Open thread for AETV #887: Lame Rationalizations with Matt & Don


Feel free to share any lame rationalizations you’ve heard.

Audio here.

Comments

  1. Marcelo says

    Any rationalization about why Jesus so clearly lies in:
    Matthew 18:19-20
    19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

    There is no condition there, and still it is not true.

  2. chris lowe says

    There is a tv commercial out there that has geniously coined the phrase “nose blind”
    When the moral stink has hung around for millennia you might loose the ability to smell it.Especially because it is so widely distributed. It’s every where and accepted as part of the landscape

  3. robertwilson says

    My goodness Don that was amazing. Asking the caller (Peter) about omniscience was beautiful.

    I have to agree with Matt’s suspicion that the caller was being dishonest. It seemed to me he was trying to win points and had convinced himself he’d found a way to defeat Matt and was simply unwilling to apply counterarguments as he was convinced he had already defeated them all.

    What a frustrating person to listen to but a good call by Matt with a beautiful knockdown by Don. He was so off-guard he actually agreed with Matt and had no idea he was doing it, showing he had not paid any attention to Matt’s words at all.

  4. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Feel free to share any lame rationalizations you’ve heard.

    “God’s not imaginary. He’s just in my head!”
     
    “Whaddaya mean gay marriage is legal now? Show me proof. … Well, in the state where I’m from, when I was born, gay marriage wasn’t legal.”
    “The state of denial?”
     
    Different person:
    “If it’s in the bible, I believe it. … Not that. … Not that. … Not that. … I’m not okay with that. … Look, I don’t really read so much as flip to a random page and point. Those are the parts I believe. By the way, I believe the rapture is coming real soon.”
     
    Pair in a youth group volunteering to do chores:
    *Scoops cat litter* “What we’re doing isn’t glamorous, I know, but think of the sort of folks Jesus hung around with. They didn’t have it great either.”
     
    Another:

    A lot of parents aren’t the sort to take their children to church normally. I let parents sign permission slips to bus their kids off school property, so I can talk to them (can’t say “God” in school, y’know). I don’t want kids hearing about the bible on the streets.
     
    Thing is, these kids are still too young to understand the bible, so I just tell stories instead: like a teacher who was lost, stopped at a gas station to buy a map, and put it in the glove box. I ask, “Does she know where to go?” They come up with lots of anwsers. Then I say, “Nuh-uh, she put the map in the glove box.” … The bible is our map.

  5. Paul Wright says

    Enjoyed last nights show. Glad to hear Peter wriggle and squirm as he tried to argue his point. He put in a good fight but it was ultimately flawed and he was ultimately exposed by the hosts. Much fun.

  6. says

    Wow, Peter was painful to listen to!

    How, exactly, does he arrive at the conclusion that it’s possible (much less “equally likely”) that one can have a set of false beliefs about reality that cause you to make better decisions than a set of true beliefs? Because his car example was idiotic – the fact is that the belief he is posing as leading to better decisions (the faster the car coming at you, the more money you’re likely to win, as motivation for getting out of the way faster in order to avoid being struck by a car that wouldn’t have a big enough payoff) would eventually lead to a person leaping in front of a car they think is going just the right speed for their profit motive. Whereas knowing that getting struck by a car will result in injury or death is all the motivation anyone ought to need to get out of the way as fast as possible, whether the car is moving at 35 or 110.

    One would think that anyone asserting the possibility that a false belief would lead to a better decision would at least come up with an example that actually supports that assertion.

    This also runs into the problem of generalization (which I think Matt kind of hinted at when trying to get Peter to acknowledge consistency). To arrive at a system of thought that is completely wrong about reality, and yet still somehow consistently results in better decisions across the vast array of possible life situations than actually having an accurate view would have, seems vastly more complicated than simply having a reasonably accurate picture of reality.

    It seems far more likely to me, at least, that if you think a false belief leads to a better decision than a true one, you’ve probably misidentified the true and false parts of the belief and/or what constitutes a better decision.

  7. Monocle Smile says

    Charles the Solipsist comes to mind. Does god exist? “I think so…because [word salad].”

    Anyone else listen to Matt’s radio debate with David Robertson? It’s pretty painful because Robertson couldn’t go 30 seconds without telling a massive lie, but at some point, Matt had him cornered and Robertson rationalized with “open your eyes.”

  8. says

    It’s possible to have a false belief that saves you – believing that your house is about to be blasted apart by aliens may save you from carbon monoxide poisoning.

    The one thing that should have been better pressed is that these are outliers. Just like there’s no guarantee that a 3-legged malformed deer will die before reproduction, there’s no guarantee that a “perfectly fit” deer will survive to reproduction. Yet, evolution, on average, trends towards different attributes, over the generations. These averages nullify the noise.

    Likewise, even if one has a false belief that happened to be beneficial, overall, the likeliness of having increased false beliefs helping your survive is going to plummet, toward certainty, the more they’re inacted.

    It’s like having to explain the difference between climate and weather to AGW deniers.

  9. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Narf #9:

    @Jasper of Maine #7:

    I think we’re about to hear from EnlightenmentLiberal.

    What makes you say that, Jasper?

     
    Comment: EnlightenmentLiberal, on the Sye Ten Debate

    “supernatural causation” is a meaningless term, and the common usage of “natural” vs “supernatural” is completely arbitrary and culturally created. As commonly used, “supernatural” is a “get out of justification free card”, which is bullshit. I don’t care if it’s natural or supernatural. If it’s observable, then I’m going to do science on it. Natural vs supernatural is simply an irrelevant distraction which needlessly obfuscates the entire conversation.
     
    Matt says science lies on methodological naturalism. No it doesn’t! I’m making this my new mission to correct this grave misunderstanding.

  10. says

    Jasper: even so, that example leads only to an equivalent short term decision (evacuating the house) to what you would make if you knew the truth, not a better one. And long term, it would lead to a much worse decision (either abandoning the house altogether, or eventually reentering it without breathing protection and without repairing the gas leak). Peter is trying to argue that false beliefs can produce *better* decisions than true ones, but he fails to demonstrate that even in the short term. We don’t need to address his assertions about the climate when he can’t even demonstrate his assertions about the weather.

  11. Robert, not Bob says

    Doesn’t “supernatural” just mean something that, even in principle, can’t be understood by science? That’s the definition I arrived at after a few hundred arguments with my YEC father. This is another of those negatives it’s impossible to prove, and therefore meaningless even if actually true.

  12. Monocle Smile says

    @Adam Felton

    I chucked audibly at the sight of that link. Sam Parnia has been spouting bullshit about how the AWARE results in-situ were “looking good” for years on end. It’s satisfying to finally put that shit to rest.

  13. says

    For those who might not have read tons of philosophy, the argument the caller was making about evolution was originally made by Alvin Plantinga. Though he made the points very poorly compared to Plantinga’s arguments. I thought Matt did a pretty good job deconstructing some of the problems with this argument, but the Wikipedia page on this argument has links to several critiques by professional philosophers for anyone who is interested.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_argument_against_naturalism

  14. Monocle Smile says

    @RnB, 18

    That’s exactly the definition that EnlightenmentLiberal takes issue with, and I understand his gripe. I’m unsure that anything that interacts with our reality could ever be exempt from examination. AronRa’s talked about how even if god exists “outside space and time” (which is a WTF as well), if he reaches his hand into our universe, he’s going to pull it out “dripping with physics.”

  15. corwyn says

    How, exactly, does he arrive at the conclusion that it’s possible (much less “equally likely”) that one can have a set of false beliefs about reality that cause you to make better decisions than a set of true beliefs?

    Scientists have a hard enough time creating a self-consistent set of beliefs even with the MASSIVE advantage of having a complete reference to work from (reality). Somewhere webward there is a discussion of how many things you have to disbelieve if you choose to disbelieve only one (evolution IIRC). All our knowledge of reality is twisted up together. A system of beliefs has to make sense of the vast majority of it.

    Peter never gave one example of an isolated false belief that was better than a true one. His car example would have the belief holder heading to Boneville Salt Flats to be run down by the fastest car in existence. Imagine if he needed make it match other things in his reality. What would he do when a friend gets hit by a car? Congratulate him, and make him pay for beer? What about when he is car shopping? Get the car with the most accidents? How do you resolve conflicts in your beliefs if there is no reliable reality to compare them to?

