On Converting Atheists

101 posts / 0 new
Last post
Greensnake's picture
Sapporo,

Sapporo,

Indeed, we have the whole rationale for the Inquisition! It's better to torture people than to let them slip into hell or, worse, contaminate the purity of the surrounding faithful and cause them to go to hell. Obviously, such nonsense--even in milder forms--needs to be challenged.

calhais's picture
Fair enough. If your dilemma

Fair enough. If your dilemma has anything to do with Jesus, then I wonder which religions you're talking about. There's a significant difference between what a holy text permits and what a church permits, and you should be more specific if you have a critical comment about either.

It is unacceptable that torture is normalized in the 21st century.

Interesting. If it is `normalized'--and I am sure that it is normalized to a limited but nonzero degree, at least--then I would agree that it's unacceptable. But how do you know that it's unacceptable, or, perhaps equivalently, why is it unacceptable?

Sapporo's picture
calhais: Interesting. If it

calhais: Interesting. If it is `normalized'--and I am sure that it is normalized to a limited but nonzero degree, at least--then I would agree that it's unacceptable. But how do you know that it's unacceptable, or, perhaps equivalently, why is it unacceptable?

I consider torture to be a harmful act. If torture is not a harmful act, then I cannot really know anything.

Would you rather be killed or tortured for eternity?

calhais's picture
You didn't answer the

You didn't answer the question, but you gave a hint. Are you suggesting that because I would dislike being tortured, that I ought to believe that torture is wrong?

Sapporo's picture
calhais: You didn't answer

calhais: You didn't answer the question, but you gave a hint. Are you suggesting that because I would dislike being tortured, that I ought to believe that torture is wrong?

I'm suggesting that 1) torture is wrong because it causes harm and 2) there can be nothing worse than eternal torture, thus any being who engages in such an act cannot be considered acceptable.

calhais's picture
Would you say that all things

Would you say that all things that cause harm are wrong? And what is the consequence of being wrong? You would have torture banned, I take it, but at what cost? How would you enforce it?

Sapporo's picture
calhais: Would you say that

calhais: Would you say that all things that cause harm are wrong? And what is the consequence of being wrong? You would have torture banned, I take it, but at what cost? How would you enforce it?

I think that all things that cause harm are wrong.

Something like pain may be preferable in some instances to a greater harm e.g. to limit you from causing greater harm to yourself. However, if all the harmful things did not exist, this would be even more preferable. Therefore I consider all things that cause harm to be fundamentally wrong.

The consequence of harm being wrong is that it is contrary to the notion that an omnipotent and omnibenovolent being exists.

Torture is illegal according to international law. This prohibition is enforced at both the international and the national level. The cost of torture being banned will be more peaceful societies.

calhais's picture
I think that all things that

I think that all things that cause harm are wrong.

Then do you have an example of something that isn't wrong?

Torture is illegal according to international law. This prohibition is enforced at both the international and the national level.

Sure, but that's vague and evasive of you to say. Surely you don't believe that this is enforced perfectly. You still haven't said what it costs to enforce whichever ban on torture you were referring to. If harm is wrong, then perhaps one way you could tally the costs is by counting in terms of harm. You seem to have some ordering that lets you compare degrees of harm, so why not use that to count costs?

David Killens's picture
@ calhais

@ calhais

"But you also doubt that Jesus will decide who will burn, so what does it matter to you?"

It matters a lot to me because it has a profound negative psychological effect on this who actually believe it. I care about my fellow human beings, even thou calhais.

Matt Dillahunty makes a good comparison between this position and a mob boss. The mob boss, as he holds a gun to the victim's head in an extortion, says "I will protect you (from me), as long as you give me what I want. If you do not, look at what you made me do to you."

These religious teachings rob a person of their dignity, self-worth, and independence, forcing them into a position of guilt where they must believe they are inherently bad people, and the only way to avoid an eternity of torture is to bend their knee to this deity.

I ask this of you calhais, could you (hypothetically) abandon your beliefs without fear of reprisal by the one you worship? Will your deity let you go without a reaction?

calhais's picture
It matters a lot to me

It matters a lot to me because it has a profound negative psychological effect on this who actually believe it.

Do you claim that this is true for all people who believe it, or only for some? If the former, then I dissent and demand proof. I assume that you're using the word `profound' for emphasis rather than description.

These religious teachings rob a person of their dignity, self-worth, and independence, forcing them into a position of guilt where they must believe they are inherently bad people, and the only way to avoid an eternity of torture is to bend their knee to this deity.

You're being intentionally vague where you could well be specific, and that is reprehensible. For example, you write `a person' but don't make it clear whether you're talking about everyone who adheres to the religion, or some people, or literally one person (the least likely). First, clarify the quantity of persons you claim are affected.

David Killens's picture
@calhais

@calhais

"First, clarify the quantity of persons you claim are affected."

100%.

Christianity is built on the premise that jesus died for our sins.

calhais's picture
[Killens] It matters a lot to

[Killens] It matters a lot to me because it has a profound negative psychological effect on this who actually believe it. [Calhais] Clarify the quantity of persons you claim are affected. [Killens] 100%.

Then either support or retract this claim: that everyone who believes that Jesus will decide who will burn is affected by that belief profoundly and negatively.

David Killens's picture
This is circular reasoning.

This is circular reasoning. If you believe that a deity will decide if you will suffer an eternity in suffering, of course it will have a negative impact on your life.

Proverbs 6:16-19

16 There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:

17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil,

19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

Be careful calhais, your god may be watching this forum .......

calhais's picture
What is circular reasoning?

What is circular reasoning? Mine? Yours? Support your statement rather than repeating it. Appeal by the phrase `of course' is fallacious.

Greensnake's picture
Now that I've looked at the

Now that I've looked at the epidemiological underpinnings of science and given some reasons for it being the only serious method we have for examining the real world, maybe it's time to ask you for the physical evidence that supports your belief that the real world includes a Christian god. You might also give us some kind of definition of what you mean by "God." I've seen everything from the usual naive claims about prayer and prophecy to William Lane Craig's smoke-and-mirrors arguments. For reasons that I touched on in my long post, I regard the ontological arguments as akin to pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps. You can't define God into physical existence. Reasoning not attached to evidence is sterile when it comes to exploring the real world. The arguments from design that I've seen all have serious failings.

