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Oct 06 2013

Open thread on episode 834: Russell and Lynnea

Pre-posting this link about 15 minutes before we go live. (Ignore the schedule, which says it was Matt and Martin. Neither is available today.)

113 comments

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  1. 1
    Dirty Nerdy

    I finally get to watch a live episode!

  2. 2
    Jasper of Maine

    Color me surprised that the presuppositionist quickly falls back to “prove it! provide evidence!” when someone else assumes his position.

    Also, internal consistency doesn’t mean it’s correct, nor does internal inconsistency necessarily means it’s wrong.

    It could be that my understanding of how my computer works is rough, fallacious, and several of my understandings of how it work contradict a bit… but generally, I’m on the right track, and am in the ballpark.

    .. that does not mean that the internally consistent assertion that computers are ran by interdimensional ghosts is true.

    His world view is very honed towards being automatically correct, regardless of any actual evidence or reasoning… especially when any contradictory statement can be rationalized away.

    For example: “Russell is on planet Earth and is not on planet Earth.”

    Here’s some explanations.

    1) The statement is talking about two clones of Russell who are on different planets.

    2) Russell is in a state of space time flux, phasing in and out of the space time continuum so that his location on the planet is only partial.

    As it turns out, few apparent contradictions survive the “common sense” that the caller loves so much.

  3. 3
    Pink No More

    The moment someone uses the special-pleading bullshit of “God’s nature”, feel free to hang up on them. They aren’t interested in an honest discussion if they have to change the rules for their Sky-Daddy.

  4. 4
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Mistake 1 of caller 1. He confuses complete and consistent. He put a little bit in there about “how does the “atheistic woroldview” explain the constancy of logical truths?”. My answer “I don’t know if that sentence is even well-formed, and if it is, then I do not know. However, I do not know does not mean it’s inconsistent. I await your demonstration that it’s inconsistent.”

    I half expect then he would argue that the only possible source for the constancy of logical truths is a god-thing. I would ask “How do you know that?”. Then, he would just assert it again with slightly different phrasing, but he wouldn’t actually give a justification. Maybe he would realize that. Maybe he wouldn’t.

    Mistake 2 of caller 1. I can take the Bible and tweak some story in there, some irrelevant side-story, maybe just swap a word like “hot” for “burning hot”. Maybe a slightly more complex change. That’s a different world view. It’s a different text. It’s very similar to his world view, but it’s still distinct. And I have every reason to think that there have been mistakes in copying scripture which we do not know about because we have lots of evidence that there have been mistakes in copying scripture which we do know about. Thus, I have an alternative world view which is just as correct as his, for exactly the same reasons as his. I suppose he might try to weasel in some holy spirit bullshit about preserving the bible, and I would ask him “How do you know that?”. Because, at that point, he would have just inserted another hidden premise that only the Christian bible can be the word of the sole god, which is just an exercise of begging the question.

    1. 4.1
      Monocle Smile

      Presuppositionalists do love their word salad. And their endless ad hoc crap.

      AronRa has called presuppositionalism “head-desk” apologetics, and it’s very easy to see why.

    2. 4.2
      EnlightenmentLiberal

      Oh, Mistake 3 of caller 1. Assuming that there is a correct world view (under his unfairly strict definition of correct). His argument is: Well, every other world view has a problem except this one. Thus this one is correct. Reply: No, maybe they’re all wrong. Maybe there is no world view that allows humans to know absolute truth. Maybe all of our knowledge is held only to some finite degree of certainty less than absolute certainty. Maybe for any belief you hold, there will be future evidence and argument which can change your mind. Maybe you are not close-minded. Maybe you’re a reasonable person who uses evidence-based reasoning, skepticism, and the scientific method.

      So, I probably would have jumped in right there and said “I reject the possibility of knowable absolute truth except perhaps in a few trivial cases and maybe not even then.”

    3. 4.3
      Houndentenor

      1. The Bible is not internally consistent.

      2. There is no explanation of the natural world that covers everything. There’s still a lot we don’t know.

      3. How can someone claim that no other religion does or says anything. There are thousands of religions (and tens of thousands at least sects of those religions). I don’t know how anyone could study them all well enough to draw such a conclusion. It seems likely that at least one of them is at least as internally consistent as Christianity. After all, the Christians haven’t really set the bar nearly as high as they think they have.

      1. Jasper of Maine

        3. How can someone claim that no other religion does or says anything. There are thousands of religions (and tens of thousands at least sects of those religions). I don’t know how anyone could study them all well enough to draw such a conclusion

        Worse yet, he said “world views”, not “religions”, which is wider. There’s an infinite number of possible world views.

        In order to have examined the infinite number of world views to establish that they were all inconsistent, he’d have to be omniscient. He’s not omniscient, so therefore he hasn’t… therefore, it fails as his only justification to defend the “impossibility of the contrary” claim, and his whole presupposition position falls apart (not that it was actually a strong position in the first place).

  5. 5
    JT Rager

    Lynnea’s method of asserting that she created the universe is my new favorite technique by TAE. She did something similar last time and the Theists on both accounts had to (or should have had to) recognize that they were using flawed logic. I don’t think this guy seemed to get that his methodology for determining the truth was flawed, but she made it hilariously clear. I look forward to seeing her again.

    1. 5.1
      heicart

      I agree it was brilliant to watch. The caller stammered and stumbled for about a good minute, unable to even get a complete sentence out. I don’t advocate “laughing at” callers. But his bald assertion that all other world views lack internal consistency, while falling back on “prove your claims” after he saw he couldn’t call her out on “internal consistency” faults–was obvious. As you note, the caller may not have seen it, but it’s likely that in a few years, we’ll be getting letters from people saying “I was a presuppositionalist, and your show contributed to my deconversion.” Callers like this are like volunteers for demonstration of why the arguments fail.

      1. Houndentenor

        Agreed. Loved it. Way to go Lynnea!

        The caller wasn’t the typical low-information theist. I think there’s hope for him to realize that his own beliefs are as unfounded as Lynnea’s claims.

        1. Richard Gomes

          “The caller wasn’t the typical low-information theist.”. Indeed.

          Sometimes I get confused with theists who back classical speechs of Carl Sagan for example, but suddenly start to refute what they were just backing moments before.

    2. 5.2
      Peter Horsepucky

      I have mixed feelings on it. It’s fun, and does a good job of getting the point across, but sometimes treads a bit close to farcical. It’s refreshing though, I like that each host has their own style.

      1. jacobfromlost

        I loved Lynnea’s approach. She simply lets the caller set the rules, and then plays by them…and then watches as the caller squirms and complains that the very rules they set don’t work.

        Satirical, not farcical.

    3. 5.3
      Charity Benham

      I agree, this technique was absolutely brilliant, and she did it in a matter of fact, gentle way. Her actual delivery (a much more sophisticated response than the classic, “prove that unicorns don’t exist” response when Xtians ask us to “prove that god doesn’t exist.”

      1. rrpostal

        I’m not convinced that the stammering was due to the novelty of the approach or from the caller’s lack of confidence with the pre-sup script. Don’t get me wrong, I love the “I can claim silly things, too” approach. But this guy was just trying the new fad in christian apologetics on for size and it didn’t fit him very well. Every response was “well then what I’d say…” How ’bout you just say it? I’m thinking presuppositionalism can’t be very fulfilling to argue. There’s just not enough involved to satisfy anyone who is remotely intellectual or recognizes it as a “dividing by zero” type of simplistic word game. In that respect, I loved how Lynnea made the caller respond in all the right ways. Reminded me of “The best caller ever” (google if you don’t remember that one).

  6. 6
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Caller 3(?). Faith is not trust, although sometimes they’re used interchangeably. In this context, trust is the expectation of future events which you form based on your past experience. If someone is generally trustworthy, then you can trust them in the future to be trustworthy. Thus, if the scientific community is generally legit, then you can trust them in the future to be generally legit.

    Compare and contrast with the religious community: The scientific community says that they do these experiments, and that they get these results. The religious community never claims to do repeatable experiments, and instead argues solely from books and personal unrepeatable experience. Scientists frequently checks the results of other scientists, and they can do this because the operate in repeatable experiments. Religious people cannot fact check each other like this because it’s all what some book says and personal non-repeatable experience.

    In short, I use evidence-based reasoning, and I use evidence-based reasoning to conclude that scientists generally do not lie when they do experiments and use evidence-based reasoning.

    I also use evidence-based reasoning to conclude that some or a lot of religious people generally do not lie about their religious experiences and texts. However, even if they are not lying about their religious experiences and texts, it does not follow that they are right. They are not claiming to follow skepticism and the scientific method, and thus even if they are entirely honest that they had whatever experiences they’ve claimed to have, it does not follow that they’re right.

    Another important difference. It is highly implausible that all of the scientists are lying to me. Such a thing wold be equivalent to living in The Truman Show movie as Truman. It is very important to note that this argument does not invoke a conspiracy amongst the religious people. There is no conspiracy. I believe most of them are being entirely honest, but even in honesty one should not conclude that they are right. Their reasoning is bad. Their personal experiences are not convincing to me, and even if I had their personal experience, my personal experience would not be convincing to me. I’ve seen this most beautifully described by this very blog here:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2013/01/21/the-argument-from-it-just-makes-sense-to-me/
    They’re entirely honest, and their conclusions do not follow from their available evidence and experience.

  7. 7
    michaelmortensen

    i got the night vale reference and appreciated it.

  8. 8
    Matt Gerrans

    Caller 1 says roughly, “ultimately if you take every world view and reason it out logically (or consistently), every one except the Christian one falls apart in contradiction and absurdity.” Ha! Read the Bible, man! The Christian story is so full of contradiction and absurdity, it is too big a task to even begin to list all the places. Read the book then read some books about the book; if you don’t know where to start, try some of Bart Ehrman’s eminently readable works, then move on to Richard Carrier, the Skeptics Annotated Bible (online) and then look at their bibliographies and the bibliographies in the bibliographies for a virtually endless list of other work that finds errors in your perfectly consistent mythology.

    By the way, where, precisely in The Bible does it define what “God’s nature” is and whether he is allowed to violate it? Where does it say he can’t “physically” (whatever that means for an immaterial being outside space and time!) do anything inconsistent with his “nature?” Where does it say he can’t lie? Chapter and verse, please. You can’t just make up stuff and add that to the theology! (BTW, I can think of a couple examples of god lying in the Bible and since I’m not a Bible scholar, that probably means there are hundreds).

