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7/2/08

Bill Craig in Christianity Today

I thought that I'd pass this on to y'all. Christianity Today has just released their cover story for the month by Dr. Craig entitled "God Is Not Dead Yet" (a play on the famous Time article). Craig goes through a bit of history here, explaining the roots of contemporary philosophy of religion and giving a nod to Plantinga's oft-ignored book God and Other Minds. Next Craig runs through the typical theistic arguments which is fairly straightforward and predictable:

*Cosmological Argument (two versions)
*Teleological Argument (he focuses on the fine-tuning version but makes note of Behe)
*Moral Argument
*Ontological Argument

This last bit is fairly interesting in that Craig has long ignored the ontological argument and in some cases repudiated it. It appears he has had a change of heart, however, and now he endorses this controversial argument. The only reason I am making light of this development is the impact of Craig on apologetics and the relative avoidance of the ontological argument by apologists. Will that change now? I kinda think so.

I am disappointed that Craig has continued the trend of avoiding Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) which I have heard him use before. I think this is one of the most powerful arguments against naturalism and for theism that is out there, but it has gone relatively unnoticed (it appears to be more of a web sensation than anything that has taken hold in academia). I plan to talk about this argument in the near future on this blog.

In other news, Christopher Hitchens was waterboarded.

21 comments:

  1. William Lane Craig is a Christian apologist whom I both admire and loathe -- and I find this amusing, because I share this bizarre opinion of him with many Christians.

    His arguments are all of the same vein -- as I find all arguments regarding the existence of a deity -- which all assume certain premises of varying degrees of dubiousness, and formulate a logically valid argument based on an acceptance of their truth claims. Nevermind the fact that we are unlikely to definitively answer any of the 'deep questions of life' any time soon (if ever), Craig and his pro-god peers would posit that we can formulate premises which have valid truth claims, and which are universal.

    What I find especially silly about the so-called "theistic arguments for god's existence" is the fact that none of them are at all theistic -- or at the least, none of them make any sort of claim regarding the specific doctrines espoused by the god they claim exists.

    Craig himself is a bit of a moving target, in that he accepts Big Bang cosmology, and generally accepts various scientific claims and discoveries, but he still insists that the Christian god -- or, more appropriately, his version of the Christian god -- is the 'one, true god'.

    His debate style is especially fascinating, even if it is repetitive. He strives to control the pace and format of the debate, and pigeon-holes his opponent by "requiring" refutations of certain base claims (typically five). His bullying tactics aside, all of his arguments seem to boil down to special pleading, at least when he argues for Christianity as opposed to some other arbitrary version of god. Indeed, in many cases, his arguments against Atheism unnecessarily boil down to special pleading.

    As I said -- I admire and loathe the guy.

    Until he, or any other would-be apologist, can show how their version of god is correct, and how all the other competing versions -- be they completely separate theologies, partially separated denominations, or very closely related denominations -- are false.

    Show me why I should take Pascal's overly simplified wager, and risk the fury of the god I didn't choose, when a truly just god should just as well admire my respect for truth, and recognition of the ignorance inherent in both myself and in my fellow human, amidst such a cesspool of lies.

    --
    Stan

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  2. Josh,

    why did you include that link to the article on Christopher Hitchens being waterboarded?

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  3. "In other news, Christopher Hitchens was waterboarded."

    That's a pretty amazing clip, not because it was Hitchens, but because it shows how quickly your survival instincts get the better of you. Once while I was practicing marital arts, our instructor was going to demonstrate to (on!) us the dangers of strangling, in a controlled equivalent of the "choking game." I didn't last more than three seconds before I tapped out on the verge of fainting, and that was above average. And that wasn't even drowning, with all the physiological discomfort that this entails, just a lack of oxygen to the brain. Kudos to Hitchens for subjecting himself something so fearsome just to prove a point.

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  4. Stan,

    Craig usually couples his theistic arguments with arguments about the existence of God with arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. But I disagree with you about the status of such arguments. Of course, they do not prove Christianity proper but they certainly increase the probability of Christianity being true.

    Tax,

    I did it for the lulz.

