Reformed Epistemology… What’s all the Hoopla About?

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 16, 2010 in Alvin Plantinga,General Atheism,Video

Simon Smart asks Plantinga why he believes in God, and Plantinga replies:

…I don’t think traditional arguments for God’s existence… are all that powerful… but it just seems to me that there really is such a person [as God]…

…When I look at the mountains, when I look at the treetops in my backyard, when I go to church, when I read the Bible, and on many other occasions I just find myself convinced that there really is such a person as God… It’s more like a personal experience than an argument or a philosophical proof…

Yikes!

(Hat tip to Matt McCormick.)

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{ 110 comments… read them below or add one }

Justfinethanks February 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm

This really shows how difficult it is disabuse people of their religious notions. It is so deeply internal that they don’t particular care if they have solid reasons to hold to it.

And the reason he thinks that this idea is justified is so odd to me. Basically, if God DOES exist, then we would expect people to have a deeply held internal notion of God, therefore it is perfectly rational hold to that notion.

But I don’t think this is quite the case. If God actually existed, we would actually expect people to have a notion of the RIGHT God, and given the state of religious diversity, that is clearly not the case. His explanation of this state of affairs is completely Ad Hoc: “the noetic effects of sin.” Of course, it is much more parsimonious, in my opinion, to explain religious diversity by humanity’s lack of connection to anything divine.

I think would only buy this kind of thinking if there was something about the human mind that inclined it towards one particular kind of supernatural belief, and was harshly skeptical to all others. Instead, we that humans are credulous creatures who are completely willing to buy whatever nonsense ideas are put in front of them.

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Hermes February 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm

He starts off with a nearly solipsistic framing of the question;

1:02+ : ‘… it’s like asking ‘why do you think there are other people’ or ‘why do you think there is a past’ … I can’t give a proof that there was a past or other people’.

Later he spends quite a bit of time harping on ‘naturalism … materialism’ while not promoting his own position. Like someone carving out negative space using a flashlight and hand gestures to cast a shadow on the wall — and then claiming the light isn’t important, only the figure that remains. As such, he ends up depending on ‘naturalism … materialism’ to emphasize his case. If his case is so compelling, why mention ‘naturalism … materialism’ except in passing if at all? His closing comments built on a straw-man ‘materialist’ are the answer. The best defense is a good offense?

It is clear to me that he doesn’t have an answer for evidence provided by ‘naturalism … materialism’ regardless for what positive evidence he may have for his case (evidence that he does not bring up). Wishing that the evidence would go away, or can be ignored because ‘like everybody [not naturalists] we can rely on our senses’ is just not a credible reply as I could say similar things about a deity-based point of view. Where does such nonsense get us? Divided into ‘naturalist/materialist atheists’ and some kind of ‘seems right to me Christian theism’.

Yet, the elephant in the room is still there, and it’s not naturalism or materialism or even atheism unattached to either of those. It’s that Yahweh hasn’t been and is not the only show in town on the theist side of the fence. If atheists were to vanish or become believers in some deities/deity, then he still hasn’t dealt with that issue.

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Sharkey February 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I find this similar to Francis Collins’ conversion to evangelical Christianity due to his coming-across of a frozen waterfall during a summer hike.

Yeah, it’s beautiful, and awe-inspiring, and an unlikely event. But, evidence and arguments for God? Not so much.

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Bill Maher February 16, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Props Luke. I am going to post this on my blog. :-)

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Rob B February 16, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Plantinga from The Experience of Philosophy:

“I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night and wonder whether this whole wonderful story is really no more than that–a wonderful story.”

Does he have similar nocturnal doubts about the external world, or reality of the past? I doubt it. When Plantinga claims he believes in God as firmly and obviously as he believes in other minds, I just don’t believe him.

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 4:55 pm

A critique of a 6-minute video does not do RE justice. Now, blogging through Warranted Christian Belief chapter by chapter–that would be worth reading.

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Justfinethanks February 16, 2010 at 5:55 pm

ayer: blogging through Warranted Christian Belief chapter by chapter–that would be worth reading.  

It would certainly be a nice addition to Luke’s already large list of projects. In the meantime, there are already a few intelligent and powerful critiques of Plantiga’s ideas to be found from theists and atheists alike.

Here’s one from Christian philosopher Michael Czapkay Sudduth:

Plantinga’s notion of proper function rationality (hereafter PF-rationality) raises an interesting question: Can religious unbelief be PF-rational? (By “religious unbelief” I will understand, unless otherwise noted, either withholding theistic belief or believing the negation of theism). Plantinga thinks that if we do not assume a theistic metaphysics, an affirmative answer could be given to this question. If Plantinga is right about this a more interesting question would be whether religious unbelief could be PF-rational if theism is true. Plantinga argues that it cannot, at least given his model of proper basicality. “Unbelief,” he says, “is a result of dysfunction, or brokenness, failure to function properly, or impedance of rational faculties” (WCBM*, chapter 6). Plantinga presents some very interesting arguments for this claim in chapter 14 of WCB. However, I think the arguments are deeply problematic and entail significant difficulties for some of Plantinga’s other important claims in religious epistemology. To see this I begin by developing a case for the PF-rationality of religious unbelief given some of Plantinga’s own epistemological principles.

http://philofreligion.homestead.com/files/rru.html

Here’s a highly respectful review from atheist philosopher Tyler Wunder

Unfortunately, Plantinga all but ignores the verificationist challenge against meaningful religious language, i.e., the charge that sophisticated, non-anthropomorphic religious language is in some important, manner (e.g., factually) meaningless.[5] He undermines the challenge by emphasizing its relationship with logical positivism: since “logical positivism has retreated into the obscurity it so richly deserves” (8), he argues, it follows that the “dreaded ‘Verifiability Criterion of Meaning’” has suffered the same fate.

But the verificationist challenge need not be wed to the fortunes of logical positivism. Although few atheologians defend this position anymore, Kai Nielsen and Michael Martin have produced revised versions the implications of which Plantinga nonetheless ignores. His rebuttal of the challenge is based on repeated appeals to God and Other Minds (156-68), despite the fact that Nielsen’s work in particular counteracts Plantinga’s most substantial criticisms.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/tyler_wunder/warranted.html

And of course anyone interested in exploring these ideas should read through the book itself, which can be read and downloaded from this very site.

http://commonsenseatheism.com/uploads/Plantinga%20-%20Warranted%20Christian%20Belief.pdf

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BJ Marshall February 16, 2010 at 6:06 pm

And I always thought Plantinga was held in such high regards. Just goes to show me that I, being SOOO less well educated philosophically, need to be ever more vigilant about how I hold my views.

Put another way: If this guy can fail like this, how epically can I fail if I don’t watch myself?

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Justfinethanks,

Good suggestions. This book, offering a retrospective on Plantinga’s work by various philosophers, is excellent: http://www.amazon.com/Alvin-Plantinga-Contemporary-Philosophy-Focus/dp/0521671434/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266372297&sr=1-12

Also, this book, with critiques of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism and a comprehensive response to each chapter at the end by Plantinga, is also highly recommended:
http://www.amazon.com/Naturalism-Defeated-Plantingas-Evolutionary-Argument/dp/0801487633/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266372464&sr=1-1-spell

Of course, Luke’s blog-through would also be very interesting.

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Bill Maher February 16, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Ayer, I also agree it would be nice. However, Luke is already doing courses on religion, logic, and ethics, as well as an faq on ethics and atheism. He has a ton of stuff on his plate already.

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piero February 16, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Wow! This is total, absolute, undiluted, 100% proof crap. Am I missing something? Are my mental faculties incapable of grasping the subtler nuances of Plantinga’s arguments, or are they just as crappy as I perceive them to be? Ayer, you seem to be in a position to explain them to me. Please do.

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ayer February 16, 2010 at 7:06 pm

piero: Wow! This is total, absolute, undiluted, 100% proof crap. Am I missing something? Are my mental faculties incapable of grasping the subtler nuances of Plantinga’s arguments, or are they just as crappy as I perceive them to be? Ayer, you seem to be in a position to explain them to me. Please do.  

Plantinga is giving a dumbed-down version in this short video. There is more detailed discussion in the thread from Feb. 11 below on the post about the interview with Matt McCormick. The best explanation would be to read “Warranted Christian Belief” (free at the link Justfinethanks provided above) and the books I linked to above.