    Regarding the story of Moses’ parlor tricks with sticks and snakes: Yes, anyone can say that a god sent them. And anyone can make up a story about someone who said a god sent them and add miracles to that story to draw in the credulous. Get it?

    It is also worth noting that (in the story) Moses turned a staff into a snake, miraculously with the help of the One True God, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who Died On The Cross For Our Sins (yeah, that’s exactly what it says there in the Old Testament! No jokin’!). So how the heck did the pharaoh’s wise men do the exact same trick? (If you don’t believe me, go read your book!) Is god helping them too, or are there other gods helping them? If the wise men were using mere trickery, why was Moses channeling god to do miracles? Because the story says so, of course. Self-consistent, my ass.

    Finally, for the AXP folks, can you please add a link to these blog/comments on the Atheist-experience homepage? (If it is already there somewhere, then it is too hard to find!)

    1. 8.1
      Jasper of Maine

      By the way, where, precisely in The Bible does it define what “God’s nature” is and whether he is allowed to violate it?

      The whole “it’s God’s nature” thing is unintelligible. What exactly determined this “nature” of his? Why is his nature such that he cannot tell the truth, as opposed to not being able to lie? If nothing is restricting God… imposing this restriction on him, doesn’t that mean that this nature, of being unable to lie, is completely arbitrary?

      They think they’ve solved a problem, when all they’v e done is reduced the argument down to:

      “Can’t God lie?”
      “No”
      “Why not”
      “Because that’s his nature?”
      “What determined his nature?”
      “Nothing, that’s just the way it is”
      “Isn’t it arbitrary then”
      “That’st just the way it is”

      Even if he were to say that God cannot lie, because that would be bad… that absolute instant he uses the word “.. because”, he’s imposing an external restriction upon God.. and God is supposed to be the alpha and the omega.

      So it’s either the Christian world view has the God as not being the “first mover”, creator of all things… or his nature, and thus, the whole of morality and everything is arbitrary and random… and “good” is just whatever happened to align with that arbitrary nature.

      And thus, this world view is internally inconsistent, and therefore, impossible.

    2. 8.2
      Houndentenor

      Exactly. Also, I call bullshit on the idea that he has examined every world religion and found them wanting in that regard. it’s something someone told him at church and he has just accepted it as true without demanding any evidence. Is Zaroastrianism logically consistent? If not, explain how it is not. there are tens of thousands of others.

    3. 8.3
      Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

      Well yeah, and also the fact that in the same passage God messes with Pharoah’s free will so that he could show off isn’t entirely a great character reference. Or comment on free will. Or the consistency that presups try to tell us that God enforces.

    4. 8.4
      kestra

      God lies in the first book of the bible. He says to Adam and Eve, “Do not eat of the fruit of that tree, for if you do you shall surely die.” The serpent tells Eve this is a lie, and the fruit is actually the knowledge of good and evil. The snake was telling the truth, and the apple gave them knowledge. God was lying; eating the fruit did not kill Eve or Adam. He lied to the first people he ever bothered to create. And then he kicked them out of the garden because he was afraid of them. He’s a coward AND a liar.

      1. rodney

        Christians usually counter that with “it was a spiritual death.”

  9. 9
    MrPendent

    I don’t know if this has been asked and answered before, but is there any way that the after-show calls could be recorded for the podcast? It is very sad to head that I am getting pushed out of the club but the party is still going on inside :(

    1. 9.1
      Houndentenor

      I’d like to second that request.

  10. 10
    BluePrint

    Lynnea made this one another show to remember and reference.
    I thought of taking a similar tactic when confronted with the “were you there” argument, but Lynnea’s delivery was better than what I thought I might achieve.

    On a random note, here’s simpler version to demonstrating colors to a colorblind skeptic:
    Provide to the skeptic a box of crayons to use while you’re blinded to their satisfaction, then demonstrate how you can pick with precision which crayon produced which line.

    1. 10.1
      Matt Gerrans

      Ha, that reminds me of a fun magic trick I used to do with different colored markers. You tell a person to write a short note on a piece of paper and fold it up, so it can’t be seen, all while you’re out of the room (or blindfolded, whatever). When you come back you tell them which color of pen they used (before unfolding the paper, of course) and that you could tell by the aura on the pen (or some such nonsense). Amazement ensues. Even Moses would admit it’s a miracle, but would caller #1?

    2. 10.2
      jacobfromlost

      What bothers me when people invoke the “staff into snake” trick, or water into wine, etc, is that these magic tricks are really, really old, and really easy to do. And these are supposed to be miracles?

      I have no idea why anyone takes these kind of “miracles” seriously. They might as well say Moses pulled a quarter out of a child’s ear! How do you explain this miracle?

      1. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

        I’m an expert at turning wine into water but it’s not particularly magical.

  11. 11
    rocketdave

    Kudos to Lynnea for hanging up on the last guy mid-sentence after he essentially stated for the second time that he would have preferred to be talking to Matt. Sure, Matt’s great and all, but so are the other hosts, and it’s more than a little insulting to them whenever a caller says some variation on, “Gee, I was hoping to talk to Matt.”

    1. 11.1
      Matt Gerrans

      Yeah, I really don’t get these people who call up, presumably wait in the queue for an hour or more, listening to the show and knowing Matt is not there, then saying some idiotic thing about how they really wanted to address their comment to Matt. Duh. If you wanted to talk to Matt, then call back another day when Matt is there and let someone else on the show. I would like to see you guys immediately hang up on anyone who says that.

  12. 12
    Ishkur

    The first guy was hung up on “worldviews” a lot which is a typical presuppositionalist tactic.

    The principle component for an established framework of religious beliefs is the assumption (presupposition) of supernaturalism. But what Apologists like to do is a little projection/tu qoque stratagem whereby they accuse Atheism as using the same standard of faulty logic only with an assumption (presupposition) of naturalism (materialism and uniformitarianism specifically). So both sides are equally valid and neither is definitely provable, which is poisoning the well.

    They know that if they can break everything down into philosophical presuppositions, then everything is wholly dependent upon your beliefs/worldview which means no one can be proven right and the argument is thus a stalemate (which Apologists can then claim victory because you couldn’t disprove God).

    For some reason they can’t conceive that Atheism/naturalism is arrived at AFTER considering all the evidence, not before.

    1. 12.1
      Russell Glasser

      Trust me, I recognized the argument as a presuppositionalist one, and hastened to steer it in a productive direction BEFORE it could get too far off into the weeds of “How do you justify logic.” It’s best NOT to let them wander off into empty attacks on epistemology and camp in that territory. I thought that Lynnea’s ability to force him to demand evidence for her time traveling story was a neat and elegant way of getting him to make our point for us. Not nearly as painful as many presuppositional arguments I’ve heard/done before.

      1. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

        To be honest, the fact that Lynnea and you got him to shut up at points in the conversation proves that he’s a pretty crappy presuppositionalist.

        I did enjoy the time travelling analogy. It didn’t let him get started on all that “how do you know what you know” nonsense!

  13. 13
    Dutchguy

    Just wanted to throw in a light weight/content low remark, but; great show, great hosts, great callers, very educational and entertaining.

  14. 14
    Adam W

    This is a reply to the caller from Israel in the after-show who asked why we don’t grade on level of certainty or confidence in the evidence, rather than simply stating it as a binary condition.

    The answer is that atheism/theism is a question of God’s existence, which IS a binary condition: God either exists, or He DOESN’T. There is no “God kinda exists” option, since he WOULD exist.

    Granted, believers have to rely on a definition of ‘evidence’ in order to support their conclusion, and that’s where Xians rely on FAITH (which actually demands NO perceptible evidence) vs an atheist’s CONVICTION (which IS evidence-based and perceptible, by definition: eg in order to CONVICT a criminal, courts demand EVIDENCE which can be cross-examined by both the defense and prosecution).

    Both faith and conviction supports their respect BELIEFS in the question of God’s existence.

    Adam

    1. 14.1
      Corwyn

      I disagree. If we are going to get anywhere in rationalism, we need to understand not only what we think is true, but also how confident we are about that. Sticking with a binary view of beliefs is doomed to failure, and gets us into pointless discussions about definitions.

      And, in fact, we generally do that. We change our minds slowly as evidence builds up. If we are really doing it properly, we should be able to say by how much our confidence will change for a given test of evidence BEFORE we see the results.

      The folks at TAE are often asked what evidence would convince that god exists. I think they should just say 1,000 decibans (or whatever their confidence level is). While it is true that almost no theists (or atheists for that matter) will know what they are talking about, they will get across the idea that evidence can be quantified, and just how much of it, it will take to change their minds (and incidentally, how much it took to get them to their current conviction). Thus one could easily see that a 1 in a million miracle (even is true and a real sample) is only going to change belief by 65 decibans or so. Not enough to convince someone with -1,000 decibans of confidence in god.

      1. Adam W

        You’re missing the point that atheist/theist is a CONCLUSION on the question of whether God exists or not. That’s it, there is no more. And as much as you protest, those are the only two possible states: God can’t “kinda exist”.

        As such, it’s like a verdict obtained in criminal court: guilty or not guilty. There is no “kinda guilty”. It is a binary condition, as well.

        NOW, it IS valid for different judges/juries to employ different legal standards to ARRIVE at their verdict, eg some courts use “beyond a reasonable doubt”, while some use a “preponderance of the evidence” (depending on if it’s a criminal or civil court, etc).

        Weighing the EVIDENCE directly correlates with an attempt to state the CONFIDENCE with which one arrives at the conclusion, but it is a completely separate matter from what the final verdict (conclusion) is.

        Adam

        1. EnlightenmentLiberal

          I don’t know what you’re talking about. “Theist” is a descriptor for a person. “Atheist” is a descriptor for a person. If someone says “I believe there is a god”, then they’re a theist. If someone says “I believe there are no gods” or says “I do not know if there are gods”, then they’re an atheist. Atheism includes the “I don’t know’ position. This is equivalent in phrasing to: If someone says “I do not accept as true that there is one or more gods”, then they’re an atheist. If someone says “I do not believe that there is one or more gods”, then they’re an atheist.

          I think we agree thus far.

          However, if you believe there is one or more gods, and if you believe there are no gods, then you do have to attach a certainty or a confidence measure. All beliefs of those kinds must come with a confidence measure.

          I believe the point you’re trying to make is that atheism includes the “I don’t know” position, and thus one is necessarily either a theist or an atheist.

          I didn’t see the original call, so it’s hard to say more than that.

