer, I was interested in understanding your motives arguing as you have been doing. That was all.

LGM

9/25/2007 07:00:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

angloamerican,

Thanks for the good words. I must point out although PC and myself agree that the idea that a god created the universe is nonsense because it does not solve any problems and it does not integrate with our existing theories and knowledge about reality, we each subscribe to a very different epistemological viewpoint.

For example, in the above PC states:

"Claims for which there are no evidence are not in fact genuine hypotheses, they're simply arbitrary claims. And arbitrary claims are out."

I would disagree. This is a justificationist viewpoint (see my comment just before this one). My position is that theories are not justified by the evidence for it is possible to find evidence in favour of just about any theory you like. Rather we should look for errors in our theories and reject any theory that has been successfully criticized.

So here the role of evidence is as a means of criticism rather than as a justification.

A genuine hypothesis then is one that has been subjected to criticism, including testing, but has not been refuted. It doesn't matter where the hypothesis originally came from: it might have been an inspired guess based on a single observation, or a conjecture about how a set of data fit together, or it might simply have been a myth.

My position - the criticalist position - is to regard hypotheses as innocent and seek, if possible, to make them problematic, whereas the justificationist position is to regard hypotheses as guilty and seek, if possible, to make them unproblematic.

*****************

Comrade Mot,

Evidently my explanation of how moments in time are like layers in a block went right over your head. Far from being unreasoned, this conception of reality is forced on us by relativity.

In your view, only one layer of the block is real: the present moment. But consider this.

The present moment consists of all events that occur simultaneously; for example, two droplets of water hitting the ground together. An observer in relative motion with respect to yourself may not see those drops hit simultaneously, however. They might see one drop hit the ground followed by the other drop.

The only way to understand this is to consider that the entire block is real and that all layers simultaneously exist. When you partition the block into moments you see the two drops hit simultaneously. The other observer partitions at a different angle and therefore the two drops coincide with two different layers or moments.

The block just is, it never came into existence nor will it go out of existence.

So PC is perfectly correct when he says that "time is in the universe; the universe is not in time".

9/25/2007 08:08:00 am  
Blogger MandM said...

LGM

I am sorry but merely declaring that anyone who believes in God is *corrupted at the source* refusing to listen to them and then dismissing any arguments against your position by asserting that they are “intellectual masturbation” is not a rational position, its extremely actually dogmatic.

Imagine if a theist simply declared God existed, then when challenged simply stated that anyone who disagreed is corrupt cannot think, and then refused to listen or asses any arguments against his position simply stating they were sophistical.

I am sure PC Lindsay et al would state that such tactics showed that this persons theism is irrational.

Brian S

I suspect was me not LGM you are responding to. You sound like you study at Otago under Musgrove.

First, I agree with you that justificationism is flawed. However your suggestion that the only alternative is I think betrays a false antithesis. There are in fact multiple alternatives. One is a modest form of foundationalism, which accepts that what a person finds evident in a given circumstance is prima facie justified, that is one is within their intellectual rights in accepting it until good reasons are forthcoming demonstrating its falsehood or irrationality.

An example might help here. I believe that certain past events occurred because I seem to remember them occurring.. Now I cannot argue for the truth of many of these events, the fact that I seem to remember something does not entail it happened, its possible that I am mistaken, similarly I cannot argue that argue that my memory is reliable without utilising some premises drawn from memory in the first place. So this is something I just find evident. However these facts do not provide any reason for denying that these things occurred. I am rational in believing they are unless some one provides good reasons for thinking they did not, or for thinking my memory is unreliable on this issue. Similarly I like many people find that when I look at the world around me it seems to me to be the case that God created and designed it, it strikes me as obvious. I know that this kind of response is not uncommon. Even Dawkins talks of the world displaying apparent design.

Now on a modest foundationalism of the sort I envisage those who find belief in God evident in this way are justified in believing its true unless there are good arguments against theism, the fact that their may or may not be arguments for it is neither here nor there. However unlike the criticalist response this does not see theism as a theory or hypothesis postulated to explain data anymore than beliefs about the past are theories postulated to explain the data of apparent memories.

