Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pressing pause on the Faith Discussion

Although I'm both (a) hopeful it will continue eventually and (b) glad to continue it with others, the majority of what has constituted my surprisingly popular ongoing Faith Discussion that has taken place with Tom Gilson (sorry Phil Vischer, I don't mean to leave you out, of course!) needs a break. Because, from my perspective, his position has gone into meltdown--or more accurately, he's become doxastically entrenched and thus precontemplative about these matters--I'm putting the Faith Discussion on pause until it can reset to something more productive.

Of course, don't take my judgment without checking it out. See these two links particularly to see what I mean: One and Two, and additionally this comment (which responds to me). What I will expect you'll find is that they've demanded that everything be done under the banner of theological assumption. Since my point all along is that doing so constitutes pretending to know what we do not know (at the least, the theological assumption), we have reached an impasse, and they've resorted purely to burden shifting, goalpost moving, and circularity denying, along with outright misrepresentation (this link being a relatively benign example--there are many others).

I've got three suggestions for a more productive avenue for discourse, and I've mentioned one of them to him on the comments on his blog. Another is well known to them already. (I should also note to his friends and followers there that since the comment threads (One and Two) have gone into total meltdown as well, I will not be participating there any longer until they get back on the rails, hence my lack of response to their arguments since this offer.) These suggestions are:
  1. To discuss "why is it considered virtuous (or unvirtuous, if they wish to take that side) to avoid revising one's beliefs?" 
  2. To address "what would convince them, as Christians, to reject or revise their Christian beliefs?"
  3. For them to admit explicitly, openly, and unequivocally, as I've repeatedly asked, merely that their beliefs are not something they can know to be true (even if they want to continue believing them anyway for other reasons).
I'm open to other suggestions for productive dialogue, but I'm unlikely to entertain questions of me of the sorts so far presented that I've ignored. I ignored them for a reason, which they assume is my inability to answer them, which is both rude and asinine. In fact, I answered some that I shouldn't really have bothered with, which I now deem to have been a mistake.

I'll indicate again under what circumstances I would be willing to change my beliefs about God and Christianity. My minimum bar is evidence that does not depend upon the beliefs themselves to have more plausibility than other explanations. This answers #2, and despite their protests, I do not think this standard is unreasonable or necessarily impossible. Indeed, I think they'd need at least this much and more before being able to consider a different religion, even if a true one (different than the one they have now) unequivocally appeared in the world suddenly later this afternoon--that is, not only do I think I'm open to the truth whatever it is, I think they have in place a mechanism that is resistant to it if it should happen to disagree with their current beliefs.

As to #1, to show my sincerity, I think it is unvirtuous to avoid revising one's beliefs because only by revision of belief can we reject bad ideas and get closer to a state where we primarily (or only) hold good ones. I also see faith as a cognitive bias that gets directly in the way of revising one's own beliefs, so they know where I stand. Further, for the same reason mentioned above and because I and we collectively as a species have speculated wrongly so many times, I think informed skepticism, that is reasonable doubt with a willingness to change one's mind, is a profound virtue. Of course, I also think that gullibility is not so good, so I have standards (as mentioned above) that prevent changing my mind when I shouldn't.

The direct responses so far to my suggestion of the first question have indicated that they may be too doxastically entrenched to reset to a productive discussion at present (see: 1, 2, 3). That's fine. I'm not putting a time limit on this, as these things take a great deal of time to work through. I do hope when they can, though, they'll answer these questions for us, and more importantly for themselves.

Tom, I look forward to your response(s).


  1. James,
    Regarding your #2 and your statement "My minimum bar is evidence that does not depend upon the beliefs themselves to have more plausibility than other explanations", I'd be curious to know your thoughts about this comment I made and also the one immediately following it. Thanks.

    1. We have to make assumptions (or presumptions, as the case may be).

      My starting places relevant to this topic are: (1) The material world exists. I don't think this is controversial. (2) My senses are sometimes right about the world. I don't think this is controversial either.

      This is the grounding for accepting that we can use evidence of the physical world, and not only do I not expect that these are controversial, I expect they come with the territory. That is, I think those who believe in God widely accept these as well. Surely some are cantankerous in this regard, but it's very difficult to take those people seriously, not least because it's very difficult to accept that they are making their case sincerely in a way that reflects how they operate in life.

      With those, I take two principles: (a) parsimony, not adding assumptions beyond what is minimally necessary, is to be valued, and (b) unfalsifiable claims, even if true, do not constitute knowledge. If I am to guess, you may have some contention with these principles, but they are not terribly controversial either.

      From that many things follow. One is that we can identify things in the world and create explanatory models about those things. Another is that absolute certainty isn't to be had in these matters and thus can't meaningfully be required to claim knowledge.

      Of course, for macroscopic, physical things, this is easy enough. For instance, as I've often repeated, no one argues that dairy cows do not exist. In the language presented here: we can create a mental model that represents a "dairy cow," and we can objectively conclude once given the definition for such a thing (sharing the model), that such a thing exists.