  16. corwyn says

    @20

    Nor can he just set it up in an initial state and let it run. Entropy says that the information in the Universe is increasing, such knowledge can NOT be embedded in the structure of the Universe. So if a god has control over our lives in any way, he must be interacting with the Universe (however subtly) on an ongoing basis.

  17. corwyn says

    Another problem with Peter’s thesis is the question of where such false beliefs would come from. How does one acquire the idea that getting hit by a car earns one money on how fast it was going? Add in the requirement that all other beliefs must form a roughly coherent picture, and the only feasible way that could happen would be direct implantation in the mind by a vastly intelligent source. Perhaps that was his ultimate objective.

  18. Robert, not Bob says

    @ Monocle Smile, 20
    Now that I think on it, it looks like I’m asking two different questions: Does it interact? and Can it be understood? I think Christians understand there’s a contradiction involved: otherwise why would they carefully define “answer to prayer” in terms that could mean absolutely any outcome whatsoever? Personally I believe that no incomprehensible phenomenon could actually exist, but I can’t say why exactly (no philosophical training).

  19. Monocle Smile says

    @RnB, 24

    I agree with that last statement, mostly. I don’t have any philosophical training either, but it depends on what one means by “exist.” Personally, I find all definitions outside of the classical pragmatic one to be masturbatory and irrelevant to pretty much every discussion.

  20. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Jasper of Maine
    Let me watch the show first. What do you think I’d say?

    He has a pet peeve about science investigating the supernatural.

    [Insert boilerplate pet peeve response]
    Ah.

    I should call in and argue with Matt or someone about it. Just been lazy. Maybe next week.

    Thank you Sky Captain for the quote and cite, lol.

    @RnB, 18
    That’s exactly the definition that EnlightenmentLiberal takes issue with

    Yep.

  21. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Robert, not Bob in 24
    It is one of my founding presuppositions of my belief system that I should use science to learn about the world around me. As a consequence of that foundational belief, it’s almost nonsensical to talk about the possibility of something that exists but is utterly inscrutable to science. How would you know if it is? How could you tell? Only after you try to investigate? Which means you’re still going to investigate everything? What about the stuff we’ve investigated in the past but couldn’t figure out, only to later figure out? Doesn’t that mean we should never stop trying to investigate something? Again, “supernatural” in that sense is a cop-out. It’s an excuse to stop trying, to stop applying science, and to be intellectually lazy and dishonest.

    Further, I think it’s also actually incoherent to talk about something being inscrutable to science. Try to imagine what they might be. The best I can actually do is modern quantum mechanics. Perhaps individual quantum events really are true-random events and it’s impossible to predict them. Perhaps determinism is false. However, we can still predict them in aggregate. We can still predict individual events by a statistical distribution.

    Let’s cut straight to the idea of a Cartesian Demon, aka “Evil Demon”. It’s basically The Matrix hypothesis, and as I’m fond of saying, “Who gives?”. The only interesting aspect to this might be if the demon purposefully tries to subvert your expectations. Today hammers fall down. Tomorrow hammers fall up. Even then, I can start to form some expectations, like tomorrow some important things are going to be different. It’s almost the liar paradox to defeat every expectation. Further, to defeat every expectation would cause our world to be like pure elemental chaos (to borrow a phrase from fiction). At that point, the world would be incomprehensible in totality, and thus I think “incoherent” is the right word to apply.

    Let’s examine some Christian beliefs. Let’s suppose some of the scenarios of modern apologetics was right. The Christian god does heal amputees, just never in a way that could be confirmed to a widespread audience. It’s the “hiding god” hypothesis. Here, we are straddling a line, and it’s important to point that out. It’s the same scenario as Sagan’s garage dragon. It’s tantalizingly close to widespread scientific discovery, but never quite is. Here, the only rational course of action is to (tentatively) conclude that it does not exist, and go about your life as normal. In this sense, it might be some things will never be discovered and widespread validated by science – like a hiding god. This is one of the few things in which it might make sense to say that science will never work on it. However, note that sufficiently advanced material mundane aliens like the Goa’uld from Stargate SG-1 might be able to accomplish the same thing, which means this scenario put forth in Christian apologetics does not really map onto the usual notions of “supernatural” vs “natural”.

    In one sense, we are not saying that it’s immune to scientific inquiry. We are simply stating that some agent out there (whether magic or mundane) is purposefully evading detection, and they’re better than us so we cannot find them, but if they ever decided to stop being coy, then science would work. In the other sense, we are saying it’s so rare that it might as well be immune to science in practice (like rarely manifesting garage dragons), but just give us some more time to get more data, and we might make sense of it. Again, it’s perhaps just my complete inability to see a third option because of my preconceptions that I should use science to learn about the world around me.

  22. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal #27:

    The only interesting aspect to this might be if the demon purposefully tries to subvert your expectations. Today hammers fall down. Tomorrow hammers fall up. Even then, I can start to form some expectations, like tomorrow some important things are going to be different. It’s almost the liar paradox to defeat every expectation. Further, to defeat every expectation would cause our world to be like pure elemental chaos (to borrow a phrase from fiction). At that point, the world would be incomprehensible in totality, and thus I think “incoherent” is the right word to apply.

    Ages ago elsewhere, I once wrote a rambly comment constructing a hypothetical universe which might be sensible paper or outside but with laws anthetical to empirical investigation from within.
     
    It hinged on possibly invalid math – subvert the Central Limit Theorem by not having finite bounds on random events (thus no bell curve reigning in aggregate randomness on large scales). Scramble particles’ existence, position, and properties constantly. Any semblance of correlation between particles would be coincidence, even attempts to pin down identity (besides not really interacting with observers, a thing’s never reliably in the same place).
     
    Occasionally by fluke, there’d be islands of apparent stability, with Boltzmann brains or whole worlds. The fleeting observers living there might try science, and think they’re succeeding, but at bottom there’d be no promise hammers would fall consistently the whole time, nor of how long the island would persist before dissolving. The end is nigh!

  23. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PST:

    but at bottom there’d be no promise hammers would fall consistently the whole time, nor of how long the island would persist before dissolving.

    We don’t have that promise either. (lol)

  24. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Myself #28: Grr. Subtle typo.
    Satan reigning in Hell.
    Santa reining in Blitzen.

  25. ChaosS says

    What I get from Christians all the time is “I’ve seen things in my life that let me know that there’s a god watching over us.” If you ask for an example you get some nonsensical chain of events like bad things happening to bad people or good things happening to good people. Of course, they acknowledge that bad things happen to good people or good things happen to bad people, but that’s just god being mysterious or having a plan… they are completely impervious to a discussion of confirmation bias. Also, it’s never a direct manifestation that they could have snapped a picture of or a voice they could have recorded, it’s always a feeling or in the stranger stories a telepathic communication, so it’s impervious to physical evidence as well. And ultimately, I’m a bad person for wanting evidence because the god apparently hates that and why cant I just have faith and go along with the program blah blah blah…

    Another frustrating one is “I have to believe that life has meaning” or “…things happen for a reason.” I’ll certainly agree that events have tend to reasons behind them but why do they have to be meaningful reasons and not just “one day an oxygen atom met two hydrogen atoms and made a water molecule” a couple billion times to make the ocean?

  26. Esquilax says

    I got the most amazing rationalization from a christian the other day on an atheist forum I moderate: the discussion was lengthy and often very flippant from the christian involved, but when I continued to bounce demonstrable scientific evidence off of him that disproved his stance on, in this case, abortion, he dismissed everything I had to say with, and I quote: “My beliefs are totally separate from facts. You don’t need facts to have a belief.”
    And that was that. From that point on the discussion became intractable, as nobody was able to convince the guy that his beliefs were irrational because they didn’t take the facts into account, and he refused to entertain the idea that facts had any value when it came to the formation of beliefs. “I don’t have any facts that show that my chair won’t collapse when I sit in it,” he said at one point. “But I believe it anyway.”
    Essentially he had begun advocating for solipsism, but only in those cases where his presupposed beliefs were contradicted by the apparent facts. Where his beliefs might be questioned, reality itself must be wrong.

  27. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    “I don’t have any facts that show that my chair won’t collapse when I sit in it,” … “But I believe it anyway.”

