“Atheism” and “Secular Morality”

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 28, 2011 in Ethics,General Atheism

Among the general populace, ideas like “atheism” and “secular morality” are treated as radical and mysterious and perhaps self-contradictory.

Among the most productive spheres of science and philosophy, phrases like “atheism” and “secular morality” rarely appear because they are simply assumed.

When a scientist proposes an explanation for an observed phenomenon – a hypothesis he would like to test – nobody mentions that it’s an “atheistic” hypothesis. Of course it is. What’s the alternative? “God did it”? Don’t be silly. If by “atheist hypothesis” you mean “non-magical hypothesis,” then yes: It’s an “atheistic” hypothesis. Just like every other scientific hypothesis.

When a philosopher tries to solve a particular problem in moral theory, nobody mentions that he’s doing “secular morality.” Of course he is. What’s the alternative? “God said so”? Don’t be silly. If by “secular morality” you mean “moral theory that doesn’t answer questions by reference to invisible magical beings,” then yes: We’re doing “secular morality.” But why bother mention that? It’s like pointing out that utilitarianism is a “unicorn-less moral theory.” It does moral theory without needing to call upon unicorns. Whoopty-do.

If you spend enough time reading the productive edge of science and philosophy, and then stick your head back into the popular discourse for a few minutes, hearing terms like “atheistic” and “secular morality” is a bit jarring.

Oh God, you think. That’s where the level of discussion is, on this planet.

And then you have a choice.

You can fight the good fight. You can try to catch people up with the last 400 years of science and philosophy. You can do what Richard Dawkins and John Loftus and Paul Thagard are doing.

Or you can return to the cutting edge, and hope that people will eventually catch up so that a larger section of humanity can work together to solve the pressing problems we face – rather than arguing endlessly about gods and god-based morality.

Or you can do both, as Paul Thagard does. But that’s hard, and you might spread yourself too thin.

I fought “the good fight” for a while. We need people like that. It’s because of such people that I escaped magical thinking myself. Now, I’m going to start spending more time at the cutting edge.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

gigi February 28, 2011 at 4:26 am

I hope this doesn’t mean that you won’t be posting any more Mega Posts :(
I’d like to understand Bayesian formalisms like Solomonoff Induction or MML and you may be my only chance of doing so (assuming they are in your Mega Posts list), because all I was able to find thus far was pretty darn difficult to read. You have a way of saying things that makes me understand them.

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Thomas February 28, 2011 at 6:11 am

“When a scientist proposes an explanation for an observed phenomenon – a hypothesis he would like to test – nobody mentions that it’s an “atheistic” hypothesis. Of course it is.”

So scientists assume methodological naturalism. Great. Most theists are fine with that. But how you can get from methodological naturalism to metaphysical naturalism without begging the question is again left unexplained.

If a scientist assumes during his experiments that there are no non-natural causes, then fine. But if he then goes on to make the universal assumption that there doesn´t exist anything non-natural, then he is not making this assumption as a scientist, but qua metaphysical naturalist. And this is purely a philosophical assumption.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 28, 2011 at 6:32 am

Thomas,

If you think it’s okay to stop thinking scientifically when you step outside the lab, that means you don’t really understand why we do science in the first place.

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Joseph February 28, 2011 at 6:48 am

It is true that in the early days of science, a scientist believed that he was investigating God’s work. But after 500 years of scientific research, with each explanation found, God as THE explanation receded. Today most scientists feel no need to believe they are investigating God’s work. The concept of God has become superfluous. And with that realization, a new spirit of liberation has proliferated among us.

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Thomas February 28, 2011 at 7:11 am

oh shoot – there’s a different Thomas posting. I guess I’ll have to differentiate myself from the other Thomas. I hope you have some way of distinguishing us

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el ninio February 28, 2011 at 8:04 am

@gigi,
I second that. Luke has a rare ability to convert something hard to understand into something easy to understand. I’d also like to learn about Bayesian formalisms. What do you say Luke? Is there any chance we’ll get to read one of your long posts on any of them?

