Faith, Arrogance, and Uncertainty

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 24, 2011 in Ethics,Guest Post

Uncertain monkey is uncertain.

Today’s post on ethics is written by Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist. (Keep in mind that questions of applied ethics are complicated and I do not necessarily agree with Fyfe’s moral calculations.)

cloud_break

One of the facts of life that always disturbs me is how little I know, no matter how much work I put into changing that.

Often, I see this recognition of ignorance and fallibility as a handicap.

I constantly hear and read people who pretend to a level of uncertainty they cannot possibly justify. However, they are certain they are right, so they can step in front of a camera and assert their beliefs with certainty. People listen to them and absorb that certainty. “I am certain that I am right because Glen Beck said it and he is certain he is right.”

On the other side of the equation, you have people thinking about certain claims and adopting options on those issues, but who are constantly questioning themselves. They ask, “What if I am wrong? What if I am leading people down the wrong track? What else do I need to know that I haven’t already studied?”

For example, what does it take to render an informed opinion on the deficit? The war in Libya? The safety of nuclear power? Global warming?

The scientist (and any morally responsible speaker) says, “The evidence so far suggests to me that ‘P’, but, of course, I could be wrong.”

He then stands against the person who confidently asserts, “I am absolutely certain, beyond any possibility of error that ‘not-P’.”

The public then weighs the first person’s hesitancy over asserting P with the certainty of not-P. Many conclude that certainty trumps uncertainty. Therefore, they adopt not-P. At which point many also adopt the proponent’s arrogant contempt for anybody who would possibly assert the obviously false claim, P.

I have written before about how we simply do not have the time and resources to hold all of our beliefs up to the light of reason. By necessity, we have to take shortcuts that are fallible but less resource-intensive. This tendency to adopt degree of certainty as a indicative of truth may well be one of those “shortcuts.”

Yet, the possibility that this type of explanation might exist doesn’t eliminate the problems that this causes. It doesn’t change the fact that we have a culture that adopts a lot of fictions arrogantly asserted as fact, and a failure to adopt facts put forward under the qualification that it is the best supported position based on available evidence to date.

But what is the remedy to this? Is it for the people in the second group to pretend to a certainty they know is unfounded?

Besides being dishonest, it requires shouldering a tremendous amount of responsibility. Pretending to have certainty as a way of convincing others does not simply erase the moral responsibilities that come from the possibility of error.

This touches on a discussion I often hear that accuses scientists of being at fault for scientific illiteracy in certain countries and among certain populations. The accusation is made that this is due to the fact that the scientists are poor communicators, and the scientists should become better at that craft.

However, it seems that this accusation should come with evidence of what it takes to be effective communications. What if successful communication, all else being equal, means adopting a pretense to certainty, name-calling and making derogatory overgeneralizations against those who disagree, and promoting a tribal ‘us’ (scientist) versus ‘them’ (faithist) tribalism?

What if failure to do these things, all else being equal, means your claims will be adopted only by a small percentage of the population?

These, themselves, are scientific questions. Yet, these are questions in which a lot of people make bold assertions that they know what the answer is without any actual investigation into the subject matter they are asserting.

I have been trying to write posts recently pretending to a level of certainty I cannot justify. I have tried to do so out of the sense that admitting uncertainty is a social flag that says, “Don’t listen to him. Listen to the critic who arrogantly insists that he cannot be wrong.” However, I find myself frequently coming to a point where I cannot justify a claim made in certainty. And I have trouble getting past that point and going ahead with the claims.

This is where I think, for many people, faith enters the picture. Faith is a psychological tools that gets an agent past that point – allowing him to remain blind to such questions and make their claims with absolute certainty. It also allows him to remain blind to the potential harms that come from being wrong, and the moral responsibilities that those harms give rise to.

Here, faith and arrogant certainty become almost indistinguishable. ‘Faith’ is the psychological tool that makes arrogant certainty possible, and arrogant certainty is the psychological tool that tempts people to see the ‘faith’ response as useful.

Well, if there is any truth in this, it would suggest that a possible route to take is not to berate the scientists for being poor communicators. It is, instead, to berate those people who do not view the communication of science as effective. Failing to be persuaded by scientific arguments, to the degree of certainty (and uncertainty) that science allows, is indicative of morally irresponsible arrogant uncertainty in which “faith” is often used as an excuse.

Maybe it is not such a bad thing to recognize our human fallibilities and be a bit hesitant at times in the conclusions we assert. Maybe the fault lies, instead, in not being such a person.

- Alonzo Fyfe

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{ 125 comments… read them below or add one }

Cristian March 24, 2011 at 4:48 am

Some are certain that all answers should be given within the boundaries of scientific knowledge. And they call those that are certain of things outside science delusional or arrogant.

I’m not sure exactly who’s what.

Going out to convince others of the things you are certain bears a huge responsibility. Being asked about the things you are certain of requires an answer. Giving that answer with certainty is not arrogance.

There are fundamental questions that need an answer within out life time. The question about the after life, for instance. Can *I* wait for some Nobel Prize winner to answer me that question scientifically? Can I? Should I?

I don’t have too many options, but to look for answers beyond what a microscope can tell me, and accept the limits of certainty that religions have. Within those limits, I shall try to find the best answer possible.

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PDH March 24, 2011 at 7:33 am

Cristian wrote,

Some are certain that all answers should be given within the boundaries of scientific knowledge. And they call those that are certain of things outside science delusional or arrogant.
I’m not sure exactly who’s what.
Going out to convince others of the things you are certain bears a huge responsibility. Being asked about the things you are certain of requires an answer. Giving that answer with certainty is not arrogance.
There are fundamental questions that need an answer within out life time. The question about the after life, for instance. Can *I* wait for some Nobel Prize winner to answer me that question scientifically? Can I? Should I?I don’t have too many options, but to look for answers beyond what a microscope can tell me, and accept the limits of certainty that religions have. Within those limits, I shall try to find the best answer possible.  

You think that you can be absolutely certain that the afterlife promised to you by your religion is actually forthcoming?

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Niveker14 March 24, 2011 at 7:40 am

Some are certain that all answers should be given within the boundaries of scientific knowledge. And they call those that are certain of things outside science delusional or arrogant.
I’m not sure exactly who’s what.
Going out to convince others of the things you are certain bears a huge responsibility. Being asked about the things you are certain of requires an answer. Giving that answer with certainty is not arrogance.
There are fundamental questions that need an answer within out life time. The question about the after life, for instance. Can *I* wait for some Nobel Prize winner to answer me that question scientifically? Can I? Should I?I don’t have too many options, but to look for answers beyond what a microscope can tell me, and accept the limits of certainty that religions have. Within those limits, I shall try to find the best answer possible.  

Now you’ve fallen right into the trap the original post was all about. As to the question of the after-life, science already has a tentative answer. Based on the evidence there is no reason you should believe in life after death. Are we certain? No. But there’s no evidence to suggest otherwise. But that’s not the answer you wanted to hear, so you go to some religious person claiming certainty they have no way of truly having. But they sound certain there’s an after life, and they claim they’re certain your existence won’t end when you die. And you’re afraid to not exist, so you accept what they say on no other grounds.

I think you should think carefully at why you believe the things you believe. Do you believe them out of fear or custom? Or do you believe them out of sound reason and evidence?

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Cristian March 24, 2011 at 7:50 am

How could anyone be afraid of not existing anymore?

On the contrary, I fear that I live my life the wrong way.

It’s not the promise I am looking for, but the truth. A truth accessible to everyone, at all times in history and social conditions. Science is only for the very few that can grasp it.

Like a Romanian poet said: “I am not afraid of you, Death, but what would you do if you had a mother and she died?”

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PDH March 24, 2011 at 8:12 am

Cristian wrote,

How could anyone be afraid of not existing anymore?On the contrary, I fear that I live my life the wrong way.It’s not the promise I am looking for, but the truth. A truth accessible to everyone, at all times in history and social conditions. Science is only for the very few that can grasp it.Like a Romanian poet said: “I am not afraid of you, Death, but what would you do if you had a mother and she died?”  

But just saying that you are certain about something doesn’t mean that it is actually certain.

The truth is not accessible to everyone at all times and situations. People living in the time of Newton did not know about General Relativity nor did they have an easy way of finding out about it. They didn’t even know that they didn’t know about it and, worse, thought that they had gravity pretty much sorted.

We are undoubtedly in this situation about a great many things. We have false beliefs. Count on it. And we don’t know which ones they are or else we’d change them.

What you are saying amounts to, ‘I am going to believe something that is very unlikely to be true and then pretend that it is certain to be true because otherwise I’d have to acknowledge that I can’t be absolutely certain about everything and that would make me feel bad. However, not satisfied with this delusion I am then going to go on to make the further claim that the comforting lies I tell myself actually overrule the more tentative conclusions of the most reliable methods for finding the truth that we have ever developed.’

Yes, it would be nice if we were omniscient and had unimpeded epistemic access to all the issues that are important to us. Unfortunately, we aren’t and we don’t. We have to make the best of what we’ve got and then be honest about what we’re doing. We can’t just pretend that we have absolute knowledge because it would be nicer that way.

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Epistememe March 24, 2011 at 8:17 am

You are not looking for truth you are looking for comfort and simple answers, please don’t confuse the two.

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Cristian March 24, 2011 at 8:24 am

You are not looking for truth you are looking for comfort and simple answers, please don’t confuse the two.  

There is no comfort in the truth proposed by my religion. On the contrary. I am a Christian, but not the ‘believe and you are saved/safe’ kind of Christian.

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Epistememe March 24, 2011 at 8:47 am

Please stop using the word truth, you apparently don’t know the definition.
I don’t know how to respond to your contention that religion is not a comfort to the multitude of Christians. To me it is so obvious and universally recognized that it is a major component of religion that it is beyond contention, but please enlighten me.

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Reginald Selkirk March 24, 2011 at 9:01 am

Cristian: Science is only for the very few that can grasp it.

Pthththththt. Science is a method for finding things out. It should be embraced by everyone. The only ones who shrink from science are those committed to beliefs they know cannot withstand scrutiny.

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Cristian March 24, 2011 at 9:09 am

Please stop using the word truth, you apparently don’t know the definition.
I don’t know how to respond to your contention that religion is not a comfort to the multitude of Christians.To me it is so obvious and universally recognized that it is a major component of religion that it is beyond contention, but please enlighten me.  

I’m not sure about what definition of truth are talking about. If it’s the ‘composition of rock’ kind of truth, than no, I’m not using the word in that sense. It’s one thing to say “2+2=4 is true”, and another thing to say that “It’s true that Cristian loves his wife”.

