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by Luke Muehlhauser on January 17, 2010 in News

100 Best Free Science Documentaries Online

Vox wrote his 7th letter to me.

36 Arguments for the existence of God, and their refutations (scroll down).

Another fun speech I gave recently: How to Seduce Women with Vocal Tonality.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

josef johann January 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

FLAW 1: can be crudely put: Who caused God? The Cosmological Argument is a prime example of the Fallacy of Passing the Buck: invoking God to solve some problem, but then leaving unanswered that very same problem when applied to God himself. The proponent of the Cosmological Argument must admit a contradiction to either his first premise — and say that though God exists, he doesn’t have a cause — or else a contradiction to his third premise — and say that God is self-caused.

Haha, I think I’ve heard this somewhere before…

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Feldmm1 January 17, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Seeing as Vox wants to throw out a lot of factors for deciding what explanation is the best, and assuming that Vox will still be rather busy in the next couple of months, I think it will be a while before you guys actually start talking about which worldview best explains evil.

I’m surprised that Vox does not think that Occam’s razor is a good tool when assessing explanations; all it ultimately says is that one should not assume more in an explanation than the evidence requires. Denying Occam’s razor would give one justification for believing things without evidence, logic, etc., to back up those beliefs that are part of the explanation. He says that it begs the question towards what is “necessary”, but I possess nowhere near the intelligence of a Mensa member, so I am not quite sure about what he is getting at here. Is it begging the question to require justification for belief? Consider if we were trying to find the best explanation for a dollar bill on the street. Which explanation assumes more than the evidence requires; that a human dropped it while walking, or that an alien spacecraft accidently used a teleportation device to transport it onto the street while on its trip to the Andromeda galaxy to fight a war with another alien species? Both situations could account for the dollar bill, but is it really begging the quesion to suppose one explanation over another? The alien theory assumes propositions that we have no evidence for, while the human theory assumes propositions that we do have evidence for. Maybe what he is getting at here is that using Occam’s razon against Christianity already assumes that there is no evidence for Christianity other than evil, which may be an assumption that he rejects. If we had evidence that aliens existed, that they were going to have a war, that they had U.S. currency, that accidently transporting dollar bills onto Earth is a regular occurence, etc., then perhaps the alien theory would be as plausible as the human theory. However, your discussion is focusing specifically on evil, not on other facts about the world that Vox thinks are evidence for Christianity, so discussion of those pieces of evidence would be considered irrelevant. Then again, maybe I am completely wrong about what Vox is trying to say. In any case, I think Vox should elaborate on his assertions so idiots like me who are non-philosophers can fully understand how he comes to his conclusions. I thought that he would try to do this after the “reboot”, but I guess I was wrong.

I think I have other objections to what he said, but I’ve wasted too much time already.

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Feldmm1 January 17, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Actually, since Vox thinks that consistency with background knowledge is irrelevant, perhaps from this conclusion he believes that we cannot know whether or not the alien theory is supported by other evidence, and thus we do not know whether the alien theory or the human theory is simplist explanation that explains all the evidence. One would be agnostic to either. I do not agree with Vox on his belief that consistency with background knowledge is irrelevant, but maybe this is why he thinks Occam’s razor assumes what is necessary.

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lukeprog January 17, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I agree it will be a while before we start talking about which theory best explains evil.

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Feldmm1 January 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Sorry, I wanted to edit my second comment but time elapsed. I was going to say. “I would not be surprised if I am wrong though; it seems a bit too extreme of a justification of his rejection of Occam’s razor.” In case you have not realized, I’m kind of talking to myself now, so that’s why I keep making new comments.

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josef johann January 17, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Vox obviously knows where the debate is headed, and so he is registering his complaints now because if he doesn’t, some embedded assumption will undo him later on. If you actually got past this part, the rest of the discussion would proceed quite naturally. That’s why definitions are the hitch.

This I think is the most revealing of Vox’s ludicrous position:

> for example, the x-ray hypothesis was correct regardless of whether it was possible to test for them.

If someone came up to me telling me with a theory about x-rays but (1) it didn’t explain things better than existing explanations, (2) it couldn’t be tested, (3) it wasn’t consistent with background knowledge, (4) it didn’t obviously have past explanatory success, (5) it was convoluted and non-simple, (6) it asked us to inflate our ontology to account for it, (7) it was non-informative, (8) it had no predictive novelty, (9) it had no explanatory scope and (10), it had no explanatory power, I would call that person a lunatic for believing in x-rays, regardless of whether it was true.

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josef johann January 17, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I adapted the above to a comment over at Vox’s place, adding this paragraph:

It isn’t virtuous to believe that something that happens to be true if your posture is identical to the posture of someone who believes something that isn’t true. To call these limitations separating the two “artificial” serves only to smudge up the very idea of how a belief can be definitionally wrong.

I fear that the tone might approach Vox’s own aggressiveness, which would make me militant and my comment deleted. We’ll see, I guess.

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lukeprog January 17, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Yeah, I think testability is probably the most fundamental criterion for successful explanation.

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Beelzebub January 18, 2010 at 12:43 am

Vox says:
“I would give priority to informativeness, explanatory scope, and predictive novelty.”

I’m tempted to think he’s cherry picking criteria that he knows will look favorably on Christianity and rejecting those that will reflect badly on it.

Ironically, I think this ties in pretty closely with recent discussions here, since Vox is cluing in to the best explanation without feeling as if he needs to examine the explanandum. So in a sense, by taking the prevailing criticism of Dawkins so to heart, you’ve been hoisted on your own petard. Ad hoc explanations excused from the requirement of real world confirmation are always going to outperform those labored through reason from what is known, particularly in an environment of incomplete information.

