News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 23, 2010 in News

An article that shouldn’t need to be written, but I’m glad it was: “Why ‘I Feel It in my Heart’ is a Terrible Argument for God.”

Socrates and Glaucon on the Home Shopping Network.

Roman money was way cooler than ours is.

Neurologist Orrin Devinsky has made a career of seeing patients who have profound religioius experiences because they have a tumor, and once the tumor is removed, the experiences are gone. Listen to the latest episode of Radiolab for details.

Lovely new site, Christianity Disproved.

Dreamhost wins.

Is being a pastor the worst job in the world?

Article of the day: Jeffers – “Magic and Divination in Ancient Israel.”

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob May 23, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Re: Christianity Disproved

From the “PhD submissions” button at the bottom:

“Feedback from qualified experts is welcomed; constructive criticism is encouraged. Also, please let me know if there is an article, book or study that could enhance my argument.”

What about and article or book that would refute his argument. I found the whole site rather stuffy.

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Rhys Wilkins May 23, 2010 at 11:23 pm

buahaha. Ray “Banana-man” Comfort, the quasi-Freddy Mercury impersonating deep-cover atheist will be including those evangelical statistics in his latest 100 page book thing as evidence that most Christians are actually really not True Christians(tm). How surprising!

Sometimes I wonder if Bananaman is a spoof hired by the Onion in order to test Poe’s Law.

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Bill Maher May 24, 2010 at 3:53 am

Omfg at the money. One of my teachers is a “numismatist” on top of being a medieval economic historian. Although he is a great guy and very interesting, the coin stuff is pretty damned boring imo.

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ayer May 24, 2010 at 5:56 am

“An article that shouldn’t need to be written, but I’m glad it was: “Why ‘I Feel It in my Heart’ is a Terrible Argument for God.”

Since it is not even intended to be an “argument,” I agree that the article not only shouldn’t need to be written, but should not have been written, since it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what an “argument” is

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justfinethanks May 24, 2010 at 6:15 am

Since it is not even intended to be an “argument,”

It’s perhaps not a metaphysical argument about what we can deduce about the existence of God by either making observations or clearly defining terms. But it is however an epistemological argument, arguing that experience allows one to rationally affirm the existence of such a being, even absent any metaphysical argument.

Saying that you can believe something without any argument at all is pure fideism and leads to epistemological anarchy, and I am extremely confident that even Plantinga wouldn’t endorse that sort of view.

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cartesian May 24, 2010 at 6:20 am

Neurologist Orrin Devinsky has made a career of seeing patients who have profound religioius experiences because they have a tumor, and once the tumor is removed, the experiences are gone. Listen to the latest episode of Radiolab for details.

I hope we weren’t assuming that, since these experiences are partly caused by a tumor, they’re not veridical. Think of those people who, due to autism or whatever, can do super complicated math, play piano really well, etc.

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John D May 24, 2010 at 7:58 am

To all atheists,

If you have trouble receiving the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, try brain cancer.

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Rob May 24, 2010 at 9:40 am
Rob May 24, 2010 at 9:46 am

Cartesian,

Your analogy does not work. Sure, some autistic people are able to focus their attention narrowly and thus have some amazing talent. But what does that have to do with whether a belief caused by brain pathology tracks reality? If I have a tumor that makes me experience the presence of Natalie Portman, does that mean I’m in the presence of Natalie Portman?

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Martin May 24, 2010 at 10:06 am

If I have a tumor that makes me experience the presence of Natalie Portman, does that mean I’m in the presence of Natalie Portman?

Just because religious experiences can be reproduced by means of a tumor, or electric stimulation to the brain, the “God Helmet”, or what-have-you, it does not follow that all religious experiences are non-veridical.

For example, you can also stimulate visual or aural hallucinations in the same way but it does not follow that therefore your eyes and ears can’t give you information that is veridical.

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Martin May 24, 2010 at 10:33 am

Lovely new site, Christianity Disproved.

Really? Seems like a case-study in the genetic fallacy and chronological snobbery, from what I’ve read so far.

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justfinethanks May 24, 2010 at 10:54 am

Really? Seems like a case-study in the genetic fallacy and chronological snobbery, from what I’ve read so far.

Perhaps you should keep reading. It also goes on to argue:

1. The Biblical view of the universe is scientifically inaccurate.
2. The Bible contains contradictions.
3. The Biblical God regularly thwarts free will.
4. Jesus believed the end of the world was imminent.
5. Paul and Jesus had different and contradictory theologies.
6. Hell is incompatible with a loving God.

Each of which are serious arguments which threaten the veracity of mainstream Christianity if true.

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ayer May 24, 2010 at 11:45 am

@rob

If you read her blog, that is not the topic she is addressing (or attempting). She is instead refuting the claim that “I just sense God intuitively. (Or the soul, or the metaphysical world, or whatever.) I feel it. His existence seems obvious to me, in the same way that the existence of the Earth under my feet seems obvious. Why should I doubt that perception — any more than I doubt my perception of the Earth?”

That’s an good summary of Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology (the analogy of knowledge of God as properly basic just as sense perception is properly basic, etc), but not Alston’s on religious experience (has she read either one?)

