Atheism vs. Theism 2: Independence from Persons

December 11, 2007 at 12:28 am 39 comments

In my previous post on this subject, Independence in Thought, I discussed a point made by Phillychief in his post entitled Insularity?, where he stated that atheists, by and large, are critical thinkers.

Captain MiracleAnother point that Phillychief made, with which I agree, is that atheists are not as prone to hero worship and personality cults as theists appear to be. He cites the examples of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, et al, and notes that their positions are scrutinized incessantly. What he implied but didn’t say outright, which I will say, is that much of this scrutiny comes from people who generally accept these writers’ ideas. The critics criticize because they want to sharpen their own thinking skills and also because they want to challenge these writers, and others like them, to put forward the strongest possible arguments for their positions and to articulate those arguments clearly, succinctly and coherently.

I, for example, like Richard Dawkins, and I enjoyed reading The God Delusion. That doesn’t blind me to the fact that the book has some substantive flaws. My atheism does not depend on Dawkins being infallible. Ditto for all the recent flap about Antony Flew – the fact that he shifted from atheism to a deist position doesn’t undermine my atheist position at all. My atheistic view does not depend upon the Gospels according to St. Antony and St. Richard.

Believers today are pressured, via various mechanisms, to leave the heavy intellectual lifting to their priests and pastors and to accept their spiritual leaders’ teachings without raising any, or not too many, questions. In contrast to atheists, who are often as quick to criticize their heroes and allies as harshly as they skewer their foes, theists, especially conservative ones again, frequently get caught up in personality cults. Spiritual leaders are expected, and often believed, to be holier than the average believers sitting in their pews. These beliefs and expectations are unreasonable, but believers can hardly be faulted for holding them, since said leaders are presented by their governing and ordaining bodies as having attained a greater than average knowledge of scripture, as well as habits of holy living, that qualify them for leadership roles. Atheists have heroes, but they usually recognize that those heroes are flawed beings, just as they themselves are.

Atheists are repeatedly dumbfounded at the faithful who continue to believe and follow their leaders long after the latter have been discredited. Atheists honestly cannot fathom how the followers of, for example, Oral and Richard Roberts, or Earl Paulk (to cite fresh examples rather than stale ones), can remain faithful, not only to their religion in general, but to particular leaders, in light of ongoing revelations of malfeasance, moral degeneracy and multitudes of other greater and lesser sins. If they were to think about it for a moment, atheists would realize that they shouldn’t be the least bit surprised by this slavish loyalty in the face of all evidence that argues against it. After all, worship of, and a purported relationship with, an allegedly personal deity is itself nothing more than a personality cult writ large.

One of my reasons for abandoning the theistic mindset with which I was raised, and to which I adhered for several decades, is that theism is not only well suited, but is intentionally designed, to breed dependence and authoritarianism. I find both of these outcomes dehumanizing and unacceptable. In contrast, atheism is especially well suited for cultivating autonomy and distrust of brute authority. These are qualities that enhance rather than degrade human life.

Noting that metaphors are colorful, often revealing, ways of describing reality, I leave you with one question: is it any wonder that theists are referred to as a flock of sheep, and atheists are likened to a herd of cats?

- thechaplain

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God is cruising down US I-35 Slain in the Spirit… by an Atheist?

39 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The de-Convert  |  December 11, 2007 at 12:42 am

    thechaplain/ESVA,

    Good post :)

    As a Christian, I was a bit offended by the “sheep” analogy to describe myself especially when mere humans were our pastors (shepherds). As a pastor myself, I tried to dispel the idea that I was anything but a peer but I failed miserably at it. The reality was the congregation wanted a hero. They wanted someone to “hear from God” and deliver his word to them. They did NOT want to learn to “hear from God” for themselves (speaking in terms of my former belief system, of course).

    A while back, I wrote a blog entry on Spiritual Abuse. Check it out when you get a chance.

    Paul

  • 2. jared  |  December 11, 2007 at 1:14 am

    *sigh*

    You say,

    One of my reasons for abandoning the theistic mindset with which I was raised, and to which I adhered for several decades, is that theism is not only well suited, but is intentionally designed, to breed dependence and authoritarianism. I find both of these outcomes dehumanizing and unacceptable.

    So what if I said one of my reasons for reamining with the theistic mindset with which I was raised, and to which I still adhere, is that atheism is not only well suited, but was intentionally designed to breed subjectivity and a false sense of indpendent “thinking”? I find both of these outcomes entertaining and not very adequate for building a coherent noetic system.

    Let me ask you a question. Your “de-conversion wager” says “you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place.” Why would you obligate others toward your particular brand of thought while attempting to maintain a face of “tolerance”? I should live my life this way. I should live my life this way. Really? What if I want to live it some other way? Am I, then, living incorrectly since I “should” live my life your way? If there is no God not only have I lost nothing, but neither have I made a “positive impact on those around me” by living the way you suggest because such an impact presupposes that living this way is the best way and that any other way won’t (or can’t?) make a positive impact. And if there is a God and He has suggested a way of living that I decided to ignore for the sake of living your way, well, I think He has sort of a right to be a little upset. Moreover, I don’t think He’s going to reward me for ignoring Him.

    What I find incredibly odd is that atheism is all about autonomy and “free” thinking or “independent” thinking (neither of which make any sense from a purely neurological standpoint, much less so from a philosophical one) and all that gushy “be true to your self, not to your creed” talk. In otherwords, atheism is all about self. Sort of doesn’t really fit with a lifestyle of “love, compassion, mercy and tolerance” does it? I mean, since those are all self-less things to be doing, right? Anyways…

  • 3. Jersey  |  December 11, 2007 at 2:32 am

    @Jared: That which you point out to is called secular humanism. We think for ourselves on issues of science and philosophy; we still love our family and such because it is called our humanity,

    I have to disagree on one think about some circles when it comes to cult worship. In some theistic circles, once they find their leader is maleficient, they make sure he gets his just desserts, all the while forgiving him of his sin, but still remembering that while God may “wash away his sin”, the bad guy still has to feel the corporal consequences of his sin.

    Ummm…don’t ask me how that goes. I still don’t understand it fully myself.

  • 4. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 11, 2007 at 8:18 am

    Jared: “[A]theism [metaphysical naturalism?] is… intentionally designed to breed subjectivity and a false sense of independent ‘thinking’.”

    What do you mean here? How does one “breed” subjectivity? How do you distinguish between true and false senses of independent thinking?

    Why should it be odd that metaphysical naturalism is about one’s self? Why should being loving, compassionate, merciful and tolerant be fundamentally incompatible with a notion of self? If I love, is it not my self that is loving?

    Why does independence and autonomy not make sense from a neurological framework? Is my physical brain not physically capable of thinking? Seems to me you’re equivocating levels of abstraction here. No naturalist denies that our brains operate by causal laws; independence and autonomy refer to particular brain states, states that react to the statements of others in a particular way, i.e. not automatically believing them.

    It’s noteworthy that any dualistic theory of mind does not eliminate the dependence on causality, it just moves the causality around. Under scientific materialism, my brain state is fundamentally the result of the laws of physics and the initial conditions of the universe (plus, perhaps, some set of random events); under supernaturalism, my mind is the result of the will of God. In neither case is “choice” anything but a high-level abstraction of a fundamentally deterministic theory.

    The de-conversion wager is not directly normative: I construe it as a statement aimed at theists: Even if a god were to exist, if it were truly just would it not — as we do — judge our morally relevant actions, and not our unfalsifiable beliefs? I assume you do understand the subjunctive mood as it applies to hypotheticals and counterfactuals.

  • 5. Kelly  |  December 11, 2007 at 9:24 am

    Your entries are inspiring. You may bring me back to blogging yet.

  • 6. Shannon Lewis  |  December 11, 2007 at 9:48 am

    As a more ‘academic’ sort of evangelical, like most that I know, though I do like particular preachers and scholars, many criticize US for being so critical of those within our camp, NOT ‘hero worship’. We Evangelicals often to so far as to write detail critques of the the theological theories of our very own friends! Maybe we need a few more distinctions here – rather than simply ‘theist’ and ‘non-theist’? I say that because I’ve been a Christian now for 16 years and I don’t recall EVER finding myself in a spiritual environment where hardly any of the criticisms of Christianity set forth in this blog seem to ‘stick’. That’s not to say that those ‘flavors’ of ‘Christians’ don’t exist, but I don’t consider them the mainstream of evangelicalism, but rather, Pentacostals, Charismatics, and Fundamentalists – most of which can only very loosely be considered part of the Evangelical camp in any traditional understanding of the word.

  • 7. jared  |  December 11, 2007 at 11:08 am

    Jersey,

    Ref #3

    So what does “thinking for yourself” mean and how is that unique to secular humanism?