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lukeprog February 16, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I do eventually want to do a series on the Warrant trilogy, but it could be 5-10 years off…

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exapologist February 16, 2010 at 8:24 pm

For perhaps the best critical works, see:
(i) Sennett, James. Modality, Probability, and Rationality: A Critical Evaluation of Alvin Plantinga’s Philosophy (Lang, 1992).
(ii) Wunder, Tyler. Warrant and Religious Epistemology: A Critical Examination of Alvin Plantinga’s Warrant Phase (Ph.D. Dissertation, Boston University, 2007).
(iii) Beilby, James. Epistemology as Theology: An Evaluation of Alvin Plantinga’s Religious Epistemology (Ashgate, 2006).

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Michael February 16, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I think this is a little misleading, but not entirely. Quite a few Christian thinkers affirm God’s existence apart from arguments, kind of an “argument from intuition” if you will. Even Craig mentions this at times. But I think what is important to remember is that Plantinga has devoted his life to this, so he obviously thinks that having reasons to believe are important as well. I don’t think he is saying that he would believe if all of the evidence was contrary, but rather, that since there seems to be two sides that have been at it quite literally forever, he feels justified from his experience as well.

Also, don’t forget that this is the man who argues that belief in God could be a properly basic belief, so that would explain this as well. So this definitely follows that line of thinking, that if there was no evidence either way, or if it was split 50 50, one would still be rational to believe.

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Briang February 16, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Plantinga only spends 53 seconds talking about Reformed Epistemology in this 6 1/2 minute video. Most of the video is about his argument against evolutionary naturalism. So perhaps this isn’t the best example of his views.

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Beelzebub February 17, 2010 at 1:48 am

My 30 sec rebuttal to Pantinga’s counter evolutionary naturalism: Belief is the precursor to action. If our beliefs don’t correspond to reality we are prone to irrational action, which tends to be highly selected against. Correct belief is necessary (but not sufficient) for adaptedness. Therefore evolution favors belief that tracks closely to reality. QED.

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Edson February 17, 2010 at 2:37 am

When you scratch on the surface of Platinga’s responses on this youtube video you may end-up thinking Platinga is being eerily dumb – from atheist perspective – but when you dig a little bit deeper you realize that his responses were – as you may guess – typical Platingan.

I don’t think traditional arguments for God’s existence… are all that powerful… but it just seems to me that there really is such a person [as God]

What does Platinga want to inculcate in the mind of atheist by saying this? As usual, that we don’t need arguments to believe God exist. As long as God exist in the minds of humans, then God exists.

Of course an atheist objection to that is that a believer is deluded into believing that God exist when in fact the evidence for God’s existance are not that powerful. Well, to this objection I respond that if it’s a delusion, then it’s an irreparable disorder as I cannot force myself to believe God does not exist. Because that is what I see and indeed, that’s what I experience.

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exapologist February 17, 2010 at 2:44 am

Just for fun:
Why not just parrot Plantinga’s RE strategy back to him with respect to his evolutionary argument against naturalism?

“The naturalist will of course suppose that belief in the reliability of their cognitive faculties is entirely proper and rational; if he does not accept this belief on the basis of other propositions, he will certainly conclude that it is basic for him and quite properly so. Followers of Plantinga my disagree, but how is that relevant? Must my criteria or those of the naturalist community conform to those of Plantinga’s? Surely not. Naturalists are responsible to their own set of examples; not to those of Calvinist Reformed epistemologists.”

Furthermore, the belief is held with sufficient firmness that it rightly serves as an intrinsic defeater-defeater for Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism. As such, no reply is necessary.

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Steven Carr February 17, 2010 at 2:58 am

Of course, if you read the Bible Plantinga does, make sure you don’t read the one that other people in Notre Dame do.

That will have stuff like 1 Maccabees in it, which isn’t in the Real Bible.

Obviously you won’t get a sense of God if you read the Wrong Book.

How can reading the Bible lead to a sense of God if Christians squabble with each other about what a Bible is?

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Sabio Lantz February 17, 2010 at 3:14 am

Of course Plantiga’s god (like Craig’s) exists if:
“God” = that feeling I have inside of warmth
or
“God” = the awe I have when I look at nature
Hell, with those criterion, fortunately “God” exists for me too.

Question: And, did he really say, “Probability could be 1/2, either it is true or false.”
– Ouch !

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Beelzebub February 17, 2010 at 3:42 am

Sabio Lantz: Question: And, did he really say, “Probability could be 1/2, either it is true or false.”
– Ouch !  

Unless there’s some ulterior reason I’m not getting, I think what he’s saying is that evolution only concerns itself with adaptability and the verisimilitude of beliefs is irrelevant. There is no difference in consequence between a self-preserving gazelle running from a lion it believes is dangerous and a suicidal gazelle running from a lion it thinks is friendly, each having probability 1/2. (or something like that) The argument could perhaps be formulated coherently, but I strongly suspect that it would not be consistent. I think there are very good evolutionary reasons why our beliefs must, in fact, track reality quite closely.

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Steven Carr February 17, 2010 at 3:51 am

PLANTINGA
When I look at the mountains, when I look at the treetops in my backyard, when I go to church, when I read the Bible, and on many other occasions I just find myself convinced that there really is such a person as God

CARR
SO Plantinga has no personal experience of Jesus?

How does Plantinga learn ‘the great things of the Gospels’ by looking at treetops?

Perhaps all these Christians who tout ‘Warranted Christian Belief’ can finally answer the challenge of what Christian Beliefs are Warranted, according to Plantinga’s book….

But they won’t.

Rather astonishingly, a book called ‘Warranted Christian Belief’ never gives a list of beliefs which are warranted.

So that book is waste of time…

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Steven Carr February 17, 2010 at 3:54 am

Why is a seal able to balance a ball on its nose?

Evolution could never select for the ability to balance a ball on its nose.

Therefore, evolution is not true and there must be a god.

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Edson February 17, 2010 at 4:02 am

“Of course, if you read the Bible Plantinga does, make sure you don’t read the one that other people in Notre Dame do.

That will have stuff like 1 Maccabees in it, which isn’t in the Real Bible.

Obviously you won’t get a sense of God if you read the Wrong Book.

How can reading the Bible lead to a sense of God if Christians squabble with each other about what a Bible is?”

Mh, let me try to understand Carr’s argument. Okay, so you are implicitly saying that the sense of God that Platinga feel is quite different to that sense of God that is felt by the Notre Dame people?

Well then, that goes to show that Platinga and the ND people have a common beliief that God exists even though they may have different senses about God.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 4:27 am

Beelzebub: My 30 sec rebuttal to Pantinga’s counter evolutionary naturalism:Belief is the precursor to action.If our beliefs don’t correspond to reality we are prone to irrational action, which tends to be highly selected against.Correct belief is necessary (but not sufficient) for adaptedness.Therefore evolution favors belief that tracks closely to reality.QED.  

Agreed. To strike the other side of the coin;

If supernatural entities are involved in reality, we can not be certain of anything and thus truth becomes arbitrary from moment to moment depending on the actions of those entities. These same entities are often described as ‘unknowable’.

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ayer February 17, 2010 at 4:33 am

Steven Carr: Rather astonishingly, a book called ‘Warranted Christian Belief’ never gives a list of beliefs which are warranted.
So that book is waste of time…  

Actually it does, beginning in chapter 8, “The Extended Aquinas/Calvin Model”. Have you read it?

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 4:36 am

exapologist: Furthermore, the belief is held with sufficient firmness that it rightly serves as an intrinsic defeater-defeater for Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism. As such, no reply is necessary.

It’s also fractal if your example is made into a generic template; plug in just about any other perspective and out pops another defeater-defeater.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 4:46 am

Steven Carr: How can reading the Bible lead to a sense of God if Christians squabble with each other about what a Bible is?

With 30,000+ sects, and dozens of Bibles in English alone — one of them must be right! :-)

Along those lines, that reminds me of a comment I heard on one of the skeptic podcasts. [(Skeptic Zone? December?) ] Anyway, the crew went to see a new age or homeopathic expedition, and they found a few people who mad entirely contradictory claims about the exact same thing. When asked, one of the vendors said something like ‘I’m 100% right, and so is the other guy’.

If you professional philosophers want to know where your skills are most needed, just deal with those types of people. You don’t even need to deal with the evidence or lack of evidence, just the logic.

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Steven Carr February 17, 2010 at 5:27 am

SO is Ayer going to list the beliefs Plantinga says are warranted in the book ‘Warranted Christian Beliefs’?

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Steven Carr February 17, 2010 at 5:36 am

PLANTINGA
First, he arranged for the production of Scripture, the Bible, a library of books or writings each of which has a human author, but each of which is also specially inspired by God in such a way that he himself is its principal author.