So the real question is wether there is any reason for thinking that theism is false. I note that most of what is said in here is bluster. Apart from speculating about my motives, Anglo American for example simply states that theism is vunerable to criticism, as though somehow that was a given. Its not. LGM's response is simply to declare anyone who disagrees with him not worth listening to. Hardly compelling stuff.

9/25/2007 11:00:00 am  
Anonymous angloamerican said...

By vulnerable to criticism I was thinking along the lines of Mark Twain's quote,

It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

If you were brought up without any knowledge of the Bible and were hearing it for the first time you'd think it a load of silly stuff indeed. Of course it's not meant to be taken literally and should be considered a literary device, a communication from the ancients to us on how to live a good life.

9/25/2007 01:29:00 pm  
Anonymous angloamerican said...

Brian S, your arguments are persuasive. I've saved them to my PC to study some more. Thanks for spending the time to enlighten us. This thread has been one of the better discussions on this subject that regularly crops up here. Thanks to the theists also for your detailed contributions.

9/26/2007 06:09:00 am  
Anonymous lgm said...

MandM

(Is it the husband or the wife I'm in correspondance with?)

You've just demonstrated your only tactic once again. It's easy to see through one the trick is understood.

Let's take a look.

You write, "I am sorry but merely declaring that anyone who believes in God is *corrupted at the source* refusing to listen to them and then dismissing any arguments against your position by asserting that they are “intellectual masturbation” is not a rational position, its extremely actually dogmatic."

You lied. You were not sorry. You should avoid such rhetorical bullshit.

Then you lied again, asserting that I declared that ANYONE who believes in God is corrupt at source. What I indicated was that YOU were corrupted at source. There is a difference.

Then you lied yet again by claiming I dismiss ANY arguments against my position. That's not what I did. What I did was dismiss YOU specifically. This dismissal is not arbitrary; it is as the direct result of your own behaviour, a behaviour which classifies you as a particular type of person engaged in a certain type of self-deceit.

In the end what you demonstrated is that your technique of argument relies on a "sleight of hand", a deception or a series of them. For example, you misrepresented what I presented. From there you continued with your wrigglings and rationalisations.

You should quit with the head games and the apologetics. Sure, you may think you’re good at it but it's so simple to see through once the tricks are understood. Deal with reality, don’t try to shroud it with the intellectual equivalent of a burkah. That’s the best policy!

LGM

9/26/2007 07:14:00 am  
Blogger MandM said...

LGM,

You asked if I believed in God. To which I said “Yes I do. So what?”
Your reply was,

*“However... then you asked, "So what?"

Well it means that it is not possible to have a logical and reasoned discussion with you on the topic. Your beliefs will mean you'll reject serious consideration of anything contrary. Arbitrary assertion will rule!

It also explains why you and your husband tie your thinking up in knots, playing complicated word games, wriggling and struggling to evade reality. You're wasting your time with such sophistry and nonsense.”*

Here you respond that my believing in God, (which is what the "so what?" referred to) means that one cannot have a reasoned discussion with me on the question of Gods existence. You also suggested me being a believer explained the alleged bad reasoning on my part.

So I clearly did not lie, what I said is a reasonable interpretation of your words published here on this site.

But this is to some extent beside the point. Even if I did lie, that shows only that I committed a moral mistake. It does not discredit the rest of my argument at all. It does not show my critique of Pc’s treatment of the cosmological argument is unsound. It does not address the epistemological difficulties with his evidentialist understanding of faith and reason that I raised. Nor does it address my arguments that PC has misunderstood Paul and Tertullian. It does not address my point that his dating of the NT is dubious. It also does not address my argument that merely citing three thinkers who say X and then noting Ayn Rand agrees provides a reason for thinking X is true.

To address these points do that you need to actually provide counter arguments against it. But you do not, instead you assert that its nonsense.