    2. In terms of microscopic things, especially those like elusive fundamental particles (e.g. the Higgs boson), we have a highly useful model (the Standard Model) that indicates that something we identify with a particle with certain properties should exist. That thing has been found with staggering statistical confidence. You may wish to argue that it is "pretending to know something we don't know" to claim that the Standard Model is true, but as noted above, certainty doesn't matter here. We technically don't (can't) know that the Standard Model is true, but we have very, very high confidence in both its explanatory power and it's predictive ability. Critically, we are also open to revision of that idea if some more fundamental or better model comes along (better as measured in both explanatory power and predictive ability).

      When it comes to imaginary things, this gets more interesting. I used the example of an Ewok from Star Wars before, in fact. I'd say that it's probably the case that since we know our description of Ewoks arises in a work of fiction (would this change, though, if Lucas claimed spiritual revelation? if so, how, and why?), that we can never know if we've found an Ewok--that model is too tied to the fiction. All we can claim to know is that we have found something near enough to the description of Ewoks to get along with calling what we actually find by that name. This, of course, is the same as the case with the Higgs boson.

      When it comes to God, then, what would be needed is sufficient corroborative evidence to suggest that a thing matching some description of it is likely to exist, and for us to do anything with it, it should have some predictive power with it. (This, by the way, is why I reject deism--not because I know it's false but because it doesn't matter if it's false or not in any way.) My whole case so far has been that this is not established. As was noted on Gilson's blog, though, it does depend heavily on the definition of the God in question.

      As a matter of fact, I think that there is substantial evidence that something people call "God" is meaningful, but I have already explained what that is: an axiomatic construction through which they attempt to understand the world. This, however, doesn't get us to any of the specific claims about God--not creator, not source for objective moral values, not loving Father, and not "judge of the living and the dead." I shall not elaborate on this point now as I'm still researching it.

      As for other imaginary things like your string of characters, that would depend upon how they're defined. There's certainly no evidence for anything that remains undefined (physical objects carry with their existence that which is workable as a definition). Once we have a definition, then we can consider evidence, but contrary to your insistence, having a definition, i.e. being able to talk about it, doesn't constitute evidence that something exists. I think, in fact, that the entire field of mathematics reveals this time and time again. Do numbers really exist, for instance? Does infinity? I don't think so, at least not in the way we usually mean (see Dot, Dot, Dot), and I expect you'd agree with this. Those things are concepts, not things. As it turns out, my case is that God is the same: a concept.

    3. If the Christian god exists it could be observed and then described; not defined. Definitions apply to concepts and not to existing entities. If multiple gods exist and could be observed, then the concept ''gods" can be defined by taking note of their essential similarities. Observation and evidence come before definition. If another such being were then to be observed the evidence could be used to determine whether that entity fit the definition of gods. I don't think Christians would be too happy considering their god as one among many even if they all definitely existed. In the real world all we have are imagined gods. Both the imagination and concepts are mental activity of our consciousness. Since concepts are defined, the desire of a Christian to mistakenly define and not simply describe his god only highlights its imaginative nature. Only real entities can be described.

    4. Johzek, that is a great paragraph right there. I never thought of it exactly like that, but now it seems obvious. Thanks.

    5. It is indeed! I don't know exactly how I missed it yesterday, but I'm glad you commented on it Cal.

      I'll point out, to elaborate a tiny bit on that, that in mathematics we often do define things that we don't have evidence for and then go "looking for their existence," i.e. prove at least one such thing "exists." The catch is that these things are, indeed, concepts--abstractions. It's the only place things like this make sense.

      Further, "existence" in that sense means something like "can be said to be meaningful against the underlying axioms," really underscoring the notion that we're talking about abstractions here, not real things. I'm very fond of something one of my (mathematics) professors said once, talking about something in abstract algebra: "We only define things we want to talk about. If no examples of such a thing exist, we reject the definition and don't talk about that thing anymore--because there's nothing to be talked about."

    6. I should add that this is probably the bulk of why the (Neo)Platonist roots of Christian philosophy are so confusing, particularly to people caught up in the beliefs or trying to grant enough of them to be generous in a discussion.

  2. Steve, I wouldn't be surprised if James doesn't answer your question (for reasons I think he describes above -- did you read the post?).

    Steve wrote: "If we know *something* – even just a little – about God then he must exist for us to know that."

    Implicit in your claim is that you know something about God. Do you agree that something must exist in order for you to know something about it? If so, how do you know God exists?

    1. I think (hope?) he is asking in sincerity about what John Loftus would call my "control beliefs." I do not intend to argue about them now that I've put something down about them, though.

      I quite agree that there's an implicit claim that he knows something about God here, but I don't think people who operate from a theological basis can do otherwise. Their set of foundational assumptions about the matter includes that God exists. And not just God, but the particular conception of God they believe in. That's how that works, necessarily.

      Through this discussion, and some private responses I have received, it has become increasingly apparent to me that there are, in effect, two kinds of believers. There are those who will admit openly and honestly what I'm asking in (3) above, that their beliefs are not known to be true, and there are those who refuse to do so, for whatever reasons. The consequence of fideism, though, is being unable to have moral justification for imposing your beliefs on other people, which is a direct contradiction to evangelicism (and the injunctions in the various scriptures).

    2. There have been some interesting things to come out of the reaction to your challenge over at TC. (I originally felt gratified at how much of it was predictable, but towards the end I started to think it was a level of crazy and group-frenzy / feedback-loop reaction that I really didn't see coming.)