CARR
Of course, Alvin produces no evidence for this – not even a discussion of which Bible he is talking about…

But Plantinga goes on to explain his philosophical expertise , namely, ‘The Bible says it. He believes it. That settles it.’

The whole chapter on Aquinas and the Extended Model is nothing more than piety dressed up as dogmatism.

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Alex February 17, 2010 at 5:47 am

Funny how Plantinga’s non-evidentialism begins with a discussion of personal experiences, ie evidence, that causes him to believe in God.

Nice to see the interviewer smear Dawkins et al by calling them ‘rich’ before putting the question to Plantinga.

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 6:10 am

Alex: Nice to see the interviewer smear Dawkins et al by calling them ‘rich’ before putting the question to Plantinga.

Well, we can’t have people making money on the basis of godless merit, can we? If the money doesn’t land in your lap after a long round of earnest prayer, then what good is it? Next thing you know they’ll say that reality is godless and that morality is too! :-)

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 7:41 am

Alex,

I know. The ‘rich’ part was dumb. There are way more Christians profiting greatly from Christianity than there are atheists profiting from atheism.

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 7:47 am

Perhaps there’s some confusion in the comments here. Plantinga is not telling why *we* should believe in God, he is telling us why he believes in God. In a similar way I could tell you why I think I’m typing on a computer right now: it just *seems* to me that I am. I’m not offering that reason to you as a reason *you* should believe, but simply as an account of why I believe as I do. And if it seems to me to be the case that I am typing on my computer, and I have no reason to doubt that belief, then how could I help but to continue to hold that belief? It seems Plantinga is approaching the existence of God in a similar way, which seems like an entirely reasonable approach to the issue if in fact God exists (just like it is entirely reasonable to believe that I am typing on a computer right now if in fact the cognitive and perceptual faculties that cause me to infer that belief are functioning correctly). And if Plantinga has examined all the objections to his beliefs and his beliefs still seem appropriate to him, what are we faulting him for? What more can he do?

The moral of the story: Plantinga is quite a bit more subtle than many of the comments here seem to suppose. This isn’t to say that he is necessarily correct (in fact, if you don’t think there is a God of the kind described in Christianity, then you will be entirely rational in thinking Plantinga’s beliefs regarding the existence of God/the truth of Christianity are unwarranted — even if you admit they may be justified in the internalist sense). I think a bit more humility is in order.

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Reginald Selkirk February 17, 2010 at 7:50 am

Simon Smart: “There are plenty of incredibly wealthy authors who are willing to argue against God’s existence

Smug git. I presume he’s talking about Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett etc. Most all of them have a day job, and have made contributions to society aside from their advocacy for atheism. Compare to professional apologists like Craig and Plantinga who survive solely on their advocacy of theism.

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Reginald Selkirk February 17, 2010 at 7:52 am

Briang: Plantinga only spends 53 seconds talking about Reformed Epistemology in this 6 1/2 minute video. Most of the video is about his argument against evolutionary naturalism.

I have addressed Plantinga’s argument against evolutionary naturalism in previous threads. It consists of layers and layers of FAIL.

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Charles February 17, 2010 at 8:04 am

Edson:
Well, to this objection I respond that if it’s a delusion, then it’s an irreparable disorder as I cannot force myself to believe God does not exist. Because that is what I see and indeed, that’s what I experience.  

If belief is involuntary (as you say) then how can God send those to Hell who don’t believe?

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 8:57 am

BREEEEEE: Plantinga is not telling why *we* should believe in God, he is telling us why he believes in God.

If he speaks in public, his comments are open to public reply. Same as everybody else.

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Almost Everyone February 17, 2010 at 9:07 am

lukeprog: I know. The ‘rich’ part was dumb. There are way more Christians profiting greatly from Christianity than there are atheists profiting from atheism.

There are probably even more atheists profiting greatly from Christianity than there are atheists profiting greatly from atheism.

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Reginald Selkirk February 17, 2010 at 9:43 am

Who is the atheist Pat Robertson? Who is the atheist Rick Warren? Who is the atheist Ted Haggard?

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 9:56 am

BREEEEE,

I gasp at Plantinga not because he hasn’t shown why I should believe, but because he’s so reckless with forming his own believes. He obviously is not serious about securing his beliefs, which is a major moral issue, as well as an intellectual one.

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 10:07 am

Almost Everyone,

You mean like an atheist setting up a business that sends cards to your loved ones when you are raptured away to heaven?

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Cafeeine February 17, 2010 at 10:58 am

I don’t know about ‘greatly’, but there is a a fair number of people in the clergy who have lost their faith, but continue to collect their paycheck because they have no other apparent prospects.

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ildi February 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Cafeeine: I don’t know about ‘greatly’, but there is a a fair number of people in the clergy who have lost their faith, but continue to collect their paycheck because they have no other apparent prospects.  

Mother Teresa comes to mind…

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Hermes February 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm

ildi: Mother Teresa comes to mind…

Too bad sainthood doesn’t change her grave situation. :-)

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Hermes,
“If he [Plantinga] speaks in public, his comments are open to public reply. Same as everybody else.”
Perhaps you’ve misunderstood me. I simply meant that Plantinga isn’t offering any type of argument for Christian theism — he isn’t trying to give us any reason to believe as he does. He is simply describing how in fact he has come to hold these beliefs. You’re certainly open to critique his process of belief formation or the epistemological framework within which he thinks his beliefs are warranted.

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 2:26 pm

lukeprog: BREEEEE,I gasp at Plantinga not because he hasn’t shown why I should believe, but because he’s so reckless with forming his own believes. He obviously is not serious about securing his beliefs, which is a major moral issue, as well as an intellectual one.  

It doesn’t seem clear to me that he *is* being reckless in forming his beliefs. It certainly *seems* to him that his beliefs are correct, in the same way in which it *seems* to him that he had such and such a food for breakfast this morning. This state of mind, that it just seems as if the “great truths of the gospel” are true, is precisely what he would expect given Christian theism, according to his Warranted Christian Belief (just as, given what we know about memory formation and retention, we would expect the particular states of mind that we do find regarding beliefs about what we eat for breakfast — that is, we would expect these memory beliefs to be present to us in a properly basic way, that they would just *seem* correct to us upon reflection). Assuming that Plantinga has carefully considered all the objections to Christian theism, and he still finds Christian theism compelling, what more can we expect of him? Analogously, assuming I’ve considered all the relevant objections to my having such-and-such for breakfast, and the proposition “I had such-and-such for breakfast” still seems compelling to me, what more can I do?

Of course, you probably think that there are objections to Christian theism that Plantinga should find rationally compelling. And if there are then he really should amend his beliefs. In his better moments Plantinga seems to agree with this, but sometimes he does seem to dismiss objections to Christian theism out of hand (e.g. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/alvin_plantinga/against-evil.html )

I’m open to correction in my assessment of the situation.

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Rob B February 17, 2010 at 3:45 pm

“Analogously, assuming I’ve considered all the relevant objections to my having such-and-such for breakfast, and the proposition “I had such-and-such for breakfast” still seems compelling to me, what more can I do?”

Many comments in these two threads remind me of the book On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re No.t

http://www.amazon.com/Being-Certain-Believing-Right-Youre/dp/031254152X/

Part of Plantinga’s position is that the strength of the feeling associated with a belief counts towards knowledge somehow. Burton argues that our feeling of certainty is always produced at subconscious levels, independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning.

Of course, I don’t expect the findings of neuroscience to have any affect on Plantinga’s desperate attempt to salvage his primitive beliefs. If something feels a certain way to Plantinga, then it must be true.

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Yeah. ‘On Being Certain’ is a good book.

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Rob B February 17, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Luke,

The high regard Plantinga places on the “firmness” with which a certain belief is held is a weakness of his position that has not been exploited. There is just no reason to think that the feeling of certainty associated with a belief is any guide to the truth of that belief. In fact, if you have strong emotional ties to a belief, that ought to make you skeptical of the belief.

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ildi February 17, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Rob B: The high regard Plantinga places on the “firmness” with which a certain belief is held is a weakness of his position that has not been exploited.

It’s like the guy has never heard of the scientific method. All kinds of firm beliefs have been overturned by actual objectively collected data. By his logic alien abduction stories are true.