You also suggest that I am not good at *apologetics* and it’s simple to see through my reasoning. Again this is assertion not an argument. But for the record, I did a Masters thesis on the question of faith and reason through the Philosophy department it passed formal assessment. I also wrote on this question in my PhD dissertation and earned and this too. All three of my examiners had a very different assessment of my abilities to you. Much of what I say here and in recent bogs is elaborated in these works. So it clearly is not obvious as you say. If you want to make assertions about my ability I can provide counter assertions.

Following reason means that you respond to arguments against your position with counter arguments. You do not ever rebut a person by attacking their character, or intellectual abilities, or simply stating that they are talking nonsense.

9/26/2007 10:30:00 am  
Anonymous lgm said...

MandM

And around you go again!

Pretty much demonstrates my case really!

LGM

9/26/2007 11:55:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

PC,

Just a comment on one of your updates:

It may be that a proposition without proof is arbitrary; it may also be the case that it is true. As a free individual, I am entitled to consider the proposition if I so desire, and to attempt to refute it. If I am unable to do so through criticism and testing, then it is rational to consider that the proposition has some truth value.

Of course, this doesn't mean I am going to spend my life examining arbitrary claims. I put up this quote from Popper earlier: "every rational theory, no matter whether scientific or philosophical, is rational in so far as it tries to solve certain problems". So I am far far more likely to take seriously a claim that attempts to solve a problem. So is this in fact what you meant?

9/26/2007 09:30:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

Madeleine here (and no I am not joining in) just wanted to point out your links to our blog don't work - might want to look at the 20% guff on the end of the urls.

Also, Matt graduated with a PhD almost a year ago from the University of Otago so you might want to update the part where you call him a student.

Also, given that Matt holds a Masters with first class honours in Philosophy and his thesis for his Theology PhD was in Philosophical Theology he really is more of a philosopher than a theologian.

Hope you are well.

Madeleine :-)

9/26/2007 09:58:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

PC

You state.

*What I've said here is that a proposition without proof is flatly arbitrary, and the arbitrary is out. Arbitrary statements don't even get to be called irrational; they don't even get to the table.*

And again you say mockingly

*Matt himself provides us with an tip that is like a signpost for those of us curious about christian epistemological standards. Says Matt: "you can rationally believe certain things, in certain situations, without evidence.*

Now on my blog I provided an *argument* for this claim. I stated

*[the thesis that all beliefs require proof] leads to a regress problem, suppose I believe P, to be rational I need proof therefore I need an argument and I need to be able to rationally believe the premises of this further argument. But then I need proof for these premises. But then I have to believe further premises and I will need proof for this and so on. Unless we stop at some point and believe something without proof, we will be irrational in believing everything.*

You provided no response except the mockery above. So, just in case I was unclear I repeated the argument.

*Roy Clouser summarizes the problems: “If everything needs to be proven then the premises of every proof would need to be proven. But if you need a proof for every proof, you need a proof for your proof, and a proof for your proof of a proof and so on-forever. Thus it makes no sense to demand a that everything be proven because an infinte regress of proofs is impossible( Knowing With the Heart p 69)*


Brian s also appears to accept this argument

*As you pointed out, this leads to infinite regress or an appeal to self-evident axioms. So both criteria cannot be satisfied simultaneously. Hence the justificationist theory cannot itself be justified.*

Now, neither I, nor Brian, nor Clouser are offering anything new here. The argument against the claim that all beliefs need to be proven or demonstrated goes back to Aristotle who explicitly raised the problem several thousand years ago in Posterior Analytics. ( bk I, 3) and concluded that not all beliefs need to be demonstrated or proved.

*Our own doctrine is that not all knowledge is demonstrative: on the contrary, knowledge of the immediate premisses is independent of demonstration. (The necessity of this is obvious; for since we must know the prior premisses from which the demonstration is drawn, and since the regress must end in immediate truths, those truths must be indemonstrable.)*


So my question to you is this: How do you answer this regress argument?