    If someone actually says that, then that’s the point (or well past the point) where I call them a dishonest shit, and say they’re not worth my time.

  28. Indiana Jones says

    The most irritating rationalisation I have ever had was from a door to door JW who, when presented with recent facts on my ipod from credible sources (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Western Australian crime statistics from WA police, etc etc), that contradicted some assertion they had made in support of some point (it may have been “Of course there is God! Check out the trees and shit” or something I think..), responded with : “Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

  29. says

    @34. Esquilax

    Essentially he had begun advocating for solipsism, but only in those cases where his presupposed beliefs were contradicted by the apparent facts. Where his beliefs might be questioned, reality itself must be wrong.

    It’s such a strange tactic. It’s an Epistemic Scorched-Earth Policy. “Okay fine, I can’t show that by beliefs are valid… BUT NEITHER CAN YOU!!”, and try to make the case that we’re on an even playingfield, so therefore it’s just as valid to go with their position as ours.

  30. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Indiana Jones #36:

    The most irritating rationalisation I have ever had was from a door to door JW who, when presented with recent facts on my ipod from credible sources (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Western Australian crime statistics from WA police, etc etc)[…] “Of course there is God! Check out the trees and shit”

    In Australia? The continent where species are either notoriously deadly or are invasive pests so prolific humans had to unleash plagues to fight them? The one that’s mostly uninhabitable desert? That Australia!?
     
     
    /Played with some harmless yellow-spotted salamanders that came in from the rain this morning.
    //Your animals are cooler, and the landscape is pretty.

  31. Conversion Tube says

    What a great show. This was an instance where having one long call with a theist was great. It could have even went on longer. I wish it would have really so Matt and Don could have hashed out how he thought it was fine to provide examples where false beliefs could be just as good or better.

    Would love to have had them break down each of his examples or provide others for him. Matt touched a little on this explaining the gamblers fallacy.

    In the callers world, Matt would understand reality and be able to build a safe, structurally sound bridge. But he felt he would also be able to build the same bridge but that he would accidentally find the right solution to building the bridge from his false beliefs. Apparently he felt in ever single decision he makes he would make the correct decision and each time he would come to that conclusion by accident.

    I wish we could have got to that point where that was pointed out to him. I really feel he felt he was misunderstood and that he was still right in the end. I wish that could have been played out to completion. If for no other reason than to see how twisted and contorted he would become when that was explained.

  32. corwyn says

    I think that a bunch of messages are being deleted (spam presumably). Is it possible for this to be done without renumbering all the existing posts (which leads to thread following issues)?
    Thank You Kindly.

  33. corwyn says

    @39 Conversion Tube:
    I disagree. The perfect time to end the call is when the caller has just admitted that they disagree with their own argument of the last 15 minutes. It cements it in their mind, and in the mind of the audience. Don’t get greedy and hope for a *more* embarrassing moment.

  34. Matt Gerrans says

    Even though Peter from NY talked too much and said too little (low signal to noise ratio), I think the fallacies he was founding his argument were the absolute true thing that Matt pointed out and this utterly insane idea that the probability of any two different events is always a 50/50 split (eg. “either the miracle happened or it didn’t, so it is 50/50” or “either my god exists or he doesn’t, so it’s 50/50”).

    This latter fallacy was leading him to the inane conclusion that you can accidentally have wrong beliefs that lead to good outcomes. That may often be the case here in the first world in modern times. We see lots of anti-vax morons running around, with apparently little consequence. It also can work when you use contrived examples of one-off events. However, in the aggregate over long periods of time and many events, those lucky results wash out into virtual nothingness. Moreover, living in a society that often protects people from their own stupidity (look at the ability of people like Sean Hannity and Michelle Bachman to not only survive, but flourish) has not been a luxury humans enjoyed over most of their history.

    I think a good way to see this on a shorter time scale is to use runes or astrology or bible code or the like to determine what chess moves you’ll select in a match against the world chess champion (Magnus Calsen). It is possible, if unlikely, that one of the moves you select during the (likely very short) game is actually a passably good move. The odds that you will win the game are about the same as Magnus getting hit by an asteroid or struck by lightning during the game. It is virtually impossible to play out a high quality game for 3 moves much less 20 or 30 or more moves in this way.

    Also, there is probably already decent biological simulation software (more complex/realistic versions of the “game of life”) where you could configure one set of “organisms” with a good mapping of reality and another set based on random mapping (like astrology or what have you). It is clear to any rational human what the result will be, even without doing the simulation, of course.

  35. Monocle Smile says

    @Matt Gerrans

    We see lots of anti-vax morons running around, with apparently little consequence

    UHHHHHH

    The other thing to remember is that neither we nor our beliefs live in a vacuum, so while Hannity and Bachmann might not see personal negative consequences of their protection and glorification, society as a whole is worse off.

  36. Conversion Tube says

    @Corwyn, I see what you are saying and I agree that was a good time to shut him down. I just wish they would have got more into his alternate false beliefs before Don nailed him to the wall. Therefore the call could have been longer but still ended how it did. Perhaps it never would have gotten there with an alternate discussion.

  37. Matt Gerrans says

    Should have added to the chess analogy for clarification: the 50/50 vs. actual reality distinction is that at any given stage in a chess game, there are around 40 possible moves on average; usually 2 or 3 are good and usually way more than half are disastrous (against Carlsen, probably 80-90% of the possible moves you could choose in a given position are disastrous — in other words, you need to play with extreme precision). It is like running a marathon through a very densely mined field (above Indiana Jones level).

    Someone like Peter seems to think there are two possibilities in each position: either you pick the optimal move, or you don’t. 50/50. Wrong, it isn’t 50/50 in a given position, it is more like 10/90. Moreover when you do the simple probability analysis on multiple consecutive positions it quickly gets into infinitesimal odds of making the necessary correct sequence of moves. Translating that into surviving in the wild with a random mapping of your internal model to actual reality means you will never survive long enough to reproduce. Only our modern societies that coddle and protect the morbidly stupid allow people like Peter to even think such a thing could be possible.

  38. chris lowe says

    If you take a poke at the pious, then expect it to be taken personally. Attacking their beliefs is like accusing their kid of an horrible crime. They are going to defend their child, guilty or not. “Johnny is incapable of such a thing!” . The whole Xtian apologetics thing is just a giant rationalization. How can you possibly say my redeemer doesn’t exist when of course he does and how can accuse someone who is perfect in every way of being immoral, irrational, and quite human in his emotions? How can you accuse him of lying about just about everything regarding the cosmos and how it works. This can’t be true and i’ll try to prove you wrong any way I can!
    So the stage is set. The die is cast. Good luck finding a rationalization that works with this alternate background. You attack their facts and they are thinking you are attacking their beliefs which you have to do because it is their beliefs that are spawning their facts in the first place. Lay out a chess board and your opponent starts playing checkers.

  39. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Matt in the show.
    I hate it whenever someone says that science is open to review, and we use it because it’s the most reliable methods we have. That’s circular. It’s near nakedly circular (depending on your definition of science).

    The starting presupposition “we should use reliable methods” is not open to review. It’s not. Any particular method which seems to be reliable might be thrown out, but the valuing of reliability itself is not open to review. All science is in the general sense is merely using reliable methods to learn about the world around us. Of course, perhaps you mean something more specific by science, and in which case we get into an argument over definition which isn’t very interesting and I’m trying very very hard to avoid that.

    The fundamental problem is the definition and meaning of “good and accurate” and “reliable”. Those words are defined in terms of the scientific method! A method is reliable if we accumulate evidence that using the method produces the intended results. For our purposes here, that might as well be the definition of the scientific method! That’s why what you said is nakedly circular.

    Valuing science, or equivalently valuing evidence based reasoning, Bayesian reasoning, inductive reasoning, valuing methods which work – whatever you want to call it – is a presupposition which cannot possibly be open to review.

    Simply put, “science works”, “science is reliable”, and so on, are all circular and vacuous. They’re tautological. Of course science is reliable, because science is the underpinning of the definition of reliable! Once you understand that, you understand my complaint.