      One thing I love about these discussions is that sometimes I think it can, like a lot of neuroscience that is based on physical damage to the brain, reveal something about how our brains work by witnessing biases working at a pathological level. It occurred to me, watching the comments and reactions over there at TC, that there may be a part of the brain that release a "satisfaction" response to resolving an intellectual challenge or problem, and it made me wonder if there could be a point where this response is circumvented or tickled by group feedback or some other event. It made me wonder if there might be a mechanism like that, where groups (think cults, etc.) need to come together to provide affirmation that stimulates that artificial sense of mental resolution. Which makes me wonder if someday we might discover that by stimulating a part of the brain, we could provide the subject with a "satisfaction response" that 2 + 2 = 5 is correct to the point where they feel they know it.

      Anyway, endless good times all this. Thanks.

  3. I like your three questions, James.

    I'm going to take a bit of a pause here, too, in order to get a breather, a chance to back away a bit and return after further reflection, and then I'll respond. I figure it will be the end of the week or sometime next week before I do that. Sound okay?

  4. Cal,
    I do agree that something must exist in order for you to know something about it. That is the point of my comment.

    We start at the beginning by assuming nothing. All the claims about God are just claims and James is asking how he can come to know if any of them are true. That brings me to his #2. When James says he can *know* some form of evidence is or isn't evidence for God he is implicitly stating he knows something about God.

    Am I wrong?

    1. Yes, I think you're failing to do the work of making a claim, and then trying to pass that failure onto those you're trying to convince.

      Imagine I am making a claim that Ganticals are real. As evidence, I give you everything you see around you.

      Do you think I have made my case? If not, why not?

    2. What do you know about harry potter? Anything?

  5. Cal,
    I'm not passing the burden of proof. I'm not even asking for proof. I'm simply thinking about what it means to obtain knowledge of some real thing through the examination of evidence.

  6. Steve,

    Can you please answer my question?

  7. Cal,
    "Do you think I have made my case? If not, why not?"

    I will answer by saying this isn't about claims or case-making or demonstrating or proving. This is about the person who thinks, "I know Y isn't considered to be evidence for X". What are they saying?

    Are they saying "I know something about X, and this knowledge gives me that ability to know that Y has no relationship to X." or are they saying something else? What do you think?

    1. After I've said that any evidence could be construed to any sufficiently constructed model, I'm not sure how you can draw this out of what I've said or accuse me of such a thing. Perhaps Cal's suggestion that I wouldn't answer you about this wasn't so bad.

      I've already made plain that I do not "know," in the manner that theologians and philosophers often demand in these contexts, i.e. with certainty, that any model is accurate. I've also made a case that certainty is irrelevant because it is unobtainable (and possibly incoherent).

      The relevant point here isn't how I "know" the evidence presented isn't evidence for belief in God. It's how you can be justified in claiming that it is. I know you want to level this (see Stephen Law's "Going Nuclear") to make it appear that all presuppositions are equally warranted, but why should we accept this?

    2. NB: Correction. I do not know that the nuclear option is your intent, or exposing something akin to it, at least, but I suspect it. Normally, I wouldn't bother with this correction, since it is a well-understood turn of phrase, but these conversations are interminable enough without having to deal with that kind of pedantry, particularly since it's plausible that you're likely to simply go on accusing me of pretending to know things I don't know on the basis of such a triviality.

      Another big point: if we have to level it to some degree of always pretending to know something, as I've repeatedly said, the widths of the gaps (the amount of pretense) is the only relevant topic. In this case, Boghossian's case could be rephrased less eloquently around the notion that there is some fuzzily defined amount of pretending that isn't acceptable, with less being okay. This, though, is unnecessarily cumbersome for any productive discussion.

    3. I have no idea what this nuclear option is. I'm expressing my own thoughts, and my expressions apply equally to me as they do to you. I just happen to be asking you the questions that I also ask myself. Feel free to no answer if you'd like.

    4. The nuclear option, essentially, is levelling the entire discussion field by saying that evidence and/or reason cannot prove themselves (and hence, by implication, any presupposition exists on equal ground).

      It feels as though you're trying to make the case that some degree of "pretending to know" is needed in every case because we have to assume that things like evidence, reason, the real world, etc., exist in order to do that. Perhaps I'm mistaken about that.

      If you wonder what the problem with it is, it is that such an argument is almost never made in sincerity. Like I said earlier, both theists and atheists assume the world exists (in the vast majority of cases) and that both evidence and reason are reliable means to reach conclusions (again, in the vast majority of cases), with proof in the fact that we all use them all the time in day-to-day life.

    5. 'It's how you can be justified in claiming that it is."

      I'm very much on board with justification. Where you and PB go wrong is when you take that fuzzily defined amount of pretending and drawing a hard line for all people that you cannot justify drawing. If you could do that for all people then the line wouldn't be fuzzy, would it?

      When it comes to the question God, the truth is that line is very fuzzy for some (perhaps you and I) and very hard and clear for others (perhaps the apostles and my neighbor). It's not the same for everyone and I'm glad to hear you say that it's not. However, it kind of takes the air out of PB's manual because his methods are suppose to universally apply to all people of faith.

