We’ve been seeing an amazing amount of press given to something as simple as atheist signs on public transport, and here’s another thing that makes the apologists for religion tear their hair out: Russell’s teapot. They don’t get it. They read the idea with dumb incomprehension, and when they do try to explain it, they just expose their own silly misinterpretations. Case in point, Ross Douthat, who puts a goofy gloss on it.
This analogy – like its modern descendant, the Flying Spaghetti Monster – makes a great deal of sense if you believe that the idea of God is an absurdity dreamed up by crafty clerics in darkest antiquity and subsequently imposed on the human mind by force and fear, and that it only survives for want of brave souls willing to note how inherently absurd the whole thing is. As you might expect, I see the genesis of religion rather differently: An intuitive belief in some sort of presiding Agent seems to be an extremely common, albeit hardly universal, feature of human nature; this intuition has intersected, historically, with an enormous amount of subjective religious experience; and this intersection (along with, yes, the force of custom and tradition) has produced and sustained the religious traditions that seem to Richard Dawkins and company like so much teapot-worship. The story of our civilization, in particular, is a story in which an extremely large circle of non-insane human beings have perceived themselves to be experiencing an interaction with a being who seems recognizable as the Judeo-Christian God (here I do feel comfortable using the term), rather than merely being taught about Him in Sunday School.
Michael Drake has his own pithy reply:
Shorter Ross Douthat: Comparing belief in God to belief in the Celestial Teapot is absurd, because it’s like comparing a belief only some people know is absurd to a belief everyone knows is absurd.
I have my own version:
Shorter Ross Douthat: If enough of us imagine it, it must be real.
When I was about 10 years old, I went to see a late-night horror movie (Die, Monster, Die with Boris Karloff, if you must know; it had face-melty mutants produced by a weird meteorite kept in an old mansion), and afterwards my uncle drove me home in his old 50’s era Ford with the big bench seats high up off the floorboards. I vividly recall a terrible dread that there was something, a horrible monster, hiding under the seat, and if I let my legs dangle down, it was going to rip my feet off. I knew there wasn’t — the seats weren’t that high that Boris Karloff could fit under them — but my perfectly normal, non-insane mysterious agency perception was simply set tinglingly high by a few hours of jump-and-twitch at a monster movie, and I was imagining supernatural beings where there weren’t any.
Look. I was ten years old, high on Coca-Cola and jujubes, and I could figure that out. How old is Ross Douthat?
If you actually read Dawkins, or any of us other critics of religion, you will discover that we do not think the majority of humanity is insane, and we also don’t believe religion was cobbled up by a shadowy cabal of power-mad priests. Douthat almost has it: we know that human beings readily imagine agency even where there is none, and that it is extremely easy to feel a sensation of the existence of unseen entities, especially when you’ve been primed by an exercise in the imagination, whether it is a horror story or preacher in his pulpit. However, we do not have agency sensors, we have agency interpreters. Imagining a boogey man or a god is perfectly normal, but it does not make them real. Taking your boogey man and wrapping him up in layers and layers of ritual and tradition and over-reaching apologetics does not make him any more real.
That’s our message. It’s time to look under the car seat, gang, and see there’s nothing there. And don’t you feel silly, spending millennia going on and on about the all-powerful beastie, and finding it’s nothing but cobwebs and darkness and your own hyperactive imagination?
As for Russell’s Teapot, I have to add a little fillip to that tiny porcelain entity. As it goes trundling in its circuit about the sun, I must imagine that there is painted on its side a little sign: “There probably is no teapot. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” It definitely won’t make it any more real, but it will infuriate those who believe the manifestations of imagination must have some objective reality.
Matt Heath says
Since Facilis won’t admit this even in the abstract you are definitely a better man than he
Actually that may be one of those things that qualifies as a proof that omnipotence is impossible (like the “can he microwave a burrito too hot to eat it” thing). If we accepted that a god were omnipotent presumably he could give you perfect certainty but he could give you it (exactly the same sensation) about a falsehood. Therefore you can’t rely on the sensation and it doesn’t deserve to be called certainty.
Your “logic” is fail, Facile-is.
Patricia, OM says
Janine, Have you noticed SC or Emmet around in the last few days?
Dammit I misspelled thought…must have caught a chimp germ.
Janine, Supercilious Asshole says
Patricia, SC was around briefly yesterday. But I have not seen Emmet for a few days. Isn’t it awful when real life intrudes?
Rev. BigDumbChimp says
I am very contagious.
Facilis #478 wrote:
No, not even God could violate the laws of logic (which is why you realize that they must be placed inside of God’s nature or you run into logical contradiction.) If our minds are prone to error, they would not suddenly become Perfect and infallible when given a revelation from a Perfect, Infallible Being. As I pointed out on another thread, you cannot borrow infallibility from God, and become God when God speaks to you. You can be pretty sure — but not perfectly sure.
From our perspective, being perfectly certain would entail that Facilis must be God — and that goes against the empirical evidence.