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  5. The resurrection of Jesus doesn't prove Christianity true either. For starters there are thousands of sects that claim to be the "true" faith.

    Not to mention that there could be multiple Gods (like the old testament implies) or Satan (like some heretics believed) were responsible or also in the picture.

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  6. Samuel, if someone comes to believe that the resurrection of Christ was a real event in history, they are going to shoulder an awful load of responsibility to escape Christianity.

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  7. Josh, I listened to Plantinga's EAAN talk. I'm curious why you find it especially powerful.

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  8. Regarding Hitchens, I don't think anyone can doubt the man's balls for endeavoring to experience the "technique" of waterboarding.

    I remember vividly in Basic Training when one of my platoon absolutely refused to enter the gas chamber -- where trainees are subjected to CS ("Cough & Sneeze", we called it) gas with and without the mask. This particular trainee had the audacity to tell our most feared drill instructors "no", and to even tell our Captain "no", despite the fact that we all suspected certain of our drill instructors would have physically mauled us if we had ever crossed them in such a way. He was clearly willing to endure a beating to avoid the chamber.

    I don't remember if he ever went through with it, but I do remember a point roughly six weeks later, when we were nearly graduated. We were training in the same area as the gas chamber, and a few of our number (with especially high testosterone-to-intellect ratios) asked the drill instructors if they could do the chamber a second time...

    I'd wager a few of those guys are at Guantanamo right now, pouring water over some poor sap's face...

    Anyway, hate on Hitchens all you want for his outspokenness regarding Atheism, but he makes a great case for the fact that this "technique" is merely a form of torture. It's nice to see journalists actually attempting to effect change, and combating ignorance and/or complacency.

    --
    Stan

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  9. Josh,

    I did it for the lulz.

    Please elaborate.

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  10. MaskedMarauder:

    In my opinion, the EAAN shows that the probability of the conjunction E and N is incredibly low, and that we therefore ought to reject one or both of those in favor of preserving R. I'm working on something right now...

    STHTT:

    As a libertarian, I certainly will not condemn Hitchens for coming out and saying that wbing is torture. I commend him for it, and I certainly do not hate Hitchens. There is now a video out of his episode in Youtube, and apparently some (PZ Myers and co.?) think that this is like porn for Christians.

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  11. Josh:

    Ok, thanks for the response.

    Perhaps it can be discussed at a later time, but I found his argument unconvincing for a number of reasons. The most salient being that since we know as well as anything can be known that human cognitive faculties are unreliable, it makes no sense to me to discard the one world view that entails that core fact. I would think that any system of thought depending on an inherent reliability of human cognition has the bigger problem.

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  12. Some interesting responses here, thanks for taking the time to write.

    Stan, you are right to say that most theistic argument don't get you beyond the existence of a god to the specific doctrines of one of the many faiths. However, William Craig's 5 arguments include discussion of the resurrection of Christ. He believes, rightly, that if Jesus did indeed rise from the dead that Christianity is almost certainly true. And therefore if he demonstrates that Jesus was indeed resurrected, then you have very good reason to be not just a theist - but a Christian.

    I find it especially interesting that you claim that of the theistic arguments "none of them are at all theistic". How specifically are you defining theism? I merely define it as being that a God, or gods, exist. On that definition the theistic arguments are aptly named.

    Craig himself is a bit of a moving target, in that he accepts Big Bang cosmology, and generally accepts various scientific claims and discoveries, but he still insists that the Christian god -- or, more appropriately, his version of the Christian god -- is the 'one, true god'.

    This too is a curious statement. Why do you find it odd that one accepts various scientific claims, and discoveries (big bang cosmology included), and yet is a Christian? I see no reason to juxtapose these claims in the way you have - you may need to point out your reason for doing so more explicitly.

    Indeed, in many cases, his arguments against Atheism unnecessarily boil down to special pleading.

    Would you care to cite an example of this? I have heard his cosmological argument a few times, and he has been very adept at answering all criticisms that involve offerring alternative explanations. For example, he deals quite easily with explanations founded on the idea of multiple universes. He also addresses the notion that perhaps the universe sprang forth from nothing. Perhaps the barebones of the argument doesn't say why we favour theism - but his defences of the premises involved do. And that is surely to be included in considerations of the success of his case.

    when a truly just god should just as well admire my respect for truth, and recognition of the ignorance inherent in both myself and in my fellow human, amidst such a cesspool of lies.