    The Barefoot Bum,

    Ref. #4

    How does one “breed” dependence and authoritarianism? And if they can be bred, why not subjectivism and false impressions? You ask how one distinguishes between true and false senses of independent thinking. I would suggest that the concept of independent thinking is quite vaccuous because no thought is independent (or free). Now, one can think for oneself but such thought is hardly independent. I think atheists like the term “free thinker” because it is essentially meaningless which, ironically, is exactly what some say about the term “god.”

    Now for the salvo. You ask,

    Why should it be odd that metaphysical naturalism is about one’s self? Why should being loving, compassionate, merciful and tolerant be fundamentally incompatible with a notion of self? If I love, is it not my self that is loving?

    I don’t think it odd at all that metaphysical naturalism is about one’s self. For one to be loving, compassionate, merciful and tolerant is not fundamentally incompatible with the concept of self though it is contradictory with a philosophical/ethical system which values self above all else. Indeed it is even your self that is loving if you love at all, where have I said otherwise? Continuing,

    Why does independence and autonomy not make sense from a neurological framework? Is my physical brain not physically capable of thinking? Seems to me you’re equivocating levels of abstraction here. No naturalist denies that our brains operate by causal laws; independence and autonomy refer to particular brain states, states that react to the statements of others in a particular way, i.e. not automatically believing them.

    Independence and autonomy don’t make sense at the neurological level because that’s not how the brain works. It needs input from the external world. At the very least, then, thought is dependent upon the existence of an external reality. If thinking is simply and narrowly defined as synaptic activity, then, sure, your physical brain is quite physically capable of thinking. I’m not entirely certain how this fact lends support to atheism, as a conceptual framework, over any other -ism. Neither does your qualification of “independence and autonomy” contribute to your case or cause.

    If independence and autonomy are particular brain states that react to the statements of others in a particular way, how is that better than some other brain state(s) which react in a different way? How, exactly, do you determine that independence and autonomy, as particular brain states reacting in particular ways to certain stimuli, are more correct, effecient, productive, etc. than any other particular brain states. Also, what sort of criteria do you use to make such valuations? It seems to me that such brain states as these could become quite problematic in certain situations which necessitate immediate belief or acceptance of the incoming data (e.g. someone shouts for you to move because a piano is about to smush you).

    You say,

    The de-conversion wager is not directly normative: I construe it as a statement aimed at theists: Even if a god were to exist, if it were truly just would it not — as we do — judge our morally relevant actions, and not our unfalsifiable beliefs?

    I find it strange that you think our morally relevant actions don’t stem from our unfalsifiable beliefs. It seems to me that if a god is to be truly just, he should judge both belief and action. Does not our (in the U.S.A.) judicial system work this way? I may give you a million dollars while thinking you a mongrel, and will justice prevail if I am rewarded for my donation? I may believe that the man in the moon told me tois hindering the progress of humanity, and will justice prevail if I am correct and follow through? What sort of justice is this?

  • 8. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 11, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Shannon Lewis:

    You can dress up a retard in a top hat and tails, but he’s still a retard. You actually critique the theories of your friends! Who knew intellectual integrity could be so easy.

    It’s even more reprehensible to try to bullshit the public with the dishonest imitation of intellectual rigor than to just phone it in as jared does.

    jared:

    How does one “breed” dependence and authoritarianism? And if they can be bred, why not subjectivism and false impressions?

    Do you ever answer a question with a simple, declarative sentence? I know how dependence and authoritarianism can be bred; I want to know how subjectivism can be bred. Seems like a simple enough question.

    I would suggest that the concept of independent thinking is quite vaccuous because no thought is independent (or free).

    Independent thinking is impossible because independent thinking is impossible? WTF? Did you actually write that sentence? Or did you have a stroke while typing and your fingers happened to randomly strike keys and accidentally made a grammatically correct but utterly vacuous remark.

    Good grief, man, we expect you to at least make an effort.

    Independence and autonomy don’t make sense at the neurological level because that’s not how the brain works. It needs input from the external world.

    Wow! I’m sure the Nobel Prize for medicine is in your immediate future for this profound, scientific understanding.

    You’re arguing a straw man, and you’re not even reading the text you actually quote. Let me repeat: No naturalist denies that our brains operate by causal laws, including those causal laws involved in perception.

    Again, one must ask if you actually read my post, or merely saw some meaningless chicken-scratches which prompted you to repeat your inane bullshit. Let me repeat again: independence and autonomy refer to particular brain states, states that react to the statements of others in a particular way, i.e. not automatically believing them.

    If independence and autonomy are particular brain states that react to the statements of others in a particular way, how is that better than some other brain state(s) which react in a different way?

    To ask which of two alternatives are better, we must implicitly assume as enthymemes that both alternatives are meaningful and logically and physically possible. Generally speaking, it is not considered persuasive to contradict yourself in successive paragraphs. The truly sophisticated theistic pseudo-philosophers go to considerably greater lengths to obfuscate their contradictions.

    Given that independence and autonomy are possible, whether they are better or worse than the alternative is a matter of opinion. It’s a free society: You can believe anything you care to believe, you can be as submissive to authority as you care to be. And I’m free to think your preference is stupid and contemptible.

    It seems to me that such brain states as these could become quite problematic in certain situations which necessitate immediate belief or acceptance of the incoming data (e.g. someone shouts for you to move because a piano is about to smush you).

    That’s the worst analogy I’ve read in quite some time. Are you actually comparing belief in your ridiculous fantasies with avoiding pianos? Especially when the godbots have been shouting about incoming pianos for several thousand years, with nary a smush. Ever hear of the boy who cried wolf?

    Again, I have to ask, did you write this yourself, or did your twelve-year-old neighbor sneak in and start typing on your computer while you were making yourself a sandwich? The inanity is breathtaking.

    I find it strange that you think our morally relevant actions don’t stem from our unfalsifiable beliefs.

    I’m sure you find it strange that objects fall when you drop them or the the sun rises in the East.

    It seems to me that if a god is to be truly just, he should judge both belief and action. Does not our (in the U.S.A.) judicial system work this way?

    Do you have even a basic clue as to how any Western justice system works? Did you sleep all the way through fourth-grade civics? Belief is irrelevant, and motivation is relevant only as it pertains to action, and only to excuse accident.

    I may give you a million dollars while thinking you a mongrel, and will justice prevail if I am rewarded for my donation?

    Stroke? Seizure? 12-year-old neighbor? First of all, what does the justice system have to do with giving money. And, um, yeah: If you give me a million dollars, you can think me a mongrel (a racist allusion right there), a sinner, or the incarnation of Satan and I would be more than happy to reward you with my praise. Try me!

    I may believe that the man in the moon told me tois hindering the progress of humanity, and will justice prevail if I am correct and follow through? What sort of justice is this?

    I’m going with stroke.

  • 9. Lorena  |  December 11, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    The reality was the congregation wanted a hero. They wanted someone to “hear from God” and deliver his word to them. They did NOT want to learn to “hear from God” for themselves

    Much like in the times of Moses (or when the Torah was written). When are humans going to evolve out of that?

  • 10. Anne  |  December 11, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    BB, you are a mean SOB. I miss your blog.

  • 11. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 11, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Some days the pressure just gets too much, and some poor dumb bastard like Jared wanders into my path, and regrets (with no little justification) the obsolescence of the Inquisition.

    Just part of the wonderfulness it is to be me. :-D

  • 12. jared  |  December 11, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    The Barefoot Bum,

    Ref #8

    So much for intelligent discussion, eh? Let’s try and pay a little more attention, mmkay? Swearing, mad gesticulation and using big-boy philosopher words don’t amount to much of a response, really.

    Do you ever answer a question with a simple, declarative sentence? I know how dependence and authoritarianism can be bred; I want to know how subjectivism can be bred. Seems like a simple enough question.

    Subjectivism is bred by (and this is by no means the only way) trying to breathe the oxygen-free air of “independent” thinking. Is that a simple enough answer? Or do I need to spell it out with bigger and more conceptually laden words? (see I can be “witty” and “clever” too!)

    Independent thinking is impossible because independent thinking is impossible? WTF? Did you actually write that sentence? Or did you have a stroke while typing and your fingers happened to randomly strike keys and accidentally made a grammatically correct but utterly vacuous remark.

    Good grief, man, we expect you to at least make an effort.

    A fool-hardy expectation of a theist, no? But I will continue entertaining you for a bit longer anyway. I didn’t say “independent thinking is impossible because independing thinking is impossible” so it seems you are committing that which you accuse me of, namely not reading. I said independent thinking is impossible because, and let me put this in bold and italics so you won’t misread or skip it this time, no thinking is independent. We have already established that “brains operate by causal laws” and that, ipso facto, rules out any notion of thought being described (metaphorically or otherwise) as independent. Moreover, you’re supposedly “free/independent” thinking is regulated by your environment, circumstances, and a veritable host of other influencing factors. So I hope that delusion of freedom works out for you in the end.

    Honestly, I might make a better effort if I thought you were actually interested. (see, I can shoot zingers too!)