          1. Adam W

            ELib said:

            I don’t know what you’re talking about. “Theist” is a descriptor for a person. “Atheist” is a descriptor for a person. If someone says “I believe there is a god”, then they’re a theist.

            WOW! Quibble much?

            Of course, the suffix ‘-ist’ refers to the PERSON who holds a certain belief, after having examined available evidence. The adjective ‘atheist’ doesn’t imply anything else about the person BUT their stated belief on that ONE issue (i.e. it says NOTHING about their belief in evolution, fairies, etc).

            The critical point is God’s existence IS a binary condition, since EXISTENCE is a binary condition. Something exists, or it DOESN’T.

            Quantifying the STRENGTH of the evidence which they used which supports the BELIEF is another matter entirely, and is itself subjective. Arguing over the STRENGTH of evidence is ‘begging the question’, since that’s entirely up for debate.

            The threshold for Xians is ZERO, since per Hebrews 11:1 Paul defines faith as an ABSENCE of perceptible evidence, i.e. believing IN SPITE of a lack of evidence.

            A Xian earns salvation NOT on the basis of what they’ve SEEN (eg signs, miracles, etc) by via FAITH, eg Doubting Thomas was chastized by Jesus for demanding to SEE proof with his own eyes, rather than simply having FAITH in Jesus having been resurrected, based on the reports of the other apostles. Faith is seen as a GIFT from God, where the believer has to BEG God for it.

            If someone says “I believe there are no gods” or says “I do not know if there are gods”, then they’re an atheist. Atheism includes the “I don’t know’ position. This is equivalent in phrasing to: If someone says “I do not accept as true that there is one or more gods”, then they’re an atheist. If someone says “I do not believe that there is one or more gods”, then they’re an atheist.

            I think we agree thus far.

            For the most part.

            I describe it as ‘hard’ vs ‘soft’ atheist/theist, i.e. the ‘hard’ theist/atheist makes the POSITIVE assertion that God exists/doesn’t exist but has to meet the burden of proof associated with their claim by providing supportive evidence.

            The ‘soft’ form of theist/atheist rejects the argument of the ‘hard’ position(s), concluding that they FAILED to meet THEIR burden of proof, so rejects either claim. If they felt it was compelling enough to accept the position, they’d assume the position (and whether they’d make the claim to others is up to them).

            I’d say that the soft form of theist/atheist should go to the ‘undecided’ camp, someone who’s still comparison-shopping and hasn’t yet “bought” into either ‘hard’ position.

            I describe myself as a hard atheist for Abrahamic God, since I feel I can use the Bible to disprove his existence. However, I’m a soft atheist for unknown deities, since as scientific type I need to keep an open-mind to the existence of more-advanced as-yet-unexplained forces which may yet be encountered. Obviously, Abrahamic God could convert me to a die-hard theist: only a fool would say God didn’t exist if the clouds parted and God provided compelling evidence of His own existence. THAT would constitute valid reason to believe (but NOT before it happens).

            However, if you believe there is one or more gods, and if you believe there are no gods, then you do have to attach a certainty or a confidence measure. All beliefs of those kinds must come with a confidence measure.

            As someone who holds that all morality IS subjective (not absolute), I find it amusing to see those who try to quantify their beliefs in an purely-objective manner. People need to grasp and love uncertainty, not attempt to pigeon-hole everything to make it easier to handle.

            I believe the point you’re trying to make is that atheism includes the “I don’t know” position, and thus one is necessarily either a theist or an atheist.

            I don’t really care where the ‘undecideds’ end up for purposes of counting heads.

            Instead, I suspect this is a manifestation of that old illness of dualistic thinking, the Zoroasterian reductionist forced-choice of breaking everything down into TWO camps. Yin-yang, evil/holy, etc.

            I personally find the agnostic identifier as utterly meaningless, since it’s based on the ancient Gnostic claim of “knowing” (gnosis) certain truths that have been given by God, which makes the knowledge as if it’s more trust-worthy, bestowing greater confidence and certainty than ideas that are mere “beliefs”. The problem with THAT approach is it’s premised on God-given knowledge: kinda problematic for an atheist, who rejects the existence of God in the first place!

            Hence the ‘agnostic’ position is flawed, from the start, since it’s the counterpart of a faulty premise of God-given knowledge (gnosis) being somehow superior to one’s beliefs.

            Adam

        2. jacobfromlost

          Adam: “As such, it’s like a verdict obtained in criminal court: guilty or not guilty. There is no “kinda guilty”. It is a binary condition, as well.”

          Me: Not really. A vote for “not guilty” doesn’t mean you BELIEVE the defendant is not guilty of committing the act they are accused of. It means that their GUILT has not been demonstrated, which isn’t the same thing at all. You can be on a jury, believe the person is guilty as can be, and if they are not demonstrated to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (which means beyond a doubt based on reason) then you must vote “not guilty” despite believing they are guilty.

          Me: Moreover, someone acquitted with a “not guilty” verdict does NOT mean they didn’t actually do it. The lack of a conviction is not magic, and doesn’t mean they didn’t actually do it.

          Adam: “You’re missing the point that atheist/theist is a CONCLUSION on the question of whether God exists or not. That’s it, there is no more. And as much as you protest, those are the only two possible states: God can’t “kinda exist”.”

          Me: Sure, but a conclusion need not be absolute NOR “final”. All a conclusion consists of is saying, “Based on XYZ, I have concluded that ABC is true.” Maybe XYZ is reason and logic and evidence, maybe XYZ is personal experience and revelation and scripture. In any case, the person ultimately believes that ABC is true…and in this context “believes” and “concludes” do the same verby thing. No one is obligated to stick with their “conclusion” in reality, ever. Thus it isn’t ever “final” in an absolute sense, or in any useful sense, unless we consider the legal sense useful because it is easy to imagine a state gone amok prosecuting innocent people over and over again for the same crime and so (in the US at least) we prohibit double jeopardy.

        3. Corwyn

          If one is a rationalist there is no such thing as a conclusion. Otherwise, one is just a dogmatist.

          The answer from a jury is “Our confidence that the defendant is guilty exceeds the level of ‘a shadow of a doubt’”. Which empirical analysis puts somewhere around 75 decibans (much to my dismay). Listen to the instructions they are given.

          And while a jury makes a pronouncement and that is the end of it (for them), no one should do that in real life. If one is an atheist, it should be because one has weighed the available evidence and it currently indicates that confidence should be low for the proposition that a god exists. New evidence should ALWAYS be cause for a re-evaluation of one’s confidence. If one comes to a ‘conclusion’, one has closed one’s mind.

          1. jacobfromlost

            “The answer from a jury is “Our confidence that the defendant is guilty exceeds the level of ‘a shadow of a doubt’”. ”

            ‘Beyond a reasonable doubt’ means something completely different from ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’. There is always a shadow of a doubt, even when we are as certain as we can possibly be. That’s where the phrase, “I could have sworn XYZ” comes from, because we often discover that what we thought was absolutely true turned out later to be completely false with evidence that unexpectedly confronts us later.

          2. Corwyn

            Ooops. My mistake; “shadow of a doubt” is about 5 decibans (75%)

      2. Houndentenor

        LOL. what evidence would I require to believe in the existence of a god? How about ANY? I’m willing to set the bar that low because I’ve never seen any and if I had I might still believe. So asking what kind of evidence is like asking me what color unicorn I’d need to see to believe that one exists. Show me any unicorn. that would be enough.

        1. Corwyn

          I doubt you mean that. Evidence that god exists might be in the form of a slightly higher than expected rate of recovery in patients who were prayed for, than a control group. Do you mean that no matter how slight, that higher rate is, that would *convince* you of the existence of a god?

          An actual unicorn (of any color) is a LOT of evidence for the existence of unicorns.

          1. Houndentenor

            Of course not, because correlation does not prove causation. A slight difference like that could easily be explained by the placebo effect. There could also be other causal relationships. Or perhaps the sample size of the study is too small to draw any solid conclusions.

            That’s not proof and no serious scientific study would accept that as proof.

            But it’s a good example of what theists offer as proof most of the time.

          2. Corwyn

            Of course not, because correlation does not prove causation.

            And now you have completely moved the goalposts. You said, you would accept any EVIDENCE, now you are requiring PROOF.

            My threshold for proof is so much evidence that it is not really practical. I usually reserve the word proof for logical inferences from axioms in mathematics.

          3. jacobfromlost

            No, Corwyn. There is no such thing as “proof” in reality, unless you simply mean convincing evidence. “Proof” is a mathematical term. We use the word “proof” colloquially to simply mean convincing evidence, or evidence that demonstrates something beyond a reasonable doubt.

            Evidence is a defined term. It is verifiable, reproducible, falsifiable, and predictive. The example you gave of slightly healthier patients who had been prayed for would be evidence, but the demonstration you offer would not tell us EVIDENCE OF WHAT. It would only be evidence that these people were prayed for, and in this instance did slightly better for some reason.

            What you would need to connect the two is verifiable, reproducible, falsifiable, and predictive evidence that the to phenomena were connected, and what that connection was. Otherwise you don’t have evidence of any connection at all.

      3. Athywren

        Sorry if there’s some accepted technical usage of which I’m totally ignorant, but why are you using units of information to measure confidence?

        1. corwyn

          At what level are those things different?

          Coinfidence in a proposition is just an expression of the evidence one has, which is in turn, just a measure of information. I believe the usage comes from Alan Turing.

          1. Adam W

            Corwin said-

            I believe the usage (decibans) comes from Alan Turing.

            Irony noted by your introducing a concept from information theory (!), as if people use principles from computer science (!) to help them make decisions on the existence of God. This suggestion coming from the same person who said:

            and gets us into pointless discussions about definitions.

            Agreeing to common definitions is not pointless: otherwise you wouldn’t see Matt and Russell doing it with callers upfront to reduce the vast opportunities for confusion.

            But now you’re saying we need to spend time in discussions not only agreeing to definitions, but explaining how to quantify the strength of evidence in decibans (!) BEFORE discussing the existence of God? Lemme guess: you’re not an engineer, by any chance?

            The HUGE fly in the ointment of your suggested approach is that essentially NO ONE will be able to quantify evidence in a completely objective manner, and then agree with anyone else on however many points is assigned (does such a standard exist? Perhaps an atheist’s version of the Bible, assigning values in decibans to say, DNA evidence?)

            Worse though is the idea completely ignores the way MOST humans make decisions, based NOT on LOGIC and reason, but due to EMOTIONAL FACTORS and DESIRES.