    I think there are many errors with this statement. For example, *if* Christianity is correct, then you are not one who respects the truth. Therefore if you say a truly just God should admire your respect for truth, there is little to admire in your rejection of Christianity.

    You also presume to offer insight into what God's nature would be - one who admires those who respect truth - yet you offer no philosophically convincing reasons for postulating that as part of His nature. Though I don't specifically disagree with you that God loves truth, I think the onus is on you to demonstrate why Christianity's concept of God is philosophically or theologically untenable - or indeed any of the religions' views of God you might happen to dislike.

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  13. maskedmarauder wrote...

    I found his argument unconvincing for a number of reasons. The most salient being that since we know as well as anything can be known that human cognitive faculties are unreliable, it makes no sense to me to discard the one world view that entails that core fact.
    I suspect that you have misunderstood his argument if you think this.
    Plantinga argues that our faculties are reliable in most cases. For example (and this is not mine), imagine we are both involved in a car collision. You and I may forget details - perhaps how long it took for the collision to take place, exact distances the car went, etc. We however accurately recall that it was in fact a collision that involved cars, and not an experience of buying ice-cream at the beach. We remember which cars were involved, how many, that we were present, and so on. There may be details with which our minds are unreliable, but in broad strokes it is reliable. This is for sensory experiences.
    I would also argue that our cognitive faculties are reliable when it comes to certain logical truths, holding a rationalist viewpoint myself.
    Descartes argued that our faculties are reliable when brought to bear on things that they are meant to be used for. He argued this on the basis that God exists and is not a deceiver, and they were designed for a function. His arguments also included the idea that our cognitive faculties are unreliable for certain things - eg, for detecting poison in food that tastes good, or a square tower looking round from a distance. But for logical truths it is absolutely reliable when carefully applied.
    The problem for naturalism is very deep - in my opinion inescapable. One of the forms of Plantinga's argument shows that naturalism is at its core self defeating. The idea is that if naturalism is true, then it is very probable that our cognitive faculties cannot be trusted for any belief - even the belief that I am sitting at my computer. If I believe naturalism is true, then I have a defeater for every belief I hold - including the belief that naturalism is true. Worse still, there is no way to have a defeater for this defeater.
    And to me not only does Plantinga's argument seem valid and sound, but also intuitively true on reflection. If we arose via natural selection and random mutation, then it seems to me highly improbable that our cognitive faculties arose in such a way as to guarantee true beliefs.
    I encourage you all to look up his argument, as it is a serious problem for the atheist. I suspect William Craig doesn't use it because it is a lot more involved than some of the other arguments he has. More powerful, but also trickier to explain. He would prefer arguments which are more persuasive to the average person, and easier to fully explain in a short debate. The ones he uses are good arguments, and in my opinion both valid and sound.

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  14. Croath:

    There are several shortcomings in the argument you judge compelling.

    First, no matter how you slice it, in the end we all rely on our brains for making decisions, the same brain we both agree is in may ways unreliable. Simply assuming that away doesn't make it go away. Is that gerally a good idea?

    The toy examples he cites to show that our beliefs are reliable don't work on their face. For example, "We however accurately recall that it was in fact a collision that involved cars, and not an experience of buying ice-cream at the beach."

    In fact, we don't. Memories are constructions, not recordings, and vary in quality depending on time and circumstances. There is a sizable and growing literature on the inherent unreliability of eye witnesses to the extent that innocent people are reprieved from Death Row because physical evidence invalidated the eye witness testimony that persuaded the juries "beyond a reasonable doubt" to condemn an innocent man to death. This not only indicates the generally shoddy standard of proof used in our courts (and by inference the analytical prowess of the society entrusting their lives to it) when dealing with life & death matters, but also the general inability of average people, presumably working "carefully" to see through the shod. People just aren't very good at probabilistic reasoning.