From the perspective of your own argument, it would be a case of God contradicting God. So you can’t get there from any direction.
Rey Fox says
“Because he told me in his revelation. ”
He’s gonna be pretty pissed that you didn’t capitalize His pronoun.
Walton #502 wrote:
I’d already copied this to reply before I saw that Matt said what I will say — that I think you are light years ahead of facilis, in this admission alone.
*** Annoying Pseudo-Socratic Recursive Mode ***
Can you know that that I’m certain that you don’t know?
Can you be certain that it’s God and not the devil living in the matrix? Can you be certain that you are absolutely certain?
Can you be certain of that playing the game What the Tortoise said to Achilles is unorginal?
*** End Annoying Pseudo-Socratic Recursive Mode***
Patricia, OM says
Darn! Here I was, getting my hopes up for a romance.
Janine, Supercilious Asshole says
I feel stupid and contagious.
Touch me, I’m sick.
(Does God reveal to you absolute certainty of how to spell the words “reveals” and “yours”?)
You have not given any reason for us to make any such admission, given that your worldview is an illogically-argued self-deception.
Alyson Miers says
Facilis is still drunk on certainty, I see. Time to get off that shit, man, it’s rotting your brain. Oh. Sorry, too late.
that is like saying 2+2 (in base 10)=4 is an argument from ignorance. It is proven by the impossibility of the contrary.
Oh, please, oh please, please tell me you’re really just a troll after all. Come on, guys, this HAS to be a troll. He can’t be serious.
But, just in case you’re wondering, Fallacious, I’ll answer one of your questions regarding falsifiability. If I suddenly stepped through a door and walked into a room that looked like a scene from inside your mind, I would consider that adequate falsification for the statement that “logic and reason exist.” Your behavior on this site, alone, is proof that there’s considerable hair-splitting to be done with those axioms.
Now, next time you talk to your God, let Him know that He’s not doing his job right, if He’s the one supposedly supplying you with logic, reason, and science. He keeps giving you the plaid crack instead.
David Marjanović, OM says
No, but that you don’t know has to be my starting position because of the principle of parsimony. If you claim you know you’re not in the Matrix, show me that we really are not in the matrix; as long as you don’t show me, the principle of parsimony compels me to keep assuming that you don’t know.
And I’m suppose to accept this thoroughly unparsimonious speculation just because you say so?
Well, duh: show me an unfalsifiable hypothesis that is not worthless.
I don’t see what this has got to do with your quote of me, but… if you use reason to argue against reason, you are self-contradictory; if you don’t use reason, you’re unreasonable.
“Truth and falsehood exist” is a silly word game; it’s the logical fallacy of reification. Rephrase it to “statements can be true or false”, and you’ll see much clearer.
So, can statements be true or false? They can agree with reality or contradict it. By “reality” I mean the tangible external world, that in which the argumentum ad lapidem is not a logical fallacy. Whether there’s a truth behind that reality (for example, the truth could be that reality is just my imaginations — I’m the solipsist — or God’s imaginations — God is the solipsist — or the matrix or the “Hinduist” concept of maya or whatever; or, on the other hand, truth could be reality — that’s metaphysical naturalism) is impossible to find out; therefore, thinking about it is a waste of time. Science is completely unconcerned with truth. It’s only about reality.
Knowledge about truth, or merely about reality?
Demonstrate that yours can. Either that, or stop wasting our time, that is.
I have explained how I have arrived at the conclusion that, if we find the truth (which may or may not be possible, I don’t know that), we cannot tell that what we have found is indeed the truth. Admittedly, however, my explanation in the form of a rhetorical question (How can we tell that what we’ve found is the truth? By comparing it to the truth, which we don’t already have?) can be accused of being an argument from lack of imagination. Your turn to find out if it is an argument of a lack of imagination. I’m all ears.
Show me that this isn’t a wrong question (like “why did Napoleon cross the Mississippi”). Answer comment 473 = 484. Either that, or stop wasting our time, that is.
I’ll illustrate how seriously I mean the “waste of time” accusation:
I am, of course, tempted to say “no”, because any revelation would have to be received and processed by our error-prone minds. But wait! You said God is omnipotent, which means he can do absolutely anything, which gives an automatic “yes” as the answer to your question! But hang on a second! For the purpose of this question, there is no difference between “us” and “our error-prone minds”, which turns the answer back to “no” (as explained in the first sentence of this paragraph), which in turn means that omnipotence is a self-contradicting and therefore logically impossible concept! But — hey! Does “omnipotent” mean “being able to do anything that is logically possible”, or does it mean “being able to do absolutely anything, period”?
Give me one reason why I shouldn’t consider the above paragraph a deeply silly word game and thus a complete waste of time.
(Incidentally, I find it remarkably similar to Anselm of Canterbury’s Ontological Silly Word Game.)