            Deny it all you want, but few people break out graph paper, protractors and scientific calculators to help them decide if God exists. Instead, most believers deep-down WANT God to exist, and they seek post-hoc rationalizations to support that belief. That tendency has a name, and is a well-known phenomenon from psychology: DELUSION. Hence any debate that DOESN’T consider what benefit the delusional belief provides to the believer is DOOMED to failure.

            But in general, I agree that it’s good idea to determine what could possibly be achieved BEFORE getting into a prolonged discussion (eg we saw Russell do that with the 2nd caller when he asked if there was any commonality to be reached, or if they were just talking past each other). In an ideal World, both sides would approach with the intellectual honesty that if the other presents evidence that the other finds compelling, they are at least WILLING not to suppress the evidence in order to protect their fragile belief system (AKA “protecting their faith”).

            But that’s the whole problem in a nut-shell: you cannot force anyone to find evidence to be compelling, no more than you can force others to find foods that you find to be delicious to be tasty. Evidence ISN’T objective, but subjective: what is persuasive to you is different for others, and even varies depending on their changing motivations.

            Adam

          2. Athywren

            I have a fairly high level of confident that there is life elsewhere in the universe. This is mostly based on reasoning that, if life arose naturally here, it probably arose naturally elsewhere and, if a god created life here, then a god probably created life elsewhere. I’m not sure how you measure the number of bans in a concept, but I imagine that there’s not a whole lot of them in that thought.

            I have almost zero confidence in the existence of elves, yet I have a stack of books taller than myself (6 feet & some inches) which are filled with information about them and their varied histories.

            If we’re measuring confidence by the sheer weight of information, surely I should have more confidence in the existence of elves here on earth than in alien life out in the stars?

          3. Corwyn

            If we’re measuring confidence by the sheer weight of information, surely I should have more confidence in the existence of elves here on earth than in alien life out in the stars?

            How fortunate then that no one is suggesting measuring information by the POUND.

            If you are truly interested, you can read about it here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/774/a_history_of_bayes_theorem/

          4. Corwyn

            Worse though is the idea completely ignores the way MOST humans make decisions, based NOT on LOGIC and reason, but due to EMOTIONAL FACTORS and DESIRES.

            Which is exactly the problem, don’t you think?

            If atheists (who claim to be rationalists) are unwilling to think correctly, what hope do they have for convincing theist to do so?

            [And my apologies but I can't make any sense of most of the rest of you post.]

          5. Adam W

            Corwyn said, in response to my pointing about how people make decisions via emotion, not just logic:

            Which is exactly the problem, don’t you think?

            I’m a pragmatist who lives in the actual World, not an idealized utopia World where people use perfect logic to always make right choices. Don’t get me wrong: I’d LOVE to live in such a World, but I don’t, and humans have brains that are the products of millenia of natural selection in which emotions and “fight or flight” has provided some survival benefit to their bearers.

            You seem to think the problem is one of needing more public education (on decibans!) to counter religious delusion: I wonder who’s more delusional in that situation? Sounds like a Don Quixote “tilting at windmills” deal, which is actually a COLOSSAL waste of time, based on my past experience with humans.

            If atheists (who claim to be rationalists) are unwilling to think correctly, what hope do they have for convincing theist to do so?

            Please Mr Rationalist, tell me what logical fallacy I have committed so that I might be able to “think correctly”, just like you?

            Is that enough snark, or should I also point out the delicious irony of you accusing others of being “close-minded dogmatists”, then floating the dogmatic assertion that some form of “correct thinking” exists? Let me guess: thinking like you, perchance?

            [And my apologies but I can't make any sense of most of the rest of you post.]

            No? Well, it makes PERFECT sense to me, which just further undermines your absurd argument that some universal standard for determining the value of supportive evidence that’s presented in a debate can ever be achieved (on the basis of quantity, no less: that’s extremely good news for anyone who wants to argue in favor of distributing porn to all humans (including children), since it means they’d have a WINNING ARGUMENT on their hands, LOL!)

            Last I checked, people are still ALLOWED freedom of their thoughts (which underlies freedom of speech), and that means people are allowed to have different OPINIONS; depending on the topic, different opinions needn’t be wrong, as some ideas aren’t mutually-exclusive.

            I tell you what, though: politely ASK ME TO EXPLAIN the parts that are confusing to you, and I will. Otherwise, feel free to figure it out on your own.

            Adam

          6. Athywren
            If we’re measuring confidence by the sheer weight of information, surely I should have more confidence in the existence of elves here on earth than in alien life out in the stars?

            How fortunate then that no one is suggesting measuring information by the POUND.

            If you are truly interested, you can read about it here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/774/a_history_of_bayes_theorem/

            Much as I appreciate the snark, might I point out that my original question was one which professed ignorance and asked an honest question:

            Sorry if there’s some accepted technical usage of which I’m totally ignorant, but why are you using units of information to measure confidence?

            At what level are those things different?

            Coinfidence in a proposition is just an expression of the evidence one has, which is in turn, just a measure of information. I believe the usage comes from Alan Turing.

            Decibans convert into bits, which means that they measure the quantity of information,rather than quality, and this is more or less exactly what you said in your first response – “just a measure of information.” In case it’s a linguistic thing, that’s why I said “weight of information” – because it’s about how much information there is, rather than the value of it, not because I think information has mass. Anyway, thank you for the link, hopefully it will provide a useful explanation of why bans are used to measure confidence.

          7. Corwyn

            Let’s consider something in which you have confidence, say that a particular coin is ‘fair’. If you flip that coin, each time you do, you receive a piece of information, which should affect your confidence. If you flip heads 100 times in a row, should your confidence that the coin is fair, change? What about 100,000? The amount of that affect is determined by the likelihood of the result, and your current confidence, as given by Bayes’ theorem.

            Thus, confidence can be taken as a measure of information. Of course the information must be *evidence*, pertinent to the question, and it *also* should have a confidence in your mind. Thus in your example, you have more confidence in aliens than elves, because the information you have about elves weighted by your confidence in it, is less than for aliens.

          8. corwyn

            Jacob, I am sorry that I am not explaining such that you can understand. However, please don’t say that I am saying something that I explicitly just disclaimed.

            I am discussing confidence, it is often easier to use the same sorts of examples as are used to describ make the distinction clear. I have lost my car, I parked it in a 10 story garage. For each floor I search, I gain information (places where my car is not). my hypothesis that someone has stolen my car is made more confident with each floor I search and dont find my car. Call each one a deciban (for convience), then after 10 floors, I have 10 decibans of evidence, and rhus confidence in my hyoothesis should have increased by that amount.

            sory about the horrible typing.

          9. Athywren

            Let’s consider something in which you have confidence, say that a particular coin is ‘fair’. If you flip that coin, each time you do, you receive a piece of information, which should affect your confidence. If you flip heads 100 times in a row, should your confidence that the coin is fair, change? What about 100,000? The amount of that affect is determined by the likelihood of the result, and your current confidence, as given by Bayes’ theorem.

            Thus, confidence can be taken as a measure of information. Of course the information must be *evidence*, pertinent to the question, and it *also* should have a confidence in your mind. Thus in your example, you have more confidence in aliens than elves, because the information you have about elves weighted by your confidence in it, is less than for aliens.

            Ok, I can see how this makes sense for statistical matters like a determining the fairness of a coin toss. As you get more evidence showing a statistical pattern, you get more confident about the fairness of the coin. I can also see how it works for measuring your confidence that some object or other has been stole, assuming the possible locations are known – it’s possible that, after searching all 10 floors of your parking garage, it turns out you forgot that you parked on the other side of town this morning, but otherwise it makes perfect sense.

            What I don’t see is how this translates to matters of gods, aliens, or elves in any consistent or meaningful way. As you say, the information I have for elves and aliens is weighted by my confidence in their existing. My stack of books are worth practically nothing in favour of elves, while a thought that basically boils down to “we’re just not that unique” is worth a lot in favour of aliens. I don’t really see how we convert the feeling of confidence into a number or modifier – I couldn’t tell you the ratio between my confidences in the existence of aliens and elves – but that’s really a side issue. It seems to me that, if I’m given concrete evidence for both aliens and elves, the evidence for elves comes out as worth more in decibans than the evidence for aliens, no matter the content of that evidence, because both got me to certainty while one had farther to go to get there. Either that, or I would need more concrete evidence for the elves, or high confidence has no set level. I don’t see how this is any but arbitrary in this case, and I honestly don’t see how it’s worth much in this kind of discussion.

            Actually, if I’m completely honest with you, I don’t really see the value of it outside of a technical or gaming setting. If you have this much confidence that a connector of this strength won’t hold an object of this mass at that length? Brilliant, thank you, I’ll get a stronger connector, or a lighter mass, or a shorter length. If you have confidence that my d20 is unevenly weighted? Thank you, I’ll change it for a new one. But if someone is writing down the math to work out how likely it is that my car’s been stolen… well, look, don’t take this the wrong way, but I really don’t care about equations in that moment, unless they’re going to tell me where the car is.

          10. jacobfromlost

            Corwyn,

            If you say you are talking about an bird that quacks, has a prominent bill, has feathers, has webbed feet, is a water fowl…

            I say you are talking about a duck. If you keep denying it’s a duck and say it’s a hammer, fine, but it’s still a duck.

            Probabilities are probabilities. Describing them clearly and then calling them confidence is not rational, as confidence isn’t probabilities. Sorry.

          11. Corwyn

            If you say you are talking about an bird that quacks, has a prominent bill, has feathers, has webbed feet, is a water fowl…
            I say you are talking about a duck. If you keep denying it’s a duck and say it’s a hammer, fine, but it’s still a duck.

            Probabilities are probabilities. Describing them clearly and then calling them confidence is not rational, as confidence isn’t probabilities. Sorry.

            Your analogy about ducks is very cute and all, but it doesn’t help me know where you are having troubles with my idea of confidence. Can you imagine quantifying your confidence in a proposition (say 0 to 100%)? If you can, then the question only becomes how would one go about calculating that number more precisely. If not, why not?

          12. Corwyn

            @Athywren

            it’s possible that, after searching all 10 floors of your parking garage, it turns out you forgot that you parked on the other side of town this morning, but otherwise it makes perfect sense.

            Why is that a problem? Searching all 10 floors didn’t make you 100% confident that your car had been stolen just more confident than you were before you started searching.