“Religion is comforting to the weak minds” it’s more of a pattern that people apply to all religions, ignoring their specificities.

Yes, we find peace of mind regarding the road we should walk on. Yes, we are comforted that we get help walking on that road. But we haven’t reached our destination yet and it’s a very hard walk to the destination.

There are Christian denominations that preach an easy life and an easy journey, but I don’t agree with them. Historically, they’re pretty recent (see Reform and neo-protestant movements). Traditionally, Orthodox Christianity has a different/opposite view.

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Cristian March 24, 2011 at 9:11 am

Cristian: Science is only for the very few that can grasp it.Pthththththt. Science is a method for finding things out. It should be embraced by everyone. The only ones who shrink from science are those committed to beliefs they know cannot withstand scrutiny.  

95% of the people around the world never have a conversation like the one we do. Saying that they all should be like us (I graduated Physics, btw) is kindda… I don’t know. :)

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Tige Gibson March 24, 2011 at 10:12 am

In the interest of reducing obfuscation, instead of saying “are you sure?” say “do you have faith”?

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niveker14 March 24, 2011 at 10:24 am

I’m not sure about what definition of truth are talking about. If it’s the ‘composition of rock’ kind of truth, than no, I’m not using the word in that sense. It’s one thing to say “2+2=4 is true”, and another thing to say that “It’s true that Cristian loves his wife”.“Religion is comforting to the weak minds” it’s more of a pattern that people apply to all religions, ignoring their specificities.
Yes, we find peace of mind regarding the road we should walk on. Yes, we are comforted that we get help walking on that road. But we haven’t reached our destination yet and it’s a very hard walk to the destination.
There are Christian denominations that preach an easy life and an easy journey, but I don’t agree with them. Historically, they’re pretty recent (see Reform and neo-protestant movements). Traditionally, Orthodox Christianity has a different/opposite view.  

The reason scientists, or anyone that thinks rationaly, believe the things they believe are true is very different from the way you seem to believe the things you believe are true. You claim you believe not because you’re afraid of death and not because it comforts you, but you’ve failed to say an active reason to believe. Other than because its the Truth with a capital T.

Bringing it back to the original discussion, the bible you believe in claims certainty over its message, but why should you trust certainty? In my opinion, I’m more willing to trust the guy that says, “this is where the evidence points me, but I could be wrong” more than the guy that says, “I’m certain I’m right!”

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Rufus March 24, 2011 at 11:35 am

“Well, if there is any truth in this, it would suggest that a possible route to take is not to berate the scientists for being poor communicators. It is, instead, to berate those people who do not view the communication of science as effective. Failing to be persuaded by scientific arguments, to the degree of certainty (and uncertainty) that science allows, is indicative of morally irresponsible arrogant uncertainty in which “faith” is often used as an excuse.”

I have to say that I find this route to be highly questionable. We must keep in mind that “science” as such is a reification — a pragmatic fiction used as a short-hand to refer to the endless data and interpretation of data conducted by individuals who “ideally” follow a method whereby the data-set labeled “science” is warranted. There are checks, e.g. repetition of experiments, peer review, etc. I agree that scientists are/should be open to the revision of their theses and open to new data/theories/interpretations. They are not 100% certain (induction simply does not work that way). But now we are asked to move a step away from that. How certain should the scientifically litrerate person be when she reads the latest scientific findings in a journal? She did not conduct the experiments, gather the information, write the algorithms, run the simulations, etc. Not even the professional scientist has such first hand experience with every experiment ever conducted. We move from induction based on personal empirical observation to the report of the induction. We must consider not merely the possibility that the induction was weak due to unforeseen variables or that the inference led to a false conclusion, but we must also introduce factors of misrepresentation, misinterpretation, and misunderstanding within the scientific report. That is to say, we must be more skeptical of the “science” we read than the “science” we do.

The bulk of whatever it is in your mind that you call scientific knowledge is mostly a collection of beliefs based upon reports of that knowledge — as you best remember it. This is true of both the scientist and the scientifically literate human. Thus, it is patently false to say that one can be persuaded to the degree of certainty that science allows. The whole of “science” is too large and we are too finite to be as certain as the scientist conducting the experiment. Since ought implies can, we must conclude that no one has the moral responsibility to be equally certain of the collection all scientific theories as the each individual scientist is of his or her own scientific theories. Nor can we expect the person on the street to remedy his or her skepticism by donning a white lab coat. I’m sorry, but the responsibility of communication lands squarely on the one making the claims.

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cl March 24, 2011 at 11:44 am

Alonzo Fyfe,

The scientist (and any morally responsible speaker) says, “The evidence so far suggests to me that ‘P’, but, of course, I could be wrong.”

If you really believe that, you and Luke are morally irresponsible speakers:

“…whenever I hear people talk about God and morality, the problem that I have always had with it is that there is no God. God doesn’t exist.” -Alonzo Fyfe, Morality in the Real World, September 21, 2010

“Unless there is some sort of medical condition at work, the parent of an obese child is an abusive parent by that fact alone.” -Alonzo Fyfe, Gluttony and Superlust, August 25, 2010

“Television sitcoms and reality shows fall into the same category. They are a worthless waste of time where people sit on a couch and get fat while they acquire no useful information and accomplish absolutely nothing of value. We would be better off if people had no taste for such things – and we can make ourselves (or our children’s lives) better off if we were to condemn these practices and praised more useful expenditures of time and energy in their place… Spectator sports provide another example. Participatory sports provides exercise, but spectator sports is a waste of time, money, and real-estate.” -Alonzo Fyfe, Trivial Hobbies, June 17, 2010

“Desirism has nothing to say to a moral agent at the moment of decision. Any theory that claims that it DOES have something truthful to say to an agent at the moment of decision can be thrown out because what it has to say is false.” -Alonzo Fyfe, Short-List Theories of Morality, September 3, 2010

Did you say “the evidence so far suggests” in any of those? No, you did not. Did you provide evidence for any of those? No, you did not. So, which is it? Are you somehow exempt from your own criterion of moral responsibility? Or, do you need to concede to some morally irresponsible statements?

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cl March 24, 2011 at 11:53 am

Cristian,

Good job weathering the typical barrage of ignorant and insolent remarks that often ensue when someone who thinks differently posts here.

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Niveker14 March 24, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Cristian,

Good job weathering the typical barrage of ignorant and insolent remarks that often ensue when someone who thinks differently posts here.

I just reread all the remarks said against Cristian and I fail to see how any of them were ignorant or insolent. Ok, maybe one or two comments were verging on what could be called insolent, but not quite, and certainly not ignorant. Tell me, what exactly was “ignorant” about the remarks said against Cristian?

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MauricXe March 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Small tangent, make sure you guys check out:

http://www.thegreatdebatencsu.com

Dr. Craig and Krauss duke it out very soon.

As is Harris vs. Craig:
https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=133604053378987

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cl March 24, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Niveker14,

Examples of insolence from Epistememe:

You are not looking for truth you are looking for comfort and simple answers, please don’t confuse the two. … Please stop using the word truth, you apparently don’t know the definition.

An example of ignorance from yourself:

Based on the evidence there is no reason you should believe in life after death. Are we certain? No. But there’s no evidence to suggest otherwise.

More insolence, this time from yourself:

But that’s not the answer you wanted to hear, so you go to some religious person claiming certainty they have no way of truly having. But they sound certain there’s an after life, and they claim they’re certain your existence won’t end when you die. And you’re afraid to not exist, so you accept what they say on no other grounds.

On the upside, here’s what I would consider examples of respectful, good-faith questioning from yourself:

I think you should think carefully at why you believe the things you believe. Do you believe them out of fear or custom? Or do you believe them out of sound reason and evidence? … Bringing it back to the original discussion, the bible you believe in claims certainty over its message, but why should you trust certainty? In my opinion, I’m more willing to trust the guy that says, “this is where the evidence points me, but I could be wrong” more than the guy that says, “I’m certain I’m right!”

Those comments would have sufficed all on their own, and I wholly endorse them.

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Cristian March 24, 2011 at 12:59 pm

The reason scientists, or anyone that thinks rationaly, believe the things they believe are true is very different from the way you seem to believe the things you believe are true. You claim you believe not because you’re afraid of death and not because it comforts you, but you’ve failed to say an active reason to believe. Other than because its the Truth with a capital T.
Bringing it back to the original discussion, the bible you believe in claims certainty over its message, but why should you trust certainty? In my opinion, I’m more willing to trust the guy that says, “this is where the evidence points me, but I could be wrong” more than the guy that says, “I’m certain I’m right!”

I learned, from my readings of theology, that there are two types of knowledge. A positive, cataphatic one, and a negative, apophatic type of knowledge.

You can not express in words the feeling of love, for instance. Poetry or music, art in general, do a good job in sending the parts of message that words can not send. Still, all of them together don’t say it all.

For me it all boils down to the feeling we have when looking at the Universe as whole. Is it created or not. Must there be something that exists by itself, or is the Universe that something, selfexisting. There is no way to rationally solve or answer this question. Otherwise a guy like Heidegger would have said it all. But he didn’t.

Science will do a great job on counting the grains of sands in the Universe. But the ontology, the very existence of the Universe, that’s something that goes beyond the reach of science.

Beyond science we need methods and we need to activate/use different parts of ourselves, the reason and something else. What’s that something else? Hard to say in words.

I am not 100% certain, but the life I lived so far gave me enough evidence to have faith in the Bible and the Parents of the Church. It’s not blind faith in exchange of promised heaven. I searched, read, cross-referenced, and it makes sense to me. I know it’s not bullet-proof, I know that it’s not convincing, I know that is 100% rationally. But I’m taking the risk because I can not stay within the boundaries of mathematics and physics. It’s not enough for me. I got to search elsewhere.

I wish no one will feel offended by my apparent certainty/arrogance. It’s not like that. I only wish people would understand that walking in religion is not giving up on reason. We just use other senses too.

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episteme March 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm

I have been accused of insolence, I would agree that I hold Christian’s epistemology in contempt and feel justified in my disrespect. I think I am morally impelled to do so. To show respect to epistemic negligence is wrong and should be called out for what it is.

As for Christian’s call for a new non science based epistemology, his proposal seems to be closely related to naval gazing. If he would like to expand on the fuzzy-ness of his last post, I will certainly welcome the continued entertainment.

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episteme March 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Sorry Cristian not Christian

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Silver Bullet March 24, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Cristian: Science is only for the very few that can grasp it.Pthththththt. Science is a method for finding things out. It should be embraced by everyone. The only ones who shrink from science are those committed to beliefs they know cannot withstand scrutiny.

