Open thread for episode 20.03: Russell and guest Neil Carter


Neil Carter talks about his experiences as an out atheist in Mississippi.

Comments

  1. Monocle Smile says

    I think Matt got the “evolutionary argument against naturalism” BS from someone before. I hate the argument. It’s basically “you can’t trust anything to any degree unless god.” And of course, they don’t even bother to provide any evidence or explanation for any god. I was a bit tepid on how Russell and Neil were handling the caller at first, but then I started laughing when Russell dropped the “you sound like a presuppositionalist” line…because he was entirely correct. The “at least my worldview provides an account for this” makes my blood boil, because Russell was correct in pointing out that he was just making stuff up. I wonder how the caller would have reacted if a different religion’s worldview that had the same outcome were presented.

    Of course, I would have gone a different route, because I deny the cheap claim that false beliefs can provide the same utility as true beliefs concerning survival. This only MIGHT be true in very specific situations, but then and only then.

    What’s even worse for the caller is that the Bible is rife with god screwing with the faculties of humans. Thus, his bald assertion that if god exists, our faculties are reliable is even more laughable.

  2. OrphanBlackOps says

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that Scottish caller was a troll. Even if not, I would have hung up on him within five minutes based on what unproductive crap was coming out of his mouth.

  3. Mobius says

    @2 OrphanBlackOps

    Sadly, Poe was correct and one can not distinguish between a real fundamentalist and a parody.

    Both Hamish and Matt were coming across with “You are human and fallible and can’t trust your conclusions. But MY conclusions you can trust.” To which my only response can be, “Oh, REALLY?” Russel and Neil nailed it in both cases, how can the caller be so certain they have it right since humans are fallible.

  4. Jack Smith says

    Hamish was almost certainly a troll – i know the scottish accent, and it was almost certainly not for real . That and the stupidity of the arguments.

  5. Athywren - This Thing Is Just A Thing says

    I don’t think Hamish was a troll… from the way he was speaking, it was like he was talking to a pair of naughty children who had just burnt his only pair of shoes 20 minutes before he has to go walk across several miles of broken glass and was only just keeping his tempter in check. I’m willing to believe that I’m just imagining the temper part, but that’s still a pretty hard tone to fake if you’re just trolling. Although I guess he could’ve been stiffening his jaw in order to negate the giggles bubbling up from within?

    Anyway, re not-a-presuppositionalist-guy (Matt?): Yes, our brains are pretty unreliable. Hence skepticism. I get that the point of the argument is to show that belief in naturalism is self-refuting, but it really just shows that even interpretations of naturalism specifically formulated to make believing in it look foolish fit reality perfectly well. Ok, sure, that whole “nothing you think can ever be reliable” thing is a little tedious and fallacious, but even that fits relatively well – certainly better than any counter to naturalism that posits the fundamental reliability of our minds.

  6. says

    Scottish guy loves his false equivocations.

    Murder, and disallowing a child to drive are only superficially equatable if we remove all analysis – as in, why are they disallowed?

    “Sin” and “wrong” are not equatable. If “Sin2” is not aligning with Zeus’s expectations, then sure, I’ve sin2’d… but I haven’t necessarily done anything wrong. In fact, when we look at a Venn diagram of moral/immoral versus sin, there are some things that are considered “sin” that are moral, and some that are immoral, and are not considered sin.

    … so I don’t really care whether they think I’m a “sinner” or not. It’s not relevant to factual reality.

  7. Rocky says

    The last question was one I have pondered as well… when do we reach reason for beliefs vs justification of knowledge, beliefs obviously don’t hold the same qualifications as knowledge. The answer is quite simple actually…You can believe things without justification as long as they don’t have an extraordinary impact on your life, one way or another; because any belief that has an extraordinary effect on your life should be justified into knowledge.

  8. TimC says

    Hi, I think Hamish suffers from blowing up that Religious Balloon a bit too hard. It’s like he’s made it so big he’s actually managed to get inside it somehow and seal himself in ! I can imagine him bobbing down the street claiming everything for God. Look ! a dog turd ! Hallelujah ! These poisonous berries ! Hallelujah !

  9. Cal MacD says

    I would say Hamish is genuine. I live in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, still a Free Church of Scotland stronghold and word for word his apologetics match what I have encountered here from street preachers and more religious relatives. That and combined with his highland accent lead me to think he is genuine.

    Religion in Outer Hebrides info:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_Outer_Hebrides

  10. Jeremy R says

    At one point of the program the caller David, Russel, and Neil were talking about how art isn’t important to natural selection, but that’s not true for all species. A few species of birds rely on their artistic skills (gathering colorful objects and organizing them into an attractive pattern) to obtain a mate. If the pattern isn’t good enough then that bird has no hope of getting a mate. I’m sure there are other species who do the same.

    Maybe I am reading into wrong, what do you think?

  11. poseidon63 says

    Hamish seems to remind of a certain youtube conversion between a Scottish guy and Richard Dawkins.

  12. Karen S says

    I was taken aback by “David from Grand Blanc, Michigan” as I resided in Grand Blanc for almost 30 years. Oh no! Not a presuppositionalist from Grand Blanc! LOL

    Because up-front Sye Ten style has been refuted pretty soundly (Thank you, Matt D), it seems that the presupp argument has morphed into “deny it, try another angle (naturalism/evolution) and then sneak it through the back door.” The “my worldview accounts for….” gave it away, however. how does Dave know his worldview accounts for it? That would have to be revelation from the Bible. And how does Dave know the revelation is correct? Because the Bible tells him it is. The circularity is obvious, it’s the same old refutation to the same old argument. And tacking a special pleading onto his own reasoning doesn’t make his reasoning any less circular. And is it Yahweh or is it Allah, because the Muslims are using the presuppositionalist argument as well. What a mess.

    Neil Carter was an excellent co-host, hope you will have him back. S

  13. Nathan says

    What’s with presuppositionalist using that phrase,”You cut off the branch you are sitting on.” They all use that line.

  14. says

    To this notion that we can’t trust the beliefs our minds come to… have you managed to drive your car to a destination without getting in an accident? The beliefs you form, on the fly, as you drive down the road, about what is happening around you, seem to work fairly well.

  15. says

    “My world view provides a basis for true belief, yours does not”

    Yes, yes it does. My world view is that we have functional brains with functional sensory, and based on that input, we can come to true beliefs. Whether you think we can internally philosophically justify this, isn’t relevant as to whether there’s an actual reality where our brains work.

  16. citzen scriv says

    I agree with Karen S, Neil was indeed a brilliant co-host and it would be great to see him on the roster, I love the show and have been watching for years ( probably 4 or 5 ) but it could really do with some fresh voices

  17. jgairns says

    Hamish was most definitely a troll. David from Michigan was just trying a slightly modified version of Sye’s lame presuppositional arguments. He also pulled out the frail “you can’t be 100% certain” assertion. Move on, the argument is tired and weak. Also, I don’t see any reason to believe that appreciation of art or music are not possible evolutionary advantages. The big evolutionary advantage humans enjoy is intelligence, so the appreciation of art/music, understanding math, problem solving, etc. are higher cognitive functions.

  18. Kit Russell says

    Hamish got as far as “Have you ever stopped to consider … ” when I guessed he was going to pull Pascal’s Wager. I’m impressed by Russell and Neil having the willpower not to facepalm.

  19. walkingmap says

    Great episode, from the comedic beginning to the end. But Russell, the “talent” should always know the ins and outs of making themselves look the part. 🙂

  20. mond says

    @ Jack Smith “I know the scottish accent”

    That is a very curious thing to say. There is no “the” Scottish accent.
    There are very many Scottish Accents. (It probably goes into double figures)
    I have one of those many accents myself and I can occasionly struggle to understand and be understood by Scottish people who speak in a totally different Scottish accent.
    I have to agree with Cal MacD that Hamish is almost certainly Scottish.
    If Hamish is not Scottish then he doing an excellently subtle voice performance.

    http://www.answers.com/Q/How_many_Scottish_accents_are_there

  21. robertwilson says

    This is piling on at this point but I got such a kick out of the “pre-sup who said he wasn’t a pre-sup”.

    He’s an excellent example of how people think that words support their position rather than just describe it. It’s where philosophers (well, mostly amateur philosophers but not exclusively) go wrong. They completely ignore reality and think that as long as their words are making sense to them they are getting somewhere.

    Actually, that’s probably far too generous in this case simply because his idea about natural selection was so narrow and incorrect. Russel’s analogy was great (about legs not being necessary) but the caller treated it like something to counter, rather than really trying to understand why Russell considered it as an analogy. His point that “yeah well they help” is only a step away from “they don’t not help” which is one glaring point he missed about why some examples of intellectual pursuits would fit in just fine with natural selection.

  22. says

    About the caller David from Grand Blanc, Michigan.
    – an explanation must be both sufficient and necessary to be the correct explanation
    – it’s nice that Christians have world views that can account for something (i.e. being sufficient), but they must also show that their world views are necessary.
    – it’s basically the presuppositional apologetics, i.e. “I have a world view that can account for X, therefore my world view is true”, that’s just a non sequetur.
    P1. World View X can account for Y
    P2. ???
    C. World View X is true

  23. Rhona says

    Layla slept on the couch so he did play with her toes a bit! He’s sooooooooooooooooooooo cute .
    On the point of accents, I am from Ireland, and while waiting tables in Maryland one summer a customer helpfully informed me that I was certainly not Irish, saying “I know the Irish accent, and that’s not it”. Just because you’ve met one Scottish (or Irish) person doesn’t mean you know what we all sound like! Imagine if I only ever met one American and they were from Brooklyn and then decided that a Texan I met wasn’t American because they sounded too different.

  24. Yaro says

    Hamish seems to be a typical presup.

    Why didn’t Neil and Russel just challenge him from a position of “how do you know the Bible” is true? Everything Hamish says begs the question…

  25. Yaro says

    Also, not impressed when he says not to mock Christianity.

    I mock Christianity all I please. If you can’t stand to have your beliefs mocked, then don’t call in and show you have no logical basis for your belief and preaching at people. Christianity has no basis in reality and is demonstrably false, therefore it’s fair game as far as I am concerned.

  26. guyblond says

    Neil Carter was great. It shows that folks with a evangelical background have an edge in these conversations. And like Dillahunty, Neil seems to have a strong skill set in logic and philosophy. I would love to see him brought back as a guest host.

    I think that if Carter was in the hoist chair that he would have come down hard on Hamish for the fact that he was just preaching and force him to support his claims. On the other hand, and only because I believe that I heard Hamish choking back some giggles, I believe he was a troll.

    I’m not a evolutionary biologist, but the problem with Matt the callers argument is that he doesn’t understand evolution. A trait doesn’t have to enhance survivability to survive, it can also survive by not deterring survivability. I think the Neil’s comment about the long term outcome of humans ability to derive truth is well taken. A better example might be the repaid advance in technology, which is the result of evolution, might be a reason that humans cease to exist and put an end to the evolutionary development of intelligence on this plant. Some astrophysicist have offered this idea to explain why we seem to be along in the universe.

  27. orchestrator says

    Haha, hey, are we atheists literally arguing “No True Scotsman?” That’s hilarious! 😀

    JK, great discussion.

  28. Rhona says

    In case anyone is wondering about the weird opening to Comment no. 26, I was commenting from my phone and must have hit “paste” and deleted half my comment and replaced it with my last text to my sister, which was about our new cat. So no weird toe-play going on here, it was just about the cat. That’s why you should always click “preview”!
    My original comment was as follows: regarding the caller who was asking for a distinction between different meanings for the word “know”, relating to whether knowledge precedes belief. You need to “know” something in the sense of “being familiar with” something, before you can believe it, but you must believe something first before you “know” it in the sense of “being certain of” the thing. So that argument with other athiests is really a matter of semantics, and the many meanings for the word “know”. I guess what we can draw from this is that before diving into an argument, agree on your meaning of the basic terms!