I think I’ve identified the misunderstanding. There is one basic assumption that science requires: that reality (not truth, just reality) is reasonably consistent; in other words, that miracles don’t happen all the time. This assumption is itself a testable hypothesis; it is tested — within the confines of reality — in every single observation (of an experiment or otherwise) and has still not been falsified.
Once again, I’m merely talking about reality here. You appear to be talking about truth. No wonder we keep talking past each other.
Hey, now. Don’t blame Me for the kid’s idiocy.
I just tell him that I am the source of logic and reason. It’s his own damned fault that he’s gullible enough to believe Me.
I thought You said that You had not spoken to him?
Patricia, OM says
Dammit god, I’m still guessing. Ken?
Well, I hadn’t at that time.
But just the other night, on a whim, I went and whispered in his ear “Psst! Hey, kid. I, God, am in fact the foundation of logic and reason. And you know I am GOD, because I wouldn’t lie about being GOD, and I wouldn’t lie to you about being the foundation of logic and reason.”
Why do you think he’s arguing the exact same thing that was already refuted multiple times?
I AM THAT I AM.
AND THAT’S ALL THAT I AM.
God is.. Popeye?
Well, given his fondness for canned phrases, I figured that he’d just made a another run to the super(stition)market, and the special on Presuppositionalist Goulash was still on.
Oh, I joke. I figured that him being an idiot was sufficient.
Does that make Me the Bluto to your Popeye?
Hah! That’s just what I said to him, too!
Sweet pea is Jesus?
David Marjanović, OM says
BTW, facilis, I made an unspoken assumption that I should spell out. Namely, I implied that if you know something (with however absolute certainty you wish) but can’t make anyone else know it — if you can’t demonstrate you’re right; if there’s no way for others to test your claims — then it is for practical purposes just as if you didn’t know.
Patricia, OM says
I blame you Satan. You are one piss poor demon if you can’t tempt facilis to hang out at the porno shop more.
But I will compliment you on shoving that poker up Walton’s ass. Not even god can remove that one.
Anton Mates says
Plenty of other problems with Plantinga’s arguments have already been pointed out on this thread, but here’s another one:
Plantinga claims that since “natural selection doesn’t care what you believe; it is interested only in how you behave,” evolution can’t shape anything about your beliefs except what they tell you to do. But that ignores the full range of impacts a belief can have on your behaviour.
For instance, the emotional content of beliefs also affects behaviour. Both “That tiger wants to kill me” and “That tiger is my buddy and enjoys playing tag” may lead you to decide to run away. But only in the first case will you be running at absolute top speed, high on adrenaline, dilating your pupils for better vision in the dark, panting and spiking your heart rate and shifting blood flow around in your body to supercharge your muscles. Physiological fear is itself a behaviour.
And—this is the big one—the complexity of beliefs affects behaviour. The storing and processing of complex beliefs comes at a cost: time, calories, the development of specialized brain structures. It does you no good to hold beliefs that lead to “when I see a tiger, I should run away,” if it takes you ten minutes of hard thinking to come to that conclusion. By then, you’ll be tiger chow. Parsimony is an evolutionary virtue as well as a scientific one.
So there are good reasons why evolution could produce minds which, on the whole, tend to find the simplest belief which leads to all the right behaviours. And as far as science is concerned, that’s pretty much what a true belief is; no prior criterion for determining truth is available to us.
Speaking of cans, don’t make Me open a can of whoop-ass on You.
facilis up to his old tricks, eh? As usual, he’s hiding from the questions he can’t answer – well, not that he can answer any questions with anything resembling honesty or validity; some, however, he at least attempts to.
But facilis can’t explain – and ducks whenever the topic comes up – why any other god (or Sideshow Bob) can’t be responsible for the things he claims his god is responsible for. The beauty of his so-called ‘impossibility of the contrary’ argument means that, without a valid argument for his god’s capacity to do what another god (or Bob) can’t, anything he can claim for his god anyone else can claim for theirs – and I can claim for Bob.
And there ain’t a Bob-damned thing you can do about it, is there facilis?
Wait a minute, God. I didn’t say anything written there!
So… someone pretended to be You and claimed to have pretended to be Me?
How do You know it wasn’t Me pretending to be You pretending to be Me?
No, never mind, don’t explain.
Let a thousand Satans bloom!
I always knew that Armageddon would start in the Pharyngula comments.
P.S. God, why are wasting your time here? Don’t you have to appear on a piece of toast in Arkansas?
Facilis has at last raised an interesting point – accidentally, I’m sure: could an omnipotent being cause a non-omnipotent being to know something with absolute certainty? Assuming that Facilis means (bear with me here – Facilis is of course much too stupid to make such a distinction as I am about to make) “Justifiably believe without accepting the possibility of error”, rather than simply “Believe without accepting the possibility of error”, the answer is: no. A non-omnipotent being can never justifiably rule out the possibility that they are somehow in error (e.g. being deceived by an omnipotent being, or a powerful but non-omnipotent one, although these are not the only possibilities). Even an omnipotent being cannot do what is logically impossible (since what is supposedly to be done has not been successfully specified), hence even an omnipotent being could not cause a non-omnipotent being justifiably to believe anything without accepting the possibility of error.