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Rob B,

I think you’ve misunderstood what Plantinga is getting at. Having a “firm conviction” of something or other isn’t intended to establish the truth of that conviction. Plantinga is not offering an argument for Christian theism (something like “I feel rather strongly that Christian theism is true, therefore it’s probably true”). Rather he is referring to the possibility of the noetic effects of some exotic (I don’t mean this pejoratively) cognitive faculty — the instigation of the holy spirit and/or the sensus divinitatis. Plantinga’s trust in this cognitive faculty is supposed to be analogous to his trust in the deliverances of other properly basic belief forming processes (like memory or perception). On Plantinga’s account I am not warranted in believing my memories because I have a firm conviction that they are true. Rather, I am warranted in believing my memories if they are produced by belief forming cognitive faculties successfully aimed at truth, in a proper environment for their functioning in that capacity, not subject to defeaters (successful objections), and so forth (see Plantinga’s account of warrant in his “Warrant and Proper Function” or “Warranted Christian Belief,” or some other place where he outlines the idea). The same is true, according to Plantinga, for Christian beliefs. I get the impression that most of the misunderstanding of Plantinga’s views stems from a lack of appreciation for the externalist framework within which he works (his “proper function” theory of epistemic warrant). If you’re not familiar with Plantinga’s account of warrant, at least in outline, then you will almost certainly grossly misunderstand Plantinga’s views here.

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Rob B February 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm

BREEEEEE,

Does or does not Plantinga consider the subjective feeling of certainty about a particular belief an important component of “warrant”?

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Rob B: BREEEEEE,Does or does not Plantinga consider the subjective feeling of certainty about a particular belief an important component of “warrant”?  

Belief certainly has to be involved (the concept of warrant is meant to explain when we know things, and of course one must believe some proposition in order to know it), but I don’t see why it has to be certainty. And, Plantinga would be quick to point out, the belief in question would be no more subjective than any other beliefs we consider properly basic (beliefs based on our memories, perception, etc.).

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 6:21 pm

To make sure it doesn’t seem like I’m dodging the question I should be more clear: the answer is no.

While on Plantinga’s account belief certainly is an essential aspect of warrant (for the reason I just gave), it isn’t doing any work in justifying his belief in Christian theism. So it’s not as if he thinks to himself “hmm, I’m rather certain of this belief, therefore I’m justified in believing it.” There are factors external to his belief states ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internalism_and_externalism#Epistemology ) which are doing the real work in providing warrant for his beliefs.

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Rob B February 17, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Breeeeee,

So is this post from exapologist just wrong?

“Putting it all together, Plantinga’s account can be summed up as follows:

I. Conditions of warrant are met + high degree of firmness = high degree of warrant.
II. Conditions of warrant are met + low degree of firmness = low degree of warrant.”

http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2010/02/beilby-on-variability-of-belief-problem.html

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exapologist February 17, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Actually, firmness of belief is absolutely crucial for a belief to have sufficient warrant, according to Plantinga’s account. Meeting Plantinga’s externalist conditions of warrant are required for a given basic belief to have any degree of warrant at all. But of course, Plantinga allows that warrant admits of degrees, and he ties degrees of warrant to degrees of firmness:

“We must add, furthermore, that when a belief meets these conditions and does enjoy warrant, the degree of warrant it enjoys depends on the strength of the belief, the firmness with which S holds it.” Warranted Christan Belief (OUP, 2000) p. 156.

Thus, even if Plantinga’s account of warrant is correct (a big “if”), and even if a basic belief meets all Plantinga’s externalist conditions, if the belief produced is fairly weak and wavering, then the belief enjoys a correspondingly low degree of warrant.

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 6:55 pm

I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. exapologist is correct that (on Plantinga’s account) a certain firmness of belief is essential for having a high degree of warrant. But A)I only commented that *certainty* is not required to have a high degree of warrant, and B)I was only commenting on what was required for any warrant, not a high degree of warrant.

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Rob B February 17, 2010 at 7:06 pm

So, according to Plantinga, if certain conditions are met, and a person holds a belief with a high degree of firmness, then that belief has a high degree of warrant.

But, as detailed in the book On Being Certain, the degree of firmness with which a belief is held does not correlate at all with whether a belief is true.

So Plantinga has made a fatal error here.

Since degree of firmness does not track truth, then it should not be part of Plantinga’s warrant calculus.

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ildi February 17, 2010 at 7:06 pm

And, Plantinga would be quick to point out, the belief in question would be no more subjective than any other beliefs we consider properly basic (beliefs based on our memories, perception, etc.).

Beliefs based on our memories and perceptions are incredibly subjective, so saying ‘no more than’ is not really saying much. Our memories and perceptions are horribly unreliable for the purposes we put them to. The research on this has been around for ages. Read Elizabeth Loftus’ Eyewitness Testimony for a depressing summary on the research in that field alone.

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Briang February 17, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Rob B: So, according to Plantinga, if certain conditions are met, and a person holds a belief with a high degree of firmness, then that belief has a high degree of warrant.But, as detailed in the book On Being Certain, the degree of firmness with which a belief is held does not correlate at all with whether a belief is true.So Plantinga has made a fatal error here.Since degree of firmness does not track truth, then it should not be part of Plantinga’s warrant calculus.  

This seems implausible. In my experience as a college student, it seemed I could be pretty confident when I did very well or very poorly on a test and I was often correct about my judgment prior to getting the results. There were many times when I was uncertain. But I can’t think of very many times (any?), when I thought I got an A and I ended up getting an F, or vice versa. I’m aware that this experience could be the result of confirmation bias; however, it seems that this kind of bias would likely go the other way.

The closest thing I can think of in my own experience are situations when I should be objectively certain about something, but I second guess myself. Sometimes this seems to be a psychological defense mechanism against disappointment.

I’d like to know what kind of study was done on a person’s feeling of certainty. Is there a summary somewhere?

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Rob B: So, according to Plantinga, if certain conditions are met, and a person holds a belief with a high degree of firmness, then that belief has a high degree of warrant.But, as detailed in the book On Being Certain, the degree of firmness with which a belief is held does not correlate at all with whether a belief is true.So Plantinga has made a fatal error here.Since degree of firmness does not track truth, then it should not be part of Plantinga’s warrant calculus.  

I don’t recall why Plantinga has firmness of belief as part of his set of criteria for having a high degree of warrant. I’m guessing it has something do with our intuition that one cannot know what one has only a halfhearted belief in. So, for example, I might be warranted (on Plantinga’s account) in believing that I will get a job promotion, and yet, because of a lack of confidence, only barely assent to the fact that I will get that job promotion. Perhaps then I don’t really *know* I’ll get the promotion, or maybe I don’t know it in an optimal way. If this is the reason Plantinga has firmness of belief in the warrant equation (and I confess I can’t remember the actual reason he does) would that really be all too objectionable? It doesn’t seem obvious to me that it would be, but I’m open to correction.

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 10:44 pm

ildi:
Beliefs based on our memories and perceptions are incredibly subjective, so saying ‘no more than’ is not really saying much.Our memories and perceptions are horribly unreliable for the purposes we put them to.The research on this has been around for ages.Read Elizabeth Loftus’ Eyewitness Testimony for a depressing summary on the research in that field alone.  

Our memory and perception can’t be *that* unreliable, if you’re suggesting a book you think you remember reading ;). But seriously, while i recognize that perception and memory can be fallible, this shouldn’t be grounds for doubting their reliability in any and every particular situation. Otherwise I’d be mired in doubt about whether I’m really typing on a computer right now.

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BREEEEEE February 17, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Rob B: So, according to Plantinga, if certain conditions are met, and a person holds a belief with a high degree of firmness, then that belief has a high degree of warrant.But, as detailed in the book On Being Certain, the degree of firmness with which a belief is held does not correlate at all with whether a belief is true.So Plantinga has made a fatal error here.Since degree of firmness does not track truth, then it should not be part of Plantinga’s warrant calculus.  

I forgot to mention that presumably you’ve overstated your case a bit. If degree of firmness of belief doesn’t track truth at all, wouldn’t I have just as much reason to believe that a real live Snorlax is in my bedroom as that “2+2=4″? Of course I’m much more certain that “2+2=4″, but that doesn’t mean squat… But, I’m assuming you were using hyperbole.

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Edson February 17, 2010 at 11:17 pm

“If belief is involuntary (as you say) then how can God send those to Hell who don’t believe?”

Charles, I didn’t say belief is involuntary. I said that it is much harder for me to believe God does not exist when I look around and see the real design and purpose in almost everything, biotic and abiotic.

Now dont mistake me into someone who has not read the alternative view to these things offered by enchanted naturalist atheists. It is just that it is hard for me to substitute the problem of evil to what I see as the solution of most evil, right here, right now.

As for Hell to those who do not believe in God, I must admit that I’m totaly mute to offer opinion. Not deliberately but because I’ve no idea.