            It seems to me that, if I’m given concrete evidence for both aliens and elves, the evidence for elves comes out as worth more in decibans than the evidence for aliens, no matter the content of that evidence, because both got me to certainty while one had farther to go to get there. Either that, or I would need more concrete evidence for the elves, or high confidence has no set level.</blockquote

            That is wrong, the decibans is a measure of the convincing-ness of the evidence. Lots of low quality evidence does not beat a little high quality evidence.

            Actually, if I’m completely honest with you, I don’t really see the value of it outside of a technical or gaming setting.

            Do you see the value of having a numeric representation of your buying power? Do you think the everyone did the first time they were introduced to the concept.

            Here is an example on a subject that you should care about. You go for a routine doctor’s visit and they perform a test for a rare type of cancer (based on no symptoms, just a precaution). They know that only one person out of a hundred gets this form of cancer, and that eight out of ten who test positive have that type of cancer, and only one out of ten who test positive don’t have the cancer. You test positive. How confident should you be that you have that type of cancer? Before you say that your doctor should tell you how confident you should be, know that only three out of twenty doctors were able to accurately figure this.

          13. jacobfromlost

            Corwyn: Your analogy about ducks is very cute and all, but it doesn’t help me know where you are having troubles with my idea of confidence.

            Me: To be explicit, you are saying confidence is based on probabilities from known evidence. That’s not what confidence is. Confidence is how CONFIDENT you thing/feel something is to be true. That has nothing to do with how probable it is to be true, as human confidence is notoriously wrong when gauging probabilities and rarely has one to do with the other.

            Corwyn: Can you imagine quantifying your confidence in a proposition (say 0 to 100%)? If you can, then the question only becomes how would one go about calculating that number more precisely. If not, why not?

            Me: The numbers you arbitrarily put on your confidence are ARBITRARY. They don’t reflect anything but personal feelings/thoughts that are, as I just said, notoriously wrong when scanned to hard numbers in reality. I explained all this before. If you don’t get it, fine. This thread is dead.

          14. Corwyn

            Me: The numbers you arbitrarily put on your confidence are ARBITRARY. They don’t reflect anything but personal feelings/thoughts that are, as I just said, notoriously wrong when scanned to hard numbers in reality. I explained all this before. If you don’t get it, fine. This thread is dead.

            So, you CAN imagine putting numbers on your confidence. Excellent! You now understand what I am talking about when I talk about confidence being a quantifiable attribute. Now let’s talk about how to make so that they are NOT arbitrary but accurately reflect the evidence you have acquired. We have seen that if we have a probabilistic understanding of the situation, we can easily assign a confidence value based on that. We also have seen that if we lack some bit of evidence, our confidence may not match the probabilities as they would be expressed in full knowledge. Just as probabilities are expressions of likelihood without prior knowledge of (say) a random event.

            So let’s try this inductively. Let’s say we have a confidence about a certain proposition (arbitrary as you say), if we acquire new data or evidence, we can use that to improve (i.e. make closer to reality) our confidence (by either reducing it or increasing it). How much we should adjust our confidence by is determined by how strong the evidence is. With me so far?

          15. jacobfromlost

            It’s a duck. Not a hammer. Give up.

          16. Corwyn

            Well let me know if you ever feel ready for a new idea, I will be glad to try to explain it to you again.

          17. jacobfromlost

            Explaining the definition of “probabilities” again and then calling it confidence AGAIN is not rational. I have explained why. Twice.

        2. Houndentenor

          One of the things I find odd with theist callers to the show is that they want science to offer the 100% certainty that their religion claims to offer. I don’t know how we can believe anything with absolute certainty. it’s possible that many things that we understand about the natural world are mostly true but there is some exception that we didn’t know about. Einstein vs Newton, for example. The more we know, the better we understand things and that means revising our understanding. that’s not a flaw of science. It’s an advantage over religious belief in which something is asserted to be absolutely true in spite of a lack of evidence.

          1. Corwyn

            Correct. In order to be 100% certain, we would need to have infinite confidence (in terms of log-odds). This would require infinite evidence. With the exception of special cases like tautologies and contradictions, this is impossible.

          2. jacobfromlost

            (Am I the only one who thinks that one’s confidence that something is true, and the probability that it is true, are two completely different things? I don’t understand what “100% certain” is supposed to mean in terms of a confidence level. What does the 100 reflect? I don’t get it. Is it that you believe that 100 times out of 100, XYZ will be true? If so, that’s pretty useless, as BELIEVING it will be true 100 times out of 100 has not connection to reality. It can still be wrong. Same goes for 75% certain, or 50% certain, or 5% certain. I don’t see what it tells you except for a person’s personal, subjective confidence in their belief…which is basically nothing. The numbers are just arbitrary.)

          3. Adam W

            Houndentenor said:

            One of the things I find odd with theist callers to the show is that they want science to offer the 100% certainty that their religion claims to offer. I don’t know how we can believe anything with absolute certainty.

            Many people (OK, theists) preferentially accept a claim that wildly over-estimates confidence by stating ABSOLUTE certainty, over a claim that offers a reasonable assessment and honest disclosure of doubt. That’s where it’s important to reel in a theist’s claims of possessing certainty.

            I dare say the rates of theist beliefs are inversely proportional to member’s comfort with uncertainty and doubt. If someone cannot handle not having all the answers (however crapola that answer may be, i.e. “God Dun It!”), then they may not possess the capacity to face life without imagining an invisible safety net underneath.

            Am I the only one who thinks that one’s confidence that something is true, and the probability that it is true, are two completely different things? I don’t understand what “100% certain” is supposed to mean in terms of a confidence level.

            Graveyards are full of people who were 100% CERTAIN that they were cleaning an unloaded gun, or that their “loved one” wouldn’t pull the trigger, the brakes were working, etc. Confidence means nothing, and hence another reason of the pointlessness of trying to objectively grade evidence as a quantifiable figure that expresses it’s power to convince others.

            Adam

          4. Corwyn

            Am I the only one who thinks that one’s confidence that something is true, and the probability that it is true, are two completely different things?

            No, you’re not; confidence really is taken from a personal perspective. If I have a box with something inside it, I am more confident about what it is, than you are. I have more evidence than you do (having looked inside). If you pick up the box, you now have more evidence than you did before, and that is evidence from any hypothesis you might want to test. If you shake the box you get more evidence. All of that adds (or subtracts*) from your confidence in your (one or more) hypotheses. Neither of our confidences is tied to the *probability* of what is in the box.

            Is it that you believe that 100 times out of 100, XYZ will be true?

            Not really, If you have 80% confidence (100% being a special case, never reached expect for tautologies), that means that you have evidence that convinces you that in 100 similar circumstances, you would be right 80% of the time. Alternatively, that you have about 6 decibans of evidence. Note that confidence is a measure of *evidence*, not someone’s feelings.

            It can still be wrong. Same goes for 75% certain, or 50% certain, or 5% certain. I don’t see what it tells you except for a person’s personal, subjective confidence in their belief…which is basically nothing. The numbers are just arbitrary.)

            Of course it can be wrong. We should *expect* it to be wrong (10% of the time for 90% confidence). Let’s say you are wondering if some coin is fair, your friend flips it 100 times, shows it to you each time, and it is heads each time. How confident are you that the coin is rigged? You could pull some guess out of your hat, or you could do the math. If you do the math, you will know the EXACT OBJECTIVE confidence level you should have. Nothing subjective about it. Nor are the numbers arbitrary. If I independently do the same calculation, I will get exactly the same number.

            Obviously for situation less straight forward than a simple coin toss, there is some judgement in assigning likelihoods to various events. This doesn’t make the process useless, just real world (like everything else). And there is really nothing better.

            * – one of the characteristics of calculating confidence in decibans is that adding them makes sense. 10 decibans of confidence (90% certain) plus 10 decibans of evidence gives 20 decibans of confidence (99% certain).

          5. jacobfromlost

            Corwyn, you are not describing confidence. You are describing probabilities given known evidence. CONFIDENCE is something completely different than probabilities.

  15. 15
    Corwyn

    By the way, the binary-ness of the proposition has nothing to do with whether the confidence level should be binary.

  16. 16
    Athywren

    Has Night Vale swallowed the whole internets or something? Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesomely coolly awesome, but… one day I knew nothing about it, the next day I’d heard about it, the next, everyone everywhere was talking about it. I kinda feel like we need vaccines for this kind of thing.

  17. 17
    Houndentenor

    I’d like to say how impressive it is that there are so many co-hosts that do such a great job on the show. I can’t be the only one who gets annoyed when people call in and only want to talk to Matt. Matt is awesome but Russell, Traci, Jen, Martin, Jeff and Lynnea (whose name reminds me of the 18th century Swedish scientist Linnaeus) all do a great job when they are on the show. They are all different which is a strength. (Since so many of the callers use the same arguments imho it’s nice to hear new takes on the same apologist strategies. So keep mixing it up. Beth is also awesome (when is Godless Bitches coming back??? I’ve been feeling extra bitchy and godless lately and miss the podcast). Anyway, it’s good that there are so many good people available to do the show and willing to do it. You are all appreciated, at least by me.

    1. 17.1
      Athywren

      I can’t be the only one who gets annoyed when people call in and only want to talk to Matt. Matt is awesome but Russell, Traci, Jen, Martin, Jeff and Lynnea (whose name reminds me of the 18th century Swedish scientist Linnaeus) all do a great job when they are on the show. They are all different which is a strength.

      I know, right? My favourite host is [yes]. I particularly like the ones who use words to say things. My only gripe with the show is pretty much out of their hands – I wanna hear a new argument, I want to get that squishy brain feel when you’re rolling a new premise through your mind. Just please, please, please, let it not be more presuppositional crap, because the universe was created by a magical chicken called Greg, and you all know it! Especially that Sy guy – why’s he always talking about that book if he has direct revelation and knowledge, huh? Because he’s denying the truth of the magical chicken, that’s why!

      I think I got off topic there… yay hosts!

      1. Houndentenor

        Or at least let it be a different religion. Even a different denomination. A Buddhist would be a nice change. I think we’ve had a Hindu caller not that long ago. I would love a Mormon caller or a Sikh. Jain or even Zaroastrian.

  18. 18
    Sir Real

    I remember one time when I was able to convince a person that Jesus was not the sacrificial lamb of god by simply pointing out how Jesus died. Just like most people don’t die by an electric chair most people don’t die on a cross. This convinced him that Jesus was executed and was just a sacrifice. Congratulations Vince on becoming an atheist.