    Secondly, the core of his argument, concluding from probabilistic reasoning that supposed internal contradictions in Naturalism preclude it as a source of reliable belief, is incomplete.

    He dismisses the probability of success for naturalistic mechanisms to generate reliable beliefs as "low". Never mind for now that he doesn't show how such a number could even in principle be derived, he uses a subjective qualitative judgment (the work product of the brain that none of us trust) to dismiss it as unviable. How do you reckon the reliability of the belief that an undefined quantity fails to meet an unspecified criterion? My guess is "vanishingly small."

    Next, and more importantly, what he doesn't mention is that even if it (P(R|N)) is in fact lower than some unspecified threshold, it does not follow by default that supernaturalistic mechanisms give more reliable results than naturalistic ones.

    The proper method for choosing between alternative models is to compare their respective virtues and flaws. Following Plantinga's probabilistic paradigm here, he would have to show that the probability of reliable knowledge from naturalistic mechanisms is strictly less than the probability of obtaining reliable knowledge from supernaturalistic mechanisms [ P(R|N) < P(R|S) ]. Since no one, including both Plantinga and myself, is willing to compare two imponderable numbers in public, I don't see a meaningful conclusion about anything emerging from this approach.

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  15. In fact, we don't.

    You failed to provide a counter argument to my claim. To refresh your memory, I said "We however accurately recall that it was in fact a collision that involved cars, and not an experience of buying ice-cream at the beach." - to which you responded, "In fact, we don't". Your counter example was pointing out that sometimes an innocent person on death row is reprieved because a once trusted eye witness was shown unreliable. However, you did not show how this is a counter example. My point still remains the same as it was originally - did the eyewitness recall seeing a victim shot in a movie theatre, when in fact this eyewitness had actually seen their daughter swimming in a pool competition? Or are these people being reprieved because of smaller details? Eg, they saw a man wearing a hat that they thought was one type, but in fact turned out to be a different type. Or they recall seeing the accused, when in fact it was another person who looked similar?

    Do you see your error yet? While we may make mistakes about the details, the broad facts are reliable. And this can be demonstrated by considering the absurdity of the inverse - that all testimony is unreliable. In your counter example you said "physical evidence invalidated the eye witness testimony". Let us say we hold as true the premise "our mind is unreliable about all recollections" - how then can any physical evidence be considered? A detective may "recall" collecting the evidence from the scene of the crime, but in fact he pulled it out of the waste paper bin at his home. The jury when making a decision might "recall" a photo displayed during the trial, but in fact they're remembering a scene from their childhood. Do you see the absurdity? In order to reprieve someone from death row there must be some reliability to our cognitive abilities. Your counter example is self-defeating.

    This should be obvious on reflection, but if you're still unconvinced then consider this: how do you manage to get home each day if your cognitive faculties are unreliable?

    Never mind for now that he doesn't show how such a number could even in principle be derived, he uses a subjective qualitative judgment

    I have not listened to Plantinga's talk, but I have read his written argument. He does in fact point out that such probabilities are hard to calculate. Just because we can't get exact values though, we can reason about the rough values of such probabilities. His written argument gives his reasons for the low probability he assigns - and I think his reasons are compelling. If you disagree then you can't simply say "such probabilities are impossible to calculate". We already agree with that, but it is possible to broadly estimate whether a particular event is highly probable or improbable. His effort is not fruitless, and you must demonstrate why is arguments are insufficient.

    Next, and more importantly, what he doesn't mention is that even if it (P(R|N)) is in fact lower than some unspecified threshold, it does not follow by default that supernaturalistic mechanisms give more reliable results than naturalistic ones.

    This misses the point of his argument - and again, I haven't listened to the talk you have, so maybe he doesn't go into it. If his argument is successful then naturalism has an undefeated defeater - if naturalism is true then we can never know that it is true. We can't even be reasonably sure. We have a defeater for every belief we have, including naturalism. Now why does this lead us to "supernaturalistic" mechanisms? The reason is simple - if we think that humans are rational beings for whom the cognitive senses are generally reliable (eg, reliable for rational thought, and true in broad strokes for empirical experiences), then we can't be naturalists. A very powerful argument. Outlined more below...