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Derrida February 18, 2010 at 2:45 am

Edson,

I didn’t say belief is involuntary. I said that it is much harder for me to believe God does not exist when I look around and see the real design and purpose in almost everything, biotic and abiotic.

Even if there is design in nature that can’t be explained naturally (which I see no evidence of) that wouldn’t in anyway imply that God was the designer. This objection, known as the “gap problem”, is universal to all arguments for God’s existence.

Now dont mistake me into someone who has not read the alternative view to these things offered by enchanted naturalist atheists. It is just that it is hard for me to substitute the problem of evil to what I see as the solution of most evil, right here, right now.

God is not the solution to evil if He does not exist. And if any of the evil or suffering that we know of is gratuitous, that would count as strong evidence against God’s existence.

As for Hell to those who do not believe in God, I must admit that I’m totaly mute to offer opinion. Not deliberately but because I’ve no idea.

I would like to direct you to this very good debate on the subject of Hell, between William Lane Craig and Walter Bradley. http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-bradley0.html

The Bible explicitly states that Hell is a place of extreme suffering, using vivid metaphors such as a lake of fire, eternal damnation and punishment.

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Steven Carr February 18, 2010 at 3:05 am

So we still haven’t got a list of Warranted Christian Beliefs that Plantinga claims you can get simply by reading the Bible and believing whatever you think is true in it.

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Hermes February 18, 2010 at 3:36 am

Edson: “If belief is involuntary (as you say) then how can God send those to Hell who don’t believe?”Charles, I didn’t say belief is involuntary. I said that it is much harder for me to believe God does not exist when I look around and see the real design and purpose in almost everything, biotic and abiotic.  

Do you have an example that you find most convincing, or is that a general estimation?

Edson:

Now dont mistake me into someone who has not read the alternative view to these things offered by enchanted naturalist atheists.   

I’m not a an explicit naturalist. If something is real, that’s my only concern. If a particular description or framing of reality has better explanatory power, then that supports that method as having merit. As such, the method or framing … can be used as a tool for understanding what I don’t know. It doesn’t change reality, though.

Edson:

It is just that it is hard for me to substitute the problem of evil to what I see as the solution of most evil, right here, right now.  

The last part of your sentence doesn’t make much sense to me. Could you explain what you mean?

Edson:

As for Hell to those who do not believe in God, I must admit that I’m totaly mute to offer opinion. Not deliberately but because I’ve no idea.  

That’s something I can address. There is no such place as an afterlife because there are no such things as incorporeal souls.

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Hermes February 18, 2010 at 4:14 am

Steven Carr: So we still haven’t got a list of Warranted Christian Beliefs that Plantinga claims you can get simply by reading the Bible and believing whatever you think is true in it.  

Yep. I’m not expecting any either.

These types of claims are mists, diversions, dodges, and assertions by people who don’t know what it is they know. But they must know, so they say they do. Like a kid being asked if they know how a car works, they confidently say “yes” yet when asked how a car works they have no answer.

Dan Dennett had it right; they have ‘belief in belief’ first, and then I’ll add they cling to a story someone told them and treat that as if it were real.

Is that rude? Maybe, but I’ve asked and conversations that ask for details always end like this one has; in assertions, in dogmas, and in silence. It’s good that a few people were able to attempt an answer, however undefined, but that lack of precision should give them pause. It rarely does. I can’t even get any details about what they mean by “God exists” beyond statements of dogma that are self-referential.

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Rob B February 18, 2010 at 4:22 am

“If degree of firmness of belief doesn’t track truth at all, wouldn’t I have just as much reason to believe that a real live Snorlax is in my bedroom as that “2+2=4″?”

Of course you can come up with an example of a firm belief that is true. I am not saying we are unjustified is holding firm beliefs. I am saying something quite simple and testable. The subjective “feeling of knowing” is not a good indicator of truth. Perhaps you believe that the number 98765498267354687 is prime. You believe this firmly because you were taught that all numbers ending in 7 are prime. Perhaps you even believe it as firmly as 2+2=4.

I could design a simple test of questions about undisputed historical and scientific facts. I then ask people to answer the questions and also indicate the degree of confidence they have in each answer. I could design the test such that high confidence in answers did not track truth.

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

— Bertrand Russell

See The Dunning-Kruger effect:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

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Rob B February 18, 2010 at 4:37 am

Test how well your confidence tracks truth:

http://projectionpoint.com/

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Edson February 18, 2010 at 4:48 am

Derrida & Hermes,

Thanks for the links and I’ll take ma time to go through them.

I admire Derrida’s patience to wait for the moment when some sort of natural explanation (whatever that mean) of the big mysteries other than God.

Hermes, if you learn Christianity (and I assume you have learned it) you will see that there are in it so many events that present a cumulative case for the existence of God. I’m persuaded to believe that you find many of these events in Christianity to be perfectly executed fables or myths and that’s why you are not a Christian. As for me, I can’t wait and I can’t ignore and that’s why I am a Christian.

The reason I said that most evil are solvable is because most evils are of moral grounds. Most wars are caused by greed, most divorces are caused by sexual immorality, you know what I mean. If we solve the moral problem may be we could alleviate many unnecessary sufferings. We will be left with natural evils such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

Now Derrida, can you propose the way we can solve the moral issues?

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Hermes February 18, 2010 at 4:51 am

Rob, a heads up; the research on what Dunning and Kruger found has been reexamined over the past few years. I’ve been meaning to plow through it myself, but haven’t yet.

Thanks for the link to the Projection Point site.

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Bayesian Bouffant, FCD February 18, 2010 at 6:48 am

Rob B: Test how well your confidence tracks truth:http://projectionpoint.com/  

I took their quiz recently, and am not impressed. In order to correlate the quiz-taker’s confidence with truth, you must do a thorough and careful job of evaluating truth, correct? And yet, in taking their quiz I ran across several questions for which the quizmasters answers are ambiguous or even wrong.

Example: “Cats are not mentioned in the Bible.” According to the quizmasters, this is a true statement.

Now let me direct your attention to EpJer 1:21, “Upon their bodies and heads sit bats, swallows, and birds, and the cats also.” You may note that the letter of Jeremiah is part of the Apocrypha, and therefore whether one considers it a part of the Bible may depend on which version of the Bible one is familiar with. The question did not specify which Bible version.

Consider also that lions are mentioned frequently in the Bible (over 170 times in the King james version), and that lions are arguably “cats.” The question did not specify “house cats” or “domestic cats,” so the more inclusive interpretation of the terminology seems quite justifiable.

So then, since the quizmasters cannot unambiguously settle the truth or untruth of such poorly posed questions, they cannot properly correlate the quiztaker’s confidence with truth.

I.e. I consider Projection Point to be the sort of low quality entertainment one finds lying around the web, and have trouble taking it seriously as an endeavor of academic rigidity.

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lukeprog February 18, 2010 at 7:13 am

Rob B,

That’s a great Russell quote.

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lukeprog February 18, 2010 at 7:26 am

Where do you see their answers to the questions at Projection Point?

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Bayesian Bouffant, FCD February 18, 2010 at 7:47 am

lukeprog: Where do you see their answers to the questions at Projection Point?  

When you click on your answer, as a percentage of how much confidence you have in it, it pops up with “This statement is true” or “This statement is false.” I.e. while you rate your own confidence in your response, the “official” answers are binary true or false.

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Briang February 18, 2010 at 8:59 am

Rob B: “If degree of firmness of belief doesn’t track truth at all, wouldn’t I have just as much reason to believe that a real live Snorlax is in my bedroom as that “2+2=4″?”Of course you can come up with an example of a firm belief that is true.I am not saying we are unjustified is holding firm beliefs.I am saying something quite simple and testable.The subjective “feeling of knowing” is not a good indicator of truth.Perhaps you believe that the number 98765498267354687 is prime.You believe this firmly because you were taught that all numbers ending in 7 are prime.Perhaps you even believe it as firmly as 2+2=4.I could design a simple test of questions about undisputed historical and scientific facts.I then ask people to answer the questions and also indicate the degree of confidence they have in each answer.I could design the test such that high confidence in answers did not track truth.“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”— Bertrand RussellSee The Dunning-Kruger effect:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect  

I think you probably could design a test “such that high confidence in answers did not track truth.” You could try to look for questions that people usually get wrong, but they think they are right. (Did Columbus discover the earth was round? Did Moses build the ark? etc) The fact that someone can put together a hundred of these types of questions, doesn’t prove that there is “no correlation” between feeling certain and being correct. Try the same experiment without looking for those types of questions.