In that light, what kind of evidence and reasoning do you have for converting us atheists? It's time to put your cards on the table.

calhais's picture
I think that I made it

I think that I made it expressly clear that converting an atheist by scientific evidence for the existence of God would not be acceptable;
I have no intent to convert anyone here. Moreover, I wholly lack physical evidence for the contemporary existence of God, and I do not recall ever having claimed otherwise. I think that before I can helpfully define God, we must run through our other deliberations, currently on page 2, so that we have some common ground. All arguments about the world are ultimately ontological because ontology is the study of what exists; I can only guess that your complaint about arguments for the existence of God refers strictly to arguments that exclude what you would judge as physical evidence. I point to this as an example of why we need to finish our earlier discussion; I reject your central premise that our sensory faculties are trustworthy, and you chose to predicate the rest of your long post on that they rather are trustworthy. We need to work that out before we can consistently make judgments about physical evidence in agreement with one another because I believe that the line between reasoning and evidence is not as clear as you seem to believe, and that's crucial to our model of knowledge in general. I agree that the arguments from design are unsatisfactory, and I would not offer one--at least not a canonical one--because I do not think that my belief in God is predicated on an argument from design. It is likely that my belief in God is mostly social because religion had a large role in my primary socialization. Beyond that, I would probably appeal to the historical authority of the Bible, which is easy to question and only somewhat more difficult to contradict with some rigor. Thus, I have no intent to convert anyone here.

My interest, as I wrote in the OP, lies in the epistemology of science and religion. My belief in God has the simplest assailable logical form: I have faith that God exists. That implies a certain program for investing faith, though I haven't thought much about what the details of that program are and whether the faith I invest in the proposition that God exists is good or worthy.

Sapporo's picture
I do not believe that my

I do not believe that my senses are 100% trustworthy, but I consider concepts defined as supernatural to be meaningless.

Greensnake's picture
calhais,

calhais,

All arguments about the world are ultimately ontological because ontology is the study of what exists; I can only guess that your complaint about arguments for the existence of God refers strictly to arguments that exclude what you would judge as physical evidence.

The "ontological arguments" for God's existence commonly refer to a collection of a priori arguments from the medieval ages that, with a handful of modern attempts to inject life into them, attempt to arrive at God (presumably an aspect of the real world) without ever looking at the real world! I am under the impression that most philosophers have long since rejected these arguments. Yes, I do object to them as previously noted.

By "physical evidence" I mean empirical evidence, i.e, anything we can sense, either directly or by way of instrument, that has a bearing on an argument about the nature of the real world of atoms and energy, of space and time. If there is another meaning that is relevant to this discussion, I am not aware of it.

I point to this as an example of why we need to finish our earlier discussion; I reject your central premise that our sensory faculties are trustworthy, and you chose to predicate the rest of your long post on that they rather are trustworthy.

Unfortunately, your earlier post to me of any length was steeped in a stilted, overformal language that should largely be restricted specialized philosophical journals. It would be pointless to continue in that vein.

I find it odd that you continue to boldly state that you reject the trustworthiness of our sensory faculties. Every time you drive somewhere (or take public transit) you are trusting your senses to a high degree! If you are simply saying that our interpretation of sensory data is often mistaken, then we are in full agreement. The whole point of the scientific method (in its broadest sense) is to maximize our chances of being right in evaluating the empirical data of the real world. If you want to talk about the natural processes of the real world, then I see no alternative to addressing the empirical evidence in the scientific manner. The bulk of my post attempted to explain why we must deal with empirical data and was not simply a naïve acceptance of it.

… I believe that the line between reasoning and evidence is not as clear as you seem to believe, and that's crucial to our model of knowledge in general.

Deductive reasoning can take us from "A" through "B" with certainty, provided that postulate "A" is a "given." (No atheist is required to accept a "given" postulate with God embedded in it.) If postulate "A" is modeled on the real world, then certainty is lost in that we have, at best, an inductive conclusion that may be challenged. Inductive reasoning is that of model building, which requires empirical evidence if addressing the real world. Thus, these classes of reasoning, if applied to the real world, make use of models based on empirical evidence. For deductive reasoning the model is the starting point; for inductive reasoning the model is the conclusion. I really don't see a fuzzy boundary between abstract thought and the world of atoms and energy. In particular, I reject the idea that we can apply pure reason and arrive at any conclusions about the real world a priori. Even empty space, as basic as it may seem, need not conform to a priori ideas.

It is likely that my belief in God is mostly social because religion had a large role in my primary socialization. Beyond that, I would probably appeal to the historical authority of the Bible, which is easy to question and only somewhat more difficult to contradict with some rigor.

You are, of course, entitled to your belief in God however arrived at. The "social" argument (is it an argument?) for your belief in God strikes me as rather loose. I immediately see it as being prone to all manner of subtle, psychological errors. As to the historical authority of the Bible, I don't see any. Some historical data in the Old Testament, based on king lists, does carry historical weight although dunked heavily in bias. Other stories, such as the glory of King Solomon or the Exodus, are now seen as later mythology adopted by a growing Israelite community that wished to stand tall among its neighbors.

The credibility of Joshua's brutal conquest has faded away in that archaeologists now know that the early Israelites were one of the Canaanite peoples who later separated and took up residence in the highlands. There was no mass exodus from Egypt. As to the New Testament, critical scholars (as versus apologists defending their dogma) have long ago rejected the Gospels as historical narratives by eyewitnesses. The Gospels are a kind of backfill thought to be based on oral traditions and written decades later to support and preserve the various doctrines of several centers of early Christianity. The two, completely contradictory methods used by Luke and Matthew to get Mary to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus is a sterling example of the backfill I speak of.