Note also that we cannot justifiably believe without admitting the possibility of error that there is nothing we can justifiably believe without admitting the possibility of error. There is no self-refutation here, as it is entirely possible for the statement: “There is nothing a non-omnipotent being can justifiably believe without admitting the possibility of error” to be true, but unKNOWable (where I use “unKNOWable” to mean “impossible justifiably to believe without admitting the possibility of error”).
Furthermore, it follows from the general case that no non-omnipotent being can ever justifiably believe without admitting the possibility of error that there is (or is not) an omnipotent being.
Face it, Facilis (you won’t of course, you’re too much of a coward): for the non-omnipotent, absolute certainty is an illusion.
Patricia, OM says
Wowbagger, Facilis is upstairs being changed by his mommie. Or maybe he’s at church practicing his altar boy duties with the priest.
He’ll be back. This place is like torture porn for a lightweight deadshit like him, and will remain so until we all get so bored we ignore him.
I’ve made a start – I’ve got him killfiled – but enough people are quoting him that I can piece together that he’s still insisting on flogging the very dead presuppositionalist horse, despite its demonstrated invalidity on both levels.
At last I understand the keen eyed Wittgenstein’s famous brandishing of a poker at a Cambridge Conversatzioni meeting.
Contrary to Popper’s account, It was not to belabor those asserting belief in moral imperatives, but to bat the meteoric teapot he spied out the window back into its proper orbit.
Teh Merkin says
As much as I like to make fun of fools who believe what men in dresses tell them, I can’t read the above without saying:
Dude, get some fucking help. Seriously. You are not sane.
Patricia, OM says
Russell – Use caution when you speak of pokers. One of the commenter’s here has a very close relationship with one, and you wouldn’t want to offend him, or his wife…er, I mean poker.
'Tis Himself says
So now we have the answer to the age-old question: “Can god microwave a burrito so hot that even he couldn’t eat it?”
“Face it, Facilis (you won’t of course, you’re too much of a coward): for the non-omnipotent, absolute certainty is an illusion.”
You sound absolutely certain of that! Does that mean you’re omnipotent?
You’ve obviously confused omnipotence and omniscience. We can conceive an omniscient being that is not omnipotent, and therefore conceive a non-omnipotent being that knows with absolute certainty. Note, you can’t say, “Ah, but a non-omnipotent omniscient being could be deceived by an omnipotent being”; I trust the contradiction in such a proposition is obvious, even to someone as arrogant and self-deluded as you.
Facilis’ “impossibility of the opposite” argument is disproven by reality. Since his god does not exist,the existence of logic and reason shows that they don’t require god.
But the contradiction isn’t obvious. If the putatively omnipotent being cannot perform the deception, then clearly, there is a limit on the being’s power, and hence its power is not all-powerful. So you contradict your own negation of the contradiction of the proposition.
Of course, I don’t think that the contradiction was obvious, even to someone as arrogant and self-deluded as you, otherwise I would not have had to point it out.
Put my name down for one of those teapots, but I think the subtitle should be “Now stop worrying and enjoy your tea.”
Michael Drake says
Thanks again for the link, PZ.
Miller said: “Michael Drake’s reply is almost as far off the mark as Douthat’s. The celestial teapot argument has little to do with the absurdity or the unpopularity of belief in the celestial teapot. [snip] Drake seems to have reduced the celestial teapot argument to ‘Because God is absurd, God is like the celestial teapot, and therefore as absurd as the celestial teapot.'”
Thanks for the comment, Miller, but I have to admit it leaves me scratching my head. Where do I suggest the CTP argument logically depends on the absurdity or unpopularity of belief in the CTP? Where do I affirm the consequent (if that’s what it is) as you’ve described? (Remember — I’m sending up Douthat’s argument, not purporting to describe the CTP argument.)
John Morales says
Owlmirror, as you say, an omnipotent being must, by definition, be able to deceive any other being; an omniscient being must, by definition, be incapable of being deceived.
So I do think it’s a contradiction – clearly, when the premises contradict each other, at least one of the premises must be false, and therefore, any argument based on such premises cannot be valid.
PS Theologians I’m sure are aware of this, and consider it to be support for the proposition that there can be _Only One_.
John Morales says
Eric, to make it clear, I should’ve added in #547 that your point in the comment @542 is based on contradictory premises and thus is vacuous.
“If the putatively omnipotent being cannot perform the deception, then clearly, there is a limit on the being’s power, and hence its power is not all-powerful.”