  19. 19
    Sir Real

    My error! Jesus was executed and was NOT just a sacrifice.

  20. 20
    Corwyn

    Am I the only one who can’t interpret “presuppositional” as anything other than “things I believe *before* I start *thinking*.” Why would you want to call your philosophy that?

    1. 20.1
      Adam W

      Corwyn said-

      Am I the only one who can’t interpret “presuppositional” as anything other than “things I believe *before* I start *thinking*.” Why would you want to call your philosophy that?

      Oh, I dunno: perhaps to dress up FAITH (belief without evidence) in the trappings of rationalism, to give it a pseudo-intellectual air which allows believers to delude themselves that faith is based on nothing BUT hope?

      I spend more time explaining to believers that Paul defined faith as believing WITHOUT perceptible evidence, or even in SPITE of contrary evidence, and you’d be surprised how many don’t even understand their own Bible’s definition of faith (or they try to redefine what Paul says, to what they WANT him to say; they don’t want to understand the Greek word, ‘hupostasis’, which is what Paul uses to describe Xian faith).

      Adam

    2. 20.2
      Russell Glasser

      A lot of people misunderstand what “presuppositional” means in this context. I didn’t quite get it right when I started on Stephen Feinstein. What it means is that in order to believe something, you must assume certain unconscious positions beforehand. For instance, if I say “The sky is clear today,” in order to understand me, you probably assume that I’m on Earth, and I’m talking about Earth’s sky. “I’m on Earth” is a presupposition to “the sky is clear.” “Earth exists” is a presupposition to “I’m on Earth.” “The universe exists” is another presupposition.

      What presuppositionalists claim is that God is a necessary presupposition of everything else, since the existence of a logical and consistent universe is, in their mind, reliant on the existence of God.

      Does that make more sense?

      1. Adam W

        Russell said-

        I lot of people misunderstand what “presuppositional” means in this context. I didn’t quite get it right when I started on Stephen Feinstein. What it means is that in order to believe something, you must assume certain unconscious positions beforehand. For instance, if I say “The sky is clear today,” in order to understand me, you probably assume that I’m on Earth, and I’m talking about Earth’s sky. “I’m on Earth” is a presupposition to “the sky is clear.” “Earth exists” is a presupposition to “I’m on Earth.” “The universe exists” is another presupposition.

        Yup.

        And if you’re wondering how a ‘supposition’ differs from a ‘presupposition’, the former is stated, whereas the latter is implied.

        In the example given by Russell, if I were indoors in a windowless environment and was told “the sky is clear today”, that statement would be the supposition which I would have to accept if I couldn’t confirm it for myself.

        Adam

      2. deesse23

        Call me naive or uneducated, but….

        Russell said:

        What presuppositionalists claim is that God is a necessary presupposition of everything else, since the existence of a logical and consistent universe is, in their mind, reliant on the existence of God.

        Now, in the discussion about the existence of god(s), isnt that like presupposing that the sky can be nothing but clear in the discussion about todays weather? Pretty useless and self-implying, or did i miss something major?

      3. Corwyn

        “Does that make more sense?”

        No.

        But yes, you have made it clear where they are coming from. It still sounds like nonsense to me. I may take it as a default context that you are on Earth, but that is just because everybody I know *is*. If you told me you were actually on Mars, I would be intrigued, and skeptical, but it wouldn’t throw my world view into to disarray. I don’t hold that default context as inflexibly true, and I don’t understand why anyone would want to brag that they did.

        Thanks.

  21. 21
    Robert75

    Lynnea’s response to the presuppositionalist caller was one of the most entertaining exchanges ever on the Aetheist Experience. It wasn’t just the time traveling worldview, but the harmless matter-of-fact way that she delivered it that took the conversation to a whole new level. Russell was brilliant at reminding the caller how his position (miraculously) ended up sounding a lot like atheism. Priceless.

  22. 22
    azure

    I thought Lynnea and Russell did some great Jujutsu that show. That one guy came with presupposition cannon and they just disarmed him from the start. They both clearly knew what trap was being laid out and just cleverly, and with a bit of non insulting humor, use the trap and script against him.

    Great work!

    1. 22.1
      Adam W

      Azure said:

      I thought Lynnea and Russell did some great Jujutsu that show. That one guy came with presupposition cannon and they just disarmed him from the start. They both clearly knew what trap was being laid out and just cleverly, and with a bit of non insulting humor, use the trap and script against him. Great work!

      I concur, but a few more calls like that which are met with such a choreographed and well-oiled response from the hosts, and I’m going to start suspecting that TAE is as fake and staged as pro wrestling! ;)

      Adam

      1. Narf

        Heck, after that blog debate with that sad excuse for a presuppositionalist (not that there’s any other sort), Russel knows the argument backward and forward. Bringing it up against him is kind of debate suicide.

        It only ever works (ie. confuses someone) against people who aren’t familiar with it and are taken by surprise. Once you’ve heard the argument and have had a few minutes to think about it, it’s utterly vapid. Russel has had more than a few minutes.

        1. azure

          Still, let them have their credit for excellent work.

          1. Narf

            Uh, yes, I was giving them credit for being the perfect people to field that sort of argument: Russel for having had the argument and doing an amazing job at it … and Lynnea for being one of his major contributors in the background, I imagine. It seems like your girlfriend/wife would be one of the main people you would turn to to criticize your work in that sort of debate, so there was probably a good bit of her in his posts.

  23. 23
    Adam W

    Is this thread still going? ;)

    Jacobfromlost said-

    Explaining the definition of “probabilities” again and then calling it confidence AGAIN is not rational. I have explained why. Twice.

    I must admit to being a bit amused by the interchange, seeing if someone who thinks he’s found a perfect approach for overcoming the irrationality of others will ever be able to detect the irrationality of the ‘decibans method’! Next question: is Corwyn’s irrationality outweighed by that of others who try to force him to see it?

    Irony being, Corwyn probably thinks of himself as a perfectly-rational person, lacking the self-awareness needed to perceive his cognitive blind-spot (reminds me a bit of the Sheldon Cooper character in the ‘Big Bang Theory’).

    Last one out, don’t forget to turn out the light! :)

    Adam

    1. 23.1
      Corwyn

      to detect the irrationality of the ‘decibans method

      If it is so easy to see, it should be easy to explain. Try *that* instead of just flinging out claim of irrationality.

      Irony being, Corwyn probably thinks of himself as a perfectly-rational person,

      No, but at least I am working on it.

      lacking the self-awareness needed to perceive his cognitive blind-spot

      Again without pointing it out.

      Jacobfromlost: I have explained why. Twice.

      Under the assumption that saying it twice makes it more true? Or just more convincing?

      The last substantive question remains:

      So let’s try this inductively. Let’s say we have a [numerical] confidence about a certain proposition (arbitrary as you say), if we acquire new data or evidence, we can use that to improve (i.e. make closer to reality) our confidence (by either reducing it or increasing it). How much we should adjust our confidence by is determined by how strong the evidence is. With me so far?

      1. jacobfromlost

        It was true both times.

        You described probabilities, then said they were “confidence”.

        They are not. Care to address the problem or ignore it again?

        (Also I don’t believe you are for real, but I was bored.)

        1. Corwyn

          You described probabilities, then said they were “confidence”.

          They are not. Care to address the problem or ignore it again?

          Ok, that’s a start.

          Let’s ignore ‘probability’ all together. We are now talking exclusively about ‘confidence’, in the sense of a sentence such as ” I am relatively confident that it will be sunny tomorrow.” We are talking here about a personal belief, and some expression of how strongly it is held. Does this match with your understanding of the word ‘confidence’?

          Obviously, ‘relatively’ is a vague term. What if we desire to have a better understanding of what it means to be confident that it will be sunny tomorrow. Saying that we are 60% confident would be one way to do that. (without necessarily adding any information, just putting a quantitative label on the word ‘relatively’) Do you agree?

          Some things we can determine right away from this exercise:
          1) Confidence expressed this way is strictly limited to between 0% and 100%.
          2) This allows us to express more precisely our confidence (without necessarily being more accurate, we will see if we can get that later).
          3) We haven’t crossed over into talking about probabilities.
          4) We will have eliminated the inherent ambiguity about such words as ‘very’ ‘partly’ (by the way, which is more cloudy “partly cloudy” or “partly sunny”?). One person who thinks partly means about one quarter of the time, won’t be miscommunication with someone who thinks partly means about 1 third of the time.
          5) From 4 we can see that numerical values of confidence would be beneficial to communication should we be able to determine our level of confidence with sufficient granularity to justify that numerical mapping.

          Any complaints so far?

          1. jacobfromlost

            “Saying that we are 60% confident would be one way to do that. (without necessarily adding any information, just putting a quantitative label on the word ‘relatively’) Do you agree?”

            No, as the number is arbitrary and doesn’t reflect anything at all. I believe I mentioned this before. Several times.

            “1) Confidence expressed this way is strictly limited to between 0% and 100%.”

            Percent of WHAT?

            “2) This allows us to express more precisely our confidence ”

            Precisely WHAT? You haven’t explained what the numbers are a quantity OF.

            “3) We haven’t crossed over into talking about probabilities.”

            Right. Now we aren’t talking about anything except arbitrary feelings, which I already pointed out are notoriously wrong.

            “4) We will have eliminated the inherent ambiguity about such words as ‘very’ ‘partly”

            How did you do that? How do you know everyone’s “50% confidence” is the same? Or 99%? Or any other percent ****if you don’t know what the percentages reflect in reality*****??????

            “5) From 4 we can see that numerical values of confidence would be beneficial to communication should we be able to determine our level of confidence with sufficient granularity to justify that numerical mapping.”

            Word salad. How is it beneficial to communication if we don’t know what the percentages objectively reflect? It isn’t!!!

            “Any complaints so far?”

            Yes. See above. I can add more if you like. I’m still bored.

  24. 24
    jacobfromlost

    “Next question: is Corwyn’s irrationality outweighed by that of others who try to force him to see it?”

    Is it irrational to point out irrationality by being rational? lol

    I hope not, or we’re all in a lot of trouble.

    1. 24.1
      Adam W

      Jacobfromlost said-

      Is it irrational to point out irrationality by being rational? lol

      You DO know that one definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over, but then expecting a different outcome?

      I hope not, or we’re all in a lot of trouble.