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DaVead February 28, 2011 at 8:28 am

But philosophy’s not just about producing tangible results, finding answers, and scientifically structuring the universe. For many of us philosophy is about meaning and human existence, understanding the world phenomenologically, historically, and existentially. Some have given up seeking objective answers, and instead seek meaningful questions by partaking in and appropriating religious and cultural symbols and worldviews that have guided and oriented human life for hundreds of years.

Yes, I am indebted to science for functioning such that I can do these things with the aid of technology and without worrying about dying of polio. And if science and sciencific philosophy can help avoid some future A.I. disaster, I will be indebted to them then as well. But it is confusing to me how some people look to science for answers to unscientific questions, whether they pertain to ontology, metaphysics, morality, religion, human existence, or whatever. The only domain where the scientific methods is valid is science. Isn’t that just analytically true? And surely there are other non-scientific areas of human inquiry that are important, no?

Now, I’ll turn this around and say that if you spend enough time reading the historical and contemporary greats of any non-analyic philosophy, literature, poetry, and theology, and then stick your head back into the popular discourse for a few minutes, it is absurd that humans are still trying to understand everything under an all-encompassing Scientism that interprets meaningful statements as propositions reducible to predicate calculus in accordance with presuppositions of hyper-Realism, correspondence truth, and the ultimacy of human perception and our subjective interpretation of our experience.

Oh God, you think. When will we ever learn?

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Steven R. February 28, 2011 at 8:55 am

Davead wrote:

But philosophy’s not just about producing tangible results, finding answers, and scientifically structuring the universe.For many of us philosophy is about meaning and human existence, understanding the world phenomenologically, historically, and existentially.Some have given up seeking objective answers, and instead seek meaningful questions by partaking in and appropriating religious and cultural symbols and worldviews that have guided and oriented human life for hundreds of years.Yes, I am indebted to science for functioning such that I can do these things with the aid of technology and without worrying about dying of polio.And if science and sciencific philosophy can help avoid some future A.I. disaster, I will be indebted to them then as well.But it is confusing to me how some people look to science for answers to unscientific questions, whether they pertain to ontology, metaphysics, morality, religion, human existence, or whatever.The only domain where the scientific methods is valid is science.Isn’t that just analytically true?And surely there are other non-scientific areas of human inquiry that are important, no?Now, I’ll turn this around and say that if you spend enough time reading the historical and contemporary greats of any non-analyic philosophy, literature, poetry, and theology, and then stick your head back into the popular discourse for a few minutes, it is absurd that humans are still trying to understand everything under an all-encompassing Scientism that interprets meaningful statements as propositions reducible to predicate calculus in accordance with presuppositions of hyper-Realism, correspondence truth, and the ultimacy of human perception and our subjective interpretation of our experience.Oh God, you think. When will we ever learn?  

I see where you’re coming from but I here’s what I think Luke’s point is:

Suppose we have a philosopher interested in morality. He then proposes that all things have “souls” and thus, even treading upon the floor is inconsiderate. But then science comes along and points out that by all the data, the floor is not a living organism, it has no nerves or pain receptors whatsoever, no brain or anything that we would attribute to a living system. Although it is still logically possible that some immaterial force controls the floor, making it an object to be revered, would it be appropriate for the philosopher to continue with this form of morality?

Even if the matter of this “soul” is well-beyond the realm of science, scientific data does seem to narrow the field of what should be considered when discussing morality. We can identify how the human brain reacts to causing living organisms pain and trace that pain all by tracking an active, conscious brain. This information of how the brain and consciousness are vital to information, with scientific data backing it up, seems like a much, much better place to begin philosophizing.