In short, you might as well send up the white flag now; you’ve already tacitly resigned this one.

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John D January 18, 2010 at 2:25 am

josef johann: This I think is the most revealing of Vox’s ludicrous position:
> for example, the x-ray hypothesis was correct regardless of whether it was possible to test for them.

Josef,

It also betrays a pretty profound lack of knowledge about the history of science. The x-ray hypothesis could in fact be tested: assuming their existence allowed us to intervene in other processes that we would not have been able intervene in.

I did a post on Craver’s criteria for a good mechanistic explanation recently. X-rays would pass on all counts:

http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2010/01/when-mechanistic-models-explain-part-3.html

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lukeprog January 18, 2010 at 6:37 am

John D,

That’s awesome.

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ayer January 18, 2010 at 8:03 am

As I understand it, your revised debate with Vox is on a question involving ethical theory. This is the realm of philosophical theory, not scientific theory, and testability is therefore irrelevant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory#Philosophical_theories

You are making the same kind of “scientistic” category error that Dawkins routinely makes. Vox is correct to throw that criterion out when dealing with this subject matter.

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josef johann January 18, 2010 at 8:58 am

John D:
Josef,
It also betrays a pretty profound lack of knowledge about the history of science. The x-ray hypothesis could in fact be tested: assuming their existence allowed us to intervene in other processes that we would not have been able intervene in.
I did a post on Craver’s criteria for a good mechanistic explanation recently. X-rays would pass on all counts:http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2010/01/when-mechanistic-models-explain-part-3.html  

I’ve been following. Great stuff.

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Briang January 18, 2010 at 9:29 am

From 36 Arguments for the existence of God, and their refutations:

1. Everything that exists must have a cause.

2. The universe must have a cause (from 1).

3. Nothing can be the cause of itself.

4. The universe cannot be the cause of itself (from 3).

5. Something outside the universe must have caused the universe (from 2 & 4).

6. God is the only thing that is outside of the universe.

7. God caused the universe (from 5 & 6).

8. God exists.

It’s hard to take someone seriously when they set up a straw man and then knock it down. This isn’t the real cosmological argument. Premise 1 is rejected by most theists. But even worse, it make the whole argument self-defeating. The whole point of the cosmological argument is to show that something doesn’t need a cause. It’s then argued that “something” is God.

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Feldmm1 January 18, 2010 at 10:06 am

Briang: From 36 Arguments for the existence of God, and their refutations:1. Everything that exists must have a cause.2. The universe must have a cause (from 1).3. Nothing can be the cause of itself.4. The universe cannot be the cause of itself (from 3).5. Something outside the universe must have caused the universe (from 2 & 4).6. God is the only thing that is outside of the universe.7. God caused the universe (from 5 & 6).8. God exists.It’s hard to take someone seriously when they set up a straw man and then knock it down. This isn’t the real cosmological argument. Premise 1 is rejected by most theists. But even worse, it make the whole argument self-defeating. The whole point of the cosmological argument is to show that something doesn’t need a cause. It’s then argued that “something” is God.  (Quote)

On the contrary, I would say that many theists accept premise 1. When I used to go to church, I was fed a similar argument all the time, but even as a little kid I could see the contradiction. It does not seem to be that my former church only did it; Madsen Pirie in his book How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic uses arguments like the one above to demonstrate the fallacy of the conclusion which denies premises while mentioning how common the mistake is. He writes, “The conclusion which denies its premises constantly slips uninvited into religious arguments” (Pg. 36). He then gives similar examples of the fallacy similar to the one above, such as “Everything must have a cause. That, in turn, must result from a previous cause. Since it cannot go back for ever, we know that there must be an uncaused causer to start the process,” (pg. 36) and, “No matter how many stages you take it back, everything must have had a beginning somewhere. God started it all,” (Pg. 37). If the testimonies of Madsen Pirie and me are accurate, it seems that this argument is a lot more common than you think, and thus it deserves a refutation. Now, I agree that most theists that have looked into apologetics and philosophy do not accept premise 1, but I think that many, if not the majority, of theists subscribe to this argument because they have not learned to think logically, they have not examined their beliefs critically, they do not question God’s existence, they do not philosophize, etc., which is a shame. I also agree that the article should have discussed other variations of the cosmological argument like the kalam argument, which many theists that are somewhat educated in philosophy and/or apologetics subsribe to, but I don’t think that the cosmological argument presented in the article was a strawman; the article merely neglected to discuss other arguments that avoid the difficulty that this argument faces.

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Feldmm1 January 18, 2010 at 10:22 am

By the way, while we are on the topic of how that excerpt neglects other variations of arguments, if anyone wants to see an interesting rebuttal to Plantinga’s modal ontological argument, look here. http://analyticabstraction.blogspot.com/2007/11/philosophy-of-religion-2-natural_14.html

I encourage one to listen to the corresponding youtube videos too; the author adds comments not in his paper that may be helpful for one to understand what he is saying.

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cl January 25, 2010 at 10:58 am

..the x-ray hypothesis was correct regardless of whether it was possible to test for them. (Vox)

I agree with Vox there, and that’s not to say testability is unimportant. I read him as saying what’s true is true whether we can test it or not, and that’s true.

briang,

It’s hard to take someone seriously when they set up a straw man and then knock it down. This isn’t the real cosmological argument. Premise 1 is rejected by most theists. But even worse, it make the whole argument self-defeating.

Maybe that’s why so many atheists and skeptics like it? ;)

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