    Wow! I’m sure the Nobel Prize for medicine is in your immediate future for this profound, scientific understanding.

    You’re arguing a straw man, and you’re not even reading the text you actually quote. Let me repeat: No naturalist denies that our brains operate by causal laws, including those causal laws involved in perception.

    Again, one must ask if you actually read my post, or merely saw some meaningless chicken-scratches which prompted you to repeat your inane bullshit. Let me repeat again: independence and autonomy refer to particular brain states, states that react to the statements of others in a particular way, i.e. not automatically believing them.

    Ah, what a great way to move along the “conversation,” though I appreciate the compliments.

    To ask which of two alternatives are better, we must implicitly assume as enthymemes that both alternatives are meaningful and logically and physically possible.

    Not helpful…

    Given that independence and autonomy are possible, whether they are better or worse than the alternative is a matter of opinion. It’s a free society: You can believe anything you care to believe, you can be as submissive to authority as you care to be. And I’m free to think your preference is stupid and contemptible.

    How are you “free” to think my preference is stupid and contemptible if such thought is simply the result of a causal chain unique to your particular experience? Didn’t we agree that brain activity is governed by causal laws, or am I missing some magical atheist/naturalist key? You aren’t free to think anything on such a scheme, which is why I find such schemes fun to play with. In otherwords, I’m glad my causal chain has put me where it has because it makes you look as foolish to me as do to you. What was it that you said earlier? Ah yes, inane bullshit I believe it was…

    That’s the worst analogy I’ve read in quite some time. Are you actually comparing belief in your ridiculous fantasies with avoiding pianos? Especially when the godbots have been shouting about incoming pianos for several thousand years, with nary a smush.

    That’s fine. You’re “free” to think whatever you wish, right? I think, however, that there are many people in a few other countries who might be inclined to disagree with you. If you don’t understand what that means, that’s okay; it isn’t really important. By the by, where do science and logic get their authority from?

    Again, I have to ask, did you write this yourself, or did your twelve-year-old neighbor sneak in and start typing on your computer while you were making yourself a sandwich? The inanity is breathtaking.

    Touche! Great shot! Nice jab!

    I’m sure you find it strange that objects fall when you drop them or the the sun rises in the East.

    Two in a row! Where do youget this stuff!? Is there some atheist debate handbook that I don’t know about?

    Do you have even a basic clue as to how any Western justice system works? Did you sleep all the way through fourth-grade civics? Belief is irrelevant, and motivation is relevant only as it pertains to action, and only to excuse accident.

    What’s the difference between belief and motivation? Or, more importantly perhaps, can you have one and not the other? If you can prove that I believe I’m going to rob you three days from now, can such proof convict me? What if you can prove that I intend to rob you in three days? Is there a substantial difference? Something tells me you don’t quite get how god and justice might fit together.

    Stroke? Seizure? 12-year-old neighbor? First of all, what does the justice system have to do with giving money. And, um, yeah: If you give me a million dollars, you can think me a mongrel (a racist allusion right there), a sinner, or the incarnation of Satan and I would be more than happy to reward you with my praise. Try me!

    I would say you’re missing the point but I’ve a little voice telling me that you’d have some other pedestrian bon mot to hurl my way; somehing along the lines of “There’s no point to miss” or, perhaps you might suggest seeing a professional about the voice; you know, some colorful reposte.

    I said:

    I may believe that the man in the moon told me tois hindering the progress of humanity, and will justice prevail if I am correct and follow through? What sort of justice is this?

    To which you responded, “I’m going with stroke.” Indeed, I’m not sure what the heck happened there. It wasn’t even early morning! I was probably distracted by my recent acquisition of a son…

    Also, is there any chance you might be willing to utilize your particular “talents” in responding comment #21 in the previous post for this series? And it better be good, I have high expectations now!

  • 13. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 11, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    Subjectivism is bred by (and this is by no means the only way) trying to breathe the oxygen-free air of “independent” thinking. Is that a simple enough answer?

    No. Specifically, if you want me to understand your point you have to stop talking in absurd metaphors and answer me in concrete terms.

    (see I can be “witty” and “clever” too!)

    No, you can’t. Sorry. Don’t quit your day job.

    I said independent thinking is impossible because, and let me put this in bold and italics so you won’t misread or skip it this time, no thinking is independent.

    I have to admit, the vacuous circularity of the argument is substantially changed by your typographical emendation. It becomes, and let me put this in bold and italics so you won’t misread or skip it this time, completely retarded vacuous circularity.

    We have already established that “brains operate by causal laws” and that, ipso facto, rules out any notion of thought being described (metaphorically or otherwise) as independent.

    You could make some real cash, selling your bizarro-dictionary to your fellow deluded idiio… er… Christian. Nobody but you means “independent thought” in the sense of thought free from causal physical laws.

    Honestly, I might make a better effort if I thought you were actually interested.

    Nice to know you admit you’re phoning it in.

    (see, I can shoot zingers too!)

    Nope. Still not true.

    Touche! Great shot! Nice jab!

    Thanks. I was rather pleased with the bon mot myself.

    If you can prove that I believe I’m going to rob you three days from now, can such proof convict me?

    No. If you want to discuss the role of belief and motivation in law, you might want to choose examples that have perhaps a passing relevance to actual legal theory.

    I would say you’re missing the point but I’ve a little voice telling me that you’d have some other pedestrian bon mot to hurl my way; somehing along the lines of “There’s no point to miss” or, perhaps you might suggest seeing a professional about the voice; you know, some colorful reposte.

    You’re catching on. You’re smarter than every says you are. (Just FYI, it’s “riposte“.)

  • 14. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 11, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    Sorry. The paragraph above:

    I said independent thinking is impossible because, and let me put this in bold and italics so you won’t misread or skip it this time, no thinking is independent.

    should have been italicized to indicate it is a quotation.

  • 16. Jersey  |  December 11, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    Why should autonomous, independent thinking be considered evil? Why is that, by pretty much thinking for yourself instead of accepting being spoon-fed dogma at face-value, pretty much means you head to hell? This is one paradox found within Christianity I have always regretted when I first heard of the philosophy in my sophomore year at high school during lunch break at a mathathon.

  • 17. jared  |  December 11, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    The Barefoot Bum,

    Ref. #13

    No. Specifically, if you want me to understand your point you have to stop talking in absurd metaphors and answer me in concrete terms.

    Odd that you should urge me to refrain from “absurd metaphors” while using one youself. I suppose atheists are allowed double standards though, no? For example, when a Christian accepts something his leader says he is eating spoon-fed [insert relevant fecal reference here], whereas when an atheist accepts something his leader (though he wouldn’t admit he even has any leaders) says it counts as free and independent thinking. Nice tight comfortable “argument” involved there methinks. At any rate, subjectivism arises within any open or closed system of thought in which purports compatibility with any and all lifestyles. Is that “concrete” enough?

    Just as an aside, isn’t “metaphysical naturalism” an oxymoron? Anyway…

    I have to admit, the vacuous circularity of the argument is substantially changed by your typographical emendation. It becomes, and let me put this in bold and italics so you won’t misread or skip it this time, completely retarded vacuous circularity.

    It’s more like rhetorically tautological than “vacuous circularity” (though I’m not certain you understand that term). It’s kind of like “All bachelors are males” except it’s “All thinking is dependent brain activity.” At any rate, you have said that “independence and autonomy refer to particular brain states, states that react to the statements of others in a particular way, i.e. not automatically believing them.” So, I’m curious; how does a brain state go about believing or not beliving the statements of others?

    Ref #15

    *clapping* Joyous! I think I will transcribe this conversation and post it on the godexist googlegroup; should be fun times! I’ll stop playing around after this post though and we’ll see where it goes from there.

  • 18. jared  |  December 11, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Jersey,

    I don’t think autonomous independent thinking is evil; I think it is a meaningless crutch that philosphical atheism tries to pretend is solid and sound. I also don’t think eating spoon-fed dogma is healthy if that’s all you eat. I actually find it ironic that Christians will read and respond to atheist’s writings but atheists generally won’t return the favor. Does that mean atheists only read other atheist’s books? How is that not the same thing as eating spoon-fed dogma?

  • 19. Thinking Ape  |  December 12, 2007 at 12:56 am

    Hmmm…”vacuous circularity”, “rhetorically tautological” – wow some big terms in this discussion. Don’t hurt yourselves…Nah, I’m just bugging ya.

    My humble advice to the both of you (jared and barefoot bum), if you want to poo-fling, provide examples, especially when resorting to ad hominem attacks and over-generalized fallacies.

  • 20. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 12, 2007 at 7:07 am

    jared:

    [W]hen an atheist accepts something his leader (though he wouldn’t admit he even has any leaders) says it counts as free and independent thinking.

    If someone makes a case for a proposition which is rationally persuasive on its own merits, I will believe it, regardless of its origin.

    At any rate, subjectivism arises within any open or closed system of thought in which purports compatibility with any and all lifestyles. Is that “concrete” enough?