    Following Plantinga's probabilistic paradigm here, he would have to show that the probability of reliable knowledge from naturalistic mechanisms is strictly less than the probability of obtaining reliable knowledge from supernaturalistic mechanisms [ P(R|N) < P(R|S) ].

    No he doesn't - not if we hold as true the premise "The mind is trustworthy in some ways" - for example, that the mind is accurate when showing us that Descartes conclusion "I exist" (when applied to myself) is true, or when considering that I have the sensation of pain, even if that pain is illusory, and so on. Do you really distrust your mind on everything? I doubt you live as though that's true. The conclusion can be drawn through modus tollens:

    1. If naturalism is true, the mind is not trustworthy in any ways
    2. The mind is trustworthy in some ways
    3. Therefore, naturalism is false

    And if naturalism is defined as "all phenomena can be explained without recourse to the supernatural", then we must conclude that some phenomena must be explained by recourse to the supernatural. Plantinga needs to do nothing like you claim.

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  16. croath:

    Cartoon problems can serve legitimate
    pedagogical purposes, to limn a schematic approach to solving a real problem, for example. But only a fool would hire Mickey Mouse to do his heavy lifting. Those Mickey Mouse examples he & you use serve to indicate adequately enough what you wish were so but can't prove what is so. When you actually look at the actual data you'll find that in real life, outside of Toon Town, witnesses routinely disagree on the number of people involved in an incident, what they were wearing, their skin color... you name it, they'll disagree on it.

    The reason I brought up the capital cases is that those are instances where, one would hope, real people in real life do their real best to discern the real truth and often fail; what they honestly and sincerely believe to be true is in fact false. I guess its just an ironic icing on the cake that the lives of the innocents were often saved by applying the naturalistic logic (e.g. DNA analysis) you are trying so hard to prove is inferior to the intuitive logic that erroneously condemned them in the first place.

    Its all well and good to say that people are rational and routinely reliable about "broad facts", but don't bet your life on it. Reliable facts say you have a good chance of losing that bet.

    Pitting "the broad facts are reliable" against your proffered inverse "all testimony is unrealiable" poses a false dichotomy. There is a continuous gradation of levels of confidence, certainty and reliability, not a binary disjuncture. Consequently the first element of your modus tollens, "if naturalism is true, the mind is not trustworthy in any ways", is false. For naturalism to work you only have to win some of your bets with the universe. So yes, if you want to play this probabilistic game, you do need to seriously consider the probability of obtaining reliable knowledge from supernatural mechanisms. Sauce for the goose & all that jazz. But seriously, does a system of thought that depends on events of probability zero (miracles) sound like a better bet than one that depends on ones that are merely "low"?

    You asked how I manage to get home every day if my cognitive faculties are unreliable. I do it like rats, cats and dogs do it, I suppose. It ain't rocket science.

    And, do I really distrust my mind on everything? Yes, I do. And yes, I do live as though that's true. It would be foolish to do otherwise. Surely no one here thinks they're infallible.

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  17. maskedmarauder,

    If you are not going to take the time to understand the argument before you criticise it, then I have no interest in engaging in discussion with you much longer. You are being contradictory.

    Let me illustrate it with a trivial example, your own words reordered to a simpler statemt:
    "I distrust my mind on everything"
    Do you distrust your mind on the statement "I distrust my mind on everything"? If not, then the statement is false. If you do, then you admit that you have reason to believe you don't distrust it on everything. You're clearly being contradictory to make such a blanket claim.

    If you believe that there are some cases where someone is falsely accused, and we later discover the truth, then you necessarily believe that the mind can be trusted in some cases. If that were not so, then we could never discover the truth about anything, and no cases could be overturned, and no "innocents" could be freed.

    I guess its just an ironic icing on the cake that the lives of the innocents were often saved by applying the naturalistic logic (e.g. DNA analysis) you are trying so hard to prove is inferior to the intuitive logic that erroneously condemned them in the first place.

    I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. What is this "naturalistic logic" that holds in its purview DNA analysis? What is this intuitive logic you think I consider superior? I think I know what you're thinking and trying to say, but it is so unfounded that I'll allow you to explain it more clearly first.