  40. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To the last caller in the show proper, about personal experience and out of bod experiences, read this:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2013/01/21/the-argument-from-it-just-makes-sense-to-me/

    In short: That kind of your personal experience is not good enough for me. Most people understand this. I don’t have direct access to your experience, and so it’s not good enough for me. However, your experience of this kind likely isn’t good enough for you. Apply some critical thinking. Critical thinking is being critical. Be critical of your own ideas. Try to prove them wrong. Critical thinking is the basis of intellectual honesty, rationality, science, knowledge, etc. If you haven’t tried to prove yourself wrong, then how do you know that you are right? In the above link, that scientist did. He thought long and hard how he might show the difference between people who are lucid dreaming, and people who are merely dreaming that they are lucidly dreaming. He developed a test, and he tested it, and then he had good reason to believe that he was lucid dreaming, and not a moment before.

  41. Monocle Smile says

    Finally got around to listening to the show. I’ll reiterate what I said on the last open thread about “philosophers” (read: bong lovers) who chuck pragmatism out the window and commit a billion 99=0 fallacies (like about our faculties being useless because they’re not 100% reliable) on the way to an argument from ignorance.

    There’s a fun little (actually, MASSIVE) problem with Peter’s little spiel that our faculties are unreliable if they were formed through unguided evolution. He assumes that faculties formed by “unnatural” or “guided” processes wouldn’t suffer from the same issues. There’s no reason to automatically assume that’s the case.

  42. Ethan Myerson says

    @#50:

    He assumes that faculties formed by “unnatural” or “guided” processes wouldn’t suffer from the same issues. There’s no reason to automatically assume that’s the case.

    Depending on how one reads the bible, there’s good reason to assume that the processes WOULD BE so flawed, if the biblical god was the one guiding the development. That character is portrayed several times as actively seeking to limit man’s capabilities.

  43. Indiana Jones says

    At Sky Captain, #38

    Lol, yeah that one. And I agree about the land and animals (Although a land based Alpha Predator like a Bear or a Lion or something wouldn’t go astray. Salt Water Crocs are pretty cool but don’t quite qualify.)

    And don’t take this the wrong way, but I once had a Southern Yank tell me they knew all about Australia because they had seen Crocodile Dundee. I mentioned something about Deliverance and, well, I am sure you can fill in the gaps hehe.

  44. says

    I’d like to watch the full episode but it shows as a private video on YouTube. Can it be made public or is there somewhere else to watch? Can only see the aftershow at the moment.

  45. Richard Cain says

    Listening to people uninformed on quantum physics arguing is annoying.

    If I were the host I’d ask callers on what grounds they have deemed Islam Judaism Hindi etc religions as myths and ask them to examine their own beliefs on the same criteria.

  46. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Anyone
    I think my most difficult issue with the whole Platinga argument – Rube Goldberg machine of false beliefs created by unguided evolution but that happen to work is that it would only make sense if there were hundreds of other Rube-Goldberg machines out there that didn’t work. This would include the one machine that isn’t so Rube Goldberg esque that has beliefs that mapped to reality which also would “not” have worked somehow. And that it would have to have happened multiple times. So there would be multiple machines that map to a correct reality yet don’t survive and one (possibly multiples) that doesn’t map to a correct reality yet survives? Huh?
    .
    I wanted to plant a chip in the caller’s brain that would upload statistics and the concept of confirmation bias into his head. Not only was the caller presenting Platinga’s argument poorly, that started out as a pretty poor argument to begin with. That was just confirmation bias built on top of confirmation bias. And can anyone explain side effects to this individual? Even if a Rube Goldberg machine that did not correctly map to reality survived evolution with or without a designer, wouldn’t that create multiple vestiges that had pronounced undesirable side effects that the designer was too much of an idiot to remove? That’s like putting a product out on the market without beta testing it and expecting it not to have problems then just excusing them away. Oh wait, that’s exactly what apologetics does!
    .
    At least unguided evolution does a better job of explaining the undesirable vestiges WITHOUT making a designer look like an idiot in the process. I would have asked the caller flat out, do you mean to make the god you believe in look like a moron that doesn’t know how to beta test a product before marketing it?
    .
    I know I’m rambling, I just had not read this for the past several days and a lot came up in my mind.

  47. bigwhale says

    @EnlightenmentlLiberal

    I see. It reminds me that if someone presented a methodology that was claimed to be more reliable than science; we would have to use science to determine if it actually was.

  48. DampeS8N says

    About the topic of murder in secret. Not only is it immoral for the two individuals, but consider the standard. A world where you can be randomly murdered in secret is less desirable than one where you can’t be murdered at random – therefore it is immoral to murder some random person in secret. Even in the case where this murderer is only murdering people who they believe deserve it, is a world where random people have the power to decide that you no longer deserve to live and can kill you, this again is obviously a less desirable world to one that has a transparent authority for that kind of action (such as courts.)

    Morality is easier to decide when you consider it as many acts performed abstractly like above. If you find yourself struggling with moral questions, asking yourself the question like above can help greatly and I wish Matt has phrased it as such.

  49. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Esquilax # 34
    What is the website? I am finding it good to know some of the BS arguments nowadays in order to recognize them when I hear them. I didn’t know the caller’s argument was basicaly the Platinga arguments (but presented even more poorly), which I think is a pretty poor argument to begin with.
    .
    Also (this is to Esquilax but anyone else is free to answer) has anyone else heard BS from people claiming that you can prove a negative nowadays? I thought steele would be the only one but I have heard a few people spouting this taurus feces. Of course expressed in its most mathematically simplest state they are really not proving a negative, but far be it from them to get the mathematics.
    .
    I guess when an idea gets popular a lot of people latch on to the misunderstanding.

  50. Monocle Smile says

    @Frank, 55

    It’s possible to prove a specific single-case negative, given enough information.

    It’s not possible to prove a general or uninformed negative. That’s at least how I see it in a pragmatic sense.

  51. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Frank G. Turner
    It depends what you mean by “prove”.

    I can demonstrate that you are a human being (a “positive claim”). I can demonstrate that there is no elephant in my car (a “negative claim”, but which is also an assertion of belief and an assertion of fact, which I also commonly hear called a positive assertion). Colloquially, I can prove those things.

  52. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Monocle # 56
    That is more of what I was shooting for, I like what EL said in # 57 though.
    .
    I still think it is misuse of terms on the part of a lot of evangelicals who claim that they have proved a negative, which sounds just egocentric to me. Many latch on to it though.

  53. Narf says

    @54 – bigwhale

    I see. It reminds me that if someone presented a methodology that was claimed to be more reliable than science; we would have to use science to determine if it actually was.

    It seems to me that if someone discovered a more reliable methodology than science, the changes would just be incorporated into science, and we would just end up with a slightly tweaked scientific method.

  54. Frank G. Turner says

    @Narf # 59

    It seems to me that if someone discovered a more reliable methodology than science, the changes would just be incorporated into science, and we would just end up with a slightly tweaked scientific method.

    It seems to me that the scientific method teaches something invaluable that SHOULD be taught in religious studies but is often overlooked, downplayed, or assumed without being stated yet not practiced, honesty. It is no wonder the late George Carlin spoke of a missing commandment that could have simplified so many others, “Thou Shalt not be Dishonest.” Yet the fact that this is overlooked or downplayed is often capitalized upon by some people like Jehovah’s Witnesses who are more than happy to lie in Jesus’s name.
    .
    It is no wonder science and evolution are thought to be religions by people like Jack Chick. Honesty is not overlooked in science as much as it is in Xtianity. I would not have to explain the abbreviation “Xtian” were it not for dishonesty and deceit. I have heard the lam rationalization of “my mother, grandmother, father, etc (insert authority figure here) said it and they would not lie to me so it must be true.” That one’s a laugh given that the willingness of people to lie and be dishonest with the utmost conviction.

  55. corwyn says

    @59 – Narf:
    “And there is another theory which states that this has already happened.” -HHGTTG

    Bayes’ Rule is a great example of this happening fairly recently.

  56. favog says

    Narf and corwyn … yup. When people talk about “other ways of knowing”, I point out that a way of doing something is called a method, and the Greek word for knowing is the root of the word science. So a “way of knowing” is a “scientific method”, and there’s only one. If any others actually worked, they’d be integrated into it and there would still only be one. Then I’m accused of “scientism”. Well, it that’s scientism, then scientism is right. Tough.