What Luke protests is how people justify appealing to weird, unfiltered things that, though not philosophically disproved, have absolutely no scientific backing at all. The very reason science has developed the way it has is to filter the unlikely, implausible or outright unverifiable propositions and actually work with what we can know; it gets rid of invisible unicorns and telepathic gnomes and works with things that can properly explain phenomenons. Discarding these standards because we’re doing philosophy is a folly–we’d have no way of disproving the philosopher’s idea of disrespecting the floor anymore than a comprehensive guide to morality based around consciousness, pains, desires, and other traceable things that occur in the brain. That’s not finding anything about our world, it’s just pointless babble.

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Garren February 28, 2011 at 8:59 am

@DaVead
“The only domain where the scientific methods is valid is science.”

Science is an epistemology, not a domain.

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Thomas February 28, 2011 at 9:07 am

Luke,

I think you know where we differ. I don´t think it´s okay to stop thinking rationally and critically “outside the lab”, but I do think that there is knowledge outside the realm of empirical sciences. So for me posts like the one you linked just assumes unjustified and ultimately self-refuting form of naturalized epistemology, or “revolutionary scientism” (like Susan Haack calls it), like I commented there. So it isn´t the case that I´m some soft-minded religious guy who can´t think “scientifically” consistently; rather, you make some very dubious assumptions about the nature of philosophy and science, which I would call ‘scientism’, and I don´t agree with that. I´m really been stunned how you cannot see the difference between science and scientism. Or probably you do, but you don´t show that in your posts.

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Student February 28, 2011 at 9:29 am

Hi Luke,

thanks for coming down from your lofty heights to speak to the plebs, we really appreciate it.

However, I think it’s a bit far-fetched to try to claim the whole of science for atheism. Why do you think it makes sense to say that any explanation that does not involve God is atheistic? If you ask me why I had a beef sandwich for lunch and I say “because I like beef” is that an atheistic explanation?

Previously you seem to have claimed that science proves that God doesn’t exist, or at shows that it is likely he does not exist. Now you seem to be suggesting that it analytically follows from the practice of science. Is this a genuine shift?

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PDH February 28, 2011 at 9:38 am

Student wrote,

Hi Luke,thanks for coming down from your lofty heights to speak to the plebs, we really appreciate it.However, I think it’s a bit far-fetched to try to claim the whole of science for atheism. Why do you think it makes sense to say that any explanation that does not involve God is atheistic? If you ask me why I had a beef sandwich for lunch and I say “because I like beef” is that an atheistic explanation?Previously you seem to have claimed that science proves that God doesn’t exist, or at shows that it is likely he does not exist. Now you seem to be suggesting that it analytically follows from the practice of science. Is this a genuine shift?  

I think it’s clearly a response to the people who will describe various things like secular morality as ‘atheistic’ as if this was novel and dubious. If you are going to act like atheistic morality is strange then you should be similarly mystified by atheistic beef sandwiches.

Luke was not the one who thought that it was useful to divide the world up that way. In fact, that is what he’s arguing against. It should no more occur to you that God is involved with the creation of the universe than that he was involved with your beef sandwich. A well-organised mind would put that hypothesis at the bottom of the pile and start with something more plausible.

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MsLeading February 28, 2011 at 10:26 am

Why do you think it makes sense to say that any explanation that does not involve God is atheistic? If you ask me why I had a beef sandwich for lunch and I say “because I like beef” is that an atheistic explanation?

An “atheistic” explanation is one lacking theistic explanation. So yes, you liking beef is an atheistic explanation, because it neither claims a god nor rests on the premise of the existence of god. Luke’s point, and I think it’s a good one, is that atheism (lacking theism) is the default premise in science. As it should be – science is all about empirical evidence, and as there isn’t any empirical evidence for gods, it would be silly to assume otherwise.