    It’s concrete, I suppose, but I still don’t know what you mean by “subjectivism”, and I have no idea what it means to discuss how systems of thought purport compatibility with lifestyles.

    So, I’m curious; how does a brain state go about believing or not beliving the statements of others?

    Brain states do not believe or disbelieve. Belief and disbelief are brain states, or, rather, abstract properties of brain states. But trying to discuss a high-level abstraction such as belief in terms of the underlying neurology is as inefficient as trying to discuss the temperature of a gas by enumerating the momentum of each individual particle.

    Let us just say that the skeptic (and all skeptics are atheists, but not the converse) does not believe the content of any statement just because any particular person says it. I might duck if someone says a piano is falling, but I’m also going to look around myself; if I myself do not see a piano falling, I will disbelieve the statement.

    (Note that even believing the statement long enough to duck is not based on just the person saying it; there is a considerable amount of historical evidence that such utterances are at least reliable enough in general to warrant a moderate, immediate response.)

  • 21. the chaplain  |  December 12, 2007 at 9:57 am

    Jared said:
    “I actually find it ironic that Christians will read and respond to atheist’s writings but atheists generally won’t return the favor.”

    Speaking only for myself, I have no interest in reading Christian blogs. I am not interested in inhaling any more of the air that they breathe, as I find it stale and stifling. I’ve spent my entire life hanging around with Christians in person, talking the talk and walking the walk. It’s not like I don’t know what they are saying. Believe me, I do.

    In addition to having no interest in joining Christians’ dialogs, I believe it would be rude of me to go into their space and challenge them about their beliefs. I have no compulsion to be an interloper and I respect their right to discuss issues that are important to them without having an atheist boor crashing their party.

    Finally, and this statement is not about you, I’m sure you’ve noticed that many Christians who comment on atheist blogs are more interested in preaching than in conversing. While dialog is welcome on most atheist blogs I read, preaching is not . I find Christian attempts to convert and re-convert souls for Jesus annoying and impolite, and I definitely will not “return the favor.”

  • 22. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 12, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Churches are not for atheists.

    An experiment in dialog with the religious

    Atheists are pretty much unwelcome in most Christian themed venues. There’s nothing at all objectionable about such exclusion: every person has the right to voluntarily associate — and not associate — with anyone he or she pleases. But it’s dishonest to assert that atheists are unwilling to participate in Christian venues when we are generally excluded.

  • 23. jared  |  December 12, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Thinking Ape,

    Thanks for the check.

    The Barefoot Bum,

    First, in light of Thinking Ape’s advice, allow me to apologize for my previous tone and attitude; hardly becoming of any gentleman and less so of a Christian. Truly, I am sorry.

    If someone makes a case for a proposition which is rationally persuasive on its own merits, I will believe it, regardless of its origin.

    What constitutes rationally persuasive as far as you’re concerned? I mean, if I’m to put a case together I should know what is acceptable and what is not. More importantly, perhaps, though is how do (or can) cases and/or propositions have their “own merits”?

    It’s concrete, I suppose, but I still don’t know what you mean by “subjectivism”, and I have no idea what it means to discuss how systems of thought purport compatibility with lifestyles.

    What I mean by “subjectivism” is, essentially, epistemological pluralism. It’s a worldview, conceptual framework, or system of thougt that is defined by philosophical relativity. I think no matter how you want to spin it it’s just pragmatism wrapped up in various sophistic drapery (e.g. logical positivism, process philosophy/theology, etc.). The pragmatic view would have no need or use for pitting atheism against theism so I see this as an inconsistency on your part given this series of posts; such a pitting even undermines your wager, in its current form at least. It is also why your wager isn’t, as you say, directly normative. It couldn’t be given such an epistemology.

    Brain states do not believe or disbelieve. Belief and disbelief are brain states, or, rather, abstract properties of brain states. But trying to discuss a high-level abstraction such as belief in terms of the underlying neurology is as inefficient as trying to discuss the temperature of a gas by enumerating the momentum of each individual particle.

    And how were these abstract properties of brain states obtained, praytell? By other brain states? And how did those brain states acquire such a capacity or propensity? I don’t think the problem is in trying to discuss high-level abstraction in terms of neurology; rather I think the problem is in the naturalist’s “leap” from non-abstract, non-thinking brain activity to abstract and thinking brain activity. Did rationality and self-awareness just one day “click on”? Think about what you’re saying here, as an atheist, to a theist. You’re saying that rationality can evolve from non-rationality, that self-awareness can come from non-self-awareness. What you’re saying is that brain states can beget something other than brain states, something beyond or above mere synaptic activity. How is that any different from religious faith?

    Atheists are pretty much unwelcome in most Christian themed venues. There’s nothing at all objectionable about such exclusion: every person has the right to voluntarily associate — and not associate — with anyone he or she pleases. But it’s dishonest to assert that atheists are unwilling to participate in Christian venues when we are generally excluded.

    What I mean is that Christian “academics” (as you might scare quote them) take the time to read and respond to atheist literature where as it seems (and, maybe I’m just not aware) that atheists do not take the time to read and respond to theist literature. Or if they do it’s in the form of something like Dawkins’s “The God Delusion”, which is hardly a response at all as much as it is anti-theist propoganda.

    the chaplain,

    Fair enough and noble of you; no one likes trolls (since that’s what they’d probably call you anyways, right?).

  • 24. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 12, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    jared: I’m willing also to bury the hatchet, and I will apologize for my uncharitable remarks.

    What constitutes rationally persuasive as far as you’re concerned?

    That’s a fair question, and I’ll give you a straight answer: It must be the simplest explanation that logically accounts for the facts in evidence. I must be persuaded that the plausible alternative explanations have been thoroughly explored, and I must be persuaded that all the relevant facts have been introduced.

    I’m going to be especially alert for enthymemes, implicit assumptions that are left unstated. So long as the enthymemes are consistent across competing explanations, they are benign; but enthymemes particular to one explanation should be made explicit, as they accrue to the evaluation of simplicity.

    What I mean by “subjectivism” is, essentially, epistemological pluralism.

    That I can understand, and I’m no fan of epistemic pluralism. Phenomenalism aside, to be known means to be known, at least in principle, equally by all.

    It’s a worldview, conceptual framework, or system of thougt that is defined by philosophical relativity.

    I think you are conflating relativism with pluralism. Relativism simply means that, to be true, a predicate must be stated as a relation. For instance, “to the left of”, “faster than”, or “taller than” are relations, not intrinsic properties. Even though they are relative, there is no actual pluralism.

    The pragmatic view would have no need or use for pitting atheism against theism.

    I disagree. Pragmatism in the philosophical sense means “relative to outcome”. Given that the way believers construct their notion of “god” has particular consequences for our moral, ethical, legal and often epistemic thought and behavior, the existence of god has considerable pragmatic import.

    such a pitting even undermines your wager, in its current form at least.

    It’s not my wager. I didn’t write it, I didn’t publish it, I had no hand in its construction. I’m only a commenter here, just as you are; I’m not a contributor.

    And how were these abstract properties of brain states obtained, praytell?

    Abstractions are a matter of considerable controversy in philosophy. At the very least, no one is entitled to take issues of abstraction as settled.

    To some extent, our statements about ordinary macroscopic entities such as rocks and trees are statements about abstract entities: more-or-less arbitrary denoted collections of fundamental particles (or whatever it is that the present quantum mechanical theory considers fundamental entities).

    Abstract entities have emergent properties. For instance, none of the parts of a bus have the ability to carry people from one place to another, but the bus as an abstract entity does have such ability: The ability is an emergent property of the abstract entity.

    The fallacies of reification, composition and decomposition are well-understood, at least for ordinary things.

    What I mean is that Christian “academics” (as you might scare quote them) take the time to read and respond to atheist literature where as it seems (and, maybe I’m just not aware) that atheists do not take the time to read and respond to theist literature.

    The counterexample of the Biblical Criticism and Archeology forum at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board springs immediately to mind. Otherwise, I would have to see a survey of philosophical literature to be persuaded of this point.

    Much of the theist academic literature I’ve read is nonsensical if you do not accept some sort of theism and scriptural authority a priori; since I do not accept scriptural authority a priori, there is little I can contribute.

  • 25. jared  |  December 13, 2007 at 12:29 am

    The Barefoot Bum,

    It must be the simplest explanation that logically accounts for the facts in evidence. I must be persuaded that the plausible alternative explanations have been thoroughly explored, and I must be persuaded that all the relevant facts have been introduced.

    Hmm, I have asked the question incorrectly. What you are essentially saying here is that you are the final arbiter of any given case (or of any case presented to you in particular), are you not? The variables of “explored alternative explainations” and “introduced relevant facts” are then slaves to your fiat. However, I think you being persuaded or not is hardly relevant to whether something is rational or irrational, wouldn’t you agree? Perhaps I should have left off “as far as you’re concerned” when asking my question. I think this will put us on a less arbitrary path. Also, why must it be the simplest explaination? Logic certainly isn’t alwas simple and neither are arguments.