Wrong. First, you’ve confused a possible with an actual. Sure, an omnipotent being *could* perform the deception, but if he were to, the non-omnipotent being *wouldn’t* be omniscient, hence the contradiction. There’s nothing inconsistent with supposing a possible world in which there exists both an omnipotent being and a non-omnipotent omniscient being, i.e. a possible world in which the omnipotent being never *in fact* deceives the other, which is of course the only possible world in which the non-omnipotent omniscient being *would* be omniscient. The only point is that given this possible world, it’s decidedly not the case simpliciter that “for the non-omnipotent, absolute certainty is an illusion.”
Anton Mates says
From the omniscient being’s perspective, how is this world distinguishable from a world where it is deceived by the omnipotent being and is therefore not omniscient?
“From the omniscient being’s perspective, how is this world distinguishable from a world where it is deceived by the omnipotent being and is therefore not omniscient?”
Anton, I don’t see how this question is relevant given that the issue I’m addressing is whether a non-omnipotent being *could* be omniscient.
That aside, however, there’s nothing wrong with supposing two possible worlds, one in which the existence of a non-omnipotent omniscient being obtains, and another in which a non-omnipotent being thinks it’s omniscient, given the activity of a deceiving omnipotent being; and with further supposing that from the perspectives of the non-omnipotent beings, the attribute of ‘omniscience’ seems to obtain in both worlds. This doesn’t in any way refute my point as long as the first world, in which a non-omnipotent omniscient being exists, is coherent, which I think it is.
If we were discussing justification or knowledge, then your question would be an outstanding one.
That’s so adorable! You’re like a little child tugging at her mommy’s apron, seeking approval for being a good girl…
Anton Mates says
But we are discussing that. You were originally responding to KnockGoats, who argued that “a non-omnipotent being can never justifiably rule out the possibility that they are somehow in error” (my emphasis), and concluded that “for the non-omnipotent, absolute certainty is an illusion.”
The possibility of an omniscient but non-omnipotent being does not refute KG’s argument, unless that being is also justified in affirming its own omniscience.
Inquisitor Numad says
In clear, are you saying that the non-omnipotent can’t be certain that they are truly omniscient?
Anton Mates says
Yup, and I believe KnockGoats was too.
(I’m somewhat hazy on whether the omnipotent can be certain they’re truly omniscient…that seems to get into weird areas of undecidability and such.)
(1)”a non-omnipotent being can never justifiably rule out the possibility that they are somehow in error”
(2)”for the non-omnipotent, absolute certainty is an illusion.”
These are two different propositions; if Knockgoats argued for (1), but concluded (2) — as you, Anton, said — then there’s a problem, not only because the two cannot be identified, but because (1) doesn’t entail (2). Why not?
If there’s nothing incoherent in supposing a possible world in which an omnipotent being *never* deceives a non-omnipotent omniscient being — and I think it’s obvious that there is no incoherence here — then there *is* a possible world that contains a being that is both non-omnipotent and omniscient. Being omniscient, this being would know every true proposition about his world, and one of those true proposition would be, “I am not being deceived by an omnipotent being.”
However, even given your reading, there are some obvious confusions that have to be cleared up here.
Is this a question of justification, of knowledge, or of certainty? The three categories are not the same, yet all three are being used as if they can be identified.
John Morales says
Why not? – Because because 2 → 1.
It’s natural language logic, but perfectly clear.
I believe this was first proposed by that noted theologian Connor MacLeod.
David Marjanović, OM says
How, please, did this become a silly theological discussion after Facilis went away?
How hard is Russell’s Teapot to understand really?
“Why not? – Because because 2 → 1.”
That’s implication, not entailment — *huge* difference.
By implication, it’s false; by entailment, it’s invalid.
Janine, Supercilious Asshole says
Because Facilis is stupid and contagious.
I don’t appear in bread products of any sort, or in stains on walls. That’s strictly kid stuff.
I exerted my ineffable transcendent omnipotence.
And lo, there was heavy.
Ken Cope says
I exerted my ineffable transcendent omnipotence.
So much for exaggerated reports of God’s omnibenevolence.
Oh, and God? Why won’t you ever invest in proper minions?
Neil B ☺ says
BTW, I accept Heddle’s admission that the burden of proof is not on atheists to prove a negative and never said otherwise. But it’s simple-minded to think that’s the only issue about the teapot. What a lot of the sophomorics around here don’t get, is that one can agree with a major purpose of something and still think it has flaws in other ways. One track minds.
Sven DiMilo says
Help! I’m still not sure whether or not I can be certain that I’m not dreaming that I might be in the Matrix, or not!
Sven, could you possibly be on the Holodeck in the Matrix?
Yes. Yes I do.
The unicorns are pink. The rabbit is six feet tall and talks to you. The radio waves are making your feet itch. God talks to you. Jesus is your savior. These men in white coats are here to help you.
Most insane people are not confused at all; they are usually quite certain of their reality, such as it is.
Haven’t you heard the new theology? My omnipotence and eternal nature means that I cannot do wrong.
Might makes right, therefore, All-might makes All-right.
You mean… answer prayers? Perform miracles for believers? Comfort the downtrodden and defend the righteous? Work for a living?