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Steven R. February 28, 2011 at 10:36 am

Hi Luke,thanks for coming down from your lofty heights to speak to the plebs, we really appreciate it.However, I think it’s a bit far-fetched to try to claim the whole of science for atheism. Why do you think it makes sense to say that any explanation that does not involve God is atheistic? If you ask me why I had a beef sandwich for lunch and I say “because I like beef” is that an atheistic explanation?Previously you seem to have claimed that science proves that God doesn’t exist, or at shows that it is likely he does not exist. Now you seem to be suggesting that it analytically follows from the practice of science. Is this a genuine shift?  (Quote)

Yeah man, totally! He even claims science for non-unicorn believers! What hubris!

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cl February 28, 2011 at 11:00 am

Luke,

Among the most productive spheres of science and philosophy, phrases like “atheism” and “secular morality” rarely appear because they are simply assumed.

Uh, that’s because real science knows it has no place in pontificating about things outside its scope. You should try it sometime! [real science, that is]

You can do what Richard Dawkins and John Loftus and Paul Thagard are doing.

What? Cuss, piss, whine, holler, and generally degrade people who think differently? Isn’t that just trading one form of intellectual chauvinism for another? I don’t know anything about Thagard, but Dawkins and Loftus are “successful” to your cause in the same way Phelps and Haggard are “successful” to mine. That’s not exactly something to be proud of, Luke.

Thomas,

It’s no use! He just doesn’t get it.

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Alonzo Fyfe February 28, 2011 at 11:10 am

Interestingly, my story went the other direction.

I went to graduate school to study moral theory and found an ocean of people discussing right, wrong, good, and evil without any reference to a God. It just wasn’t a part of the discussion. There was no need to waste half of one’s day arguing against a God or the implications that would follow if there was a God. It just wasn’t a part of the discussion.

Then I looked out into the moral issue and noticed that a huge percentage of the claims people making in public debate were of things that had no support. People were using these absurd and unfounded claims as justifications for actions that were hurtful and harmful to others. I thought that it would be a worthwhile project to “catch people up with the last 400 years of [moral] philosophy.”

Because, on the street, a substantial portion (majority) of the population is still 400 years behind.

So, I left academic philosophy to “fight the good fight,” as it were.

One can “return to the cutting edge, and hope that people will eventually catch up.”

But they won’t.

The AI machines that will get built will be built by people who will cite scripture to justify their actions. Or, alternatively, they cite the prophets Ayn Rand or Karl Marx as the foundation for their atheistic morality. Or they assert act-utilitarianism or Kantianism, or – more commonly – speak about the subjectivity of morality and how one person’s opinion is as good as any other.

They will act so as to fulfill the most and strongest of their desires given their beliefs at the time, regardless of what some ethicist on the “cutting edge” might have concluded. If you want to predict what the course of AI will be, this is your starting point. If you want to control what people do with AI it will become necessarily not only to alter their beliefs on the subject – but to mold their desires as well.

I’m not trying to talk Luke out of anything. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I am, if anything, simply pointing out that this fact – that this AI will be built by people who are aiming to fulfill the desires they have at the time given their beliefs at that time – is going to play a role between “cutting edge” and application. We can’t get around that.

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cl February 28, 2011 at 11:59 am

I enjoyed your comment, Alonzo; though I imagine it’s never mutual ;)

Thomas at February 28, 2011 at 9:07 am,

So it isn´t the case that I´m some soft-minded religious guy who can´t think “scientifically” consistently; rather, you make some very dubious assumptions about the nature of philosophy and science, which I would call ‘scientism’, and I don´t agree with that. I´m really been stunned how you cannot see the difference between science and scientism. Or probably you do, but you don´t show that in your posts. [to Luke]