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John D May 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I think I would agree with justfinethanks. While Plantinga’s RE (the warrant version anyway) is not an argument for the existence of God, it is very clearly an argument for a particular epistemic starting point. An epistemic starting point from which it is very difficult to become dislodged.

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Rob May 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm

@ayer – Sorry, but those arguments seem the same to me. I think you are making a distinction without a difference.

@Martin – of course it is possible that Natalie Portman is in the room at the same time I have a tumor which makes me feel the presence of Natalie Portman. But calling the experience caused by the tumor “veridical” seems to me idiotic.

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Martin May 24, 2010 at 12:27 pm

of course it is possible that Natalie Portman is in the room at the same time I have a tumor which makes me feel the presence of Natalie Portman. But calling the experience caused by the tumor “veridical” seems to me idiotic.

I’m not saying that an experience caused by a tumor is veridical. I’m saying that just because one can trigger an experience through brain stimulation does not have any bearing on whether that experience can’t also be triggered by a real thing some of the time. As you say, it might be the case that Natalie Portman really is in the room with you. Just because you have a tumor that makes you hallucinate Natalie gives us no knowledge about whether she is really there or not.

In other words, the genetic fallacy again rears it’s head again.

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Rob May 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Martin – I agree with all that. But let me ask you this. The phenomenon of “alien abduction” can partially be explained by certain hypnogogic states. These experiences can be reproduced in the lab. In other times, these experiences were interpreted as “the old hag” phenomenon.

So knowing that, should we be skeptical of these people’s claims that they are in fact being abducted by aliens? Or, should we, as you seem to be arguing here, conclude that the hallucinations of aliens ought have no bearing on our judgement of whether there are aliens visiting earth?

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Rob May 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Here is Brian Dunning, clear and concise as ever:

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4008

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justfinethanks May 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I’m going to have to endorse Martin’s view that our ability to explain the neurological basis of a religious experience should not by itself cause us to doubt that these religious experiences are real. The field of sensory neuroscience is currently trying to pin down how our brains process sights, smells, sounds, and other sensations. If it is completely successful and we can explain “I smell a rose” in completely neurological terms, it shouldn’t force us to question whether or not roses actually exist.

However, I can see how research into why people have religious experiences can be used in defending already existing arguments against God, such as the argument from nonbelief (as John D hinted at above).

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Rob May 24, 2010 at 1:20 pm

justfine – I don’t think anyone is claiming that these experiences are not “real”. The question is, is the being they claim to be experiencing “real”?

People certainly have “real” experiences of alien abduction, ghosts, bigfoot . . . the list is endless. But I need more than just those reports to convince me that those things are real. And so with gods.

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Rob May 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Justfine – we have more than just your report of smelling a rose to justify our belief in roses.

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ayer May 24, 2010 at 1:27 pm

“@ayer – Sorry, but those arguments seem the same to me. I think you are making a distinction without a difference.”

Sorry, but they are not the same, as Plantinga’s discussion of Alston’s “Perceiving God” in Plantinga’s “Warranted Christian Belief” makes clear

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Rob May 24, 2010 at 1:45 pm

ayer – we seem to be mis-communicating. What I’m saying is the argument Great Christana is arguing against seems to be the same as the wiki argument I linked to. You are claiming she is arguing against Plantinga. I have no idea. To me the wiki argument is close enough to what she is arguing against that it is a distinction without a difference.

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justfinethanks May 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I don’t think anyone is claiming that these experiences are not “real”. The question is, is the being they claim to be experiencing “real”?

I don’t think so. And I can offer a lot of reasons as to why that “God sensation” isn’t actually connecting to anything in reality. One of them is not, however, that we know exactly how that God sensation arises in the Brain. It’s not relevant, so it isn’t really worth bringing up in isolation when you are arguing against the existence of God.

But I need more than just those reports to convince me that those things are real.

I think you misunderstand how the people make the “personal experience” argument. Yes, other people’s personal experiences are not relevant to you. But other people’s personal experiences ARE relevant to other people.

Suppose, for example, while having every reason you were of sound mind, you saw a giant half man half chimp strolling out of the woods in the Pacific Northwest, walk up to inspect you, and then stroll back in.

Perhaps it would be the case that other people would be perfectly rational to reject your claims, as you could not provide evidence. But would you be irrational to trust your own eyes?

To use a less extreme example: I had eggs this morning for breakfast. If someone doubted my claims and demanded I provide an argument for my egg eating, I would be totally unable to provide one. Even so, I don’t think my inability to provide a skeptic with evidence that I had eggs for breakfast should force me to abandon my belief that I actually ate eggs.

And that’s how most people feel about God.

Mind you, I don’t agree with how people apply this thinking to divine matters, but that’s how people go from “I experience God” to “God exists.” The same way I went from “I experienced egg eating” to “I ate eggs.”

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TaiChi May 24, 2010 at 3:24 pm

The significance of naturalistic explanations for religious experience isn’t that these falsify religion, but that the supernatural is no longer the only game in town. Whether one should trust one’s experience depends upon whether the veridicality of that experience is the best explanation for having it, so if naturalistic explanations continue to progress, it will become harder to maintain that the existence of God is the best explanation for religious experience.

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