Reginald,

I am sympathetic to this, and your other comments around here, but I am curious about how you handle Plantinga’esque assertions that we all “rationally” believe plenty of things that do not stand up to scrutiny, such as the belief that the world was not created 5 seconds ago with the appearance of age, or that there is a real world external to your mind, or that this world actually includes other minds…

Science cannot answer these questions, as all empirical observations are entailed by both these claims and their negations.

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Martin March 24, 2011 at 4:37 pm

episteme,

As for Christian’s call for a new non science based epistemology

I too would apply Silver Bullet’s above response to this.

The reality of the external world, the reality of the past, and the existence of other conscious minds are all rational to accept and yet are not discoverable by scientific means.

And to add to that, neither are logical and mathematical truths, moral knowledge, etc.

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Rufus March 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm

And to add to that, neither are logical and mathematical truths, moral knowledge, etc.

Here is another:

Could someone please provide me with a scientific justification for the Principle of Induction. If there is no scientific foundation or justification for the Principle of Induction, then why believe inductive inferences provide a basis for certainty?

Thank you,

Rufus

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episteme March 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm

SB, Martin, and Rufus, I am very interested to hear what you propose as an alternative to the scientific method for acquiring knowledge about our existence.

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Niveker14 March 24, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Cl

I wasn’t sure what you meant by insolence, so I looked it up and came up with: “1. : insultingly contemptuous in speech or conduct. 2. exhibiting boldness or effrontery.” If this is what you meant I can honestly say I don’t hold Cristian in contempt and I had no intent to insult. I don’t shy away from the boldness or effrontery charge however, if that is what you meant. Honestly I don’t find the insolence charge that threatening (threatening from an argumentative standpoint). A little insolence can be a good thing if warranted.

As for you quoting what I said about the after life, I fail to see how that is ignorant based on the current science, especially neurobiology. Besides I specifically said there was no reason to believe it, not that it definitely didn’t exist.

In summations I reject all of your claims. (Also I apologize for any typos or grammar errors, I’m typing on my phone and its hard to double check yourself here.)

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Silver Bullet March 24, 2011 at 6:26 pm

episteme,
I too would apply Silver Bullet’s above response to this.
The reality of the external world, the reality of the past, and the existence of other conscious minds are all rational to accept and yet are not discoverable by scientific means.
And to add to that, neither are logical and mathematical truths, moral knowledge, etc.

Science is a method that utilizes logic and mathematics (among other things) to describe and explain the world, but logic and math by themselves cannot describe the world. So the question is not whether science can discover logical and mathematical truths, but whether the world can be discovered by using logic and mathematics. The spectacular success of science in actually explaining our world speaks volumes to this.

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Silver Bullet March 24, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Could someone please provide me with a scientific justification for the Principle of Induction.If there is no scientific foundation or justification for the Principle of Induction, then why believe inductive inferences provide a basis for certainty

Where did anybody say that inductive inferences provide a basis for certainty?

Who says that they’re certain?

Inductive inferences provide a basis for making predictions, and testable ones at that. You’re not doubting that value are you? Nevertheless, science remains open to findings that might bring inductive inferences down. That’s one of its strengths.

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Rufus March 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm

SB, Martin, and Rufus, I am very interested to hear what you propose as an alternative to the scientific method for acquiring knowledge about our existence.

Ah, tu quoque, tu quoque. I, for one, won’t be baited. Let’s suppose that I am a radical skeptic and that you have to convince me. Since you hold Christian epistemology in such low regard, I had hoped that you had something superior to offer.

Let me put it to you this way, if Christian epistemology is unwarranted, how is your epistemology on a better footing? If you appeal to scientific induction, I want to know your justification for that appeal. If you cannot justify the principles by which you base your epistemology, then will you admit that your epistemology is as unwarranted as Christian epistemology (whatever that might be)?

Thanks,

Rufus

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epistememe March 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Silver Bullet March 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm

SB, Martin, and Rufus, I am very interested to hear what you propose as an alternative to the scientific method for acquiring knowledge about our existence.

My answer comes from Dr. Richard Carrier’s book, Sense and Goodness Without God (p50-51), almost word-for-word:

While I think that the greatest certainty is found in the application of scientific methods to empirical problems, I also believe that we can derive knowledge in the following ways, though it will be less certain: (2) our own daily experience interpreted with a logical or scientific mindset, (3) the application of critical historical methods to claims about past events, (4) the application of the criteria of trust to the claims of experts, (5) plausible deductions (the untested but logical application on inferential generalizations from incomplete facts).

Certainty gets weaker at each stage down this ladder of methods. Lacking any of these approaches, we’re left with untrustworthy hearsay or pure speculation.

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Rufus March 24, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Inductive inferences provide a basis for making predictions, and testable ones at that. You’re not doubting that value are you? Nevertheless, science remains open to findings that might bring inductive inferences down. That’s one of its strengths.

I should say that it is claimed that the scientific method provides a “degree of certainty.” I admit that my language was ambiguous (thank you for the catch). I doubt anyone here would hold the position that science and induction can provide 100% certainty. But it appeared to me that some were holding that its the only game in town.

I am not saying that induction is without value. I am saying that we cannot justify our use of induction as a reliable way of reasoning on the principles of science alone. The principles of science presuppose induction.

-Rufus

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Ryan M March 24, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I don’t understand the liking of the position that science is the only method for gaining knowledge of the world. Perhaps for the most part science is the most useful due to its capabilities that its alternatives lack, but this does not mean science covers everything.

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epistememe March 24, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Thanks SB,
I see nothing to disagree with in your posting.

Rufus,
Who was suggesting 100% certainty? Who was suggesting it is the only game in town? I simply asked what do you propose as an alternative. SB answered the question well.

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Michael March 24, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Question: what do the debt/deficit, war in Libya, nuclear power, and global warming, all have in common? They are all complex issues which leaves them open to interpretation. The solution is to return to simple policies that do not leave themselves open to interpretation or taken off course. Easier said than done, but if we don’t do it then the revolution will come from someone who will.

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Rufus March 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Rufus,
Who was suggesting 100% certainty? Who was suggesting it is the only game in town? I simply asked what do you propose as an alternative. SB answered the question well.

I do not propose an alternative. SB’s answer includes various forms of inductive reasoning and a fifth point of plausible deduction following upon induced general principles. I find any epistemology grounded upon induction to be problematic.

You mentioned that Christian epistemology is non-scientific. I thought this was meant to be brought in contrast to a scientifically based epistemology. Perhaps I have misunderstood you. Are you not defending a scientifically-based epistemology in which induction provides a means for probable knowledge? Did you have principles more fundamental than induction grounding your epistemology. Do these principles justify the use of induction?

Thanks,

Rufus

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epistememe March 24, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Rufus
I never mentioned Christian epistemology except in the instance of asking you to clarify what you mean by the term.
I also simply asked what you propose for an alternative to the scientific method. You state you have none. The scientific method has had amazing success at advancing our knowledge and understanding and has done this over what I would consider a relatively short period of time. In all likelihood we are just at the beginning of our explorations.
Please explain your attraction and/or argument for Christian epistemology….. once you defined it of course.

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Rufus March 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I never mentioned Christian epistemology except in the instance of asking you to clarify what you mean by the term.
I also simply asked what you propose for an alternative to the scientific method. You state you have none. The scientific method has had amazing success at advancing our knowledge and understanding and has done this over what I would consider a relatively short period of time. In all likelihood we are just at the beginning of our explorations.
Please explain your attraction and/or argument for Christian epistemology….. once you defined it of course.

My apologies, I scanned part of an earlier post by you and assumed a grammatical error (I thought you meant “Christians’ epistemology but typed “Christian’s”/You intended Cristian’s). I went back and read the post and now see that the next section makes it clear that you were referring to Cristian the person(and then you subsequently clarified the point but I somehow missed that). I suppose this has been much to do about nothing then. Mea culpa.

I still hold the problem of induction to seriously undermine inductive-based epistemologies.

-Rufus

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Rob March 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm

“I still hold the problem of induction to seriously undermine inductive-based epistemologies.”

Science works, bitch.

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cl March 24, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Wow. I’m still wholly amazed by the apparent lack of concern with Alonzo Fyfe’s incontrovertible hypocrisy here. It’s all right there, with sources and everything, and I seem to be the only who cares.

Episteme,

I have been accused of insolence, I would agree that I hold Christian’s epistemology in contempt and feel justified in my disrespect. I think I am morally impelled to do so.

In a similar vein, Hitler felt morally impelled to kill Jews, so you might want to keep the whole “moral highground” thing in check.

Martin / Rufus,

Episteme wrote:

SB, Martin, and Rufus, I am very interested to hear what you propose as an alternative to the scientific method for acquiring knowledge about our existence.

Has this become the stock response in the atheist echo chamber whenever somebody questions science? This is a line right out of Loftus’ script. Isn’t this the same silly “lesser of X evils” reasoning so often employed in American democratic elections? Whatever it is, it’s not a valid response to the questions you’ve raised.

Niveker14,

So you deny that you were insolent? That pretty much ends there, as I make no pretense towards your motives. Your remarks struck me as insolent, but, if you have no desire to insult, then… I take your word for it.

As for you quoting what I said about the after life, I fail to see how that is ignorant based on the current science, especially neurobiology. Besides I specifically said there was no reason to believe it, not that it definitely didn’t exist.

You speak presumptuously. In truth, you see no reason to believe it, but you write as if that applies to everybody. Besides, you also said “there’s no evidence to suggest otherwise,” and therein lies the ignorance. Before you respond by challenging me to show you some evidence, humor me by doing a little earnest research, as you did with the term insolent.

Silver Bullet,

Certainty gets weaker at each stage down this ladder of methods.

I disagree. Direct witness of a murder [2] trumps the application of scientific methods [1]. Direct experience of love [2] trumps the application of scientific methods [1]. Sound deduction [5] proving Alonzo Fyfe’s hypocrisy trumps the application of scientific methods [1], the application of critical historical methods [3], and the application of the criteria of trust to the claims of experts [4].

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epistememe March 24, 2011 at 9:42 pm

“Wow. I’m still wholly amazed by the apparent lack of concern with Alonzo Fyfe’s incontrovertible hypocrisy here. It’s all right there, with sources and everything, and I seem to be the only who cares.”
——–
Mathew 7:3-5 comes to mind

“Episteme,
I have been accused of insolence, I would agree that I hold Christian’s epistemology in contempt and feel justified in my disrespect. I think I am morally impelled to do so.
In a similar vein, Hitler felt morally impelled to kill Jews, so you might want to keep the whole “moral highground” thing in check.”
———-
I am not sure why you are bringing up this Catholic Christian, i.e. Hitler into the conversation, comedic value maybe?