      Fear not, for salvation is only as far away as appealing to Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

      PS I’m waiting to see how Corwyn makes the leap from the World of weather forecasting (which uses statistical analysis to provide probabilities) to assigning Universally-accepted confidence values to the factors at play in the question of God’s existence. I’m guessing it would require a Cray supercomputer, or paradoxically it’s something only an omniscient God could figure out!

      Adam

      1. jacobfromlost

        I’m not a fan of Einstein’s definition of insanity, but setting that aside…

        I DON’T expect a different outcome. I don’t expect any outcome–good, bad, nor ugly. I never argue to change anyone’s mind. I only argue to sharpen my own wits, increase my own understanding, and have a little fun.

      2. Athywren

        You DO know that one definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over, but then expecting a different outcome?

        Who says that a different outcome is expected? Personally, I’ve spent far too much time arguing on youtube in my life to believe that people will change their minds on anything if they don’t want to, but sometimes the discussion helps you to gain new perspectives on whatever it is you’re talking about.

  25. 25
    Corwyn

    [moved to bottom of thread]

    Saying that we are 60% confident would be one way to do that. (without necessarily adding any information, just putting a quantitative label on the word ‘relatively’) Do you agree?”

    No, as the number is arbitrary and doesn’t reflect anything at all. I believe I mentioned this before. Several times.

    I am not sure what you objection here is. The Fahrenheit temperature scale is arbitrary. He just picked the coldest thing he could make, and body temperature. Every scale has to start somewhere. Do you really find ’60% confident’ LESS informative than ‘relatively confident’? How would *you* choose to express varying levels of confidence?

    Percent of WHAT?

    Of completely confident. What is the most confident you have EVER been about anything? 100% is a bit past that. Vice versa for 0%.

    Is the problem we are having here that you view confidence as a binary attribute? all on or all off? I didn’t think that this was a huge issue.

    Right. Now we aren’t talking about anything except arbitrary feelings, which I already pointed out are notoriously wrong.

    Notoriously wrong, yes. That is PRECISELY the problem we are trying to FIX here.

    How did you do that? How do you know everyone’s “50% confidence” is the same? Or 99%? Or any other percent ****if you don’t know what the percentages reflect in reality*****??????

    Calibrating people’s levels of confidence will come later. For now we will assume for convenience sake that 0% and 100% match for everybody, and we can revisit that assumption later if needed.

    The percentages don’t mean anything in reality (outside the person’s brain). ‘Confidence’ as I believe we have agreed is “about a personal belief, and some expression of how strongly it is held.” (I assume we agreed to since you didn’t list it amongst your objections, did you want to add that?) Therefore it doesn’t need to match reality in any other sense, hence your objection that confidence is notoriously wrong.

    How is it beneficial to communication if we don’t know what the percentages objectively reflect? It isn’t!!!

    They objectively reflect one person’s current mindset on a given proposition. But really this is again nothing more (IMO) than the meaning of the word ‘confidence’. How is this different from a pain scale used in hospitals? There is nothing which is being ‘objectively reflected’ there, but doctors find the scale extremely useful in communication between patients and care givers. I am becoming less confident that we even mean the same thing by the word since you seem to want to have it apply to reality outside the head, at the same time as it exists only inside a head.

    Would you please use the word ‘confidence’ in a simple sentence that you agree with.

    1. 25.1
      jacobfromlost

      Corwyn: I am not sure what you objection here is. The Fahrenheit temperature scale is arbitrary. He just picked the coldest thing he could make, and body temperature. Every scale has to start somewhere. Do you really find ’60% confident’ LESS informative than ‘relatively confident’? How would *you* choose to express varying levels of confidence?

      Me: Fahrenheit is arbitrary in terms of being place on an objective reality and we then all agree on the scale. There is no objective element of “confidence” in your percentage scale. There is nothing objective at “50% confidence” to let us know that all of us are at the SAME LEVEL of confidence, nor at any other percentage. That’s a level of arbitrary that goes beyond the convention of a scale placed upon something objective. You are taking an arbitrary scale and placing in on COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCES. It’s arbitrary all the way down the line and tells us nothing. That’s the problem. 70 degrees Fahrenheit is part of an arbitrary scale, sure, but 70 degrees scans to an actual, objective temperature. See the problem now? Your confidence percentages do not.

      Corwyn: Of completely confident. What is the most confident you have EVER been about anything? 100% is a bit past that. Vice versa for 0%.

      Me: That makes no sense. The most confident *I* have ever been about something isn’t the same as the most confident YOU have been about something, or John or Jane Doe. You are just pretending they are the same. You have no way to know that since it is completely subjective and has no objective element.

      Corwyn: Is the problem we are having here that you view confidence as a binary attribute? all on or all off? I didn’t think that this was a huge issue.

      Me: The problem is that you are pretending a completely subjective evaluation of something can be scanned to a percentage scale where those percentages objectively mean something across a cross section people. The only way this COULD mean something is if the percentages objectively reflected something, which they don’t. That’s the problem.

      Corwyn: Notoriously wrong, yes. That is PRECISELY the problem we are trying to FIX here.

      Me: You can’t fix it. You are trying to make subjectivity objective by fiat. That doesn’t fix the problem. Moreover…why is it a problem? Subjectivity is the OPPOSITE of objectivity. That’s not a problem.

      Corwyn: Calibrating people’s levels of confidence will come later. For now we will assume for convenience sake that 0% and 100% match for everybody, and we can revisit that assumption later if needed.

      Me: LOL (milk just sprayed out of my nose). Ok, the milk thing didn’t happen, but it would have had I been drinking milk. Please explain how you CALIBRATE these levels without anything objective to calibrate them WITH?

      Corwyn: The percentages don’t mean anything in reality (outside the person’s brain).

      Me: That’s what I’ve been saying.

      Corwyn: ‘Confidence’ as I believe we have agreed is “about a personal belief, and some expression of how strongly it is held.” (I assume we agreed to since you didn’t list it amongst your objections, did you want to add that?)

      Me: You’ve just described an subjective evaluation of something. Isn’t that what I’ve been saying? I don’t object to saying confidence is subjective, I object to pretending that a series of subjective opinions with subjective numbers attached makes it objective. It simply doesn’t.

      Corwyn: Therefore it doesn’t need to match reality in any other sense, hence your objection that confidence is notoriously wrong.

      Me: Subjectivity doesn’t need to match objectivity, no. Claiming many subjective experiences must scan to arbitrary percentages, and that these percentages therefore reflect something objective…is nonsense.

      Sincerely not expecting a different result…
      jacobfromlost…

      1. Corwyn

        Me: Fahrenheit is arbitrary in terms of being place on an objective reality and we then all agree on the scale.

        How do you know that? Prove it without using a temperature scale. What Fahrenheit did was in fact take a completely subjective impression and SHOW that there was an objective reality there at all.

        That makes no sense. The most confident *I* have ever been about something isn’t the same as the most confident YOU have been about something, or John or Jane Doe. You are just pretending they are the same.

        No I am not. Go re-read what I actually wrote. I am handwaving the difference for the sake of simplifying the argument. Once I get you to even agree that confidence is quantifiable at all, we can talk about how to calibrate it across people.

        Please explain how you CALIBRATE these levels without anything objective to calibrate them WITH?

        I will be happy to. Please acknowledge that Confidence can *in theory* be quantified and I will.

        I object to pretending that a series of subjective opinions with subjective numbers attached makes it objective. It simply doesn’t.

        Oh good. Since I have never said that. I am glad we have located the cause of our mutual confusion.

        So, we agree that ‘confidence’ is “about a personal belief, and some expression of how strongly it is held.” That it is NOT an objective external measure. Yes?

        1. jacobfromlost

          You: How do you know that? Prove it without using a temperature scale. What Fahrenheit did was in fact take a completely subjective impression and SHOW that there was an objective reality there at all.

          Me: Oh good grief. The temperature itself is objective. The arbitrary scale scans to that objective reality. Your confidence scale doesn’t scan to anything. That’s the problem.

          You: No I am not. Go re-read what I actually wrote.

          Me: I did. And you are. Here, look at the very next thing that comes out of your mouth:

          You: I am handwaving the difference for the sake of simplifying the argument.

          Me: You are conceding you have no argument for the sake of your argument? Sorry, you don’t get to do that.

          You: Once I get you to even agree that confidence is quantifiable at all, we can talk about how to calibrate it across people.

          Me: You should have talked about that FIRST. What have you been waiting for?

          You: I will be happy to. Please acknowledge that Confidence can *in theory* be quantified and I will.

          Me: No, as that isn’t a requirement for you to demonstrate your argument. (Would you want me to hope on one foot before making your argument as well?)

          You: Oh good. Since I have never said that.

          Me: You have, you just deny saying it right after every instance of you saying it.

          You: I am glad we have located the cause of our mutual confusion.

          Me: There is no mutual confusion. There is only your confusion.

          You: So, we agree that ‘confidence’ is “about a personal belief, and some expression of how strongly it is held.” That it is NOT an objective external measure. Yes?

          Me: Subjectivity is not objectivity.

    2. 25.2
      Athywren

      I think the major problem is that you’re arguing for a change in language without considering that it won’t change anything. Decimalising gut feeling won’t make it any more reliable.

      Anyway…

      It seems to me that, if I’m given concrete evidence for both aliens and elves, the evidence for elves comes out as worth more in decibans than the evidence for aliens, no matter the content of that evidence, because both got me to certainty while one had farther to go to get there. Either that, or I would need more concrete evidence for the elves, or high confidence has no set level.

      That is wrong, the decibans is a measure of the convincing-ness of the evidence. Lots of low quality evidence does not beat a little high quality evidence.

      It’s wrong to criticise decibans as merely measure of convincing-ness because they’re a measure of convincing-ness? I think you misunderstood my objection. The point was that it’s inconsistent, and ultimately useless in non-technical discussions, because it’s merely a measure of how convincing it is.
      The same piece of evidence will have wildly varying values, because different people will find it more or less convincing. If I ask you for 2.3 decibans of evidence for the worth of using decibans in these kinds of discussions, and you give me the evidence that amounts to that in your mind, there’s no guarantee that it maps to 2.3 for me. It may well map to 1.7 for me, in which case I’d declare you a fool who shortchanged me by .6 decibans and we’d go to war over it… or something like that.

      Actually, if I’m completely honest with you, I don’t really see the value of it outside of a technical or gaming setting.

      Do you see the value of having a numeric representation of your buying power? Do you think the everyone did the first time they were introduced to the concept.

