Theism and Atheism: Where is the Gap?

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 1, 2010 in Criticism of Atheists,General Atheism

Today I will argue that although for me classical theism (belief in Omni-God) is an extreme, absurd view, it should not be considered so extreme by many atheists.

I consider classical theism an extreme view because it almost always insists on using methods of truth-seeking that could not have been disproven more thoroughly so far. For example:

  • Authoritative texts
  • Content-rich, subjective “experiences” of deep metaphysical truths, moral truths, and invisible beings
  • “Faith,” which for many believers is described as a virtue that means “strong, unwavering belief in the absence of evidence”
  • Trusting witnesses and authorities from one’s own traditions but not from competing traditions

It could have been the case that we lived in a universe where such methods worked. But that thesis has been thoroughly disproven by history. We do not live in that world. We live in a world where these methods have done nothing but fail for thousands of years. They work as poorly as seeking oil with a divining rod.

That’s why classical theism is an extreme view for me.

But should other atheists consider it such an extreme view? Perhaps not.

Why?

Because many atheists accept some of these methods of truth-seeking so that they can “support” their own views, but reject these methods when they end up “supporting” classical theism.

Here’s what I have in mind:

  • If you believe you have direct access to content-rich moral truths through basic intuition,1 then what, exactly, is your complaint about the Christian who knows that Jesus saves through basic intuition? Jesus may not fit your intuitions, but trust me – they fit the Christian’s intuitions.
  • If you believe you can reliably test metaphysical theories by running a thought experiment through your head and recording whether it feels plausible or implausible, possible or impossible, then what, exactly, is your complaint about the Christian who runs certain thought experiments through his head and feels that “God is a necessary being” is plausible?
  • If you believe you have libertarian free will because your inner experience of free will trumps the scientific data for you, then what, exactly, is your complaint about the Christian whose inner experience of God trumps the scientific data for him?

I’m not saying all atheists hold to these apparent double standards, but many do. The first two, in particular, are even widely held by atheistic philosophers, even by self-described “naturalist” philosophers. The first two are often held by scientists, too. So you’re “in good company” if you hold to these double standards, but that doesn’t wish away the double standard.

I think people who embrace such positions are not respecting our true epistemic condition as homo sapiens. Such people are not naturalist enough.

Atheists often say the main difference between atheism and theism is about our paths to knowledge. It’s an epistemological difference, they say.

When I so often encounter the double standards above, I’m not so sure.

And the reason for this is not hard to discern. Theists and atheists share the same evolutionary history, and therefore the same cognitive biases. So without rigorous training against our natural inclinations, we all use roughly the same methods of truth-seeking, no matter how badly they fail. Then we simply assert that these methods support our position rather than their position: they support ethical intuitionism but not classical theism, for example.

It is deeply un-human to admit that “inner feeling epistemology” fails, and few of us do it in practice, even when we try.

  1. As a shorthand, I like to distinguish “basic intuitions” from “heuristic intuitions.” Basic intuitions would be those that purport to reveal facts rather directly from the ‘seeming’ within our own psychology, such as ‘Rape is wrong’ or ‘creation from nothing is metaphysically impossible’ or ‘infinite spacetime is impossible’. I am very distrustful of those because that was our main approach to knowledge for thousands of years when we were dead wrong about damn near everything. Such intuitions almost always give the wrong answer, at least on the questions that have been decided by more reliable means so far. There is also the problem that we do not have even a plausible story of how our brains could have a mechanism for such direct psychological knowledge about metaphysical possibility or moral facts or cosmological facts. The other type, heuristic intuitions, are unavoidable. We are almost always using heuristics to some degree. Nobody has the time to count up every event in recorded history and do a mathematical analysis of probabilities and so on. So at some level we are always doing heuristics, such as the doctor who, after seeing thousands of patients, ‘intuits’ from a patients symptoms what the most probable diagnosis is. He could very well be wrong, but this is better than some random person looking at the person and just ‘feeling’ what the correct diagnosis is. This type of intuition is really an attempt to estimate best explanations and other epistemic processes from the data we have, rather than trying to intuit raw data from the universe by way of inner psychological ‘seeming.’ These heuristic intuitions are very unreliable when they are a long, long way from a rigorous account of evidence and probabilities, and they are slightly more reliable when they take minor shortcuts throughout a more rigorous epistemic process. But most of the time we do not have the time to attempt rigorous epistemic processes. []

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{ 95 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron Krumpos July 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Ultimate reality is what is is, whether we would rather desire, think or believe otherwise. If there is a God, not believing does not change that. If there is no God, then believing will not make it so.

Mystics seek what Meister Eckhart called “God beyond God,” i.e. the universal reality which underlies our conceptualizing and imagining. I was personally introduced to mysticism by a Nobel physicist who said “God is man’s greatest creation.”

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Justin Martyr July 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Hiya Luke,

1. You left the evil demon off your list, along with the other usual suspects.
2. Desirists ultimately have to take “turn the knobs” as normative, so they too rely on normative moral intuitions.
3. Your reading of heuristics is straight out of progressives who feel put upon by decades of neoclassical economists using the rational actor model to push libertarianism. In reality, heuristics are dazzlingly good. In some cases, heuristics are more accurate than information-greedy methods like multiple regression, Bayesian statistics, and neural networks. Read some Gerd Gigerenzer.
4. As you point out, working scientists have these intuitions. I always find it interesting that atheist scientists, who actually advance knowledge, have such different intuitions than atheist philosophers, who adopt strange beliefs to shore up their defenses against Christian philosophers (who share the same primitive intuitions as atheist physicists).
5. The whole post was somewhat question-begging.

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Reginald Selkirk July 1, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I consider classical theism (belief in Omni-God) an extreme view because it almost always insists on using methods of truth-seeking that could not have been disproven more thoroughly so far. For example:
* Authoritative texts…

Uh, what? I don’t quite know where this is coming from, because I have already concluded that the Omni-God, which I believe derives from philosophical consideration, is not the same as Yahweh or Allah of the authoritative texts. Consider the many examples, which I’m sure you have seen presented, that the God of the Bible is not omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent, etc.

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ayer July 1, 2010 at 1:09 pm

“I consider classical theism an extreme view because it almost always insists on using methods of truth-seeking that could not have been disproven more thoroughly so far.”

I’m not sure what you are saying here. William Lane Craig, for example, uses various arguments in support of the God of classical theism before attempting to establish that that God is the Christian God (through the argument for the resurrection).

I don’t think the Kalam cosmological argument, the Leibnizian cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, or the ontological argument rely on any of the truth-seeking methods you mention. Instead they rely on deductive logic, with the premises supported by philosophical reason (e.g., Hilbert’s Hotel, etc.) and scientific evidence (Big Bang model, physical constants in the initial conditions of the universe, etc.).

(The moral argument would seem to fall within what you mention, since it assumes our ability to apprehend objective moral values directly and noninferentially).

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mkandefer July 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Are you performing a heuristic, conducting a large-scale survey, or running a thought experiment when you conclude many, whatever that might mean, atheists:

1) “[Believe they] have direct access to content-rich moral truths through basic intuition.”
2) “[Believe they] can reliably test metaphysical theories by running a thought experiment through [their] head and recording whether it feels plausible or implausible, possible or impossible.”
3) “[Believe they] have libertarian free will because [their] inner experience of free will trumps the scientific data for [them].

The accumulation of experiences builds heuristics as you acknowledge. Sometimes these experiences are too few, say interacting with only a handful of atheists, and thus make for poor means of drawing conclusions about the set of all members of a category, say atheists. Of course, in absence of large-scale surveys, I suppose one must fall back on said heuristics, acknowledging that they may only represent limited experience when it comes to knowing the beliefs of many atheists.