Note I am asking for an actual response to this argument. Not a string of pejorative terms, not a series of dismissals or claims that it’s ridiculous. Not a series of assertions that all non proved beliefs are arbitrary. Rather I want a specific answer to Aristotle’s argument.

If you cannot answer this argument then I suggest you be honest and admit it instead of hiding behind pejorative rhetoric and ridicule.

Matt

9/27/2007 10:13:00 am  
Anonymous Falafulu Fisi said...

Matt, what do you think about the criticism of TV2 program for Sensing Murder (every Tuesday night at 8-30) which is described on this website here.

My question to you, if you really believe people could talk to the dead ? Since Philosophy is not my area, could you use your Philosophical knowledge that you have put forward for this thread's debate to argue for or against such claim from psychics?

I am looking forward to your argument and what you have to say.

9/27/2007 12:04:00 pm  
Blogger Greg B said...

Is Maori spirituality the new unofficial state religion?

9/27/2007 12:36:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

Falafulu Fisi

Thanks I have been meaning to google this TV programe for sometime. To read through it and prepare an argument will take some time and I have to speak at a conference on Saturday. However, I will blog on this in the future.

(Btw, I don't know why you think I believe that a person can talk to the dead. Christians have tended to deny this, talking to the dead is called Necromancy and its traditionally been prohibited by Christian teaching.)

9/27/2007 01:09:00 pm  
Anonymous Sus said...

GB: "Is Maori spirituality the new unofficial state religion?"

New? Whatever gave you that idea!

9/27/2007 01:39:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

GB: "Is Maori spirituality the new unofficial state religion?"

"Unofficial"? Whatever gave you that idea?

;^)

PS: I'll respond to Matt's touchy rejoinder later when I have time, unless someone else wants to in the meantime.

As a clue, there's a simple one-word answer to the supposed challenge he poses; it starts with 'r,' has seven letters and you can see it by raising your eyes and looking out your window.

And it doesn't require the invention of an imaginary friend.

9/27/2007 02:06:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

MandM,

Yes, we agree about the problem of justificationism. We have both pointed out that a justificationist is either committed to infinite regress or to an appeal to axioms that are held to be self-evident. There are other problems. For example:

1. The snowball problem. If A is justified by B and C, and B is justified by D & E, and C by F & G, and so on, then the number of justifications soon gets out of hand.
2. The evolutionary process results in information being encoded in genomes but this information has not been justified by anything.
3. As a consequence of 2, our brain processes (eg., neural plasticity) have not been justified by anything, yet we rely on these processes for learning and reasoning. So no belief can be a justified true belief unless we also have justification for our brain processes.

The solution to these problems in my opinion is criticalism, which I regard as the best alternative. As I said before, criticalism treats propositions initially as unproblematic and seeks to find problems with them. As soon as you find a problem, you stop. No infinite regress. No snowball. No requirement that propositions ground out in a set of axioms that are taken to be self-evident. No missing a truth because you can't see a justification for it.

Criticalism mirrors evolution. Organisms are like conjectures and these are subject to testing and "refutation" by the environment. It is this process that gives rise to the information that is encoded in genomes.

Criticalism is fully grounded in that seven letter "r" word that PC mentions because the process of criticism does not take place in a vacuum and must use whatever knowledge and evidence we can bring to bear.

I could mention also that it is fully cognisant of Goedel, but that's enough of the PR exercise for criticalism. What I don't see is how your other alternative is better. This alternative you said is:

"... a modest form of foundationalism, which accepts that what a person finds evident in a given circumstance is prima facie justified, that is one is within their intellectual rights in accepting it until good reasons are forthcoming demonstrating its falsehood or irrationality."

The key phrase here is "until good reasons are forthcoming demonstrating its falsehood or irrationality". So, if you have thought about your beliefs at all, it is precisely because such reasons have not been forthcoming that you accept what you find evident. You accept your memories as true because no evidence to the contrary can be found: for example, what you remember tallies with photos in your album, with the accounts of others, with newspapers and so on.