  57. Frank G. Turner says

    @ favog # 63
    Well of course that’s “scientism,” which makes it sound like a religion and makes it sounds like a monotheistic relgion (“only one”). And of course it teaches a really good moral value, honesty.
    .
    What it has above what we commonly call religion is that it IS flexible and allows for incorporation of new ideas into the method and criticism of previous ideas due to lack of efficient data, which is part of intellectual honesty. And that is somehow rough because it is open to new ways of developing methods? If it is a dogma it is a dogma that is flexible and took into account methods for improving itself using that flexibility. Religions should have started off that way as then they could “edit the damn book” without so much bullshit. There was a segment on “The Non Prophets” that basically addressed this, how new sects of Xtianity came about because of this need to edit the dogma. Of course they can’t be satisfied with being a new edit of Xtiantiy that makes improvements, they have to somehow have ALWAYS been that way and all other edits have to be wrong and abominations because it has to be “Divinely Inspired” instead of just intellectual improvements. (Reading about JW’s and Mormon’s sometimes really brings home that point).
    .
    It is almost like science is the kid who is secure with not knowing and is ok with having been wrong and having to make changes to his understanding while religion(s) are (a) Obsessive Compulsive kid(s) who can’t improve his/her/their grades over time but had to get a perfect score on every test, as it the only scores are 100% pass or failure even if one insignificant little error is made (read about Lutheranism for that one). Like a person(s)’ ideas are valueless unless they were correct right from the start?
    .
    As I said before and I say again, the Bible (like most relgiious texts) sounds like it was written in the style of newspaper articles by an author with severe ADHD and possibly Borderline Personality Disorder writing to an obsessive compulsive audience with major depression issues. If it had been written with me in mind it would have sounded like instructions for using an allen wrench to put a couch together that one bought from IKEA.

  58. Narf says

    @62

    “And there is another theory which states that this has already happened.” -HHGTTG

    I’m pretty sure it has happened at least a dozen times, as the various standards were added to counteract statistical anomalies and the many varieties of bias.

  59. Narf says

    Heh, good quote, by the way. 😀 Twisted horribly out of context, to wonderful effect. Now if only we could get the fundie apologists to quote-mine that well … they’d still be full of shit, but at least their stuff would make for a more entertaining read.

  60. Narf says

    @64

    Religions should have started off that way as then they could “edit the damn book” without so much bullshit.

    This reminds me of a thought I had about the common Dominionist claim that the American Constitution is somehow based upon the Bible (they never get into detail about how that could possibly be the case, for some reason).

    That can’t be the case. The Constitution itself contains a process by which it can be changed. The core nature of the two documents is in such radical conflict, on that basis alone.

  61. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Narf #67

    This reminds me of a thought I had about the common Dominionist claim that the American Constitution is somehow based upon the Bible (they never get into detail about how that could possibly be the case, for some reason).
    That can’t be the case. The Constitution itself contains a process by which it can be changed. The core nature of the two documents is in such radical conflict, on that basis alone.

    Actually that IS a way in which the U.S. Constitution is based upon the Bible. Scripture is inflexible and the founding fathers saw that as problematic. Was it Edison who said, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb”? The wrong way to do something IS inspiration for correction.
    .
    I say the issue with scripture that Dominionists have now is the exact same problem the founding fathers had with their country of origin, a rigid, inflexible, insecure, maladaptive attitude. Interesting that the country of origin has actually become MORE adaptive and flexible. Also interesting that this is one of the key issues of biological evolution, failure to adapt to one’s environment due to rigid inflexible traits. So what do they do? Try to make the environment fit them of course (as if that is actually going to happen).
    .
    I guess that is why I thought that maybe we should do them a favor. Given that so much of modern medicine is based on biology which is based on evolution that we should do the evolution deniers a favor and refuse them any and all medical care. What sucks is when t has to do with a child who may not grow up that way. (You know, the one with a tumor the size of a basketball whose parents refuse to bring them to a hospital and pray over the body).

  62. Narf says

    I’d give you “inspired by,” in the sense of discovering how not to do it. That isn’t what I think of when I speak of something being based upon something else, though, and of course that isn’t how they mean it. I was trying to stick within their meaning of the phrase.

  63. Peter Dyrhaug says

    I just watched only a bit of a broadcast. The people are unquestionably good folks and I would trust them in any situation. However, (you knew something was coming!) they never stated the underlying fact “I don’t really know, I’m making this explanation up to make your story fit our philosophy.” Skepticism suggests ignorance about the topic, not knowledge. You people are good, even if you may think that “good” is a hold over from 100 thousand years of superstition. This honest inclusion, the incontrovertible phrase, “I don’t know for sure but I’m pretty sure” would actually advance your credibility and your desire for people to use their own minds.
    Cheers, Pete

  64. Frank G. Turner says

    @Narf # 69

    I’d give you “inspired by,” in the sense of discovering how not to do it. That isn’t what I think of when I speak of something being based upon something else, though, and of course that isn’t how they mean it. I was trying to stick within their meaning of the phrase.

    As I said before I will say again, learning how NOT to do something IS important. Learning to NOT to it again that way IS important. The definition of insanity is doing something the same way over and over again and expecting different results.
    .
    Many individuals seem to want things to have been done right from the start, That is nice when it happens but it is rare. Sometimes things can be done right from early on because one learned from mistakes one made early on or previously.

  65. corwyn says

    @74 Peter:

    You will no doubt be pleased to hear, that if you watch more, you will hear the host saying “we don’t know” all the time.

    Skepticism has nothing to do with relative knowledge or ignorance. It is merely a willingness to update ones confidence when presented with new evidence. One is (appropriately) thus just as skeptical of something one is almost sure of, as one is of something completely outside ones experience. The only difference is what qualifies as new evidence, clearly for subjects about which one is well-versed, new evidence will be comparatively more rare.

  66. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Perter # 74

    This honest inclusion, the incontrovertible phrase, “I don’t know for sure but I’m pretty sure” would actually advance your credibility and your desire for people to use their own minds.

    I would tend to actually disagree that this improves credibility in general. To those with skeptical minds yes this helps. However, too many individuals seem to suffer form a kind of atelophobia and many need to sound like they have “been correct from the beginning” (even if this is bullshit) rather than, “are more correct now because they acknowledge mistakes.” Too many individuals think in black and white terms that we are either always right or always wrong and will side with an individual that conveys confidence in a convincing way even if it is based upon false evidence. To them, the authority and confidence of the person speaking is what makes them right (a variation on the argument from authority). Politics is basically a whole field built around this concept.

  67. Martin Zeichner says

    This is a recent thought that I had concerning Plantinga’s argument against evolution and particularly as it is expressed by Peter in this episode. What he seems to be describing is a scenario that goes something like this:

    .
    An individual organism, human or otherwise, is capable of acting on a false belief and then it is possible that it is protected from the consequences of that belief only by the (unlikely) possibility of a convergence of circumstances in its (the organism’s) favor. Those consequences might or might not include the survival of that organism.

    .
    An evolutionary scientist might say that yes, of course that might happen. No one can deny that luck can play a part in evolutionary contingency. But the scientist would contend that over many trials over many generations of interaction between organisms and their environment good luck and bad luck will tend to cancel each other out.

    .
    What Plantinga and Peter are saying more closely describes how individuals in a social species, including humans, can be protected from the consequences of their mistakes by the actions of the group. The group can absorb the consequences of the mistakes of members (in good standing) of the group as long as those mistakes are within a certain threshold of severity. The threshold may vary depending on factors such as how much stress individuals are experiencing from their environment; both with the group and external to the group. (Haven’t finished thing this part through yet.)

    .
    There is value in this group behavior which is why this kind of group behavior has been selected for. There is value for individual organisms as well as for the group. (This part needs work as well.) (I know, it sounds an awful lot like an appeal to group selection.)

    .
    In addition the social scenario may be more likely to foster false beliefs than a non social scenario, especially during times of prosperity, simply because individuals can be protected from the consequences of their mistaken beliefs. Thus individuals can actually be rewarded for having false beliefs. (This is the crux of the argument.)

    .
    I haven’t yet completely thought out this line of reasoning but it seems to make sense to me so far.