From my experience I have seen the same, atheists that are atheists, but don’t always practice the most meticulous of rational thought when it comes to moral claims. That said, I realize my experience may be limited as I’ve only encountered a handful of the population of atheists. :)

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Kip July 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Good post, Luke.

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Kip July 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Luke: are there any other books on epistemology that you recommend?

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JS Allen July 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm

@Justin:

who adopt strange beliefs to shore up their defenses against Christian philosophers (who share the same primitive intuitions as atheist physicists)

Very good observation

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lukeprog July 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm

ayer,

The Kalam, for example, depends on its proponents relying heavily on the intuition that something cannot come into existence uncaused, and depends just as strongly on them ignoring their intuition things cannot pop into existence out of nothing. The Kalam is specifically an argument that something popped into existence out of nothing.

Likewise, at a later point it relies on intuitions that “there are only two candidates for an immaterial source of the world”, numbers and minds. (And numbers are not causal, so it must be a mind.) And so on. That’s just the beginning.

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lukeprog July 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm

On this topic? The one I linked to, above.

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sqeecoo July 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I agree with your warning – and would even take it further. ALL human knowledge is just guesswork (see Popper). However, it is controlled guesswork. Our hypothesis are controlled by critical thinking and, where applicable, empirical testing.

That’s what religion fails to do, and that is where it is irrational. Using intuition (with great care and skepticism, and primarily as inspiration) and holding tentative conjectural theories in absence of good evidence is fine, AS LONG as you submit these to the best criticism available, and thus don’t hold them dogmatically. Which is what religion does, openly, making a virtue of irrational (i.e. uncritical) belief.

That is religion’s irrationality, and its danger.

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Martin July 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Kip,

I would also recommend the IEP. Here’s their article on epistemology. I bought a Kindle specifically for reading long articles like that.

Now that I think about that, I’m a huge nerd…

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ShaneSteinhauser July 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Ha ha. Great post luke. I don’t believe in objective moral values and it puzzles me why so many atheist philosophers do. I think metaphysics is one of the worst areas of philosophy that relies on wordplay rather than logic. I do not believe in freewill at all either. Hooray for me! I’m consistant!

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lukeprog July 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Congrats, Shane. :)

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Hermes July 1, 2010 at 3:38 pm

These conversations — and this one in particular — are top loaded with theologians and philosophers with very narrow views on specific subtopics, but they rarely involve an important and oftentimes more appropriate specialist; fiction writers. Even the ancestors of the Hebrews, the Canaanites, knew that was the case as they drew from the better tales from their own pasts and that of their neighbors.

So, with that in mind, I’ll say up front that I think theists and Christians in particular miss a great deal about what is happening when they tap into many of the features of their theistic beliefs (from a specific religion or from other sources). Also, I contend that even skeptical non-theistic and non-religious people can experience much of what is usually claimed as the sole domain of theists but without some (or even most) of the dead weight involved with it.

In each case, what is misappropriated or ignored is a specific way to engage the imagination and to get it to do some heavy lifting.

As a primer on this topic, I recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on the subject of nurturing creativity.

To save space, I’ve left out quite a bit of content in the summary above. Questions and challenges are welcome.

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JS Allen July 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm

@Shane – Simple empirical testing objectively demonstrates that people have an innate sense of morality. Altruism, for example, appears to have been an evolutionary adaptation that was useful for either group selection or sexual selection. Maybe that’s what some atheists take to be “objective morality”.

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Andy Walters July 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm

@Shane,

Objective moral value should be distinguished from intrinsic value. Objectivity usually means nothing but perspective-independence, and it’s quite possible to maintain objective morality as an atheist while rejecting intrinsic value. I’ll shamelessly point you at the blog I just wrote, entitled “Can Atheism Support Objective Morality?”. Also, Christine Koorsgard’s paper, making the distinction between final and intrinsic goods, is a landmark work on the topic.

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ayer July 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Luke,

I am a little confused by your use of the word “intuition” and how you distinguish it from the use of the “reasoning” faculty:

Intuition: ” : immediate apprehension or cognition b : knowledge or conviction gained by intuition c : the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference”

Reason: “: the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking especially in orderly rational ways ”

For example, when I grasp that 2 + 2 = 4; or even more simply, “2 is a number”– is that an “intuition”? If so, there is certainly nothing less legitimate about it than knowledge arising a priori.

“The Kalam is specifically an argument that something popped into existence out of nothing.”

Sure, if you mean “popped” in the same sense that one “pops” the question to one’s future wife, and not “appeared suddenly for no cause and no reason.”

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Justin Martyr July 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Premise 1 of Kalam is a great example of Christians and atheist physicists sharing metaphysical intuitions that atheistic philosophers do not share. That is why atheist physicists are still – almost 100 years later – creating new models of an eternal universe.

And for all of Luke’s dismissal of premise 1 of Kalam, there is not a single counter-example.

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Justfinethanks July 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm

That is why atheist physicists are still – almost 100 years later – creating new models of an eternal universe.

Uh, they are also creating new models of a non-eternal universe. That’s what scientists do: devise explanatory models and see if the facts fit with it better than the models that are currently accepted. To accuse scientists of being motivated by metaphysical presuppositions in their quest to find better models (which all scientists, no matter the field, do this) is silly.

Besides, premise 2 of Kalam doesn’t rely upon a scientifically supported beginning of the universe, so if these nefarious “atheist scientists” were successful in establishing a scientific model for an eternal universe, it wouldn’t really affect the argument.

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antiplastic July 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm

I’m deeply uncomfortable with the rather arrogant “most” qualifier on “atheists” in the absence of some harder polling data, but…

1) I am a noncognitivist, so it is crystal clear why I should assert the truth of my moral beliefs arrived at through a lifetime of cultivating intuitions in light of experience and arguments and yet be extremely dismissive of people making empirical claims based on “intuitions”.

2) I don’t believe you can “reliably test” metaphysical theories in any fashion other their utility in providing elegant accounts of our experience.

3) I don’t believe I have libertarian agency because the concept is incoherent (see answer 2 above).

How did I do?

IMO the strongest reason for rejecting classical theism is the fact that its strongest arguments — the ones you constantly and weirdly praise people like WLC for making — haven’t changed in thousands of years. They just regurgitate the same handful of pre-scientific gut intuitions that pretty much everybody has (“something can’t come from nothing!” “complexity equals design!” “everything happens for a reason!” “there must be a beginning!”), and never ever ever ever ever force their theories to make contact with experiment. First cause has been frozen in amber for centuries while real people were looking through real telescopes and inventing whole new branches of maths and splitting atoms and actually *finding shit out*, while theism can only even gain the appearance of plausibility in formats where “each side” gets 20 minute openings, 10 minute rebuttals, then a brief Q&A. What a terrible way to establish truth.

This rant brought to you by a generous grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

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Hermes July 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Premise 1 of the Kalam argument sets up a series of equivocations that are used later to draw an incorrect conclusion.

For example, if I cut a tree into parts and make a table out of those parts, when did the table itself begin to exist?

The first premise falls apart quickly when you look into the details and start to apply them.

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Eric July 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm

“The Kalam is specifically an argument that something popped into existence out of nothing.”

I think we have to be careful here, since the phrase “pops into existence out of nothing” is ambiguous. On the one hand, it can mean *out of* nothing, i.e. lacks a material cause, and on the other hand it can mean *by way of* nothing, i.e. lacks an efficient cause.