    I think you are conflating relativism with pluralism. Relativism simply means that, to be true, a predicate must be stated as a relation. For instance, “to the left of”, “faster than”, or “taller than” are relations, not intrinsic properties. Even though they are relative, there is no actual pluralism.

    Not so much conflating as loosely associating. Relativism leads to pluralism and epistemic pluralism is dependent on epistemic relativity. Relativistic concepts of truth and knowledge are understood as relative to one’s experience of the “qualia” of reality, we must necessarily concede the inherent validity of all other views; hence pluralism. While you claim to be no friend of epistemic pluralism, I don’t see how you can really avoid it without some pretty fancy first-order footwork or by appealing to an external authority (e.g. God).

    Pragmatism in the philosophical sense means “relative to outcome”. Given that the way believers construct their notion of “god” has particular consequences for our moral, ethical, legal and often epistemic thought and behavior, the existence of god has considerable pragmatic import.

    But the existence of god doesn’t have considerable pragmatic import since you are seemingly able to come to many of the same conclusions that believers do all the while avoiding the supernatural. If pragmatism means “relative to outcome” how is it not epistemically pluralistic? “Relative to outcome” is only the latter half of pragmatism; the former half is about truth and meaning. Pragmatism rests upon the notion of conceptual relativity as far as truth and meaning are concerned. This, in turn, results in a plurality of epistemologies which can be neither validated or invalidated from the “outside.”

    To some extent, our statements about ordinary macroscopic entities such as rocks and trees are statements about abstract entities: more-or-less arbitrary denoted collections of fundamental particles (or whatever it is that the present quantum mechanical theory considers fundamental entities).

    Abstract entities have emergent properties. For instance, none of the parts of a bus have the ability to carry people from one place to another, but the bus as an abstract entity does have such ability: The ability is an emergent property of the abstract entity.

    This is textbook pragmatism in full swing, miracles and all. Your first paragraph here says that there is no such thing as “rocks” and “trees” except by a general consensus to linguistically and conceptually label the external sense-datum as such. The most important miracle, of course, is that there is any consensus at all among such diverse and unique cognitive apparati. The smaller miracles involve conceptual metaphors that I’m not sure pragmatism even allows for; metaphors such as words being “vessels” that “carry” knowledge and propositions being “chained” together into arguments and conclusions.

    Even if we grant that abstract entities have emergent properties how are these properties to be logically or rationally determined or identified in concrete terms without some external revelation? Once again we see pragamatism’s conceptual relativity rear its ugly head. What you and I might call a rock some other group might call a tree and we could not appeal to any absolute authority to decide who is right and who is wrong: hence pluralism, we’re both right and that’s okay. How do you avoid this?

    The counterexample of the Biblical Criticism and Archeology forum at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board springs immediately to mind. Otherwise, I would have to see a survey of philosophical literature to be persuaded of this point.

    Much of the theist academic literature I’ve read is nonsensical if you do not accept some sort of theism and scriptural authority a priori; since I do not accept scriptural authority a priori, there is little I can contribute.

    Fair enough.

  • 26. jared  |  December 13, 2007 at 12:31 am

    Forgot to close my tags at the end of that first paragraph, doh!

  • 27. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 13, 2007 at 1:53 am

    jared: It would be better, I think, if you made fewer assertions and more explicit arguments. It’s really not fair to make me do the heavy lifting and try to infer your underlying arguments from your bare assertions.

    What you are essentially saying here is that you are the final arbiter of any given case (or of any case presented to you in particular), are you not?

    Well, fundamentally it is I who will believe or disbelieve: no one can do that for me. However, facts are those statements which are uncontroversially accepted, and logic and counting are deterministic (i.e. both of us will always get the exactly same answer if we use the same premises and rules of inference), so it’s not like I’m dictating what other people rationally believe in this sense. If two people are rational in this sense, and have the same facts, it’s logically impossible to come up with different answers.

    The variables of “explored alternative explainations” and “introduced relevant facts” are then slaves to your fiat.

    You’re simply being perverse. I deliberately phrased these provisos to be inclusive: I want all the facts, all the possible explanations, and the relevance or irrelevance of any fact is logically entailed by all the theories: If all of the theories entail neither the fact or its inverse, the fact is irrelevant.

    Every step is deterministic. The only uncertainty is whether we have considered all the theories. But all that’s necessary to consider a new alternative is to introduce it.

    Also, why must it be the simplest explaination?

    Without this stricture, there are an infinite number of theories to explain any set of facts: The laws of physics plus one invisible elf, plus two invisible elves, etc. Occam’s Razor, don’tcha know.

    Relativism leads to pluralism and epistemic pluralism is dependent on epistemic relativity.

    Epistemic relativism, in the sense that knowledge is relative to individual opinion, does indeed lead to epistemic pluralism, that we all “know” different, mutually contradictory things. But relativism in general does not necessarily lead to pluralism: For example, the idea that there is no such thing as absolute velocity, that velocity is a relation between objects, just leads to the truth that space-time separation is invariant, not plural.

    Relativistic concepts of truth and knowledge are understood as relative to one’s experience of the “qualia” of reality, we must necessarily concede the inherent validity of all other views; hence pluralism.

    This is a nonsequitur and equivocation: That any person’s knowledge is relative to his “qualia” does not entail that all views are inherently valid. If you’re going to reduce to phenomenalism, then no one has direct access to anyone else’s “views” in the same sense that he has access to his own qualia. The relation between knowledge and qualia is established because an individual has access to nothing but his own qualia.

    This relation does not entail a contradiction, only the perhaps uncomfortable conclusion that one can never be certain one is sane, but that’s philosophy for you.

    Note that God does not provide this certainty: If it were the case that it was good for God to lie to us, God might well lie to us about value of lying. So even if you assume a God, you still can’t be certain you know anything. And it would be cheating to posit certainty to conclude certainty.

    While you claim to be no friend of epistemic pluralism, I don’t see how you can really avoid it without some pretty fancy first-order footwork or by appealing to an external authority (e.g. God).

    The inference that an external reality exists and causes my perceptual experiences is a prosaic rational explanation to explain and predict my those experiences. It’s hard to see because (again the best scientific explanation) our brains have evolved to draw this inference automatically, it’s not done consciously.

    But the existence of god doesn’t have considerable pragmatic import since you are seemingly able to come to many of the same conclusions that believers do all the while avoiding the supernatural.

    Indeed. One wonders why people would be so often impelled to murderous zealotry by an essentially meaningless concept. But so they are (and, admittedly for other reasons as well) so the issue is at least of political import.

    If pragmatism means “relative to outcome” how is it not epistemically pluralistic?

    I don’t understand your objection here. Any specific outcome is typically singular, not plural (assuming we share the same reality, or at least compatible delusions thereof); the idea that different outcomes have different causal explanations or that one might have a different ethical evaluation of different outcomes seems trivially benign.

    Your first paragraph here says that there is no such thing as “rocks” and “trees” except by a general consensus to linguistically and conceptually label the external sense-datum as such.

    You’re reading too much Quine. The cognitive picture is not quite so oversimplified. We are not labeling sense-data directly, rather we are labeling some sort of cognitive entity that relates to both sense- and memory-data in particular ways. There is no contradiction.

    The most important miracle, of course, is that there is any consensus at all among such diverse and unique cognitive apparati.

    ‘Tis certainly “surprising” in the scientific sense. The consensus does stand in need of rational, scientific explanation. The simplest explanation is that a reality external to our thoughts actually exists and has a causal relation to our thoughts.

    The smaller miracles involve conceptual metaphors that I’m not sure pragmatism even allows for; metaphors such as words being “vessels” that “carry” knowledge and propositions being “chained” together into arguments and conclusions.

    You seem to insist that if I use a term, I necessarily concur with everything (or at least much of) whatever concepts other philosophers have attached to that term. I consider James no more a prophet than I do Jesus, and if James said something dumb about pragmatism, I feel no need to endorse his error by using the term in a narrower sense.

    As a computer programmer, I understand pretty thoroughly precisely how messages work, from the abstract level of how they have meaning down to the quantum mechanical physics underlying the whole process. I obviously cannot solve the Schroedinger equation for the whole internet, and the details would require several textbooks, but the physical story is well understood and validated at each level by direct experiment. The best evidence I can offer in this venue is that both of our computers understand in a nontrivial sense the meaning of the HTML tags in each other’s comments.

    It’s a pity that more philosophers don’t study computer science, advanced mathematics and/or experimental science, but what can I do?

    Even if we grant that abstract entities have emergent properties how are these properties to be logically or rationally determined or identified in concrete terms without some external revelation?

    In one sense, read Popper. In another sense, study evolution.