Remember though, Luke’s still relatively new to this whole atheism, science-is-the-savior-of-the-world phase. I say that not to denigrate him or science, but to point out that the “infatuation” of the Massive Intellectual Paradigm Shift isn’t over yet. To put it in relationship terms, it’s a, “Wait ’til he’s been with her 10 years!” type of thing. I honestly believe there will come a day when Luke looks at one or more arguments he’s made and says to himself, “Man, I think that might be what cl meant when he said ‘trading cross for scarlet a,’” which is effectively what you’re getting at with your remark on scientism. I mean, that other post might even be one of them. Luke claimed–unequivocally–that the evidence for dualism and gremlin consciousness were equal; and more specifically, that all of it reduces to intuition. Yet, there are clinical trials that address dualism, papers published in legitimate journals, a growing body of experimental evidence [cf. AWARE and previous studies], a huge body of anecdotal evidence [which unfortunately we're stuck with the minute we start studying consciousness] future studies planned… I mean, one could go on, but it is absurd to pretend that all of that reduces to “intuition.” In reality, we have a growing body of diversified evidence. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. Some of it is inconclusive and some of it is downright impossible to explain given the presumption of metaphysically naturalist theories of consciousness. For whatever reason, Luke & Co. don’t find it persuasive enough yet. Okay, whatever… but by no means can we categorize this growing body of data as intuition, not by any reasonable definition of evidence and intuition. To me, that really confirms Luke’s claim that he thinks these things are “settled issues.” That somebody might make such an overconfident, sweeping generalization is certainly consistent with some degree of scientism.

Any other day of the week it’s, “We have to trust the ones in white coats,” yet Luke flagrantly ignores the advice of Marcel Brass whom he had the privilege of interviewing. Dr. Brass specifically urged concern in making decisive pronouncements while we are still so “early in the game” on the free will aspects of consciousness. Yet, Luke–what, two, three years into atheism now?–assures us these are “settled issues,” against the direct advice of Dr. Brass, the expert.

How it comes to be that apparently no atheists or skeptics see a problem with this, is beyond me.

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Thomas February 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm

cl,

“It’s no use! He just doesn’t get it.”

I´m beginning to wonder if that´s really the case. Though I still think that Luke is a smart guy and he should get it.

“How it comes to be that apparently no atheists or skeptics see a problem with this, is beyond me.”

Good point.

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Silve Bullet February 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Great post, Luke.

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Paul February 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I do think that there is knowledge outside the realm of empirical sciences.

Let’s look at this for a second. One of the most common areas of knowledge claimed to be outside empirical sciences is logic.

But even logic rests on what we see empirically. Take the most fundamental law of logic. the law of non-contradiction: A = A (and its corrolary, not A≠A). Can anyone imagine that we accept these ideas separate from our experience of their empirical truth in the real world? How many times has anyone identified something (“A”) and then turned around and it was not-A (aside from stepping into the same stream twice, which is a different problem)? That A=A is confirmed empirically in the real world.

Same for math, 1+1=2 is confirmed empirically in the real world – try putting an apple in a bag, then put in another one, and then see if there aren’t two apples in the bag, that should work for you, it does for me.

So, what knowledge do we have that isn’t resting on something empirical?

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Thomas February 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Paul,

let´s say that your claim is that ‘every knowledge rests on something empirical’. Now, how do you know this? Is there some scientific test which shows that ‘every knowledge rests on something empirical’? Surely not. So since this statement itself doesn´t rest on something empirical (rather, it´s analytic), the statement is self-defeating.

So when I say that “there is knowledge outside the realm of the sciences” I mean, pace Quine, that there is such a thing as ‘first philosophy’.

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Thomas February 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Paul,

by the way, someone like Frege or Husserl would have seriously disagreed with your claim that logic depends on something empirical.

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David Evans February 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Luke

Your first few paragraphs are a beautiful piece of rhetoric. I found myself nodding in agreement. But the cases of science and moral theory are not really as close as you suggest.

It’s not obviously silly to suggest that if the Old Testament God did exist, his existence would at least be relevant to certain questions of moral theory, though it would not be relevant to (most?) questions of science.

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Paul February 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm

let´s say that your claim is that ‘every knowledge rests on something empirical’.