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Briang February 18, 2010 at 9:39 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QL12c4d0ro4

I just finished watching this video by Robert Burton and he’s talking about his book On Being Certain. He doesn’t say anything quite as strong as some of the comments. I think he’d distinguish between two types of perceptions of knowing, but I don’t know if he has the language to distinguish between them. The example he gave was as follows:
1) 2+2=4
2) e=mc^2

In 1) there is a sense where I can “see” that it’s true, where as in 2) I belief it’s true but without the feeing of “seeing” that it’s true.

My interpretation:
But something must be happening in my brain to tell me that I believe and know 2) even though it’s not accompanied by the same feeling as 1). Should not this second experience be part of the “feeling of knowing” even though it’s a different kind of “feeling”?

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lukeprog February 18, 2010 at 10:27 am

Bayesian Bouffant,

Cool. I looked for other answers they had incorrect and didn’t notice any. Was cats in the Bible their only mistake, as far as you know?

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Bayesian Bouffant, FCD February 18, 2010 at 10:48 am

Other questions I noticed to which the answers are wrong or at least ambiguous (BTW, I cheated and Googled everything as I was filling out the quiz):

“Humphrey Bogart had two wives before Lauren Bacall” This is allegedly false.

If you investigate, you will find that Bogart had three wives before Bacall. Now you might ask yourself, does “had two wives” mean “had exactly two wives” or does it mean “had at least two wives”? This is ambiguous.

“Natural gas has an odour” This is allegedly false.

You may be aware that methane, the primary ingredient of natural gas, is odorless, but that a thiol odorant is added by the utility before the gas is piped into homes, for safety purposes. So what do they mean by “natural gas”? Do they mean the methane pumped out of the ground, or do they mean the fuel piped into my home? Because if I decide they mean the latter, I can run tests and verify that it has an odour with a very high probability. This is ambiguous.

“The world’s highest island mountain is Mauna Kea” This is allegedly true.

If you check the Wikipedia “List of islands by highest point” you will find that Puncak Jaya in New Guinea is 4884 m high, and Mauna Kea in Hawaii is only 4205 m high. Is New Guinea considered an island? Yes. Is Puncak Jaya considered a mountain? Yes. So what’s going on? If you Google around a bit, you will find claims that Mauna Kea would be the highest mountain if measured from the sea floor instead of from sea level. But in usual practice, elevations are not measured from the sea floor. They could have added some modifying phrases which would have made their answer correct, but they didn’t. This answer is false.

You might think that since these things are confusing, that if I am very well-informed I should place a low confidence on my answer. But I disagree. Ultimately, that confidence is being correlated to whether or not I am ‘correct,’ and this correctness is being judged against their answers. I should be judged on my confidence in my own knowledge, not my ability to second-guess the quiz authors, who did a #### job of researching their questions.

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lukeprog February 18, 2010 at 10:51 am

Yup. Well done, Bayseian Bouffant.

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Hermes February 18, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Edson: Hermes, if you learn Christianity (and I assume you have learned it) you will see that there are in it so many events that present a cumulative case for the existence of God. I’m persuaded to believe that you find many of these events in Christianity to be perfectly executed fables or myths and that’s why you are not a Christian.

I have read a version of the Christian Bible twice plus countless comments and commentary. As such, I do not find it ‘just a myth’ or (conversely) perfect.

It’s demonstratively not perfect based on problems in the text itself and how it does not accurately track reality.

When I wrote ‘just a myth’, I did not mean ‘myth’ as ‘fiction that is to be lightly considered or casually discarded’. Quite the contrary. Myths are culturally significant and tie societies to common values. Yet, anyone who knows the source of the Genesis flood story must consider it mythic, though some have challenged me on that strangely enough.

Edson:

As for me, I can’t wait and I can’t ignore and that’s why I am a Christian.

I don’t understand what you mean. I was hoping to have an explanation for what you meant when you wrote;

Edson: I said that it is much harder for me to believe God does not exist when I look around and see the real design and purpose in almost everything, biotic and abiotic.

Your reply seems to be to just repeat the same thing using different words.

Without attempting mind reading and putting words in your mouth, I still can’t make heads or tails of it. I’m assuming that you know of both the wonders of this universe and the horrors.

To push things along, I’ll attempt some mind reading: Do you assert that all the good bits are from your deity Yahweh, and all the bad bits are from a combination of one or more of the following; ‘original sin’ (humans), Lucifer and/or the Devil and/or various demons?

Edson: The reason I said that most evil are solvable is because most evils are of moral grounds. Most wars are caused by greed, most divorces are caused by sexual immorality, you know what I mean. If we solve the moral problem may be we could alleviate many unnecessary sufferings. We will be left with natural evils such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

Thanks for clarifying.

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Derrida February 18, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Edson,

I admire Derrida’s patience to wait for the moment when some sort of natural explanation (whatever that mean) of the big mysteries other than God.

Actually, I’m waiting for you to explain why you think abiotic and biotic “design” is evidence for God. It would help if you addressed my objection rather than straw-manning them. The fact that I can’t explain x doesn’t mean that God did x.

The reason I said that most evil are solvable is because most evils are of moral grounds. Most wars are caused by greed, most divorces are caused by sexual immorality, you know what I mean. If we solve the moral problem may be we could alleviate many unnecessary sufferings. We will be left with natural evils such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

If God exists, than natural evil is unnecessary as well. God could have designed the world we lived in a lot better. So the fact that animals are forced to hunt and kill one another, that the techtonic plates rub together to cause earthquakes and natural disasters is better explained if God doesn’t exist than if He does.

Now Derrida, can you propose the way we can solve the moral issues?

Humanitarian aide is the best we can do.

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Chuck February 18, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Bree,

I don’t misunderstand Plantinga. He “feels” his Calvinism true. This no different than the Salem elders who “felt” the same thing about their beliefs. You are naive to believe a tenured professor at a major university does not have social impact. Your naivete is further offensive when you passively assume this person’s private beliefs and published defense therof doesn’t impact public moral action. It is infuriating when you fail to acknowledge the work of this professor has inspired a strain of Christianity in America in relation to homosexuality that those salem elders had.

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Martin February 20, 2010 at 4:28 pm

But couldn’t Plantinga’s description in this post be flipped around?

For example, Luke says something like, “I don’t think traditional arguments against God’s existence… are all that powerful… but it just seems to me that there isn’t any design or purpose in nature…When I look at the mountains, when I look at the treetops in my backyard, and on many other occasions I just find myself convinced that it’s all random and purposeless…It’s more like a personal experience than an argument or a philosophical proof.”

With Plantinga then answering, “Yikes!”

???

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Hermes February 20, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Martin, I agree, though putting on a theist cap I can easily imagine that they’d probably pull the theist privilege card and argue that “nothing” isn’t the same as their “something” and that they are seeing “something”.

Yet, the presupposition used in each case is always that they have something that is a given and that everyone else has nothing. Pure nonsense, of course, but it’s hard to shake someone who’s so deep into it that they presume knowledge that they don’t even possess while ignoring that any new ager can claim the same thing with equal assuredness.

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lukeprog February 20, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Martin,

No, because I don’t just ‘feel’ like there isn’t design or purpose in nature. I don’t claim an ‘experience’ that there is no god. I claim a series of arguments to the best explanation that favor naturalism over theism.

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Martin February 21, 2010 at 11:55 am

Luke,

Maybe I’m speaking more for myself, then. Although I’m agnostic because I think strict philosophical arguments between both sides are often closely balanced or at least not coercive enough to draw me strongly to either side, I lean just ever so slightly to the atheist side because when it comes down to it my personal intuitive sense for the universe is that it just doesn’t SEEM designed to me.

Plantinga feels it IS. I don’t really see anything wrong with his point of view per se. It’s just a difference of perception. I find the conflict to be quite interesting.

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Hermes February 21, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Martin, FWIW agnostics (or gnostics) are making knowledge claims while theists (or atheists) are make statements of belief. As such, in general, I am an agnostic atheist; I do not claim knowledge that there are no gods anywhere, but I do not believe that there are any.

* * *

Related;

An overview (video):
The Atheism/Agnosticism Relationship

Slightly more detailed overview (including word usage and history):
Am I agnostic or atheist?

A poll with active discussion:
What is your religious position?

More:
Various resources (texts and videos).

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Martin February 23, 2010 at 8:43 am

Hermes,

I’m not that sort of agnostic; I’m just someone who doesn’t know which one is right and thinks that the arguments are almost perfectly balanced.