    What you and I might call a rock some other group might call a tree and we could not appeal to any absolute authority to decide who is right and who is wrong: hence pluralism, we’re both right and that’s okay. How do you avoid this?

    In what sense does the case of me calling it a rock and someone else calling it a tree differ from the case of me calling it a a rock and someone else calling it a βράχος? What absolute authority do we appeal to determine who is using the correct word?

    In the non-trivial sense, the hypothesis that an external reality exists and causes our perceptions, along with the added hypothesis other people have minds which interact with reality in similar ways is the simplest logical explanation. Why do we need to invoke a mystical sky fairy to substantiate a mystical premise that can be dispensed with entirely?

    But enough about me: I’d like to hear your ideas about rationality.

  • 28. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 13, 2007 at 2:00 am

    I have, BTW, read a considerable amount of Swinburne and Plantinga, as well as Van Til and Bahnsen, as well as other academic theists who at least attempt in some sense to speak to atheists and skeptics (in the case of Van Til, not without theistic presuppositions, of course). One of these days, if I ever re-open my blog, I might address them directly.

    Of course, such work would never be published professionally, as I’m not an academic.

  • 29. jared  |  December 13, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    The Barefoot Bum,

    It would be better, I think, if you made fewer assertions and more explicit arguments. It’s really not fair to make me do the heavy lifting and try to infer your underlying arguments from your bare assertions.

    It may not be “fair” (whatever that means) but it’s certainly more fun, for me at any rate. ;-) I’ll see what I can do about making more explicit arguments.

    Well, fundamentally it is I who will believe or disbelieve: no one can do that for me. However, facts are those statements which are uncontroversially accepted, and logic and counting are deterministic (i.e. both of us will always get the exactly same answer if we use the same premises and rules of inference), so it’s not like I’m dictating what other people rationally believe in this sense. If two people are rational in this sense, and have the same facts, it’s logically impossible to come up with different answers.

    I presume that self-awareness is also just another brain state on your account, is that correct? You have said that belief and disbelief are brain states and I don’t know how “I” could be understood apart from also being a brain state (or conglomeration of brain states?); especially if you have beliefs and knowledge about yourself (there are a great deal of other questions that could, and probably should, be asked here). My point is that, whether I have the tightest logic or not, you (or the brain state “I”) are the one who must be persuaded and you are the one that decides when and if you are persuaded. Though I have the most plain and obvious proven truth (to me), if you remain unpersuaded then, for you, it is not truth and not proven (nor is it plain and obvious); right? So, not only truth but logic and rationality become a matter of personal opinion. Such a position can only maintain a facade of objectivity, wouldn’t you agree?

    You say that “facts” are “statements which are uncontroversially accepted” but do you actually believe this? For example, there is a very large and diverse community of people who, without controversy, accept the existence of a triune God. Does that mean the existence of this God is a fact? I’m thinking that “uncontroversially accepted” is a bit vague, or ambiguous.. maybe both.

    You’re simply being perverse. I deliberately phrased these provisos to be inclusive: I want all the facts, all the possible explanations, and the relevance or irrelevance of any fact is logically entailed by all the theories: If all of the theories entail neither the fact or its inverse, the fact is irrelevant.

    Every step is deterministic. The only uncertainty is whether we have considered all the theories. But all that’s necessary to consider a new alternative is to introduce it.

    This is pretty much an impossibility, at least given the topics we’re discussing, isn’t it? How would you ever learn anything with such stringent criteria? More importantly, where do you find the time! I’m not entirely sure how I was being perverse but surely this is far more so.

    Epistemic relativism, in the sense that knowledge is relative to individual opinion, does indeed lead to epistemic pluralism, that we all “know” different, mutually contradictory things. But relativism in general does not necessarily lead to pluralism: For example, the idea that there is no such thing as absolute velocity, that velocity is a relation between objects, just leads to the truth that space-time separation is invariant, not plural.

    I can concede that relativism in general does not necessarily lead to pluralism, it does no damage to my presentation. We aren’t speaking about relativism in general, though, we are speaking about philosophy in general and the place that relativism holds therein. Specifically we are speaking about epistemology. I thought I had made that clear in the paragraph that follows the sentence you’re responding to here.

    This is a nonsequitur and equivocation: That any person’s knowledge is relative to his “qualia” does not entail that all views are inherently valid. If you’re going to reduce to phenomenalism, then no one has direct access to anyone else’s “views” in the same sense that he has access to his own qualia. The relation between knowledge and qualia is established because an individual has access to nothing but his own qualia.

    Asserting that I’m mistaken isn’t helpful, neither is counter-asserting without support. I don’t see how naturalism can logically be reduced to anything but phenomenalism. If you think about it, naturalism presupposes the truth of phenomenalism. More to the point, because a person’s knowledge is limited to their individual experiences and because no one can claim their individual experience as definitive, yes, we necessarily conclude the validity of all perspectives. To what can we appeal as an authority to avoid such a conclusion?

    Note that God does not provide this certainty: If it were the case that it was good for God to lie to us, God might well lie to us about value of lying. So even if you assume a God, you still can’t be certain you know anything. And it would be cheating to posit certainty to conclude certainty.

    In fact God does provide this certainty. He is an outside-our-perspective to which we can appeal when questions arise about who is right and who is wrong. Why? Because He is always right (it’s part of what it means to be God). To use some terminology from my college (which I think you can follow), God has/is the “meta-narrative” by which all other narratives (namely ours) can be compared and checked. Of course there is a host of other assumptions here, but in the end, unlike with naturalism, phenomenalism or pragmatism, certainty is provided nevertheless.

    I’ve more to say but not the time to say it presently.

  • 30. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 13, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Let’s stick to phenomenalism for the nonce.

    I don’t see how naturalism can logically be reduced to anything but phenomenalism.

    Neither do I.

    More to the point, because a person’s knowledge is limited to their individual experiences and because no one can claim their individual experience as definitive, yes, we necessarily conclude the validity of all perspectives.

    Your mistake is bolded. Under phenomenalism, one necessarily claims her own experience as definitive, because there is nothing else.

    Since I cannot experience your experiences, your experiences cannot be just as valid as mine, at least not to me.

    You’re mixing contexts and levels again. At the phenomenal level, yes, all “knowledge” is subjective and personal; the subjective and personal is all that’s taken as foundational in phenomenalism.

    Based on that personal, subjective experience, we all subconsciously form the scientific theory that objects outside our minds exist, other people exist, they have views, those views have specific content, and all of these externals interact with our subjective experiences in causal ways.

    We cannot be certain of the truth of these hypotheses, but they are falsifiable and we can thus evaluate their reliability, and they are very reliable. That’s what happens when we learn language: If we attach the “right” word to some experiences, we experience a confirmation (hearing the same word repeated); if we attach the wrong word, we experience a correction (hearing a different word).

    At this more abstract level, the concept of public knowledge, knowledge communicable by words emerges. At this point, we rely on ideas like “uncontroversial acceptance” and “logic”, all of which can in principle be reduced to a (rather elaborate and boring) phenomenal story.

    Like I said, the phenomenal story about how we come to beliefs about external reality and other people is elaborate and boring. Furthermore, it’s done more-or-less automatically by our brains: Our language-using consciousness depends almost exclusively on this pre-packaged reality.

    You haven’t yet shown a contradiction. Really, your arguments seem to come down to arguments from ignorance and/or incredulity. Your argument sounds like, “A computer only deals in bits and addition: How could it possibly understand grammar and spelling? There must be a person inside my word processor correcting my grammar and spelling. And unless you can produce the entire source code to Microsoft Word, I’m not going to take your word for it. (And even if you could, it’s too long to read: How can I be certain that source code works the way Microsoft Word seems to work on my computer.)

    Perhaps phenomenalism does come down to pluralism. I don’t think it does, but let’s suppose it does. What should give way? “singularism” or phenomenalism?

  • 31. jared  |  December 14, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    The Barefoot Bum,

    Your mistake is bolded. Under phenomenalism, one necessarily claims her own experience as definitive, because there is nothing else.

    Since I cannot experience your experiences, your experiences cannot be just as valid as mine, at least not to me.

    By “definitive” I was attempting to imply a notion of authority, but I suppose the mistake on my part stands either way since one would necessarily claim their own experience as authoritative as well. So the real problem, then, becomes a matter of consensus. How does it occur? Or, more to the point, how could it occur? If everyone’s experience is authoritative (or definitive) for themselves then the reliability of any one, or any collective of ones, is dubious by all (or any) other accounts. Since we all see through our own lenses, any sort of substantial agreement between individual experiences could only come about via epistemic pluralism and that’s what we’re trying to avoid, right? So what’s the solution?

    At the phenomenal level, yes, all “knowledge” is subjective and personal; the subjective and personal is all that’s taken as foundational in phenomenalism.

    Based on that personal, subjective experience, we all subconsciously form the scientific theory that objects outside our minds exist, other people exist, they have views, those views have specific content, and all of these externals interact with our subjective experiences in causal ways.