    6. Where do you think the line should be drawn? To make it easier, I'd urge you to answer in terms of statistical confidence. So, a series of related questions, which you can answer in bulk:

      If there's a 25% chance that you're wrong, can you claim knowledge there without pretending to know what you don't know? If you qualify your knowledge claim with "I'm 95% sure I'm right here..." does it change things?

      If there's a 5% chance, how does this change?
      If there's a 1% chance, how does this change?
      If there's a 0.0001% chance that you're wrong, can you call it knowledge without being branded "pretending to know something you don't know"? If you qualify your knowledge claim with "I'm 99.9999% sure I'm right here..." does it change things?

      You don't need to answer those questions specifically, of course. They're rhetorical questions. What I'd really like from you is a value or range of values where you cross from not being able to claim knowledge to being able to claim it (that is, "I'm not sure where exactly it is, but I'd put it between a 99% and 99.9% certainty is good enough," would be a great answer). You can even qualify different levels of confidence for different regimes. Just address roughly where you think that line should lie, why that's good enough but smaller values aren't, and if anything is changed by adding the "I'm p% sure of this..." qualifier.

      If you want to throw out a guess as to the level of confidence you think we can have that God exists too, that would be great, but I won't hold you to that.

    7. "Where do you think the line should be drawn? "
      I'm comfortable with the preponderance level, however the difficulty here is this line is often, in large part, a reflection of how a person views metaphysical reality. At the end of the day how do you translate that view into something that another person can say with great confidence "you're pretending to know what you do no know"?

      The only way this can occur is if someone more confidently knows what the most correct metaphysical view of reality is. PB is claiming that spot by fiat even though there are others way more insightful than him who have expressed their metaphysical knowledge in more coherent and realistic terms. Aquinas being one such person.

      PB has decided that he has the best and most correct metaphysical view of reality, which puts him in the position to objectively judge every other knowledge claim. That's how you get to "faith is pretending to know".

      I don't say that about other people of faith nor about atheist. I don't think these people are pretending to know anything. I think they are mistaken about what they know. There is a difference and Tom has pointed this out.

    8. Where is the "preponderance level," roughly speaking, in statistical confidence? 90%, 95%, 99%? Somewhere more strict? Less?

      I'm not interested in talking about metaphysics. If I've read Boghossian correctly, he's not making a claim to a correct metaphysical view. In fact, he says things like "metaphysics: just say no." Perhaps you saw the conversation with Keith Rozumalski on another recent post here, which essentially goes on and on about whether or not we can justify a brute fact or some such confusion? This is what happens when we do too much speculating about things that we cannot know, which is why I think Boghossian is urging everyone to shy away from metaphysical speculation or assertion in favor of saying "I don't know" when that's the sincere truth.

    9. More confidence than doubt, so to put a number on it, greater than 50%

    10. James,
      I'm sorry but you cannot leave metaphysics out of a discussion about the nature of existence. It's unavoidable.

    11. So we can claim that we know something to be true if we can say that we have at least a 50% chance of being right when we say so?

      Not to cut you off there, but that doesn't seem right at all. For instance, that's like rolling a standard six-sided die and saying that you know you won't roll a six because you have an 83.3% chance (based both on theory and evidence) that you are correct. I really don't think "better than 50%" is what you mean here.

      To stretch this out a little to a longer-odds example, if you were to buy a lottery ticket in most US states, the odds that you will not win are roughly 99.99999917%. Can you claim to know you will not win here? Why or why not?

      Perhaps you can refine your statement a little more. Where do you draw the line on being able to claim knowledge?

    12. You asked, I answered. If I'm more confident that I correctly understand the situation, I'm warranted to conclude it happened that way.

      I'm using these % figures when evaluating present and past events. I don't claim to know the future other than in a pure statistical sense. But I don't call that knowledge because that would require I know future circumstances under which events will play out.

      For this reason, statistics tell you what happened in the past, given a specific set of circumstances, but it tells you *nothing* about what will happen next. What happens next may or may not follow the statistical averages of the past because there are no guarantees that the same circumstances will be present. That disclaimer on investment documents is there for a reason.

    13. More rigor, Steve.

      Let's say you're holding a baseball over nothing but the floor in your living room, which I am assuming for the sake of argument is on Earth, and at the moment you hear the ding of a bell, you are going to drop it. Do you know the baseball will drop to the floor?

      That's a future event. Are you trying to say that the statistical evidence (it has never done anything but that) is insufficient to draw a knowledge claim about what will happen when you drop your baseball?

      This response, by the way, flies so heavily in the face of your "preponderance, meaning >50%" answer from before that I'm suspecting that you're not being honest with yourself in answering. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like your requirement to claim that you "know" seems only to apply to past events with evidence suggesting that there's a >50% chance that we've interpreted them correctly. So, in those cases we can "know," and in others, no matter how strong the statistical confidence, we cannot claim to "know"?

      Are you aware of Stephen Jay Gould's famous answer to the Problem of Induction, which you're implicitly claiming is insurmountable here?

    14. You've locked in the specific details of the future event so tightly that I can say with near certainty, yes, I know the future. Do I know a baseball will always drop the floor in the future? No, and I have no way to put a number on that knowledge because I have no idea what the circumstances are.