(Yes, I can sound like Musgrove at times!)

9/28/2007 06:12:00 am  
Blogger Greg B said...

Noting Brian: "Criticalism mirrors evolution."
"...criticalism treats propositions initially as unproblematic and seeks to find problems with them. As soon as you find a problem, you stop."

While this is attractive and adds gravity to your selection of criticalism over other methods I think the comparison with biological evolution is should be reconsidered.

Primarily, evolution is not so black and white in making 'fitness' decisions. 'Mistakes' and genetic problems can be carried forward;

secondly, evolution does not seek a goal ("truth"? "validity"?), which is presumably what criticalism aims to acheive;

thirdly, as well as gazelle vs lion selection, there are evolutionary processes that are 'non-selective', these don't help you make a critical 'selection';

and lastly and most importantly, selection at the species level requires a pre-existing niche to give 'judgement', i.e. there is no inherent 'truth' to the proposition only a fitness selected (a 'refutation') by a pre-existing environment that posseses a bias.

my 2 cents.

9/29/2007 05:59:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

Greg B,

Criticalism is often called evolutionary epistemology, and this was a term Popper himself used.

There are in fact important links between criticalism and evolution. David Deutsch, the quantum physicist, explained some of these in his book "The Fabric or Reality". To quote:

While a problem is still in the process of being solved we are dealing with a large, heterogeneous set of ideas, theories, and criteria, with many variants of each, all competing for survival. There is a continual turnover of theories as they are altered or replaced by new ones. So all the theories are being subject to variation and selection, according to criteria which are themselves subject to variation and selection. The whole process resembles biological evolution. A problem is like an ecological niche, and a theory is like a gene or a species which is being tested for viability in that niche...'Success' is the ability to survive repeatedly under the selective pressures - criticism - brough to bear in that niche,...

Yes, there are important differences between criticalism and evolution and both Popper and Deutsch recognise these. An important difference, as you recognise, is that evolution is blind and purposeless and there is no biological equivalent of argument.

Nevertheless, both criticalism and evolution depend on the creation and survival of objective knowledge. Because the truth is not manifest, mistakes can carry forward in both processes. Our criticisms may be incorrect. In fact, in criticalism, it is important to criticize the criticisms.

9/29/2007 07:32:00 pm  
Blogger Greg B said...

That seems sound.
Cheers.

9/29/2007 09:39:00 pm  
Blogger MandM said...

Brian S

A couple of points;

First, even if criticalism is correct the conclusion I proposed still holds. It is not always irrational to believe a proposition in the absence of proof for its truth. Nor, if criticalism is true, does the absence proof for certain theological doctrines would not render them irrational. What would be needed is some argument against these doctrines. Hence my central contentions would still stand.

Second, I don’t see the force of your criticisms of my position: you write.

“The key phrase here is "until good reasons are forthcoming demonstrating its falsehood or irrationality". So, if you have thought about your beliefs at all, it is precisely because such reasons have not been forthcoming that you accept what you find evident. You accept your memories as true because no evidence to the contrary can be found: for example, what you remember tallies with photos in your album, with the accounts of others, with newspapers and so on.”


Two things here.

1. It’s not the case that one believes *because*one has no evidence to the contrary as though the belief is grounded in lack of negative argument. It’s rather that the belief seems evident to you. There is a kind of phenomenological experience involved in perceptual, memory, a proiri, beliefs about other peoples mental states etc via which they appear evident to the person who has them. Arguments can overturn or defeat this initial warrant but the initial warrant is not based on absence of such defeaters.

2. What you say about memory is, I think, mistaken. Suppose I seem to remember a past event P, and hence believe P. A photo can confirm this event only if I believe that it’s a photo that I had taken back at the time P occurred. To know this I will rely on my memory. Similarly, reading a newspaper involves the use of memory. When I get to the end of a line I need to remember the previous lines in order to understand what I am reading. The point is that any attempt to base the reliability of memory upon these things will in fact presuppose the reliability of my memory.