  29. Robert,+not+Bob says

    Great job keeping him off his script! “Don’t interrupt me, show me some respect!” says the guy who’s already repeatedly interrupted.

  30. philhoenig says

    @Jeremy R #11:

    I’d say it’s true for humans as well. Whilst we don’t need to have any kind of artistic talent, or indeed any kind of talent all, to find a mate, having a talent generally helps. Consider, for example, guitar playing. Even if the majority of the population think that the ability to play the guitar is orthogonal to sexual attractiveness, being the varied creatures we are some will find it a turn on and some will find it a turn off. If there’s more of the former than the latter, there will be evolutionary pressure towards the ability to play the guitar. (Granted, the invention of the guitar is so recent that there will be no measurable effects as yet, but what about other talents such as the putting-colours-on-surfaces type of art or story-telilng?)

    As for the caller’s idea that evolution can select for intelligence to consider practical matters but not philosophy, I’d say that that’s a problem with his idea of guided evolution. Evolution, being unguided, is unfocused. Just as there aren’t genes to reach the fruit at the top of the tree but rather genes for height* which bring with them a number of positive, neutral and negative consequences, there aren’t genes for being clever enough to handle the particular problems of every-day human life, but rather for intelligence and abstract thought in general. They are selected for because they confer an evolutionary advantage in every day life, but that doesn’t mean that’s necessarily all that they are good for.

    * And even that’s a gross simplification.

  31. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Regarding the argument “false beliefs as just as likely to result from evolution as true beliefs in some Rube Goldberg brain”.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rube_Goldberg_machine

    It’s been done many times before. For me, it’s been done most famously by the Christian apologist Alvin Plantinga.

    A naive version of Plantinga’s argument (possibly the same form as Plantinga’s argument) proceeds by talking about beliefs as subject to survival pressure, but that’s not how beliefs and evolution works. Beliefs are not directly the result of the evolutionary process. Beliefs are not genetic. Rather, the structure of the brain is genetic, and beliefs are learned. The discussion needs to be framed in that context.

    Brains are computation devices. The discussion also needs to be framed in that context. Information theory and computation theory have a great deal to say about this argument.

    Plantinga’s argument examines a hypothetical brain with Rube Goldberg beliefs that just so happen to produce good behavior.

    First, the argument restricts itself to only a single scenario. Brains need to work in many, many scenarios. In order to have a brain with mostly false beliefs, there must be a massive amount of Rube Goldberg interactions going on, and that kind of brain is going to be massively complicated and thus massively larger in meatspace compared to a simple rational brain. I forget the exact numbers, but a very large portion of the energy intake of your body goes straight to your brain. Brains are expensive bits of biology. Contrary to Plantinga, if we follow this series of facts naively, we would conclude that evolution should select for brains that are prone to rational beliefs as compared to brains that are prone to Rube Goldberg false beliefs because the rational brain is massively better for survival because it takes less nutrients, even though both brains produce the same behaviors.

    Second, where did those beliefs come from? Beliefs are learned. It’s generally difficult to learn false beliefs compared to true beliefs, and it’s especially unlikely to learn a dozen false beliefs that just so happen to work together to produce good behavior. Furthermore, when you examine proposed scenarios where a bunch of false beliefs produce good behavior, many of those false beliefs are so patently absurd and dangerous that it’s extremely implausible and unlikely that they could have ever had any of the false beliefs in isolation and lived to form the next false belief in the Rube Goldberg chain. It’s even more unlikely that they just happened to form all of the necessary false beliefs all at the same time. Remember, we are talking about all of the circumstances that the brain might find itself in, and to navigate that, it needs thousands, tens of thousands, probably more, number of beliefs. The odds that someone could spontaneously form all of those false beliefs at the same time is immensely unlikely, and the odds are also extremely unlikely that someone could survive the initial steps of the chain of false beliefs to form the next false belief in the Rube Goldberg chain.

    Finally, the form of Plantinga’s argument has a severe logical flaw. At best, Plantinga’s argument can arrive at the conclusion “we might all have brains with Rube Goldberg beliefs”. I agree. However, the argument makes the jump from that to “thus, we all probably have brains with Rube Goldberg beliefs”. Richard Carrier calls this the “possibly, thus probably” fallacy. In order to seriously challenge the materialist worldview, the argument needs the “probably” conclusion, but all the argument can logically do is arrive at “possibly”. As I hoped I’ve already demonstrated, yes it’s possible, but it’s also exceedingly remote, and like the rest of science and empiricism, that’s good enough. We already knew that every belief we have is just a non-absolute degree of certainty, and that we might always be mistaken. It’s called skepticism.

  32. guyblond says

    @philhoenig says R#32
    This reminds me of Christopher Hitchens’s tongue in check article about why women aren’t funny. Why? Because they don’t have to be funny to get laid. Men do.

  33. Matt Hunter says

    To the people who think that Hamish could not have been a troll because his tone sounded convincing need to brace themselves for a big spoiler regarding movies. The people in them are just pretending. It really isn’t that hard and he was struggling on his own accent through particular bits.
    As someone who has lived there and is pretty good at various Scottish accents, I don’t think he sounded natural.
    Plus, his arguments seemed aimed at getting a rise from the hosts.

  34. shadowblade says

    Oh, groan, David from Michigan is almost as tedious as the Scottish Calvinist. I don’t know why they didn’t just debunk his garbage and go straight to another caller. Natural selection is a process which requires some selection pressure in order to operate on any selectable phenomenon, usually variation or mutation within the genetics etc of any population. Mental processes can also provide a focus on which a selection pressure may act. There have been times when there were strong selection pressures towards preserving all sorts of garbage beliefs: “Say you believe this “Woo” or burn for heresy”, for example.

    Similarly, less garbage beliefs have also exhibited a strong selection pressure which have promoted survival: “clean this wound”, “wash your hands”, “boil this water”, “cook this meat” etc. Like most mutations, it is very likely that ideas, thoughts and concepts may mostly be selectively neutral:
    “there might be fairies at the bottom of my garden”,
    “when I dream I go to an alternate reality world on the Astral plane”,
    “if I wish hard enough I will win the lottery” and so on are not likely to promote a strong selection pressure at all, either positive or negative.

    “I can fly, watch me jump off this cliff”,
    “I am immune to gunshot wounds to the head with this Magnum 44”,
    “Nothing bad will happen when I stab this police officer in the middle of the police station” are clearly ideas which will have a strongly negative selection pressure and be likely to have a profoundly deleterious outcome.

    The caller has absolutely zero basis for asserting that we cannot be the product of natural selection because we cannot have ideas which cannot be subjected to a selection pressure or that we can have no ideas which are not purely related to our immediate or long term evolutionary survival. In the modern world, mental process and the evolution of the mind are more likely to provide selection pressures than any changes in our physical characteristics and people have selectively neutral ideas all the time. The scientific method provides a mechanism by which we can test any ideas and whether or not they have any survival advantage. People may once have believed that cooking food and boiling water destroyed the pestilential demons in the food and water, but science never found any demons to analyse, but did find bacteria. The notion that this cannot arise from natural selection and naturalistic process is simply retarded. Similarly, art evolved when people had time to sit down and carve bone, thread shells on strings and make pigments to paint images on cave walls. Performing such activities provided a beneficial advantage as they do now, while exhibiting such skills may have provided a selective advantage in procuring a mate, gaining prestige within the community and certainly, in many cases, provided gifts and trade goods useful in exchange as well as self-adornment.
    ~

  35. adamah says

    Yeah, the caller David isn’t a biologist (or at least he lacks a deep understanding of NS/evo), since he’s absolutely wrong when suggesting that only the best genes survive.

    Sorry, but that’s just not the case: there are many deleterious mutations that occur and get passed on to survive in subsequent generations, but unless they’re ‘lethal mutations’ (which generally cause the fetus to spontaneously abort), the organism can carry a burden of a large number of V.S.D. (‘Very Slightly Deleterious’) mutations, just as long as the combined effect doesn’t result in death under the current environment.

    As Neil said (and great job sitting in, BTW), we often can only figure whether a mutation is beneficial or harmful by looking in the rear-view mirror, where the majority of all mutations are considered as ‘neutral’.

    Huntington’s Disease is a good example (which arose as a mutation in the last few hundred years). Since the symptoms often doesn’t manifest until after someone reaches adulthood, the responsible mutant genes get propagated to future generations and the condition persists.

    (It’s the same logic of how viruses can’t be too lethal to their hosts, or they kill off their hosts before being passed on to a new host, aka a self-limiting problem.)

    So why have VSD mutations, anyway? Some may prove to be beneficial under a new, different environment encountered in the future: that’s exactly how evolution operates, since it’s not like the organism can consciously decide to mutate “on-the-fly” to respond to some change in their environment. Instead, the organism has to already possess the genes that enhance survivability under the new conditions, and the mutation goes from being considered as ‘VSD’ to ‘beneficial’ (i.e. crucial for survival).

  36. adamah says

    On the “knowledge is a subset of belief” thing: it’s absolute nonsense, since early philosophers were influenced by the Xian concept of ‘gnosis’: some special knowledge is doled out by God.

    In fact, this was the central tenet of the Gnostics, an early sect of Xianity which was effectively stamped out of existence for their heretical beliefs (although the concept of gnosis ironically was adopted, and lives on, in philosophical circles).

    So most people who parrot that ‘ knowledge is a subset of beliefs’ meme are simply showing their theological and/or philosophical roots. All the more ironic when atheists repeat it, since like Gods Themselves, it’s a convention from Xianity for which no evidence exists!

    As Neil said, It’s all in which definitions are used, since a more-scientific definition of knowledge is more ‘agnostic’, and doesn’t concern itself whether the idea is correct or if facts exist to support it.

    Hence, I define knowledge as, ‘All the information available in the Universe, whether it’s true or not’. Thus beliefs are a subset of knowledge, defined as “those ideas which are accepted as true, and used to make decisions”.

  37. Yaro says

    #36 – Let’s break down some definitions. At least, here’s how I’d define these terms.

    Believe – To accept something as true, independent of reasonable justification.

    Faith – To believe WITHOUT reasonable justification.

    Confidence – To believe WITH reasonable justification.

    Knowledge – For this one the only definition I can think of that works is as “belief that is concordant with one’s best understanding of reality.” As in, belief in something demonstrable. I’m not sure how knowledge could work without being under the umbrella of belief, I don’t really think your definition of knowledge works, as we most certainly do NOT have “all the information in the universe, true or not” yet we still have knowledge. We KNOW things, but by your definition, the only way we’d know anything is to know EVERYTHING. I do accept knowledge can be WRONG, however.

  38. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Yaro
    I agree with your position. Adamah is wrong and unreasonable. I wouldn’t bother with Adamh. It’s not worth the effort.