  68. Monocle Smile says

    @78, Martin Zeichner

    Yeah, that doesn’t actually help the argument at all. Your signal-to-noise ratio still needs to be high or the group is still fucked even if they’re better off than an individual. Furthermore, this “protection” is hardly all-encompassing, as natural selection clearly filters out less-fit individuals of a group regardless.

  69. corwyn says

    @78:

    simply because individuals can be protected from the consequences of their mistaken beliefs. Thus individuals can actually be rewarded for having false beliefs. (This is the crux of the argument.)

    This crux is wrong. Lack of negative reinforcement for a wrong belief is NOT the same as positive reinforcement for that belief. And, of course, it would only work to the extent that the group did not share it. Once the group contains a certain proportion of wrong-believers, (which is inevitable IF the false belief actually provided a relative advantage), the whole group would die.

    There are other problems with the argument as well. Just because a group can save some member from the consequences of their wrong belief, does not mean that that action is without cost to the group; it almost certainly will have a cost. Any group will feel justified in passing some of that cost on to the original holder of the wrong belief. For example, our current society has a solution for dealing with those who have false beliefs such that they are a danger to themselves and others. We secure them in a safe environment and treat them medically.

  70. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I think Corwyn goes too far here:

    And, of course, it would only work to the extent that the group did not share it.

    Take the male peacock. Male peacocks compete for mates with their flamboyant tail feathers. The flamboyant tail feathers make individual male peacocks more vulnerable to predation. However, without the flamboyant tail feathers, they would not “fit in”. Corwyn paints a false dichotomy where the peacocks should all go extinct because of their flamboyant tail feathers. Rather, it seems that peacocks survive just fine with a community-reinforced trait that does significantly lessen individual survival. However, the negative trait is not sufficiently serious to threaten the species, and the species seems secure in its niche.

    The analogy is that a society can tolerate a certain level of behavior with actual negative outcomes. We can have societies with certain behaviors which are culturally reinforced, but with actual negative outcomes, and as long as it’s not too extreme, individuals and society can cope, and individuals who display otherwise better behavior will actually be at a disadvantage because they will be ostracized.

  71. corwyn says

    Corwyn paints a false dichotomy where the peacocks should all go extinct because of their flamboyant tail feathers.

    Corwyn does nothing of the sort. 1) I don’t present a dichotomy at all. 2) Your analogy bears no resemblance to mine.

    My point is that individuals with unique behaviors which are detrimental to their own survival, even if mitigated by group behavior, will nevertheless suffer a cost and thus not be *favored* by natural selection. If ALL members of the species share a potentially lethal false belief, the group has no way of mitigating that in a single individual (which was the claim), they are all at risk.

    Individual peacocks do NOT have a unique behavior (they all share those flamboyant feathers), and the cost is NOT borne by the group. Completely different.

  72. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Corwyn, you did say this: (emphasis added)

    simply because individuals can be protected from the consequences of their mistaken beliefs. Thus individuals can actually be rewarded for having false beliefs. (This is the crux of the argument.)

    This crux is wrong. Lack of negative reinforcement for a wrong belief is NOT the same as positive reinforcement for that belief. And, of course, it would only work to the extent that the group did not share it. Once the group contains a certain proportion of wrong-believers, (which is inevitable IF the false belief actually provided a relative advantage), the whole group would die.

    I say that the bolded part is simply wrong. Peacocks are my counter-example.

    Unless I totally misunderstand your point.

  73. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @MS
    Ok. Let me cite one of the plethora of examples of otherwise maladaptive sexual selection adaptions. There’s plenty.

  74. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @MS
    Actually, I think I granted you too much ground.

    First, just note that your link seems to be on the quality of a personal blog. Just making sure we’re on the same page there.

    Second, I believe you asserted that the ability of tail feathers to easily be pulled out is advantageous for avoiding predators. I don’t see that stated in your paper. Not sure if you intended to give a source for that claim.

    Third, I never claimed that peacock feathers have zero use for individual survival. This is a caricature of my claims and of the standard work on sexual selection. A vestigial organ might have diminished function or some new function, but it’s still vestigial. Similarly you too narrowly miscontrue my claims regarding otherwise maladaptive sexually selected features. For example, peacock feathers might have some survival value, but as far as I can tell the consensus still is that the grossly exaggerated colors and size outweigh any non-sexual personal advantage they might gain – such as from scaring away predators or from escaping predators by a predator grabbing on to a tail feather which comes off. It’s not just the size, but also the coloration differences between male and female peacocks, and many birds in general. Male birds tend to be more brightly colored to attract mates, at their own personal peril when dealing with predators.

    Still, I can invoke many other examples of traits which confer fitness from sexual selection but are maladaptive otherwise.

  75. Martin Zeichner says

    Thanks for your responses. It sounds as though while I wasn’t actually wrong, I wasn’t as correct as I could have been.
    .
    I actually hadn’t considered sexual selection in this context but it could have some value.
    .
    To clarify; what I had in mind was what Daniel Dennett calls a “badge belief”. That is a belief that one proclaims in order to be accepted into a group. Such beliefs may well be false, they also may well not actually be held, just proclaimed. Even if they are held they may or may not have any impact on an individual’s quality of life or survivability. The point is that proclaiming such beliefs can be a favorable adaptive behavior within the group even if ( or especially if ) those beliefs are false. And the group will ( to some degree depending on the standing of the individual ) protect the individual from the consequences of holding a false belief. A mountain climber may mistakenly believe that she is fully qualified to climb a particular mountain and may gain approval from her local mountain climbing club by bragging about it. But if she is mistaken in this belief the rescue helicopters will swoop in paid for by the local government. This type of scenario can only happen in a social setting.
    .
    The reason that I am bringing this up is because I have had, for a while now, a particular dislike for Plantinga’s argument opposing natural selection as is presented by Peter in this episode of the AE. It is one of those ideas that sound as though it should be profound and so should have truth value. I think that CS Lewis said something along the same lines. Don’t get me started on CS Lewis. But I have long suspected that it rests on more than one false premise. To counter this argument I have argued elsewhere that theists have the same problems that atheists have regarding beliefs and trusting their senses and trusting their truth perceiving abilities except that they have at least one more thing that they have to trust; their god. But this sounds too much like tu quoque. This line of reasoning is another stab at it.
    .
    I think that Plantinga and Peter are operating with a skewed idea about how natural selection works especially how it works in a social species such as humans. Natural selection is about how organisms interact with their environment and about how the environment imposes constraints on populations. What P and P seem to be missing is that for humans a large part of their environment is and has been for many thousands of generations… other humans ( or at least other members of the same species ). P and P present this rather romanticized version of survival by portraying it as “man the hunter versus a tiger” or ” man the scardy cat versus the tiger” forgetting that such interactions are precisely what humans have devoted many of their efforts trying to avoid. The result is a rather elaborate projection trying to question how a human is able to survive despite the fact that his beliefs are false. Oh, the irony.
    .
    “Hey you. Yeah you in the tweed jacket sitting in the armchair. Your beliefs are false yet you managed to survive just fine. How do you explain that? Huh? Huh?”
    .
    Thank you again for your responses.

  76. Monocle Smile says

    Still, I can invoke many other examples of traits which confer fitness from sexual selection but are maladaptive otherwise

    Of course you can. Selection is often a complex, multivariable process. I just hold King Pedantics to a higher standard.

    I do have a source that states that male peacocks with less “eyes” and smaller plumes are actually more prone to getting picked off by predators than those with bigger plumes and more feathers, so this particular trait is a bit more complex than meets the eye.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peafowl#Evolution_and_sexual_selection
    See footnote 8 and the place where it’s referenced in the article.

    Corwyn’s only point is that Martin Zeichner’s argument (that “signal-to-noise ratio” of adaptive traits is irrelevant) is utter nonsense. Your overall “fitness” still needs to be high, and I’m not sure why you appear to be opposing this point. Maybe you’re just being overly pedantic about corwyn’s wording.

  77. Monocle Smile says

    @Martin Zeichner

    That is a belief that one proclaims in order to be accepted into a group. Such beliefs may well be false, they also may well not actually be held, just proclaimed. Even if they are held they may or may not have any impact on an individual’s quality of life or survivability. The point is that proclaiming such beliefs can be a favorable adaptive behavior within the group even if ( or especially if ) those beliefs are false. And the group will ( to some degree depending on the standing of the individual ) protect the individual from the consequences of holding a false belief

    This line of thought is forgetting about the well-being of the group itself, although your mountain climber analogy is good, too. Decent counterexample: lemmings in Norway. Their migration patterns cause them to fall off cliffs en masse into fjords to cross the water to migrant territory, during which large numbers of them necessarily drown. While the “mass suicide” bit is a myth, this behavior is hazardous for the group at large. There are probably even better examples where going with the herd results in disaster, even among humans (actually, especially among humans).