My position then is that there are some beliefs, such memory beliefs about my past. Perceptual beliefs about the external world. Beliefs about the existence of other people with thoughts and feelings, beliefs about my own internal mental states, certain moral principles, certain basic rules of logic, are all things that I (a) cannot prove with a non circular argument and yet (b) am justified in believing because they are evident to me and I have no reason for thinking that these beliefs are false or that they are based on something unreliable. Like numerous other theologians and Christian Philosophers I think the same is true of certain theological beliefs about God. These beliefs are evident to those who have them and there is no reason to deny them, hence the absence of proof does not mean these people are irrational in their believing. What would do that is some compelling non circular argument that their beliefs were false or that they were formed by some unreliable ground or process.

10/01/2007 02:26:00 pm  
Blogger Brian S said...

My position then is that there are some beliefs, such memory beliefs about my past. Perceptual beliefs about the external world. Beliefs about the existence of other people with thoughts and feelings, beliefs about my own internal mental states, certain moral principles, certain basic rules of logic, are all things that I (a) cannot prove with a non circular argument and yet (b) am justified in believing because they are evident to me and I have no reason for thinking that these beliefs are false or that they are based on something unreliable.

I agree that there is nothing here that is inconsistent with criticalism. Nor, for that matter, with Objectivism. However I would add the caveat that criticalism requires that you honestly test your belief by seeking out and trying to refute arguments to the contrary. It is all very well to say "I have no reason for thinking that these beliefs are false", but is that really true or have you just put your head in the sand?

Where we differ is that it is not at all self-evident to me that god exists and in fact I can see good arguments that god does not exist.

Let's take seriously the idea that there is a god. In what realm does god exist? What is the nature of that realm? How did god create the physical world? What exactly was the process by which that happened? Is god in time? Does god have thought process? Is mathematics independent from god?

I pose these questions to illustrate that other than saying that god exists, believers really cannot flesh that theory out with the sort of detail that someone serious about explanation requires. Black-hole theory, for example, makes lots of predictions and puts these in an explanatory framework. So even though no-one has seen a black-hole, it is easy to believe they exist.

I suspect that god believers are unwilling to make concrete conjectures about god for risk of falsification. Instead they wrap up their theory in justifications. And so it seems to me that the theory that god exists is really just a non-theory, devoid of explanatory content, and that makes no predictions about the world.

10/02/2007 05:42:00 am  
Blogger MandM said...

Brian

Ok so we are agreed that the claim that belief in God in the absence of proof is not irrational. And we agree that claims that it is rest on erroneous views of epistemology.

The real disagreement is over whether there are good reasons for rejecting theism. You state

*criticalism requires that you honestly test your belief by seeking out and trying to refute arguments to the contrary. It is all very well to say "I have no reason for thinking that these beliefs are false", but is that really true or have you just put your head in the sand?*

Here it seems to me you simply have not read or met many philosophically informed theists. Because, there is voluminous literature both past and present, where theists do respond to these alleged rebuttals, contemporary philosophy of religion is full of such examination. Almost every journal in Philosophy or Religion has discussions of these objections in it. To suggest then that theists have simply ignored this or put their head in the sand is simply false.

My response to your next comment is essentially the same you write.

What exactly was the process by which that happened? Is god in time? Does god have thought process? Is mathematics independent from god?

I pose these questions to illustrate that other than saying that god exists, believers really cannot flesh that theory out with the sort of detail that someone serious about explanation requires. Black-hole theory, for example, makes lots of predictions and puts these in an explanatory framework. So even though no-one has seen a black-hole, it is easy to believe they exist.

The problem here is that this is simply false. Take two of your examples: Gods relation to time, and the question of Gods relationship to Mathematics .

On both issues there have been in fact detailed theories developed and in the Philosophical/Theological literature there is a rich and sophisticated debate and refinement of these theories.