I wasn’t quite at the point of claiming that, strictly speaking. That’s a really interesting hypothesis that is not very far down the road at all, but before that we should deal with the case of logic as my post brought up. Any objections there?

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Paul February 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm

by the way, someone like Frege or Husserl would have seriously disagreed with your claim that logic depends on something empirical

Can you summarize their objections?

By the way, I’m not opposed to carving out areas of knowledge that do not rest on the empirical, if justifiable. Just to be clear.

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Paul February 28, 2011 at 3:01 pm

So when I say that “there is knowledge outside the realm of the sciences” I mean, pace Quine, that there is such a thing as ‘first philosophy’. 

Can you give me a concrete example of this?

I’m wondering if knowledge that seems outside the realm of the sciences can’t be traced back to it in the end. So a concrete example will help.

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auntiegrav February 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm

You mentioned catching up on the last 400 years. The more I read about Chinese history, the more I think that should be at least the last 1000 years. “Catching up” to western science and philosophy puts you 600 years behind the curve at the start, making things even harder when The Enlightenment and The Renaissance are accepted as self-generated original thought grown out of the paternalistic egomania of Christianity.
Bunch of deluded second-run plagiarism used as the basis for most discussions of “meaning” and cause-effect anthropology.

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Jacopo February 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I sympathize with Alonzo on this one.

I’m sure philosophers have come up with some excellent ethical arguments about the construction and use of nuclear weapons, but it’s world leaders indifferent to their complicated papers who are calling the shots. I would wonder what would make the construction of a singleton or the use of transhumanist technologies any different in their disregard for what clever – but also comparatively powerless and harmless – people have said about them.

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woodchuck64 February 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Thomas,

posts like the one you linked just assumes unjustified and ultimately self-refuting form of naturalized epistemology,

Are you assuming Luke is an empiricist? I thought he was closer to an instrumentalist/Neurath’s boat Quine view.

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almost.chris February 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Luke,

I am interested and excited in this new direction. Being a new father with a time-intensive job, I have very little time to read all I wish I could, so most of my learning comes in the way of audiobooks and podcasts. Quite a while ago you posted a list of your favorite podcasts on religion and atheism. As much as I’ve enjoyed podcasts on that subject (and some I will continue to listen to) I also think I am ready to move on now. I would be interested in a post in which you might recommend podcasts you are listening to now that the direction for this website has changed.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 28, 2011 at 7:34 pm

el ninio,

Yes, possibly. I have on on propositional logic that is half-way finished.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Alonzo,

Yup. Good comment.

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Luke Muehlhauser February 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

woodchuck53,

Thomas mentioned “naturalized epistemology”, which is precisely the Quine view. And he is correct that I endorse it. And it is a common position that Quine’s naturalized epistemology is circular, even among other evidentialists.

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EvolutionSWAT February 28, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Sounds good Luke. Your posts will always be fascinating. Keep up the good work!

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Steven R. February 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm

LukeYour first few paragraphs are a beautiful piece of rhetoric. I found myself nodding in agreement. But the cases of science and moral theory are not really as close as you suggest.It’s not obviously silly to suggest that if the Old Testament God did exist, his existence would at least be relevant to certain questions of moral theory, though it would not be relevant to (most?) questions of science.  

The only way it’d be relevant is in the same way a bully’s moral system is in the playground. It’s still absolutely subjective and up to the whims of God’s personality or if you want to play word games, whatever God’s nature happens to be. The only difference is that, whatever moral theory is correct, we now have to deal with some guy when we die who will judge us, probably based on capricious demands.

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MarkD February 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm

@gigi
I’ll give a quick shot: imagine that you encounter a sequence of symbols that might be another language or might be a complicated natural phenomena. You can create a theory about the significant groupings of the symbols by counting the pairwise (digram) probabilities. That theory would also help you transmit the same sequence by reducing the number of bits you need for each of the individual symbols and wrapping up the pairs. OK, once you have the pairs in ranked order, you might want to find triples or significant singletons that correlate with the pairs. You can, in fact, continue to do this process and create a tree that encodes the entire observed stream.