  78. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Again, in my defense, Corwyn did clearly state:

    Once the group contains a certain proportion of wrong-believers, (which is inevitable IF the false belief actually provided a relative advantage), the whole group would die.

    In context, I understood that to encompass all possible false beliefs. I understand the quote to mean that if you get too many people with false beliefs, then all of the individuals in that group will die. Now, maybe I missed something, and I’m misunderstanding, but that is simply false.

    For some false beliefs, like you can fly if you jump out of a window, sure everyone is going to die. However, if the harm caused by a certain false belief isn’t that bad, then it’s possible that social reinforcement of the false belief will lead to a situation where everyone has that false belief, people are going about their lives generally without significant problem, and a hypothetical person without that false belief in that society will have less fitness because of the social stigma attached with not having that belief.

  79. corwyn says

    Once the group contains a certain proportion of wrong-believers, (which is inevitable IF the false belief actually provided a relative advantage), the whole group would die.

    I say that the bolded part is simply wrong. Peacocks are my counter-example.

    Please demonstrate a false belief held by a peacock.

  80. Matt Gerrans says

    I think the caller lacked the intellectual nuance to distinguish beliefs and epistemology. False beliefs are just a symptom of a flawed epistemology.

  81. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @corwyn
    I had a lot of implied premises and arguments. Let me be pedantic and lay them out. Sorry.

    Start with your assertion:
    Once the group contains a certain proportion of wrong-believers, (which is inevitable IF the false belief actually provided a relative advantage), the whole group would die.

    I understand that roughly to mean:
    If a group exceeds a certain threshold of individuals with a certain phenotype which has negative impact on fitness in isolation from other individuals of the species, but which has some (possible net, possibly non-net) positive impact on fitness in the presence of other individuals of the species, then all members of the group will die – and – where the phenotype is having beliefs.

    If your assertion is correct, I see no reason why it relies on that addendum. If correct, it should be true for any phenotype. I see no reason why the assertion would be true or false only for certain classes of phenotypes. Of course, IMHO the assertion is true or false depending on the degree of positive and negative impact of the phenotype, but not on the class of phenotype (behavior, vs body shape, etc.). So, I examined the assertion without the addendum:
    If a group exceeds a certain threshold of individuals with a certain phenotype which has negative impact on fitness in isolation from other individuals of the species, but which has some (possible net, possibly non-net) positive impact on fitness in the presence of other individuals of the species, then all members of the group will die.

    That’s obviously false. Consider basically any case of sexual selection at play. Invariably, sexual selection will create or exaggerate certain phenotypes to the detriment of the fitness of the individual in isolation from other members of the species, but will also have a certain amount of positive benefit in the presence of other members of the species (namely when mating). Generally, it’s accepted that the phenotypes selected by sexual selection do harm the individual w.r.t. predator evasion, caloric intake requirements, etc., but near definitionally the total fitness impact will be a net positive – after all, these are the individuals who reproduce, and that is the definition of Darwinian fitness.

    Alternatively, we can consider religion in humans. There are large populations where there is a social pressure to adopt certain phenotypes, specifically the behavior of professing certain beliefs and acting on those beliefs to some degree in some situations.

    For example, in many large Christian populations in the US, there is a social pressure to make individuals profess that prayer works, and in certain circumstances to engage in prayer. Prayer is quite ineffective – only by the placebo effect can it accomplish anything. It can be argued that in most cases, apart from the reaction of other individuals, engaging in prayer behavior has negative impact on fitness.

    However, engaging in prayer also has a positive impact on fitness due to the positive reception from other individuals in the group in response to prayer behavior. This very well can increase an individual’s fitness enough to compensate for the negative impacts, and produce an overall positive benefit to individual fitness.

    Further, I don’t see massive die-offs from these large Christian populations who engage in prayer behavior and social reinforcement of prayer behavior.

    I think the peacock example should be good enough, but Christian prayer behavior should also be an adequate example, and it hopefully satisfy your unreasonable demands. Perhaps you will argue that there is no Christian population in the United States (or elsewhere) which has yet to reach the critical threshold where group die-off occurs?

    As written, what you wrote is simply wrong. There are many cases, in humans and others, where the group compels behavior from its members (or other phenotype changes via sexual selection ala peacocks) which has net negative fitness value in isolation from the group, but individuals who partake in the behavior are rewarded by the group – enough to overwhelm the negative impacts – and the group does not die off.

  82. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I don’t think you intended an implicit “only”, but…

    I think the caller lacked the intellectual nuance to distinguish beliefs and epistemology. False beliefs are just a symptom of a flawed epistemology.

    Or a symptom of limited evidence.
    Or a symptom of lack of perfect rationality, such as various biases.
    Or a symptom of limited time and rational choice theory.

  83. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Generally, it’s accepted that the phenotypes selected by sexual selection do harm the individual w.r.t. predator evasion, caloric intake requirements, etc., but near definitionally the total fitness impact will be a net positive – after all, these are the individuals who reproduce, and that is the definition of Darwinian fitness.

    Fun fact I just wanted to add. Last I checked, one of the working hypotheses regarding the evolution of human intelligence is that we all became smart in order to outdo our competitors in mating.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_human_intelligence#Sexual_selection
    Various flavors extend it to other social interactions, but there’s good reason to make it more likely that intelligence can benefit sexual social interactions especially.

  84. corwyn says

    Last I checked, one of the working hypotheses regarding the evolution of human intelligence is that we all became smart in order to outdo our competitors in mating.

    This has never made sense to me. Most social species are going to be experiencing similar evolutionary pressure. We are still left with ‘what makes us so special.’

  85. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @corwyn
    Sorry. Specifically, the hypothesis goes that as soon as we conquered our terrain, the significant challenge and selection pressure was mating and social interaction in general. It makes some sense to me. It doesn’t explain the origin of tools, but plenty of other animals use tools too. Once we got tools and became the king of our environment, it may explain a lot more.

  86. Matt Gerrans says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal #95: Sure, I agree. I think all of those things fall into your epistemology. Essentially, the important point (that I think the caller was missing) is that isolated beliefs are not the thing to focus upon. What’s more important is the method you use to arrive at your beliefs. If *that* is flawed, you are in a worse position than other animals that have an epistemology that tracks better with reality.

  87. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Matt Gerrans
    I agree in whole. (But as a counter to Plantinga’s argument, I find it lacking.)

  88. corwyn says

    @98:
    As a hypothesis it only explains why we became smart. It also needs to explain why similar species to us, didn’t, which it doesn’t. Thus, it is useless for explaining what makes US so special.

  89. Frank G. Turner says

    @ corwynn # 101

    As a hypothesis it only explains why we became smart. It also needs to explain why similar species to us, didn’t, which it doesn’t. Thus, it is useless for explaining what makes US so special.

    Hold on, aren’t other primates pretty smart? They have social constructs and communication, can be taught sign language and even a certain small degree of reading skill. If I am not mistaken, other primates taught sign language even contemplate that which created them. So, maybe things similar to us did get smarter too……?

  90. Matt Gerrans says

    Regarding #101: isn’t that kind of falling into the old fallacy of thinking that we are at “the end” of evolution? There are many different species which may develop superior intelligence to ours, especially after we exterminate ourselves. It may be a few million years down the road, but what’s the rush?

  91. Frank G. Turner says

    @ Matt Gerrans # 103
    That is assuming that the other species which would hypothetically develop superior intelligence does not come to feeling so self important that they have to make up fairy tales about where they come from to make them feel more important and confident and special and does not exterminate themselves as well. Of course they may find evidence of us having exterminated ourselves (which would be really interesting if we had found evidence of another species that went through this crap too).
    .
    And to the future species that one days finds this, yes we contemplated this as a possibility. (I am imagining it being many millions or even billions of years from now and this being deciphered by said future species).