Now while Craig argues in the KCA that the universe lacks a material cause, he argues that it needs an efficient cause, so while in one sense the Craig argues that something must pop into existence out of nothing (that is, that it lacks a material cause), in another sense he’s arguing that something cannot pop into existence out of nothing (that is, lacks an efficient cause).

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Justin Martyr July 1, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Hi Justfinethanks,

Uh, they are also creating new models of a non-eternal universe.

Only by accident. For example, it was proven after the fact that eternal inflation is not really eternal.

Atheist physicsts have been pretty open about the theological implication of the Big Bang, and it has been the explicit driving factor of many eternal universe scenarios such as Steady State and the Oscillating model. I suspect it is the implicit driver for the others.

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Eric July 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm

“For example, if I cut a tree into parts and make a table out of those parts, when did the table itself begin to exist?
The first premise falls apart quickly when you look into the details and start to apply them.”

Hermes, I disagree. Take your table: we may not be able to say with precision when it began to exist, but we can say with certainty that it didn’t exist before you began building it, and this it does exist after you finish building it. Or take another example: if S, a 6′ tall man, goes from weighing 90 pounds to weighing 600 pounds, I can’t say at what precise ounce gained he went from being skinny to being fat, but I can uncontroversially say that he was skinny at 90 pounds and fat at 600 pounds. In other words, you seem to be confusing the epistemic question of whether we can determine with precision *when* something begins to exist with the ontological question of *whether* something in fact begins to exist. As far as I can see, one’s inability to answer the former question says nothing about one’s ability to answer the latter question, just as my inability to determine with precision when S goes from being skinny to being fat in no way precludes me from reasonably judging him skinny at 90 pounds, and fat at 600 pounds.

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Erika July 1, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Not to take away from an interesting post, but… Dude! Why did you have to regulate to the footnote exactly the post I need to share in a current conversation? =)

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Hermes July 1, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Eric, agree with your examples and I was incomplete in my example. Let me correct that problem and make it clear what my intent was.

Eric: Take your table: we may not be able to say with precision when it began to exist, but we can say with certainty that it didn’t exist before you began building it, and this it does exist after you finish building it.

In the case of the table (or the thin-to-fat person), it had existent precursors.

It exists as a table not because those precursors popped into existence from my will to make table-material ex nihilo, but *because* of the relationships involved and the labels we give to the existing parts now called “a table”.

So, a set of precursors that exists (me) acts on other sets of precursors that exist (wood, tools, …) and causes a new social arrangement identified by the first set as a table.

At no point did anything actually begin to exist except through very personally practical human social conventions. The new rearranged set is given a label of table that has practical utility to me and other people familiar with the idea of a table (if I’m modestly skilled at making a table).

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Justfinethanks July 1, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Only by accident.

So do you believe that the borde guth vilenkin therom that Craig frequently cites in support of premise 2 “accidentally” supports a universe with a beginning? Or are these cosmologists covert believers who have invaded the academy?

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Eric July 1, 2010 at 5:49 pm

“At no point did anything actually begin to exist except through very personally practical human social conventions. The new rearranged set is given a label of table that has practical utility to me and other people familiar with the idea of a table (if I’m modestly skilled at making a table).”

Hermes, thanks for the clarification.

As I understand it, the mereological position you’re defending — or, at the very least, the mereological position your clarification implies — is a form of atomism. Is this accurate (or, do you agree)?

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lukeprog July 1, 2010 at 5:50 pm

ayer,

By pops into existence, I mean ‘comes into existence out of nothing.’

Re: intuition. It’s a fuzzy concept in ordinary language, and it’s a fuzzy concept when I use it, too. :)

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lukeprog July 1, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Justin Martyr,

But here’s the problem. We have an equally strong intuition that something cannot come from nothing. “Ex nihilo, nihil fit”, as Craig likes to say. So which intuition are you going to go with? I guess if you’re Craig, you go with whichever one fits your prior beliefs, which he has stated publicly he will never give up no matter what the evidence.

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lukeprog July 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm

antiplastic,

You’re right. I changed the ‘most’ to ‘many.’

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lukeprog July 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Erika,

That’s just how good this site is. Even the footnotes are awesome. :)

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Hermes July 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Nope. We don’t need to talk about atoms or any subset, only existence and beginnings.

Do you agree that ‘tables’ are social conventions that are likely limited to humans, and that people make or even find tables?

An example of a found table: You’re hiking through the woods and come upon a rock outcrop. Since you are tired and want to eat your lunch, you ‘pull up’ a seat and sit down at a ‘table’ consisting of a few of the boulders that are suitable to the task. So, the table and chair began to exist at the moment you put them to use yet nothing formed ex nihilo. When you are done, you get back to your hike. At some point, maybe immediately, you might forget the rock outcrop table and chair, or you might just forget that you thought of them as a table and chair.

At no point did anything bring anything else into existence.

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Hermes July 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm

[ my last comment was for Eric ]

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Kip July 1, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Thanks, Martin. Luke: I was asking for “other” books — meaning besides the one you recommended in this post. :-)

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Evolution SWAT July 1, 2010 at 8:03 pm

I really appreciated this post Luke. I love how you directly challenge us atheists. That is what stood out to me when I started reading your blog.

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TaiChi July 1, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Atheist physicsts have been pretty open about the theological implication of the Big Bang, and it has been the explicit driving factor of many eternal universe scenarios such as Steady State and the Oscillating model. I suspect it is the implicit driver for the others. ” ~ Justin Martyr

I rather think the explicit driving factor for alternative models is that few cosmologists really think that God is a good explanation for the universe. It’s not to avoid theism per se, just to avoid giving an explanation that doesn’t meet the standards which science has had us grow accustomed to.

But here’s the problem. We have an equally strong intuition that something cannot come from nothing. “Ex nihilo, nihil fit”, as Craig likes to say.” ~ Lukeprog

We have a strong intuition against ‘magic’? (Asked with Eric’s material/efficient cause distinction in mind.)

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Kyle July 1, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Re: intuition. It’s a fuzzy concept in ordinary language, and it’s a fuzzy concept when I use it, too.

You shouldn’t confuse the “everyday” version of intuition with what philosophers are talking about.

You seem to think that because some of the things we feel we know turn out to be wrong, that that kills intuition. Sometimes our senses get things wrong, but we still trust them, but we learn when we can trust them. Why can’t we do the same with intuition?

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faithlessgod July 1, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Andy Waters

Yes Korsgards paper is a classic, a good recommend, hope you have read it Luke.

Off-topic but for Andy, noting both that you are a Kantian and that you like Korsgaard’s terminology triggered some thoughts.

Korsgaard allows one to ask whether any final goods or ends has intrinsic or extrinsic value or both. Desirism rejects intrinsic value in toto, which is the simplest approach to take if possible, so avoids the problems over any form of intrinsic value and, instead, directly reduces extrinsic value to desires (on nthe basis that these aer the only reasons to act that exist), states of affairs and their relations. Now this can be used as a descriptive basis for a version of Hare’s universal prescriptivism, which he developed to unify the best elements of Kantian deontology and consequentialism, that is it then provides a link back to Kantianism (specifically regarding universalism).

However Desirism also follows Mackie in rejecting the existence of categorical oughts – still regarded as a form of intrinsic value.

One can chose to look at the difference between theories or the similarities. In application I would expect both to produce very similar judgements. Will follow your blog, I liked your linked post.