      When I hear someone report that a baseball didn't drop to the floor, I know the situation is different somehow because normally baseballs drop to the floor.

      "So, in those cases we can "know," and in others, no matter how strong the statistical confidence, we cannot claim to "know"?

      Not sure I understand exactly, but I think we can know something based on our understanding of the nature of various real things and the way those things interact with each other.

  8. Steve, I don't know what it is you're objecting to, nor where you have seen that argument being made (can you quote it from it's original source? Maybe something is being lost in translation).

    I do wonder why you won't answer this question:

    Imagine I am making a claim that Ganticals are real. As evidence, I give you everything you see around you. Do you think I have made my case? If not, why not?

  9. Cal,
    I have no ability to answer because I know nothing about what a Ganticals actually is. You could say that you have evidence for an actual Gantical and I would be unable to know if you are telling the truth or not. The concept is completely foreign to me.

    My question is to James is similar. I give everything around you to consider as evidence for God. Unlike my response about Ganticals, James has responded that he has figured out which is evidence for God and which is not. He must know something about God.

  10. Steve: "I have no ability to answer because I know nothing about what a Ganticals actually is. You could say that you have evidence for an actual Gantical and I would be unable to know if you are telling the truth or not. The concept is completely foreign to me."

    Precisely. I should not expect you to understand what a Gantical is -- it needs a definition.

    Do you see how you were able to completely reject my claim for Ganticals, even without a definition for what Ganticals are?

    So, why would you expect James (et al.) to behave differently than you do when it comes to claims about a concept that is completely foreign to you? I think you should consider that for awhile, btw. I don't think the answer is easy.

  11. I didn't reject your claim, Cal. How could I? I have no ability to assess it and no ability to challenge your claim. I'm literally ignorant. James is challenging various claim because the concept isn't foreign to him.

    1. Actually, Steve, I'd urge you to consider that a big part of where I am at required taking the step into an honest admission that the concept of God is foreign to me.

      Could you define "God" for us, though, as I think it is at least implied that the you feel that the concept isn't foreign to you.

    2. If it's a completely foreign concept then the term has no meaning to you. But it has meaning because you've told us something about God, so I am left conflicted as to how to reply. I can understand it being a fuzzy concept to you, but a completely foreign one, no.

    3. No, that's not accurate. I've told you something about some of the concepts various humans have called God--not all of which are related to one another. I understand it's very difficult for you to see things from this point of view, but I do not believe there is a God.

      I have some grasp on some of the conceptions that people have called God, but that's quite a different thing from having a concept of God. I have absolutely no way to know if any of the people who have ever mentioned it are right about God or not, and I think if you're honest with yourself, you're in this position too.

      Have you ever met my friend, Irony the Equivocator? He comes up for the first time in God Doesn't; We Do, but I put him on the blog too. You can read about him here.

    4. Just an FYI that I won't be able to contribute much in the near future so I apologize in advance for ducking out.

      I don't think you would concluded that these various concepts are subjectively defined and human created, would you? You would say they are discovered or recognized. For example, virtue is something we came to know through experience, not something we invented out of whole cloth. We could not make the act of murder a human virtue any more than we could make the act of breathing a human contact sport. That tells us that virtue is a specific and real thing that cannot be redefined and is independent of human opinion.

      All of that is to say that many (not all) of these concepts are objective, real, and must be exist in some form/state of reality that is independent of the human mind/opinion. Enter metaphysics, the thing PB wants to avoid but cannot.

    5. Not worth starting an aside over, but murder has been considered virtuous in the past in various cultures--retributive murders, ritual murders, the murders (including of innocents) of people following the wrong god or following the alleged right one wrongly, and so on and so forth. I'd say that's probably at least a good quarter of what the Bible is about, in fact. Odd example to bring up, I think.

      I don't think that murder can be saliently grounded as a virtue, but I think the only salient grounding exists in the well-being and suffering of sentient beings, the only possible sources of values and thus of the value of various virtues.

      You're just talking about a Platonic form of goodness, though. That, of course, is what the Christian God is philosophically modelled after. Okay. That's abstract. Thanks for helping make my point from Dot, Dot, Dot.

      No need to talk about metaphysics, though. You've brought it up, so far as I can tell, in an effort to keep talking about things that aren't the things you've been asked directly.

    6. Re: Platonic forms. Read the rest of the "ways" and you'll see why this doesn't work so well - specifically as it relates to causality. You're welcome to it though.

      Re: virtue. you still need to ground this reality (the effect), and if you want to ground it in a contingent object then you need to explain how it came to exist (the cause) when it did not exist before. I commented just recently on the principle of proportionate causality, so this plays a role.

      We can't avoid the metaphysics can we?

    7. We could avoid metaphysics if you would just answer the questions laid before you without dragging the argument there.

      Let me tell you also about a very fine answer to questions of this kind. It's honest and respectable. It's "I don't know." Far more honest and respectable than asserting "God could be such an explanation, therefore God is that explanation."

      Again, I'm not interested in discussing metaphysics. It's all too speculative without good ways to resolve things. You have been asked many questions, and you have requested that I respond to a point you raised. I courteously and thoroughly did so. Let's get back to some of the questions on you now, then, eh?