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cl March 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Rob,

Science works, bitch.

LOL! Oh, your atheism is so rational! I bow in utter awe of your superior logic and reasoning abilities! Aside from the male chauvinist underpinnings, your use of the pejorative term “bitch” is far and away one of the most impressive displays of cogency I’ve seen on this blog to date! How appropriate for the thread of a post with the word “arrogance” in it’s title! BWAHAHAHAHA!!

Get real.

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cl March 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Episteme,

Really? You’re not sure why I brought up Hitler? Why, it’s quite easy: your justification for your insolence is the same as his was for exterminating those he felt inferior. So, like I said, you might want to keep that whole “I’ve got the moral highground” thing in check.

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cl March 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Episteme,

Let’s be honest here: do you, or do you not, see any discrepancy between Alonzo’s criterion for “morally responsible speech” as outlined in this post, and the citations I’ve provided?

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Martin March 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm

episteme,

SB, Martin, and Rufus, I am very interested to hear what you propose as an alternative to the scientific method for acquiring knowledge about our existence.

Answer my question and you’ll have your answer. That the external world is real is one of the few things I’m most certain of, and yet cannot be known by scientific means. How is it done, then?

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Niveker14 March 25, 2011 at 12:26 am

cl

Ok, so I looked up some of those sources you listed. I also noticed you in the comments of those posts, so I’ll cede that you’ve been in this discussion longer than I have, but I don’t think I would label them all as “incontrovertible hypocrisy”. I don’t want to presume too much from your comments, but you seem to have a pretty big chip on your shoulder over Fyfe and his theory. I’m also not sure what you’re trying to prove, that Fyfe is just as dogmatic or possessing of completely unwarranted absolute certainty that he claims to be railing against? I don’t think that could be established by the sources you provided, and honestly even if he was being hypocritycal, would that make him wrong necessarily? Or couldn’t he still be right about this and just be another fallible human being?

And as for the afterlife thing, I have done a bit of research here and there, so you shouldn’t just assume that I haven’t, and in my searching I’ve found no reason to believe, and even some reason to potentially disbelieve, such as with modern neurobiology like I said. Its thought of the mind/body split as an illusion. However, unless you’re just being contrarian for the sake of it, you clearly have a different opinion, so please assist me with my continuing research and point me in the right direction.

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MarkD March 25, 2011 at 1:09 am

The “science works, bitches” mentality has traction in explaining a mathematical (whether that is precisely “scientific” is open for discussion) basis for induction as follows: goal directed behavior in reproducing organisms is enhanced by minimizing behavioral error. Effective procedures for induction and abduction minimize behavioral error. Science improves the effectiveness of induction/abduction because it all works, but it is all fraught with uncertainty and underdetermination, so maybe it is better to say: science works most likely, biatches, with the latter change for uncertain reasons.

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cl March 25, 2011 at 1:43 am

Niveker14,

I don’t think I would label them all as “incontrovertible hypocrisy”.

Lest we risk talking past one another: I define incontrovertible as, “not open to question or dispute,” and I define hypocrisy as, “doing that which one claims ought not be done, and/or criticizes others for doing.”

Lest you mistakenly think I fancy myself immune from the plague: I’ve often criticized others for accusing their interlocutor of “intellectual dishonesty.” The reason I make this criticism is because, especially on blogs, the charge can only be assumed, and is practically impossible to prove. Yet, the other day, I was going through some old posts of mine, and, lo and behold, I accused somebody of intellectual dishonesty. That is an instance of my own hypocrisy. I admit it, and I endeavor to do better in the future. In fact, I’m pretty confident it’s been a few years since I made that accusation against anybody. So…

I’m also not sure what you’re trying to prove…

To put it a little less abrasively: I am suggesting that Fyfe is guilty of “morally irresponsible speech” by his own definition:

P1) Any morally responsible speaker says, “The evidence so far suggests to me that ‘P’, but, of course, I could be wrong.”

P2) Alonzo Fyfe says, “there is no God. God doesn’t exist.”

P3) Alonzo Fyfe says, “Unless there is some sort of medical condition at work, the parent of an obese child is an abusive parent by that fact alone.”

P4) Alonzo Fyfe says, “Television sitcoms and reality shows fall into the same category. They are a worthless waste of time…”

P5) Alonzo Fyfe says, “Any theory that claims that it DOES have something truthful to say to an agent at the moment of decision can be thrown out because what it has to say is false.”

P6) Neither P2, P3, P4, or P5 include the qualification about evidence, or even a hint of concession that Alonzo Fyfe might be wrong.

C) Alonzo Fyfe is guilty of morally irresponsible speech, according to his own definition.

This is a sound deductive argument. The premises are true, therefore the conclusion must be true, and before anyone judges me, I don’t think it’s immoral to claim certainty in any situation. If that were true, then anyone who affirms the truth of a sound deductive argument becomes immoral.

Or couldn’t he still be right about this and just be another fallible human being?

Certainly. We are all fallible human beings. We are all guilty of hypocrisy many times over. This applies to me, this applies to you, and this applies to every one of us. I’m not suggesting that he’s lying. If–like any other human being–Fyfe has simply done what he claims ought not be done, then he needs to admit it. As he likes to put it, wouldn’t a person with good desires admit it when inconsistencies have been brought to their attention? That’s all I’m asking. If Fyfe really believes in the criterion he fed us today, he needs to say something like, “You know what cl, as much as I don’t like you, I have to admit you’ve got a point here,” then he needs to make the necessary emendations to the aforementioned claims.

Am I really being that unreasonable here?

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cl March 25, 2011 at 1:47 am

Niveker14,

…as for the afterlife thing, I have done a bit of research here and there, so you shouldn’t just assume that I haven’t…

My apologies. I assumed you hadn’t on behalf of your claim that “there’s no evidence to suggest otherwise.” I see 2 possible scenarios:

1) you’ve literally not found any evidence for survival in your research;

2) you’ve not been persuaded by the evidence for survival you’ve found.

If 1) is correct, my charge of ignorance stands [of the passive variety as opposed to the willful variety, which is of course what I meant all along]. If 2) is correct, then you simply misspoke.

…you clearly have a different opinion, so please assist me with my continuing research and point me in the right direction.

No problem. Track me down at my place. The Consciousness Primer is probably the most logical place to start. Thus far, I’ve said about 10% of what I want to say on consciousness, and I’ve got a few posts percolating as we speak.

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mopey March 25, 2011 at 3:42 am

cl wrote:
If that were true, then anyone who affirms the truth of a sound deductive argument becomes immoral.

Mostly they would be a making a category mistake. Generally and traditionally construed, declarative propositions may bear a truth value, but not so for arguments. You won’t find any logic books describing arguments as true or false.

I certainly hope that anyone making truth claims about the conclusion of a valid deductive argument (with contingent premises) would admit that any determination of the argument’s soundness would be subject to revision, should one of the premises be demonstrated to be false.

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 5:05 am

Every living creature depends on induction for its moment to moment survival. For any person to be dismissive of induction is foolish, as just the slightest self-reflection will show that she relies on it for every action she takes. In addition, for Rufus or whomever to be disdainful of induction while using the the very technology that induction provides is self defeating, as his actions betray his own commitment to induction.

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Louis March 25, 2011 at 5:58 am

Every living creature depends on induction for its moment to moment survival. For any person to be dismissive of induction is foolish, as just the slightest self-reflection will show that she relies on it for every action she takes. In addition, for Rufus or whomever to be disdainful of induction while using the the very technology that induction provides is self defeating, as his actions betray his own commitment to induction.

Pure Pwnage!

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E.G March 25, 2011 at 7:19 am
Rufus March 25, 2011 at 7:30 am

Rob,

Every living creature depends on induction for its moment to moment survival. For any person to be dismissive of induction is foolish, as just the slightest self-reflection will show that she relies on it for every action she takes. In addition, for Rufus or whomever to be disdainful of induction while using the the very technology that induction provides is self defeating, as his actions betray his own commitment to induction.

I don’t think I disdain induction. I honestly don’t know how to justify its use, though I admit that I use it. My use of inductive reasoning or its fruits is not self defeating, but deeply problematic and troubling for me. What I am suggesting, and it is by no means a novel point, is that there is a fundamental problem at the heart of induction.

Copi and Cohen’s Introduction to Logic explains the problem this way:
“Logicians have long sought to establish the reliability of inductive procedures by establishing the truth of what is called the ‘principle of induction.’ This is the principle that the laws of nature will operate tomorrow as they operate today, that in basic ways nature is essentially uniform, and that therefore we may rely on past experience to guide our conduct in the future. “That the future will be essentially like the past” is the claim at issue, but this claim, never doubted in ordinary life, turns out to be very difficult to prove. Some thinkers have claimed that they could prove it by showing that, when we have in the past relied on the inductive principle, we have always fount that this method has helped us to achieve our objectives.” [This is the objection "Science works"] Copi and Cohen go on to say, “As David Hume pointed out, however, this common argument is “a petitio” — it begs the question. The point at issue is whether nature will continue to behave regularly. That is has done so in the past cannot serve as a proof that it will do so in the future, unless one assumes the very principle that is here in question: that the future will behave like the past” (Copi and Cohen, 2009 Introduction to Logic, 13th ed. 154-155).

A more contemporary take on Hume’s concerns is expressed by Nelson Goodman’s “Grue Paradox” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grue_and_bleen).

There are potential responses made by contemporary philosophers. Most of these responses boil down to attempts to deductively describe the rules of inductive inferences a la Bayes or some other statistical calculus. It is controversial whether such attempts even touch upon the problem Hume first highlighted in “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.” I think such attempts miss the point because I think it is an attempt to define the problem away through stipulation. Also, I don’t think an adequate description of induction helps with what I see as a metaphysical paradox having to do with causation, time, and many other perplexing categories beyond our reasoning. Perhaps I am wrong. There are people much more intelligent than I am on both sides of this issue, so appeal to authority really won’t help.

I am admitting that this is a difficult problem. I am not sure how it can be resolved. Nonetheless, I side with Copi and Cohen that “induction works” begs the question and reject the label that I have been pwned or that I am a bitch. For the sake of my fragile self-esteem, though, could we keep the conversation on the arguments?

Best,

Rufus

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Martin March 25, 2011 at 7:37 am

Rufus,

I am admitting that this is a difficult problem. I am not sure how it can be resolved.

Ed Feser says that Aristotle’s final causes solve this problem. Everything is directed toward a goal, purpose, or end beyond itself. The moon is “directed” toward orbiting the Earth and not Mars. Volcanoes are “directed” at venting magma. Rivers are “directed” at draining highlands. Kidneys are “directed” at filtering poisons.