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Tomasz July 1, 2010 at 11:57 pm

o Kalam is relly irrefutable and sound argument?

http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/morriston.html

…”Notice that it is insufficient for P to have merely the intention and power to bring about R. There must also be a basic action on the part of P, an undertaking or endeavoring or exercise of P’s causal powers. Thus, it is insufficient to account for the origin of the universe by citing simply God, His timeless intention to create a world with a beginning, and His power to produce such a result. There must be an exercise of His causal power in order for the universe to be created. That entails, of course, an intrinsic change on God’s part which brings Him into time at the moment of creation. For that reason He must be temporal since creation even if He is timeless sans creation.”…

But if such exercise of God never began to exist than exercise is eternal and effect, becouse such particular exercise of God is sufficient for Universe (power to produce such effect he has always since he is God – but this is only for sake of argument becouse he relly not have such powers until is able to exercise from changless state).
But if exercise is not eternal, than exercise itself requires a cause becouse if there is such thing (and must be according to Craig) it may only be with begining (not eternal) or be eternal. But than citing simply God as cause of exercise cannot explain it as sufficient cause of exercise, becouse God is eternal and exercise is not, so if God is sufficient, then exercise must be eternal if not, such condition or change, must begin exist on God’s part to produce exercise and again this require a cause, becouse whatever beginis to exist has a cause. Of course infinite regres is according to Craig impossible ;) So it is completely mysterious haw “personal cause” is advantageous over normal causes in light of Crag’s premises.

There is also interesting observation. If such exercise is change on God’s part than atemporal state of God (sans Universe) was relly a eariler state. But haw can be T -1 if there is no time before T0?? If God not existed before T0 than T0 cannot be a change on God’s part. When God is sans Universe ? Not before T0?, Not even before his change at T0? So this timlessness is just in my opinion relly spacial case of “before” whitout naming it to avoid contradiction but nevethless we understad it like moment before T0 which is in some mysterius way equvalential to aleph null events.

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faithlessgod July 1, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Antiplastic

“I’m deeply uncomfortable with the rather arrogant “most” qualifier on “atheists” in the absence of some harder polling data, but…”
I agree but regardless I think we have all seen evidence of such double standards, whether it is a majority or minority it is to be noted and defended against?

Cannot fault you on (1) and (3) yours is certainly a single standard. As for (2) I think your approach is quiet different from what Luke was criticising but Luke might disagree. I think Luke was really re-applying (1), that one does not test metaphysical theories by what conforms to one’s intuitions.

Now you and I have disagreed in ethics to some degree, and I would regard that I too pass the single standard test, indeed that was my original focus in my hibernating blog “No Double Standards”. Now whether you or anyone else regards that I apply single standards, one can always think of someone else who does and with whom you disagree. The point is rejecting double standards is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to determine the truth of the matter (however truth is defined too!).

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Justin Martyr July 2, 2010 at 5:26 am

Hiya Luke,

Both intuitions are correct. The only difference is that philosophical discourse demands higher standards of rigor. As you already know, Craig and Sinclair give an even more rigorous formulation of premise 1 of Kalam in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. The intuition “something cannot come from nothing” is correct, but on theism, God is not “nothing.”

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Justin Martyr July 2, 2010 at 5:36 am

Thomasz,

There are a couple problems with your argument.

1. Kalam does not hold that everything has a cause, only that things that begin to exist have a cause. Your first objection is based on the first assumption.

2. Kalam does not hold that the actual infinite is logically impossible – after all – (1) the mathematics of actual infinities are well-established, and (2) theists hold that God is infinitely powerful, knowledgeable, and good. Thus theists need them to be logically possible too. Rather, it holds that creating a physical actual infinite is metaphysically impossible.

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Andy Walters July 2, 2010 at 6:41 am

@faithlessgod

Thanks for your comments. Did you know Korsgaard IS a Kantian? Her book “The Sources of Normativity”, sitting on my shelf, is a thoroughgoing Kantian explanation of practical reason–according to which we are subject to the Categorical Imperative. It is an exhilarating read.

You are quite right that desirism, Kantianism, and universal prescriptivism are all deeply interconnected. In fact, I’m currently writing an essay attacking egoism on Kantian grounds, and it has struck me how much Kantianism has to do with desires. If you follow my blog, you should see what I mean soon enough.

One thing you said, though, didn’t sound quite right. You said

However Desirism also follows Mackie in rejecting the existence of categorical oughts – still regarded as a form of intrinsic value.

But I do not think categorical imperatives depend for their existence on intrinsic value–I think they can rest on final value just fine. A statement like “If I value my identity as a rational agent, I ought to…” is categorical in the sense that it applies to all rational agents, but supposes only final value. It could be objected that this isn’t quite a categorical imperative, because it isn’t perfectly unconditioned–it’s still hypothetical, as the if-then structure obviates. But while it is true that the previous is a hypothetical imperative, I think it is more accurate to call it a “hypothetical-categorical imperative”, since valuing ones rational identity is axiomatic to moral discourse.

In any case, I would love to hear you disagree because I have been mulling this over in my head for awhile.

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Martin July 2, 2010 at 6:46 am

lukeprog,

…he will never give up no matter what the evidence.

I’m kinda surprised you still find this to be a problem in light of the numerous examples given of internal knowledge that trumps external evidence. Namely, Jodi Foster in Contact and the man innocent of a crime despite evidence to the contrary.

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Kip July 2, 2010 at 7:03 am
…he will never give up no matter what the evidence.

I’m kinda surprised you still find this to be a problem in light of the numerous examples given of internal knowledge that trumps external evidence. Namely, Jodi Foster in Contact…

I always disliked that ending. 1) Jodi Foster’s character should have known that the external evidence carries more epistemological weight than her internal memories or feelings — she’s a scientist — so she should have not insisted that she “knew” what had really happened; and 2) We find out later that there really is external evidence to support her internal memory of the events (i.e. the several minutes of static recorded on the tape), that is never brought out in hearing/debriefing.

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Josh July 2, 2010 at 7:36 am

Martin,

How many damn times do we have to have Contact and the innocent man waved in our faces?

Jody Foster arguably WAS NOT justified in believing her experiences in light of the evidence she had. Of course, there was evidence that something was amiss, but this evidence was deliberately hidden from her!

The innocent man is another weird one. If there were tons of evidence pointing to my guilt and I was convinced I was innocent… I would start thinking I was guilty, because, damn, at some point the only other option seems to be a massive conspiracy.

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lukeprog July 2, 2010 at 8:13 am

Kip,

I haven’t read it yet, but I like the bits I’ve read from Wimsatt’s Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings.

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Martin July 2, 2010 at 8:27 am

Josh and Kip,

Defeaters exist for any knowledge, of course, and I never said they don’t. But in the absence of a defeater, a person is justified in allowing internal knowledge to trump external evidence.

E.g., I know what I did yesterday and you aren’t likely to convince me that I murdered someone, even if you showed me a murder weapon with my fingerprints on it and a signed confession letter.

None of those pieces of evidence are defeaters for the stronger knowledge I have that my own memories are reliable and I know myself pretty well.

I’d be screwed in court, however…

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faithlessgod July 2, 2010 at 8:56 am

Andy Walters

From The Argument from Queerness section in the Stanford entry Mackie’s arguments for the moral error theory: “Mackie… claims that in denying the existence of such prescriptions he is denying that any “categorically imperative element is objectively valid” (1977: 29).”
Although I am not happy with the quality of this peer-reviewed article in general. IMV it gets hypothetical imperatives wrong but maybe I am mistaken – tell me what you think. For another differing view see See Richard Chappell’s post on Hypothetical Imperatives (TaiChi, if you are reading, might find this interesting too, Richard is not in agreement with my view but it is interesting).