      I'm still particularly interested in this thread about how you define God. In another, I want to understand where you draw the line in terms of confidence in a claim or hypothesis that allows us to call it "knowledge." I realize you answered that question, but I find it to be either a confused answer or a disingenuous one, as I indicated.

      There is, of course, "how do you know your God exists?" but you see this as a necessary invitation to invoke metaphysical speculations. Why don't you just say so? "I claim to know my God exists because I hold a metaphysical position that seems to require it." That's not so hard, and look how honest it is. It, of course, craps on "know" a little bit, but at least it's honest.

    8. Before you crap all over metaphysical views of reality, please realize that scientific conclusions depends on a metaphysical view. Statistical arguments are rooted in a metaphysical view of reality that buys into natural law that cannot be observed directly (who has seen a law?) but rather inferred through observation.

      A conclusion that says we know that acorns never turn into houses, but always turn into oaks is knowledge built upon a metaphysical understanding causality and in what state/form real things exist from moment to moment.

      If you want to jettison all metaphysical views because they play no role, then you also must allow the conclusion that a person can *know* acorns turn into houses because they view causes as distinct events that are separated in time from the effects they produce - and so it's entirely possible that someone saw this happen and you have no foundation from which to say "nope. wrong", because all metaphysical views are equal.

      Sorry to leave, but I must go now. Cheers!

    9. I don't believe I've crapped on them. I said I didn't want to discuss them because such discussions are fruitless and don't answer the questions posed to you.

    10. Depending on the question you ask, I may or may not get into metaphysics. Any time you ask me how I know God exists, it requires me to give a metaphysical answer of some kind, some of which can be formulated into a deductive logical proof - and there are several.

      So I agree with your statement here: "I claim to know my God exists because I hold a metaphysical position that seems to require it."

      You hold one that doesn't require one. The fact that you have a different metaphysical view of reality or you think my premises are false doesn't do anything to make my knowledge any less genuine than yours. I'm certainly not pretending to know any more than you are.

  12. Steve, can you please stop stalling as if you have a meaningful objection to the plain request "how do you know your God exists?"

    It's not your fault you don't have a good answer, but it is your responsibility to own up to your situation. And so far you haven't shown any indication you're willing to be honest about the hand you have chosen to play. To carry the analogy further, you seem like a poker player who would like to insist he has a winning hand without having to ever put his cards on the table.

    As mentioned upthread, we don't define things that are real; we describe them.

    If you don't like the question "how do you know your God exists," can you instead describe God so someone else can see for themselves that he exists as well?

    Just put your cards on the table. If you have a winning hand, you win, right?

    1. The First Way by Aquinas is logically rigorous enough to get me to a being we call God, but to round it out more fully and specifically, you have to read the other ways. Thanks for asking, Cal.

    2. The First Way--the Prime Mover?

      Surely you don't fall to that now, though, that you know about gravity? All that would be needed is a universe with any differentiation, even if random, at all in energy density, and objects will move "of their own accord" following gradients in spacetime toward the state of lowest potential. A material universe as a brute fact equipped with quantum mechanical laws would be enough to cast doubt on the sufficiency of the First Way, even without getting into other modes of speculation, wouldn't it?

      I suppose maybe you think not, though. Why not?

    3. You have to read the rest of the "ways" to complete the entire picture and answer your question, but briefly, the reason gravity doesn't fit the requirement is because (a) gravity cannot explain the natural end, or directedness, of changing/moving things, (b) principle of proportionate causality (a thing cannot give what it does not have), and there exists real things, different things, directed things, that a simple force by itself cannot account for. There must be more to this than simple force.

      The material universe is known NOT to be a brute fact so your imagination is getting the best of you there, which gets me to (c) the motion/change of this universe didn't always exist so the Prime Mover has the ability to selectively delay/withhold causing certain things to move/change.

    4. I have, of course, read all five of the ways. I do not, of course, find them convincing. Neither do I find your account of gravity convincing. It seems you've just stated some bare assertions that support your position, and they seem to fly in the face of an understanding of how general relativity treats gravity. (There are also other fundamental forces as well, but we needn't get into those.)

      On this brute fact thing... a couple of points. First, I cannot wait until Cal gets a chance to respond to that assertion. Second, is it known that the universe isn't a brute fact? That's news to me. You're not relying upon the Hawking-Penrose cosmology for that, are you? Even WL Craig has abandoned that. I'll also presume you're not so coarse in your understanding of possibilities in cosmology to do as Frank Turek has done (e.g. in a debate with Hitchens) and assert that the second law of thermodynamics also makes this case. It's interesting that Craig and Turek (and you?) make these kinds of arguments that no (or at least almost no) respected physical cosmologist says is justified.

      (For the sake of your dignity, don't appeal to the Kalam argument here either. Surely you know it's been thoroughly dismantled in many different ways? If not, you should look into that. If so, it's dishonest to keep asserting it.)

    5. When science can discover a brute fact, I'll eat my hat. It's a philosophical term that cannot be empirically *observed*. Dress it up in all the sciencey language you want. I suppose next you'll be telling me that Hawking has empirically *observed* intelligence occurring under a microscope. Can't wait to tell the ID crowd about that one. Ha!