The most ambitious attempt to find the real Jesus in the Gospels, The Jesus Seminar, produced (as part of its conclusion) a fresh translation of the Gospels plus the Gospel of Thomas, called "The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?" Verses attributed to Jesus are color coded. At one extreme, red ink indicates material that would be expected of Jesus in the opinion of the many scholars who took part in The Jesus Seminar. Black ink indicates that it is very unlikely that Jesus uttered those words. You'd be surprised at how often black ink gets used! And, we are dealing with optimistic scholars who think that Jesus existed and that we can extract many of his words from the Gospels. You really ought to read that book, not only to see how the different verses rate but to get some serious scholarly background on interpreting the Gospels.

My belief in God has the simplest assailable logical form: I have faith that God exists. That implies a certain program for investing faith, though I haven't thought much about what the details of that program are and whether the faith I invest in the proposition that God exists is good or worthy.

I appreciate your frankness. Truth can be very elusive and hard to corral, and we always have to be open to new facts and ideas. In particular, we must always keep in mind, somewhere, that we might be wrong.

arakish's picture
And don't forget the

And don't forget the Principle of Uniformitarianism. Simply stated: What we can sense/detect happening today is same exact thing that happened thousands, millions, even billions of year ago.

rmfr

calhais's picture
Suppose you're talking about

Suppose you're talking about causation. Anything that consistently causes something else to happen, seemingly regardless of when you perform the experiment, is said to abide by the principle of uniformity because the causation is temporally invariant over the trial period. But if we're investigating causation and we observe temporal variation, then rather than pointing out that this is an example of where the principle of uniformity fails, we suddenly reject that what we observed was causation, by appeal to the definition of causation. That interplay between the definition of causation and the principle of uniformity is acceptable, but it makes it seem like uniformitarianism is less a matter of principle and more a matter of definition, and that makes it seem arbitrary and a bit trite.

calhais's picture
Every time you drive

Every time you drive somewhere (or take public transit) you are trusting your senses to a high degree!

Not necessarily; accepting risk is rather the opposite of trusting the source of the risk, and that's part of why we make safeguards like seat belts.

The whole point of the scientific method (in its broadest sense) is to maximize our chances of being right in evaluating the empirical data of the real world.

Fine, but think of the question that statement answers. Consider a person who asks, `what is the point of the scientific method?' The base response, 'to maximize the degree to which we are right,' flows directly into another question: `what do you mean by `right'?' What on Earth are we supposed to ground this hand-wavy nonsense in?

The bulk of my post attempted to explain why we must deal with empirical data and was not simply a naïve acceptance of it.

I read your post again, and I agree. In your terms, though, the point of the OP is not to determine why we must deal with empirical data, but how to deal with empirical data in general, and why we ought to deal with it that way.

Inductive reasoning is that of model building, which requires empirical evidence if addressing the real world.

It's great that you can distinguish inductive from deductive reasoning in an abstract way, but you didn't actually explain what it is that you think distinguishes reasoning from evidence. It would be a lot better if you grounded your claims in a concrete example. One of the problems with your distinction between inductive and deductive reasoning is that they are related by algebra. If you have a computational model of a real system, then you take propositions like '428nm absorbance is 0.765 in well 4C' as inputs into the algorithm given by the model. Then, you perform the algorithm, which is essentially deductive. If you would call propositions like the example I just gave `empirical evidence,' then you've passed empirical evidence through a deductive argument, leading (for the sake of example) certainly, into a prediction. The uncertainty arises from and is often restricted to whether the prediction, which itself is a proposition like `436nm absorbance in well 4C will be 0.268' is the same proposition as what you will later come to pass into your algorithm. It may be that your prediction was wrong, and the 436nm absorbance in well 4C turned out to be 0.291. Then you will modify your original algorithm using another model, which provides an algorithm to modify models. Notice that what once was reasoning--a model--is now being treated as `evidence' according to the distinction you seem to have made. Please clarify why the model itself isn't empirical evidence, or name it empirical evidence.

You provide this meta-algorithm with the propositions that describe your current model for the real system, and the meta-algorithm again applies what I guess you would call deductive reasoning to produce a prediction: a modified model for the real system. If inductive reasoning is model-building, then I fail to see how you could call the meta-model a deductive model; perhaps you would call it an inductive model. But it isn't necessarily the case that you correctly identified the original model of the real system as being a model directly of the real system, and if you didn't, then there's more to consider here. So, you should also define the word `model' as you use it.

I reject the idea that we can apply pure reason and arrive at any conclusions about the real world a priori. Even empty space, as basic as it may seem, need not conform to a priori ideas.

No, but the real world also doesn't need to conform to a posteriori ideas. It sounds like the distinction you're trying to make is not a priori vs. a posteriori, but accidentally right vs. willfully right reasoning. Correct me on that if I guessed wrong, and we can go from there.

The "social" argument (is it an argument?) for your belief in God strikes me as rather loose.

The field of social psychology strikes me as shaky outright, but so does the field of physics. I think that the feeling of what's shaky and what isn't is likewise prone to all sorts of subtle psychological errors.

In particular, we must always keep in mind, somewhere, that we might be wrong.

I mean, it's hardly a matter of keeping it in mind. Literally everyone is often wrong. The real fruits of science are its models because under a fairly popular set of ways of figuring out (by which I mean defining) whether something is right or wrong, its models seem to make us less wrong and more right. We must also keep in mind, somewhere, that there may be more useful ways to figure out whether something is right or wrong and more right or wrong ways to figure out whether something is useful. It isn't quite as simple as getting to call some propositions `facts' in general.

Greensnake's picture
[Every time you drive

[Every time you drive somewhere (or take public transit) you are trusting your senses to a high degree!-Greensnake]

Not necessarily; accepting risk is rather the opposite of trusting the source of the risk, and that's part of why we make safeguards like seat belts.

I am surprised that you would quibble over my statement. The point is that you rely heavily (trust in) your senses in order to drive anywhere. How would you know when to turn right or left, go straight, or stop? You trust that your senses give meaningful data. Therefore, you claim that our collective senses can't be trusted, without heavy qualification, is absurd.

[The whole point of the scientific method (in its broadest sense) is to maximize our chances of being right in evaluating the empirical data of the real world.-Greensnake]

Fine, but think of the question that statement answers. Consider a person who asks, `what is the point of the scientific method?' The base response, 'to maximize the degree to which we are right,' flows directly into another question: `what do you mean by `right'?' What on Earth are we supposed to ground this hand-wavy nonsense in?