    Pitting "the broad facts are reliable" against your proffered inverse "all testimony is unrealiable" poses a false dichotomy. There is a continuous gradation of levels of confidence, certainty and reliability, not a binary disjuncture.

    Oh no you don't. I never offered this false dichotomy. I freely admitted that the mind is unreliable in certain things, and I did not presume to offer a definitive list of what things it is unreliable with. I merely stated that the mind is reliable in some areas, and unreliable in others. It was you who claimed that the mind is always unreliable. For example, when I said we recall accurately when recalling we were at a car collision rather than buying ice-cream at the beach, you said, "In fact, we don't". That doesn't leave much that we can trust our mind in - how much is left? You also have said just lately:
    "And, do I really distrust my mind on everything? Yes, I do."
    Making pretty clear your position.

    I was the one who said that it's unreliable in some ways and reliable in some. You were the one offerring the "all testimony is unreliable" - and even stronger, it seems you claim "all mental conclusions are unreliable".

    Consequently the first element of your modus tollens, "if naturalism is true, the mind is not trustworthy in any ways", is false.

    You're skipping around here. The arguments supporting this premise are Plantinga's arguments - we haven't even addressed those here. Don't make the error of thinking I've already defended this premise, because I haven't. I was just outlining the broad shape of the path the argument takes, not providing a justification for it. If you think you can reject it based off just what I've said, you'll be disappointed the next time you talk with someone else who understands the argument - they'll see you haven't understood it at all.

    But seriously, does a system of thought that depends on events of probability zero (miracles) sound like a better bet than one that depends on ones that are merely "low"?

    What do you mean, "probability of zero", and why is that relevant? You will need to define this argument more carefully before I can consider it to be relevant.

    You asked how I manage to get home every day if my cognitive faculties are unreliable. I do it like rats, cats and dogs do it, I suppose. It ain't rocket science.

    Then your mind is reliable in some things. It's a simple example - you're just being willfully ignorant, perhaps to try and annoy me, or perhaps because you don't like to give any ground in an argument.

    And, do I really distrust my mind on everything? Yes, I do. And yes, I do live as though that's true.

    No, you don't. You don't look up a map each time you try to get home to make sure you remember right. You don't ask someone how to read a map each time you try and use it, or recheck the legend. You don't try and rediscover whether you can trust someon'e general testimony - such as instructions on how to read a map. You don't re-evaluate your understanding of the English language, checking a dictionary, every time you listen to someone's testimony, and so on. You act as though the mind is generally reliable every day, every moment of your life.

    And to say that the alternative to distrusting the mind on everything is to say we're infallible is a false dichotomy of your own. Now who's ignoring the gradations in between?

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  18. Croath:

    Do you distrust your mind on the statement "I distrust my mind on everything"? If not, then the statement is false. If you do, then you admit that you have reason to believe you don't distrust it on everything. You're clearly being contradictory to make such a blanket claim.

    Provisional trust is still trust. And it is still distrust also. Trust/distrust is a continuum of values from 0 to 1 inclusive, not 0 or 1 exclusive. So if, for example, my level of certainty in "I distrust my mind on everything" is 0.95, then it would be correct to say I distrust the statement 5% and trust it 95%. There is no contradiction here. Not every problem can be resolved by binary logic, you know. They just don't "fit."

    Back in the '80s Johnson-Laird called attention to the following syllogism:

    All members of the cabinet are thieves
    No composer is a member of the cabinet

    An overwhelming majority of people presented with this syllogism mistakenly conclude that there is no logical conclusion to be drawn from it. Even very bright and earnest thinkers almost always get it wrong. What's more, they're typically wrong with high confidence (trust) in their incorrect answer. How come? His opinion, with which I agree (0.75±0.0032), is that it is a hard problem. Difficult because we need to juggle a large number of internal mental models to obtain the correct answer.

    That there are hard limits to our cranial wet ware is no surprise. But there are two important lessons I learn from such like studies.

    One is that the limit to understanding in these cases is not the formal logic of them. Logic addresses true/false distinctions, not hard/easy ones. The problem is strictly a consequence of human nature, or biology. Just studying logic more assiduously won't repair this deficit.