Are you completely insane?
Here, have some genuine epistemic certainty, straight from Me, the all-knowing and all-powerful God, to you, an evolved descendant of apes with imperfect senses and imperfect brain.
Stephen Wells says
Eric, you haven’t spotted that it’s impossible for a supposedly onmiscient being to know whether it is truly omniscient (and truly knows “I know everything truly”) or is being fooled (and _falsely_ believes “I know everything”). So it is impossible ever to _justifiably_ believe in omniscience.
Anton Mates says
I see no reason why the two can’t be identified. If you can’t justifiably rule out the possibility that you’re in error, then by definition, your certainty is illusory. Absolute certainty, after all, is feeling that you can justifiably rule out that possibility.
To echo KnockGoats, it depends if “omniscient” is defined as “holding every true belief”, or “justifiably holding every true belief;” see below.
Sure. But in possible world #2 where the being is being deceived by an omnipotent, one of the things it could be deceived into believing is, “I am not being deceived by an omnipotent being.” So, again, it has no way to tell the difference between the two worlds.
In general, so far as I can see, the omniscient being in possible world #1 and the deluded being in possible world #2 can have identical sets of beliefs, including nth-order beliefs like “I know that my knowledge that I am not being deceived is accurate.”
If we require justifiability as part of the definition of omniscience, then neither being is truly omniscient; it’s just that one being happens to live in the possible world where its beliefs are true.
If we don’t require justifiability, then the first being is truly omniscient but cannot be (justifiably) certain of that fact.
If you look back at #535, KnockGoats explicitly said s/he’s talking about “knowing something with absolute certainty,” and proposed to characterize this as “justifiably believing without accepting the possibility of error.” You’re free to dispute that definition, but I don’t think there’s any confusion about what s/he meant.
“Knowledge” is usually defined as “justified true belief”, so if “omniscience” is “all-knowing”, then justification must certainly be present.
Anton Mates says
I agree. Eric may mean something more like “all-correctly-believing,” though; I’m not sure.
“…God is an absurdity dreamed up by crafty clerics in darkest antiquity and subsequently imposed on the human mind by force and fear, and that it only survives for want of brave souls willing to note how inherently absurd the whole thing is.”
Hey, quote-mining is an honorable tradition among creationists. And y’know, it’s FUN!
But my personal honor requires uses of ellipses.
Actually, on reflection I think Eric is right, although he’s making things more complicated than necessary: we don’t need to posit a possible world in which there is <>both an omnipotent and a non-omnipotent but omniscient being: the latter alone will do. Omnipotence implies at least potential omniscience (since an omnipotent being can bring about any logically consistent change in its own state of knowledge), but not vice versa. What I should have said is “For the non-omniscient, absolute certainty is an illusion.” This leaves undetermined whether either omniscience or omnipotence is logically possible, or would turn out to be self-contradictory if the concept were explored thoroughly enough – which I shall not attempt. However, if there were an omnipotent being, whether or not there could also be a non-omnipotent but omniscient one depends on our definition of omniscience – is an omniscient being one that as a matter of fact always knows (or can know) everything (Eric’s view); or one that can always choose to know everything whatever any other being wishes?
My admission of fallibility is of course sufficient reply to Eric’s unfounded charges of arrogance and self-delusion, but with my near-omniscience, I know he didn’t really believe them but was simply trying to annoy me; and with my saintly forbearance, I forgive him ;-)
Anton Mates says
I think either of those definitions rules out the possibility of a non-omnipotent omniscient being coexisting with an omnipotent one, however. The first definition implies that the omniscient being can justify all of its beliefs, which is impossible since it cannot rule out the possibility of delusion, as we discussed above. The second definition conflicts with omnipotence more directly, as it implies that the omnipotent being cannot limit the omniscient being’s knowledge even if it wishes to.
Gerry Shuller says
No, clueless atheists, the failed logic is all yours. If evolutionism is true and religion is nonsense, then humanity would have grown out of it. Therefore, one or both of those ideas is false. (Hint: It ain’t one.)
Cry to you daddy Dawkins all you want.
There’s no way you’re getting out of this one, kiddies.
Nerd of Redhead says
Gerry, can you show me any physical evidence for your imaginary god? Something that would pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as of divine origin? Until you do, you are a liar and bullshitter.
Gerry Shuller, pissant troll
What, pray, is ‘evolutionism’? I’m guessing it’s a figment of your imagination – not unlike your god. Evolution, on the other hand, is most certainly true; only the stupid and intellectually dishonest claim otherwise. Which are you?
Religion is most definitely nonsense. How else would you describe something that seriously believes in talking snakes and donkeys and invisible magic men who live in the sky and grant wishes?