I thought I made that reasonably clear in my first, long post. Perhaps this is a good time for you to re-read, once more, those parts of my post. "Credibility" was the answer, and I gave some pathways for credibility to be attached to a scientific hypothesis. Certainty is not in the cards, so any idea of an air-tight grounding is nonsense.

[Inductive reasoning is that of model building, which requires empirical evidence if addressing the real world.-Greensnake]

It's great that you can distinguish inductive from deductive reasoning in an abstract way, but you didn't actually explain what it is that you think distinguishes reasoning from evidence.

Reasoning about the nature of the real world would constitute the thinking that good philosophers/logicians/mathematicians do when they create a model based on empirical evidence and test its predicted observations of empirical evidence.

For example, we might construct a mathematical model that predicts the depth of large river channels. The inductive reasoning process would create the model, and deductive reasoning would connect that model (with respect to particular empirical inputs) to a prediction of empirical data that we would expect to find if we actually measured the depth of that channel. (With each success, and no flops that can't be easily patched, the model gains credibility.)

The thing to note is that the reasoning process says nothing about the real world if we take away the empirical data. Inductive reasoning goes from empirical data (the basic facts) to an explanatory framework (model). You can't create a model about the real world unless you have empirical data on which to build. Deductive reasoning takes us from a model to predicted observations of empirical data. It can't start with a model that doesn't exist for lack of empirical data. Therefore, pure reason (without benefit of empirical data) has no logical connection with the real world. The old ontological attempt to create God out of pure reason therefore fails. It fails for other reasons as well.

[I reject the idea that we can apply pure reason and arrive at any conclusions about the real world a priori. Even empty space, as basic as it may seem, need not conform to a priori ideas.-Greensnake]

No, but the real world also doesn't need to conform to a posteriori ideas. It sounds like the distinction you're trying to make is not a priori vs. a posteriori, but accidentally right vs. willfully right reasoning. Correct me on that if I guessed wrong, and we can go from there.

As I mentioned above, reasoning about the nature of the real world either connects empirical data with models or models with predictions involving empirical data. Thus, I see no way to know anything about the real world without acknowledging the need for empirical data.

A system of pure logic without benefit of empirical data, such as the rules for chess, is self-contained. There is no logical reference to anything outside of it! The rules for chess know nothing about the rules for checkers or the rules for the game of go, much less about mountains, rivers, and valleys! Even the concept of space on the chess board has no logical relationship to our space. How, then, can you draw conclusions about the real world from such a system? You can't reason God into existence. You really do have to start with the empirical data born of observations. And, that is what many atheists ask for.

[The "social" argument (is it an argument?) for your belief in God strikes me as rather loose.-Greensnake]

The field of social psychology strikes me as shaky outright, but so does the field of physics. I think that the feeling of what's shaky and what isn't is likewise prone to all sorts of subtle psychological errors.

I assume that your knowledge of physics is limited. Physics is a lot stronger than you might imagine. Knowledge has reached a point where our confidence in the conservation principles (for example, the conservation of energy or momentum) goes far beyond merely noting that they always work. Everything boils down to the four fundamental force fields, and if any fundamental force fields yet remain to be discovered they would have to be hiding in very limited and awkward ranges.

That is, we have the strongest possible reasons for rejecting the speculative magic that theologians attach to God.

We must also keep in mind, somewhere, that there may be more useful ways to figure out whether something is right or wrong and more right or wrong ways to figure out whether something is useful. It isn't quite as simple as getting to call some propositions `facts' in general.

We should, indeed, be open to new data and methods. Until then, we must place our bets on what works best by actual test. That means accepting the "scientific method" wholeheartedly and without holding out for something else. If the situation changes, then is the time to re-evaluate.

calhais's picture
The point is that you rely

The point is that you rely heavily (trust in) your senses in order to drive anywhere.

Under the claim that `rely on' = `trust in,' I agree.

You trust that your senses give meaningful data.

No, those aren't the same things. I can assume my senses can give me reliable data, but it would be stupid of me to assume that they always do. More important is how I figure out when they give me reliable data, and when not.

[Your] claim that our collective senses can't be trusted, without heavy qualification, is absurd.

I assume you mean you don't agree. I believe I've already qualified my claim about our senses: they cannot be trusted absolutely. Moreover, I wonder how you could know when and when not to place faith in your senses without relying on your senses in some way.

[Fine, but think of the question that statement answers. Consider a person who asks, `what is the point of the scientific method?' The base response, 'to maximize the degree to which we are right,' flows directly into another question: `what do you mean by `right'?' What on Earth are we supposed to ground this hand-wavy nonsense in?]

"Credibility" was the answer, and I gave some pathways for credibility to be attached to a scientific hypothesis.

All right, let's look at the part of your earlier post where you gave some of the properties of credibility.

A model gains a great deal of credibility when it goes beyond the facts that gave rise to it and predicts some really cool stuff, predictions that check out and allow further investigation and insight.

Since an infinite number of logical explanations (models) apply to any collection of facts, 100% certainty cannot be had. How does one rule out, in practice, an infinite number of logically possible alternatives? The nice thing is that we don't need certainty! Our airplanes fly quite well based on conclusions that are "merely" highly credible. Credibility, then, is the currency of statements about the real world--not certainty. Therefore, every model will have loopholes. Those loopholes may be microscopic or huge, farfetched or serious. Scientists deal with a reality that generally supports only a limited number of credible models, allowing them to bypass the infinite number of models that are totally farfetched. Certainty is thus lost, but meaningful knowledge is thereby gained, knowledge measured in terms of credibility.

The first pathway you gave for building credibility was this: a model is credible when its predictions match later observations. Wonderful. That isn't the end, though. One of the central questions I'm trying to put forward here is how you know that predictions match observations. This decomposes into two questions: how do you know what the predictions are, and how do you know what the observations are? This ties in closely with our discussion about faith in the senses, and I doubt if we can really resolve this part of the discussion without first resolving that one.