But how do you choose how the cutoff frequency for “significant” intergroup probabilities. The rule that arises naturally is that if the bit cost of the group coding and the number of bits needed to code the signal with that lexicon is less than other possible choices, the addition of the group helps move you towards “minimum message length” (MML) or, alternatively, “minimum description length” (MDL). This also has interesting implications for new sequences from the same source that you have not yet seen because you can use the same model to continue to predict the sequences and, with certain assumptions about the statistical regularity of the source, the MML model is the optimal predictor. Unfortunately, there is no general algorithm for finding the optimal model for all possible models and sequences.

Hope this helps!

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John W. Loftus March 1, 2011 at 3:52 am

Luke: “I fought “the good fight” for a while. We need people like that. It’s because of such people that I escaped magical thinking myself. Now, I’m going to start spending more time at the cutting edge.”

Good for you Luke. You continually move in the direction of your interests and that’s a good thing, unafraid of letting others down and willing to take on new challenges. I have spent a lifetime understanding Christianity and I continually learn how little I know. The task of being on the cutting edge seems so daunting to me that at this late stage in my life I’m content just informing people what I’ve learned about Christianity.

I’ve thought about moving on but until I’ve said all I need to say I probably won’t. Someone has to stand in the gap and bring believers out of their delusion. Where they go afterward is up to them.

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Taranu March 1, 2011 at 4:39 am

Luke,

“And it is a common position that Quine’s naturalized epistemology is circular, even among other evidentialists.”

Do you think it’s circular? And if so…. isn’t that problematic?

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gigi March 2, 2011 at 12:03 am

@MarkD
Thank you

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Citizen Ghost March 2, 2011 at 4:02 am

I think the discussion here highlights some confusion in langauge.

I wouldn’t characterize science as “atheistic” – not because atheism is simply assumed by science but because the question that atheism speaks to isn’t a scientific question.

There is an analogy that can be drawn from political theory and law. The U.S. most certainly does have a “Godless” Constitution. But I wouldn’t call it an “atheistic” constitution. That really would have a different meaning.

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ayer March 2, 2011 at 9:13 am

In this vein, it’s not looking good for a popular “atheistic hypothesis” to explain fine-tuning:

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110228/full/471013a.html

Maybe the multiverse will be falsified after all? (since as I understand it, supersymmetry is a necessary condition for the multiverse/string theory)

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Luke Muehlhauser March 2, 2011 at 11:14 am

ayer,

Huh? Since when is supersymmetry a necessary condition for multiverse theory? In fact, supersymmetry theory itself provides an instance of extreme fine-tuning.

For the record, I suspect a multiverse may exist for Everettian reasons, not because of supersymmetry.

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ayer March 2, 2011 at 8:22 pm

ayer,Huh? Since when is supersymmetry a necessary condition for multiverse theory? In fact, supersymmetry theory itself provides an instance of extreme fine-tuning.For the record, I suspect a multiverse may exist for Everettian reasons, not because of supersymmetry.  

No, supersymmetry was specifically proposed to address the need for fine-tuning of the Higgs Boson in the Standard Model. If supersymmetry is true, the need for fine-tuning would disappear, i.e., the “law” explanation would trump “design.” See:

“There is a problem in particle physics called the “Hierarchy Problem,” where the mass of Higgs Boson would be far too large without lots of fine tuning in the Standard Model. Other theories, such as low energy supersymmetry don’t require this fine tuning, and so are said to “solve the Hierarchy Problem”. This is a major reason why physicists are studying supersymmetry, even though there are no experimental results to date that mandate it.”
http://atheism.stackexchange.com/questions/2328/how-is-the-fine-tuning-argument-best-refuted

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