  39. Athywren - This Thing Is Just A Thing says

    @adamah, 36
    You do realise that’s all just semantics, right?
    All the “knowledge is a subset of belief” crowd are saying is that knowledge is something you believe that’s true (so my belief that life forms adapt over generations would be knowledge, but a belief that cheese is mined from the moon or that there is quadrupedal life on one of the planets around 55 Cancri would not be (ever for one, or until verified for the other)) while what you seem to be saying is that knowledge is anything that can be known regardless of truth (meaning that my adaptation, moon cheese and Cancrian life examples are all knowledge, despite one of them being false and another being currently unknowable to us) and so what you believe is necessarily subordinate to knowledge.
    Obviously there’s a disagreement, but you’re just talking past each other here. You can invoke the Gnostics all you like, but unless the people who say knowledge is a subset of belief are actually claiming to have access to some god’s special knowledge store, rather than empirical verification, it’s not actually very important to the point and doesn’t really count as a criticism of the statement, since the associated error only applies by equivocation. Ultimately, the only argument worth having here is whether the word ‘knowledge’ is a word that has any value.

  40. says

    Hamish is a good example of why you shouldn’t bother with dogmatists. They start in dogmatism, start preaching, stay in dogmatism and get offended because doubt is sinful, and the conversation never ends up going anywhere.

  41. Helicopter says

    What’s the point of even having a show if you’re going to interrupt and disrespect your callers? Rebutting an argument is much more effective, especially for your audience, if you allow your interlocuter to finish making his argument. You don’t actually gain anything from jumping to wherever you think the end is. You guys mishandled every single call you got and this has been a tendency on the show for a while now. If you want to keep having a show then you need to change your approach in a big way.

  42. Conversion Tube says

    Rocky @8 and others, thanks to youtuber AntiCitizenX I have a quick and simple respond to any presup that makes the claim I can’t know anything blablabla. This theme is repeated in a few of his videos and it’s short and sweet and it alludes to the pragmatic rationalism Neil was referring to.

    “We collect empirical data, we formulate it as a rationally descriptive model of objective reality, we exercise a decision accordingly, and then we empirically observe the outcome.”

    and…

    “Decisions based on “true” beliefs will therefore manifest themselves in the form of controlled, predictable experiences, while decisions based on “false” beliefs will eventually fail in that goal. Any beliefs that refuse to drive any actions whatsoever, even in principle, are thus effectively reduced to useless rhetorical gibberish.”

    The reason we develop beliefs is because we understand beliefs are a functional guide for our actions, our understanding, and decisions and we measure the strength of that belief based on its capability to provide desirable, repeatable, predictive outcomes . Decisions based on true beliefs will manifest themselves in controlled predictable experiences while false beliefs will eventually fail in that goal. Determining beliefs in this way allows us to be capable of predicting events and creating explanations for why events occurred. If your epistemic methodology isn’t capable of making precise predictions to solve problems it’s literally useless and not needed or required in any way.

  43. mond says

    @Matt Hunter
    People pretend in movies, therefore Hamish is pretending to be Scottish…Non sequitur. The fact that people are capable of pretending does tells us whether this is a particular instance of someone pretending.

    You said
    “[I am] pretty good at various Scottish accents, I don’t think he sounded natural.”

    You have stated opinion as fact. I earlier stated my contrary opinion. Neither of us actually know the truth on this occasion.

    Also there is a difference between him faking an accent and being a troll.
    He could be simply trolling in his own normal accent or even more unlikely faking an accent but giving accurate representation of his views.

  44. adamah says

    Yaro said:

    Believe – To accept something as true, independent of reasonable justification.

    Sounds reasonable to me, with the caveat that by ‘independent’, you mean “with or without reasonable justification” (and let’s just set aside for a moment that the word ‘reasonable’ is problematic, since it’s a matter of opinion: what constitutes ‘reasonable’ to you and I will most likely be different).

    Faith – To believe WITHOUT reasonable justification.

    Of course, I suppose a group of atheists would agree on that definition. 🙂

    (And the same problem exists, since it contains the troublesome word, “reasonable”.)

    But wouldn’t that definition preclude such popular usage as, “I have faith in my brakes.”? Of course, dictionary definitions often lag actual observed usage, so when it comes to definitions, they’re relying on popularity: in essence, everyone votes with their choice of words.

    Confidence – To believe WITH reasonable justification.

    Sure, although the same concern exists.

    Knowledge – For this one the only definition I can think of that works is as “belief that is concordant with one’s best understanding of reality.” As in, belief in something demonstrable.

    The problem I see with that definition is this: thanks to the human brain’s remarkable ability to suppress cognitive dissonance and its capacity for self-delusion (not to mention inter-observer variabilities in perception), feeling ‘concordance’ isn’t saying much. In essence, you’re begging the question (i.e. repeating the very assertion at stake).

    You object to my referring to knowledge as “all the information available”, on the following grounds:

    I’m not sure how knowledge could work without being under the umbrella of belief, I don’t really think your definition of knowledge works, as we most certainly do NOT have “all the information in the universe, true or not” yet we still have knowledge. We KNOW things, but by your definition, the only way we’d know anything is to know EVERYTHING.

    That’s not my position: for one, we (whether referring to an individual, or collectively to all mankind) don’t need to possess ALL knowledge in order for knowledge to exist.

    I was writing off the top of my head, but let me explain:

    Imagine knowledge as all the information and data available in all the encyclopedias, Wikipedia, books, etc, that are available, both at the current time and in the past (and knowledge that may be acquired in the future is pushing credibility: I’m not suggesting future knowledge be included).

    Of course, the totality of what we know is ever-expanding by the minute, since I’m referring to the body of knowledge that actually exists (and which includes the false trails that didn’t pan out as accepted truths).

    As I say, the information doesn’t need to be accurate or true to be considered as ‘ knowledge’, eg Ptolemy’s theory, although long-since disproven, nevertheless remains considered as knowledge to be learned and/or comprehended.

    I’m not sure why you’d think we’d need to actually understand information for it to be considered as knowledge? E.g. cavemen didn’t understand (much less suspect) the existence of radio waves, but that didn’t mean radio waves didn’t exist in the past: that information awaited future detection and discovery by Marconi, etc, but the idea only enters into the pantheon of ‘knowledge’ as it exits the supernatural domain when sufficient corroborative evidence for it actually exists.

    The body of knowledge simply grows as new discoveries are made, with the boundaries of human knowledge ever-increasing.

    FWIW, I’ve often felt it the height of Homo sapiens hubris to conclude that just as a dog riding in the back of a pickup truck has no ability to understand the principles of the internal combustion engine that’s propelling the truck down the road, so too we’d be fooling ourselves by thinking that phenomena exists outside our perceptive senses or cognitive capabilities that is so far out of the realm of our ability to comprehend it.

    However, that’s not giving anyone permission to play an ‘appeal to ignorance’ card; instead, the time to believe in something is AFTER compelling supportive evidence (again, a variable) has been shown to indicate it exists.

    Which leads me to Darwin’s quote, mentioned in the episode (something about how a primate brain is not to be trusted).

    Darwin’s words strike me as somewhat Homo-sapienistic, since there’s certain tasks which animals are vastly better-equipped to carry out than humans are (eg canine’s bomb- and drug-sniffing capabilities, which once again, arises as a learned adaptation which relies on long-standing beneficial evolutionary traits, where a keen sense of smell enhanced canine survivability).

    Btw, please ignore trolls who demand acceptance of their claims without bothering to offer any compelling evidence. From where I’m seated, there’s not much difference between certain posters here who try to dictate and control the actions of others, and certain Scottish callers to AE. Both types are dogmatists who cannot reason their way out of a wet paper bag.

  45. adamah says

    Athywren @45 said:

    You do realise that’s all just semantics, right?

    Sure, and that’s exactly why I used the word ‘convention’, i.e. there is no physical object (i.e. a referent) that underlies the meanings of concepts, and languages are agreed-upon quite-arbitrary conventions.

    All the “knowledge is a subset of belief” crowd are saying is that knowledge is something you believe that’s true (so my belief that life forms adapt over generations would be knowledge, but a belief that cheese is mined from the moon or that there is quadrupedal life on one of the planets around 55 Cancri would not be (ever for one, or until verified for the other)) while what you seem to be saying is that knowledge is anything that can be known regardless of truth (meaning that my adaptation, moon cheese and Cancrian life examples are all knowledge, despite one of them being false and another being currently unknowable to us) and so what you believe is necessarily subordinate to knowledge.

    Yup, that pretty-much sums up my position.

    Obviously there’s a disagreement, but you’re just talking past each other here. You can invoke the Gnostics all you like, but unless the people who say knowledge is a subset of belief are actually claiming to have access to some god’s special knowledge store, rather than empirical verification, it’s not actually very important to the point and doesn’t really count as a criticism of the statement, since the associated error only applies by equivocation.

    Of course, the caller from Scotland obviously believes that God is the only source of “true knowledge”, so it’s no equivocation for many believers, including him: they literally believe the Bible is the infallible word of God, and they have access to it.

    As I indicated earlier, the Greek word for knowledge is ‘gnosis’, and was applied to ALL knowledge, secular or not, long before Jesus wandered Palestine. The early Xian Gnostic cult thus later co-opted the word ‘Gnosis’, making it mean a “special knowledge bestowed by God” upon certain blessed mortals.

    The concept took off like gangbusters amongst theistic philosophers and theologians in the millennia that followed, and gained further unintentional support in the late 1800’s when Huxley famously mocked those Xians who claimed to know things with certainty when he coined the term, ‘agnostic’. Although likely unintended, it actually backfired, since it supported the underlying concept of gnosis.

    My point is, the trend only continues whenever someone repeats the “knowledge is a subset of belief” meme, since it’s ultimately buying into questionable assertions accepted without questioning that were made in the prior millennia (just as religion has done).

    Ultimately, the only argument worth having here is whether the word ‘knowledge’ is a word that has any value.

    You do realize we have to use SOME words to represent ideas we’re trying to convey to others: what would you suggest as new words?

  46. mrmoose says

    Did it sound to anyone else that David from Grand Blanc was speaking as a proxy for someone else? It was as if he was a Sye Ten Balok.

  47. Athywren - This Thing Is Just A Thing says

    @adamah, @46, or thereabouts

    Ok… before I try actually engaging properly… if you sneeze and I say, “bless you,” would you argue that in doing so I’m invoking a god and praying for the protection of your eternal soul?

  48. adamah says

    @Athywren, That would depend on the circumstances:

    If it’s said by a complete stranger who said it out of the blue upon seeing me sneeze in public, I’d grant them the benefit of the doubt, and interpret it as a polite (if anachronistic) show of common courtesy.

    (FWIW, I don’t say anything when someone sneezes, as I don’t view sneezing as even being worth mentioning.)

    But if the phrase were said by someone who knew I was an atheist (and all the more so if we just had a conversation about my lack of belief in a God), then I may not be as charitable; I tend to view it as another bit of evidence of someone who is so lacking in empathy that they’re unable to accept anyone holding beliefs different from their own.

  49. Curt Cameron says

    Matt, the guy with the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, got that straight from Alvin Plantinga. It’s not really presuppositional, though it sounds like it. The form of the argument is supposed to be “you say you believe X, Y, and Z, but I can show logically that the premises X and Y lead to the conclusion that Z is false.” It’s supposed to make you then question your beliefs in X and Y, it’s not meant to show that Z is false.

    The problem is that the argument doesn’t make a good case why not-Z must follow from X and Y.

    I think the correct response is to say “So you’re telling me that a brain that can model the outside world and make sense of it, although sometimes imperfectly, is not advantageous to a creature trying to survive?” Then roll your eyes when saying this. That step is just such obvious bullshit.

    This was one of the best shows in recent times, and Neil did a great job as guest co-host.

  50. edmond says

    David says that God “endowed us with reason”…. how does that work, exactly? What is “reason”, in this model? How is it “endowed”? He makes it sound like God pours “reason” into our heads like syrup. These people never have any explanation for their claims, it’s all just magically possible.