Take the time issue; there is the atemporalist theory advocated by Paul Helm, for example or the temporalist theory advocated by Wolterstorff. There are also the quite sophisticated hybrid theories of Bill Craig and Alan Padgett. Each of these theories and the debate over them involves detailed dialogue with contemporary A and B theories of time and issues of relativity theory. There are several monographs and a voluminous amount of articles discussing these questions, debating rival theories, refining them etc.

The same is true with your reference to God and Mathematics. This issue was an important source of scholarly philosophical theorising and dispute in the late middle ages and enlightenment. Today there are several different fairly detailed theories in the literature on this question and considerable debate over the specifics. There is for example the Theistic Activism Theory advocated by Thomas Morris and Christopher Menzel and the rival Theistic Conceptualist Realism theory and the numerous debate over this, much of it involving fairly sophisticated Debate over this involves considerable discussion of things such as Nominalism, Platonism, modal logic etc.

So with respect, it is the atheists on this thread who have there head in the sand. It’s simply false that theists have never offered detailed answers to these questions. It’s more that your average atheist simply is unfamiliar with the literature on the subject.

10/02/2007 11:39:00 am  
Blogger MandM said...

Sorry I did not put the quote marks in. Here it is again.

Brian

Ok so we are agreed that the claim that belief in God in the absence of proof is not irrational. And we agree that claims that it is rest on erroneous views of epistemology.

The real disagreement is over whether there are good reasons for rejecting theism. You state

*criticalism requires that you honestly test your belief by seeking out and trying to refute arguments to the contrary. It is all very well to say "I have no reason for thinking that these beliefs are false", but is that really true or have you just put your head in the sand?*

Here it seems to me you simply have not read or met many philosophically informed theists. Because, there is voluminous literature both past and present, where theists do respond to these alleged rebuttals, contemporary philosophy of religion is full of such examination. Almost every journal in Philosophy or Religion has discussions of these objections in it. To suggest then that theists have simply ignored this or put their head in the sand is simply false.

My response to your next comment is essentially the same you write.

"What exactly was the process by which that happened? Is god in time? Does god have thought process? Is mathematics independent from god?

I pose these questions to illustrate that other than saying that god exists, believers really cannot flesh that theory out with the sort of detail that someone serious about explanation requires. Black-hole theory, for example, makes lots of predictions and puts these in an explanatory framework. So even though no-one has seen a black-hole, it is easy to believe they exist."

The problem here is that this is simply false. Take two of your examples: Gods relation to time, and the question of Gods relationship to Mathematics .

On both issues there have been in fact detailed theories developed and in the Philosophical/Theological literature there is a rich and sophisticated debate and refinement of these theories.

Take the time issue; there is the atemporalist theory advocated by Paul Helm, for example or the temporalist theory advocated by Wolterstorff. There are also the quite sophisticated hybrid theories of Bill Craig and Alan Padgett. Each of these theories and the debate over them involves detailed dialogue with contemporary A and B theories of time and issues of relativity theory. There are several monographs and a voluminous amount of articles discussing these questions, debating rival theories, refining them etc.

The same is true with your reference to God and Mathematics. This issue was an important source of scholarly philosophical theorising and dispute in the late middle ages and enlightenment. Today there are several different fairly detailed theories in the literature on this question and considerable debate over the specifics. There is for example the Theistic Activism Theory advocated by Thomas Morris and Christopher Menzel and the rival Theistic Conceptualist Realism theory and the numerous debate over this, much of it involving fairly sophisticated Debate over this involves considerable discussion of things such as Nominalism, Platonism, modal logic etc.

So with respect, it is the atheists on this thread who have there head in the sand. It’s simply false that theists have never offered detailed answers to these questions. It’s more that your average atheist simply is unfamiliar with the literature on the subject.

10/02/2007 11:42:00 am  
Blogger XXX said...

So to summarize, for all of you atheists here ... sorry to take your toys ... read books and learn the topics before making knowledge-less claims and arguments (in the loose sense of the words) ... stop spreading lies and propaganda through your lack of knowledge

8/15/2009 03:30:00 am  

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