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Hermes February 23, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Martin: Hermes,I’m not that sort of agnostic; I’m just someone who doesn’t know which one is right and thinks that the arguments are almost perfectly balanced.  

Glad to hear that you are an agnostic. I am too.

As an entirely separate issue, there is the question of what kind of theist you are; if you have any belief (not knowledge!) that one or more deities exists or not.

It may be that your belief (or lack thereof) wavers frequently. That doesn’t discard the temporary status being a status; a woman can’t be a little pregnant.

I happen not to be a theist. As such, that makes me a non-theist. AKA, an atheist.

The links I provided spell it all out in detail if you have any questions.

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Martin February 23, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Hermes,

I don’t really agree with the way lay atheists are defining this term. “Without theism” can mean many things: deism, agnosticism, apatheism, pantheism, atheism, etc etc. So defining “atheism” to mean all those seems to water down the term. The situation can be shown by dropping all terminology:

Does God exist?

A. Yes (with varying levels of justification)
B. No (with varying levels of justification)
C. I don’t know

Both As and Bs are making knowledge claims and thus have a burden of proof. C doesn’t.

Are you a B or a C?

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hermes February 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Theism and atheism are statements of belief.

Gnosticism and agnosticism (and other categories) are statements of knowledge.

The two are in different categories.

As such, to use the three options;

Do [you know that] deities exist?

A. Yes. (a gnostic claim.)
B. No. (a gnostic claim.)
C. I don’t know. (an agnostic claim.)

None of these are claims of belief. For belief, the question is;

Do [you believe that] deities exist?

A. Yes. (a theistic belief.)
B. No. (an atheistic belief.)
C. I don’t know. (an atheistic belief.)

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Hermes February 23, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Martin, the question I have for you is this;

Why are you resistant to claiming a type of theism or atheism?

I take it that you don’t like the company. That’s fine. Most people in the KKK are white, and I don’t like their company either. That dislike doesn’t automatically give me a nice bronze skin tone, though, even if we’re all in a real sense Africans.

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Hermes February 23, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Errata: Item C in the “Do [you believe that] deities exist?” list should have been “I don’t believe so. (an atheistic belief.)” as it makes no sense to claim knowledge when asked about a belief.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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Martin February 24, 2010 at 6:38 am

I haven’t heard that distinction before. The most common definition of knowledge has been “justified true belief.”

Atheists and theists alike both have belief, and I think that philosophically they both have justification (although I’m sure this is somewhat controversial, depending on who you ask). But the real controversy and debate is over the “true” part.

Regardless, the question being asked is simple: does God exist? This would be a request for knowledge, either strong or weak.

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Hermes February 24, 2010 at 10:02 am

Martin: I haven’t heard that distinction before. The most common definition of knowledge has been “justified true belief.”

It’s not a belief, though, that it is possible for water to freeze or that I enjoy a fresh ripe slice of pineapple every now and then. Someone can know that they love their children and their spouse. These things and an infinite number of other bits of knowledge are known without any belief entering into it at all.

As you noted, that knowledge has a level of justification. People do think they know many things that turn out not to be true. They even have justifications for those claims to knowledge (and as such I see no problem with tentatively taking those justified claims as true). There are scales of knowledge as well, including basic apprehensions of mundane facts (This banana is ripe. It is cold outside. Honey is sweet.) and more statistically or procedurally valid knowledge (On average, there are over 6 million car accidents in the USA every year. Screws and bolts ‘screw in’ by being turned clockwise with very few exceptions.) Once again, there is no hedging into a religious/theistic-style belief even when uncertianty is involved or if all knowledge is held tentatively.

Consider medical recommendations from how often someone should be screened for various cancers (recently breast cancer), or in the past it was justified to think that the Sun went around the Earth and that the Earth was flat. If someone said back then that the Earth is round and goes around the Sun, but had no justification of why that should be the case, they should have been rightly ignored. Conversely, Newtonian physics describes the universe correctly on large scales, but is wrong on the quantum level.

Personally, I think that religions and theistic beliefs are informative on some scales as well, but not on others. The issue for me is that theisms and religions are often misused as generic one-size-fits all answers or descriptions — when they may be limited in value to specific narrow instances. The supporters /maintainers of religions and theisms also resist the input from other sources and disciplines, often to an extreme level. This is why the Flat Earth Society is roundly mocked by most people, young earth creationists are frowned at, and why the ID/Creationist crowds should mocked vigorously as well.

Yet, the stories told by many religions have some ability to show us what the cultures that created them thought, and some ability to show us how modern religious people now think. It’s like a large scale cultural Rorschach test that has the bonus of occasional insights.

For some reason, a shell game with knowledge claims (gnostic and agnostic and …) being tossed around with belief statements appears mainly on religious issues but in very few other places. That is what is primarily interesting to me about this conversation; that a specific religious/theistic presupposition (mainly evangelical Christian) that beliefs and knowledge are indistinguishable is accepted as true often by non-religious/non-theistic people who are otherwise supporters of the noble idea of pluralism and social development. Meanwhile, the same presupposition is used reflexively by religious theists to tear at and dismantle the basis for pluralism and of social development, while inoculating their own beliefs and knowledge claims from scrutiny; loosely ‘Don’t be rude and question me, just believe I’m right and stop looking.’.

Martin: But the real controversy and debate is over the “true” part.

[ note comments above ]

Agreed, though I always try and approach it as a general theistic category of deit(y/ies) or god(s), with no preference for capital G-God (Yahweh).

With that in mind, there are theisms (belief in specific sets of deities) and there is atheism (lack of belief on a basic level of the claimed deities).

[ Oddly enough, some people reject that 'lack of belief' as a basic definition because (say) a rock can lack belief. Well, a rock can lack an education too, but it makes no sense to put a rock into the category of things that aren't educated. It's a given that specific abilities (or lack of a specific ability) are only appropriate for things that can have that ability, and that includes the ability to believe. ]

Martin: Regardless, the question being asked is simple: does God exist? This would be a request for knowledge, either strong or weak.

To get a bit detailed …

Most of the time it’s a statement in the form of a question posed by someone who already has a belief that they want to either assert or reinforce in the person they are ‘asking the question’ to; it is a social convention.

It’s like saying ‘Can I have a napkin?’ — literally meaning “Can you tell me if it is it possible for me to posses a napkin?” when we mean ‘May I have a napkin [from you]?’.

The “Does God exist?” usually has an implied “You believe in Yahweh (or quasi-Christian or other deity) and all the things I do, right?” or “You don’t believe that stuff, do you?”

It’s also framed as “How can you know that God(tm) does/doesn’t exist?”, often when the person asking has no demonstrable knowledge of one existing or not but is actually stunned that someone can’t believe that it’s just true (or not) that Yahweh or some generic deity set exists.

Only in philosophical circles is the question taken seriously, and even then not very much. When it comes up, it almost always is meant as “Is it more likely than not or logically possible/impossible that one or more deities exist?” not “Does Yahweh(tm) as described by one of the Abrahamic religions or a subset exist?”

At some point, if someone is on the pro-deity side, they will attempt to slip in their specific conception of a deity into the generic idea of ‘one or more deities’ and consider that their specific conception is what was being talked about all along.

=======================

When you mentioned earlier “‘Without theism’ can mean many things: deism, agnosticism, apatheism, pantheism, atheism, etc etc.”, that is not correct except in specific more narrow cases. It’s like using ‘bad’ to mean ‘good’ when talking to a large and diverse audience that may not be in on the slang usage. Theism, to be clear, is not limited to monotheism or Abrahamic theism. It is ‘a belief in a god or gods’;

———————–

References;

“Theism(1) … a. gen. Belief in a deity or deities, as opp. to atheism.”

–Oxford English Dictionary (American first edition / Shorter OED, 3rd English edition) [ The OED is frequently referred to (with emphasis) as "The dictionary". Note that dictionaries including the OED report on actual usage and are not authorities defining words for the public to use. That said, if you disagree with what's in the OED or you insist that less general definitions should be the primary definition, yet you don't make a very strong case for your disagreement, then there's not much I can say. ]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theism
http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=theism
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theism
http://www.answers.com/topic/theism

———————–

To cover your examples;

Deists have a belief, so they are theists even if they are often close to or otherwise indistinguishable from atheists.

Pantheism covers everything as a deity, so it is theistic.

Agnosticism has been covered as knowledge, and is for theists (of any sort) and atheists. [see: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=833 - also covers more examples on the knowledge side (ignostic, apnostic, ...) and discussions of other potential groupings not in the formal poll itself.]

Apatheism is a form of the general case of atheism as a belief; “Apatheism … is acting with apathy, disregard, or lack of interest towards belief, or lack of belief in a deity.”