So, “growing out” of something is conclusive proof that it is wrong? Does this mean that Americans are growing out of Republican ideology? Does this mean that since atheism still exists, that it is valid because we haven’t “grown out” of it? Looking at trends of secularism and religion in the U.S. and the world, have we been on the verge of “growing out” of Christianity and growing into Islam and secularism? What really is your point? If at some point in the arbitrary future there are half as many Christians, double the atheists and a surge in Muslims, what would that tell you? How far into the future are you willing to extrapolate, pray tell!
As to Shuller,
Ignorance of basic science—check
Make up -isms —check
Seems we have a live one !!
Gerry Shuller #576 wrote:
This is a strange argument I’ve not heard before. There is nothing in evolutionary development that mandates that human beings or any other species would eventually become Perfect Beings incapable of error. That’s a weird combination of religion and evolution, and there’s no support for it, nor does it follow.
Religion is not “nonsense” on every front. There are valuable aspects having to do with such things as community cohesion or psychological security. After all, there must be religions out there you consider to be factually false and even nonsensical (Mormonism? New Age? Scientology?), and yet their adherents often have happy lives — and lots of kids.
That’s all that matters over time, from the evolutionary standpoint. Some mutations are retained better than others.
But thanks for the new argument.
You don’t have to be ten years old to be taken by the perfect certainty of something. It even happens to middle aged men who know better.
Sorry if this is a long post but I think it says something about the nature of faith.
A few years ago, I was spending a year as a traveller in a small caravan. At one point, for about two weeks, I made my way down the Icefields Parkway which is a highway down the spine of one of the mountain ranges in Alberta.
From time to time, I would park the van and set off down one of the hiking trails. At the beginning of every trail there was an information board and these included cautions about grizzly bears. The bears eat people now and then so it’s good to be aware.
In the middle of the second week I put on my hiking boots and started down one of the trails which promised, at the end, a view of a particularly pretty lake. Not a hundred metres down the trail, I was suddenly seized by the overwhelming certainty that there was a bear. I was so frightened that I was shaking, struggling to hold my bowels, it was that bad. It was as intense as if the bear was right in front of me snarling, all teeth and claws.
Except there was no bear there, or behind me, or in the bushes. There was no smell, no sound, yet I was surrounded by the sense of it. A panursine experience.
So what could make someone absolutely certain of something for which there was no evidence?
I did what I always do in these situations, I started to laugh at myself.
If I could, I would rehabilitate the word experience. Falling down the stairs is an experience, a walk in the park with a pretty girl is an experience. Things that involve reality are experiences. Things that happen entirely inside your head are not experiences. Religious experiences are not experiences.
I thought that there was a bear because I had read so many bear notices that the idea was primed in my mind. Then I slipped over the edge. Then I caught myself.
I use science to save myself from the absurdity of my own mind.
Kevin #582 wrote:
And there we may have the Big Divide between the skeptics, and the believers. Believers work on the assumption that their instincts and intuitions are reliable — and they take them, and themselves, very seriously.
I do not come from a conventionally religious background, but within the “spiritual” group I grew up with, your fear would have been seen as a significant indication that you could be channeling the “energy” left from fear and emotion vibrating in the air from a real person-to-bear encounter — either someone else’s, or your own in a previous life. Everything is supposed to be connected to everything else, to be examined and intuited by going deeper than appearances. You can’t just be wrong. Trust feelings.
I like your reaction better.
Of course, you may have also sensed some recently deposited bear pheromones in the area. Another pragmatic possibility.
Patricia, OM says
Kevin, Thank you for that story, I enjoyed it.
Shuller – That has got to be one of the top five stooopidest tries at trolling ever. Go ask gawd for help.
You’re a butterfly that dreams that it knows what it’s like to be a bat in the Matrix but is actually a brain in a vat in a computer simulation.
Ken Cope says
that doesn’t really understand Chinese.
Can’t expect humanity to grow out of anything, there are still genuine flat-earthers! Appealing to the general population is lame, putting a dichotomy between evolution and religion is misleading. What’s important on evolution is where the scientific community stands – and on that evolution is as well supported (by both scientists and evidence) as the earth revolving around the sun.
Ken Cope says
…all the way down, young man.
Great story. “Religious experiences are not experiences.” Couldn’t be more true.
Many years ago I was in security at a big hospital here. I’d spend part of the night driving around outside in a van, checking the perimeter and driving people to their cars, etc.
One night there was a blue Firebird with a white interior at the end of one row of cars. Its driver’s seat with its weird-shaped headrest was tilted forward. And that’s what I saw, over and over as my headlights swept across it on each trip, until suddenly, one time my lights hit it and I saw, as clear as I’ve ever seen anything: A blue Firebird with Quick-Draw McGraw in the driver’s seat.
Did I start a new religion of McGrawism? No. I know a vision isn’t even a vision until it’s compared with a stored template in your brain that tells you what you’re seeing, and sometimes this process can have some weird results.
The brain is an imperfect organ: Film at 11.
@ Ken Cope:
Don’t get me started on that imbecile Searle!
Ken Cope says
OK, but can you be objective about Nagel?