You go on about planes, and in address to your more general point there, I'd like to say that I agree that the models we got with the scientific method, or, if they are older, without it, do work often. But they don't work perfectly, and part of how we improve as thinking beings is by analyzing the ways our models fail and changing them. Just because we deem the certainty of a model sufficient for a particular purpose does not make the model unworthy of further attention and improvement.

Another thing that you seem not to have addressed in depth is that despite the uncertainty of the world, we must still act and make choices--we must somehow draw rather absolute decisions from uncertain conditions; it isn't always acceptable to go with what will most likely work, and yet we must do something. Part of a moral epistemology is a program for connecting knowledge to actions.

Another excerpt from your section on crediblity:

The chief strength of the scientific method is that it has refined the intellectual (and physical!) tools to maximize a credible investigation of the real world. And, we don't have to take someone's word for it.

We often do have to take someone's word for it, and the appeal to authority is part of what credibility is about. This is one of the reasons why we have peer review in scientific journals. I wasn't sure what you meant when you wrote `maximize a credible investigation of the real world,' and I assume that you mean to claim that the investigation of the real world using the scientific method has maximal credibility, which would be equivalent to saying that investigation of the real world using the scientific method maximally matches predictions to later observations. I would challenge you to prove that; one of the things about that claim that makes me uneasy is that it suggests that there is a maximum possible degree to which predictions can match later observation, and that the degree is not 1. That's equivalent to the claim that the real world is not `deterministic,' or that it is not possible to perfectly predict the future based on the data of the past; it would be good if you could make it clear what your stance is on determinism.

Continuing with your dramatization:

All of these findings fit together into a tapestry of interlocking, known facts even as they open vistas to new frontiers. That adds a large degree of credibility to them.

This suggests that there is some measure of `connectivity' (a better word than `interlocking-ness') of a system of propositions that is related to their credibility. Would you explain that relationship more fully? I know that you wrote this:

A high confidence level means that a model fits nicely into the greater, woven fabric of accepted (tested), interlocking knowledge, that it accounts not only for known data but predicts unexpected results that are confirmed, that it opens new vistas to meaningful exploration, and that it suffers no serious contradictions with observation. A high confidence level (interchangeable with "credibility") in a model means that within its framework lots of facts fit together that would otherwise have no good explanation.

And you equated credibility with a statistical notion of a confidence interval. That is at odds with the derivation of Fisherian statistics, at least, since the confidence interval itself is founded on the assumption of a probability distribution, which isn't entailed by the colloquial use of the word `credibility.'

This is an important distinction, but you stated it vaguely:

The currency of the real world is the degree of credibility, not certainty.

You never defined certainty. Do so now.

Reasoning about the nature of the real world would constitute the thinking that good philosophers/logicians/mathematicians do when they create a model based on empirical evidence and test its predicted observations of empirical evidence.

For example, we might construct a mathematical model that predicts the depth of large river channels. The inductive reasoning process would create the model, and deductive reasoning would connect that model (with respect to particular empirical inputs) to a prediction of empirical data that we would expect to find if we actually measured the depth of that channel. (With each success, and no flops that can't be easily patched, the model gains credibility.)

The thing to note is that the reasoning process says nothing about the real world if we take away the empirical data. Inductive reasoning goes from empirical data (the basic facts) to an explanatory framework (model). You can't create a model about the real world unless you have empirical data on which to build. Deductive reasoning takes us from a model to predicted observations of empirical data. It can't start with a model that doesn't exist for lack of empirical data. Therefore, pure reason (without benefit of empirical data) has no logical connection with the real world. The old ontological attempt to create God out of pure reason therefore fails. It fails for other reasons as well.

That is a clearer way to say what you said in your last comment, but you're really talking past me here. I'm going to try again and write better this time.

There are at least two problems with your model for reasoning and empirical evidence: the first problem is that you didn't make it clear how you can gather empirical evidence without using models, since you still haven't explicitly defined empirical evidence (try starting with `empirical evidence is . . .'); the second problem is that you didn't make it clear whether you think that inductive reasoning and empirical evidence can be the same thing.

PROBLEM 1 is that you haven't made a way to gather empirical evidence without relying on models; thus, you haven't made a way to gather initial empirical evidence about a natural system in a way that would justify you calling it empirical evidence rather than reasoning. I am not going to focus on this problem so much because it could be resolved easily if you give a strong, explicit definition of `empirical evidence.' I will mention that it follows from an argument similar to the one I give about Problem 2 and that I will lay it out if we don't seem to get anywhere with Problem 1.

PROBLEM 2 is that you didn't make it clear whether you think that inductive reasoning and empirical evidence can be the same thing. Suppose you find a way to rigorously resolve Problem 1 so that you can gather initial empirical evidence without using a model about the natural system that governs how you gather empirical evidence; imagine that you gather a set of propositions--I label this set of propositions JE0--that constitute empirical evidence about the nature of a system, which I label natural system J. From this set of propositions, you induce a particular model for the system, which I label model A0. From model A0, you deduce a set of predictions--I label this set of predictions JP1--about the future nature of the system. Now, you test your predictions--you try to determine the credibility of the model; suppose you go on to get your new set of empirical evidence--a set of propositions, which I label JE1, about the natural system J. How do you revise model A0 to account for the new information about natural system J?