    6. That's the whole point of a brute fact, Steve--it can't be discovered. It's the terminus of a line of explanation. I've never hinted anything but that.

      Interesting that you mention Hawking looking into a microscope. You're aware he's a cosmologist, that is a kind of theoretical physicist, not a biologist, or even an experimentalist, right? Of course, he could look in a microscope and then say whatever he'd like to say about it, whether that be right or wrong, but it's a very curious way to have phrased your flippancy.

      By the bye, you do realize that science doesn't actually proceed on authority, right? Tom seems very confused on this point. His claim that Boghossian has never directly tested the composition of the center of the Earth and has to take it on authority reveals that confusion. Boghossian could do such a test at any time if he wanted to, even if that took some preparations. If Boghossian did it and found out something different, and that finding was confirmed, we would change our minds about the center of the Earth.

      In fact, every name could be erased off of every result in every scientific paper ever written, and though that might hurt some motivation in the humans that do science, it wouldn't change anything in terms of which conclusions we accept and which we reject. Newton, for instance, is widely considered to be one of history's greatest scientists, and he was an alchemist, drunk with mercury. We don't believe the first thing he said about alchemy just because he said it. Linus Pauling did excellent research and won Nobel Prizes, and then he discredited himself scientifically (though not popularly, since most of us aren't scientists and do appeal to authority) with all of his rot about Vitamin C.

    7. "In fact, every name could be erased off of every result in every scientific paper ever written, and though that might hurt some motivation in the humans that do science, it wouldn't change anything in terms of which conclusions we accept and which we reject."

      I don't think you understood at all the context in which I made that claim, James. My point was simply this: that there are certain things we take to be true because we have learned them from sources we take to be trustworthy, credible, and competent. Sure, Boghossian could re-run the experiments on the composition of the earth, but I'm confident he would say he doesn't need to do so. He already knows the composition of the core of the earth, because he has it on the authority of trusted, competent, credible sources.

      And so in fact you've misquoted me. I never said that Boghossian has to take it on authority. I said that he does take it on authority, with the further implication that he is fully justified in doing so, for this is one of myriad situations in which a person can acquire justified true belief through the testimony of a competent and credible source. I am not confused as you say I am, for in fact I did not say what you said I said.

      And so the general point is this: we can justifiably know things to be true on the word of competent, trustworthy, credible, sources.

      That was the entire point I was trying to make in the original context.

      I know you've been impatient for me to go on to the next logical question: how do we conclude that biblical sources are trustworthy, competent, and credible. That's another version of the same question I've answered multiple times: you can look it up all over my blog, or in multiple libraries on the topic.

      But once this bit of a pause (which I'm violating, I suppose, by commenting here) is over, I'll answer you directly, too.

    8. TG: "He already knows the composition of the core of the earth, because he has it on the authority of trusted, competent, credible sources."

      I think that's still a misunderstanding. I think we trust in scientific explanations about the composition of the earth because of the process used to ascertain those explanations. Yes, competent and credible (and some incompetent and less credible ones as well) people are involved, but ultimately it is the process they have used that makes the information credible. We trust the process -- a process that, among other things, is designed to identify incompetence and reveal charlatans, etc.

      So, no, I wouldn't agree that we trust in testimony. We trust in testimony that can be tested. And that is all the difference.

    9. i love conversations of causality involving a prime mover existing a-temporally.

      So the most perfect being in conception (ie one without needs and thus desires [fulfilling needs]) decides to change a state of affairs of perfect ontology (just God) to a state of imperfect ontology (God plus something more degraded than God). But to change a state of affairs requires time, which is precisely the thing he is 'yet' to create!

      Aah, God. What a bundle of nonsense.

    10. It seems to me, Cal, that, "We trust in testimony that can be tested," is not much of an epistemic advance over "we trust in testimony that we find we have reason to trust;" except that you limit the conditions under which you will trust testimony. Is that correct?

      If so, does that testing need to be scientific, or do you place the limits elsewhere?

    11. Jonathan,
      Imagine that, a being that is relational and loving wanted to create more of that. And though the idea of an unmoved mover may seem a bit strange to us, it's not a logical contradiction so I'm comfortable with it.

    12. I'm confused, Steve. Is it because you think an unmoved mover is necessary or because you think it's possible (not a logical contradiction) that you think it's an idea to be comfortable with?

    13. TG: It seems to me, Cal, that, "We trust in testimony that can be tested," is not much of an epistemic advance over "we trust in testimony that we find we have reason to trust;" except that you limit the conditions under which you will trust testimony. Is that correct?"

      I mean what the sentence "We trust in testimony that can be tested" says. I don't know a plainer way to say it.

      But yes, testing testimony is a huuuge epistemic advance over trusting testimony we can't test. That is because making reasonable estimates about testimony is pretty okay for gettng through the kind of day-to-day activities for which we have evolved, but it's a ridiculously blunt instrument when trying to describe reality with the precision we have come to expect from our investigations following the Enlightenment.

      Do you understand the difference yet between trusting testimony, and trusting a process?

    14. Seems to be necessary, James.

    15. That wasn't quite what I asked, Steve. Is it because it seems to be necessary or because it is not a logical contradiction that you can be comfortable with the idea? These aren't the same.