Sven DiMilo says
Help! I am bereft of qualia!!
Guy Incognito says
Something about this thread reminds me of the speed dating scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
apropos omnipotence/science, Springer is advertising a weird-looking book:
Superior Beings. If They Exist, How Would We Know?
Game-Theoretic Implications of Omnipotence, Omniscience, Immortality, and Incomprehensibility
Nerd: “…can you show me any physical evidence for your imaginary god?”
Quite a few scientists have thought that their science pointed to God. For example, in the fields of physics and astronomy…
1) “When I wrote my treatise about our (Solar) System I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity, and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose.” – Sir Isaac Newton
2) “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” – Sir Isaac Newton
3) “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.” – Sir Isaac Newton
4) “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover….That there are what I or anyone else would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.” – Astronomer Robert
Jastrow, holder of the prestigious Edwin Hubble chair at the Mount Wilson Observatory
5) “The beginning (of the universe) seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.” – Cosmologist Arthur Eddington
6) “Certainly, if you are religious, I can’t think of a better theory (than big bang theory) of the origin of the universe to match with Genesis.” – Astronomer Robert Wilson, codiscoverer of the radiation afterglow in the universe
7) “There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the big bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing.” – Astronomer George Smoot
8) “Astronomy leads to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life. In the absence of an absurdly-improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan.” – Astronomer and Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias
9) “Here (in the anthropic principle) is the cosmological proof of the existence of God – the design argument of Paley – updated and refurbished. The fine-tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design.” -Cosmologist Ed Harrison
10) “The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light
and energy…For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the
final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” – Robert Jastrow
Super dog says
Hi, this is a quite interesting discussion !
My impression is that Russel’s analogy is deeply flawed from the start.
He want to prove the following philosophical principle:
if we have no evidence for something, it is hugely unlikely that it exists, or other formulated, we can know beyond reasonable doubt that it does not exist.
He give then the example of this celestial teapot rotating right now around Mars: each sensible person would agree this example is completely absurd, even if we could not disprove its existence since it is too small to get detected. There exists no argument against the teapot, but everybody would agree it is completely silly to believe it could exist, and this the case because of the lack of evidence.
However, I think most people would believe it does not exist not because of the lack of evidence ( which by itself would only justify agnosticism: I don’t know if there is a teapot or not) but because we have many overwhelming argument against its existence:
teapot are typically designed by human mind, they could not appear through natural process, whether on the earth or outside the earth. Moreover, we have also solid evidences that no men was on the moon, and the arrival of alien from an other planet who turned out to have developed exactly the same technology at the surface of Mars just to let that is highly unlikely.
So, if there was only no evidence about the CT of Russel, I would be only agnostic about its existence, I know with almost certainty it does not exist because of the existence of strong arguments against its existence.
The same thing is true by the way of the flying spaghetti monster: I am quite certain it does not exist not because of the absence of evidence (we have never seen it) but because of tremendous arguments speaking for its utter impossibility: a monster is a living thing, and we know living thing need a very good organized brain to exist, or at least a system able to handle information and to direct the body.
Of course, no such entity could be made up of spaghettis, it is physically impossible.
However, I completely ignore what kind of animals could have evolved on remote planets far away from our earth, and if I am quite certain there is no unicorn on the earth (with its description, it is impossible that such species would not have been detected although we have found fossils of a lot horses), I am agnostic about the existence of unicorns everywhere in the universe, I have no evidence for it, but I see also no reason why such an entity could not have evolved on an other planet (there are no known limits to the cleverness of mutations and natural selection) , so I simply don’t know.
So, my BASIC EPISTEMOLOGY could be summed up in the following manner:
– I believe with almost certainty the existence of things for which I have many evidences (that the earth rotate around the sun, that the human species has more intellectual capacities than the other primates, that each species share a common ancestor and so on…)
– I don’t know if something exists if there are neither positive nor negative evidences (a plastic teapot floating right now 50 km away from New York, the existence of an intelligent species somewhere in the space which look like bears, a parallel universe with fundamentally different laws of physics and so on and so forth)
– I believe with almost certainty that something does not exist if I have not only no evidences, BUT ALSO if there exists strong arguments against its existence ( a stinking invisible cheese monster hiding his odor and situated just between the keyboard and the screen of my computer, that my supervisor is in fact a disguised alien planing to invade the earth etc…).
In each case, my “a-monsterism” or “a-alienism” does not stem only from the absence of evidences, but also from the overwhelming arguments against them.
So, I think that atheism can not been assumed as a default position, before affirming “I know there is no personal God”, atheists have to provide positive evidences, the mere absence of evidences only lead to agnosticism.
Now, many insightful atheists accepts that, and have in fact provided strong arguments against the existence of a personal God, like the obvious imperfections in the nature, the facts that human minds completely depend on the brain and that parts of the personality is destroyed if parts of the brain are damaged, the religious confusion and so on and so forth.
You’re going to make their heads explode by saying their religions evolved