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Hermes February 24, 2010 at 10:48 am

Martin, FWIW, I did a review of the word ‘knowledge’ and while I personally acknowledge your point on the emphasis of ‘justified’, none of the references I have access to emphasize any form of the word or a close synonym of ‘justified’.

As for the word ‘true’ in the fuller definitions of knowledge, it is not mentioned but the similar word ‘fact’ is used often. I take ‘fact’ and the fuller definitions of ‘knowledge’ to mean something more along the line of ‘mundane facts’ and less so ‘universally true’ though there is obviously quite a bit of gray on that sliding scale and ‘universally true’ does apply better than ‘mundane facts’ at times.

———————–

Reference (OED, as cited earlier);

“Knowledge … stem of Know … I. i. Acknowledgement, confession; recognition of the position or claims (of any one)”

(1) “Know … The fact of knowing; knowledge.”

(2) “Know … I. i. … To recognize; to identify; to distinguish.”

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Martin February 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Hermes,

That’s basic epistemology. More specifically, from Plato; although there have been problems found with it, it’s still a useful metric for defining terminology.

So when you say “belief” vs “knowledge,” it doesn’t really make any sense since “knowledge” IS belief, plus justification and truth. While people obviously have beliefs that aren’t true or justified, from their (badly reasoned) perspective they are true and justified.

No one is going to consciously have a belief that they know isn’t true or justified, so asking them for their “belief” is exactly the same thing as asking them for their “knowledge.”

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Hermes February 24, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Thanks for the link, but I thought we were well beyond the basics.

Note that I did not say or even intend to imply belief vs. knowledge — that was kinda the point.

Instead, I emphasized beliefs, and as a separate issue, knowledge.

To drive this home, yes EM radiation is literally all along a spectrum, yet that doesn’t eliminate any discussions of visible light as separate from from discussions on IR and radio waves on the upper end, and ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays on the lower end.

With that in mind, do my previous comments and supporting evidence and references make sense now?

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Martin February 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Hermes,

But you did distinguish between belief and knowledge.

The sliding scale continuum you are talking about is not belief—–knowledge but level of weak justification—–strong justification.

So my original analogy is still correct because I added “with varying levels of justification” after each one. You can answer “no” or “yes” with weak or strong justification, but you have to have positive arguments for each position.

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Hermes February 24, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Martin: But you did distinguish between belief and knowledge.

Yes, you are absolutely right. I did distinguish between belief and knowledge. That was why I wrote;

Hermes: Note that I did not say or even intend to imply belief vs. knowledge — that was kinda the point.

To acknowledge your previous comments, I even added;

Hermes: To drive this home, yes EM radiation is literally all along a spectrum, yet that doesn’t eliminate any discussions of visible light as separate from from discussions on IR and radio waves on the upper end, and ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma rays on the lower end.

I have a simple question for you;

Are you just jerking my chain? If so, cut it out. It’s really friggen rude.

If not, go back and take a look again. I really hate repeating myself especially when I take the time to calmly and completely address a simple subject.

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Hermes February 24, 2010 at 9:35 pm

The following should have been added as part of the second quote;

Hermes: Instead, I emphasized beliefs, and as a separate issue, knowledge.

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Martin February 25, 2010 at 8:11 am

I don’t understand what you’re trying to say, then. You said there is a difference between asking if someone believes in God vs whether they know God exists. I simply responded that there is no difference between the two questions.

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Hermes February 25, 2010 at 11:31 am

[*sigh*]

Since thoughtful and nuanced doesn’t seem to work, I’ll distill a statement;

* Either you believe that one or more deities exist, or you do not.

It’s that simple, it and covers all cases; it is the superset of all possibilities. You can check it yourself, and I’ve provided references and reasons to show that. That’s on the logic side of things.

What about non-abstract reality? Conveniently enough, there are words — theist and atheist — that exactly cover all possibilities in that equation.

What about how people actually use the words? Easy, that’s covered too, and has been provided to you multiple times in the references and quotes from the OED. Can people have additional layers of meaning? Yes. Are those additional layers of meaning the primary meaning of those words? No. In short: Do you disagree with the dictionary (OED)?

In each case, theist and atheist are defined as beliefs or lack thereof.

What about gnosticism or agnosticism or any of the other examples I’ve already point-by-point addressed? Nothing of the above eliminates talking about specific subsets or other categories or mixing in other categories. For example, on this site we have charts like this being referenced;

http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/atheism-agnosticism.png

If we once again look at the meanings of the words gnostic and agnostic, we find talk about knowledge. We don’t find talk about belief.

Martin: I simply responded that there is no difference between the two questions.

I’ve provided evidence in the form of references, usage, and logic.

How about you?

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Martin February 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I don’t think dictionary definitions are good for discussions like this, as they can reflect all kinds of colloquial uses and such. Part of philosophy is trying to hammer down definitions in a more substantial way than a dictionary allows.

Regardless, my ultimate point at the beginning was that anyone making a knowledge claim bears a burden of proof. “Weak” atheists claim they only lack theism; but their actions speak louder than words and it’s clear they don’t think God exists. Then when asked to support this contention, they retreat to “I lack theism – no burden of proof is on me!”

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Hermes February 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Martin: I don’t think dictionary definitions are good for discussions like this,

I already covered that. That’s why I did not only reference the OED, but gave a variety of resources. I also said explicitly;

Hermes: Note that dictionaries including the OED report on actual usage and are not authorities defining words for the public to use.

Did you look at any of those other references?

If you did, can you tell me why all of them are wrong in the general case — including this web site — and you are correct in the general case?

I also gave the logic to back up what I wrote, and provided references of a detailed philosophical review of the issues involved as well as more approachable resources from a variety of sources including this web site. I provided a poll that has over 300 votes on these issues, and almost 300 comments.

Beyond stating that your understanding is the one you hold, what do you have to show me that your position is the correct one?

Stating your position over and over again, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing all other provided evidence (that you can also verify for yourself) is not properly approaching the situation.

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Jon May 13, 2011 at 1:03 am

This really shows how difficult it is disabuse people of their religious notions.It is so deeply internal that they don’t particular care if they have solid reasons to hold to it.

And the reason he thinks that this idea is justified is so odd to me.Basically, if God DOES exist, then we would expect people to have a deeply held internal notion of God, therefore it is perfectly rational hold to that notion.

But I don’t think this is quite the case.If God actually existed, we would actually expect people to have a notion of the RIGHT God, and given the state of religious diversity, that is clearly not the case.His explanation of this state of affairs is completely Ad Hoc: “the noetic effects of sin.” Of course, it is much more parsimonious, in my opinion, to explain religious diversity by humanity’s lack of connection to anything divine.

I think would only buy this kind of thinking if there was something about the human mind that inclined it towards one particular kind of supernatural belief, and was harshly skeptical to all others.Instead, we that humans are credulous creatures who are completely willing to buy whatever nonsense ideas are put in front of them.

You say if God exists then we would expect people to have the RIGHT God, so this is not the case. At best the assumption is “we would expect someone to have the RIGHT God.” The fact that there is diversity in which we claim as divine assumes ALL to be wrong, and NO convergence in the noetic structures of religious beliefs. Basically, this claim amounts to: Premise 1. There is diversity in religious beliefs
Premise 2. If God exists, we would expect people to have the notion of the right God.
Conclusion. There is diversity among religious beliefs, therefore God does not exist.
Premise 1 is self-evident.
Premise 2 is partly true when the expectation surmounts to someone being right.
Conclusion is a non-sequitur because it assumes ALL wrong, while there is diversity among groups that may claim what “the divine” is, the conclusion that the absence of divine is the cause of diversity does not follow. An existence of “something” is independent from which we may claim what that “something” is. For technicality purposes: Your claim is an denying the antecedent fallacy: If P, then Q; P, therefore Q is a valid form of deductive argument, also known as modus ponens logic. A denying the antecedent is: If P, then Q; not P, therefore not Q
If P(God exists), then Q(we should expect people to have the right notion of God); not P(God does not exist/absence of the divine), therefore not Q (we should NOT expect people to have the right notion of God)
This form of argument is invalid for it does not give good reasons to establish the conclusion even if the premises are assumed true.
Example: If it’s raining, then it’s wet. It’s not raining, therefore it’s not wet.
The conclusion is not restricted to the rain, while wetness can be the result of anything, basically.
If God exists, then we should expect people to have the right notion of God. God does not exist, therefore people don’t have the right notion of God.

Thank you, and I hope this helps.

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