    Two is that, well, if I am so easily flummoxed by a mere syllogism when asked in a formal setting to apply serious reflection to it, how much truth am I dismissing as false in the regular flow of everyday casual experience? Probably a lot. How much? How would I know, I'm congenitally blind to relations like this! You may as well ask a blind man the number of colors in the rainbow. But now the solid platform of deductive logic is starting to look like swiss cheese to me.

    Because we are blind to many of our errors we think we make few, and so our sense of confidence in our reliability is probably a false one. It seems a fool's errand to try to prove anything from our high opinion of ourselves.

    What is this "naturalistic logic" that holds in its purview DNA analysis?
    Conventional natural sciences, physics, chemistry, biology, etc.. The ones that explicitly and completely reject supernatural causes. The sciences that can't be true because they systematically reject certainty.

    What is this intuitive logic you think I consider superior?
    The one that says John and Jane Doe think reliably because they say they think they do.

    I don't know about you, but I find it deliciously ironic that the system of thought that can't be right outperforms the one that can't be wrong.

    I never offered this false dichotomy.
    from your post before last: While we may make mistakes about the details, the broad facts are reliable. And this can be demonstrated by considering the absurdity of the inverse - that all testimony is unreliable.

    Perhaps I misconstrued what you originally said, but the words are yours. Maybe you were distinguishing between testimony being relatively unreliable as opposed to being absolutely unreliable? If so, we have no argument on that score. In any event, I've tried to clarify the business about levels of confidence, trust, or whatever here.

    The arguments supporting this premise are Plantinga's arguments - we haven't even addressed those here. Don't make the error of thinking I've already defended this premise, because I haven't.
    OK, I've misread you then. Because you seem to endorse his argument I thought it was also your position. Still, I do find that premise silly no matter where it comes from or who it belongs to.

    What do you mean, "probability of zero", and why is that relevant?
    These are events outside the sample space, where the sample space is understood to mean the set of all possible values a random variable may hold. In common parlance, a miracle. It seems to me that supernaturalistic systems which accept impossibilities will always be less reliable than a system that rejects impossibilities, just because they're less discriminating.

    It's a simple example - you're just being willfully ignorant, perhaps to try and annoy me, or perhaps because you don't like to give any ground in an argument.
    Not at all. Rats, cats and dogs all seem to find their way home somehow (when they want to). We're all mammals, closely related through evolution, so I have no reason to suppose my navigation mechanisms are qualitatively or substantially different from theirs. How do we do it? I really don't know. The ignorance isn't willful; if I knew I'd be out spending my Nobel Prize money, not arguing religion. But it was solved tens of millions of years ago, long before there were people, so it can't be very demanding in practice anymore. If they don't need any highfalutin cognitive powers, then neither do I. As you say, it is a simple example.

    You don't look up a map each time you try to get home to make sure you remember right.
    Neither does a rat, a cat or a dog and they usually do OK too. I don't consciously, in an analytical way, know how to throw a ball or ride a bicycle either, but I get the job done somehow regardless. That's not to say I always hit the bullseye, or never crash the bike, but I usually get by OK.

    As for getting home without a sherpa, I do distrust my mind in that matter and so am not overly surprised if/when I make mistakes from time to time (and I have). And, I do live my life this way, perpetually distrusting myself, as evidenced by me periodically checking my current situation against my expectations along the route. I don't see anything remarkable in this. I suspect, but don't claim to know, that it is what every worldly cat, dog, rat and human does by nature. I guess I don't see where you're trying to go with this line of thought. I just don't understand how wending my way home with my mind rife with doubts about ever arriving there can defeat naturalism.

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  19. Maybe you were distinguishing between testimony being relatively unreliable as opposed to being absolutely unreliable? If so, we have no argument on that score.

    Yes, thankyou, that's nearly exactly it - I've just been coming from the other direction (the cup's half full). The reason why I've been persisting on this point is because when I said that we accurately recall the broad details (eg, that we were in a collision as opposed to buying ice-cream at the beach), you replied "in fact, we don't". That's a pretty strange point to reject, given that you think your mind is reliable enough to get you home each day. Maybe you were thinking I said something else when you wrote "in fact, we don't".