Notice that in this conversation, we have been using the model of models! That is, we have been calling the ways we think about natural systems `models,' and thus, we have been modeling how we model natural systems. Likewise, the way you choose to revise model A0 in response to the new information about natural system J can itself be viewed as a natural system, which I label natural system MJ. We model natural system MJ using a model I label model MA; model MA explains how we decide to modify model A0 in response to new information about the natural system J. What counts as empirical evidence about natural system MJ? Well, natural system MJ is the system of how we revise model A0 in response to new information about natural system J, so one kind of empirical evidence that describes natural system MJ is what model A0 is at a given time, and also how well the set of predictions (JP1) deduced from model A0 matches new empirical evidence about natural system J. Since what model A0 is at a given time is a part of the empirical evidence that describes natural system MJ, we can induce model MA as soon as we induce model A0. After gathering empirical evidence JE1 and predictions JP1, we can consider them in our deductions to produce a revised version of model A0 that accounts for the new information, JE1, about natural system J. I label this updated version of model A0 model A1. Model A1 is essentially the prediction deduced from model MA after accounting for empirical evidence JE1 and predictions JP1. If model A1 fails to make good predictions about natural system J, then we can backtrack later to find a model AE1 that would have accurately predicted the most recent evidence about natural system J, and model AE1 would be the new evidence about system MJ that we compare to model A1 in order to determine the credibility of model MJ.*

Now, I point out the problem: notice that model MA is the inductive reasoning used to produce and update model A. Suppose I take this whole argument one step further: I consider a model MMA that we use to induce and update model MA; model MMA is the model for the natural system MMJ, which is the system of how we think about and update model MA in response to predictions and empirical evidence about natural system MJ. However, what model MA is at a given time constitutes empirical evidence about natural system MMJ. Thus, model MA is both empirical evidence (about natural system MMJ) and inductive reasoning (that which produces and updates model A). Therefore, empirical evidence can be inductive reasoning, and inductive reasoning can be empirical evidence under the definitions you gave. The point of the original question was to get you to define the difference between reasoning and evidence, but this shows that under the implicit definitions that you gave, there may not always be a difference. I guess that you believe that there is always a difference between reasoning and empirical evidence, so you need to update your definitions of empirical evidence and inductive reasoning in a way that invalidates the above argument about Problem 2.

*Notice, therefore, that model AE1 will be the newly updated model A after model A1 has been tested; model AE1 could simply be called model A2. In this way, every prediction deduced from model MA will become a part of the evidence considered in updating model MA, so prediction and empirical evidence can be the same thing under your given definitions.

Thus, I see no way to know anything about the real world without acknowledging the need for empirical data.

I've said this a few times now, so let's try to get past it, okay? Until you define `empirical data,' it isn't possible to know that we're writing about the same thing.

A system of pure logic without benefit of empirical data, such as the rules for chess, is self-contained. There is no logical reference to anything outside of it! The rules for chess know nothing about the rules for checkers or the rules for the game of go, much less about mountains, rivers, and valleys!

If you want to go down that road, then you need to address the following, ideally in order.

  1. You're being uncogent because you're using terms that depend heavily on each other in unusual ways but you aren't defining the terms. I'm pointing out the adjective `self-contained' here. Define it, define `system of pure logic,' explain how something can wholly lack any connection to empirical data, and prove that all systems of pure logic are self-contained;
  2. Define `logical reference,' define `inside of' and `outside of' as they apply to systems of pure logic, and prove that no system of pure logic references anything outside of itself;
  3. Considering your definition for `system of pure logic,' define `rule' in the context of a game, and prove that the sets of rules of chess, go, and checkers each constitute a separate systems of pure logic.

There is no such thing as logic that is inherently unrelated to empirical evidence because we are the sole bearers of logic and we ourselves are natural systems, and as natural systems we can be sources of empirical evidence about natural systems. Some logic is good, and some is bad--and that depends on the standard of comparison--but with regard only to whether or not a logic is related or unrelated to empirical evidence, all logics are the same.

I assume that your knowledge of physics is limited. Physics is a lot stronger than you might imagine. Knowledge has reached a point where our confidence in the conservation principles (for example, the conservation of energy or momentum) goes far beyond merely noting that they always work. Everything boils down to the four fundamental force fields, and if any fundamental force fields yet remain to be discovered they would have to be hiding in very limited and awkward ranges.

I'm no physics major, but I can read, and I know a bit of algebra. I also know that the six sigma standard for error reporting in particle physics isn't very reassuring. Moreover, modern statistical analysis isn't necessarily the best way to compare the strengths of experimental scientific fields and results.

That is, we have the strongest possible reasons for rejecting the speculative magic that theologians attach to God.

I don't know where you were going with that, but I'm going to point out that the strongest of any set of reasons still isn't necessarily a strong reason, and in application to this claim of yours, having the strongest possible reasons for rejecting the speculative magic that theologians attach to God isn't the same as having strong reasons to reject the speculative magic that theologians attach to God.

Greensnake's picture
calhais,

calhais,

I can assume my senses can give me reliable data, but it would be stupid of me to assume that they always do. More important is how I figure out when they give me reliable data, and when not.

No assumption is actually necessary. When I say that we can trust our senses I am saying that the data they provide normally allows us to drive about the city and do the other things of routine life. We trust our senses for the same reason that we trust a good doctor, namely on the basis of past experience.

Of course, I'm not claiming that sensory data always produces reliable results, and I agree with your tangential statement that it is important to identify the types of sensory data that support reliable models. (I assume that is what you meant.) Note that in order to identify sensory data that yield reliable models, we work from past experience. We see the office door and make use of our model of that part of the real world to confidently conclude that it is our exit point, that we turn the knob and open the door. We don't try to walk through the wall. Our initial exploration of the real world is what gives meaning to sensory data that might, at first, be confusing. And there is probably a genetic component as well in that some ancestral species may have initially hard-wired in the meanings of some sensory data.

Moreover, I wonder how you could know when and when not to place faith in your senses without relying on your senses in some way.

Since we are not dealing with certainty, but rather with credibility based on experience, there is no problem in using models based on sensory data to evaluate other models based on sensory data! (We lose faith in our senses if the models of reality they support fail. Our basic assumption is that our collective senses--thus excusing malfunctioning individuals--do report something about the real world. Trusting our collective senses, then, would not be about whether they fetch data from the real world--that being assumed. Such trust would reflect the reliability of those models the data gives rise to.)

In short, we would not place our trust in sensory data that contradicts sensory data having a much higher credibility. If we saw T-Rex crossing a street, perhaps after an all-night party bash, we might reasonably conclude that our senses were unreliable in producing a good model.

The first pathway you gave for building credibility was this: a model is credible [gains credibility would be better--Greensnake] when its predictions match later observations. Wonderful. That isn't the end, though. One of the central questions I'm trying to put forward here is how you know that predictions match observations. This decomposes into two questions: how do you know what the predictions are, and how do you know what the observations are?