    This is a novel explaination given the individuality (and plurality) of knowledge. How is it that you (or humanity at large, for that matter) came to this revelation that “we all subconciously form the scientific theory that objects outside our minds exist”? Of course, such a theory is the supposed solution to the above problem of epistemic plurality. After al,l experience an external reality then, even if we experience it differently, we at least have the external reality in common. Right? The problem is that the existence of an external reality cannot be grounds for assuming any sort of common experience. So how do we solve this problem?

    We cannot be certain of the truth of these hypotheses, but they are falsifiable and we can thus evaluate their reliability, and they are very reliable. That’s what happens when we learn language: If we attach the “right” word to some experiences, we experience a confirmation (hearing the same word repeated); if we attach the wrong word, we experience a correction (hearing a different word).

    At this more abstract level, the concept of public knowledge, knowledge communicable by words emerges. At this point, we rely on ideas like “uncontroversial acceptance” and “logic”, all of which can in principle be reduced to a (rather elaborate and boring) phenomenal story.

    Now we’re getting somewhere. You say we can’t be certain of these hypotheses (by which I take you to be referring to the aforementioned scientific theory and all that follows) yet they are falsifiable? Doesn’t “falsifiability” imply some sort or form of certainty in one way or the other? Doesn’t “reliability” imply the same? So whence this certainty? I suppose the pointed question here is whether or not the theory that “objects exist outside our minds” is falsifiable. If it isn’t, then what justification do we have for accepting it? You seem to be saying that because this theory is subconcious we don’t have any choice about accepting it or not, which is pretty convenient for you. Christians have a similar theory about the existence of God (you can find it in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome) which, of course, is pretty convenient for us.

    The language bit is another whole ball game in and of itself. At the phenomenal level (which really is the important level here) it’s a miracle that language functions or even exists at all. It’s even more of a miracle that a common language “arose” and gave way to communication. In spite of our personalized and internally bound experience of an external reality, no less. Clearly it happened though, because, well, here we are and there’s no other logical explaination. What I find interesting, here, is that the theist and the atheist make the exact same argument just in different ways. The atheist says science doesn’t know yet (and can’t say with any certainty that science ever will know). The theist says God knows (and it isn’t important if we ever find out because God would have a way to reveal it if we were meant to know). So both the atheist and the theist are “working on it” with no guarantees that a solution will be obtained.

    You haven’t yet shown a contradiction. Really, your arguments seem to come down to arguments from ignorance and/or incredulity. Your argument sounds like, “A computer only deals in bits and addition: How could it possibly understand grammar and spelling? There must be a person inside my word processor correcting my grammar and spelling. And unless you can produce the entire source code to Microsoft Word, I’m not going to take your word for it. (And even if you could, it’s too long to read: How can I be certain that source code works the way Microsoft Word seems to work on my computer.)

    We’ll get to the contradictions soon enough or, rather, you will see them soon enough (or not, I suppose, depending on which brain states are operating when/while you read this…). Computers deal with ones and zeroes, though I suspect you know better than me about those sorts of things. However my question is valid: how does a computer understand grammer and spelling? Properly speaking a computer doesn’t “understand” at all, it doesn’t have an epistemology (or any other theories for that matter). At least, nothing of the sort that is not pre-determined by some outside entity (yet another argument for theism, perhaps?). I understand that it is possible to break down rules of grammer and spelling vocabularies into ones and zereos such that it appears as though there’s a person inside my computer checking those things. Are you saying here that self-consciousness, logic, thougt, etc. are merely appearances brought about by phenomenal activity? This does not bode well. Dennett was required reading in both my philosophy of mind and philosophy of language classes (“The Mind’s ‘I'” and “Language and Reality” respectively, both quite delectible reads if you haven’t read them yet) and I don’t think there’s much to his deflationary view of self.

    Perhaps phenomenalism does come down to pluralism. I don’t think it does, but let’s suppose it does. What should give way? “singularism” or phenomenalism?

    I’m not sure what you mean by “singularism” unless you mean the opposite of pluralism. In which case I think phenomenalism should give way. If there is one correct view of knowledge then we have a reference point and a way to really falsify other theories and views, e.g. as they are out of accord with the reference point. This seems like a better, less complicated setup than phenomenalism; Occam and all that you know.

  • 32. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 14, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    jared:

    So the real problem, then, becomes a matter of consensus. How does it occur? Or, more to the point, how could it occur?

    ‘Tis an excellent, deep and perspicacious question, especially the second part: How could consensus occur? Because you are correct: That any sort of consensus could occur is definitely not entailed by phenomenalism.

    First of all, it’s important to note that each of us does conclude that some consensus is typically achieved. If I see a tree, and I think about seeing a tree in words, and I hear you talking, I hear the same words as I’m thinking. Mirabile dictu! you’re reading my mind!

    It’s equally important, though, that it’s not always the case that I hear the same words that I’m thinking. If it were always the case that I hear the same words that I’m thinking, the explanation would be simple: hearing and thinking are so tightly correlated that there would be no justification for hypothesizing some external agent to say the words. I would just conclude that thinking and hearing were somehow “echoes” of each other.

    Hearing and thinking are too closely correlated to be completely independent of each other, but they are not so closely correlated that we can just take them to be the “same”.

    It is the precise degree of correlation, and the specific conditions that affect the correlation, that stands in need of explanation, and the more precisely the explanation matches our actual experience, the better it is. It’s not enough, for instance to say, “If thus-and-such, then hearing and thought should sometimes be correlated.” It’s better to say, “If this that and the other, then hearing and thought will be correlated, but if this and that but not the other, then hearing and thought will not be correlated. (And if not this and that, then hearing and thought would be intermittently correlated, regardless of the other, and that’s not the case.)”

    We cannot deduce from the foundations of phenomenalism any explanation at all for the precise details of these correlations. We have to introduce new, non-foundational assumptions, which are not themselves deduced from anything. But if we can’t deduce them, how do we tell the difference between “true” assumptions and “false” assumptions. The only answer is to try them out and see if they result in “ouch” or “yum”. When we feel an “ouch”, we change our assumptions until we feel “yum”.

    I’m doing precisely what I’ve objected to in the past: Crossing levels and speaking metaphorically. I do ask your forgiveness, I’m trying to get across the gist of a couple of centuries worth of phenomenalism in a few paragraphs. I don’t intend this exposition to be an argument (or at least not a complete argument), and I’ll happily clarify anything that appears dodgy.

    Even so a careful reader willing to cut me some explanatory slack should still be outraged and incredulous at the above explanation. “It’s a wonderful story,” you might say, “but I certainly didn’t test out a gazillion assumptions until I hit by chance on the notions of ‘external reality’ and ‘other people.’ And how could I have? That sort of process would take a hundred million years, and I’m under a hundred.”

    Furthermore, there is the richness and detail of our subjective experience. I can see colors and shapes, distinguish thousands of smells, hear a variety of sounds, some musical, some discordant, I can feel different textures, sense hot and cold, and so forth. Where did all that subjective experience come from?

    The answer to both questions is, of course, evolution. Now we’re talking about a time-scale on the hundreds of millions of years, instead of tens of years, and trillions of individuals, not just one. We ourselves as individuals do not go through the trial and error process to get to a notion of external reality — that work has been built into the structure of our brains by the trial-and-error (the trial being random mutation and the error being natural selection) process of evolution.

    We can see in nature even today brains that are at various step sof the process, from the simplest “ouch/calm” neurology of sponges, to insects with hard-coded behavior patterns, to birds and mammals capable of learning through repetition, and through to humans, capable of verbal communication, introspection and general intelligence.

    To make a long story short (too late!), we could get a consensus if an external physical reality exists, we ourselves, our minds, and other people and their minds are physically real, this reality causally affects our minds in consistent ways. And we have hit on all the cognitive tools necessary to construct and evaluate that explanation by evolution.

  • 33. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 14, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    (I also hope you’ll forgive me, jared, for not responding directly to your other questions and issues. Some, I think, are implicitly addressed by my last comment, but some are not. I wanted to focus my rather lengthy remarks on the issues stemming directly from phenomenalism. Perhaps we’ll get to some of the other issues another day.)

  • 34. jared  |  December 16, 2007 at 1:38 am

    The Barefoot Bum,

    Tis an excellent, deep and perspicacious question, especially the second part: How could consensus occur? Because you are correct: That any sort of consensus could occur is definitely not entailed by phenomenalism.

    That any sort of consensus could occur is impossible via phenomenalism. Time can not be a factor in the equation at this level because no amount of time could ever change the subjectivity of the internal experience. Language could not develope without getting some sort of consensus between two or more subjective experiences and there’s simply no way that could happen. It seems as though you are arguing here that “Well, it has happened (or evolution shows it happened) and now here we are.” but this is not an argument at all. Appealing to evolution (or to trial and error over large periods of time) is simply a deus ex machina solution to the problem; it doesn’t explain anything, yet it explains everything. Evolution, then, is your version of what theism calls god. Comparitively speaking, I think the theory of evolution (and phenomenalism in particular), as a starting point, raises more questions and problems than affirming the existence of a deity as a starting point; especially so if that deity is the God of Scripture (but I suppose that is Christian bias on my part).

    We cannot deduce from the foundations of phenomenalism any explanation at all for the precise details of these correlations. We have to introduce new, non-foundational assumptions, which are not themselves deduced from anything. But if we can’t deduce them, how do we tell the difference between “true” assumptions and “false” assumptions. The only answer is to try them out and see if they result in “ouch” or “yum”. When we feel an “ouch”, we change our assumptions until we feel “yum”.

    The reason we can’t deduce any explainations is because such correlations are impossible given the phenomenal subjective experience. I will happily concede that these correlations would be the result of consensus between two parties but such consensus is precisely the problem. Your “ouch” might be my “yum” and we would never be able to communicate that between us unless we assume a common experience beforehand; the fact that we experience a common reality is, as I pointed out earlier, quite irrelevant if we don’t experience that reality in a similar way. Do you see the real problem here? To get any consensus requires (1) that the two parties make the same assumption(s) about how they experience reality and (2) that they are able to communicate this assumption between themselves. The ability to communicate this assumption, however, requires that some consensus already be in place prior to the assumption that the two parties are experiencing similarly. No amount of time is going to circumvent this problem.

    In my “academic” opinion I say that phenomenalism as an epistemology was basically killed along with logical positivism back in the middle of the 20th century, shortly after it had arisen through the efforts of the Vienna Circle. Ironically, I think the only coherent version of phenomenalism was Berkeley’s and he needed God for it to work too.

    To make a long story short (too late!), we could get a consensus if an external physical reality exists, we ourselves, our minds, and other people and their minds are physically real, this reality causally affects our minds in consistent ways. And we have hit on all the cognitive tools necessary to construct and evaluate that explanation by evolution.

    You could have saved yourself a lot of time if you had written this first. ;-)

    So, an external physical reality exists. We ourselves, our minds and other people and their minds exist. The external reality does, indeed, causally affect our minds in consistent ways. Given all of these, it is still not possible (again, no matter how much time is “provided”) to hit on those cognitive tools necessary for consensus. Of course, the necessary cognitive tool in this instance is a common language. The problem, once again, is that consensus is necessary for a common language, that a common language is necessary for consensus and that “time” cannot produce either and, somehow, bestow it on two or more persons at any given moment. To assume that evolution has (miraculously) provided the answer is to assume that which needs to be proven. If I’m not allowed to do that, then neither are you.

  • 35. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 16, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    That any sort of consensus could occur is impossible via phenomenalism.

    A bold assertion indeed. Let’s examine the argument.

    Time can not be a factor in the equation at this level because no amount of time could ever change the subjectivity of the internal experience.

    The definition of phenomenalism I’m using is that subjective experience exists and that only subjective experience can be foundational to an individual’s theory of knowledge. Note that phenomenalism differs from solipsism: Solipsism holds that only subjective experience exists.

    There are three ways to interpret this assertion. “Consensus” specifically is uninteresting: as I explained in my previous post, all I need to mean by “consensus” is that I hear the same words that I think. Rather, let’s move down a level to the more refractory notion of “external reality”.

    First, that any sort of notion of an external reality cannot be deduced from experience. Agreed. Deductivism is right out. But deductivism is not the whole story, and has intractable foundational problems.

    Second, you might say that any sort of notion of external reality is not somehow “justifiable” from experience: to conclude some sort of “external reality”, a phenomenalist must have a non-subjective experience. Well, it’s certainly the case that a non-subjective experience is a contradiction in phenomenalism, but the initial entailment is suspect: why should I, a good phenomenalist, commit to a non-subjective experience as being the sine qua non of external reality?

    As I understand external (social) reality, all I have to do is justify the ideas that external reality exists, other people exist in external reality, other people have subjective experience, and in specific cases other people’s subjective experiences somehow determinably correspond to my own. And I have to justify these ideas in a determinable way employing as a foundation only my own subjective experience.

    But this task is doable: External (social) reality (in the sense described in the above paragraph) is the simplest hypothetical theory that explains my subjective experiences. My subjective experiences are given, and “simplest” and “explains” are determinable.

    (I appeal, BTW, to evolution to respond to the sound argument that there wouldn’t be sufficient time for an individual to hit on this hypothetical theory by sheer chance.)

    Third, you might be making a semantic argument: You might be arguing that, if all the phenomenalist has is internal, subjective experience, how can he construct any sort of meaning of the antonyms “external” and “objective” (on which consensus depends)? How can a phenomenalist justify or not justify concepts that are (or seem) inherently meaningless?

    The answer is that “external” references a particular difference in our experiences, and the apprehension of a difference in experience is itself an experience. “External” means, in a phenomenal sense, something like “not immediately dependent on my will” (perhaps with additional provisos).

    It is indeed the case that solipsism is not absolutely excluded by phenomenalism. I might say only that I have these kinds of experiences and those kinds of experiences, I have these (will-dependent) thoughts and those (will-independent) thoughts. But the phenomenal solipsist thinks and behaves in every nontrivial way in the same way (or a determinably corresponding way) as the phenomenal realist.

    Indeed the phenomenal solipsist thinks and behaves in the same way as the metaphysical realist! The only difference is in the choice of a few labels, the selection of a few metaphors. All that the different labels “explain” is the choice of labels.

    Comparitively speaking, I think the theory of evolution (and phenomenalism in particular), as a starting point, raises more questions and problems than affirming the existence of a deity as a starting point; especially so if that deity is the God of Scripture (but I suppose that is Christian bias on my part).

    The source of your ideas is irrelevant to their meaning, truth or falsity. So I’ll examine the content of your ideas without regard to their source.

    First, phenomenalism is a starting point, but the theory of evolution is not in any sense a starting point. It’s a conclusion that rests on a huge amount of evidence, many underlying hypotheses and more primitive confirmed theories.

    Second, it’s unclear how one can start with a deity in any sense, much less start with a scripturally defined deity, at least not in the cognitive sense. In the temporal sense, you must have a notion of what “deity” means before you can affirm its existence. The scriptural sense is even more puzzling to affirm as a starting point: You have to learn to physically manipulate books, then learn language, then learn how to read, and then physically read the scripture, and then learn how to interpret the scripture. And only then can you even form a notion of what this scriptural deity is, much less believe it.

    One can, of course, start with the notion of a God in a logical sense of holding notions about god as axioms. But then you get into the foundation problem. The only way to justify an axiom is if it’s somehow “self-evident”. Self-evidence is categorically problematic, not just in theism, and it’s hard to see how a concept that requires years of cognitive preparation to even apprehend can be considered “self-evident” in even the loosest sense.

    I reject deductivism precisely because the problem of justifying axioms, at least axioms capable of doing any kind of useful work, is not just problematic but impossible. Experience might be self-evident if only because so many of my experiences seem to be shoved down my cognitive throat, but the failure of naive empiricism persuades me that these experiences are too complex to be used as axioms under deductivism.

    Thus I employ evidentialism, and I’m happy to evaluate your notions of god in an evidentiary manner. You need not directly justify your axioms, you may call them hypotheses, but you must give a theory of evidence, present the evidence, and show that your hypotheses form the simplest theory that explains the evidence.

  • 36. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 16, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    I reject deductivism precisely because the problem of directly justifying axioms as self-evident… [is] impossible.

  • 37. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 16, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Given all of these, it is still not possible (again, no matter how much time is “provided”) to hit on those cognitive tools necessary for consensus. Of course, the necessary cognitive tool in this instance is a common language. The problem, once again, is that consensus is necessary for a common language, that a common language is necessary for consensus and that “time” cannot produce either and, somehow, bestow it on two or more persons at any given moment.

    This is where I think you’re going wrong. A consensus is not “necessary for” a common language: A common language is a consensus. In another sense, the only precondition necessary for a common language is common perception (which is a consensus), which is granted by our hypothesis of an external, causal reality, and justified by the evidence of our experience. There’s no strange loop, no chicken-and-egg issue; everything flows in one direction from the hypothesis of a external (and therefore common) causal reality.

  • 38. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 17, 2007 at 9:31 am

    jared: If you’re still reading this thread, I think we should simply leave off pretty much where we are, and try to pick up the discussion in a more congenial venue. If you have your own blog, link to it here and I would be happy to pick up the discussion there.

  • 39. jared  |  December 20, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    The Barefoot Bum,

    Still here. Sorry I haven’t had the time to respond at length, having a baby is like having a full-time job in addition to what I do for money. Actually, it’s more like an all-the-time-except-for-when-I’m-at-work sort of thing…

    I’ll see what I can do about moving the discussion over to my blog though; I’d like to fish a little more in this pond. Thanks for your time, patience and interaction thus far.

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