  92. corwyn says

    @102 Frank:
    If one is going to claim that humans are unique with respect to intelligence, any explanation of that requires some factor (or combination of factors) which is also unique. Back far enough our ancestors were the same; even if chimps got smarter than that ancestor, humans got a LOT smarter. Unless one is claiming that sexual selection happened only to humans and not to chimps, it can’t be used to explain that difference.

    @103 Matt:
    No, no inferrence of an ‘end’ to evolution should be taken from what I wrote.

  93. Frank G. Turner says

    @ corwynn # 105

    If one is going to claim that humans are unique with respect to intelligence, any explanation of that requires some factor (or combination of factors) which is also unique

    What I was getting at was the idea that the development of intelligence may not be as unique as one might think. Albeit there is no objective empirical way to measure this. (I have seen some soft science methods involving birds and puzzle solving as well as with other primates).

    Back far enough our ancestors were the same; even if chimps got smarter than that ancestor, humans got a LOT smarter.

    I definitely agree with that, though I can potentially see some good counter arguments to it.

    Unless one is claiming that sexual selection happened only to humans and not to chimps, it can’t be used to explain that difference.

    At least not by itself. My thought would be that intellect in gradual steps helped to improve both sexual selection and survivability, particularly when it came to finding food and caring for one’s young. Hence that hypothesis would support / be supported by a combination of factors influencing intelligence.
    .
    I was doing some work in a wildlife facility once and I saw how mammals of different species had even developed methods of exchange of goods and services, though not with representative currency, i.e.: money. It typically had to do with exchanges of food types or access to water supplies. And female monkeys have been known to offer sex to males in exchange for access to a food supply (hence why they say prostitution is the oldest profession). So a certain degree of basic economics may go back quite a distance.
    .
    This is not to say that we are not a lot smarter than other life forms that we have observed, it is just a matter of taking other factors into account. And with respect to what Matt says in # 103 in response to you corwynn, I kind of took that it might be implied that we were at a stopping point in evolution, particularly our own. You may not have meant it that way but the possibility that you did had crossed my mind as well (or even if you didn’t it is certainly something to contemplate). There sure seem to be a lot of idiots perfectly capable of surviving (Creationists) so the pressure to develop intellect is not exactly happening at an alarming rate. Maybe we are not so special, we are just at a unique point in time. Many millions of years from now other species may develop intellect far superior to ours given THEIR unique circumstances. Perhaps somewhere else other in the universe one already has.

  94. Martin Zeichner says

    At the risk of stating the obvious I should point out that in the case of the mountain climber it was not her beliefs that got her into trouble but her actions.
    .
    For a badge belief to operate it is not necessary that it be acted upon or even that it be held by an individual; only that it is proclaimed. I would imagine that a group could sustain any number of individuals proclaiming false beliefs as long as only a small number of them actually act on those beliefs. Certainly if a large number of individuals started acting on their false beliefs it could quickly become impossible for the group to absorb the consequences.
    .
    Also while selection works in the long term individuals must behave in the short term. If proclaiming a badge belief is advantageous for an individual then that is what they will do. Populations and even species can and do become extinct.

  95. corwyn says

    What I was getting at was the idea that the development of intelligence may not be as unique as one might think.

    Something is unique. If you don’t think it is intelligence, you are stuck thinking of some other thing that differentiates us.

    My thought would be that intellect in gradual steps helped to improve both sexual selection and survivability, particularly when it came to finding food and caring for one’s young. Hence that hypothesis would support / be supported by a combination of factors influencing intelligence.

    And now you are back to describing factors without showing how they differ between us and our cousins. No hypothesis for this is of any use if it doesn’t have a ‘contrariwise chimps did not see this factor because…’ clause.

  96. Frank G. Turner says

    @corwynn # 108
    I don’t really know what differentiates us as I don’t study that particular area professionally. I am not a primate evolutionary psychiatrist. However, I can conceptualize something pretty interesting that I would ask a person who IS an expert in that field. Maybe the factors between us and our primate cousins like chimps are the same, but the degree to which said factors influenced our particular set of ancestors was greater. Just because a similar species to us was influenced by a factor does not mean that they were influenced to the same degrees by the same set of factors. That would work in line with evolution, one sub set developing certain survival characteristics to a degree based on their environment and a similar sub set developing a similar set of characteristics, but to a larger degree because of heavier influence from the environment,
    .
    Perhaps what made us unique was a specific degree of a number of different factors, So it would be a contrariwise chimps were not influenced as heavily by this factor because …” (I would not say they “saw” it as I don;t think there was an active planning going on). We may never know the precise combination of factors and the degree to which they influenced us vs our cousins.
    .
    I would make a chili-chutney and fried egg sandwich comparison but I don’t know if you would understand the reference in that analogy. Then again maybe that fold over mutation that caused us to have 1 less chromosome because of the fusion of two chromosomes (hence the internal telomeres and double set of centromeres) was just a fluke accident that caused a massive brain capacity increase, Beneficial mutations are sometimes pretty dramatic; double thick muscles, extra tough bones, super cholesterol resistance, etc. And we may have been the beneficiaries of one.
    .
    Or maybe it is some combination of those ideas, both that we were influenced more heavily by factors and that this was due to a beneficial mutation.

  97. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I do want to say that I don’t support the human sexual selection thing as demonstrated. I did throw it out there as “hypothesis”, and an interesting one. (To compare to the other things I said, which were stated as strong claims, not mere hypotheses.)

  98. corwyn says

    Maybe the factors between us and our primate cousins like chimps are the same, but the degree to which said factors influenced our particular set of ancestors was greater.

    As I am using the word ‘factors’, that is a self-contradictory statement. The factors can’t simultaneously be both the same and different. Degree is just part of any factor.

    If we have proceeded to the place of “we agree that we don’t know”, I am fine with that.

  99. Frank G. Turner says

    @ corwynn # 111

    As I am using the word ‘factors’, that is a self-contradictory statement. The factors can’t simultaneously be both the same and different.

    Nor did I intend to imply that they were both the same in definition but different in definition. Factors can be the same in definition but different in degree. As you follow this up with degree is part of any factor, that is what I was getting at. The same factor that affects things to different degrees can be an explanation.
    .
    I think that you have hit the nail on the head in that

    we have proceeded to the place of “we agree that we don’t know”, I am fine with that

    as we are not paleontologists. (This sounds like something AronRa could address actually).

  100. corwyn says

    Factors can be the same in definition but different in degree.

    When I talk about factors, I am using the mathematical meaning, which includes what you are calling degree.

    Regardless, if one is going to postulate some reason that one evolved group differs from another of the same extraction, that difference must be explained by demonstrating a DIFFERENCE between the groups. Describing only one group, at whatever level of detail, can never get you there. That is my claim.

  101. Lee G says

    I don’t get the whole ‘forbidden fruit’ thing.
    God put knowledge of good and evil(which he didn’t want anyone to know about) slap bang in the middle of Eden, in full view of the entire human race. All two of them!
    Then he told them to frolic and popped off to make a phone call, or whatever. He also employs a talking snake as babysitter. Bad move.
    He then returns and is somehow surprised at the outcome. The children/plate of cookies analogy.
    God gets angry.
    He dishes out unreasonable punishments to all involved(including everyone alive today).

    God is supposed to be all-knowing, all-seeing and all-forgiving. But I don’t see any of these qualities in this story.
    The sum knowledge of good and evil seems to be noticing when you are naked and being ashamed of it.
    If Adam and Eve couldn’t even tell that they were in the buff, how did ‘Big G’ expect them to have the brains to follow his instructions. Especially after he placed that delicious, low hanging fruit right in front of them?
    Entrapment? I think so.
    Did God program his design with foolishness, disobedience, temptation, etc, or just free will? In which case why punish them for using what he wanted them to use?

    Why put top secret information right where people can get at it then leave it unguarded?
    He’s God, right? He could have dropped it at the bottom of the ocean or anywhere else on Earth. Or on the moon for that matter. Or on any one of the billions of other planets he supposedly created. He didn’t have to put the forbidden knowledge in the form of fruit. Why not embedded in a rock? Why not in the belly of a dangerous animal, like a tiger(or a dinosaur)?
    So God is constantly punishing Mankind for his own divine fuck up. Outstanding!
    It’s all bollocks, isn’t it?

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