    Conventional natural sciences, physics, chemistry, biology, etc.. The ones that explicitly and completely reject supernatural causes. The sciences that can't be true because they systematically reject certainty.

    How do they explicitly and completely reject supernatural causes? This seems to me something that would be true only by definition - eg, natural sciences are the empirical study of natural causes of natural phenomena. Please show me how you think this is true beyond just saying so? It's almost as though you think that religion or belief in the supernatural is somehow at odds - or contrary to - the natural sciences.

    The one that says John and Jane Doe think reliably because they say they think they do.

    I never claimed (or implied) that we can think reliably because we think that we do. What I did say is that thinking you always think unreliably is a self-defeating proposition. That's not the same thing as what you think I've been saying. And this is part of Plantinga's argument - believing in naturalism gives you reason to doubt every belief you have, including belief in naturalism.

    Because you seem to endorse his argument I thought it was also your position.

    I do endorse his argument, I just hadn't provided a defence of any of those main premises before.

    These are events outside the sample space, where the sample space is understood to mean the set of all possible values a random variable may hold.

    I'm not sure why you think this is a reasonable analysis. I think that when you say the sample space means "the set of all possible values a random variable may hold", you mean that the sample space excludes all intentional (non-random, non-law events). Maybe you don't mean that.

    God is conceived to be a free intelligent agent, as are humans, under Christianity. A human deciding to intervene in a natural system is no different from a miracle performed by God, as I understand it. Miracle is a word used to denote an act of God, as opposed to an act of man, in a way that God does not typically intervene. But that's for another time, and another discussion. Needless to say, I wouldn't say miracles have a "probability of zero" - merely their probability cannot be calculated because it depends on the intentions of a free agent.

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  20. maskedmarauder- since no "bright and earnest" thinkers have shown up to have a crack at your syllogism, I guess I'll volunteer. The syllogism is:

    All members of the cabinet are thieves
    No composer is a member of the cabinet


    And the logical conclusion that can be drawn from it is:

    There are thieves who are not composers.

    Do I get a prize?

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  21. Croath:

    Sorry for the tardy reply, I've been buried in work.

    ... That's a pretty strange point to reject, given that you think your mind is reliable enough to get you home each day.
    I don't think it is; I don't see any contradiction or conflict. We're always comparing our situation with internally generated expectations and correcting ourselves all along the way. Even so, from time to time we get off at the wrong bus stop or go up 4 flights of stairs instead of 3. Because making and correcting errors is so common place we tend to take it for granted and suppose that "good enough" is "good". In the particular case of what witnesses do and do not recall, it needs to be understood that memories are mental constructions, not reproductions of past events. And it isn't even reliably unreliable; it can make different mistakes at different times on the same task.

    So its all well and good to say in everyday conversation that we "accurately recall the broad details" as long as you know that 'accurately' is shorthand for 'somewhat accurately' and that we don't know for sure which of the broad details are remembered more or less accurately and which ones are flatly false. That's OK for most mundane matters, but its hardly a solid premise on which to hang an important argument. A simultaneously faulty and fault-tolerant mind is exactly what one would expect to emerge from a naturalistic system, not a contradiction of it.

    How do they explicitly and completely reject supernatural causes? This seems to me something that would be true only by definition - eg, natural sciences are the empirical study of natural causes of natural phenomena. Please show me how you think this is true beyond just saying so?
    Simply put, there is no evidence that it is not so.

    What I did say is that thinking you always think unreliably is a self-defeating proposition.
    How so? It seems to me that skepticism, systematically distrusting one's judgment, is more apt to limit error than credulity is.

    ...believing in naturalism gives you reason to doubt every belief you have, including belief in naturalism.
    True enough, but in what sense is believing in mountain-dwelling lightning-hurling immortals a superior path to Truth or even reliable knowledge?

    Zilch:
    There are thieves who are not composers.

    Do I get a prize?


    That's the correct answer. The prize, I guess, is a sense of accomplishment. Few people can get it unaided. I couldn't.z

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