We begin with the basic assumption that our collective senses do meaningfully relate to the real world. Predictions are deductions from a model (of some aspect of the real world) that describe the empirical data we should find if the model is right. Observations are statistically reliable reports/data that describe certain conditions in the real world. In this case those observations would be relevant to testing the model.

One scientific model held that a certain species of ant, that inhabited a trackless waste in the Sahara, found its way back to the nest by "counting" its steps. A key prediction of that model is that if those legs were artificially lengthened (by attaching little stilts) then returning ants would overshoot the nest. The scientist performed the experiment and observed that those ants really did overshoot their nest! Your concern about defining predictions and observations (as related to science) is well and good, but for our purposes it does seem like a waste of time.

Another thing that you seem not to have addressed in depth is that despite the uncertainty of the world, we must still act and make choices--we must somehow draw rather absolute decisions from uncertain conditions; it isn't always acceptable to go with what will most likely work, and yet we must do something.

A bad gambler can sometimes win by bucking the odds, but the rational strategy is always to make choices that maximize your odds at winning. Why would any rational mind bet against odds that can be improved by another choice?

[The chief strength of the scientific method is that it has refined the intellectual (and physical!) tools to maximize a credible investigation of the real world. And, we don't have to take someone's word for it.--Greensnake]

We often do have to take someone's word for it, and the appeal to authority is part of what credibility is about.

We can observe airplanes flying and indirectly partake in other wonders that would scarcely be possible if the sciences did not work spectacularly well. Which authorities should we appeal to in order to certify that experience? In science, the appeal is always to the evidence. Nobody, however famous, writes a paper and ends it by saying it's correct because he, the world's expert, said so!

The proper use of scientific authority is as a convenient handle for referencing a body of work, a reference that carries considerable credibility. Thus, we say that a solid scientific consensus wholly justifies our acceptance of the global warming hypothesis. We accept global warming not because those authorities said so but because of the highly credible work they did and the fact that they are the experts in an area that we may be unfamiliar with.

I wasn't sure what you meant when you wrote `maximize a credible investigation of the real world,' …

I meant that a great deal of research and experience has gone into the intellectual tools and methods that scientists use. As a result, they give us the best available insight into the workings of the real world. I.e., the scientific approach is significantly superior to other known methods. As to determinism, it seems that quantum mechanics has nixed that idea. There is also a paradox that I've never seen resolved. I might go with a probabilistic version of determinism.

[All of these findings fit together into a tapestry of interlocking, known facts even as they open vistas to new frontiers. That adds a large degree of credibility to them.--Greensnake]

This suggests that there is some measure of `connectivity' (a better word than `interlocking-ness') of a system of propositions that is related to their credibility. Would you explain that relationship more fully? …

Philosophers who have explored the epistemology behind the "scientific method" have spoken of such matters and you would do well to go there. I just don't see the point in digging into tedious details better covered elsewhere.

And you equated credibility with a statistical notion of a confidence interval. That is at odds with the derivation of Fisherian statistics, at least, since the confidence interval itself is founded on the assumption of a probability distribution, which isn't entailed by the colloquial use of the word `credibility.'

As indicated throughout much of my posts, I am talking about credibility. Sorry if I confused matters by using "confidence interval" here.

This is an important distinction, but you stated it vaguely:
[The currency of the real world is the degree of credibility, not certainty.--Greensnake]
You never defined certainty. Do so now.

From the point of probability "certainty" would equate to a probability of 1. Deductive logic correctly applied, in a system where the postulates are givens, yields conclusions that are certain. The area under the curve: y = -(x-1)^2 + 1, from 0 to 1, is exactly 2/3. Of that we can collectively be 100% certain.

In the real world, certainty about an hypothesis would require the elimination of all logically possible alternative hypotheses. The ability to eliminate an infinite number of hypotheses does not seem attainable, so certainty would not apply to statements about the nature of the real world. Are we going to split more philosophical hairs here? Certainty does not seem to be that difficult a concept.

Empirical evidence is that portion of the real world that serves as the ultimate starting points for a model of some aspect of the real world. A scientist observes a collection of stones whose distribution serves as empirical evidence for his model that the area was once inhabited by pre-historic humans.

PROBLEM 1 is that you haven't made a way to gather empirical evidence without relying on models; thus, you haven't made a way to gather initial empirical evidence about a natural system in a way that would justify you calling it empirical evidence rather than reasoning.

Often it is the random accumulation of facts about the real world that give rise to tentative models, so the model need not serve as an initial guide. Whether you choose to call the founding observations "empirical evidence" or not is largely a matter of semantics. The model then makes predictions that will lead to a search for the empirical evidence that determines its credibility.

PROBLEM 2 is that you didn't make it clear whether you think that inductive reasoning and empirical evidence can be the same thing.

Reasoning, viewed as an abstract inductive or deductive process, cannot be a physical part of the real world. Logic has no atoms and energy and occupies no space! Empirical evidence, as I defined it, is very much a part of the physical world. Therefore, the two can never be the same thing! The problem with philosophy is that it is absurdly easy to get lost in a cloud of details and miss the forest.

Revising a model is not difficult conceptually. You simply make changes in it to accommodate new data. It's still the current (best) model. The difficult part is in deciding whether too many of these bandages have been applied, whether the model should be scrapped in favor of a new model. That requires scientific judgment.

Now, I point out the problem: notice that model MA is the inductive reasoning used to produce and update model A.

All models about the real world are the conclusions of an inductive reasoning process. They are not the process itself. I think that you are getting buried in the cracks and crannies of a tree's bark and missing the forest. Keep in mind that in deciding how to update a model we are dealing with an algorithm. Models, as defined here, are simplified pictures of the real world--not a recipe for how to patch up a model.

[A system of pure logic without benefit of empirical data, such as the rules for chess, is self-contained. There is no logical reference to anything outside of it! The rules for chess know nothing about the rules for checkers or the rules for the game of go, much less about mountains, rivers, and valleys!--Greensnake]

I'm pointing out the adjective `self-contained' here. Define it, define `system of pure logic,' explain how something can wholly lack any connection to empirical data, and prove that all systems of pure logic are self-contained;

I have no idea why this should confuse you. "Self-contained" simply means that the system is built from deductions of postulates that are "givens." Such postulates are neither true nor false (think of a branch of mathematics or chess) and, therefore, can't say anything about the real world. Truth in such a system does not go beyond what is in the postulates. That's what I mean by "self-contained."

By "system of pure logic" I am referring to the total collection of conclusions drawn deductively from the postulates that define the system, postulates that are "givens." That is, empirical data plays no role either as inputs or as conclusions. In such systems you cannot logically arrive at any conclusions that are not already packed into the postulates. Hence, if you begin with postulates that say nothing about the real world, you cannot reach valid conclusions about the real world or those portions of it that qualify as empirical evidence.

I think that we can skip the rest of your tedious requests for definitions.

There is no such thing as logic that is inherently unrelated to empirical evidence because we are the sole bearers of logic and we ourselves are natural systems, and as natural systems we can be sources of empirical evidence about natural systems.

In what way is the logic of chess related to empirical evidence? Does it say anything about rocks and rivers? Moreover, in discussing inductive and deductive logic I am focusing on their abstract qualities, their logical properties. That we are natural systems is irrelevant to that purpose. You are conflating the logic of the reasoning process with the reasoner.

As for the intimate workings of the real world, I am more interested in what someone like Sean Carroll (famous physicist/cosmologist at Caltech) has to say than I am in what a philosopher unfamiliar with physics has to say. Sean did write a fascinating book ("The Big Picture") that might be worth your time to read.

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
@ Greensake

@ Greensake

Wheres that "applause" and "10,000 agrees" button?

Greensnake's picture
Old man shouts ...,

Old man shouts ...,

You're hired as my PR agent! That comes with free donuts and coffee!

I hope that I'm not boring our fellow forum members to death! My posts can get dangerously long and even more dangerously theoretical, like long patches of quicksand waiting to swallow up innocent travelers. I do hope that at least parts of them will seem interesting for various reasons. Some of it might actually be useful!

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
@ Greensnake,

@ Greensnake,

Fear not, I for one am grateful to you, and yes I learn something from nearly every one of your posts.

I do tend to call a spade a fucking shovel especially when it is used to cover me in bullshit. You and Arakish along with Sheldon and TBW and others always seem to answer the most conceited arrogant fucktards with logic, erudition and a good dose of evidence and citations. And I devour your posts.

Greensnake's picture
Here's a summary in a fat

Here's a summary in a fat nutshell of those miles of shifting sand dunes:

1. We begin with the basic assumption that our collective senses (thus excluding malfunctioning individuals) do fetch consistent data from a reality outside of ourselves. (We can identify rocks and trees, rivers and stars with reasonable confidence even if we have false ideas about them.) We have nothing to lose in making this assumption because, without it, we can't meaningfully talk to each other about the real world "out there." Sensory data is the only demonstrable input from that reality.

2. By "real world" I mean the universe of atoms and energy described in part by physicists, astronomers and cosmologists, by chemists and botanists, and by scientists in general. I include anything that can physically affect elements of that reality.

3. If a theist believes in a god who created, and can affect, the real world, then that god is part of the real world by definition.

4. We recognize and use two basic forms of reasoning: Deductive and Inductive. 100% certainty can only be had if we operate within a deductive system that is defined by its postulates. Such postulates define the system, so it makes no sense whatsoever to ask if they are true or false. You might as well ask whether the rules for the venerable Japanese game of go are true or false! A meaningless question! Branches of mathematics, chess, checkers, and go are examples of such deductive systems. Everything that you can do on the chessboard, or the go board, or everything you can discover in a branch of math, is teased out of the postulates. You can't go beyond what is in the postulates. You can't use the rules of checkers to say anything about mountains or trees or chess.

Deductive systems can be set up with postulates that are chosen to reflect the real world, but that begs the question as to whether they do, in fact, reflect the real world with 100% certainty. Thus, the real argument becomes a case of inductive reasoning over the veracity of the postulates.

Inductive reasoning about the real world begins with those recognized elements (basic facts) in the real world that will be used to reach the conclusion. Call them "empirical evidence." Our conclusion is a model (our best mental picture to explain the empirical evidence). Thus, inductive reasoning about the real world is a path that connects parts of the real world to a model about the real world. In science models are almost always mathematical and capture only the essential core, the important ideas, the main framework that allows a reasonable test of them. (The math becomes impossible if you include all the messy--and usually irrelevant--details in the model.)

5. Inductive reasoning, then, is the only form of reasoning that we know of that can say anything about the real world, and every inductive argument about the real world must be founded on empirical evidence. Thus, any valid argument about God's existence in the real world must be anchored in empirical evidence, "God" being the model (conclusion) reached. Note that God can't be reasoned into existence without a reliance on empirical evidence. Pure reason (a deductive system defined by its postulates) is a self-contained system in that none of its valid conclusions can go beyond what is packed into its postulates. And, if a set of postulates define a system, such as checkers, then they are "givens" and not something that might prove true or false. Such systems of pure reason can't say anything about the real world. A statement about the real world would have to be true in order for us to learn anything about that world!

6. An atheist, therefore, has every right to ask the theist for empirical evidence for God's existence. There is nothing logically improper or prejudiced about such a request. Attempts by theists to argue that God's existence follow from pure reason, without a peek at the real world, is nonsense unless by "God" they are referring to something that cannot affect the real world.

arakish's picture
I am stealing this ^^^^ so I

I am stealing this ^^^^ so I can continue referencing it offline...

rmfr

Sheldon's picture
An excellent post. To be

An excellent post. To be clear when you say 'empirical evidence' would subjective opinion about our reality (see Someone's posts if you can bear it) be equally as valid as objective evidence validated by say science? I'm kidding of course.

As I say excellent post, now if you can just get it down to two sentences you'll have a winner.

Again kidding, in case it's not clear...

Pages

Donating = Loving

Heart Icon

Bringing you atheist articles and building active godless communities takes hundreds of hours and resources each month. If you find any joy or stimulation at Atheist Republic, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

Or make a one-time donation in any amount.