      Buying power is relatively easy to enumerate. If I have a goat, and I know that the average barter of goats for chickens is one goat for four chickens, then I know I have roughly four chickens worth of goat. How convinced you are of something doesn’t really break down so easily. I could probably break it down into unconvinced, dubious, inclined toward belief, and utterly convinced, but I don’t know how you’d divide those across the convincement scale. It can’t just be 1,2,3,4, because unconvinced and convinced do not make up a full half of that scale. Nor do dubious or inclined to believe each take up half of the remaining scale. I couldn’t even give ratios beyond a simple “this area is bigger than that,” which isn’t of much use.
      Maybe currency faced resistance at first, but at least it mapped to something fairly obvious and relatively (relatively) consistent.

      They know that only one person out of a hundred gets this form of cancer, and that eight out of ten who test positive have that type of cancer, and only one out of ten who test positive don’t have the cancer. You test positive. How confident should you be that you have that type of cancer?

      I didn’t actually say it, but I already expressed my willingness to accept the value of this to some extent in technical settings. I’m not sure why an example of its worth in a technical setting would convince me of the worth of it in other settings?
      I’ll say a billion decibans, because I have no context on the worth of a single deciban beyond it being a small number of bits, and because, since it’s a measure of how convincing something is, rather than how accurate it is, it seems entirely arbitrary anyway. (And, no, I don’t mean arbitrary in the way that temperature is arbitrary – temperature is an arbitrary scale on an objective phenomenon, thus only the scale is arbitrary. Confidence, on the other hand, is an arbitrary measure of a subjective phenomenon, so picking a new scale doesn’t really help.)

      I’m curious about what the other one out of ten who test positive have though? Is it possible to both have and not have cancer? That reminds me of that particular brand of agnostics who adamantly deny that not believing something is the same as not believing it.

      1. Corwyn

        @Athywren:

        Decimalising gut feeling won’t make it any more reliable.

        Fahrenheit. This argument could easily have been made about when he invented a temperature scale. I will use ‘Fahrenheit’ as a short hand for this. The idea is to MAKE gut feeling more reliable, the first step of which is to quantify it (as ALL processes of making things more reliable must do). People have a more reliable personal gut feeling about what temperature it is BECAUSE Fahrenheit invented a scale for temperature and we have all been living with it for centuries. Imagine a ‘too hot/too cold’ argument in your household, WITHOUT a temperature scale!

        The same piece of evidence will have wildly varying values, because different people will find it more or less convincing. If I ask you for 2.3 decibans of evidence for the worth of using decibans in these kinds of discussions, and you give me the evidence that amounts to that in your mind, there’s no guarantee that it maps to 2.3 for me.

        Actually we shouldn’t argue about the quantity of decibans of the evidence. We should argue about the likelihoods of the the evidence given one or another hypothesis. But that is what I am HOPING for. At that point we have distilled the problem down into something that can be argued with reasonableness. Once we get even close to an agreement on how likely evidence is for a given hypothesis, we can calculate a range of values for ‘convincing-ness’ of that evidence, and both adjust our confidence in that hypothesis (with both the larger and smaller values).

        If one is arguing with a theist, for example, and they provide some small piece of positive evidence, instead of dismissing it, and derailing the conversation, acknowledge it, agree on its likelihood given the theist and atheist hypothesis, calculate a change in confidence for the listener, and move on to an atheistic argument. And so on, back and forth. At the end both people should AGREE about the amount that both of their confidences in the hypothesis should have changed. It is extremely unlikely that anyone’s confidence would change enough to change their world-view, but positive constructive verifiable change should occur.

        I could probably break it down into unconvinced, dubious, inclined toward belief, and utterly convinced, but I don’t know how you’d divide those across the convincement scale. It can’t just be 1,2,3,4, because unconvinced and convinced do not make up a full half of that scale. Nor do dubious or inclined to believe each take up half of the remaining scale. I couldn’t even give ratios beyond a simple “this area is bigger than that,” which isn’t of much use.

        So you have taken your first step towards quantifying confidence. Congratulations. Since it is now shown to be theoretically possible, let’s see if we can refine it.

        Maybe currency faced resistance at first, but at least it mapped to something fairly obvious and relatively (relatively) consistent.

        I claim hindsight bias. It may be obvious to you now, but it was not when it was invented (see: Code of Hammurabi). But I don’t think money is as obvious as you do. What *exactly* is it mapped to? How does inflation interact with that mapping? International monetary trading? Interest rates? People’s confidence in it?

        I didn’t actually say it, but I already expressed my willingness to accept the value of this to some extent in technical settings. I’m not sure why an example of its worth in a technical setting would convince me of the worth of it in other settings?

        Define technical. I can’t define it as anything but something which can be expressed numerically. :-)

        I’ll say a billion decibans, because I have no context on the worth of a single deciban beyond it being a small number of bits, and because, since it’s a measure of how convincing something is, rather than how accurate it is, it seems entirely arbitrary anyway.

        You could ask. But I think you should answer the question about cancer; there is something important lurking there. Express it in whatever means you would in a conversation with a friend.

        I’m curious about what the other one out of ten who test positive have though? Is it possible to both have and not have cancer?

        Health? The test is only for one specific type of cancer, saying you don’t have it implies nothing else, but that you don’t have it. Those that get a positive on the test, but don’t have it, are referred to as ‘false positives’, and it is solely an artifact of the test not being completely reliable.

        1. unfogged

          People have a more reliable personal gut feeling about what temperature it is BECAUSE Fahrenheit invented a scale for temperature and we have all been living with it for centuries.

          That doesn’t make any sense. Labeling a particular temperature 60 degrees Fahrenheit is initially arbitrary but it is an objective physical phenomenon. If somebody tells me that it is 60F where they are then I can reliably compare it to the temperature where I am. The personal reaction to that temperature is still subjective though — when I lived in New England a 60F Spring morning was a time for shorts and t-shirts and outdoor activities because it was so warm but when I lived in the southwest a 60F Spring morning was a time for dressing warmly because it was so cold.

          If one is arguing with a theist, for example, and they provide some small piece of positive evidence, instead of dismissing it, and derailing the conversation, acknowledge it, agree on its likelihood given the theist and atheist hypothesis, calculate a change in confidence for the listener, and move on to an atheistic argument. And so on, back and forth. At the end both people should AGREE about the amount that both of their confidences in the hypothesis should have changed.

          A piece of positive evidence may be very convincing for the presenter and barely convincing for the listener. Many small pieces of evidence can add up to be more convincing than any strict mathematical addition of the individual weights, even assuming they could be quantified, would imply. A small bit of evidence in the direction you already believe is likely to carry more weight than the same “amount” of evidence countering your current leaning.

          It might be nice if confidence and evidence could be quantified and treated as a mathematical formula but that’s not how people use it. When somebody tells me they are 80% sure of something it gives me a rough estimate of their thinking but I can’t compare what they call 80% to what I’d call 80% because, unlike temperature, there is nothing to nail that number to. It’s no more or less useful than if they say that they are ‘prety confident’.

          1. Corwyn

            That doesn’t make any sense. Labeling a particular temperature 60 degrees Fahrenheit is initially arbitrary but it is an objective physical phenomenon.

            Really? How you know that? Without a scale, there is no way to even test that. Which is my point. Before we had a temperature scale, we didn’t know that temperature was an objective physical phenomenon. The story about the person blowing on his hands to warm them and on his soup to cool it, and getting ridiculed is an example of that.

            A piece of positive evidence may be very convincing for the presenter and barely convincing for the listener.

            True. Here is the way around that problem. Assess *in advance* the likelihood of a given piece of evidence given one or more hypotheses. When both people agree* on that, then you can observe the event, and the confidence of both hypotheses can be evaluated with no more argument. It is solely math at that point.

            *Agreement is easier at this point since people who are more confident in their hypothesis than is really warranted. Thus give more likelihood to events that will confirm it.

            Many small pieces of evidence can add up to be more convincing than any strict mathematical addition of the individual weights, even assuming they could be quantified, would imply.

            Were that true, I would claim that you are doing the math wrong (i.e. the wrong formula, not making mistakes). One of the attributes of any good mathematical formula for confidence should be exactly that computing as individual pieces of evidence or as a lump sum should be invariant. I would need to see a mathematical proof that no such formula can possibly exist before I will concede your point. You are, of course, justified in reserving judgement to see if I can provide such a formula.

            A small bit of evidence in the direction you already believe is likely to carry more weight than the same “amount” of evidence countering your current leaning.

            It shouldn’t. Exactly the opposite actually. If one is 99.999% confident, new evidence shouldn’t increase that very much (and there isn’t a lot of space to go). This is one place where applying the math might help people.

            It might be nice if confidence and evidence could be quantified and treated as a mathematical formula but that’s not how people use it.

            That isn’t an argument for why would shouldn’t try to change that.

            When somebody tells me they are 80% sure of something it gives me a rough estimate of their thinking but I can’t compare what they call 80% to what I’d call 80% because, unlike temperature, there is nothing to nail that number to. It’s no more or less useful than if they say that they are ‘prety confident’.

            So, what if I could show that there was a way to calibrate people’s confidence?

          2. jacobfromlost

            You: Really? How you know that? Without a scale, there is no way to even test that. Which is my point.

            Me: You are wrong. There are many ways to test it. Simply claiming there isn’t because you haven’t thought about it very much isn’t a strong argument.

            You: So, what if I could show that there was a way to calibrate people’s confidence?

            Me: I would ask why you didn’t say that FIRST instead of responding to multiple comments as if talking out of your posterior? The only conclusion we can come to is that you don’t know what you are talking about. But I will wait with bated breath for you to finally–FINALLY!–get to your argument.

  26. 26
    Adam W

    Corwyn said-

    So, what if I could show that there was a way to calibrate people’s confidence?

    Uh-oh: you’re not going to suggest believing in God now, are you?

    After all, isn’t that what a religion is: a group where entry is conditional upon agreeing to believe in doctrine with absolute confidence? ;)

    So to the point:

    Until science finds a way to measure people’s confidence with a fMRI (perhaps by looking at activity in the brain that correlates to it), we’re going to LACK an objective means to compare and measure confidence, since ALL scientific measurements are based on existence of STANDARDS, i.e. something to which we can compare.

    That still doesn’t get Corwyn to a means to measure the IMPACT that various types of evidence have on different individuals: some will find a certain argument or bit of data to be compelling, and others don’t, varying depending on one’s educational level, prior life experiences, World view, general mood, etc, etc.

    Adam

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