He says that the induction problem only reared its ugly head when we squeezed out the notion of final causes.

I have no idea if that’s right or not, but at least it’s interesting to ponder over.

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 8:47 am

Rufus,

Yes, we all have the problem of induction. Thanks for acknowledging that it is your problem too.

My “Science works, bitch” comment was not an attempt to solve the problem.

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Luke Muehlhauser March 25, 2011 at 9:08 am

‘Invisible barriers to healing’, LOL.

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Rufus March 25, 2011 at 9:32 am

Martin,

Ed Feser says that Aristotle’s final causes solve this problem. Everything is directed toward a goal, purpose, or end beyond itself. The moon is “directed” toward orbiting the Earth and not Mars. Volcanoes are “directed” at venting magma. Rivers are “directed” at draining highlands. Kidneys are “directed” at filtering poisons.

He says that the induction problem only reared its ugly head when we squeezed out the notion of final causes.

I have no idea if that’s right or not, but at least it’s interesting to ponder over.

I’m not familiar with Ed Feser. Any recommended readings?

I suspect final causality would resolve problems in induction (I have Leibniz in mind), but I think it would introduce another whole metaphysical can of worms. Perhaps those worms can be sorted out and found to have better justification. As I recall, Leibniz discusses induction as one way in which we understand the pre-established harmony between those windowless Monads. Inductive inferences, as they appear to us, are then grounded upon the principle of sufficient reason and other fundamental laws of thought.

Generally, the rationalists had no issue with induction because 1) they justified the regularity of nature upon the existence of God and God’s attributes, and 2) God’s existence was deduced either conceptually in an a priori manner or from other “indubitable” axioms (not inductively like most scholastics). Thus, even rationalists like Spinoza, who rejected final causality, viewed induction as unproblematic because of PSR and God’s existence. This would be another solution to induction, but it has baggage that I suspect most “common sense atheists” would reject. I suspect most “common sense atheists” would reject final causality as well.

Indeed, it took a Hume to raise this kind of issue.

Thanks for the suggestion,

Rufus

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Martin March 25, 2011 at 9:44 am

Rufus,

Feser is a philosophy professor who is an excellent writer of philosophy for laymen. He’s a big time Catholic defender of Aquinas and Aristotle, and so has written quite a bit about them.

His thesis is that formal and final causes were squeezed out by the mechanized view of the world, leaving only material and efficient causes, and that this step has caused nothing but problems. Induction, mind/body, all of it can be traced to the removal of formal and final causes from metaphysics.

His Aristotle/Aquinas books include Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide and The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism.

I’m not sure if final causes exist or not, but I sure would like to hear some argumentation as to why they don’t.

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E.G March 25, 2011 at 9:48 am

Hahahaha … Luke, since you like philosophers … i guess Derek Prince might interest you too. smile

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epistememe March 25, 2011 at 9:55 am

Explorers from earth find their way to another planet inhabited by intelligent living beings. But, unfortunately for them, these intelligent beings have somehow settled on a *reversed* induction principle: when they see some regularity in past events, they expect it to be reversed in the future. And so, of course, their existence is pretty miserable.

“Why ever do you keep doing this?” ask the human astronauts, and back comes the answer: “Well, it’s never worked for us before.”

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 10:14 am

Final causality is a science stopper. Why does a rock fall to earth when dropped? Because it tends to seek it’s natural place. Why does the Moon orbit the Earth? Because that is it’s natural tendency. And so on.

It was only when this childish pseudo-explanation was rejected could science unify our understanding of the world. The rock and the moon behave as they do because of gravity, as Newton figured out. When it comes to how the world actually works, Aristotle got everything wrong because he was committed to his magical belief in final causes.

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 10:19 am

Rufus,

Ed Feser says that Aristotle’s final causes solve this problem. Everything is directed toward a goal, purpose, or end beyond itself. The moon is “directed” toward orbiting the Earth and not Mars.

What an idiot Feser is. The Moon is not directed toward orbiting the Earth. It is in the Earth’s gravity well. If it was in Mars’ gravity well, it would orbit Mars.

But not according to Feser. If we pushed the Moon over to Mars, then the Moon would zip back on over to the Earth, because orbiting the earth is its “final cause”.

Please please Luke interview Feser.

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Martin March 25, 2011 at 10:37 am

Well, I think if you moved the moon to Mars then its final cause would be to orbit Mars. I think the point is not that things are pre-programmed, but that things are directed towards something beyond themselves. That if there were no final causes, then you could never predict what was going to happen next. The glass you drop might suddenly become a rubber ball and bounce instead of breaking. But it doesn’t. It is directed toward fragility, and so it breaks and it always breaks and it will never do anything else. It seems stupidly simple, but the idea I believe is that inherent regularity is built into the foundations of nature.

This is related to the induction problem.

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 10:43 am

but the idea I believe is that inherent regularity is built into the foundations of nature

I don’t disagree with that.

But if you study the history of science, the notion of final cause was a huge dogmatic barrier that stood for two thousand years. Once it was jettisoned, science blossomed.

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Zeb March 25, 2011 at 10:53 am

Every living creature depends on induction for its moment to moment survival. For any person to be dismissive of induction is foolish, as just the slightest self-reflection will show that she relies on it for every action she takes. In addition, for Rufus or whomever to be disdainful of induction while using the the very technology that induction provides is self defeating, as his actions betray his own commitment to induction.

This same basic defense can be given for free-will, reality/continuity of personal identity, A-theory of time, morality, and more ideas that scientismists want to reject. At least it could if in the first sentence you replaced “living” with “intelligent” and “moment to moment survival” with “day to day functioning.” But that means adopting a pragmatic theory of truth, which scieintismists don’t seem to want to do generally. Although, the fact that they say “science works” instead of “science is true” suggests to me that they’re speaking out of both sides of their mouths on that issue.

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 10:59 am

Zeb,

To say “science is true” would be idiotic. Science is various methods that seem to be kick-ass at explaining the world and making predictions. No other method comes close.

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Zeb March 25, 2011 at 11:16 am

Zeb,

To say “science is true” would be idiotic. Science is various methods that seem to be kick-ass at explaining the world and making predictions. No other method comes close.

Are any of those statements true, or do they also just kick ass at explaining the world and making predictions?

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 11:21 am

I think it is probably true that scientific methods are good at making predictions. I could give a boat load of examples.

Do you think it is false (or probably false) that scientific methods are good at making predictions?

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cl March 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm

mopey,

From IEP: “A deductive argument is an argument in which it is thought that the premises provide a guarantee of the truth of the conclusion. In a deductive argument, the premises are intended to provide support for the conclusion that is so strong that, if the premises are true, it would be impossible for the conclusion to be false.”

I certainly hope that anyone making truth claims about the conclusion of a valid deductive argument (with contingent premises) would admit that any determination of the argument’s soundness would be subject to revision, should one of the premises be demonstrated to be false.

I most certainly admit this. So, which of my premises are false? If none can be shown false, do you accept the conclusion?

Rob,

In addition, for Rufus or whomever to be disdainful of induction while using the the very technology that induction provides is self defeating, as his actions betray his own commitment to induction.

Rufus isn’t disdainful of induction, which means you’ve attacked straw, which means Louis is quite incorrect about this whole “pwnage” thing.

It was only when this childish pseudo-explanation was rejected could science unify our understanding of the world.

Get real. You’re calling Aristotle’s explanation “childish,” yet you’re out here responding to intelligent commentary by calling people “bitches” and “idiots.”

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Rufus March 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Epistememe,

Explorers from earth find their way to another planet inhabited by intelligent living beings. But, unfortunately for them, these intelligent beings have somehow settled on a *reversed* induction principle: when they see some regularity in past events, they expect it to be reversed in the future. And so, of course, their existence is pretty miserable.

“Why ever do you keep doing this?” ask the human astronauts, and back comes the answer: “Well, it’s never worked for us before.”

I wanted some context for this humorous thought experiment and found this interesting webpage by Dr. Rosen at Princeton (http://www.princeton.edu/~grosen/puc/phi203/induction.html). I think the last part might help connect my issue with induction to Fyfe’s original post. Rosen writes:

“If we accept the analysis of inductive reasoning sketched above, [referencing Hume's solution to something akin to the alien thought experiment] it may seem that Hume as done something remarkable and disturbing. He has shown that from a strictly intellectual point of view, there is no real difference between common sense and science on the one hand, and religious belief on the other. In all three cases we find a system of belief based on a fundamental conviction that cannot be justified by argument. The most dramatic way to put the point is to say that Hume has shown that common sense and science are matters of faith. Hume would resist this attempt to rehabilitate religion by “softening up” our picture of common sense and science. The faith that Hume defends is a faith that we cannot possibly avoid or resist, a faith that renders skeptical doubt utterly idle. The religious case is very different, at least on the face of it. What we shall have to ask, as we proceed, is whether this difference really makes a difference. ”

Is the difference between common sense/science and religion merely one of compulsion? Does this compulsion morally “entitle” us to faith in science or is it that we cannot do otherwise? If so, then it sounds like faith in scientific reasoning, as expressed by Rosen, is merely an unavoidable faith commitment whereas Catholicism is entirely avoidable. Pointing this out might give us pause to consider this: if religious faith leads one to commit the sin of arrogance, then a fortiori the necessary faith of science leads also to arrogance. For, if Hume is correct, we must all commit ourselves to it, and cannot question it lest we fall into idle skepticism. One might point out that science is less arrogant in that it is self-correcting. That is not the point. Rather, it leads to the arrogance that science leads to all answers and to the questions worth asking. All other answers, all other questions not based on necessary faith commitments should be abandoned. But if the “unavoidablity” of certain faith commitments is simply do to our nature, then the answers we are entitled to seek after is merely contingent upon our nature. If there is no moral or logical necessity in our nature, then I am not sure in what sense we are “entitled.”

-Rufus

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cl March 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Rob,

I think it is probably true that scientific methods are good at making predictions. I could give a boat load of examples.

Of course, the irony is at least twofold: since you give no argument or evidence whatsoever, you appear to be belie your own faith in science by relying on your intuition that whatever “good examples” you allude to are representative of the whole, and you wantonly ignore the fact that I could give a “boat load” of examples of science being bad at making predictions. In fact, I challenge you: for every good example you can provide, I’ll supply a bad one. Let’s see who runs out of gas first. Accept?

Rufus,

[Hume] has shown that from a strictly intellectual point of view, there is no real difference between common sense and science on the one hand, and religious belief on the other. In all three cases we find a system of belief based on a fundamental conviction that cannot be justified by argument. [Rosen]

BINGO! Kudos to you, Rufus, kudos to you. Although, I fear these salient points will fall on deaf ears in this First Congregation of the Scarlet A. If there’s one point on which I agree with most atheists, it’s that fundamentalists never realize they’re trapped in a box until they get out of it.