    16. OK, enter nonsense example no 434. The Trinity. Of course, if God is necessary, then God in three parts which are identical, is necessary. But of course, people can't seem to make sense of the Trinity. Three parts which must be identifiably different (ie they have different existence properties) but are all God and one in some way. One part is bodily incarnate and not omniscient, the other part non-physical and immutable. And all of this is necessary (surely Jesus cannot be contingent on the existence of humanity??).

      But, back to Steve's claim.

      "Imagine that, a being that is relational and loving wanted to create more of that. "

      OK, so he wants of something. He has a desire. Which means, sans creation, he cannot have been the ontologically perfect state of affairs. To have a want is to have a need, a lacking. Something which has no lack can have no needs or wants.

      So this admits that the being with perfect ontology is actually imperfect.

      So your relational defence does not cut the mustard.


  13. James, I'd be curious to know how you have arrived at the conclusion that this and this constitute demands that everything be done under the banner of theological assumption.

    I'd also be interested to know how you justify the statements you made, to which I responded here.

    I need specific evidence and reasoning, please, just as you have demanded specific evidence for our faith claims. For that latter link, I do not ask for a full-blown quantitative analysis--just enough to make the claim credible. Thanks.

    These questions of course all relate to the second paragraph of your post here.

  14. SteveK: "When science can discover a brute fact, I'll eat my hat. It's a philosophical term that cannot be empirically *observed*. Dress it up in all the sciencey language you want. I suppose next you'll be telling me that Hawking has empirically *observed* intelligence occurring under a microscope. Can't wait to tell the ID crowd about that one. Ha!"

    What a little weasel you are revealing yourself to be. Your comments here seem altogether disingenuous now, don't they? Really, did you come here defend your beliefs? To ask questions? To learn something about how others really think and maybe better understand their thoughts and your own? Do you have the courage to ask yourself those questions and assess them honestly?

    I will be blunt with you: I hope that you remain a Christian. This sentiment makes me slightly ashamed but it's true, and here's why: I like to think that most Christians I come across are Christians by accident -- they were indoctrinated early, they made some poor epistemic decisions, they went through a traumatic event in their life and found solace in that belief, etc. I believe that most Christians are people very much like me who were not so fortunate as to have been raised in a tolerant and curious family, with teachers and other role models who encouraged free thinking, questioning, and a rational approach to problems. That is, I think, all that really differentiates us.

    But I have to admit there are some people who do not value the same things I do or choose to behave in similar ways -- they are not honest with themselves, they believe humility is a kind of weakness and that false confidence is preferable to awe, curiosity, and hard study. I sometimes think that these people prefer Christianity not by accident, but because of the kind of people they are. And because of how you have behaved here (and on TC with regard to James's comments there), I am coming to suspect that this is the kind of person you are.

    So, please, if this is who you choose to be, remain a Christian. I know that's not a charitable sentiment, but it's an honest one.

    1. Weasel? Not sure why you think that because I'm doing everything you mentioned there, Cal. I came here to ask questions of you, to defend my beliefs when asked to defend them and to understand yours when they are offered. I don't recall saying that I was here for any other reason. If that makes me a weasel, then so be it.

    2. I think you're being entirely evasive while trying to score points. I think that if you don't admit that to yourself then you are being, well, dishonest. When people are being evasive and dishonest, I label them weasels. Hence.

      Why should I care? I don't really care that much, but I think it's worth pointing out because I don't want you to imagine that your tactics aren't obvious. Perhaps they're not obvious to you, but they are transparent to anyone else reading here.

      Here's what I mean:

      Steve: "I came here to ask questions of you, to defend my beliefs when asked to defend them and to understand yours when they are offered. I don't recall saying that I was here for any other reason."

      Really? Then why did you write the paragraph I cited? In that paragraph alone, you:

      - Misrepresent ("Steve: "When science can discover a brute fact I'll eat my hat.")
      Why is this a misrepresentation? Because James hadn't claimed "science can discover a brute fact." But it's worse than that. Prior, James had simply asked you to clarify YOUR bizarre assertion that "[t]he material universe is known NOT to be a brute fact so your imagination is getting the best of you there..."


      The imagination, it seems, is yours. Because right in that first sentence you have apparently imagined that James claimed that science can discover a brute fact (false), at the same time ignoring the just prior you were the one who bizarrely asserted that "[t]he material universe is known NOT to be a brute fact."

      That is awesome.

      The rest of your paragraph is more of the same -- misrepresenting / imagining straw men, etc.

      So, yeah, you can go all "Who, me?" you want, but that only makes you seem more dishonest.

  15. "That's the whole point of a brute fact, Steve--it can't be discovered. It's the terminus of a line of explanation. I've never hinted anything but that."

    James, I wonder if you meant "explained" rather than "discovered" there. Just a possible typo for you to sort out.

    1. Three quotes:
      1. SteveK: "When science can discover a brute fact, I'll eat my hat"
      2. me: "That's the whole point of a brute fact, Steve--it can't be discovered."
      3. you: "James, I wonder if you meant "explained" rather than "discovered" there."

    2. It seems I misread your initial comment, James. I thought there was a connection between your statement about brute fact and you mentioning all that science. Sorry about that.

  16. @jozhek: