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5/15/08

My Thesis Against Atheism

Is belief in God rational? This question is still debated among philosophers to this day, among theists and skeptics alike. This question, though it may seem trivial compared to the burdens of financial instability, hunger, or striving for better education, is one that can either help to define ones worldview or destroy it. Most individuals of western thinking are attracted to that which is considered rational or more evident when in search of the truth. I shall define the term rational as that which can be justified by way of logical consistency and evidence. Evidence will be claimed to be data, which can be gathered by sensory experience and corresponds with reality. One can argue that our senses do not correspond with reality directly or even at all, but for the sake of the issue at hand it will be assumed that our thoughts do correspond accurately with what is really there. The epistemological position that I wish to adopt is akin to Aristotelian Rationalism. While I may admit that we can only come to know certain things through sensory experience the way we interpret such experiences is not inherent within our experience, but within ourselves:
“…some knowledge of reality is acquired only on the occasion of sensory experience (and is thus empirical) but that such knowledge is acquired through a non-empirical use of reason (as in the case of rationally intuiting the relationships among the Forms).”(Moser, 19)
The ideas that shall be argued against are those held by Core Empiricists and Concept Empiricists. Core Empiricism is a position that states that one, “cannot have the knowledge of reality through the non-empirical use of reason” (Moser, 19), the strongest of these being Logical Positivists who’s, “tenet is the Verification Principle: [which states] A non-analytic proposition is meaningful if and only if it is verifiable or falsifiable solely on the basis of sensory experience” (Moser, 19-20). Concept Empiricists on the other hand are defined as, “Most empiricists…holding that all concepts are directly or indirectly acquired through sensory experience” (Moser, 19). A middle position to both of these is called Classical Empiricism, which is a combination of both Core and Concept Empiricism. The combination reduces the Verification Principle into what is called the Falsification Principle (Craig & Moreland, 154-155) by way of saying that there is no need for meaningful statements to be limited to observational content, but that they merely need to have some empirical content and can be falsified or supported through sensory experience (Moser, 20).
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The problem that this paper wishes to address refers to these three positions and those that adopt them. Many modern Atheists seem to implement these positions as a way of justifying their denial of God’s existence or any supernatural entities. Such popular Atheists of our time include Sam Harris who boldly states, “While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society” (Harris, 67). Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist biologists even thinks that the belief in God is more an act of self-delusion rather than mistaken belief, “Admittedly, people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they’d like to be true” (Dawkins, 108). The common theme between the two is that theists and other super-naturalists have no evidence for their claims; therefore it is irrational to believe in such things as God or something that exists outside of the material universe we live in. While these are certainly not claims to knowledge of the non-existence of some sort of supernatural realm or entity that occupies it, it is a claim that we should not believe in such things because there is no rational reason to do so. Are these accusations by that both these and other atheists like them justified based on the above positions of Empiricism they invoke? I will argue that these accusations are not justified. It will first be shown what problems exists within the empiricists mindset related to the concept of God and the supernatural, which will then be followed by my own attempt at rebutting the accusations made by these atheists.

Modern day empiricists work off of the arguments of their predecessors; primarily those such as Hume and his Problem of Induction and reliance on probabilities, A.J. Ayer, who promoted Logical Positivism, and especially today, a naturalistic interpretation of epistemology advocated by Daniel Dennett. I consider these three thinkers the foundations of all current religious epistemological skepticism today.

Beginning with Hume, we see an appeal to sensory experience that automatically excludes the justification of such things as ‘miracles’ or anything related to the supernatural. Hume believed that in no way could human beings observe the actual cause and effect between one event and another, but rather we only assumed this relationship by way of habit and experiencing the effects of certain actions:

We suppose that there is some connexion between them [objects]; some power in one, by which it infallibly produces the other, and operates with the greatest certainty and strongest necessity. (AECHU, 181)

He would later justify these habitual experiences by way of probabilities, suggesting that the higher probabilities justified the closest we could come to genuine knowledge of an event and its effects (Hume, 70). Later, he would apply the same reasoning to religious claims. While he may have admitted that religious experiences could be authentic of a supernatural reality, he would argue on the basis of his epistemology that miracles could not be trusted as true forms of knowledge because things that occurred naturally could probabilistically outweigh them:

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. (Hume, 122)


The first problem with Hume’s criticism of miracles is that he has no justification for assuming that genuine knowledge is to any extent related to the most probable event that occurs. He is assuming that something is considered more credible simply because it occurs at a greater number, but this greater number of occurrences could be just a anomalous as an event that doesn’t occur as often. Take, for instance, weather patterns based on region. Simply because we experience more warm weather patterns near the Equator does not mean that there are no cold weather patterns in the same region. We understand there to be because at some point, we have experienced that there is a shift in pattern. According to Hume, we are justified in believing that there are different seasons because we experience these seasonal changes every year, but if we use Hume’s reasoning further, we are not justified in believing there are cold weather patterns at all, because we know, by experience, that there are more warm patterns than cold. The cold patterns we experience can equally be attributed to a miracle insomuch as they defy the more frequent pattern. Hume has no justified criterion for assuming that a set of different patterns is any different than an event that occurs only once in a person’s natural experience of the world. We can no less apply a hallucination experience to the individuals that experience a short winter than to those that have experiences of the supernatural. Hume may appeal to natural laws and that these shifts are merely a part of a cohesive whole, but he has no way of justifying this view. If one set of patterns, which occurs less than another can be observed as something that naturally occurs, then no differently can an event that happens once over certain periods of time. Similarly, if certain individuals were to concur over having supernatural experiences, we can no more think them crazy than those that see shorter winters. Hume’s dictum then of, “…that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that it’s falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish” (Hume, 123) cannot be true because then Hume would naturally have to believe that winters do not exists within warmer regions because their occurrences are less. Hume either must discard this view or think that even within normally occurring changes in patterns, there is no reason to believe that there are changes in patterns at all. An individual may rebut this sort of argument by asserting that we can verify these different patterns by observing the greater whole. For instance, we may be able to justify the difference in weather patterns by knowing that the Earth tilts on its axis and rotates around the Sun, however, the way that this fact is confirmed is by observing the changes in seasons to begin with. If the ancients had followed Hume’s epistemology and criticism of particular events, there would have been no way to affirm the reality of the Copernican principles we see today.

A second problem that Hume faces is how he would have to view historical data. In essence, he is restricted to human testimony on the basis of a majority consensus within that specific time, place, and circumstance. At the same time, these human testimonies could only be established by verifying that what they had experienced was similar to previous things we have experienced. For instance, if a group of people recorded in times past thought they saw a large cloud of smoke speaking to them we would have to deny this event occurred because we do not see large clouds of smoke talking to us today (or see the possibility of it happening at all due to the same lack of experience or general knowledge on clouds of smoke). Concerning Hume, this seems a false way of approaching whether or not something has happened. First, Hume has no way of verifying how other people think other than by the experience of himself and the outside testimonies of others. Even if he were to account for particular things or patterns by way of probabilities he could never tell the value of those probabilities, such as whether the person’s in question were lying or not. Second, Hume cannot accurately interpret history in this manner because it would exclude new discoveries of any kind within the universe we live in. It seems then, that Hume has no justified reason for rejecting miracles based on his criterion unless he wishes to similarly reject everything else he believes.

Moving on, there has always seemed to be a difficulty regarding religious language insomuch as finite beings (humanity) cannot adequately comprehend which transcends our understanding. To some, the mere fact that God or other supernatural entities transcend our understanding excludes us from knowing these supposed realities completely. Thomas Aquinas writes such an objection in his work The Trinity: “That which remains unknown to us at the highest level of our knowledge is in no way knowable by us. But God, in the most perfect level of our knowledge, is attained only as unknown”(Aquinas, 115).

In the early 1900’s, a verification principle of language (later to be recognized in name as “The Verification Principle”) was being promoted by a group of philosophers known as “the Vienna Circle”. These individuals, called Logical Positivists, would present a new challenge to the religious mind by suggesting that all meaningful statements must be backed by sensory experience. The greatest problem facing these thinkers, however was that the principle they had created and endorsed would soon turn on them as a self-refuting idea; The Verification Principle could not itself be verified by sensory experience (Moser, 218-219). A.J. Ayer, a member of this group would later reject the vague and simple principle for a revised version that focused on the convention of the Verification Principle in regards to statements that were only capable of being true or false. These statements, he would confess, were the only statements that could literally be meaningful (Moser, 219). He would also distinguish between two types of verification: a weak and strong. A weak form of verification would focus on the probability of something being verified by experience whereas a strong form would only be so if and only if it could be established conclusively by experience (VOP, 248). The problem this poses for the supernaturally minded is that their claims to the existence of transcendent entities cannot be verified by sensory experience. One could argue that the claims of religious experience (direct experiences with God or other entities) were adequate, but the Empiricists could simply prefer a more naturalistic explanation to the event as the entities in question are necessarily beyond the physical world and are not like material objects. Of course, this objection could be established against a form of strong verification, but would it leave room open for a weak verification based on the probability of sense experiences justifying the existence of these entities? The Design Argument may be good example of this in inferring that the qualities of our world necessarily point to a supreme intelligence that created us, but even then the empiricists need not submit to this sort of reasoning because the characteristics of the material do not relate to that of the supernatural; all that need be inferred is yet another naturalistic explanation for such experiences or intuitions. The problem that the Logical Positivists must face then is how they can verify such things as mathematical statements. How can 2+2 = 4 be verified by sensory experience other than in the weak sense by way of analogy? If the Logical Positivists is to accept that 2+2 = 4 need no sensory experience (and one would hope that all of them do) to be affirmed as a meaningful statement in and of itself then they must be open to other statements that have equal status. What if concepts of the supernatural were such statements of basic belief, such as Alvin Plantinga endorses (Craig & Moreland, 161), which could only be described by analogy?

Finally, we come to a more recent critique of religious thinking by evolutionary biologists Daniel Dennett who attempts to explain away religious thinking by way of looking for the source of such thinking. Now, while it may be claimed a Naturalistic Fallacy to construe the truth of something from its source, this is more a matter of whether we should believe in something if the source does not fit our set of beliefs. Take, for instance, the claim that there is such thing as a Tooth Fairy who comes into your bedroom at night to take your missing teeth and exchange them for money. If you were to find out (and you may have by this time in your life) that the real cause for the exchange were your parents sneaking into your room late at night and then telling you that there had been a fairy that had done so, would there be any reasonable evidence to suggests that there was actually a Tooth Fairy to begin with? Many individuals may say that the fairy simply works through their parents to make the exchange, but there is no reasonable evidence to suggests this at all. In fact, it would be more reasonable, it seems, following Ockham’s Razor, to adopt the more simple and naturalistic of explanations. In the same way, Dennett suggests an epistemology that is founded in naturalistic principles without the need for baseless assumptions:

Do they want a miracle? Do they want culture to be God-given? A skyhook, not a crane?…[things] must grow out of something less, something quasi-,something merely as if rather than intrinsic, and at every step along the way the results have to be…evolutionarily enforceable. (Dennett, 341).


Dennett believes that things called “memes”--a word coined by evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins--form ideas. A meme can be copied and exchanged between people, but in a manner not like its physical counterpart, the gene. A meme transfers by way of language and empirical observations and then stored in the memory. A meme is basically a pattern of concepts that convey specified meanings (Dennett, 344-345). More complex memes, called “memeplexes” are combinations of ideas that form together to create an advantage in human survivability. The purpose of these memes then, is help human beings adapt to their surroundings for the benefit of survival (Dawkins, 197). Following a Darwinian paradigm, memeplexes that exhibit better potentiality for survival are accepted over other memes that no longer procure that advantage. What Dennett and Dawkins both advocate is that the reason religion has originated within society and survived within society is because it still benefits human survival. For instance, the concept of the afterlife was derived from man’s need to survive. Over time, by developing this meme of immortality that allowed them to stop focusing on the great emotional stresses of this world. Individuals who lacked sufficient social interaction within their species formed belief in God, as another instance, they had projected their own experience of themselves to an imaginary friend for comfort, which then evolved into the concept of a supreme being. The problem here is that while both Dennett and Dawkins seem to have believed to find the origins of religious belief through evolutionary psychology, they have only found the origins of the motivation for religious belief.
What of these concepts of transcendence, a supreme being, a realm outside of the one we live in, etc.? It could be argued that a greater memeplex is at hand that has yet to be discovered that allows us to think these strange thoughts for the sake of survivability. For instance, the concept of God is merely our anthropomorphizing our thoughts on the ultimate reality. Why would this be necessary for survivability though? Why isn’t an imaginary friend good enough? Also, why do some of these memeplexes, such as the concept of life after death also help to cause human beings to do things that they would otherwise not in terms of survivability, like risk their lives for a greater reward or give up all their possessions? It seems that these sorts of things are unnecessary within the grand scheme of the Darwinian paradigm, if not completely impossible.

Understanding the empiricist positions against religious belief I have already offered several small objections, however now I wish to offer my own analysis of religious belief as well as a thorough refute of the above criticisms. Beginning with Hume again, I only agree with Hume to the extent that miracles are lesser pattern of the universe created by an outside force. I would not agree with Hume that miracles are a violation of natural laws in regards to the word meaning to oppose. Perhaps the word violate could be used to mean that miracles violate the natural pattern, but not the natural laws themselves. While I believe my objections above have adequately refuted Hume’s methodology, I think another point that can be added is that I think the presence of the supernatural (such as the likes of a Divine Creator) must necessarily violate the natural patterns of the world in order to be identified as a supernatural occurrence. If the natural universe is defined by habitually sensed patterns then such things as supernatural occurrences--if they did occur in a set pattern akin to the natural--would not be distinguishable from natural occurrences. This goes to show that even if Hume’s methodology were correct to some degree, it could not be a way to verify whether or not the supernatural existed anyways, being that it defines out the supernatural from the very beginning. A follower of Hume may then question how we can come to verify the presence of miracles. I simply offer that we do so by way of deduction. If we try to explain the particular event by way of naturalistic explanations and neither of these explanations agrees with how the natural world appears to operate, then we need only to adopt that the natural world was not responsible for the event at hand. Some might think this to be a gap-filling argument where one assumes a truth by way of debasing another explanation, but this isn’t what I’m trying to do at all, rather I am merely stating that when in need of an explanation the more rational is that which still has explanatory power. This changes things from being gap-filling arguments about truth to how we rationally accept out of a set of explanations. While it may be true that we have yet to find the naturalistic explanation for an event, this does not mean that we still accept the naturalistic explanation if we gather that such an explanation would violate how we presently view the natural world. The explanation chosen over the others would therefore be falsified if a naturalistic explanation were found to replace it. The follower of Hume may further raise the question as to why we should accept a supernatural explanation over the possibility of a naturalistic one. I find this to be a good criticism of my method, but not one that I will leave unanswered. For this particular criticism I will introduce what I call the Law of Non-Multiplicity, which implies that nothing can be more than what it possibly can be at any given time unless acted upon by a force or object that surpasses those limitations. This seems to be a self-evident principle, in that something cannot be more than what it truly is or ever will be. Take, for instance, any object we see in the material universe, such as a tree. A tree cannot be more than a tree unless it is changed by something else, like a human turning it into a chair. The tree ceases to be a tree once it changes. Something must act upon that tree for it to change. This is the general rule of cause and effect. What may be called into question here is what constitutes as “what it possibly can be at any given time”. The possibly infers the number of possible things that something can be from something else. There are only a set number of possibilities within a particular setting and time, so therefore a thing cannot be more than what it can change in to. Now, this may appear simplistic at first, but it has great consequences for the empiricists’ objections towards religious belief and experience. Take for instance, the material realm. If the material realm as we know it is all that exist, then it cannot be more than what it possibly can be following the Law of Non-Multiplicity (meaning it cannot be more than itself or violate its own set patterns). The possibilities can only be inferred by what we know of the material realm; so if something violates current knowledge, then we must accept on the basis of the Law that something greater is acting upon it. This is only rational. While we can never infer that there is no naturalistic explanation, we must on the basis of this Law and our current knowledge accept the supernatural explanation. The argument can be summed up as thus:

(1) Law of Non-Multiplicity suggests that something cannot be more than what it can possibly be at any given time unless acted upon by a force or object that can surpass the limitations of that which is being changed.
(2) If the material realm is all that exists, then it cannot be more than what it can possibly be following (1).
(3) If an event that does not correspond with how the material realm is known to work occurs within the material realm, then we have a violation of the Law of Non-Multiplicity.
(4) Therefore, it is more rational to accept a supernatural explanation over that of a natural one till a naturalistic explanation can be found.


The first objection that could be raised against this argument relates to premise (3). What exactly is an event that doesn’t correspond with how the material realm is known to work? While I could cite several observational examples from individuals who claim to have had personal religious experiences or have been historically recorded as having such, I prefer to infer that the very concepts of supernatural or God themselves are evidences of events or anomalies that do not correspond with how the material realm is known to work. Going on to the Logical Positivists and their critique of language (especially language that tries to convey metaphysical concepts), I believe that concepts such as mathematics and even that of the supernatural are innate principles that are only fully realized when the senses gather data from the known world. Anselm, in his Proslogion was even more right to infer his argument that God is understood by all individuals and must necessarily exist by this understanding:

And surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot exist only in the understanding. For if it exists only in the understanding, it can be thought to exist in reality as well, which is greater(Anselm, 7).


Why? I need only ask how Anselm can understand something to exists necessarily and greater than the material world we live in if the Law of Non-Multiplicity is true. From what is Anselm abstracting from directly to understand that such a thing exists or to even conceive of it? It’s one thing to know what a horn and a horse are and then to add them together to create a unicorn, but it’s another to add finite objects from a finite reality to construct an infinite reality. Descartes would be criticized for making a similar move by inferring that the cause of these thoughts was infinite, because it is impossible for finite creatures to think of the infinite in an infinite way, but I think that Descartes critics are not seeing the true force of his argument for Gods existence. While it may be true that we think of the infinite in a finite matter, it doesn’t make sense that we still attempt to conceive of something that is beyond the finite. There is nothing infinite about the finite by which we can attempt to do so. It isn’t necessary or reasonable to believe that the finite, much like the material-only universe, would allow us to be able to conceive or entertain the idea of something beyond itself. It only seems rational then, even on the limitations of our understanding, to believe that there is something beyond that which we observe through the senses. It can still be said that such a view can be falsified, as empiricists such as Dennett and Dawkins would appreciate, but it can no longer be inferred, based on this Law, that it is less rational to believe in the supernatural than the purely natural.

One argument that I was particularly interested in before always bothered me because its first premise could not be fully justified and seemed to me to be more of an assumption. Victor Reppert’s revision of C.S. Lewis’ Argument From Rationality goes as follows:

(1) No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes.
(2) If materialism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes.
(3) Therefore, if materialism is true, then no belief is rationally inferred.
(4) If any thesis entails the conclusion that no belief is rationally inferred, then it should be rejected and its denial accepted.
(5) Therefore materialism should be rejected and its denial accepted.
(Reppert, 57-58)


This argument seems sound until we examine premise (1). The statement that a belief cannot be rationally inferred because of it coming from non-rational causes only assumes that non-rational causes cannot create rational beliefs, but if we apply the Law of Non-Multiplicity as a qualifier to the first premise, then we have it so that believing that non-rational causes creates rational beings is a contradiction of what the material universe allows until the time being that it can be falsified that this is exactly what the material realm is capable of.

In conclusion, it appears that neither the probability objections of Hume, the Logical Positivists claims to meaning, nor the contemporary empiricists and their claims to the origins of religious belief, ultimately have no rational justification over that of religious experience. If my arguments are sound, then I have still left the empiricists room for falsifying religious claims, but I have allowed a proper justification for rational belief on behalf of the super naturalists.




References



Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.

Moser, Paul, and Arnold Vander Nat. Human Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Approaches. 3rd ed.. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hume, David. "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding."Human Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Approaches. 3rd ed.. 2003.

Ayer, A. J.. "Verification and Philosophy."Human Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Approaches. 3rd ed.. 2003.


Dennett, Daniel. Darwin's Dangerous Idea. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Reppert, Victor. C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Aquinas, Thomas. "The Exposition of Boethius on the Trinity."Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings. 1998.


Anselm. Proslogion. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1995.

Craig, William, and J.P. Moreland. Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003.

Hume, David. An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. New York: Macmillian Publishing Company, 1955.

33 comments:

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    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting post. On "memes", it seems some of the supporters of that idea don't use the same critical standards to examinate them. "Meme" is an idea without scientific (empirical) evidence to support it:

    http://science.jrank.org/pages/10160/Meme-Criticism-Memetic-Theory.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. By the way, it seems to me that logical positivism is self defeating:

    http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/7547/positive.html

    Also, induction don't have logical basis (in fact, some people argue that it's based on the fallacy of affirmation of the consequent). To give induction a deductive logical form, you have to include in the argument a metaphysical premise (e.g. the world is ordened by natural laws), and for positivism metaphysical claims are "nonsense".

    After Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos, most philosophers of science aren't positivists. They see positivism as a restrictive and erroneous epistemological view.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "The purpose of these memes then, is help human beings adapt to their surroundings for the benefit of survival (Dawkins, 197)"

    I'm having trouble tracking down the source of this statement. Could you post the quote or set of quotes cited? I know that you put the page number, but I still can't find it. Thanks.

    From my understanding of memes, they don't necessarily lead to increased fitness for the hosts. I believe that I've heard both Dawkins and Dennett speak about "parasitic" memes. All that is required is that the ideas themselves are sufficiently attractive to the hosts to be passed on to other people. In that sense the memes are looking out for their own survival, not necessarily the survival of the hosts.

    In response to zetetic_chick:
    "Meme" is an idea without scientific (empirical) evidence to support it.

    I disagree. A meme is as real as a gene. They're both man-made concepts for understanding much more complicated phenomena. When you realize that a gene is just a piece of information and that its substrate is irrelevant, a meme is placed on equal footing. But for some reason, because genes manifest themselves in chemical form they are given more empirical legitimacy. But a gene written as TCGGCATCA in this comment box is just as real. Memes appear in many forms, but they all contain information, replicate, and occasionally mutate. It seems reasonable to think that natural selection would affect which ideas win out. The problem is when we think that just looking at the social sciences from the meme perspective is sufficient to have a complete understanding. As in biology, or any other science, different levels of abstraction provide different insights. To say "religion is a meme" and think that you've explained anything is ridiculous. But if you read Dennett's book, he goes a lot farther than that. And he admits that his book is more of a call for participation in this area of research than a definitive answer.

    Back to the original post. I'm intrigued by the idea that a supernatural claim could be on equal footing with '2+2=4'. We can prove 2+2=4 in the world of math, based on axioms of arithmetic. And then we can take two peanuts, put them together with two more peanuts and end up with 4 peanuts. So, while '2+2=4' is true in the strong sense, it's the analogy to the physical world that is only strengthened probabilistically through empirical observation. This seems totally reasonable to me. But I'm curious to find out what the analogous statements and real-world consequences would be for a supernatural claim. Again, an example would be great.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You're correct, the context was actually on page 196 where it states that "the memes that prevail will be the ones that are good at getting themselves copied."

    The reason I made such a statement was to emphasize the similarity between genes and memes. Genes function to create alterations or are manipulated by conditions outside themselves to make alterations. The ones that adapt or are more suited for adaptation are the ones that naturally survive and continue on.

    Memes, on the one hand...the way they are copied is by way of what human beings allow. Human beings are not controlled by their memes, but transfer or inherit memes by way of attraction. They are attracted to these memes precisely because it has something to do with how they survive. Memes are "copied", like "genes", because they are better at surviving, but human beings choose these memes whereas the memes do not choose humans.

    Children, on the one hand, are chosen by their parents to inherit memes, but children can still deny these memes later on by other memes. They need not be forced to hold to them.

    I should have provided a better page for reference sake, though I must admit that the paper still needs some editing.



    As for mathematical statements like 2+2...such statements are not apparent within the material realm. We apply these statements to the material realm and make examples of them by analogy. I personally believe that math (or the ability to perform math) was not placed in our minds by the material realm, but something outside of it. We can similarly apply analogies to the supernatural.

    The point is, as I have shown in my main argument , is that accepting supernatural claims is not unreasonable. It is MORE unreasonable to assume that something so limited could produce something beyond itself.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I haven't read your article yet (long one again), just popped in as I discovered that atheism is dead is still alive :)

    Anyway, seeing as others have commented on memes and religion, this blog article might be of interest to some: Green beards maybe made us religious. Not sure I buy it though; I guess the green-beard effect is a necessary condition for religion to establish, but not a sufficient one.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dunno what happened to that link...it was supposed to be:

    http://bhascience.blogspot.com/2008/05/green-beard-effect-and-evolution-of.html

    ReplyDelete
  8. But if we use Hume’s reasoning further, we are not justified in believing there are cold weather patterns at all, because we know, by experience, that there are more warm patterns than cold. The cold patterns we experience can equally be attributed to a miracle insomuch as they defy the more frequent pattern.

    This seems be a rather simplistic application of Hume's position as cold weather patterns differ from warm patterns by differences of degree. The fact that there are days which are warmer than others has already empirically shown that some patterns are cooler than others. Therefore, cold weather patterns are a class of patterns that has already been firmly established.

    Hume has no justified criterion for assuming that a set of different patterns is any different than an event that occurs only once in a person’s natural experience of the world. We can no less apply a hallucination experience to the individuals that experience a short winter than to those that have experiences of the supernatural.

    First off, let me say that the problem of induction is well known in science. We can use techniques such as Bayesian analysis to help identify true propositions.

    Second, miracles, by their very definition, are "encumbered" by the requirement of the suspension of natural laws. That is, for something to be labeled as a miracle, it must break or have occurred despite the existence of natural laws that dictate otherwise.

    If miracles do occur, we are left with two options: either our definition of natural laws is wrong or incomplete, or some one or thing has suspended these laws by some unknown means. If the former is true, then the phenomena is not really a miracle. It can be explained by the revised natural law. However, for the latter to be true, you must also posit some "thing" that can suspend these laws in order for the miracle to occur.

    That is, if someone was miraculously raised from the dead, you must not only assume the resurrection occurred, but that the resurrection was caused by the suspension of natural laws by some law suspending cause. This, in itself, must entail that physical laws can be "suspended", that law suspending causes exist, and that such a cause was actually involved in the suspension these laws, thereby causing this particular resurrection to occur. Again, this quite different than the existence of cold weather patterns, which are not encumbered by such baggage and are exponentially more probable.

    For instance, if a group of people recorded in times past thought they saw a large cloud of smoke speaking to them we would have to deny this event occurred because we do not see large clouds of smoke talking to us today (or see the possibility of it happening at all due to the same lack of experience or general knowledge on clouds of smoke).

    Again, if these people claimed to see a large cloud of smoke speaking to them, we can break this down into established classes. Smoke has been observed and can be reproduced. People have been observed speaking and, in many cultures, it common to hear voices where no speaker is seen. What's unique about this incident is that the smoke is being attributed to be the sole source of the speech. For this to be a miracle, natural laws must be broken and all that this entails.

    If you attempt to establish that this was indeed a miracle, then you're also ushering in the idea that physical laws can be broken, law breaking causes exist and such a cause has broken such laws. Once you let this cat out of the bag, you must provide motive as to why this cause would decide to break said laws then, but not now. Or to flip the question, if things can occur without or despite natural laws, then what purpose do these laws serve? Why does anything occur in a uniform manner instead of entirely by fiat? This opens up a whole theological can of worms in respect to the cause's nature, intention, etc.

    Hume cannot accurately interpret history in this manner because it would exclude new discoveries of any kind within the universe we live in.

    This is simplistic as you use of "any kind" seems to include things of different degree or things that do not break natural laws. Nor does it account for adjusting existing or discovering new natural laws which affirm new discoveries empirically.

    Logical Positivists must face then is how they can verify such things as mathematical statements. How can 2+2 = 4 be verified by sensory experience other than in the weak sense by way of analogy?

    It's common knowledge that Logical Positivism is, for the most part, no longer widely supported. Mathematical statements are based on reality. For example, there will always be n number of things, even if n happens to represent zero.

    The purpose of these memes then, is help human beings adapt to their surroundings for the benefit of survival (Dawkins, 197).

    This is incorrect. Dawkins is simply applying natural selection to ideas. That is, some ideas will be more "fit" for being passed on, while others will not. This does not mean that a meme that is passed on is "better" for human beings, but "better" at reproducing itself in the environment of specific human minds.

    For example, we could have a boring story based on true events and a exciting story based on fictional events. If both appear equally probable, the story that is more exciting is more likely to be repeated since it provides more entertainment and excites one's imagination, even though it is false. One might be more predisposed to assume memes that survive are true because they are more "fit" to be repeated. This can vary by region and culture.

    Why would this be necessary for survivability though? Why isn’t an imaginary friend good enough?

    Transcendence elevates the authority from that of a "friend" to that which is beyond peer scrutiny and asserts ownership.

    For example, why take you car to the gas station to get it repaired when you can take it to the dealership? Surely the place that sold you your car, whom is an agent of the manufacture, would know the best way to fix your car. Better yet, what if you could take it to the manufacturing plant that made it in the first place? If they needed a hard to find part, they could simply make another one. Of course, the ultimate solution would be to take your car to person or group of people who actually designed it as they would know exactly how the car works and what each part was intended to do.

    However, such an appeal to authority doesn't always guarantee "better" results. A car dealership might hire a forgetful mechanic who forgets to tighten the bolt in your oil pan. Manufacturing plants are continually refitted to manufacture different models. And a car designer might be limited to working on computers or in a conceptual manner.

    The existence of a God, who is said to have played the same role with human beings and the entire universe, would be very attractive as it has the potential to explain, provide protection from and fix anything and everything. And if such a God is in your side, then your cause is above reproach and must be right. Such a meme would be very "fit" to survive even if it was not true.

    And since God is defined in such as way he cannot be proven 100% untrue, it appears fitness is an intentional part of it's design.

    Also, why do some of these memeplexes, such as the concept of life after death also help to cause human beings to do things that they would otherwise not in terms of survivability, like risk their lives for a greater reward or give up all their possessions?

    Again, memes do not necessarily make their host more fit to survive. Instead, some memes are more "fit" to be passed on to others but are actually harmful to their host. As they say, there is a fine line between stupidity and bravery.

    This goes to show that even if Hume’s methodology were correct to some degree, it could not be a way to verify whether or not the supernatural existed anyways, being that it defines out the supernatural from the very beginning.

    The problem here is with words such as immaterial or supernatural, as when they are used in conjunction with God, they are incoherent. To say that something is contra-nature is a negative term. However, there is nothing left over for God to be as not-natural leaves excludes everything with a nature.

    For example, imagine I have a box which contains a pencil and eraser. I then say the object I'm thinking of is not the pencil. Since I have not excluded the entire set of objects, you know I'm referring to the eraser. However, when you say God is supernatural or immaterial you exclude everything. There is no universe of discourse which remains. In contrast, saying something is 'not wet' is to leave a universe of discourse: the set of all dry things.

    And, as I've mentioned above, God cannot be natural as he would not be worthy of worship. However, you cannot speak of what God is without referring to nature.

    While it may be true that we have yet to find the naturalistic explanation for an event, this does not mean that we still accept the naturalistic explanation if we gather that such an explanation would violate how we presently view the natural world.

    To assume a non-naturalist solution requires us to posit an entirely new realm of existence as a solution. I hardly think that lack of a current natural explanation justifies such a radical course of action. However, as indicated above, such a realm can be considered very attractive for reasons beyond the mere current lack of a naturalist explanation.

    The possibilities can only be inferred by what we know of the material realm; so if something violates current knowledge, then we must accept on the basis of the Law that something greater is acting upon it. This is only rational.

    This is only rational if one assumes they exhaustively know what something can "possibly can be" and exclude cases were our definition of natural laws is wrong or incomplete. For example, the arrival of atomic theory showed us that a little over 8 lbs of plutonium could produce a blast equal to several thousand tons of TNT.

    We do not have a unified theory of the universe. However, the exceptions which require separate laws are not defined as supernatural since they are observable and predictable. We simply cannot account for them using one single theory. As such, we know that our current natural laws are incomplete because it cannot account for empirically observed phenomenon in a uniform manner.

    In addition, our brains are extremely complex. It's estimated that the human variety consists of 100 billion neurons and a trillion synapses which creates an extremely complex parallel network. Even with our current level of technology, our ability to understand, observe and simulate this massive network is in it's infancy. If we do not understand how our material brain works, then how can we rule out it's role in consciousness and other supposedly "non-material" things that theists claim cannot be grounded in materialism?

    If my arguments are sound, then I have still left the empiricists room for falsifying religious claims, but I have allowed a proper justification for rational belief on behalf of the super naturalists.

    What you have done is attempt to justify the use of the supernatural as a preexisting explanation to rare or singular events that appear to break natural laws. However, what you have not done is justify the creation of a completely new realm, for which there is no evidence for, just to explain these events.

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  9. Pretty much everything I would have said has been covered here already. I'll just append the following:

    M, you say: "What exactly is an event that doesn’t correspond with how the material realm is known to work? While I could cite several observational examples from individuals who claim to have had personal religious experiences or have been historically recorded as having such, I prefer to infer that the very concepts of supernatural or God themselves are evidences of events or anomalies that do not correspond with how the material realm is known to work."

    In addition to Scott's criticism, that you have posited a realm with no direct evidence for its existence, merely to explain what is provisionally unexplainable by means of materialism, I would ask: how far are you willing to go with this? For instance, I don't understand how Uri Geller bends those spoons. Does that mean I should accept his explanation that he is magical? If not, why not?

    No one knows how gravity works, either. Is gravity supernatural? And what happened to Ambrose Bierce and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry? No one knows- were their disappearances supernatural?

    You can see the problem here.

    Another problem: in what sense is a supernatural explanation for something an "explanation"? My understanding of an "explanation" of some phenomenon means not just pointing your finger at the party or physical laws responsible, but also includes additional information that enables me to more accurately describe or predict that phenomenon. If I learn, for instance, that lightning is caused by a difference in potential between thunderclouds and the Earth, then I can use that knowledge to predict when lightning is likely to occur. If, on the other hand, I learn that lightning is Thor tossing thunderbolts, what information do I have? Zip. The same is true of anything that God is said to do: if we can't use the knowledge that "goddidit" to help us predict further occurrences of phenomena, or enable us to control or describe them better, then I fail to see what the supernatural explanation has explained.

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  10. Revision: I just found out that St. Exupéry's bracelet was found in 1998, which scotches the supernatural explanation for his disappearance. But all the other examples are still supernatural, following M's criterion.

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  11. Scott

    I'm going to respond to your criticisms point by point. Also, thanks for reading my paper:


    This seems be a rather simplistic application of Hume's position as cold weather patterns differ from warm patterns by differences of degree. The fact that there are days which are warmer than others has already empirically shown that some patterns are cooler than others. Therefore, cold weather patterns are a class of patterns that has already been firmly established.


    Based on what? How are my criticisms of Hume "simplistic". As I have shown, Hume does not justify the difference between one set of lesser frequent patterns over others. He has no proper justification for this and if he invokes an umbrella theory to explain these patterns (wind courses, earths tilt etc.) he can only do so by the very same principles he denies hold any absolute answers (cause and effect observations).

    First off, let me say that the problem of induction is well known in science. We can use techniques such as Bayesian analysis to help identify true propositions.

    Working off probabilities again does not justify one set of patterns over another because Bayesian probabilities can only work in such a way as to explain one even over another on the basis of a cohesive whole. Take for instance, the weather pattern analogy again. We have no reason to trust there are cold weather patters on the basis of probabilites if we similarly exclude miraculous events because they are less probable. The only way we can justify weather patterns is on the basis of knowing how the world works as a whole, but if we do not know that the world can work with miracles there is no reason to suspect that miracles do not happen. They may simply be less occurring events (even moreso than the different weather patterns according to region).

    Hume is working off a principle of ignorance, assuming miracles cannot be known or do not happen because they do not operate by the same patterns he believes only exists within this universe.

    Second, miracles, by their very definition, are "encumbered" by the requirement of the suspension of natural laws.

    False. This is only one interpretation of a miracle (which I do not argue for). For instance, many Muslims don't believe this is how miracles are, rather they believe miracles are part of the "natural universe" insomuch as God is behind the natural universe.

    That is, for something to be labeled as a miracle, it must break or have occurred despite the existence of natural laws that dictate otherwise.

    Doesn't have to be the case...once again.

    If miracles do occur, we are left with two options: either our definition of natural laws is wrong or incomplete, or some one or thing has suspended these laws by some unknown means. If the former is true, then the phenomena is not really a miracle. It can be explained by the revised natural law. However, for the latter to be true, you must also posit some "thing" that can suspend these laws in order for the miracle to occur.

    Not the case. This is just a strawman of what of orignally tried to defend, unless you want to argue against my interpretation.

    That is, if someone was miraculously raised from the dead, you must not only assume the resurrection occurred, but that the resurrection was caused by the suspension of natural laws by some law suspending cause.

    What need be "suspended" for someone to come back from the dead?

    This, in itself, must entail that physical laws can be "suspended", that law suspending causes exist, and that such a cause was actually involved in the suspension these laws, thereby causing this particular resurrection to occur. Again, this quite different than the existence of cold weather patterns, which are not encumbered by such baggage and are exponentially more probable.


    Once again, the probability argument fails if applied even to differing patterns in the known universe because Hume does not justify between one set of patterns over another and automatically excludes certain patterns (or possibility of patterns) based on preference only.



    Again, if these people claimed to see a large cloud of smoke speaking to them, we can break this down into established classes. Smoke has been observed and can be reproduced. People have been observed speaking and, in many cultures, it common to hear voices where no speaker is seen. What's unique about this incident is that the smoke is being attributed to be the sole source of the speech. For this to be a miracle, natural laws must be broken and all that this entails.


    Once again, going back to the problem with Hume and induction. You cannot safely establish that this is the case.

    If you attempt to establish that this was indeed a miracle, then you're also ushering in the idea that physical laws can be broken, law breaking causes exist and such a cause has broken such laws.

    No, I'm not, as I've stated before in the above paper and elsewhere in this response.



    This is simplistic as you use of "any kind" seems to include things of different degree or things that do not break natural laws. Nor does it account for adjusting existing or discovering new natural laws which affirm new discoveries empirically.


    Once again, interpreting my argument incorrectly.

    It's common knowledge that Logical Positivism is, for the most part, no longer widely supported. Mathematical statements are based on reality. For example, there will always be n number of things, even if n happens to represent zero.

    Yes, I understand Logical Postitivism to no longer be popular within formal Philosophical circles, but we're talking about ignorant persons like Dawkins and Harris and the people who follow them. On a whole different level the revision of the Verification Principle (called the Falsification Principle) is still formally used to this day. Also, what do you mean "mathematical statements are based on reality"? In what sense? Are they just indicators of other things or do they hold truths of their own? Are mathematical principles derrived from sensory experience or inherent? Do mathematical principles occupy another reality or are they a part of this one? If they are a part of this one, by which senses are they formulated, retained, and solved?


    This is incorrect. Dawkins is simply applying natural selection to ideas. That is, some ideas will be more "fit" for being passed on, while others will not. This does not mean that a meme that is passed on is "better" for human beings, but "better" at reproducing itself in the environment of specific human minds.


    I don't think you really know how natural selection works then because things that are "naturally selected" are more fit for survival. Memes do not become more "fit" based on their own will or what they have over human beings...memes are chosen based by human standards of survivability. What is more "attractive" naturally has a staple within our evolutionary history which is tied into survivability. That is, if you wish to believe the Atheistic version of evolutionary history. Human beings don't just choose these memes for no reason...neither are these memes just parastic organisms that just take over peoples brains.

    Dawkins version of "memes" are simply related to Aristotles "forms", but more in line with concepts that have a darwinian paradigm associated with their existence...but in essence they are still gathered by the human conscious and abstracted by means of reason or preference, which in turn is tied into what we wish to adapt ourselves to.

    For instance, as I mentioned about the "afterlife". Dawkins et. al. tend to attribute this meme to the fact that human beings dont want to die. Naturally, this has to do with wanting to survive and eases the "hosts" stress in this matter.

    For example, we could have a boring story based on true events and a exciting story based on fictional events. If both appear equally probable, the story that is more exciting is more likely to be repeated since it provides more entertainment and excites one's imagination, even though it is false.

    Yes, but that doesn't refute the position of having it be better for survivability. You are giving a seperate conscious status to these memes when there is none there. There is a reason humans find them more attractive...all you've said here is that "humans find them attractive".

    One might be more predisposed to assume memes that survive are true because they are more "fit" to be repeated. This can vary by region and culture.

    I'm not assuming the survivability of a meme has anything to do with its truth value. And if I did that would cause problems for your position just the same.


    Transcendence elevates the authority from that of a "friend" to that which is beyond peer scrutiny and asserts ownership.


    Once again, noting the survivability value of the meme to the individual in a psychological sense.

    For example, why take you car to the gas station to get it repaired when you can take it to the dealership? Surely the place that sold you your car, whom is an agent of the manufacture, would know the best way to fix your car. Better yet, what if you could take it to the manufacturing plant that made it in the first place? If they needed a hard to find part, they could simply make another one. Of course, the ultimate solution would be to take your car to person or group of people who actually designed it as they would know exactly how the car works and what each part was intended to do.

    However, such an appeal to authority doesn't always guarantee "better" results. A car dealership might hire a forgetful mechanic who forgets to tighten the bolt in your oil pan. Manufacturing plants are continually refitted to manufacture different models. And a car designer might be limited to working on computers or in a conceptual manner.

    The existence of a God, who is said to have played the same role with human beings and the entire universe, would be very attractive as it has the potential to explain, provide protection from and fix anything and everything. And if such a God is in your side, then your cause is above reproach and must be right. Such a meme would be very "fit" to survive even if it was not true.

    And since God is defined in such as way he cannot be proven 100% untrue, it appears fitness is an intentional part of it's design.


    Understood, but once again, how is this relevant to what I explained in my paper?


    Again, memes do not necessarily make their host more fit to survive. Instead, some memes are more "fit" to be passed on to others but are actually harmful to their host. As they say, there is a fine line between stupidity and bravery.


    Memes don't do anything. They are created and passed on by those that want them created, passed on, and absorbed. I don't understand how you can attribute some sort of status to memes that have control over human beings and seem to break the rules of evolutionary biology that genes seem to be imprisoned by.


    The problem here is with words such as immaterial or supernatural, as when they are used in conjunction with God, they are incoherent.

    How are they incoherent?

    To say that something is contra-nature is a negative term. However, there is nothing left over for God to be as not-natural leaves excludes everything with a nature.

    Only if you assume nature is all that exists...you sure you aren't in-line with some Logical Postitivists ideals?

    For example, imagine I have a box which contains a pencil and eraser. I then say the object I'm thinking of is not the pencil. Since I have not excluded the entire set of objects, you know I'm referring to the eraser. However, when you say God is supernatural or immaterial you exclude everything. There is no universe of discourse which remains. In contrast, saying something is 'not wet' is to leave a universe of discourse: the set of all dry things.

    And, as I've mentioned above, God cannot be natural as he would not be worthy of worship. However, you cannot speak of what God is without referring to nature.


    Of course, so we have to refer to God and the supernatural by analogy...much like mathematical principles.


    To assume a non-naturalist solution requires us to posit an entirely new realm of existence as a solution. I hardly think that lack of a current natural explanation justifies such a radical course of action.

    Following the Law of Non-Multiplicity it is perfectly rational to assume something greater has created such things.

    However, as indicated above, such a realm can be considered very attractive for reasons beyond the mere current lack of a naturalist explanation.

    Attraction or the ontological status of this realm or any other super-natural explanation has nothing to do with my thesis.


    This is only rational if one assumes they exhaustively know what something can "possibly can be" and exclude cases were our definition of natural laws is wrong or incomplete. For example, the arrival of atomic theory showed us that a little over 8 lbs of plutonium could produce a blast equal to several thousand tons of TNT.


    As I stated before...from what we know of the natural world currently excludes the naturalistic explanation until such an event can be verified as a naturalistic explanation. This may mean that a current theory or concept of the natural realm must change. So my argument still leaves room for falsification, but also leaves out the rather ignorant assumption of irrationality on the part of the super-naturalists.

    We do not have a unified theory of the universe. However, the exceptions which require separate laws are not defined as supernatural since they are observable and predictable. We simply cannot account for them using one single theory. As such, we know that our current natural laws are incomplete because it cannot account for empirically observed phenomenon in a uniform manner.

    Yes, but we cannot assume that what we know of the universe is incomplete either based on particular events. As my Law suggests (and I find it a reasonable and self-evident principle at that), there is no reason to choose the possibility of a naturalistic explanation based on current knowledge over that of a supernatural one simply because one has faith to assume that the limitations we know of the material realm now will be surpassed by a greater perception of the universe later. As of right now, and in all times in the past, the supernatural explanation is the best. This also does not mean that by choosing such an explanation that scientific inquiry is halted, but that it is not assumed to currrently grant the best explanation.


    What you have done is attempt to justify the use of the supernatural as a preexisting explanation to rare or singular events that appear to break natural laws.


    Currently known natural patterns, not laws.

    However, what you have not done is justify the creation of a completely new realm, for which there is no evidence for, just to explain these events.

    Actually, by using current evidence of the natural realm I have constructed an Espistemological argument that argues for the rationality of supernatural explanations over that of possible natural ones, NOT the ontological status of such explanations.



    And no offense, but you have yet to grasp the force or the content of my argument.

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  12. Zilch

    I will respond likewise to your criticism as I did to Scotts:


    In addition to Scott's criticism, that you have posited a realm with no direct evidence for its existence, merely to explain what is provisionally unexplainable by means of materialism,


    I've posited nothing, but the rationality of assuming such a realm exists to begin with. My argument has nothing to do with the ontological nature of the explanation, but the epistemological nature of believing in the explanation.

    I would ask: how far are you willing to go with this? For instance, I don't understand how Uri Geller bends those spoons. Does that mean I should accept his explanation that he is magical? If not, why not?

    How does this have anything to do with my argument?

    No one knows how gravity works, either. Is gravity supernatural?

    Don't know.

    And what happened to Ambrose Bierce and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry? No one knows- were their disappearances supernatural?

    Perhaps.

    You can see the problem here.

    To you, but that's only on the account of you not understanding what I was implying in my paper above.

    Another problem: in what sense is a supernatural explanation for something an "explanation"? My understanding of an "explanation" of some phenomenon means not just pointing your finger at the party or physical laws responsible, but also includes additional information that enables me to more accurately describe or predict that phenomenon.

    That's a rather limited framework of understanding if you don't mind me saying. In Philosophy we don't limit ourselves to the scientific enterprise as science is based on the principles that philosophers created to begin with.

    If I learn, for instance, that lightning is caused by a difference in potential between thunderclouds and the Earth, then I can use that knowledge to predict when lightning is likely to occur. If, on the other hand, I learn that lightning is Thor tossing thunderbolts, what information do I have? Zip.

    All I'm saying is that until you know that the naturalistic explanation for lightning you are entitled to believe it's Thor.


    The same is true of anything that God is said to do: if we can't use the knowledge that "goddidit" to help us predict further occurrences of phenomena, or enable us to control or describe them better, then I fail to see what the supernatural explanation has explained.


    We need not predict anything if there is nothing to predict. If "God did it" is what happened then "God did it" is what happened. Similarly, if "positive and negative charges did it" then "positive and negative charges did it". We can infer other things from each of those principles just fine when we understand the sources. All I'm arguing is for the rationality for belief in God, not the ontological status of such.

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  13. So, M, if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is that you are rationally justified (or "entitled", as you put it) to classify as supernatural any phenomenon that cannot (yet) be explained naturalistically. Is this a fair assessment? If so, then by your criteria, I am justified in calling Uri Geller's spoon-bending "magic", since I don't have a materialistic explanation for it.

    But as I've already said, there are at least two problems with invoking the supernatural anytime you don't understand something. One- it has (as far as I can see) no explanatory power: it doesn't give us any information that we didn't have before. Saying "Thor tosses thunderbolts" doesn't tell us anything about when, or where, or how, lightning happens. The same is true of saying "God created the Universe"- this has null information content, in terms of understanding natural laws, or predicting phenomena. As I said in my comment above: "My understanding of an "explanation" of some phenomenon means not just pointing your finger at the party or physical laws responsible, but also includes additional information that enables me to more accurately describe or predict that phenomenon."

    Your reply to this objection was:
    "That's a rather limited framework of understanding if you don't mind me saying. In Philosophy we don't limit ourselves to the scientific enterprise as science is based on the principles that philosophers created to begin with."

    Then I would say, of what use is philosophy, if it doesn't add to our information about anything? And I would contest your claim that "science is based on the principles that philosophers created to begin with". It depends on where you draw the lines for "science" and "philosophy", of course, but science can be practiced quite nicely without philosophy, or even without a brain: a baby chimp learning which fruits are good to eat is performing science, as is a computer program that analyzes weather patterns to predict the weather. Of course, you could say that the decision to try to learn about patterns in the world is "philosophy", I guess. I would rather say that it's an inborn trait that is necessary to survival, and has thus been selected for. But in any case, philosophy uninformed by science is useless, imho, except as entertaining fiction.

    Moving on: the second (related) problem is that there is no independent evidence supporting the existence of a supernatural realm. Just because there are things we don't understand doesn't mean that there exists a magical being or force that accounts for these things. If it's "rational" to invoke Thor to explain thunderbolts, then it's just as "rational" for me to invoke Diminutive Underwear Drawer Trolls when a handkerchief mysteriously disappears. I personally would prefer to be a bit more restrictive in my use of the word "rational".

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  14. So, M, if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is that you are rationally justified (or "entitled", as you put it) to classify as supernatural any phenomenon that cannot (yet) be explained naturalistically. Is this a fair assessment?

    Fair enough.

    If so, then by your criteria, I am justified in calling Uri Geller's spoon-bending "magic", since I don't have a materialistic explanation for it.

    Not really that fair. My criteria is to invoke a superanatural explanation on the BASIS of current naturalistic knowledge, not the ABSENCE of such.You mistake me saying that because we have yet to understand it that we invoke the supernaturalistic explanation, whereas, what I am saying is that on the basis of current understanding we are allowed to invoke it if the naturalistic explanation is not adequate of current knowledge.

    It makes no sense to invoke a naturalistic explanation on the basis of saying "there is a natural explanation that can be found" when our current theories don't allow for that explanation to begin with. The framework must first be changed before the naturalistic explanation can be found.

    When people believed in Thor it was not based on a lack of understanding, but current understanding. Frameworks had to be changed; new theories had to be adopted.


    As for your qualms about philosophy...it does add knowledge as well as tear down any pre-existing structures. Science can be performed, but it still must be performed by way of these foundations. You basically say that science does not need philosophy to do its job, but I disagree. Perhaps you should take some Philosophy of Science courses at your local university. These might be helpful in elaborating how close the relationship really is.

    Further, my thesis does not entail just ANY explanation that you can pull from your butt. I tire of all these mocking examples of God by use of things like "invisible pink unicorns" or "underpants gnomes" or what have you. These things aren't even in the same categories, much less derrived in similar fashions. They are silly examples that only make the user of them look ingorant of what Theists actually believe, much less attribute to.

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  15. Okay, M. You say:

    My criteria is to invoke a superanatural explanation on the BASIS of current naturalistic knowledge, not the ABSENCE of such.You mistake me saying that because we have yet to understand it that we invoke the supernaturalistic explanation, whereas, what I am saying is that on the basis of current understanding we are allowed to invoke it if the naturalistic explanation is not adequate of current knowledge.

    Huh? You've lost me here- what's the difference between an "absence of current naturalistic knowledge" and "not adequate of current knowledge"?

    It makes no sense to invoke a naturalistic explanation on the basis of saying "there is a natural explanation that can be found" when our current theories don't allow for that explanation to begin with. The framework must first be changed before the naturalistic explanation can be found.

    If I provisionally invoke a naturalistic, rather than a supernaturalistic, explanation for phenomena that I do not yet understand, I do so for two reasons. One: naturalistic explanations have a very good track record for coming up with explanations for phenomena that were previously mysterious. Supernaturalistic explanations have a very poor track record of coming up with explanations that turn out to be better than naturalistic ones, in terms of providing us with information that can be corroborated against the real world, and telling us things that naturalistic explanations haven't already. In fact, the number of such supernaturalistic explanations is, as far as I know, zero. But I'm openminded- if you know of any, tell me.

    Of course, you are right to say that the framework must first be changed before the naturalistic explanation can be found, if the evidence doesn't fit current understanding. And of course, that may not happen for every phenomenon: there are probably going to be many things we will never have explanations for. I'm not claiming that I can prove there is a naturalistic explanation for everything, just that it's parsimonious to assume that there is, until such time as there is evidence to the contrary.

    My other reason for not accepting supernatural explanations is that they are so ad hoc and unmotivated: what positive evidence is there that anything supernatural exists? I could more plausibly believe that all that stuff I can't account for is caused by an unimaginably advanced teenaged alien from Planet X, who created the Earth as a science-fair project. There's just as much evidence to support this as there is for God (none) and it doesn't rely on magic. As Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

    When people believed in Thor it was not based on a lack of understanding, but current understanding. Frameworks had to be changed; new theories had to be adopted.

    What's the difference between "lack of understanding" and (false) "current understanding"? If people see lightning, then they have thoughts about it of some kind. What do you consider to be "understanding"?

    As for your qualms about philosophy...it does add knowledge as well as tear down any pre-existing structures. Science can be performed, but it still must be performed by way of these foundations. You basically say that science does not need philosophy to do its job, but I disagree. Perhaps you should take some Philosophy of Science courses at your local university. These might be helpful in elaborating how close the relationship really is.

    Perhaps you could be so kind, and give me some examples of philosophy that adds knowledge. Actually, if philosophy is done correctly, it is science. But it is very rarely done correctly, as far as my (limited) reading has shown. And I'm afraid I don't have time to take any courses at my local university at the moment- I have a family to raise. I'm not entirely unversed in the subject, however, having read fair amounts of Aristotle, Plato, both Bacons, Newton, Leibniz, Kant, Locke, Hume, Mill, Nietzsche, Husserl, Russell, Whitehead, Ayer, Popper, Kuhn, Adorno, Quine, Riedl, Hofstadter, and Dennett, all of whom had something to say about the philosophy of science.

    Further, my thesis does not entail just ANY explanation that you can pull from your butt. I tire of all these mocking examples of God by use of things like "invisible pink unicorns" or "underpants gnomes" or what have you. These things aren't even in the same categories, much less derrived in similar fashions. They are silly examples that only make the user of them look ingorant of what Theists actually believe, much less attribute to.

    Then how about presenting some real evidence that your God should be considered more seriously than these? Just because more people believe in God than in, say, the FSM, doesn't make that belief more plausible.

    cheers from rainy Vienna, zilch

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  16. First off, I'm not really clear where your headed here. Are you trying say that it's rational to think "miraculous" events actually occur (have been reported accurately) or that it's rational to assume they were caused by a supernatural force?

    It appears that you're trying to lump both of these topics together, despite the fact that Hume is arguing against the rationality of assuming a "miraculous" events did take place or having been reported accurately.

    Scott: Therefore, cold weather patterns are a class of patterns that has already been firmly established.

    

M: Based on what?

    Based on difference of degree. Even if we limit the sample period to three days, unless every weather pattern recorded resulted in the exact same temperature, then we have established that future weather patterns can result in warmer or cooler temperatures. A cold weather pattern is only different from a cool or warm pattern by an increase in variance. You might attempt to assert is that weather patterns cannot vary beyond the most extreme recorded temperatures, but I hardly think such events would be considered miraculous.

    You're comparing apples to oranges.

    As I have shown, Hume does not justify the difference between one set of lesser frequent patterns over others. He has no proper justification for this and if he invokes an umbrella theory to explain these patterns (wind courses, earths tilt etc.) he can only do so by the very same principles he denies hold any absolute answers (cause and effect observations).

    Am I correct to assume you're attempting to use the problem of induction to undermine Hume's position on miracles?

    Hume does not say that miracles cannot occur. This would be a misrepresentation of Hume's position. Nor am I 100% sure that God does not exist. From a practical perspective, we must operate under reasonable levels of probability. For example, if one needed absolute justification for everything, such as food would will continue to nutrition in the future before eating it, one would starve to death.

    Instead, for every miraculous claim, Hume creates a corresponding claim based on the likelihood that the one reporting the miracle possesses an accurate account of what occurred. He then analyzes the probability of both occurrences. In other words, is it more likely that the miracle reporter was biased, deceived, or made a faulty observation, or is it more likely that the miraculous event actually occurred? In every case, Hume finds the probability of the miracle occurring is significantly lower. Again, this does not mean that Hume thinks miracles cannot occur or have never occurred, but that given the probability of these two claims, it is always more rational to assume the miraculous event did not occur. This would also include events that only appear to be miraculous, but are caused by unknown or incomplete natural laws.

    To say that it is impossible to derive a reasonable probability to these occurrences is to ignore a myriad of research on human perception. It's not a question of *if* people perceive things incorrectly, but how often, under what circumstances and to what degree. Again, this has been firmly empirically established and studied. However, this fact is mysteriously absent in your article.

    Hume is working off a principle of ignorance, assuming miracles cannot be known or do not happen because they do not operate by the same patterns he believes only exists within this universe.

    Again, Hume does not claim that miracles cannot occur or have not occurred. Only that it is always more rational to assume that they did not occur based on the probability of being miss-reported vs. the occurrence of the "miraculous" event. Even if you presuppose there are supernatural forces at play, how do you know they were involved in this particular occurrence? Are you suggesting it's rational to assume supernatural involvement every single time a "miraculous" event is reported? Where do you draw the line?

    What about UFO sightings which are reported to defy the laws of physics. Is it more rational to assume a supernatural cause for every UFO sighting since the ability to perform such maneuvers is beyond our current technology and knowledge of the universe?

    Scott: Second, miracles, by their very definition, are "encumbered" by the requirement of the suspension of natural laws.

    M: False. This is only one interpretation of a miracle (which I do not argue for).

    This seems to conflict with the following statement...

    M: If we try to explain the particular event by way of naturalistic explanations and neither of these explanations agrees with how the natural world appears to operate, then we need only to adopt that the natural world was not responsible for the event at hand.

    If an event cannot be explained naturally, then we are left with something that operates outside or despite of natural laws. And if events you are arguing for do not meet these requirements, then on what basis can you claim a supernatural origin? If one prays that they cross the street safely, and it occurs, is this a miracle?

    Once again, going back to the problem with Hume and induction. You cannot safely establish that this is the case.

    Safely? Again, the problem of induction is well known. However, we can and regularly do make practical observations and predictions based on probabilities. Otherwise, one might never start their car out of fear it might turn into a rocket blast though the earth's atmosphere and fly into the sun. Clearly, the level of "safety" you propose is not advocated or observed by anyone except those suffering from paranoid delusions.

    Scott: If you attempt to establish that this was indeed a miracle, then you're also ushering in the idea that physical laws can be broken, law breaking causes exist and such a cause has broken such laws. 



    M: No, I'm not, as I've stated before in the above paper and elsewhere in this response.

    Attempts to justify the acceptance of supernatural claims imply that natural laws can be broken, law breaking causes exist and such a cause was involved. Otherwise, we seem to be using a different definition of the term supernatural.

    Yes, I understand Logical Postitivism to no longer be popular within formal Philosophical circles, but we're talking about ignorant persons like Dawkins and Harris and the people who follow them.

    This is a misrepresentation of the views of Dawkins, Harris and myself.

    The Verification Principle states that, without verification, statements are completely meaningless. However, this is clearly not the case. For example, the fact that we're even having this discussion indicates religion (and the concept of the supernatural) must have some significance from at least a cultural, physiological and biological perspective. Being false and meaningless are two distinct properites. In addition, Harris and I agree that aspects of religious practices have positive values, which can be verified empirically.

    In regards to mathematics, numbers and numeric operations are based on and can be verified with sets of physical objects. Numbers cannot change things or be part of a causal chain of events. Equating them with the supernatural is a category error.

    Memes do not become more "fit" based on their own will or what they have over human beings...memes are chosen based by human standards of survivability.

    The survivability Dawkins is referring to is the replication of the meme itself, not the host. Memes survive because they are more fit to be passed on in specific environments. Just as evolution is blind, so are memes.

    Neither are these memes just parastic organisms that just take over peoples brains.

    Having a catchy tune stuck in your head isn't voluntary or does it directly play a role in one's survival.

    ..but in essence they are still gathered by the human conscious and abstracted by means of reason or preference, which in turn is tied into what we wish to adapt ourselves to.

    Natural selection is not based on wishes. It's based on survival. Most people are bombarded by a vast number of memes on a daily basis and are unaware of the process in which they are accepted or rejected. If one lives in a relatively uneventful environment, more exciting memes are likely to be accepted. The same can be said If one is more predisposed to being easily distracted or bored. Saying that meme acceptance is merely a factor of human survival is a vast simplification of Dawkins' position.

    For instance, as I mentioned about the "afterlife". Dawkins et. al. tend to attribute this meme to the fact that human beings dont want to die.

    Not wanting to die is a manifestation of one's ego. While consciousness may be the result of the evolutionary process, it's implications go far beyond mere survival. Due to it's complexity and capacity for self-reflection, consciousness has many secondary properties that may not have exhibited enough benefit (or even exhibit "negative benefit") for selection individually. It is these very properties which form the environment that memes must survive in.

    As an analogy, a brick home is more likely to survive a hurricane or tornado that a wooden home. However the same properties that make brick more resilient to adverse weather also results in a home that requires less maintenance and is more energy efficient. However, if one is merely focusing on survival, it's likely these benefits would not be "selected" if brick was significantly less resilient compared to a wood home (which lacks these benefits.) As such, the existence of these secondary attractive properties are not directly dependent on their individual fitness for survival.

    Scott: The existence of a God, who is said to have played the same role with human beings and the entire universe, would be very attractive as it has the potential to explain, provide protection from and fix anything and everything. And if such a God is in your side, then your cause is above reproach and must be right. Such a meme would be very "fit" to survive even if it was not true. 

And since God is defined in such as way he cannot be proven 100% untrue, it appears fitness is an intentional part of it's design.

    

M: Understood, but once again, how is this relevant to what I explained in my paper?

    God is an attractive meme. This provides motive for presuming that God exists so he is an option for "accounting for" miraculous events. Zeus lived on mount Olympus. We can see with our own eyes that he is not there. This makes Zeus must less "fit" for survival. However, God has been continually retreating in shape and form. First, he walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. Then he retreated to the tops of mountains, and said "no one can see my face and live." Now he is a immaterial being that has no form or detectable state. In addition, the Bible is full of circular statements that essentially say "those think the bible is wrong or do not believe in God is wrong." These properties make the Abrahamic God quite "fit" to survive.

    Scott: And, as I've mentioned above, God cannot be natural as he would not be worthy of worship. However, you cannot speak of what God is without referring to nature.

    

M: Of course, so we have to refer to God and the supernatural by analogy...much like mathematical principles.

    Again, mathematical principles are not casual agents. Unless you can show that the term supernatural ultimately refers to "something" casual, then I fail to see how it is different that "nothing" or a mere concept. Based on this definition, we can never detect God. It's impossible by definition.

    Scott: I hardly think that lack of a current natural explanation justifies such a radical course of action.

    

M:Following the Law of Non-Multiplicity it is perfectly rational to assume something greater has created such things.

    Again, this assumes you have exhaustive knowledge about "what things can or cannot be."

    As such, you must presuppose that the supernatural exists before it is even an option.

    Attraction or the ontological status of this realm or any other super-natural explanation has nothing to do with my thesis.

    Of course it doesn't. Ulterior motives for positing a completely different realm of existence other than "explaining" a particular unexplained phenomena undermines your conclusion.

    As I stated before...from what we know of the natural world currently excludes the naturalistic explanation until such an event can be verified as a naturalistic explanation

    An as Hume has illustrated, events that are worthy of being called "miraculous" are significantly less probable on multiple levels.

    Scott: we know that our current natural laws are incomplete because it cannot account for empirically observed phenomenon in a uniform manner.

    M: Yes, but we cannot assume that what we know of the universe is incomplete either based on particular events.

    Now you're saying that we can't know that we can't know something due to the problem of induction? Then how can we know there is a problem with induction?

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  17. How come religious people never ask where god comes from?
    Anotherwords, who created the god of the "Old Testament"? Who are HIS parrents, and HIS grandparrents, or was THE GOD created by another much more powerfull god out of clay. And that god cteated 1000's of little gods like Yaweh, each one with his own little universe. And before that god, his creator made him along with 1000's of others? you see where this is going, if there is a god, you should be praying to His god i.e. god's god?
    Force much more powerful than God, if the "Force" that created God.

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  18. M,
    I've looked over this monstrosity you have here. I've enjoyed the argument both there and here in comments threads. I do know it gets a little tedious whenever your having to repeat what you've already covered due to the unsound and disparate misinterpretations of other's. But don't be weary in doing so, the way people respond is a bit more enlightening, IMHO, than any treatise of epistemology I've read...

    I did, however, see a weakness in your 'Law of Non-Multiplicity', in that you stated it as follows:

    'something cannot be more than what it can possibly be at any given time unless acted upon by a force or object that can surpass the limitations of that which is being changed'.

    The qualification 'at any given time' was actually what caught my eye. Logically, I equate the phrase 'any given time' with 'any given instant of time'. If we, then, are talking about any 'given instant of time', then your 'Law of Non-Multiplicity' would seem to be at odds with both the 'Law of non-contradiction' and the 'Law of Identity'.

    I got the point about a 'tree being a tree/human being a human', but I suggest you modify this qualification to avoid an inevitable and actually reasonable confusion.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Prima facie, this article seemed quite academic, but unfortunatly, the academic quality of the post began to wane as you cited own personal beliefs and unacademic sources. For the record, it has been shown [via the last census] that atheism is currently 14% of the United States population and quickly rising, while atheism rates are much higher in other countries.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thank you for the comments, gentlemen . I will be responding shortly as I just got over a cold that began last Friday (dreadful thing).

    ReplyDelete
  21. Zilch,




    Huh? You've lost me here- what's the difference between an "absence of current naturalistic knowledge" and "not adequate of current knowledge"?



    You can't know an absence.


    If I provisionally invoke a naturalistic, rather than a supernaturalistic, explanation for phenomena that I do not yet understand, I do so for two reasons. One: naturalistic explanations have a very good track record for coming up with explanations for phenomena that were previously mysterious. Supernaturalistic explanations have a very poor track record of coming up with explanations that turn out to be better than naturalistic ones, in terms of providing us with information that can be corroborated against the real world, and telling us things that naturalistic explanations haven't already.


    I find this to be rather poor in that you assume the better of explanations always lies in the natural, when you later say that the natural does not always explain things.


    In fact, the number of such supernaturalistic explanations is, as far as I know, zero.


    People make them all the time.


    But I'm openminded- if you know of any, tell me.


    God creating the Universe, which is the reason we believe there to be morality, absolute values, purpose, and the like. The reason we are rational creatures is because there is a rational creator. That is one explanation.


    Of course, you are right to say that the framework must first be changed before the naturalistic explanation can be found, if the evidence doesn't fit current understanding. And of course, that may not happen for every phenomenon: there are probably going to be many things we will never have explanations for. I'm not claiming that I can prove there is a naturalistic explanation for everything, just that it's parsimonious to assume that there is, until such time as there is evidence to the contrary.

    To assume the naturalistic explanation in the face of contrary evidence to current understanding is, to I, an explanation that contradicts what is known of the material world. As I state earlier, it is then more rational to accept that explanation that does not violate current principles unless those principles can be challenged or changed.

    My other reason for not accepting supernatural explanations is that they are so ad hoc and unmotivated: what positive evidence is there that anything supernatural exists?

    Such as I explain in my paper. The mere conception of things outside the material realm is positive evidence enough.


    I could more plausibly believe that all that stuff I can't account for is caused by an unimaginably advanced teenaged alien from Planet X, who created the Earth as a science-fair project.


    But you are still thinking of something within this universe. You are able to abstract "teenage", "alien", and "planet", from a variety of sources already akin to those conceptions, whereas you cannot derive something from the material realm to suppose "transcendent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent entity".

    There's just as much evidence to support this as there is for God (none) and it doesn't rely on magic.

    I disagree.

    As Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

    Clever.


    What's the difference between "lack of understanding" and (false) "current understanding"? If people see lightning, then they have thoughts about it of some kind. What do you consider to be "understanding"?


    The absence of understanding and then the acceptance of an explanation equates to an argument from ignorance, whereas an explanation chosen to explain a phenomena that cannot be explained by current knowledge is NOT an argument from ignorance, but the best possible choice.

    Say, I look at a flower and I have no idea how it grows so I just say "Hey, there's an invisible man that pulls that flower from the dirt". That's an argument from ignorance. But if I presume to KNOW how that flower grows based on current understanding of the natural world and something violates that perception, then I am more inclined to choose the supernatural one as the most rational unless a naturalistic one can be found later.

    My whole point is that the faith in a future naturalistic explanation must necessarily be overshadowed by the supernatural one because the faith placed in naturalistic paradigms is an argument from ignorance moreso than that claimed by the supernatural.

    So, the flower analogy again...

    If I say "Hey, there's something wrong here, that means we need to suppose that all our knowledge of the natural realm is wrong" we are presupposing a naturalistic explanation before there is any evidence at all for it being there, whereas the evidence for the supernatural, based on this Law, is in the flaw of the naturalistic realm to adequately explain the phenomena.

    So even if I envision a concept like "Thor" creating lightning, it is still more rational than presupposing an explanation that has yet to even exist. To choose a non-existent explanation over that of an existing one (based on this self-evident law) is less rational.

    But in either case, the explanation chosen can be falsified later on. It leaves room for rationality, but the acceptance of the supernatural until a time (if ever) that a naturalistic explanation can be found.



    Perhaps you could be so kind, and give me some examples of philosophy that adds knowledge. Actually, if philosophy is done correctly, it is science.


    Epistemology, Ontology, Ethical Theory, Political Theory, and everything else under the Sun.

    Unless you wish to argue that these are all trivial pursuits, we may as well tear down current civilization to prove to you their importance.

    As for "Philosophy done right = science" that's like saying baseball done right equates to sports.

    Science is merely a device by which we gather data and then helps us to interpret the material realm. Science serves Philosophy in the end.

    Going back to a previous point, there is not just one scientific method or way of interpreting scientific data. As I said before, a class in the Philosophy of Science would serve you well.

    But it is very rarely done correctly, as far as my (limited) reading has shown.

    And I've suggested to read more.

    And I'm afraid I don't have time to take any courses at my local university at the moment- I have a family to raise. I'm not entirely unversed in the subject, however, having read fair amounts of Aristotle, Plato, both Bacons, Newton, Leibniz, Kant, Locke, Hume, Mill, Nietzsche, Husserl, Russell, Whitehead, Ayer, Popper, Kuhn, Adorno, Quine, Riedl, Hofstadter, and Dennett, all of whom had something to say about the philosophy of science.

    Then I don't understand how you can say the things you say if you've actually read these individuals. Props on you raising a family. If you need any book recommendations I can certainly supply that.

    And Hume, to my knowledge, almost destroyed science entirely. If it wasn't for Kant and the Rationalists defeating him, future empiricism and the sciences as we know them today would not be around as far as I'm concerned.



    Then how about presenting some real evidence that your God should be considered more seriously than these?

    Because my concept of God cannot be abstracted from the material realm., whereas your mockeries of fairies and the like can.

    Just because more people believe in God than in, say, the FSM, doesn't make that belief more plausible.

    I never suggested that it did.

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  22. Greg,

    How come religious people never ask where god comes from?
    Anotherwords, who created the god of the "Old Testament"? Who are HIS parrents, and HIS grandparrents, or was THE GOD created by another much more powerfull god out of clay. And that god cteated 1000's of little gods like Yaweh, each one with his own little universe. And before that god, his creator made him along with 1000's of others? you see where this is going, if there is a god, you should be praying to His god i.e. god's god?
    Force much more powerful than God, if the "Force" that created God.



    Maybe they do and you're not thinking they do?

    All you've done is brought up the infinite regress problem. Most Philosophers today believe there to be an Uncaused First Cause that exists as the foundation of all things. Most Theists also fall into this camp.

    There is no need to ask the question "who created God" when God is defined as that which is First.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Blaise,

    Prima facie, this article seemed quite academic, but unfortunatly, the academic quality of the post began to wane as you cited own personal beliefs and unacademic sources. For the record, it has been shown [via the last census] that atheism is currently 14% of the United States population and quickly rising, while atheism rates are much higher in other countries.


    Please show me where I have done both of these. Further, I don't understand the necessity to tell me that atheism is rising in the United States seeing as it has no relevance to this topic.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Netlosh,

    M,
    I've looked over this monstrosity you have here. I've enjoyed the argument both there and here in comments threads. I do know it gets a little tedious whenever your having to repeat what you've already covered due to the unsound and disparate misinterpretations of other's. But don't be weary in doing so, the way people respond is a bit more enlightening, IMHO, than any treatise of epistemology I've read...

    I did, however, see a weakness in your 'Law of Non-Multiplicity', in that you stated it as follows:

    'something cannot be more than what it can possibly be at any given time unless acted upon by a force or object that can surpass the limitations of that which is being changed'.

    The qualification 'at any given time' was actually what caught my eye. Logically, I equate the phrase 'any given time' with 'any given instant of time'. If we, then, are talking about any 'given instant of time', then your 'Law of Non-Multiplicity' would seem to be at odds with both the 'Law of non-contradiction' and the 'Law of Identity'.

    I got the point about a 'tree being a tree/human being a human', but I suggest you modify this qualification to avoid an inevitable and actually reasonable confusion.



    Thank you for your positive critique my friend. The purpose of me stating "at any given time" was to show that something cannot be more than what it is at the very moment it exist. It can possibly be more than what it is later.

    I worded it improperly, however...you are correct and I see the confusion. I will change it. Thank you for catching me on that.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Scott,

    First off, I'm not really clear where your headed here. Are you trying say that it's rational to think "miraculous" events actually occur (have been reported accurately) or that it's rational to assume they were caused by a supernatural force?

    Both actually, though the second point is the content of the primary argument.

    It appears that you're trying to lump both of these topics together, despite the fact that Hume is arguing against the rationality of assuming a "miraculous" events did take place or having been reported accurately.

    In refuting Hume I bring up miracles. I also understand this is what Hume was trying to say.



    Based on difference of degree. Even if we limit the sample period to three days, unless every weather pattern recorded resulted in the exact same temperature, then we have established that future weather patterns can result in warmer or cooler temperatures. A cold weather pattern is only different from a cool or warm pattern by an increase in variance. You might attempt to assert is that weather patterns cannot vary beyond the most extreme recorded temperatures, but I hardly think such events would be considered miraculous.

    You're comparing apples to oranges.


    Hardly, I am merely stating that regardless of how vast the difference between one set of patterns or the other, Hume has no justified criteria for assuming the better of the greater number when it comes to two lesser patterns.


    Am I correct to assume you're attempting to use the problem of induction to undermine Hume's position on miracles?


    While I do believe that Hume shoots himself in the foot, my main criticism is that he has no justification for assuming the above.

    Hume does not say that miracles cannot occur. This would be a misrepresentation of Hume's position.

    I know, which is why I write this in my paper:

    While he may have admitted that religious experiences could be authentic of a supernatural reality, he would argue on the basis of his epistemology that miracles could not be trusted as true forms of knowledge because things that occurred naturally could probabilistically outweigh them...

    Nor am I 100% sure that God does not exist. From a practical perspective, we must operate under reasonable levels of probability. For example, if one needed absolute justification for everything, such as food would will continue to nutrition in the future before eating it, one would starve to death.

    I would find it more absurd to believe that probabilities help with the belief that food provides for nutrition.

    Instead, for every miraculous claim, Hume creates a corresponding claim based on the likelihood that the one reporting the miracle possesses an accurate account of what occurred. He then analyzes the probability of both occurrences. In other words, is it more likely that the miracle reporter was biased, deceived, or made a faulty observation, or is it more likely that the miraculous event actually occurred? In every case, Hume finds the probability of the miracle occurring is significantly lower. Again, this does not mean that Hume thinks miracles cannot occur or have never occurred, but that given the probability of these two claims, it is always more rational to assume the miraculous event did not occur. This would also include events that only appear to be miraculous, but are caused by unknown or incomplete natural laws.

    The problem...once again...is that if we apply the same method to such things as weather patterns we run into the same problems. Hume has no justified criteria for assuming one set of lesser patterns is any more credible than another.

    To say that it is impossible to derive a reasonable probability to these occurrences is to ignore a myriad of research on human perception. It's not a question of *if* people perceive things incorrectly, but how often, under what circumstances and to what degree. Again, this has been firmly empirically established and studied. However, this fact is mysteriously absent in your article.

    Or it's irrelevant.


    Again, Hume does not claim that miracles cannot occur or have not occurred. Only that it is always more rational to assume that they did not occur based on the probability of being miss-reported vs. the occurrence of the "miraculous" event. Even if you presuppose there are supernatural forces at play, how do you know they were involved in this particular occurrence? Are you suggesting it's rational to assume supernatural involvement every single time a "miraculous" event is reported? Where do you draw the line?


    You draw the line at the law that I created. Note the argument.

    What about UFO sightings which are reported to defy the laws of physics. Is it more rational to assume a supernatural cause for every UFO sighting since the ability to perform such maneuvers is beyond our current technology and knowledge of the universe?

    Depends. Are we assuming the explanation based on ignorance or are we assuming it based on what we currently know?

    I've seen insects do some pretty interesting maneuvers so I have some rationality to back the possibility of a UFO doing likewise.




    This seems to conflict with the following statement...

    M: If we try to explain the particular event by way of naturalistic explanations and neither of these explanations agrees with how the natural world appears to operate, then we need only to adopt that the natural world was not responsible for the event at hand.

    If an event cannot be explained naturally, then we are left with something that operates outside or despite of natural laws. And if events you are arguing for do not meet these requirements, then on what basis can you claim a supernatural origin? If one prays that they cross the street safely, and it occurs, is this a miracle?


    No. I stated before that a miracle could simply be a different pattern within the universe, but that does not necessitate that the what has occurred was produced by the material universe. To violate a law in the sense of "suspending it", to me, is to cause a chain reaction of self-destruction. If that happened, there would be no universe to observe.

    To violate a natural pattern is different, since the event that occurs may still correspond with how the natural realm operates. A miracle, in essence, is something that happens within the material realm, but is not a likely occurrence and must be triggered by non-natural means.

    Now, when you say I was contradicting myself you merely brought up the later argument which was trying to argue for "supernatural causes". For instance, my conception of God is clearly in a material sense, but I argue that though it is an inadequate representation of a transcendent source, it is still impossible to abstract from the material realm alone.


    Safely? Again, the problem of induction is well known. However, we can and regularly do make practical observations and predictions based on probabilities.


    Depends on what you're trying to figure out. If you're saying that I know certain things on the basis of probabilities alone then I would have to disagree.

    Otherwise, one might never start their car out of fear it might turn into a rocket blast though the earth's atmosphere and fly into the sun. Clearly, the level of "safety" you propose is not advocated or observed by anyone except those suffering from paranoid delusions.

    Well, I can tell you one thing...I don't perform probabilities in my head in order to start my car. I just start my car. I don't if it will start or not start...but I can certainly infer without the use of probabilities that my car will not turn into a rocket and blast off into the sun since it is not capable of doing so.



    Attempts to justify the acceptance of supernatural claims imply that natural laws can be broken, law breaking causes exist and such a cause was involved.


    No, it just infers there is a cause outside of the material realm.

    Otherwise, we seem to be using a different definition of the term supernatural.

    Apparently, because my term does not include the definition of "anti-natural".


    This is a misrepresentation of the views of Dawkins, Harris and myself.

    The Verification Principle states that, without verification, statements are completely meaningless.


    Obviously.

    However, this is clearly not the case. For example, the fact that we're even having this discussion indicates religion (and the concept of the supernatural) must have some significance from at least a cultural, physiological and biological perspective.

    That's all? You seem to be sticking to your guns with the principle then.

    Being false and meaningless are two distinct properites.

    Indeed. But being meaningless includes that there is nothing to talk about or that there is nothing to know on the side of the meaningless, which is what I'm arguing against. To say "God" is a meaningless concept is to insinuate that there is nothing to derive from the term. Now, if you want to talk about the influence of the word "God" on society and culture, you are taking a different avenue there.

    In addition, Harris and I agree that aspects of religious practices have positive values, which can be verified empirically.

    But that's different from the word itself, much less if it has any meaning behind it as a term defining a concept.

    In regards to mathematics, numbers and numeric operations are based on and can be verified with sets of physical objects.

    By way of analogy, but no directly...which is the problem. If I point to a cow and say "one" I am not inferring that the cow is the number one.


    Numbers cannot change things or be part of a causal chain of events. Equating them with the supernatural is a category error.

    Not really, seeing as you've already proven my point regarding description by analogy.

    Further, there are number realists who would argue differently with you on whether they are part of the causal chain or are independent entities of existence.


    The survivability Dawkins is referring to is the replication of the meme itself, not the host. Memes survive because they are more fit to be passed on in specific environments. Just as evolution is blind, so are memes.

    But Memes aren't anything at all, but human constructs, so how are they "blind". If I've truly misinterpreted Dawkins than I've only done him a favor.

    Neither are these memes just parastic organisms that just take over peoples brains.

    Having a catchy tune stuck in your head isn't voluntary or does it directly play a role in one's survival.


    But the reason it's catchy has something to do with our survival. I can also summon up memories that I've kept deep within my conscious, but I only keep them or regard them at all based on my own whims...not the whims of the memes themselves. A memory does not control me nor does it survive on the basis of its own performance, but on how I am and what I will. Noting traumatic events, these are memories impressed upon our minds...true, but the meme does not survive "by itself". It is placed there by other people or taken in by other people. "Memes" do nothing. They are just a fancier version of "Forms".



    Natural selection is not based on wishes.


    But artificial selection (memes) are.

    It's based on survival.
    Most people are bombarded by a vast number of memes on a daily basis and are unaware of the process in which they are accepted or rejected. If one lives in a relatively uneventful environment, more exciting memes are likely to be accepted. The same can be said If one is more predisposed to being easily distracted or bored. Saying that meme acceptance is merely a factor of human survival is a vast simplification of Dawkins' position.


    It's more affordable...I'll say that much.



    Not wanting to die is a manifestation of one's ego. While consciousness may be the result of the evolutionary process, it's implications go far beyond mere survival. Due to it's complexity and capacity for self-reflection, consciousness has many secondary properties that may not have exhibited enough benefit (or even exhibit "negative benefit") for selection individually. It is these very properties which form the environment that memes must survive in.

    As an analogy, a brick home is more likely to survive a hurricane or tornado that a wooden home. However the same properties that make brick more resilient to adverse weather also results in a home that requires less maintenance and is more energy efficient. However, if one is merely focusing on survival, it's likely these benefits would not be "selected" if brick was significantly less resilient compared to a wood home (which lacks these benefits.) As such, the existence of these secondary attractive properties are not directly dependent on their individual fitness for survival.


    But they were previously.



    God is an attractive meme. This provides motive for presuming that God exists so he is an option for "accounting for" miraculous events.


    But attraction has nothing to do with it. So what? I'm talking about the source of the "meme" itself, not why it's attractive or by what measure.

    Zeus lived on mount Olympus. We can see with our own eyes that he is not there. This makes Zeus must less "fit" for survival. However, God has been continually retreating in shape and form. First, he walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. Then he retreated to the tops of mountains, and said "no one can see my face and live." Now he is a immaterial being that has no form or detectable state. In addition, the Bible is full of circular statements that essentially say "those think the bible is wrong or do not believe in God is wrong." These properties make the Abrahamic God quite "fit" to survive.

    Interesting assessment of a couple of chapters written by the same individual. Quick evolution I suppose...hmm? Or perhaps they are merely metaphors? Could be. Though it is argued that "God walking in the garden" was merely a physical manifestation and other likewise accounts (such as the burning bush etc.).

    Zeus was still around when Abrahams religion was, so I don't really see how it died off so quickly or how this evolution of supernaturalism really went about. Certainly, I would agree that certain religions abstract material principles from this world so as to construct concepts of their gods, but the whole problem is: where did the idea of these gods or God come from? They certainly couldn't have come from this world...and that is what I argue later...or at least the rationality of that explanation.


    Again, mathematical principles are not casual agents.


    That wasn't my argument to begin wtih.

    Unless you can show that the term supernatural ultimately refers to "something" casual, then I fail to see how it is different that "nothing" or a mere concept.

    Are you sure you're not a Positivist?

    Based on this definition, we can never detect God. It's impossible by definition.

    But can we think of Him? Big difference. Can we construct analogies about Him through experience? Big difference.


    Again, this assumes you have exhaustive knowledge about "what things can or cannot be."

    As such, you must presuppose that the supernatural exists before it is even an option.


    Hardly. What you are doing, however, as I argue...is presuming the naturalistic explanation before it exists and defying your own principles to do so. I merely argue that it is more rational (based on my Law) to suppose something above the material to explain certain occurrences whereas you wish to hold to things without any foundation whatsoever.


    Of course it doesn't. Ulterior motives for positing a completely different realm of existence other than "explaining" a particular unexplained phenomena undermines your conclusion.

    If you say so.


    An as Hume has illustrated, events that are worthy of being called "miraculous" are significantly less probable on multiple levels.


    And Hume was right...but he was also wrong to assume we can't accept them.


    Now you're saying that we can't know that we can't know something due to the problem of induction? Then how can we know there is a problem with induction?



    I honestly don't believe there is one.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thanks for the response, M. Sorry, my reply will be pretty lengthy, because I will have to quote both of us to preserve context. Here goes-

    I asked:

    Huh? You've lost me here- what's the difference between an "absence of current naturalistic knowledge" and "not adequate of current knowledge"?

    You replied:

    You can't know an absence.

    I guess we have to define "know", then. I can perceive an absence as well as a presence, I can believe that something is absent or is present; what do you mean here? Keep in mind that we're not talking about the presence or absence of God or the FSM here, but of ideas.

    I said:

    If I provisionally invoke a naturalistic, rather than a supernaturalistic, explanation for phenomena that I do not yet understand, I do so for two reasons. One: naturalistic explanations have a very good track record for coming up with explanations for phenomena that were previously mysterious. Supernaturalistic explanations have a very poor track record of coming up with explanations that turn out to be better than naturalistic ones, in terms of providing us with information that can be corroborated against the real world, and telling us things that naturalistic explanations haven't already.

    You replied:

    I find this to be rather poor in that you assume the better of explanations always lies in the natural, when you later say that the natural does not always explain things.

    True, there are not naturalistic explanations for everything, and probably never will be. But as I said, naturalism has a good track record of coming up with explanations, and supernaturalism doesn't. That's why I find it preferable.

    I said:

    In fact, the number of such supernaturalistic explanations is, as far as I know, zero.

    You replied:

    People make them all the time.

    Of course people make supernaturalistic explanations of the world. That's what religion is. But they don't explain anything that science doesn't explain better, and they've been shown time and again to be wrong.

    I said:

    But I'm openminded- if you know of any, tell me.

    You replied:

    God creating the Universe, which is the reason we believe there to be morality, absolute values, purpose, and the like. The reason we are rational creatures is because there is a rational creator. That is one explanation.

    Yes, that is one explanation. But there's no evidence for it, and there's lots of evidence that morality, purpose, and rationality are evolved entities, just as life is an evolved entity. Of course, science doesn't have all the answers here, but positing a God who created all this stuff doesn't tell us anything that can be corroborated in the real world and gives us information that science doesn't. If you know of any evidence to the contrary, I'm all ears.

    I say:

    Of course, you are right to say that the framework must first be changed before the naturalistic explanation can be found, if the evidence doesn't fit current understanding. And of course, that may not happen for every phenomenon: there are probably going to be many things we will never have explanations for. I'm not claiming that I can prove there is a naturalistic explanation for everything, just that it's parsimonious to assume that there is, until such time as there is evidence to the contrary.

    You reply:

    To assume the naturalistic explanation in the face of contrary evidence to current understanding is, to I, an explanation that contradicts what is known of the material world. As I state earlier, it is then more rational to accept that explanation that does not violate current principles unless those principles can be challenged or changed.

    So, what you're saying is that rather than to admit not yet having a naturalistic explanation of some phenomenon (say, Uri Geller bending spoons), but to still presume there is one, that it's more rational to make up a magical realm, which has no independent evidence for its existence, as an explanation? Sorry, you have a very different idea of what "rational" means than I do, if you think that it's more "rational" to say that Uri Geller is magical than to say that he's using trickery we don't yet understand.

    I said:

    My other reason for not accepting supernatural explanations is that they are so ad hoc and unmotivated: what positive evidence is there that anything supernatural exists?

    You replied:

    Such as I explain in my paper. The mere conception of things outside the material realm is positive evidence enough.

    So, if someone conceives of something, that's evidence that it exists? Then all kinds of weird and wonderful things must exist. Evidence?

    I say:

    I could more plausibly believe that all that stuff I can't account for is caused by an unimaginably advanced teenaged alien from Planet X, who created the Earth as a science-fair project.

    You reply:

    But you are still thinking of something within this universe. You are able to abstract "teenage", "alien", and "planet", from a variety of sources already akin to those conceptions, whereas you cannot derive something from the material realm to suppose "transcendent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent entity".

    Exactly, I am still thinking of something within this Universe. That makes my explanation prima facie more plausible than yours, because I don't have to multiply entities unnecessarily: I require only one realm, the material one, and you require two. And your terms are all just superlatives of concepts from within this material realm too. I can make up my own as well: "omnifetid", or "all-smelly". So what?

    You say:

    The absence of understanding and then the acceptance of an explanation equates to an argument from ignorance, whereas an explanation chosen to explain a phenomena that cannot be explained by current knowledge is NOT an argument from ignorance, but the best possible choice.

    Then I'll take the "argument from ignorance". How is it the "best possible choice" to say of something that's not understood "It's magic!"? Unless, as I said before, your magical explanation can give us information that science does not, there's no reason to invoke it. And I know of no such magical explanations. All I've seen so far is a posteriori massaging of religious concepts to fit data provided by science. Does "goddidit" tell us anything about, say, the background microwave radiation?

    More to the point: has any religion ever scooped science in explaining something? Not without a lot of cherry-picking, and a lot of dyeing, pickling, and genetic manipulation of those cherries, as far as I've seen. So how is "goddidit" an "explanation" of anything?

    You say:

    So even if I envision a concept like "Thor" creating lightning, it is still more rational than presupposing an explanation that has yet to even exist. To choose a non-existent explanation over that of an existing one (based on this self-evident law) is less rational.

    But in either case, the explanation chosen can be falsified later on. It leaves room for rationality, but the acceptance of the supernatural until a time (if ever) that a naturalistic explanation can be found.


    Again, you have a very different idea of "rationality" than I. So anything that just pops into my head is better than admitting I don't know, but that there probably is some naturalistic explanation? Sorry, that's just bizarre. By your lights, my invocation of the Devil to explain losing my keys is more "rational" than just saying "I dunno".

    You then said a bunch of stuff about philosophy, including:

    Science is merely a device by which we gather data and then helps us to interpret the material realm. Science serves Philosophy in the end.

    Spoken like a true Philosopher! A bit later you say:

    And Hume, to my knowledge, almost destroyed science entirely. If it wasn't for Kant and the Rationalists defeating him, future empiricism and the sciences as we know them today would not be around as far as I'm concerned.

    As far as you're concerned, perhaps. Lots of scientists might simply be inclined to chuckle indulgently at this. While philosophy of science is interesting and perhaps important to some (myself included), the actual practice of science went on, and goes on, blithely ignoring what Hume and Kant said, daily adding to our knowledge of how things work. If you think that science would have ground to a standstill if it hadn't been for Kant and the Rationalists, you have vicarious delusions of grandeur about the importance of philosophy.

    You say:

    As I said before, a class in the Philosophy of Science would serve you well. [...] If you need any book recommendations I can certainly supply that.

    Thanks. I can think of some classes and books that might serve you well too.

    Now we're in the end run. I asked:

    Then how about presenting some real evidence that your God should be considered more seriously than these?

    You replied:

    Because my concept of God cannot be abstracted from the material realm., whereas your mockeries of fairies and the like can.

    Again- why should concepts that "cannot be abstracted from the material realm" (whatever that means- as I said above, such concepts are simply superlatives of material concepts) be given more consideration than any other concepts that have no supporting evidence?

    This is example of the kind of reasoning that makes much of philosophy, imho, just entertaining wordplay. One defines words to have certain meanings, mixes them up, and voilà! The philosophical engine churns out a necessary consequence. Of course, this is how logic works, and if the terms are chosen correctly and mixed properly, it works pretty well.

    The problem comes when one makes up words for which there is no evidence that any referent exists, such as "uncaused cause". All kinds of nonsense can and does result, and all we have is words chasing their own tails, not anything that says anything about the real world. And that's what a lot of philosophy is, if it is not informed by reality. I'll stick with reading science in my free time, thank you.

    cheers from summery Vienna, zilch

    ReplyDelete
  27. Zilch,

    Thanks for the response, M. Sorry, my reply will be pretty lengthy, because I will have to quote both of us to preserve context. Here goes-

    Hit me.



    I guess we have to define "know", then. I can perceive an absence as well as a presence, I can believe that something is absent or is present; what do you mean here? Keep in mind that we're not talking about the presence or absence of God or the FSM here, but of ideas.


    No need to define "know". I make the distinction later in my response to you. There's a difference between an argument from ignorance and an explanation that permits a solution.



    True, there are not naturalistic explanations for everything, and probably never will be. But as I said, naturalism has a good track record of coming up with explanations, and supernaturalism doesn't. That's why I find it preferable.


    And I find your assumption to be unsupported as I still believe that supernatural explanations still play an integral role in how we perceive and operate in this world.



    Of course people make supernaturalistic explanations of the world. That's what religion is. But they don't explain anything that science doesn't explain better, and they've been shown time and again to be wrong.


    Assuming that science has explained everything, which it hasn't. So again, unsupported assumption.


    Yes, that is one explanation. But there's no evidence for it, and there's lots of evidence that morality, purpose, and rationality are evolved entities, just as life is an evolved entity.


    Actually I would disagree here in that evidence does not necessarily have to directly point to anything. There can be evidence of such things without there needing to be a big arrow pointing to an answer in the sky.

    For instance, Theories are established by inference from several forms of evidence, but this does not suggests that each of these directly points to the unifying principle.

    Further, the "evolution of morality" and statements of value is a false conclusion. We know that behavior has evolved and biological systems with it, but there is no "evolution" of value-based judgments, statements of truth, absolutes etc. If that were the case then they'd all be contingent and there is no real quality about them.

    If you want to tell me that "murder is wrong" because we evolved to think such a thing then murder is not wrong. And if we were to think that way then we wouldn't consider it wrong (or it wouldn't be consistent to think so). Murder is wrong for an entirely different reason other than the fact that we evolved that way.

    I also note that it seems more plausible to me to infer that there is a rationality behind creation rather than random processes that lead up to rational animals that can contradict their natural instincts. Alvin Plantinga and Victor Reppert argue rather well this point and I am inclined to follow in their footsteps with such arguments.

    Note that when I speak about morality I speak of something real and binding...when I speak of rationality I speak of something real and trustworthy...not mere contingencies of a random set that just happen...and the only justification for it is because it happened. I don't work with circular nonsense like that.




    Of course, science doesn't have all the answers here, but positing a God who created all this stuff doesn't tell us anything that can be corroborated in the real world and gives us information that science doesn't.

    Sure it does. It gives us reason to believe in absolute moral principles, a trustworthiness of our senses and rationality, and true meaning in our lives.

    The material world can't give us those by itself.

    If you know of any evidence to the contrary, I'm all ears.

    Just stated it. Perhaps you should stop limiting yourself to observational evidence that only affirms your naturalistic world (in this case, an evolutionary paradigm that doesn't explain value based judgments, but just tells us how they got there, rather than why) view while relying on the possibility of science to answer those questions. Your faith is much stronger than mine, I will say that much.


    So, what you're saying is that rather than to admit not yet having a naturalistic explanation of some phenomenon (say, Uri Geller bending spoons), but to still presume there is one, that it's more rational to make up a magical realm, which has no independent evidence for its existence, as an explanation?


    The evidence is there by way of the naturalistic world being too limited to explain it. That's the evidence that I keep telling you and you keep dismissing because you continue to believe that there will be a naturalistic explanation...which is the whole problem.

    Note, that this doesn't just mean we can come up with any explanation. I never said that was the case.


    Sorry, you have a very different idea of what "rational" means than I do, if you think that it's more "rational" to say that Uri Geller is magical than to say that he's using trickery we don't yet understand.


    I wouldn't say anything about Uri Geller to be honest. I have no opinion on the matter. And yes, we do have a different view of rational, because unlike you I seem to affirm things based on self-evident principles (there is evidence for an outside realm based on what we know, whereas you reject an outside realm based on your faith in a future naturalistic explanation).



    So, if someone conceives of something, that's evidence that it exists? Then all kinds of weird and wonderful things must exist. Evidence?


    No. And this ties into another statement you say later about not understanding what I mean by "abstraction". This also ties into the Ontological argument and would be more clear to you had you read my paper (at least carefully), but it appears you did not.

    False ideas can only be false if they are synthesized from things we know. Take, for instance, the Unicorn. My concept of a Unicorn is derived from me knowing what a "horn" and a "horse" are. Now, we have no evidence that a unicorn exists, other than the fact that there is a possibility for its existence in our minds. Again, this does not affirm it's actual existence.

    However, we also have concepts of necessity, transcendence, immutability, omnipotence, omniscience, perfection, etc. that do not seem to come from the material realm (or it is impossible noting my Law). In this sense, conception of these ideas is evidence of the existence of something not within the material realm.

    So no mere conception is proof of somethings existence...I placed a qualifier on it.




    Exactly, I am still thinking of something within this Universe. That makes my explanation prima facie more plausible than yours, because I don't have to multiply entities unnecessarily: I require only one realm, the material one, and you require two. And your terms are all just superlatives of concepts from within this material realm too. I can make up my own as well: "omnifetid", or "all-smelly". So what?


    And this is a poor understanding of everything I've been talking about and the issue at hand...which shows to me that you've read much less than you claim.

    The very fact that you admit to abstracting these things from the material realm is exactly the problem, because I cannot abstract anything from this realm to form the concept of God that I have in mind. Further, as for these terms being mere "superlatives", you are jumping into the Positivists trap again.

    What is "all-smelly". It is a term that includes "all things that smell" (good copying from Dawkins here, btw, who was using this example in ignorance of the Ontological Argument). Now tell me, what is "all-powerful". It is all things that are powerful, right? What is "all-knowing". It is all things that are known.

    Now tell me if you see the difference between "smelly" (something with empirical content) and something like power, knowledge, and goodness. If you don't then we have a problem here.

    And what about the qualifier "all". Where does one abstract the essence of equality from? This is the problem of universals. Some philosophers reject the concept today and others still find it a problem (like myself), but you simply throw these problems to the side for your simple and shallow rendition, which is why I can't take what you say here seriously.





    Then I'll take the "argument from ignorance". How is it the "best possible choice" to say of something that's not understood "It's magic!"?


    That's not the best possible choice, because I never said "something that is not understood is magical". Either you're misunderstanding me (again) or you're developing a rather silly strawman.

    If it's a strawman at least put some nice clothes on him...I prefer mine with style.


    Unless, as I said before, your magical explanation can give us information that science does not, there's no reason to invoke it. And I know of no such magical explanations. All I've seen so far is a posteriori massaging of religious concepts to fit data provided by science. Does "goddidit" tell us anything about, say, the background microwave radiation?

    Does it need to? That's my question. Can "Goddidit" tell us about ourselves and why we think certain ways? Yes. Can it tell us if there are absolute moral principles? Yes. Can it tell us if we can trust our rationality if we were made in the image of God? Yes. Does it tell us that there is an ultimate meaning in life? Yes.

    Can science tell us any of these? No.

    More to the point: has any religion ever scooped science in explaining something? Not without a lot of cherry-picking, and a lot of dyeing, pickling, and genetic manipulation of those cherries, as far as I've seen. So how is "goddidit" an "explanation" of anything?

    Unsupported assumption.


    Again, you have a very different idea of "rationality" than I.

    We've already established that.

    So anything that just pops into my head is better than admitting I don't know, but that there probably is some naturalistic explanation?

    No, because saying that there is a naturalistic explanation is more of something "popping in your head" than a supernatural one, which does not necessitate, by its very nature, just ANY explanation. A supernatural explanation must go BEYOND a natural one.

    If I just decide to say that "underpands gnomes did it" I'm including something I believe to be a part of the material realm, unless I'm just coming up with words to describe a transcendent deity.

    Which is another good excuse for me to show why statements like a Flying Spaghetti Monster or underpants gnomes are ridiculous and inadequate representations of speculations of God.

    Note my arguments above. If I've at least done anything with my criticisms I've shown that these representations are childish at best and lacking in any intellectual force.

    Sorry, that's just bizarre. By your lights, my invocation of the Devil to explain losing my keys is more "rational" than just saying "I dunno".

    Nope.

    You then said a bunch of stuff about philosophy, including:

    I said a bunch of stuff alright...


    Spoken like a true Philosopher! A bit later you say:


    Naturally.


    As far as you're concerned, perhaps. Lots of scientists might simply be inclined to chuckle indulgently at this. While philosophy of science is interesting and perhaps important to some (myself included),


    Doesn't appear so.

    the actual practice of science went on, and goes on, blithely ignoring what Hume and Kant said,

    It would be foolish to say that they "ignored it" if you are so well versed in the Philosophy of Science. It affected science greatly and the thinkers thereafter.

    daily adding to our knowledge of how things work. If you think that science would have ground to a standstill if it hadn't been for Kant and the Rationalists, you have vicarious delusions of grandeur about the importance of philosophy.

    If I think that had it not been for philosophers or any of these thinkers that science would not have progressed to what we see today, then I'm right on the money ;)



    Thanks. I can think of some classes and books that might serve you well too.


    It's my major. I've already taken them and I've already read the material.



    Again- why should concepts that "cannot be abstracted from the material realm" (whatever that means- as I said above, such concepts are simply superlatives of material concepts)


    And now we come to this interesting tid-bit that I chastised you for above.

    be given more consideration than any other concepts that have no supporting evidence?

    These concepts are evidence, unless you wish to exclude ideas from the very realm you claim to obtain these evidences from to begin with.

    This is example of the kind of reasoning that makes much of philosophy, imho, just entertaining wordplay.

    It seems that scientists who attempt Philosophy play with words more than we pure-breeds do :P

    I'm not the one just claiming all certain concepts to be "superlatives" and brushing them to the side.

    One defines words to have certain meanings, mixes them up, and voilà! The philosophical engine churns out a necessary consequence. Of course, this is how logic works, and if the terms are chosen correctly and mixed properly, it works pretty well.


    Logic is not without substance.

    The problem comes when one makes up words for which there is no evidence that any referent exists, such as "uncaused cause".

    Then how do we make up words for them? Unless you believe ideas come without a cause themselves I don't understand how you can believe this.


    All kinds of nonsense can and does result, and all we have is words chasing their own tails, not anything that says anything about the real world.

    Define the "real world" then ;)

    And that's what a lot of philosophy is, if it is not informed by reality. I'll stick with reading science in my free time, thank you.

    You do that, and we will continue to help define what science is so that you don't have to.


    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Well, M, we could go on and on like this. What it seems to boil down to is that you think it's more rational to invoke a supernatural realm to explain things that science can't yet, and I prefer to continue looking for natural explanations. My way is more parsimonious, so I'll stick with it, until I see reason to change it.

    You have failed to show evidence that such a supernatural realm exists, except by saying that since we can conceive of it, that's evidence for its existence. As I said, if that constitutes "evidence", then there is "evidence" that all kinds of things exist. Not only God, but Santa, and Voldemort, and parallel universes, and Ice Cream Sundaes Greater than which cannot be Conceived... the list goes on and on.

    And you have also failed to show how supernatural "explanations" provide us with information that science does not. As I said:

    Of course, science doesn't have all the answers here, but positing a God who created all this stuff doesn't tell us anything that can be corroborated in the real world and gives us information that science doesn't.

    You replied:

    Sure it does. It gives us reason to believe in absolute moral principles, a trustworthiness of our senses and rationality, and true meaning in our lives.

    The material world can't give us those by itself.


    Here you've hit the nail on the head: these are indeed the reasons I hear over and over from believers. All I can say is this:

    I don't believe in absolute moral principles. As I said, morals are evolved entities just as living things are. That doesn't mean that they do not exist: the genetic and cultural heritages of all humans have a great deal of overlap, so although there are differences in moral outlooks, there are also enough similarities to make the building of societies possible- with a great deal of strife, to be sure.

    And I trust my senses and my rationality- they, too, are evolved entities, and have been honed over billions of years by natural selection, and over decades by learning, and work pretty well, if not perfectly, to get me where I want to go. I don't need God to trust them.

    As far as "true meaning" goes- we make our own meanings. I don't need God to tell me what my "true meaning" is.

    It would be too time-consuming to deal with your whole post right now- I've got a plane to catch in a week and lots of stuff needs doing beforehand. I'll just give one more example of where we differ. You say:

    Perhaps you should stop limiting yourself to observational evidence that only affirms your naturalistic world (in this case, an evolutionary paradigm that doesn't explain value based judgments, but just tells us how they got there, rather than why) view while relying on the possibility of science to answer those questions.

    I'm not "limiting myself", or at least I try not to- it's just that I see nothing that indicates the necessity to posit a supernatural realm. Yes, as you say, the evolutionary paradigm, if extended to include cultural evolution, does explain how value based judgments got here. Not completely, of course, but already enough to sketch out a picture. Asking why we have value-based judgments is presupposing a Creator behind them. If one does not believe in such a Creator, then the "why" question is meaningless: it only makes sense to ask "why" questions when one supposes the existence of beings with purposes. Morals evolved because they were selected for: they enable individuals to build societies, by extending their concept of "looking out for number one" to families, tribes, nations...

    I'll try to get to more of this later. Cheers from warm Vienna, zilch.

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  29. Scott: You're comparing apples to oranges.

    M Hardly, I am merely stating that regardless of how vast the difference between one set of patterns or the other, Hume has no justified criteria for assuming the better of the greater number when it comes to two lesser patterns.

    The problem of induction is a known issue for theists and non-theists.
    Induction is all we have and it's as good as it gets. If you claim otherwise, you're assuming there is some other means of knowing that is impervious to the problem. However, your "Law" of Multiplicity would be undermined by induction as it assumes the definition of "what anything can be" is based on a number of specific observations. So is the idea that God's word is trustworthy and personal revelation is accurate. What we're left with is probabilities - the fruits of which you use every day.

    Scott: Nor am I 100% sure that God does not exist. From a practical perspective, we must operate under reasonable levels of probability. For example, if one needed absolute justification for everything, such as food would will continue to nutrition in the future before eating it, one would starve to death.

    M: I would find it more absurd to believe that probabilities help with the belief that food provides for nutrition.

    My point here is that the level of certainty you're implying in your argument isn't observed by anyone, let alone atheists. It's impossible to maintain and a misrepresentation.

    Scott: To say that it is impossible to derive a reasonable probability to these occurrences is to ignore a myriad of research on human perception. It's not a question of *if* people perceive things incorrectly, but how often, under what circumstances and to what degree. Again, this has been firmly empirically established and studied. However, this fact is mysteriously absent in your article.

    M: Or it's irrelevant.

    How can it be irrelevant when it's these very same people that are making the observations which we're discussing here? If you take people out of the equation, then we're arguing a different argument.

    Are you suggesting it's rational to assume supernatural involvement every single time a "miraculous" event is reported? Where do you draw the line?

    You draw the line at the law that I created. Note the argument.

    In which you said...

    (3) If an event that does not correspond with how the material realm is known to work occurs within the material realm, then we have a violation of the Law of Non-Multiplicity.

    So, you're saying the line is, if something is more that what it could have been at a given time because it is acted upon by a force that does not correspond with how the material realm is known to work.

    This hinges on your definition of what something can be and how the material realm is know to work. An example in dispute is conciseness. We know very little about how our brain works as it's effectively a democracy of 100 billion neurons and a trillion synapses. We simply lack the technology to observe all of this information as a whole. We are aware of this limitation. It's a fact. As such, saying the brain can't do this or can't be responsible for that. It's like saying a specific character does not appear in a book with out actually reading that book cover to cover and actually comprehending it. It's an argument from ignorance.

    Again, we know that our knowledge of how the material realm works is incomplete. And by saying that the supernatural was responsible, the event remains opaque along with everything following it. You're creating a realm where nothing can be verified to give God a place to "safely" reside. However, as Zilch pointed out, the supernatural as a very poor track record and is continually looses out to scientific observation.

    Depends. Are we assuming the explanation based on ignorance or are we assuming it based on what we currently know?

    I thought we couldn't know anything? I'm mean, there's that problem of induction you keep talking about.

    A miracle, in essence, is something that happens within the material realm, but is not a likely occurrence and must be triggered by non-natural means.

    Which requires exhaustive knowledge of what could not be triggered by natural means.

    Depends on what you're trying to figure out. If you're saying that I know certain things on the basis of probabilities alone then I would have to disagree.

    Then exactly how can we know anything?

    Well, I can tell you one thing...I don't perform probabilities in my head in order to start my car. I just start my car. I don't if it will start or not start...but I can certainly infer without the use of probabilities that my car will not turn into a rocket and blast off into the sun since it is not capable of doing so.

    And how you know what your car is capable of doing? By induction.

    Indeed. But being meaningless includes that there is nothing to talk about or that there is nothing to know on the side of the meaningless, which is what I'm arguing against. To say "God" is a meaningless concept is to insinuate that there is nothing to derive from the term. Now, if you want to talk about the influence of the word "God" on society and culture, you are taking a different avenue there.

    God can only "account" for things. He can never explain things. If you could use God to explain anything, he would become part of nature and loose his transcendent status. This is unacceptable to you as you need him to remain separate from nature to sustain his authority and your belief in objective morality, ultimate justice, life after death, etc. I'm simply pointing out this fine line that theists such as yourself must walk.

    If I point to a cow and say "one" I am not inferring that the cow is the number one.

    Until you can show that numbers can be part of a causal chain of events, such as creating methane gas, eating grass and crushing people's toes with their hoofs, it's a category error. If I point to an empty field and say "there are no cows in the field", I'm referring to a zero set of cows. If nothing at all existed, there would still be a zero set, but no one to observe it.

    But Memes aren't anything at all, but human constructs, so how are they "blind". If I've truly misinterpreted Dawkins than I've only done him a favor.

    What Dawkins is trying to do here is explain how some ideas are passed on, but no others. This process occurs to the properties the meme has. This is what he means by "Fitness." Our minds are the environment in which memes must survive. Just as some living organisms thrive in some environments, but not others, some memes thrive in some cultures and not others.

    I can also summon up memories that I've kept deep within my conscious, but I only keep them or regard them at all based on my own whims...not the whims of the memes themselves.

    Translation: This is hearsay! Humans have been given a divine spark and free-will. God wouldn't make beings that are infected by these nasty things Dawkins speaks of. God says we''re responsible, so we must voluntarily choose memes.

    Scott: As such, the existence of these secondary attractive properties are not directly dependent on their individual fitness for survival.

    M: But they were previously.

    They exist in a causal relation due a more important survival property. That is, the existence of a trait can have a wide range of positive and negative effects. An organism that survives by exhibiting a specific trait might be at a disadvantage in 99% of other non-life threading aspects, but excel in the one that gives them an advantages over all the others. Even this factor could be poor. All it needs to be is not as "poor" than the rest of the organisms it competes with in it's immediate environment. The same can be said about memes.

    But attraction has nothing to do with it. So what? I'm talking about the source of the "meme" itself, not why it's attractive or by what measure.

    Clearly, we disagree for obvious reasons.

    where did the idea of these gods or God come from? They certainly couldn't have come from this world...and that is what I argue later...or at least the rationality of that explanation.

    An interesting thing happens at about three years of age. Before this time, children cannot put themselves in the minds of others. Take the following scenario of two closed boxes. We put a ball in one box in the presence of a child and a third person, send that person out of room, move the ball to the other box, and bring that person back. Younger children will expect the temporarily absent person to know the ball had been moved to the other box despite being out of the room. Older children can put themselves in the mind of the absent person, equate their limitations, and realize they would expect to find the ball in the original box.

    Not knowing what's inside of a box is a limit most people can accept. But, by nature, there are other questions that human beings are driven to find answers to. For this to be possible, they must create a mind they cannot relate to. Because, if they could completely put themselves in that mind, they would become aware of it's limitations and it's observations would be bounded just as ours.

    This mind must ultimately be incomprehensible as only a incomprehensible mind can be accepted as a valid source to have an answer for every question. It is a negative requirement. Whatever we are, God must be beyond that (which is a moving target) Again, you must walk a fine line. God can only be described in analogies and references to nature. He cannot be nature as he would be unworthy and incapable of knowing answers to the questions you seek.

    Are you sure you're not a Positivist?

    I'm merely noting that you cannot say what God is without invalidating him. You must use negative terms, which are a moving target. Whatever exists, God is not. God is anything but that. But nothing remains for God to be. This is by design.

    But can we think of Him? Big difference. Can we construct analogies about Him through experience? Big difference.

    But only as a liaison to the answers you seek. It is only though this can things be done which we cannot do and can things can be known which we cannot know. Want ultimate justice? God can do that. Want an ultimate meaning in life? God can give you that too. Want life after death? God must be able to do that too because, whatever he is, he's not us. Therefore he doesn't have our limitations.

    And I can imagine a multitude of things, does that mean they exist?

    Scott: Now you're saying that we can't know that we can't know something due to the problem of induction? Then how can we know there is a problem with induction?

    M: I honestly don't believe there is one.

    Induction has limitations, but they do not render it void and null. That both of us rely on induction every every day is evidence of this conclusion.

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  30. Zilch,

    Apparently I have a lot to answer to in this thread and also in the newest one, so excuse my tardiness on the matter.

    Well, M, we could go on and on like this. What it seems to boil down to is that you think it's more rational to invoke a supernatural realm to explain things that science can't yet, and I prefer to continue looking for natural explanations. My way is more parsimonious, so I'll stick with it, until I see reason to change it.

    Precisely. I invoke explanations that science cannot, which is exactly why my method is more rational than yours because you presume that science can when it can't.

    You have failed to show evidence that such a supernatural realm exists, except by saying that since we can conceive of it, that's evidence for its existence. As I said, if that constitutes "evidence", then there is "evidence" that all kinds of things exist. Not only God, but Santa, and Voldemort, and parallel universes, and Ice Cream Sundaes Greater than which cannot be Conceived... the list goes on and on.

    I've failed at nothing of the sort other than the possibility of being able to convey to you what I'm actually arguing. I'd prefer to think that you've failed to understand everything I've said thus far, being that I think I've been rather clear.

    I provided evidence for something other than the material realm, by pointing out the limitations of the material realm to provide the concepts I explained above based on the self-evident principle I expressed in my argument. I did not, however, conclude that this realm exist, rather I stated it is more rational to believe that it does. As I stated before, there is a difference between what constitutes as rational and what constitutes as reality.

    Further, you missed the point again regarding conception and are yet again making it appear as though I'm saying that just anything can be conceived and thought to exist. This was never my argument to begin with. I only urge you to read my responses more carefully again so that I don't have to repeat myself.

    And you have also failed to show how supernatural "explanations" provide us with information that science does not. As I said:

    Of course, science doesn't have all the answers here, but positing a God who created all this stuff doesn't tell us anything that can be corroborated in the real world and gives us information that science doesn't.

    You replied:

    Sure it does. It gives us reason to believe in absolute moral principles, a trustworthiness of our senses and rationality, and true meaning in our lives.

    The material world can't give us those by itself.

    Here you've hit the nail on the head: these are indeed the reasons I hear over and over from believers. All I can say is this:

    I don't believe in absolute moral principles. As I said, morals are evolved entities just as living things are. That doesn't mean that they do not exist: the genetic and cultural heritages of all humans have a great deal of overlap, so although there are differences in moral outlooks, there are also enough similarities to make the building of societies possible- with a great deal of strife, to be sure.


    I did not fail, once again. I explained what these things could explain. All you've done is deny absolute morality on the basis of your ontological assumptions.

    And I trust my senses and my rationality- they, too, are evolved entities, and have been honed over billions of years by natural selection, and over decades by learning, and work pretty well, if not perfectly, to get me where I want to go. I don't need God to trust them.

    You have no justification in asserting that you can trust your rational capabilities based on a random set of processes. Further, you have no justification for assuming what you see is actually what is there (refer to Kant) other than by your mere assumption that it is, whereas the explanation of a God who wants it to be is an actual explanation, whereas your explanation is I hope this is the case, which isn't one at all. At least I posit something.

    As far as "true meaning" goes- we make our own meanings. I don't need God to tell me what my "true meaning" is.

    And yet again, the common Post-Modern mish mash mushiness that many of the New Atheists like to purport as though it is true and not giving a single thought about it.

    You make your own meaning, huh? Then what is the meaning of meaning? Does meaning have any standard at all, or is it a useless term (like morality) that designates your preference in matters of motivation and life?

    How about "purpose"? Is there true purpose or is it contingent on how you feel (which can be argued to be no purpose at all).


    You haven't seemed to take these issues seriously enough, have you? Perhaps you should read less science.

    It would be too time-consuming to deal with your whole post right now- I've got a plane to catch in a week and lots of stuff needs doing beforehand. I'll just give one more example of where we differ. You say:

    Perhaps you should stop limiting yourself to observational evidence that only affirms your naturalistic world (in this case, an evolutionary paradigm that doesn't explain value based judgments, but just tells us how they got there, rather than why) view while relying on the possibility of science to answer those questions.

    I'm not "limiting myself", or at least I try not to- it's just that I see nothing that indicates the necessity to posit a supernatural realm. Yes, as you say, the evolutionary paradigm, if extended to include cultural evolution, does explain how value based judgments got here. Not completely, of course, but already enough to sketch out a picture. Asking why we have value-based judgments is presupposing a Creator behind them. If one does not believe in such a Creator, then the "why" question is meaningless: it only makes sense to ask "why" questions when one supposes the existence of beings with purposes. Morals evolved because they were selected for: they enable individuals to build societies, by extending their concept of "looking out for number one" to families, tribes, nations...

    I'll try to get to more of this later. Cheers from warm Vienna, zilch.


    Have fun on your trip...but on a side note you again mistake the motivation to make value-based judgments and what value actually is or if there is any. God explains that there is value, whereas a purely material universe excludes value all-together, making it a mere preference based word (like all thing you believe).

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  31. God explains that there is value, whereas a purely material universe excludes value all-together,

    No it doesn't. We perceive value because it's in our head, and it's in our heads because our genes have provided us with organs capable of instinct and thought. In the competition for resources and survival in the ancestral environment, a mammalian species like ours would not last for many generations if it did not value food, protection and their offspring. The origin of value can be traced much further back, but I talked of this already in another post. As human communities developed, many other resources also entered the list of valuable survival traits, such as high social status and all that this entails (which means different things in different cultures).

    You may read this materialistic just-so story however you like, I can't force you to believe it. It is, however, a prediction of evolutionary biology that some beings would develop such a sense of value quite naturally, without any message from God.

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  32. Scott, Adonais...I will be responding to both of you shortly. I apologize for the wait.

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  33. If anyone is still reading this thread - Thank you all for a really stimulating discussion, into which you clearly poured much effort.
    At the risk of being seen as partisan, I'm afraid those opposing the motion win the contest hands down by my book. However, Mario, I congratulate you on your tenacity and refusal to submit to superior force.
    There are lots of great explanations in here. I will try not to plagiarise them - but they are SO good.
    Thanks again for a long but ultimately fascinating read.

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