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cl March 25, 2011 at 2:17 pm

This might be the point where the oft-touted but always misplaced retort “what do you propose as an alternative?” rears it’s ugly head, and of course, that’s not the point. The point is that when it gets down to it, we all walk by faith in something, which means that we should all treat each other with respect instead of resorting to bigotry and denigration. Atheists don’t have the intellectual or moral highground, nor do they have a monopoly on reason.

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epistememe March 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm

We all knew where this was leading and cl didn’t disappoint.

Equating the acceptance of induction as a valid means to acquiring knowledge with his belief in the great sky-daddy. priceless

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Martin March 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm

If there’s one point on which I agree with most atheists, it’s that fundamentalists never realize they’re trapped in a box until they get out of it.

Noooooooo shit. It’s amazing looking back on my Dawkinsatheist days now, with the same new clarity that happened when I first left religion (not that I am going back any time soon).

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epistememe March 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Do I understand you correctly, you were a fundamentalist “Dawkinsatheist”?
Could you explain the fundamentals of “Dawkinsatheism” that trapped you into a box?

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Did cl say something stupid? I long ago quit reading anything he writes. But, by induction, I could reliably predict that he would write something stupid.

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Martin March 25, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Epistememe,

Mostly ignorance of philosophy. Unawareness that I was a positivist. Unawareness of the problems with positivism. Unawareness that atheist distortions of theistic arguments is only matched by creationist distortions of biology. Incorrect view that science is the only way to gain knowledge. Unawareness that naturalism needs to be argued for and not just asserted.

Etc.

The question is, how many more dream levels deep am I?

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epistememe March 25, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Here is a short version of cl as a mathematical analogy.

Because of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem and its implications….. my faith that 2+2=5 is comparable and justified.

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cl March 25, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Martin,

The question is, how many more dream levels deep am I?

Bravo. Don’t you find it ironic that out of all these people who are supposed to be rational and open to correction, you and I are the only ones who have admitted to our own errors, biases and inconsistencies in a thread ostensibly about the arrogance of certainty?

epistememe,

For somebody who’s supposed to be a rationalist, you sure seem to prefer insult to cogency. What gives? Can’t make a valid point? Insult the only tool in your shed? Ah, nevermind… I’m dealing with somebody who fancies themselves “morally impelled” to insult those who believe differently. History affirms the inability of logic to win that war. So, persist in the unshakeable faith of your own intellectual superiority, but at least toss me some bread crumbs before consigning me to the gas chambers, lest I die hungry.

Rob,

I pointed out the irony of you using intuition to support arguments about science. I challenged you to support your claim. I exposed the irony of referring to Aristotle et. al as the purveyors of a “childish argument” while you’re out here calling people “bitches” and “idiots.”

Did cl say something stupid?

That’s for each reader to decide, but we already know where your bias will lead you.

But, by induction, I could reliably predict that he would write something stupid.

Genetic fallacy. Perhaps induction ain’t so reliable after all, at least, not in your hands.

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Ryan M March 25, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I think my fellow non theists might find it reasonable to think that we believe in some things without proof. I.e. The law of non contradiction.

We generally rely on the law of non contradiction but cannot prove it deductively or through science, so I think we just take it as a basic rule that requires no justification. I might be wrong about something here, but I think this shows that there is at least one case of where essentially all of us might rely on faith.

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Zeb March 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm

No, I agree that scientific methods are good at generating true predictions. I’ve come to accept that while intellectually I can claim skepticism about induction, deduction, math, free will, A-theory of time, reality/continuity of identity, functionally I can’t do without them. So I believe in them on pragmatic grounds, and I count their indispensability and practical undeniability as evidence for their reality.

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm

No, I agree that scientific methods are good at generating true predictions

Good, then we have common ground from which to begin a conversation.

But why does no one ever come at me with “Theology works, bitch”? Because theology is a joke. It has no method. It’s one big fail after another. It is like astrology.

So when creduloid clowns like to claim that science and religion are on equally solid (or equally fragile) epistemic foundations, I don’t know how to respond except with a belly laugh.

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Martin March 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Rob,

But why does no one ever come at me with “Theology works, bitch”?

Because you’re making a category error. What competes with theology is not science but metaphysical naturalism. In that sense, the two are far more evenly paired. Can theology explain the origins of the universe? Some say yes some say no. But likewise, can naturalism? Doesn’t seem any better off trying to posit that the universe is a brute fact or is necessary.

And the two both go on from there: qualia, intentionality, normativity, origins are all problems with naturalism that theism (maybe successful, maybe not) purports to answer.

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epistememe March 25, 2011 at 4:47 pm

How would we know if theism answered any of these successfully or not?

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Because you’re making a category error. What competes with theology is not science but metaphysical naturalism.

I’m pretty skeptical of most metaphysical claims. I realize that metaphysics always buries its pall bearers, so you won’t find me discounting metaphysics entirely.

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Martin March 25, 2011 at 4:56 pm

How would we know if theism answered any of these successfully or not?

I have no idea. Maybe it can’t. I’m certainly not saying theism is successful or even capable of being successful. All I’m saying is that naturalism (metaphysical, not methodological) has a bunch of problems as well, and some of those problems might be just about as damning as the ones for theism.

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cl March 25, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Rob,

But why does no one ever come at me with “Theology works, bitch”? Because theology is a joke. It has no method. It’s one big fail after another. It is like astrology.

Well, the first reason I don’t come at you with “Theology works, bitch” is because calling people “bitches” in order to prove one’s point is the sign of a juvenile interlocutor. The second reason I don’t come at you with “Theology works, bitch” is because theology is not intended to discern “natural” laws. As Martin explained, you’ve made a basic category error in your efforts to promulgate the superiority of your own particular faith.

It is like astrology.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! Oh, even more irony! Unbeknownst to yourself, you actually believe in a modern–albeit modified–form of astrology. Astrology is the belief that the prior position of stars determines the causes of destiny, personality, human affairs, and natural events. You believe that the prior position of atoms determines the causes of destiny, personality, human affairs, and natural events. While I’ll grant that you probably don’t write horoscopes, a minor semantic difference is all that separates your belief system from the one you just denigrated as “a big joke.” Too bad your bias is so strong that you don’t read or think about anything I say, because you really ought to let this sink in a little. It might just promote a sorely needed sense of humility amongst you and the rest of your atheist brethren.

So when creduloid clowns like to claim that science and religion are on equally solid (or equally fragile) epistemic foundations, I don’t know how to respond except with a belly laugh.

Yeah, tell me about it. When overconfident, arrogant atheists mock that which doesn’t appear to line up with their own particular faith, all while failing to realize that the same weaknesses befall their own ideologies, I can’t help but to belly laugh five times louder. Actually, I can’t bring myself to laugh about it anymore. It’s actually disheartening to think that so many ostensibly educated and intelligent people take cues from the likes Dawkins, Loftus, et al.

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cl March 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Martin,

Wow. Are we on the same wavelength here or what?

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Tige Gibson March 25, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Perhaps cl and Martin can start the first church of Solipsism.

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cl March 25, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Tige Gibson,

Did you have an actual argument? Or, are you just insulating yourself like the rest of the Congregation?

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Ryan M March 25, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Cl,

Do you expect all comments to be argumentative? Perhaps Tige Gibson is just making a comment in jest.

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seth March 25, 2011 at 8:33 pm

cl is just tired. It requires a lot of effort to keep proped-up the faulty and rickety structure of his mental house of cards. The cognitive dissonance must be exhausting. So like the proverbial caged monkey, tired of the spectators pointing fingers, occasionally prodding, and sometimes laughing at him, he has no other recourse and throws his poo at them. He is in his own little world, caged by the mental shackles of an oppressive and false religion. He has to convince himself that his shackles are for his own good, why else would he come to an Atheist blog and suffer the constant humiliation. He hasn’t come here to learn or to truly question his assumptions, but to simply try to convince himself that the beliefs inculcated from childhood are the one and true beliefs to hold. He would be devote Hindu if raised in India, or a Muslim if raised in Iraq.
I do feel bad for him somewhat, but in reality I shouldn’t. At some point it is everyones responsibility to question and analyze their core beliefs for soundness and consistency. He has failed that task.

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martin March 25, 2011 at 8:38 pm

It requires a lot of effort to keep proped-up…

Ah, condescension. The cornerstone of any sharp thinker.

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Rob March 25, 2011 at 8:43 pm

And now is when I drop a Mencken quotation.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and start slitting throats.”

(Metaphorically I mean.)

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epistememe March 25, 2011 at 9:12 pm

The guardians of tone are really the guardians of popular prejudice.

http://www.daylightatheism.org/2011/01/the-guardians-of-tone.html

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Tige Gibson March 26, 2011 at 1:09 am

I was only thinking that having this kind of discussion in the comments of your blog is such a disappointment. Shady thinkers who pat themselves and each other on the back drive away people who would be interested in more interesting contributions.

Some of us might faintly hope that these people actually learn something, but when even a pointed statement (I mean how can I be the first one to point out solipsism) doesn’t wake them up to their own error, there is little hope of this conversation becoming elevated.

Solipsism is a concept that is not merely absurd because of its own definition, but because it justifies inserting absolutely anything in place of reality, since you have purposely sabotaged your ability to know anything with any certainty. Your belief is so firmly in an Almighty God that you do not see how soft the foundation underneath that belief is.

It is almost as if you have forgotten that you are actually defending a position that asserts the existence of God and certain knowledge of that assertion, and merely using the argument at hand, denial of certainty (skepticism), selectively (hypocritically) to discredit your opponents position as if it had no effect on your own. For what other reason would you be here?

Hypocrisy and projection are essentially the same concept. You assert that your opponents are guilty of the very error you are actively committing, having faith, unjustified certainty, in a fantastical claim. It is not properly called skepticism when a person with fantastical beliefs rejects the genuine skepticism of others regarding his fantastical claims. You are not a skeptic.

The problem of induction really doesn’t come into play in theistic argumentation. For all intents and purposes we may assume that the current state of the universe is temporary and we may not know how or when the “laws” we are accustomed to will break down in the future, but so long as they are persistent it will be useful to us to use these methods. Meanwhile the concept of God is still useless except to the priest class.

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Rufus March 26, 2011 at 4:01 am

Tige Gibson,

The problem of induction really doesn’t come into play in theistic argumentation. For all intents and purposes we may assume that the current state of the universe is temporary and we may not know how or when the “laws” we are accustomed to will break down in the future, but so long as they are persistent it will be useful to us to use these methods. Meanwhile the concept of God is still useless except to the priest class.