  51. Alteredstory says

    I like how Hamish starts out condemning Sye as an example “the worst kinds of Christians”, but then at the end dives right into “brain in a vat” right before his bid for Pascal’s Wager…

  52. crystal says

    Great show guys! Does anyone know when Tracie will be back on the show??? i miss her so much!!! i love watching her she is just amazing!!! 🙂

  53. Gurgen says

    So, we had a true Scotsman bringing up Pascal’s wager … shouldn’t the universe have ended right then and there.
    “Yep,” said the Universe, “now we HAVE seen everything, might as well wrap things up now.”

  54. Leonardo says

    Hey guys from TAE,

    Please check the audio from youtube videos. It’s very low i can’t hear very well using headphones.

    Thank u.

  55. favog says

    This evolutionary argument against naturalism seems to be assuming that intelligence does not provide any kind of survival advantage. I don’t even know what to say past that.

  56. Paul Entrekin says

    We do not “believe” in naturalism, we accept the findings of science to define what is real and that is a verifiable worldview. Naturalism IS indeed “true” it is based on observable or verifiable fact. What theists want to claim is that her is MORE than just naturalism, but they cannot prove any such claim. I doubt any theist can seriously claim naturalism is wrong, they just think it is incomplete.

    Evolution doesn’t only pass along beneficial traits! That was where David went wrong. Evolution/natural selection ALSO passes along traits that are not harmful. They do not have to be beneficial, just a trait that does not interfere with basic survival. Understanding math is likely beneficial, but as Neil says, we can’t really know. Only history will judge our success. We very well could destroy ourselves with our knowledge. Much of our behavior is not directly attached to immediate survival endeavors, but is indeed beneficial, like Playing. We play to reduce stress and increase our pleasure and happiness, which in turn makes our lives more enjoyable and even makes us live longer.

  57. vince says

    At one point Neil uses the 33,000 denominations statistic. That number is grossly misleading.

    World Christian Encyclopedia estimates 33,000.
    Center for Study of Global Christianity estimates 43,000.

    These are generally where these numbers come from; however, they define a denomination as a separate organization and not based on beliefs. About 30,000 of which are independent churches in Africa meaning they don’t belong to the same organization or any organization at all. Most of these churches have the same core beliefs about Christianity. So there are not 44,000 different churches that believe things so different that they will not fellowship with each other.

    These same sources also state that these can all be lumped into 6 different categories, Independents, Protestants, Marginals, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglicans. Wikipedia lists about 40 different divisions and some of them have the same core beliefs. Without going to all the independent churches it is impossible to know how much division there really is. It is an indictment of sorts that we as Christians are divided at all, but it is not to the degree that most people like to throw around.

  58. Curt Cameron says

    Vince, I’ll grant that 30,000 is too high. But six? You’re lumping “protestants” into one category?!?

    Every one of the many protestant sects was created because of a doctrinal dispute with its sister denomination.

    I wonder how many denominations there are just in the US. Then you have all of the new non-denominational churches that have sprung up. There’s no telling how many different lumps you should sort those into.

  59. Monocle Smile says

    @vince
    Misleading? Hardly. You might as well take umbrage to someone saying that Earth is 90 million miles from the sun when they are making a point about scale and distance. That’s not quite the right number and it does fluctuate, but worrying about that misses the point entirely. Let’s try to build a bridge. Why are you upset over Neil’s point?

  60. Monocle Smile says

    @vince
    Also, claiming that small differences don’t matter is rather odd, given Christianity’s focus on “absolute truth.”

  61. ironchops says

    @63 & 64
    1. Protestants are simply non-Catholic.
    2. I don’t get it but my Mom is non-denominational Pentecostal… WTF that even means.
    I agree that there is mainly about 6-10 different basic categories and all the others are just variations of the same thing. It’s the “you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig” kind’a thing. I myself witness a church split over what color the walls should be painted and the white wall people started a new non-denominational independent Baptist church. It all seems so silly to me that there is no consensus in Christianity as to what god want from us or how we should act.

  62. mond says

    Just to make a bit of glib clichéd comment about the number of different denomination of christians.
    Are there not as many type of christians are their are people who profess to be christians.
    Thus the question that the hosts often use at the beginning of a call “What do you believe and Why?”
    Someone telling you that they are a christian doesn’t really tell you what they believe (actual or professed).

  63. Athywren - This Thing Is Just A Thing says

    @Vince, 63

    These same sources also state that these can all be lumped into 6 different categories, Independents, Protestants, Marginals, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglicans.

    Sure, you can lump most collections of things into smaller numbers of larger categories. You can lump the various people of the UK into English, Scottish, Welsh & Irish, but that doesn’t mean that all members of one of those groups are similar. People from Birmingham and people from London are both groups of English people, but there are a lot of differences between them. Yes, there are also similarities – certainly more similarities and fewer differences between themselves than would be present if they were paired with a Scottish group, a French one, or a Japanese one – but it’s not safe to assume that they’re the same because of that.

  64. vince says

    @Curt, 64

    My point is that no one has actually looked at what these denominations believe and no one knows if they are divided enough to not consider each Christian. I belong to a non denominational/independent church but we don’t have any huge theological problems with Methodists, Baptists etc. or many other non denominational churches in the city. I guess my point was not to come up with a number but say that no one really knows how divided the Christian church is and if you look at how the 43,000 number was arrived at I think most non believers are using that data incorrectly.

    Bottom line is that the church is divided and is a blemish on the Christian church worldwide.

  65. vince says

    @Monocle Smile

    I am not upset at his point, I have conceded that he is correct that the church is divided. Many Atheists tell me that they want to believe truth and not non truth as much as possible. I think they use the number to say how much the church can’t agree on scripture when the data collected was only counting the number of separate organizations and independent churches. I have never found a study finding the actual beliefs of those organizations and churches and how different they are particularly on salvation. I just think that people using that stat should be using it correctly.

  66. vince says

    @Monocle Smile, 66

    Holding the Christian church to a 100% standard to know the truth is ridiculous, you probably don’t have that same standard for any other group of people. You don’t need this standard anyway. Atheists have won the rational argument against gods existence. There is no rational argument for the existence of god. All you have to do is ask for proof of gods existence and wait. I really don’t know why atheists argue anything else, like contradictions in the bible etc. Those can be argued after theists give a proof of god.

  67. vince says

    @Athywren, 70

    My point is not to find a number of groups but that no one knows really how divided the church is. What is the criteria for division. I would think it would be how many groups/churches consider another group non Christian because of their beliefs. Do we know that number? I disagree with Lutherans on their baptizing children, however, I still consider them Christians and would still go to a Lutheran church. It is a disagreement not a division.

  68. adamah says

    Vince said:

    These same sources also state that these can all be lumped into 6 different categories, Independents, Protestants, Marginals, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglicans.

    For one, even if there were “only 6 flavors” of Xianity, that’s still 5 too many (and it’s a short step to ‘6’).

    And Vince, I suppose you cannot admit that simply sweeping all the various disparate groups into the same category of “independent” is intellectually dishonest, for it contains both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, both claiming to be followers of Christ.

    Both groups are convinced bad things await the other group(s) in the future, since they fully believe the other is enslaved in so-called “false religion”.

    And since we’re on the topic of Hebrew-based faiths, I like to remind Xians that the God their beloved Abraham worshipped is actually the God of Islam: Allah.

    Few understand that one of the Hebrew names given in the Old Testament that refers to the God of Abraham is ‘Eloah’ (a singular form of the more-common plural form, ‘Elohim’, referring to God and His Heavenly Divine Counsel of angels).

    Of course, one of Abraham’s sons in the Old Testament is ‘Ismael’ (born of the daughter of a slave girl, both left to die in the desert: some nice family values, huh?). The Koran contains the religious beliefs for the descendents of Ishmael.

    It’s not hard to imagine how 10 centuries of difficulty in pronouncing a Hebrew name by Arabs would result in subtle and slow transformation of ‘Eloah’ into ‘Allah’.

    But point being, it’s sourced in the same God myth as seen in the Torah, although entirely bypassing Christ (just as normative Jews view Christ as forming a spin-off religion).

    As far as your claim, “it’s a disagreement, not a division” nonsense, run the distinction up a flagpole and don’t be surprised that no one here salutes it, since we don’t care about what makes us feel good, but what is TRUE.

  69. vince says

    @adamah, 73

    I am not arguing that the Christian church is not divided as I have stated many times. All I am really saying is that there are not 43,000 different Christian theologies and no one really knows the extent of the division. From your definition, if two Christians disagree on how many colors were on Josephs coat, they are divided and practicing a different Christianity. That is nonsense in my opinion. It is a fair point to say that Christians are divided but it is not fair to say all 25,000 independent churches in Africa are divided, because no one really knows. You say you want to know the truth, well if so, then you need to understand where you don’t know the truth. Show me all the 25,000 African independent churches theologies so we can look at how divided they really are.

  70. says

    My thought on the “30,000 to 43,000 different Christian Churches” is that it is basically a deepity. While it is a number based on some objective definition of a “Christian Church”, we can draw an arbitrary line through the structure of Christian Churches (or Christian doctrine) and get whatever number we want. Anything from “there are as many different sets of Christian beliefs (corollary to Churches) as there are Christians”, to “there is one Christian Church defined by all those who center their religious beliefs around Jesus”.

    My experience growing up Lutheran is that the a primary focus of indoctrination is on refuting Catholicism (obviously, the bitterness is still there). The basic idea that the bible is the authority, not the Catholic Church, was taught, but a surprising number of doctrinal differences were taught. I don’t remember there being anything much about refuting the doctrine other protestant churches, though. The only thing I remember was getting a “they’re weird Christians” vibe for the Baptists, Pentecostals, 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and some others. The Mormons hadn’t invaded the very rural place in which I grew up. So, the message I got was that the Catholic Church got some pretty serious stuff wrong about Jesus, and the other protestant churches got some other less serious stuff wrong about Jesus. After having an argument with some Catholic friends at college, my beliefs morphed into something like Christian Deism, which is probably a similar place to the un-churched religious “Nones” that are a growing demographic these days (and in retrospect, a key event in my eventual atheism). To that end, Christianity has essentially shot itself in the foot by not being more united. As a matter of long term strategy, it’s probably better to not do things that unite Christianity. If the trend continues and the nones and non-believers achieve a majority, I’d hate to see the Christian minority congeal into a more unified faction. Maybe Christian unity just can’t happen and this is bullshit, but: Maybe we should back off on the “inconsistent revelation/y’all can’t agree on shit, therefore atheism” and focus more on “here’s why your specific beliefs are wrong, therefore atheism”. Thoughts?

  71. vince says

    changerofbits said:

    Maybe we should back off on the “inconsistent revelation/y’all can’t agree on shit, therefore atheism” and focus more on “here’s why your specific beliefs are wrong, therefore atheism”.

    Why should you even discuss theists beliefs until they prove god exists in the first place?

  72. Monocle Smile says

    @vince
    You cannot be serious. Religion is an extremely destructive force and imposes on the world around it…and yet you’re asking why we don’t ignore it? Religion is a virus that is cured by education.

  73. jgairns says

    @vince, 78

    “Why should you even discuss theists beliefs until they prove god exists in the first place?”

    By that logic, why kill cockroaches unless/until they have completely infested your home?

  74. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Quoting ironchops

    1. Protestants are simply non-Catholic.

    Then there’s all the eastern Orthodox branches, right?

    Quoting Vince

    You don’t need this standard anyway. Atheists have won the rational argument against gods existence. There is no rational argument for the existence of god.

    Ok. That makes you unusual in our experience. Most Christians would not assent to that description. So, you’re here just to point out a technicality, e.g. 6 vs 30,000 whatever? Ok. That’s acceptable, and you might have a point regarding what is effective persuasion tactics on other Christians.

    Why should you even discuss theists beliefs until they prove god exists in the first place?

    Because Christian doctrine is wrong. I want to be told when I’m wrong, so I can be no longer wrong. If someone doesn’t tell me when I’m wrong because whatever reasons, that’s patronizing. They very probably want to be told when they’re wrong, but this kind of hypothetical person feels superior to the plebs who purportedly cannot handle being told that they’re wrong, or who cannot handle knowing the truth on a particular matter. That’s supremely arrogant and patronizing.

    Christian doctrine is wrong, and wrong beliefs can lead to more harm in the world. Steven Weinburg makes the point thusly: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” The basic idea is that good intentioned people will do bad things if they’re working on false premises, such as beleif in the efficacy of prayer, belief in the afterlife, etc. There’s another common saying that captures this idea: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” PS: Obviously religion is not the only phenomenon of this kind. The problem class is any dogmatic belief system held by groups, and especially in-group out-group thinking of tribalism. However, organized religion is arguably the biggest and most harmful phenomenon of this kind.

    Christian doctrine encourages irrational thinking. Not only does it encourage believing irrational things, it also thereby promotes irrational thinking in all aspects of one’s life. The above paragraph was about accidentally believing things for what one believes are good reasons. This paragraph is about purposefully believing things without good reasons, and celebrating that, aka faith. This does unimaginable harm in this world.

    Christian doctrine is evil. The core of the Christian doctrine is that Jesus performed a blood magic sacrifice in order to take the sin-debt accrued by everyone onto himself, and thereby get everyone into Heaven. If you don’t believe that, then I refuse to acknowledge you as a Christian. This core doctrine is evil. It’s barbaric. The entire notion rests on the assumption that if one does bad things, aka sin, then it is just to punish that person. This is often known as the retributive theory of justice, and it’s simply barbaric. It’s sadistic. Harming people just because they did evil in the past is itself evil. To drive this point home: If it was within my power, I would ensure that Hitler had the best possible afterlife that he possibly could, assuming it was cheap for me to do so, and that I could guarantee he could never escape the afterlife gilded prison and harm others, and that I could guarantee no one else knew about it to ensure no loss of deterrence effects, and that there was no chance of rehabilitation of Hitler. That long list of reasons, confinement for the safety of others, punishment for deterrence, and punishment for rehabilitation, are the only acceptable reasons to punish anyone. (Thus, as described, the Christian god is a barbaric tyrant.) Again, the core Christian doctrine rests on an assumption of justice and morality which is simply barbaric, and if people are taught to believe barbaric things, then it’s no surprise when they behave barbarically.

  75. vince says

    @Monocle Smile, 79

    Fair enough, I was thinking more of the existence of god argument. Why argue against the existence of god with someone until they have proven god exists. But I get your point, the practices can be harmful and I agree religion can cause harm.

  76. vince says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal, 81

    You seem to think irrational thinking is wrong for others. Why? Also, why is acting barbaric wrong? What do you base that claim on?

    You also say this:

    “This core doctrine is evil. It’s barbaric. The entire notion rests on the assumption that if one does bad things, aka sin, then it is just to punish that person.”

    So our justice system is evil? I am not following what you are saying here. Shouldn’t we punish someone that steals a car with fines, probation, jail time or something?

  77. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Quoting Vince

    So our justice system is evil? I am not following what you are saying here. Shouldn’t we punish someone that steals a car with fines, probation, jail time or something?

    Quoting myself:

    That long list of reasons, confinement for the safety of others, punishment for deterrence, and punishment for rehabilitation, are the only acceptable reasons to punish anyone.

    I suggest that you do some reading.
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justice-retributive/
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/legal-punishment/
    Again, punishing someone “because they deserve it” (retributive theory of justice) is fundamentally different from:
    – Confining someone who is very likely to harm others, in order to prevent that harm to others, which makes the world into a better place.
    – Punishing someone to ensure that people in the future will be dissuaded from doing that act (deterrence), which lowers crime rates, which accomplishes making the world into a better place.
    – Using punishment as part of an overall scheme in order to rehabilitate someone to do less evil in the future, which accomplishes making the world into a better place.

    Quoting Vince

    You seem to think irrational thinking is wrong for others. Why? Also, why is acting barbaric wrong? What do you base that claim on?

    Why do I want to make the world into a better place for everyone? Are you seriously asking me that question? That is a manifestly silly question.

    Further, do you really mean to start an annoying argument concerning presuppositional apologetics and fundamental epistemology? Because that’s where that question is going.

  78. Monocle Smile says

    @vince
    Do you really want to live in a world filled with barbaric, irrational people? I question the direction of your inquiry.
    Also, our justice system is not about retribution. It is about deterrence and preventing people from continuing to do harm, seeing as recidivism rates are high. That’s the goal at least. The execution is rather fucked up in this country.

  79. vince says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal, 85

    Thanks for the reading assignment. I agree that our justice system should not be retributive. But it is. Most people in jail are not getting any “rehabilitation” they are just being punished. I mostly agree with your three points of a justice system. I do have some problem with the first point, to confine someone that is likely to harm someone else in the future, that seems hard to predict and easy to misuse.

    EL said:

    “Why do I want to make the world into a better place for everyone? Are you seriously asking me that question? That is a manifestly silly question. ”

    “Further, do you really mean to start an annoying argument concerning presuppositional apologetics and fundamental epistemology? Because that’s where that question is going.”

    That is not the question I asked. I am not looking for a presuppositional discussion. If you don’t want to answer the question that’s ok. I don’t think it is a silly question to ask you where you get your beliefs, I am sure you ask that of theists. You made claims that barbarism and irrational thinking is wrong, why? How do you decide what is right or wrong? Do you decide on emotion, to maintain a civil society, innate feelings, empathy? Have you thought of why you think these are wrong?

  80. vince says

    @Monocle Smile, 87

    “Also, our justice system is not about retribution. It is about deterrence and preventing people from continuing to do harm, seeing as recidivism rates are high. That’s the goal at least.”

    I disagree. There is not much rehabilitation going on. I visit people in jail and most of them are just being punished and don’t have any expectation of help from the system. Most of the help comes from churches like mine who help them get their life in order without any expectation of religious fidelity. We help them get a job, financial help etc. Our justice system is retributive and no one cares. It is not politically advantageous for lawmakers/politicians to fight for criminals. I don’t even here anyone talking about rehabilitation.

  81. Monocle Smile says

    @vince
    I’ll start responding to your posts when you demonstrate that you are actually reading mine. Also, you have a hilariously distorted idea of how churches help prisoners. If you are telling the truth about what you do, you are in a stark minority.

  82. Monocle Smile says

    @vince

    How do you decide what is right or wrong? Do you decide on emotion, to maintain a civil society, innate feelings, empathy? Have you thought of why you think these are wrong?

    I can virtually guarantee that nonbelievers spend much more time thinking about this on average than believers. Why do YOU think barbarism is wrong? Is it just because your imaginary god says so? If not, then we’re probably in agreement for the most part, so why is this discussion necessary? And if it IS “because god says so,” then you are in a much, much worse position than I and you have a totally unworkable (read: nonexistent) nothing of ethics.

  83. vince says

    @Monocle Smile

    This cracked me up

    “I’ll start responding to your posts when you demonstrate that you are actually reading mine.”

    then

    “Also, you have a hilariously distorted idea of how churches help prisoners. If you are telling the truth about what you do, you are in a stark minority.”

    Anyway, do you work with many jail ministries? What part of my view (experience) is distorted? My experience is different I guess.

  84. vince says

    @Monocle Smile, 94

    Ok, soooooo you won’t answer the question. I find that many atheists don’t actually answer this question. They just insult the theist beliefs for asking and make assumptions about their beliefs. But that’s ok, I get it that you don’t care to answer. Have a nice weekend.

  85. Monocle Smile says

    @vince
    Please don’t take offense. I’m perfectly willing to elaborate, but I’m typically Socratic at first because 99% of the time, it is a complete waste of time. You seem more reasonable than most, but I still need to check. At a high level, my ethics take from parts of utilitarianism and consequentialism.

  86. vince says

    @Monocle Smile

    Don’t both of those ethical theories have to define what is good or beneficial in some way and how is that done?

    I get my ethics from empathy for others, how I would want to be treated is most likely how they would like to be treated. Then there are things in the bible that I derive my morals from as well such as marriage, money and how to treat enemies etc. I am sure that part you will disagree with.

  87. Monocle Smile says

    I care about the well being of thinking creatures…and I don’t really understand why I need to elaborate on this. Well being is of course determined empirically. The golden rule is mostly good, but it needs tweaking because we are not all identical. As for your biblical morals…I find them mostly laughable and the few parts of merit don’t need an old book.

  88. vince says

    If we all determine well being empirically then we all can have different definitions of well being and none of us has the right to tell anyone else they are universally wrong. I can tell them I think you are wrong to think stealing is ok but I cannot say stealing is wrong universally. I can’t use the bible either because I cannot prove it is gods word. I do think there are universal truths about morality but since god apparently has decided not to prove he is the god of the bible to everyone, I really cannot hold anyone else to the bibles standard. What do you think?

  89. Monocle Smile says

    @vince
    I…wow, I’m going to have to try hard to not be condescending. You managed to mangle empiricism so badly that you are as wrong as it is possible to be. Empiricism and personal preference are barely in the same category. Science utilizes empirical inquiry. Empiricism is in fact the diametric opposite of making shit up. I advocate for Democritus’ unity of rationalism and empiricism; that rational thought leads to accurate conclusions, but reason follows the GIGO principle (garbage in, garbage out) and thus empiricism is necessary to ensure sound premises.
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rationalism-empiricism/

    Can we determine that drinking battery acid has a negative health outcome? Yes. We determine this through empirical inquiry. Similarly, we can determine which actions in a given situation lead to better or worse outcomes for those involved. I don’t find this particularly difficult to grasp and I believe almost all human beings do this informally whether they’re aware or not.

    I do think there are universal truths about morality but since god apparently has decided not to prove he is the god of the bible to everyone, I really cannot hold anyone else to the bibles standard

    Then why do you believe that the bible is gods word or that god exists? I’m extremely baffled, given your earlier statements. I hold the position where if I cannot convince a reasonable skeptic of something, then it likely stands on shaky footing and should probably be discarded.

    What do you mean by thinking creatures?

    Sentient beings. I hope I don’t have to elaborate further.

  90. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    And onto presuppositional apologetics and foundational epistemology. I didn’t want to go here, but here we go.

    That is not the question I asked. I am not looking for a presuppositional discussion. If you don’t want to answer the question that’s ok. I don’t think it is a silly question to ask you where you get your beliefs, I am sure you ask that of theists. You made claims that barbarism and irrational thinking is wrong, why? How do you decide what is right or wrong? Do you decide on emotion, to maintain a civil society, innate feelings, empathy? Have you thought of why you think these are wrong?

    [Directed to Monocle Smile] Ok, soooooo you won’t answer the question.

    It’s important to realize that there is no good and reasonable answer to the question.

    As a matter of facts, I never ask theists this question. I ask them all the time why they think that a god exists, because that’s a factual, material, scientific matter on which there are objectively correct and incorrect answers. That’s fundamentally different than asking silly questions like “what justification do you have for your fundamental foundational moral presuppositions?”. For further reading, I suggest:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchhausen_trilemma
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regress_argument
    My “solution” is to adopt a combination of coherentism (aka circular thinking) and foundationalism (aka presuppositional thinking) which is sometimes known as foundherentism. In particular, I have a very small starting set of presuppositions which are mutually reinforcing, but with great effort, and by appealing to some of my presuppositions, it’s possible to get me to examine some of my other presuppositions. The vast majority of my knowledge is a derivation from my starting presuppositions and the available evidence, aka first person experience.

    I’m a humanist. The very definitions of “good” and “better world” in nearly all conversations are compatible with the humanist outlook (except when talking with divine command theorists). The humanist position is a presuppositional position that what we should do, aka morality, is about making the world into a better place for everyone, with the well-understood particular meaning of “better” which excludes things like needless, wanton violence. I admit that “better” is still somewhat nebulously defined, but it’s still more than well enough defined for the purposes of this conversation, and many public policy discussions. It’s like the idea of physical health. It’s really hard to pin down the definition, but we should all be able to agree that vomiting uncontrollably is generally unhealthy. (Kudos to Sam Harris for that example, even though I’m beginning to despise him.)

    Alternative views include:
    – divine command theory. The presuppositional position that one should do whatever the god says, and by that whatever the tyrant in charge says. It’s “might makes right” combined with “I made it, I own it, including human beings aka slavery”. On this view, it would become moral to torture someone simply and only for god’s amusement if god so ordered it.
    – Pure unbridled selfishness. The presuppositional position that oneself should do whatever leads to the best results for oneself, and give no fucks about anyone else.
    – Compassion. The presuppositional position that one should (sometimes) care about the well-being of others, and take active steps to improve the well-being of others.

    There’s some interesting discussions about whether compassion reduces to pure selfishness because people are compassionate to fulfill some deep-seeded desire, aka it gives some people pleasure to be selfless – a seeming contradiction in terms. It’s semantics. Sometimes I find it to be interesting, but not right now.

    If we all determine well being empirically then we all can have different definitions of well being and none of us has the right to tell anyone else they are universally wrong. I can tell them I think you are wrong to think stealing is ok but I cannot say stealing is wrong universally.

    As a matter of simple, material, obvservable facts, we all do make determines about what is desirable and what is not desirable.

    As for the second part, you’re making a moral claim. Normally, I might ask you to justify it, but I don’t care much about what you might have to answer. I politely disagree with your position. My position of making the world into a better place necessitates that sometimes I have to overrule what other people think the world should be. For example, serial murderers, serial rapists, etc. I don’t care what they have to say on the topic of rape and murder. They should not be allowed to rape and murder.

    However, I am definitely willing to compromise in some way as a result of my – perhaps presuppositional – belief that self determination is of extreme and paramount importance for well-being. (Self determination on my account is not all overriding. It’s just heavily weighted.)

    I’m pretty sure we’re already in large agreement. In particular, if someone says to you “I think I should be allowed to torture other people for my own amusement”, I’m pretty sure you would say “no”, and that you would be willing to use force to stop them, or at the very least condone the use of force on your behalf by the police to stop them. So, we’re both already in the position where we impose some of our beliefs about what makes a better world onto others.

    I can’t use the bible either because I cannot prove it is gods word. I do think there are universal truths about morality but since god apparently has decided not to prove he is the god of the bible to everyone, I really cannot hold anyone else to the bibles standard. What do you think?

    Actually, it wouldn’t matter if you could prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the Christian Bible is an accurate description of a real and existing god.

    Stargate SG-1 is the best television show ever (at least for my own purposes). It embodies a very important lesson. If you encounter evil gods, the proper response is not to bow down and worship, but to blow them up. The god of your bible is at least as evil as many of the evil gods shown in Stargate SG-1, and if you could demonstrate that your god is real, I would not bow down and worship. I would endeavor to discover a way to destroy your god. Nuke god!

    I know you think that’s a silly think to say, because you think that your god is invincible. Right now, the only reason we have to think that is because it said so. For example, after the heroes of SG-1 got past the technology force shields of the goa’uld, it was a simple enough matter to kill the goa’uld of SG-1. They even eventually managed to destroy the Ori, which were non-physical creaures outside of normal space and time. As for your god, we’ll never if we can blow it up until we try. I would try.

    In other words, you might be able to argue me out of my atheist with evidence and reason. However, you will never convince me to become a Christian, because as I mentioned before, the core Christian doctrine is barbaric, sadistic, and just plain evil.

    Concerning this bit:

    I do think there are universal truths about morality

    It depends on what you mean. I suspect that you are simply confused, and that your position is incoherent.

    We live in a shared material universe. There are right and wrong answers regarding questions like “Am I sitting on a chair? What is the average weight of a dog? What is the speed of light?”. A subtle point that not many recognize is that to even make that claim about objective rightness and wrongness, I need to insert some implicit presuppositional values. I need to resort to the basic principles, aka presuppositions, of science, including the uniformity principle aka the axiom of induction, and more broadly the general value that “one should make one’s beliefs conform to the available evidence” aka “the objectively reasonable belief is the belief that conforms to the available evidence” Even in the context of pure science, we have to assume certain values and have certain starting presuppositions before it’s even possible to have a conversation. (Again, thanks to Sam Harris for saying this. It’s another point he got right.)

    Now, what I think is going on is that you are confusing the concept “objectively true” in the context of science, and trying to apply that to morality. It simply makes no sense. For science, once you assume the values of science, yes you can make claims that are objectively correct or incorrect according to those values of science. However, the results of science merely describe the universe. They tell you how the universe is, not how it should be. In technical terms, it’s descriptive, not normative. Morality is about how the universe should be, aka what we want the universe to become. You can look at the universe all you like, but there is no scientific test that can answer moral questions. (Of course, science can answer questions concerning the efficacy of plans, which is immensely useful regarding some forms of moral questions.)

    I can parrot what you are about to say, but I lack all understanding of its meaning; I think it’s meaningless and confused drivel. You might say that morality is a substance of some kind – whatever that means – which affords right and wrong answers to moral questions. My question is “In a discoverable way?”. Presumably not. The key part to realize is my armor-piercing question: “In a discoverable way?”. Anything that is discoverable is thus so because of evidence, aka first-person experience. I discover something by seeing it, or touching it, or experiencing that aspect of the outside world according to one of my senses. As soon as I can sense it, it ceases to be moral, and it instead becomes material.

    Suppose we lived in a world where we all got this unpleasant feeling right before we blasphemed the Christian god. Suppose we also got this same unpleasant feeling as we contemplated murder, rape, etc. In this interesting hypothetical world, there’s just some new aspect to reality that we can discover, that certain thoughts precipitate certain kinds of sensory experience. We could apply science to this to learn more, to model it, to make predictions, etc. However, the exploration of this new sense perception has nothing to do with what is good and what is bad. No matter if the sense was unpleasant or pleasant when contemplating murder, murder would still be wrong.

    Finally, coming around to the end, I have a big problem with so-called objective truth that is not discoverable. You will proclaim that there is such a thing as objective moral truth, but you will be completely unable to demonstrate a way to discover it, as hopefully I’ve shown with the above examples. At that point, there is not a single observable difference in a world that has objective morality, and a world without objective morality, and therefore by a standard positivist-like outlook, there is no difference, and because “objective morality” is nothing more than a realism claim of some completely undetectable phenomena, the very concept is incoherent.

    PS:
    I agree as to the current state of affairs for United States prisons. I think that they are largely barbaric in implementation. Still, there is some deterrence effect being served, and I think that this deterrence effect outweighs the negatives, and so I think that the current prison system is still better than nothing. Of course, there are other ways to run prisons and the criminal justice system, and so there’s lots of room for improvement that I regularly advocate.

  91. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Just remembered something. Let me expand on this point, just to drive it home:
    Quoting me:

    Even in the context of pure science, we have to assume certain values and have certain starting presuppositions before it’s even possible to have a conversation. (Again, thanks to Sam Harris for saying this. It’s another point he got right.)

    This is important. We need some shared values to even have a meaningful discussion about pure science.

    For example, imagine trying to talk to Kurt Wise.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Wise

    Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.

    If true, there is nothing I can say to that. Kurt Wise and myself would have fundamentally incompatible presuppositions. My relevant presupposition is that I should conform my beliefs to the evidence. Kurt Wise’s presupposition is that the Christian god exists, no matter what the evidence shows. With that kind of fundamental divide, there’s no logical argument that I could make.

    Now, I could appeal to peer pressure and other forms of persuasion. I might try to appeal to my presupposition in the hopes that he actually holds that value enough that I can persuade him to adopt my presupposition in favor of his own, but that’s all emotional appeal. It’s not formalistic logical argument.

    Again, I must emphasize, even science is a presuppositional value system, and the so-called objectively right and wrong answers of science only exist inside of a particular presuppositional value system.

  92. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry for multi-posting.

    Hell, even logic itself is a value system. Particularly, the demand that we should try to ensure the logical consistency of one’s beliefs is itself a presuppositional value.

  93. Monocle Smile says

    @EL
    Very well said. I might bookmark this.

    SG-1 peaked very slightly past my time to fully comprehend and appreciate the themes, so I usually go with Mass Effect instead, but that’s just me. The Reapers speak very much like goa’uld (but cockier and even less subtle)…and then one of them loses a fight to a worm of similar size.

  94. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I’m just a big sucker for good cheese. That’s why I adore SG-1. It’s also why I generally adore Star Trek, the original series. Star Trek TOS, for me, is equally about the Aesop morality plays of every episode, the fun science-fiction aspect, and also just the fun interplay and banter of the main characters. Star Trek TOS would be a vastly inferior show without the particular actors and the characters that they played. I feel similarly about SG-1. What made SG-1 great was in no small part the great banter, cheese, and overall tone of the show.

  95. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Actually, one more point which I think it ties it all together. I think it’s already there, but let me be explicit:

    Quoting me:

    For science, once you assume the values of science, yes you can make claims that are objectively correct or incorrect according to those values of science.

    That’s the kicker. Once you assume the values of science, you are in a presuppositional value system, and there can be objectively right and wrong answers in that value system.

    Similarly, once you assume the values of humanism, you are in a presuppositional value system, and there can be objectively right and wrong answers about murder, rape, torture, etc.

    Outside of any value system, there is no such thing as right and wrong, and by logical necessity (itself a result of a value judgment – the value that we should try to have logical consistency in our beliefs) – by logical necessity, all value systems are presuppositional or circular, or some combination, as I hoped I showed above.

    It’s incoherent to talk about objective morality in the sense that it exists outside of all presuppositional value systems, just like it’s incoherent to talk about the weight of a dog without invoking the presuppositional values of science.

    Many people on my side, the atheist side, will object strongly to what I’m saying, but I think they’re wrong, and I’m right, it’s pretty obviously so.

    Finally, the last question is: Why my presuppositions instead of someone else’s presuppositions? By the very nature of that question, I have no answer except to appeal to my presuppositions, aka circular reasoning. And finally, I am more than willing to use force in certain situations in order to make the world a better place. For example, I support the police using force to catch murderers and rapists, and to put them in prison, no matter what the murderers and rapists happen to think, no matter that my foundation is as equal to their foundation on a purely logical view.

    PS: Thanks MS.

  96. vince says

    @Monocle Smile

    “I…wow, I’m going to have to try hard to not be condescending.”

    Thanks for the chivalry. You don’t have to respond to some guy on the internet you know.

    “You managed to mangle empiricism so badly that you are as wrong as it is possible to be.”

    I was under the impression that one of the definitions of empirical is to be guided by observation alone, without scientific experimentation. I never said anything about making things up. Thanks for the lesson.

  97. Monocle Smile says

    @vince
    I don’t have to, but it’s fairly rare that we get theists around here that are interested in actual discussion.

  98. soren says

    As to the evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) , as has been said above, it is not a presuppositional argument.

    You can WIKI it yourselves, but it goes something like this

    Assuming Naturalism and Evolutionary theory is true, and our Cognitive Abilities (CA) are mostly reliable.

    We use our cognitive Abilities to form beliefs. These beliefs then direct our actions (if our beliefs do not affect our actions, then the whole argument is moot).
    Now since our mind has evolved from baser animals per Evolutionary theory, and has not been guided along, as per naturalism, we cannot expect our cognitive Abilities to go beyond what is allowed for in Evolutionary theory.

    But – evolution would only ensure our survival, not the ability to make true beliefs. To believe that thunder is the wrath of gods, and stay in the cave is just an effective belief in keeping us out of thunderstorms as is the belief that lightning is a natural phenomenon and it can hurt you.

    Given this Plantinga argues that given Naturalism and Evolution, we have no reason to believe our CA is mostly reliable. In fact we must conclude that the probability of us having reliable CA is low, and hence if we believe we have reliable cognitive abilities and we accept Evolution, it would be rational to reject Naturalism.

    It is important to notice that it is not in itself a deductive argument, and that the content of beliefs is not the main issue, rather the ability to form true beliefs is the issue.
    Finally it does not touch on theism. It is not refuted by arguing against a theistic worldview. We can agree that such a worldview has problems, but it does not have the same problem that the EAAN concerns itself with.

    There are a lot of arguments against the EAAN, I favor a sort of scaffolding argument, that concerns the main point – that a brain favoring true beliefs is not likely under Evolution and Naturalism.

    It goes something like this:
    Beliefs come in different flavors. While we often think of highly complex and abstract ideas as beliefs, basic beliefs are something we have in common with our sister animals.
    Consider a cat. If a cat sees you hiding a toy mouse behind a pillow, it will look for the mouse behind the pillow. Since the mouse is not directly experienced by the cat, it’s actions are guided by the belief that there is a mouse behind the pillow. It is tru that other nontrue beliefs would lead to the same action, but it seems intutively highly unlikely that a cat is formaing abstract beliefs not about the placement of the mouse, that unfailingly leads it to look behind the pillow.
    In fact lets go even more basic, and stay with the cat. Try tossing a toy mous along the floor, and you will see that a cat is in fact capable of predicting where the mouse wil be. It does not swipe were it saw the mouse, but where the mouse will be when the paw has moved.
    The arch of a moving object, where it will be in the future, must be a belief, an abstract concept in the mind, since it is not accessible to the senses. (Horrible) research has shown that cats brought up experiences no stable light source, but only flashes, do not learn to evaluate movement. So the cognitive abilities necessary to develop true bliefs about the motion of objects seem intuitively to be eminently selectable!

    In fact mechanisms for forming beliefs about object permance and motion must be selected for, just as mechanisms for correcting these beliefs. A running mouse is not like thrown mouse toy, it changes course along the way, and a cat which is not able to correct the false belief of where the mouse will be, will not eat.

    And this basically is my defaeter for Plantingas argument EAAN.

    From this we can have high confidence in our Cognitive Ablity to do basic physics. Newtons rule of motion are just a more abstract concept of the beliefs present in a simple house cat. If we accept that evolution can select for a cat able to hold beliefs about the motion of mice and to be able to adjust these beliefs, it seems likely that whatever our cognitive abilites must also fulfill these basic requirements. So when we form beliefs about the rules of motion, we rely on these beliefs to the extend that we can test them.
    Just like the cat tests its beliefs, in the case of the cat the proof of the belief is in the eating.

    This line of argument would, in my belief, lead to the conclusion that given naturalism and evolution, we would expect our cognitive abilities to be very reliable when it comes to forming and testing beliefs about the physical world. A similar line of argument would lead to believe that we are capable of forming reliable beliefs about the brainstate of other beings.

    Finally, evolutionary theory, naturalism leads to the conclusion that we will not have very reliable cognitive abilities concerning beliefs that are fully abstract, such as ideas about gods. When we look at the world we see that everyone seem to have reliable abilities concerning simple empirically testable ideas, such as what happens when you let go of an apple in 1G gravity, this is evidenced by the fact that most brains, cat or human, will agree on the belief.
    Try a more abstract idea like Evolutionary thepry and a lot of people will reject it, and it takes training, and going back to first principles, to make brains form consistent ideas about such an abstract subject – but still the evidence shows a gradual process of refining the ideas, more and more ideas are setled while new frontiers are hotly debated.

    Now look at theology. Branches of theology claim great victories, but these seem regional or placed within certain subgroups. Overall there are many ideas about theology, and despite it arguably being one of the oldest sciences no consensus seems to be forming. Going back to first principles can only take you that far, since the fact that the apple falls in gravity, or people lie and love each other, does not in the end help decide between catholism and calvinism or Islam and Buddgism.

    In fact it seems that our Cognitive Abilities are not reliable when it comes to religion, as evidences by the many religions.

    So my argument would be that given naturalism and evolutionary theory we would expect our cognitive abilities to be highly reliable in empirically decidable issues, and increasingly unreliable as we leave empirical ways of knowing behind. In other words Methodological Naturalism seems to be the way to go.

  99. vince says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal, 102

    I read through your post a couple of times. Thanks for taking the time. We all have presuppositions we work off of and circular reasoning at the base of our beliefs. The non believer and the believer, but we don’t usually think this way when we make moral judgments. I also agree that we both have most moral judgments in common.

    “At that point, there is not a single observable difference in a world that has objective morality, and a world without objective morality, and therefore by a standard positivist-like outlook, there is no difference, and because “objective morality” is nothing more than a realism claim of some completely undetectable phenomena, the very concept is incoherent.”

    I get this point. And I don’t claim to be able to show you that there is objective moral truths. It is something I believe with my belief in god.

  100. vince says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal, 103

    I can understand this. As Christians we need to not have a science vs. god mentality. When confronted by scientific theories that seem to contradict the bible I usually just accept the contradiction and trust that god has it worked out. I know it is a kind of cop out but I am not comfortable just dismissing science because the bible says something different. I teach my kids to learn the current scientific theories and give the correct scientific answers on tests. I also don’t ignore the contradictions between science and the bible with my kids but we discuss and struggle with them as best we can. So, maybe I am like Kurt Wise in some ways but I just don’t dismiss the science. We just have to live with the tension.

  101. robertwilson says

    @soren, 110

    I think you give the argument far too much credit. It is, like too many philosophical arguments about these things, a just-so story. While I agree that your points defeat it, I don’t think it even deserves to be dealt with seriously.

    It’s completely divorced from what it is arguing about and simply asserts a bunch of stuff without evaluating whether any given step is true. It then gets to where it wants to go and says “oh hey, if things are like this then whaddaya know, things can’t be the way I don’t want them to be”.

    It’s dressed up and presented like a solid argument but it isn’t one.

  102. vince says

    @Monocle Smile, 109

    Well thanks for the discussion. I know there are a lot of Christian jerks out there and I probably was one of them at some point. I spent 10 years going over apologetics to try to prove my faith but couldn’t. So I had to come to the realization that my faith is irrational and cannot be proven to others. In the end the bible says people believe through hearing the word and not through science or proof. I assume most here know the gospel and have rejected it for many reasons so I am not here to try to make Christians. I have found that talking to atheists every once in a while keeps me humble and able to see the BS when talking to Christians.

  103. says

    @107

    Many people on my side, the atheist side, will object strongly to what I’m saying, but I think they’re wrong, and I’m right, it’s pretty obviously so.

    I don’t know about that, EL, I think I’m with you on this. Most of us have adopted a materialist, scientific worldview because it is so goddamn reliable in explaining our shared reality (i.e. circular, science is true because science!). If prayers to Our Lady Of Jebus worked and if orgasm was only achieved once at about 9 months before each childbirth, then Catholicism would be a pretty solid circular presupposition.

  104. Monocle Smile says

    @vince
    I am totally baffled by your position. I’m being perfectly honest. I don’t understand the decision to “just trust” that some god has things worked out.

  105. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To changerofbits
    Many atheists get hung up on the words “circular” and “presuppositional” when describing the atheistic world view.

    PS:
    Even though it appears to not be misunderstood, let me emphasize: My atheism is not presuppositional. My atheism is the result of my honest appraisal of the evidence, and my presuppositional value that I should conform my belief to the evidence. Had the evidence been different, then I would have believed that there is a god.

    To Vince

    When confronted by scientific theories that seem to contradict the bible I usually just accept the contradiction and trust that god has it worked out. I know it is a kind of cop out but I am not comfortable just dismissing science because the bible says something different.

    I do not understand. To me, that is exactly dismissing science if and when it contradicts your seeming presuppositional belief that your Christian god exists. In other words, you seem to be adopting a position similar to Kurt Wise. In particular, right now, I can name hypothetical evidence which if found would convince me that the Christian god exists. Can you name hypothetical evidence which if found would convince you that the Christian god does not exist? Do you think like Kurt Wise?

  106. jgairns says

    Science yields the best and most reliable results not “because science,” but because the scientific method allows for correction of conclusions if basic assumptions, data inputs & methodology are either ambiguous or not correct. Yes, the conclusions can be wrong, but the only way we can make corrections is by employing more rigorous hypotheses, understanding the data, reducing variability, improving the methodology, and testing.

    In university chemistry class, we made acetylsalicylic acid. A big part of the lab discussion was in analysing what went wrong or what could have gone wrong, not just dogmatically reporting “Yup, I got the expected result.” Science is a method of inquiry that allows you to understand how and why something did, or didn’t, work. If anyone reported they got a good result “because science” they would have gotten an F.

    Science isn’t circular; science allows us to break free of circular reasoning, gain understanding and improve our knowledge.

  107. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To changerofbits
    Also, see the above post by jgairns. Case in point. Although, I fear that a large part of my point eluded jgairns.

  108. vince says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal, 117

    “I do not understand. To me, that is exactly dismissing science if and when it contradicts your seeming presuppositional belief that your Christian god exists. In other words, you seem to be adopting a position similar to Kurt Wise. In particular, right now, I can name hypothetical evidence which if found would convince me that the Christian god exists. Can you name hypothetical evidence which if found would convince you that the Christian god does not exist? Do you think like Kurt Wise?”

    Maybe it is the same thing, when it comes to it. I accept science and what my faith tells me as true and let the contradictions stand if it cannot be resolved. For example, the bible seems to indicate the earth is younger than 4.5 billion years that science currently believes. Looking at the science it sure does seem that the age of the earth is greater then 6,000 years as some Christians think. I cannot find a good explanation for this that I can agree with so I let it stand. It really does not affect my daily life anyway. Most items like this don’t.

    I do not know of any evidence that proves god cannot exist. Do you have some? I really don’t know how I would react.

  109. vince says

    @Monocle Smile, 116

    I have never heard from god, I have never had visions, heard voices or seen angels. I do have my reasons for believing, but I am hesitant to share them because they are irrational and circular. I cannot show you anything that will convince you of gods existence outside of you hearing the word of god, namely the gospel message, which I assume you already know and have rejected.

  110. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Vince

    I know it’s hard for someone like yourself who assumes that you’re right about such things, but it’s a really important life skill to think about the world from the viewpoint of someone else from time to time.

    From my perspective, the Christian god is about as unlikely to exist as Thor or Zeus. You may equivocate “god” and “Christian god”, but I do not. I wrote “Can you name hypothetical evidence which if found would convince you that the Christian god does not exist?”.

    Just for example, suppose that Loki, the Norse trickster god, appears in New York Times Square, demonstrates his powers at will under any and all observations and equipment that our world’s scientists bring to bear. Loki then explains how he appeared to this guy called Paul of Tarsus and a few other people and gave them hallucinations because he thought it would be funny. (And of course, Loki is explaining all of this in between fits of laughter.) Of course Loki also demonstrates the ability to give hallucinations. Then, to bolster his claim a little more, he names off a few dozen locations where we can dig and find amazing new finds of writings from Paul and other early church leaders which confirms exactly to his explanation of what happened. Around there, I’d be pretty readily convinced that this creature exists, likes to go by the name Loki, and has some pretty amazing powers, and it seems pretty likely that he’s responsible for the creation of Christianity, and therefore there is no Christian god.

    Or more simply, if we dig up a stash of papers under the temple at Jerusalem that documents in exceeding detail how the entire thing was a conspiracy or sham from the start as a means to acquire money and political power. It’s very unlikely that Christianity started in such a way based on my available evidence, but I would have to adjust my opinion appropriately if we found this hypothetical stash of documents.

    Another simple option: the god of Abraham shows up, demonstrates his powers in a way similar to Loki, and explains how the Jews had it right the whole time, and that Paul guy was just having visions, there was no Jesus, and Christianity is false.

    It’s really not that hard to imagine evidence that would convince any reasonable person, even if we’re really unlikely to find such evidence.

  111. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I am hesitant to share them because they are irrational and circular.

    See. This is my problem. If even you recognize that you don’t have good reasons for belief, and furthermore that your reasons for believing are bad, then why believe? Do you even believe? Or is it mere pretense, literal make-believe?

    Why should we take anything you say seriously on this topic when you cannot even take yourself seriously?

  112. jgairns says

    @119

    Well, if you said science is circular, then I strongly disagree with you. If you said science was not circular, then we are in agreement. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  113. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To jgairns
    My position is a lot more nuanced than that. I invite you to reread what I wrote before, with particular emphasis on posts 103 and 104. I also invite you to read the following wiki pages, which discuss the same philosophical / epistemological issue:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchhausen_trilemma
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regress_argument

    Maybe it will help to rephrase. We both hold the value that we ought to apportion our beliefs according to the evidence, and according to particular so-called “reasonable” standards of evaluation, which I would argue are largely Bayesian. Then, we have to throw on the uniformity principle, and/or take as given that inductive reasoning is probabilistically reliable (and I would again argue for a Bayesian interpretation).

    Once we both take those things as given, there are objectively correct and incorrect answers regarding scientific questions in the particular contexts of particular sets of evidence. After we start with those starting premises (and a few other starting premises), the rest of science is an inductive and deductive exercise, where any (further) circular reasoning should be immediately called out and removed, with proper reasoning in the place of that circular reasoning, which may mean dropping conclusions that were badly justified.

    However, I again say that those starting premises, those axioms, those presuppositions, are basically underivable.

    Again, I invite you to reread posts 103 and 104, which make the same point in another way.

    And again, science is a presuppositional value system. The value system of science, aka the world view of science, depends on a very small number of things that you simply have to assume on faith, and then the rest of the world view is logically derivable with no faith and with no circular reasoning.

    PS:
    What I’m about to say should not be a proper argument. However, because humans are not perfectly rational, I will make a fallacious appeal to authority, in hopes that it will allure you to look at this thing with an open mind, and do some more thinking without dismissing it out of hand.

    Matt Dillahunty, the main host of The Atheist Experience, is (as far as I can tell) in full agreement with me concerning this esoteric points of epistemology, and that a proper epistemology is one that is founded with equal parts, faith aka presuppositions, plus circular reasoning, which he calls Foundherentism, a combination of Foundationalism (aka presuppositionalism) and Coherentism (aka a particular form of circular reasoning) to form the starting beliefs, and then logical derivation plus evidence to obtain the rest of the beliefs which constitute a vast majority of a persons beliefs.

  114. jgairns says

    @125

    Fair enough. I did read @103/@104, btw. Nothing I didn’t understand.

    Of course pretty much everything we know is based on presuppositions. I wouldn’t disagree with that, otherwise we would have to derive every conclusion we make from first principles (and even then, we still have to make a great many assumptions). That would be completely impractical and an utter waste of time.

    Q: When you say “science” are you referring to the scientific method or a specific field of science or something else?

    ANYWAY … always happy to learn new things .. Ta!

    James

  115. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I simply mean that the scientific method is justified or supported presuppositionally and/or by circular reasoning. Of course, any and all fields of science are rationally supported by evidence, logic, reason, and the scientific method.

  116. Grant says

    I’m not sure if this is mentioned above, but there is no reason to believe that true beliefs are *not* selected for by Natural Selection. Note that this does not mean that all beliefs are true, but rather that there is no reason to deny any belief solely on the basis of natural selection. Clearly it is a survival benefit to have correct beliefs about the world about you. Knowing that that rustling of the bush is a prey animal and not a predator is a powerful selection tool. Knowing that the water you can’t see over might be very very large without good evidence is a powerful selection tool if it keeps you from sailing away with minimal supplies. Correctly being able to make observations about gravity, and space and time will be very powerful selection mechanisms if it allows us to travel to other planets and establish the species there. On the other hand, incorrect beliefs can be strongly selected *against*. Believing that your diety will take care of all of your needs can be a very powerful selection tool if it isn’t true. Believing that the earth is flat is very bad if you base your navigation off of it. Now, you can still have many “neutral” beliefs, but there is no particular reason for natural selection to permit you to hold dangerous false beliefs nor any reason why true beliefs can’t be selected *for*.

  117. Kudlak says

    Art can also be something that natural selection values. Artists can become very admired members of society, which can make them desirable breeding partners. Just think of all the sex that Rock stars get!

    Also, such things can easily be the creative byproduct of natural selection for intelligence.

  118. corwyn says

    @86 MS

    seeing as recidivism rates are high

    Are they? All the studies seem to be fundamentally flawed. Like by polling existing prisoners to see how many times they have been incarcerated, for example.

    Thank you kindly.

  119. phil says

    @ 37 shadowblade

    I think the primary attraction of cooking is that it makes some food taste better. It also makes some foods much easier to digest, so the calories required to take on calories is reduced. Of course it can also help preserve food and kill pathogens, but I suspect it was the aid to digestion that was the original evolutionary advantage that was obtained.

    @ 59 Favog

    Well, you should keep in mind that the large brain required (I presume) for intelligence has a serious burden against survival: it requires significantly more calories to run.

    I recently read somewhere (WIET?) that intelligence might have been the result of sexual selection. As such it probably benefitted breeding success more than survival of the idividual. Well, there are costs and benefits.

  120. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    As such it probably benefitted breeding success more than survival of the idividual. Well, there are costs and benefits.

    To paraphrase Richard Dawkins: It is oftentimes more correct to say that selection happens at the gene level and not the individual level. Evolution can be defined as the change of gene frequencies in populations over time. In that view of things (which is oftentimes a better view of evolution), it is the genes competing for survival. Looking at it from the perspective of individuals competing for survival can lead to erroneous conclusions like this one.

    Again, it is the genes competing for survival in the gene pool. They compete by growing bodies. The selection happens on the bodies, but the bodies are just a proxy for the genes. All individuals are going to die, whether they pass selection are not. Successful genes are the genes that pass on to the next generation in the gene pool.

    In that sense, in this context, genes that are better at negotiating sex and obtaining offspring are more likely to pass into the next generation. In the supposed context of human evolution, there were no serious threats to the survival of individuals, and the (relatively) biggest threat to the survival of genes in the genepool was ensuring that their bodies had sex in order to propogate the genes to the next generation. In that context, the only selection pressure that is active is sexual selection. Or so goes the hypothesis that I’ve heard.

  121. corwyn says

    @131:

    For some reason, I only got the first bit of that site, you linked.

    However even in that, there are problems:

    Within three years of release, about two-thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.

    1) Arrested not convicted.
    2) Are we to assume that arrests are done independent of criminal record?

    I am not an expert, but a claim we need our criminal system because of recidivism, without considering whether our criminal system is contributing to our recidivism, seems fundamentally flawed.

    Thank you kindly.

  122. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I am not an expert, but a claim we need our criminal system because of recidivism, without considering whether our criminal system is contributing to our recidivism, seems fundamentally flawed.

    I wasn’t quite following the whole conversation, but this point, out of context, is well said!

  123. Monocle Smile says

    @corwyn
    You’re the second person who has completely missed that I was talking about criminal justice theory and openly admitted that our execution in the US is pretty shitty in comment #86. Did I not make this clear?

  124. corwyn says

    @136 MS:

    Perhaps that should encourage an examination of how you are saying things.

    In 86, you made a blanket statement that recidivism rates were high. My original response was a questioning of that, given the horrible methodology in the studies I have seen. I didn’t address ANYTHING ELSE in your post.

    You then provided a link which you implied showed that studies were no longer making sampling errors. I pointed out what I thought was a sampling error.

    If you want to back down from the claim that recidivism rates are high, that’s fine; I will be done with the discussion.

  125. Monocle Smile says

    @corwyn
    Actually, you moved the goalposts twice. Firstly, I never claimed that we don’t have problems with our criminal justice system; I was giving a reason for incarcerating people…to prevent them from inflicting further harm. This should not be controversial.

    Then you come out with this “arrests, not convictions” line, and while I would have been happy to look that up instead, you didn’t define “recidivism.” I’m not going to back down from a claim just because you’re changing what you’re saying.

  126. corwyn says

    @138:

    You seem to be confusing those trees over there in the forest with ‘goalposts’.

    Where did I EVER say you DID say we don’t have problems with our justice system? Are you confusing me with someone else?

    The paper you cited claimed that former prisoners being ARRESTED was an example of recidivism. It’s not. That is just wrong. Only CONVICTIONS would be an example of recidivism.

    I am giving up on having a nuanced conversation with you. Everything I say MUST be an attack on everything you said. Not a conversation worth pursuing.

  127. Monocle Smile says

    @corwyn

    The paper you cited claimed that former prisoners being ARRESTED was an example of recidivism. It’s not. That is just wrong. Only CONVICTIONS would be an example of recidivism.

    You didn’t make this clear until post #134. I can look up this data if you wish.

    I am not an expert, but a claim we need our criminal system because of recidivism, without considering whether our criminal system is contributing to our recidivism, seems fundamentally flawed.

    I may have misread this. I saw a criminal system, not our criminal system. Or at least thought that’s what you meant, as if we should do away with our criminal justice system because the studies on recidivism are flawed.

  128. Paul Money says

    Good job by Russell and Neil here, We should certainly see Neil again in the future if possible. Hamish was a prank I think! Thanks everybody.

  129. StonedRanger says

    Sorry for coming late to this. I don’t know if you defined ‘recidivism’ or not but it seems you are using it wrong. Recidivism: A tendency to lapse into a previous pattern of behavior, especially a tendency to return to criminal habits.

    It has more to do with arrest rates than it does incarceration rates. But either can be used. There aren’t many people who are on parole or probation who get rearrested who don’t wind up back in jail for at least a short while.

  130. Grantus Maximus says

    I’m English myself, but I have plenty of Scottish family and am familiar with the different types of Scottish accent you can come across. Hamish’s accent and way of speaking sounds familiar and genuine to me. I appreciate that his careful tone might sound a bit contrived to some people, but if he is putting it on, he’s doing a very good job of it. Also, I’ve spoken to Calvinists who come across in a very similar way to Hamish so I’d certainly say he was genuine, both as a Scotsman and as a Calvinist.