Then again also check out on Richard’s blog Korsgaard’s “Inquiring Murderer” problem :-)

Maybe this is better pursed on your blog, unless it gets anyone else’s interest here (apart from Luke I presume)? I worry about threads going off-topic from the OP, but this seems to happen all the time here e.g. the discussion of kalam in this thread, so maybe it is not an issue.

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Kip July 2, 2010 at 9:07 am

But in the absence of a defeater, a person is justified in allowing internal knowledge to trump external evidence.

Okay, but then the argument is just want constitutes a “defeater”. I’d say several videotapes that shows Jody Foster falling straight through the votex in just a few seconds constitutes a defeater in this case. The more likely explanation is that she had a very lucid dream (since we know those happen a lot).

It seems to me that a major difference between theists and skeptics is that skeptics [try to] discount personal experiences (even their own), while theists give them much credit. The scientific method is such because we know that our own experiences are fallible. A single experience is not sufficient evidence to warrant when that experience contradicts lots of other things we know. Jody Foster’s character should be well aware of this — being shown to be a skeptical scientist the entire movie — and so she should be looking for more likely explanations, rather than holding on to her credulity.

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Martin July 2, 2010 at 9:32 am

I’d say several videotapes that shows Jody Foster falling straight through the votex in just a few seconds constitutes a defeater in this case.

Maybe not. In this specific case the capsule went through a wormhole and thus already constitutes serious warping of spacetime. It may not be as obviously a defeater as it would be in every day life. Difficult to say. Regardless, if Contact doesn’t work for you then use any other example.

It seems to me that a major difference between theists and skeptics is that skeptics [try to] discount personal experiences (even their own), while theists give them much credit.

Oh, how very many times I have heard a “skeptic” laugh at Kalam, confidently proclaim that their cat could refute it, and then fail to produce a single cogent response. It seems obvious to me that they are starting with “theism is false” and thus concluding that their just must be something wrong with the argument.

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Andy Walters July 2, 2010 at 9:46 am

@faithless,

Those are all great links. I am also reviewing R.M. Hare’s entry in the Blackwell Companion to Ethics on his Universal Prescriptivism which talks a lot about these kinds of questions.

In general though, are you a desirist or what?

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Justin Martyr July 2, 2010 at 9:46 am

Hi Kip,

I like your observation:

It seems to me that a major difference between theists and skeptics is that skeptics [try to] discount personal experiences (even their own), while theists give them much credit.

I think that is correct. That is also why I think it makes sense to switch to a neutral subject that treats the same issues, like belief in the evil demon vs. external world. Once you consider that, you see how atheists create or champion very strange epistemologies (hume’s fork, logical positivism, …) in order to avoid giving weight to personal experience.

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Tomasz July 2, 2010 at 10:07 am

to Justin
—-
>Thomasz,

>There are a couple problems with your argument.

>1. Kalam does not hold that everything has a cause, only that things that begin to exist have a cause. Your first objection is based on the first assumption.
——

But im arguing that God’s exercise has begining, If God are exercising (this particular exercise) without begining than universe is whithout begining.
Under Craig’s first premise only eternal things (without begining) not require cause, of course they may have still a cause, but most important is that everything with begining must have. But if there is just one thing with begining that dosen’t have a cause than we cannot have any longer universal quntifier in first premise of Kalam. And this is problematic for Kalam argument, there is night and day difference between for every x with begining x has a cause and some x with begining has cause. You cannot drop existentional quantifier and replace it with undvidual but you can do opposite.

God or his basic properities or both cannot be a sufficient to cause exercise with begining becouse he is eternal and basic properities also, so if this is a case exercise cannot have begining and universe in consequence. Properities wich are not basic also require cause otherwise they are eternal so this is not option at all.

——-
>2. Kalam does not hold that the actual infinite is logically impossible – after all – (1) >the mathematics of actual infinities are well-established, and (2) theists hold that God is >infinitely powerful, knowledgeable, and good. Thus theists need them to be logically >possible too. Rather, it holds that creating a physical actual infinite is metaphysically >impossible. Justin Martyr
—-

Important is that Craig’s premises are not premiting universe to be caused, or poped in to existence uncaused, they not premit also eternal Universe. So its reasonable that one of them or both are false, or Universe cannot exist. So Kalam indeed is telling us that actual infinites are impossible in reality (not just physcially but – metaphysically to be precise) In other words logically possible only in abstraction, but and abstract objects dont stand in casual relations to Craig, so this is also premise you cannot ignore.

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Hermes July 2, 2010 at 10:12 am

Martin: Oh, how very many times I have heard a “skeptic” laugh at Kalam, confidently proclaim that their cat could refute it, and then fail to produce a single cogent response. It seems obvious to me that they are starting with “theism is false” and thus concluding that their just must be something wrong with the argument.

There, of course, is something wrong with Kalam. I even noted the stub of just one problem earlier in this thread and I discussed part of it with Eric.

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Justin Martyr July 2, 2010 at 10:48 am

Thomasz,

You are still misunderstanding Kalam. The premise is “everything that begins to exist has a cause.” God may begin to exercise his free will, but that is just an uncaused beginning, not an uncaused beginning of existence.

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Kip July 2, 2010 at 11:33 am

Maybe not. In this specific case the capsule went through a wormhole and thus already constitutes serious warping of spacetime. It may not be as obviously a defeater as it would be in every day life. Difficult to say.

Whether it went through a wormhole or not is the very question being begged. If the only evidence that she did was her memory of it, and all the measuring devices disagreed with her, then as a scientist, one who knows that memories can be wrong, and that our brains are better “story tellers” than “truth tellers”, she should discount her memories and look for a better explanation. [Of course, in this specific example, if she had looked for more evidence, she would have found corroborating evidence for her memories; but until then, she should not have been so quick to rely on them.]

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Wade July 2, 2010 at 11:36 am

I really don’t agree with the thought experiment point, relativity, anyone? Yes, it was later confirmed by emprical observation, but Einstein utilized thought experiments to come up with it.

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Kip July 2, 2010 at 11:43 am
It seems to me that a major difference between theists and skeptics is that skeptics [try to] discount personal experiences (even their own), while theists give them much credit.

I think that is correct. That is also why I think it makes sense to switch to a neutral subject that treats the same issues, like belief in the evil demon vs. external world. Once you consider that, you see how atheists create or champion very strange epistemologies (hume’s fork, logical positivism, …) in order to avoid giving weight to personal experience.

The reason why skeptics discount personal experience is because over time, it has proven to not be reliable. Our brains are better “story tellers” than “truth tellers”. This is why we have invented methods of making sure what we think we are experiencing is actually true: by using the scientific method, repeating tests, peer review, etc. After many corroborating evidences, it is then that we can be more certain that our experience(*) was actually true.

(*) I should note here that I’m using “experience” very broadly, to include the conceptualization of our experiences — which is really what we are talking about when we talk about our “experiences”.

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Justin Martyr July 2, 2010 at 11:52 am

Hi Kip,

No one is arguing against science. As a Christian, I think the current state of science makes a very good defeater for atheism. See also: any William Lane Craig debate. The issue under debate is the degree of prima facie justification based on personal experience. I think any good epistemology has to allow a reasonable amount of prima facie justification in order to be consistent with our common sense beliefs, such as about the evil demon. Pace Luke, atheists have strong intuitions that the world is not the illusion of an evil demon.

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Tomasz July 2, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Justin

>Thomasz,

>You are still misunderstanding Kalam. The premise is “everything that begins to exist has a >cause.” God may begin to exercise his free will, but that is just an uncaused beginning, >not an uncaused beginning of existence. Justin Martyr

———————–
Uncaused begining of what?? We are talking precisely about particular exercise.
There is satate of affairs S1 when there is no such exercise and there is state of affairs S2 when there is exercise. Such exercise required for creation of Universe – such action must begin (and acitons are certanly members of set of existing things if they are actual), since cannot exist eternally at S1 alredy. If such exercise cannot be at S1 then it must be at S2. Haw can you claim that such thing as God’s exercise never existed but neverthless IS sufficient for Universe as plausable explanation?? Begining itself also must exist, so this is totally uniteligible what you propose.
If there IS exercise of God than this is undeniably an existence. Haw can you claim otherwse that such exercse IS?? We are not talking about spatial beginings or ends, begining is change, so you cannot talk about begining whothout of existence of some change, so your objection in my opinion fails.

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Kip July 2, 2010 at 12:08 pm

The issue under debate is the degree of prima facie justification based on personal experience. I think any good epistemology has to allow a reasonable amount of prima facie justification in order to be consistent with our common sense beliefs, such as about the evil demon. Pace Luke, atheists have strong intuitions that the world is not the illusion of an evil demon.

We have no reason to think that our “basic intuitions” (as Luke used the term) [on most issues] are reliable, and many reasons to think that they aren’t [on most issues*]. It seems to me that the sun is revolving around the earth. I know this is not the case, even though the story my brain is telling me continues to point in that direction.

(*) Some of our “survival intuitions” are probably mostly reliable, since they have been honed by natural selection. For example, the instinct a mother has to nurture a child. There’s no reason to think instincts in regards to cosmological or metaphysical questions would accurately reflect reality, though.

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Kip July 2, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Pace Luke, atheists have strong intuitions that the world is not the illusion of an evil demon.

I guess I’m more of a pragmatist in this regard — I don’t think this hypothetical could be substantiated either way, and it wouldn’t change my actions even if it could. Therefore, there’s no need even wasting time discussing it. Could it be true? I suppose so… for a certain definition of “true” — a definition of “true” that I don’t bother with on a day–to–day basis, because it’s not pragmatic.

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lukeprog July 2, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I, for one, do not have a strong intuition that the world is not the illusion of an evil demon, and I wouldn’t pay attention to such an intuition if I had one.

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antiplastic July 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Me three, with the not having any “strong intuition”.

Maybe by “atheists” you meant, literally, two atheists ever.

Strong argument though? I have as strong an argument as it is logically possible to have.

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Justin Martyr July 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Hi Kip,

I guess I’m more of a pragmatist in this regard — I don’t think this hypothetical could be substantiated either way, and it wouldn’t change my actions even if it could.

Atheist are very quick to switch epistemologies or theories of truth when the subject is the evil demon. But the pragmatic theory of truth has many problems, not the least of which is that it sends you veering into postmodernism – reality as a social construct. Atheists are happy to be hard-headed champions of evidence, but not when you pull them out of their comfort zone.

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Justin Martyr July 2, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Hi Luke,

I, for one, do not have a strong intuition that the world is not the illusion of an evil demon, and I wouldn’t pay attention to such an intuition if I had one.

You believed that the external world was real based on intuition. You have probably since shedded it, but only because it would be a chink in your armor. But when you take off your philosophers cap and walk around and buy ice cream, you probably believe it again. David Hume did, and all that does is show that you hold your beliefs inconsistently. Besides, suspending belief on the reality of the external world is absurd. It should be taken as a reductio of your epistemology.

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Hermes July 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Justin Martyr: You believed that the external world was real based on intuition.

Does that mean it’s OK for me to give you the external world intuition of me slapping you around?

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lukeprog July 2, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Justin,

*sigh*

Nope. You’re attributing to me things I do not believe or defend.

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Anonymous July 2, 2010 at 8:48 pm

There’s lot of stuff that’s way wrong with this post, but here’s one example:

>>Such [basic] intuitions almost always give the wrong answer, at least on the questions that have been decided by more reliable means so far. -Luke

In the first place, this claim looks like it might be entirely devoid of content. If it seems to someone that p is true when we’ve since determined (by more reliable means) that p is false, then the seeming that p is true (when had by anyone) gives the wrong answer. Wow. No shit, eh?

In the second place, there are tons of things that seem true to most cognitively competent individuals that ARE true. So please, count up the true vs. false seemings for us. To back your claim, you’ll have to do that. It seems to me that it’s a necessary truth that no smooth plane surface can be simultaneously red and green all over. If I know that, and I take it I do, I know it on the basis of intuition. This certainly hasn’t been proven false via reliable means. Nor has it been proven true by any means. (And, of course, has it been proven false that god exists either. Not sure what your point is.) Intuitions don’t “prove things true”.

Third, you need to do some serious study on the literature on intuitions. You appear to be about twenty years behind right now. You also seem to assume that we need to treat everyone’s intuitions with equal weight, which completely ignores the philosophical literature on disagreement.

Here’s a nice example for you. Why should I accept any of your arguments? Because you’ve proven to me that the form your arguments take is valid? But you haven’t. Because you’ve proven to me that your premises are true? Well, have fun with that project. Gonna give another argument for one of the premises? Ok, so what about the premises of that argument? And why should I think the argument you’ve offered in support of that premise is valid? Enjoy that project, Luke.

The point is obvious. We know some things in the basic way (if we know anything). So how do you account for this basic knowledge? Here’s an example (which assumes that justification is required for knowledge in this particular case):

I take myself to know that if you were to rape a little baby just for fun you’d have done something wrong. (And yeah, I know that.) So do you really want to claim I’m not justified in believing that? Let’s assume you don’t want to make that absurd claim. Then how do you account for my justified belief? What justifies me in believing that?

Please don’t make a facile appeal to something like “causing harm to someone for no good reason is wrong”. Because then I’ll want to know how you’re justified in believing *that*. If you discount intuition, then what do you appeal to? Come now, Luke. Surely you can see that you’re at least prima facie justified in believing that causing harm to someone for no good reason is wrong. You can see the truth of that proposition in the same way you can see the truth of the proposition that modus ponens is a valid form of inference.

Were you born with that justfifed belief? Of course not. Did god make you justified in believing it? Again, of course not. Is it plausible that you’re in a mental state that confers justification on that belief? Yes it is. When you justifiedly believe that a table is before you, you’re in a mental state that confers justification on that belief. If you’re unwilling to find a mental state that is such that being in it confers justification on a belief, then what, in god’s fucking name, Luke, do you think justifies you in this belief?

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Al Moritz July 3, 2010 at 2:42 am

Luke,

If you believe you have libertarian free will because your inner experience of free will trumps the scientific data for you, then what, exactly, is your complaint about the Christian whose inner experience of God trumps the scientific data for him?

Which scientific data please? The fact that mental states correlate in detail to brain activity which is physical?

Correlation is not causation. I have some news for you. The fact that mental states correlate to brain activity is not a privileged new insight of ‘modern science’. Already Thomas Aquinas realized that more than 700 years ago (and even he may not have been the first one to do so), and he still believed, on philosophical reasoning, that the mind has an immaterial component.

So do many people in modern times, with even some neuroscientists among them. Prominent example: John Eccles who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the synapse.

So please, tell me, which scientific data? Actual data or rather the, often amateurish, philosophical waxings of some dogmatic materialist scientists that have nothing to do with the data themselves but rather with the worldviews of those scientists?

As a scientist I am truly curious about some enlightenment if there are actual scientific data, unbeknownst to me, that support your claim.

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Al Moritz July 3, 2010 at 3:03 am

Correlation is not causation. I have some news for you. The fact that mental states correlate to brain activity is not a privileged new insight of ‘modern science’. Already Thomas Aquinas realized that more than 700 years ago (and even he may not have been the first one to do so), and he still believed, on philosophical reasoning, that the mind has an immaterial component.

Addendum:
In both cases,

a) the brain is the mind
or
b) the brain is an instrument of the mind,
you would expect exact correlation of mental states with brain activity. In fact, it would be odd if someone who believes b) would claim not to expect to find that correlation!

So the argument that it is a fact that mental states correlate to brain activity cannot logically be used to support a physicalist worldview.

(Again, the idea that the brain is an instrument of the mind, in fact thoroughly intertwined with the functioning of the mind, is not an evasive tactic of theists forced upon them by modern science; already Aquinas assumed that. )

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Hermes July 3, 2010 at 3:57 am

Al Moritz: In both cases,

a) the brain is the mind
or
b) the brain is an instrument of the mind,

you would expect exact correlation of mental states with brain activity. In fact, it would be odd if someone who believes b) would claim not to expect to find that correlation!

The brain is the mind (a. is correct).

The brain is not the instrument of the mind (b. is incorrect) if (?) you mean by instrument the brain is like a flute, a hammer, or a shovel that the mind uses. Is this what you mean by b.?

If you want evidence for the above comments, let me know. It may respond in a few days as I might not monitor this blog over the weekend.

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Martin July 3, 2010 at 6:09 am

Hermes and Al Moritz,

An interesting read here. A materialist philosopher admits that the evidence for materialism isn’t really any better than for dualism.

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Justfinethanks July 3, 2010 at 6:29 am

So please, tell me, which scientific data?

There are a lot of studies that seriously call into question free will. This one comes to mind.

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/sci;324/5928/811
Explained here:
http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com/2009/05/science-vs-free-will-again.html

In it, scientists used electrodes on the brain to force people to have certain intentions. Here’s a quote from the paper.

Stimulation of all these sites produced a pure intention, that is, a felt desire to move without any overt movement being produced… Without prompting by the examiner, all three patients spontaneously used terms such as “will,” “desire,” and “wanting to,” which convey the voluntary character of the movement intention and its attribution to an internal source, that is, located within the self.

But if you can be forced to have “intention,” (and you can have a strong, but mistaken, belief that the intention is coming from inside you) what exactly does intention mean? Clearly, it can’t be some sort of free thing that allows us to act as our own unmoved movers, as people who believe in libertarian free will seem to believe.

And of course there is also the readiness potential

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bereitschaftspotential

Where we discovered that your unconscious brain “decides” what actions you are going to take before our conscious mind is aware of it. If what I am going to do is determined by my brain before I am even aware of it, and I have no “veto power” over my brain’s “decisions,” how exactly do you make sense of free will?

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lukeprog July 3, 2010 at 6:41 am

Martin,

Cool, thanks for the link.

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Hermes July 3, 2010 at 7:12 am

Martin: An interesting read here. A materialist philosopher admits that the evidence for materialism isn’t really any better than for dualism.

FWIW, I go with what evidence is available, and don’t care about materialism vs. anything. Bill Snedden’s comments elsewhere sum it up nicely;

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9321

That said, the evidence shows what I noted above in response to Al.

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Robert Gressis July 3, 2010 at 4:10 pm

“But if you can be forced to have “intention,” (and you can have a strong, but mistaken, belief that the intention is coming from inside you) what exactly does intention mean? Clearly, it can’t be some sort of free thing that allows us to act as our own unmoved movers, as people who believe in libertarian free will seem to believe.”

I don’t get this. OK, feelings of free acting can be caused. Theist libertarians already believed that God could at least cause you to feel as though you freely did something when in fact you didn’t. Just because this can occur doesn’t mean it always occurs. Similarly, just because scientists can cause me to feel as though I’m acting freely, it doesn’t follow that my sense that I’m acting freely is therefore always to be disregarded.

Similarly, we can also be forced to have perceptions. That doesn’t mean that perceptions aren’t prima facie evidence for what we perceive.

What am I missing?

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Justfinethanks July 3, 2010 at 5:24 pm

What am I missing?

Well, you are missing two things.

Firstly, most libertarians I imagine would be uncomfortable with the idea that “sometimes my making a ‘choice’ is illusory, but sometimes it’s not.” It seems to me a sad sort of libertarianism that concedes that sometimes, even when you really feel and sense that your desire to take an action is arising somewhere from within your ghost in the machine, it actually is just a determined electrical impulse. While I suppose there is nothing contradictory about the idea of “sometimes determined, sometimes not,” it at least should make you call in question whether you are ACTUALLY exerting your free will or if this is a “sometimes determined” situation in every single “choice” you make, and the feeling of free will is illusory.

And if you are not a compatiblist, and think that determinism and morality cannot exist in harmony, does that mean that you think that in certain situations where a criminal is having a “determined” moment, where his or her desire to steal a car came from a determined electrical impulse and not their free will, do you think that the criminal should be let off the hook because they are not morally culpable?

Secondly, this now means we actually have empirical evidence for the “Intentionality is illusory” thesis. And we still don’t have empirical evidence for the “people are unmoved movers” thesis (though I could cheerfully retract that if there were any studies produced which showed as much.) That means that in all such scenarios we should prefer the former explanation over the latter.

Also, generally, when we have a physical, natural explanation for something, it is usually favored over supernatural explanation because it is more parsimonious.

For example, the simple fact that we can now explain lightning using totally naturalistic methods, that doesn’t mean that some lightning bolts are still Zeus expressing his wrath. There is nothing contradictory about both being true. But since the former is naturalistic the latter is not, it is favored in the case of EVERY lightning bolt.

Since we now have a physical, natural explanation for the “I want and have decided to eat cake” feeling (for example), it should be favored over the competing supernatural explanation (free will.)

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antiplastic July 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm

I wonder what Libertarians think football coaches are for.

I would say that they earn a tidy sum of money because they wag their lips and tongues and teeth in a precisely targeted way so as to cause their players to make more effective decisions.

“Nonsense!” says the Libertarian wide receiver. “My decisions are uncaused!”

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TaiChi July 3, 2010 at 6:36 pm

I don’t get this. OK, feelings of free acting can be caused. Theist libertarians already believed that God could at least cause you to feel as though you freely did something when in fact you didn’t. Just because this can occur doesn’t mean it always occurs. ” ~Robert Gressis

True. I think the point of this sort of evidence is that a materialistic theory of mind requires something like the scientific results we’re seeing. Dualism doesn’t, of course, so whatever initial probabilistic weighting you give to each option will be adjusted in Materialism’s favor when such results come in. So it’s not so much that Dualism is being refuted, as Materialism is being confirmed.

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Anonymous July 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

>>It seems to me a sad sort of libertarianism that concedes that sometimes…

So Robert missed your feelings of sadness?

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Justfinethanks July 3, 2010 at 7:20 pm

So Robert missed your feelings of sadness?

By “sad” I meant “pathetic” not “melancholy.” As in any libertarian who believes that sometimes free will is an illusion and sometimes it’s not is hardly a libertarian at all.

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Anonymous July 3, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Your feelings and attitudes aren’t relevant when doing philosophy. If a perfectly coherent position is one you find “pathetic”, that’s an irrelevant fact about your own psychology which nobody cares about.

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Justfinethanks July 3, 2010 at 8:59 pm

If a perfectly coherent position is one you find “pathetic”, that’s an irrelevant fact about your own psychology which nobody cares about.

I agree completely. But in this case I’m arguing that my particular psychological state “I feel semi-libertarianism is pathetic” corresponds to a particular state of reality, namely “Semi-libertarianism is pathetic, and isn’t actually libertarianism at all.” And if that’s the state of reality, then it’s perfectly relavant and people should care about it.

I reminded a bit of WL Craig’s reponse to Richard Dawkins basically conceding the Kalam argument, but objecting to the God conclusion because it can’t support an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient being or one who answers prayers, etc.. Craig is incredulous because:

The argument doesn’t aspire to prove such things. It would be a bizarre form of atheism—indeed, one not worth the name—that conceded that there exists an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful, personal Creator of the universe.

And Craig is completely right. If you are an atheist and you concede these things, then you hold to a very pathetic version of atheism. An atheism that basically abandons all previous notions of atheism. An atheism that isn’t worthy of the name.

Similarly, if you believe in libertarian free will, but believe that there can be cases where you fully believe that you are in total control, but you aren’t, then you hold to a very pathetic version of libertarianism. A libertarianism that basically abandons all previous notions of libertarianism. A libertarianism that isn’t worthy of the name.

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Anonymous July 3, 2010 at 9:09 pm

On any standard definition of libertarian free agency in the philosophical literature, it will turn out that it’s quite possible for an agent to seem to be free (or to fully believe that they are free, or in total control of their actions, or whatever you like) but not in fact be free. So your claim that this kind of libertarianism “basically abandons all previous notions of libertarianism” is simply false.

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TaiChi July 3, 2010 at 11:45 pm

And Craig is completely right.” ~ Justfinethanks

Craig’s completely wrong. Dawkins doesn’t mention the Kalam at all, and rather concedes an Aquinian cosmological argument – one which lacks something analogous to the KCA’s premise 4 and conclusion 5. It’s a ridiculous strawman. (Not that I disagree with the point you make with the example – carry on).

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Robert Gressis July 4, 2010 at 12:40 am

Justfinethanks,

First, Peter van Inwagen believes that universal causal determinism is incompatible with freedom, and he believes that we make truly free decisions only on rare occasions. Similarly, Robert Kane believes that we make truly free decisions only when our reasons for doing something are as strong as our reasons against doing them. In other words, it’s not just about the feeling of freedom; there have to be other conditions present as well.

You might not take their opinions to be very important, but they are the two most important libertarian theorists of the 20th century, so I think the notion that they’re not genuine libertarians has to be rethought. (In fairness to van Inwagen, he does not call himself a libertarian, but he’s an incompatibilist who believes in free will, so close enough, I think.) In addition, there are very plausible interpretations of Kant according to which he thinks people only ever make one free decision, but again he’s a pretty important philosopher who took the reality of freedom very seriously.

Remember, there are two issues, freedom and moral responsibility. Freedom at some point is a necessary condition for moral responsibility, but not at every point. For instance, if I make a free choice at time t1, and as a result I develop a character trait at t2 and do actions a3-a10 at times t3-t10 because of that character trait, then I am plausibly morally responsible for what I do at t3-t10, even if I couldn’t have done otherwise.

Also, just because you could be wrong sometimes about when you’re free doesn’t mean that you’re always wrong, for the same reason that you could be wrong sometimes about accurately perceiving things but not always wrong. I’m curious how you can confidently conclude from occasional false judgments about your own freedom to the universal falsity of such judgments but not do the same about perceptual judgments.

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Mikeanthoney July 4, 2010 at 4:12 am

Robert Gressis,

“First, Peter van Inwagen believes that universal causal determinism is incompatible with freedom, and he believes that we make truly free decisions only on rare occasions. Similarly, Robert Kane believes that we make truly free decisions only when our reasons for doing something are as strong as our reasons against doing them.”-Robert G.

Kane’s sense of free-will then assigns it to the roll of tie-breaker? It seems suspicious that free-will should be relegated to such a narrow function. Is this what most philosophers have in mind when the invoke free-agency as a method of decision making? To me, this brand of libertarianism sounds a lot like “free-will-in-the-gaps” (when determining factors remain unknown or are difficult to measure).

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Robert Gressis July 4, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Kane believes that we are morally responsible for most of our actions because our actions generally spring from character, and we’re responsible for our character to the extent that we get to make self-forming actions (SFAs). We have the opportunity to make a self-forming action when we have reason to do A, equally strong, or about equally strong, reason to do B, and it’s undetermined whether we choose A or B. I guess you could see free will as a tie-breaker; I think of it, in Kane’s theory, anyway, as more of a switch on a train-track that determines which way the train will go.

I should note that I may have Kane’s theory a bit off; as I remember it, to have the opportunity to make a SFA, the reasons for doing A and B have to be about equally strong; but he may not hold that. He may hold only that there has to be some reason for doing A and some reason for doing B, even if the reasons for doing A is much stronger (or weaker) than the reasons for doing B.

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Al Moritz July 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm

There are a lot of studies that seriously call into question free will. This one comes to mind.

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/sci;324/5928/811

Explained here:

http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com/2009/05/science-vs-free-will-again.html

In it, scientists used electrodes on the brain to force people to have certain intentions. Here’s a quote from the paper.

Stimulation of all these sites produced a pure intention, that is, a felt desire to move without any overt movement being produced… Without prompting by the examiner, all three patients spontaneously used terms such as “will,” “desire,” and “wanting to,” which convey the voluntary character of the movement intention and its attribution to an internal source, that is, located within the self.

But if you can be forced to have “intention,” (and you can have a strong, but mistaken, belief that the intention is coming from inside you) what exactly does intention mean? Clearly, it can’t be some sort of free thing that allows us to act as our own unmoved movers, as people who believe in libertarian free will seem to believe.

I don’t see a fundamental problem here, in fact, I see no problem here. The brain expresses the sensation of intention (which, as the dualist would say, is not the same as: it produces intention). Normally, this expression is induced by the will, now it is induced externally by electrodes. So? The brain which is usually controlled by the mind, was taken ‘out of the mind’s hands’, as it were. Nothing more, nothing less.

And of course there is also the readiness potential

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bereitschaftspotential

Where we discovered that your unconscious brain “decides” what actions you are going to take before our conscious mind is aware of it. If what I am going to do is determined by my brain before I am even aware of it, and I have no “veto power” over my brain’s “decisions,” how exactly do you make sense of free will?

The validity and interpretation of Libet’s findings have been challenged (some might say, discredited) by subsequent research:

http://machineslikeus.com/news/libet-was-wrong

Here is the more common link that explains the findings,

http://snipurl.com/z18se

but the explanation there is less clear.

(I have found that the whole becomes most clear when reading both links.)

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Al Moritz July 5, 2010 at 3:15 pm

An interesting read here. A materialist philosopher admits that the evidence for materialism isn’t really any better than for dualism.

Thanks for the link, Martin.

Note 3:

“This paper is only an uncharacteristic exercise in intellectual honesty.”

Kudos to the author.

In note 4 the author says:

“I believe my own faith in materialism is based on science-worship”

That reminds me of certain people here. I cannot share this science worship. Not just because I am a theist, but also because as a scientist I have more internal insight into the workings of science, and am therefore perhaps a bit more skeptical.

The Libet controversy that I just discussed is an example that emphasizes how dangerous science-worship and an unskeptical attitude toward science can be.

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cl November 30, 2010 at 11:30 am

I’m not saying all atheists hold to these apparent double standards, but many do.

Here’s another double standard that many – dare I say most – atheists hold: the God of the Gaps fallacy. If you are an atheist who claims that you would believe in God given evidence of miracles, then what, exactly is your complaint about believers who invoke God as an explanation for the transition from non-sentience to sentience?

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