Prior to this comment thread descending into about two dozens pointless posts (at which point I bowed out) I had asked a question related to your last paragraph. Let me try to rephrase my questions so as to directly engage with your point.

First off, I readily grant that science is self-correcting and that anyone with a decent understanding of induction understands that it does not provide 100% certainty. It is in that sense that Fyfe is correct to say that science avoids one kind of arrogance. In fact, I am willing to grant that many other belief systems lend themselves to arrogance insofar as the suppositions based upon those belief systems are more inscrutable and more difficult to revise.

However, I am trying to draw out a different variety of arrogance perhaps best captured by the logical positivists of the last century, i.e. that only analytic and empirical propositions are meaningful and so only scientific/logico-mathematical questions are worth investigating.

The problem of induction is relevant to theistic argumentation in the following manner. 1) If it is insoluble, then the affirmation of anything built upon the foundation of inductive principles would not merely be “plausible” knowledge (whatever that might mean) but a belief. That is, the methods of science as effective methods for investigating reality and the conclusions drawn from science would all rest on principles which cannot be known to be true by argumentation. THIS ALONE IS NOT PROBLEMATIC. This would not necessarily prove that scientific beliefs are as dubitable or on the same level as other belief systems (say Hinduism, Catholicism, Humanism, Communism, etc.). 2) If we are justified in our use of induction in a way that is not present in other belief systems, this justification cannot come from pragmatic pleading (that is, “science works” begs the question). Hume recognized this and so argued that we are “entitled” to believe in induction, even though no argument can ground it, simply because we cannot do otherwise. That is, our nature compels us to belief in induction, but does not compel us to other belief systems like Hinduism, Catholicism, etc. So this was all set up for my questions (sorry it took this long to get to it).

a) Can you provide a definitive solution to the problem of induction? If not, b) can you provide non-question-begging justification for your belief in induction aside from Hume’s answer? If not, c) can you provide a non-question-begging reason to suppose that whatever human nature compels us to be believed also “entitles” us to believe it?

If YOU cannot answer any of these questions satisfactorily, then I think we must conclude that YOU have no justification to suppose that induction is not on par with — what was it — “belief in the great sky daddy” [epistememe]. That is, YOU cannot justify why inductive beliefs are not on par with non-inductively based beliefs.

You assert that your opponents are guilty of the very error you are actively committing, having faith, unjustified certainty, in a fantastical claim.

Here is your chance to prove that the guilt lies on one side of the aisle. Have at it. I look forward to your response and recommend that, if it works, you submit it to the leading journals in the philosophy of science and logic so as to inform the academic community that you have found one of their missing holy grails.

Respectfully,

Rufus

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Rob March 26, 2011 at 7:21 am

Rufus,

Thanks, good points.

I cannot “solve” the problem of induction. My “Science works, bitch” comment was not an attempt to justify induction. Rather, I was quoting a cartoon, the point of which is to hammer home the fact that the epistemic standards of science have been extremely fruitful. Far more fruitful than epistemologies that rely on navel gazing metaphysics or revelations from holy books.

But let me add an addendum to Hume’s explanation of why we are permitted to use induction. We evolved. Our brains and behavior were stamped into us by a universe with law-like properties. That is why I said all living creatures rely on induction. Ever raise a puppy? They learn so quickly, because they expect the future to be like the past. Any species that did not behave as if the future will resemble the past would quickly go extinct.

To borrow a phrase for presuppositional apologetics, we rely on induction because of the impossibility of the contrary.

(For cl and any other nitwits: The above was not an attempt to “solve” the problem of induction. I know we used induction to learn that we evolved.)

Does theism have a non-question begging solution to the problem of induction? Good luck with that.

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Rob March 26, 2011 at 7:36 am

c) can you provide a non-question-begging reason to suppose that whatever human nature compels us to be believed also “entitles” us to believe it?

I’ll take a stab at that, but it might be question begging.

If a person does not use induction, she will literally die.

It does seem some folks believe in a raft of supernatural crap (angels, demons. souls, various gods) because they cannot help it. They just find themselves with these beliefs, and they cannot shake them. These beliefs to them help them make sense of the world. Perhaps they even evolved to have these beliefs.

So are they entitled to these beliefs? I’m not sure. But would they die if they did not have them? No.

So that is at least one factor that distinguishes belief in induction form belief in other things that cannot be rationally justified.

(For cl and other nitwits: I know I used induction to discover that I will die unless I use induction. I cannot “solve” the problem of induction. Also, I am not arguing that we are only entitled to beliefs that we would die if we did not hold.)

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Rufus March 26, 2011 at 7:49 am

Rob,

But let me add an addendum to Hume’s explanation of why we are permitted to use induction. We evolved. Our brains and behavior were stamped into us by a universe with law-like properties. That is why I said all living creatures rely on induction. Ever raise a puppy? They learn so quickly, because they expect the future to be like the past. Any species that did not behave as if the future will resemble the past would quickly go extinct.

Thank you for the response. I think you are hitting on some very true points as well.

1. Science works. I agree and if I were a better student of math, I would have loved to have pursued a career in it myself. We both agree that this is not a solution to the problem, so it is not contradictory for me to share with you the praise of science and its fruits. I enjoy reading science books at the lay level and marvel at quantum mechanics, general relativity, evolutionary processes etc.

2. I expected “evolutionary processes” to be a possible response to part c of my question set. You probably know what I am going to say next as well. Since our beliefs about evolution are grounded in the empirical sciences, any possible appeal to the survival value of inductive reasoning begs the question. In other words, appealing to evolution presupposes the kind of reasoning we are trying to justify.

3. I had a dog that never listened to anything I said. He was pure trouble.

4. Though I am no expert in presuppositional apologetics, I suspect they have set up a false dichotomy. They point to problems that I point out (with induction), and then claim that the only alternative is to presuppose the Christian world-view. Without proving other world-views false or incoherent, I am not sure how they reach that conclusion by necessity.

5. As I mentioned earlier, the great rationalists of the 17-18th centuries attempted to find non-question begging systems of thought based upon PSR and other fundamental laws and axioms. The empiricists and Kant did a pretty good job demonstrating the short-comings of these systems. As Martin noted, the problem did not occur to earlier thinkers and I think it is because they based their belief in the reliability of induction on their beliefs in final causality, formal causality, and God(s). Where does that leave me? I suppose, I’ll walk with Socrates and say that I only know that I don’t know.

Cheers,

Rufus

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Rufus March 26, 2011 at 7:59 am

Rob,

I’ll take a stab at that, but it might be question begging.

If a person does not use induction, she will literally die.

I am not denying that I share your belief in the survival value of inductive reasoning. However, I would maintain that it is by induction that you have concluded that induction allows people to live in this dangerous would. What I am pushing may seem a trivial paradox, but we cannot allow question begging here and then reject the Cartesian circle as fallacious. At least that’s how it seems to me.

-Rufus

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epistememe March 26, 2011 at 8:29 am

Rufus, et.al.,
This seems to be a grand waist of time and energy on something that we all agree on, i.e. that we have no other option than to use induction. Why continue down this path?
Your continued efforts to beat this dead horse leads one to think that you have a hidden agenda. Move on I say to more productive pastures.

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Rob March 26, 2011 at 8:33 am

Rufus,

In point 2. and in your follow-up comment you pointed out problems with my response which I already acknowledged as problems. That’s really annoying. Don’t do that.

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Rufus March 26, 2011 at 9:25 am

Rob,

In point 2. and in your follow-up comment you pointed out problems with my response which I already acknowledged as problems. That’s really annoying. Don’t do that.

Apologies, I did not intend to come off in that way. I just want to make sure we are on the same page. It seems that we are.

I am not sure of what you think of my overall conclusion that if those questions cannot be answered then one must conclude that one has no justification to suppose that induction is not on par with non-inductively based beliefs.

Epistememe,

Your continued efforts to beat this dead horse leads one to think that you have a hidden agenda. Move on I say to more productive pastures.

My “hidden” agenda that I would like a critique of my questions and the conclusion that I reach if one fails to answer my questions. There were many ad hominems against cl for saying that his faith in God is on par with your faith in science. I am attempting a defense of that very position. So far I have seen concessions that belief in induction is unavoidable and unavoidably question-begging. Many other metaphysical positions not based on induction (like Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, etc.) are equally question begging/problematic. Some religious belief-systems are question-begging or problematic. What allows for the validity of question-begging in the case of scientific induction which does not allow for question-begging in these areas? Is it enough just to say that it is unavoidable whereas other metaphysical systems are avoidable? I really do not understand why the fact that a belief is unavoidable validates its use despite it being question-begging. To establish a rule to permit this would seem ad hoc and would require some sort of argument for me to accept it.

Feel free to respond or not. I agree that this conversation may have hit an impasse. You either see this all as a problem or you do not. I won’t keep this conversation going unless someone invites further response from me or my questions.

Cheers,

Rufus

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Rob March 26, 2011 at 9:33 am

Rufus,

If you do not use induction, you will die. Right? We agree with that. You have to look both ways when you cross a street, otherwise you will very likely die. So, living is literally impossible without using induction.

But, must you believe in God to keep on living? Must you behave as if God exists in order to avoid death? No.

That is the difference.

My and your (allegedly) unjustified belief in and commitment to induction does not open the door to any and all unjustified beliefs.

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epistememe March 26, 2011 at 10:33 am

This is the only substantive argument left for theists and that is why they try to steer any and every topic of discussion to the problem of induction. Even though this argument fails, it is still the best they got. The second motivation is misdirection. Instead of focusing on the obvious and blatant epistemic errors, contradictions, lack of evidence, etc. of theology, we are directed away and down the rabbit hole of the problem of induction.

Apparently in their mind it is now possible to justifiably seriously entertain any and every fantasy and belief……all because of the problem of induction.

I submit that the problem of induction does nothing to enhance the argument for theism. That it is brought up simply as a means of obfuscation and redirection. That intelligent theists know this and that it is a further demonstration of the vacuity of their arguments. I say it demonstrates their true character and motivation.

They don’t believe BECAUSE of these arguments mind you– they just use these arguments to support what they’ve come to believe.

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Martin March 26, 2011 at 10:46 am

This is the only substantive argument left for theists

Uhhhh… I would say they have several substantive arguments. Cosmological and ontological are always being refined and reformulated; most atheist wikis I find don’t even seem to understand them. Arguments from intentionality and qualia also abound.

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epistememe March 26, 2011 at 10:52 am

Uhhhh… I would say they have several substantive arguments. Cosmological and ontological are always being refined and reformulated; most atheist wikis I find don’t even seem to understand them. Arguments from intentionality and qualia also abound.

I would certainly disagree, but feel free to give it your best shot.

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Rob March 26, 2011 at 10:54 am

Uhhhh… I would say they have several substantive arguments. Cosmological and ontological are always being refined and reformulated . . . Arguments from intentionality and qualia also abound.

If you consider bad grammar word play and god-of-the-gaps arguments “substantive”, then yeah.

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Martin March 26, 2011 at 10:56 am

Like I said: “most atheist wikis I find don’t even seem to understand them.”

If you think it’s bad grammar and word play, then you have not understood them. Or you’re getting your information from IronChariots or “Rational”Wiki or something.

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Rufus March 26, 2011 at 11:41 am

Rob,

If you do not use induction, you will die. Right? We agree with that. You have to look both ways when you cross a street, otherwise you will very likely die. So, living is literally impossible without using induction.

But, must you believe in God to keep on living? Must you behave as if God exists in order to avoid death? No.

That is the difference.

My and your (allegedly) unjustified belief in and commitment to induction does not open the door to any and all unjustified beliefs.

Hmm… I thought we were on the same page, but now I’m not so sure. I agree that having one set of unjustified beliefs does not require one to be open to any other set of unjustified beliefs. However, there are people out there with different sets of unjustified beliefs than you. I am merely advocating a little humility when interacting with them, since you share the same problem of unjustified beliefs.

As to whether I agree that one must use induction to live, I’d put it this way. We both share a BELIEF that one would die without induction. This belief is based on past experiences and so is an instance of inductive reasoning ( begging the question).

What about the point that one does not have to believe in God to keep on living? I also share your BELIEF that one could live without belief in God. Of course, this is yet another belief founded upon induction, my past experiences with atheists and agnostics has led to this inference (begging the question).

You could admit that this is a special case in which begging the question is permitted, but I suspect you would find this special pleading to be as ad hoc as I do.

-Rufus

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epistememe March 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm

rufus,
You continue to muddy the water. The problem of induction does not imply that it is an unjustified belief, (to use your terminology). I would argue that it is a justified belief. Is it 100% certain, no. To even suggest that the problem of induction is like in kind or magnitude to the unjustified belief of theism is quite frankly laughable. It is obvious why you are expending every effort to make them appear equal and of similar kind, but that only makes one question your motivations.

As I stated before, you don’t believe BECAUSE of these arguments– you just use these arguments to support what you’ve come to believe.

I know this will probably be a fruitless plea but I will make it none the less. Let’s us move on from the problem of induction and concentrate on your best arguments/evidence for theism. Unless this is the best you have?

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Rufus March 26, 2011 at 1:06 pm

epistememe,

You continue to muddy the water. The problem of induction does not imply that it is an unjustified belief, (to use your terminology). I would argue that it is a justified belief. Is it 100% certain, no. To even suggest that the problem of induction is like in kind or magnitude to the unjustified belief of theism is quite frankly laughable. It is obvious why you are expending every effort to make them appear equal and of similar kind, but that only makes one question your motivations.

I’m a little frustrated at this point. You write, “I would argue that it is a justified belief.” SUBMIT your sound argument justifying inferences made by induction for my review. I’m doing some work on my computer, so I’ll be here all night waiting with eager anticipation. That is what I have been asking for all this time. Instead I have been getting this nonsense from you about what motives theists may or may not have.

Also, while you’re at it, could you clarify whether the problem of induction is a “substantive” argument or an argument that obfuscates and redirects (I don’t think it can be both).

I truly could care less about what you think my hidden agenda is. I could give a care that you find my arguments laughable. So if all you care about are motives, let me guess at yours. I think you fully understand my argument — and its implications. You don’t really have a good way to respond to it, but you know how to take apart arguments for the existence of God. So, you’d rather debate that instead.

I’ll tell you what. I’ll put forth my best arguments for God’s existence only after you successfully defend the truth of alchemical corpuscularianism. Do we have a deal?

-Rufus

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epistememe March 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm

“I’m a little frustrated at this point. You write, “I would argue that it is a justified belief.” SUBMIT your sound argument justifying inferences made by induction for my review.”

It works
No other alternative

that was easy

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epistememe March 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Now can you please share your best arguments/evidence for theism? pretty please

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cl March 26, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Well, so be it: the “rational atheists” here apparently grant Fyfe a free pass to ingore his own standards without apology. The possibility of a respectful, intelligent question notwithstanding, I’ll offer my final remarks on the side discussion, and then all you “rational atheists” can get your last name-calls in:

Ryan M,

Do you expect all comments to be argumentative?

No, not at all.

Perhaps Tige Gibson is just making a comment in jest.

I’m pretty sure that was the case. Since I found it worthless, I was wondering if this person had anything intelligent to actually contribute to this discussion. I mean, you see the thread: heavy on the insults and ad hominem fallacies, light on cogency.

seth,

He hasn’t come here to learn or to truly question his assumptions, but to simply try to convince himself that the beliefs inculcated from childhood are the one and true beliefs to hold. He would be devote Hindu if raised in India, or a Muslim if raised in Iraq. I do feel bad for him somewhat, but in reality I shouldn’t. At some point it is everyones responsibility to question and analyze their core beliefs for soundness and consistency. He has failed that task.

Quite presumptuous for a presumably “rational” atheist, not to mention false.

Tige Gibson,

Shady thinkers who pat themselves and each other on the back drive away people who would be interested in more interesting contributions.

I suppose immature atheists who call people “bitches” and “idiots” are conducive to productive dialog? Strange world you appear to live in.

Solipsism is a concept that is not merely absurd because of its own definition,

I agree.

For what other reason would you be here?

The only reason I commented on this thread was to point out the discrepancy between what Alonzo Fyfe says and what Alonzo Fyfe does, and to see if maybe we couldn’t get an admission that there’s a problem. Apparently, all you “rational skeptics” are more interested in heckling people who think differently than yourselves than holding your fellow comrades to any sort of real standards. Alas, it’s no surprise. Cognitive bias and tribalism are, after all, human errors, and they occur even in those who fancy themselves smarter than the rest. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they occur even more in those who fancy themselves smarter than the rest.

You are not a skeptic.

I agree. I’m a believer.

Rufus,

However, I am trying to draw out a different variety of arrogance perhaps best captured by the logical positivists of the last century, i.e. that only analytic and empirical propositions are meaningful and so only scientific/logico-mathematical questions are worth investigating.

Exactly. It’s a question these folk seem to be avoiding like the plague, in the same exact way many a believer avoids tough questions about their faith.

epistememe,

This seems to be a grand waist of time and energy on something that we all agree on, i.e. that we have no other option than to use induction. Why continue down this path?

I agree. If you look over my comments in this thread, you’ll notice that hardly any of them even address this. I’m more interested in confronting arrogance, which is in line with the subject matter of the OP.

Apparently in their mind it is now possible to justifiably seriously entertain any and every fantasy and belief……all because of the problem of induction.

Not at all. This is merely the tar you wish to stain us with.

Let’s us move on from the problem of induction and concentrate on your best arguments/evidence for theism.

A few arguments have been alluded to. The burden is on *you* to show them false. If you can make a honest, respectful attempt instead of just trash-talking, I’d be interested in continuing. Here’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is.

Martin,

If you think it’s bad grammar and word play, then you have not understood them.

I agree, but it’s no use. Rob would rather call people names than back up his assertion that these arguments fail. After all, who needs logic when you’ve got denial and insult? The latter have a far quicker payoff, and tend to be far more “successful” than hard work.

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Rufus March 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm

cl,

Well, so be it: the “rational atheists” here apparently grant Fyfe a free pass to ingore his own standards without apology.

I agree. I had an earlier post that challenged Fyfe’s thesis, but no one really picked it up, so I followed the argument where it took us. Tried my best to explain how the problem of induction should introduce an element of humility… but that got us nowhere. Apologies, I thought it might have been more helpful than it perhaps was.

Epistememe,

Now can you please share your best arguments/evidence for theism? pretty please

No, I’ve got to focus on other matters right now. Perhaps if another of Luke’s blog posts takes the arguments there, I might find myself defending an argument for God’s existence in a comment thread. This is really the third time I’ve ever done this in an online blog (I’ve been a reader for a few years now, but was always too timid to post). It sucks time away, but I enjoy the back and forth. For what it’s worth, I thank you and the other atheists and theists for an interesting discussion. You’ve given me some food for thought and I can only hope that I have done the same. I’m signing out of this one… I think.

-Rufus

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Martin March 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Now can you please share your best arguments/evidence for theism? pretty please

Try the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Some pretty challenging arguments in there.

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Ryan M March 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Now can you please share your best arguments/evidence for theism? pretty please

To be honest, this would be a long task. I think one can hardly do justice in a blog post to either both the case for atheism or theism. A book would be more appropriate. For theism I would recommend reading Swineburn’s stuff, and for atheism I would recommend works by Draper, Monton, Rowe.

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cl March 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Ah, okay… one more remark on the side discussion:

Rufus,

I had an earlier post that challenged Fyfe’s thesis, but no one really picked it up, so I followed the argument where it took us. Tried my best to explain how the problem of induction should introduce an element of humility… but that got us nowhere. Apologies, I thought it might have been more helpful than it perhaps was.

By all means, no need to apologize. I say thank you. As usual, I learned from your comments [and Martin's]. You’re out here linking to pertinent articles, raising valid questions, and being respectful. How could I not learn? To contrast, those who fancy themselves our intellectual superiors are out here calling names and waging polemic like it’s the war in Libya, while accusing others of flaws in reasoning. Could it get more ironic?

I suspect the thread will quiet down, now that our intellectual superiors have been reminded of their burden to show how the aforementioned arguments for theism fail. Though, I’ll be checking back.

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cl March 26, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Come on guys! Comments were pouring in by the minute when this was about denigrating theists. Let’s pick up the pace here.

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cl March 27, 2011 at 4:43 pm

24 hours and counting, and… zilch. Why am I not surprised? Okay, okay… maybe I’m expecting a bit much for the weekend. I’ll check back Monday or Tuesday.

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Rob May 7, 2011 at 9:58 am

I just read Stephen Law’s “Believing Bullshit” and was reminded of this thread. In the book he classifies a certain frequent ploy of apologists as “going nuclear”. That is, when the apologist is losing the argument, he retreats to throwing out some fundamental skeptical worry (such as the problem of induction), that if successful lays waste to his opponent’s position as well as his own. Mutually assured destruction.

It’s a good book, ruthlessly exposing the apologist’s bag of tricks.

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