TWIM / RvA Dialog II

jim at RvA has responded to Asteroids, Cathode Rays & Requisite Knowledge, Pt. II, and once again, my response follows.

This time, jim begins with an excellent summary of a baseline belief I actually do hold:

To be fair, and considering his use of the qualifiers ‘objective’ and ‘undeniable’, I believe he’s saying that in terms of ultimate belief regarding the nature of reality, it is impossible to come to a categorically unassailable conclusion about ANYTHING, short of confining arguments to the rather artificial structure of a deductive syllogism.

That's exactly what I'm implying when I say that we all walk by faith. For the sake of these arguments, we all accept that absolute certainty is unattainable in any given situation. When it comes down to it, we're all blind hitchhikers wandering through the galaxy, and we each have our own little mantras we cite to soothe ourselves along the way. D — who once reminded you that everybody has a gris-gris — says, "Always walk in doubt." I say, "I cannot but believe." Another says, "There is no God." Granted, the faith of some is blinder than others in any group, but because we're literally such babes in the vastness of the universe, we must all walk by faith, regardless.

Getting back to it, after beginning with an excellent summary of a baseline belief I actually hold, jim draws an out-of-scope conclusion to support a long-standing misunderstanding of my position that I'll be more than happy to [again] address:

..then [cl] performs what I believe to be an unreasonable jump into epistemic thin air, by positing in the above quote what comes down to an assertion that all judgments regarding evidences, lacking absolute justification, are equal. He might disagree with my characterization of his argument here, but I’ll be damned if I can find any other reasonable conclusion to fit what he’s said. Perhaps he’ll enlighten us, and I’ll stand corrected. In this respect, I believe he’s launched himself straight into the N.O. space again, where less-than-categorical certainty devolves into an ambiguous, anything goes approach to anything from mental phenomena to magic powered lady bugs.

I commend jim's willingness to finally concede that he may in fact have been misunderstanding this all along. As his link suggests, jim has consistently alleged that my style of argumentation is an "appeal to [non-omniscience]" which results in an "anything goes" philosophy. This has been a focal point that's led to many mean-spirited remarks from jim in the past, even though I've tried explaining to jim before that such was not my position:

My opponent suggests that because I questioned the cogency of DD's so-called Undeniable Fact on appeal to DD's lack of omniscience, that I must abandon all appeals to evidentiary persuasion in any direction regarding anything. Friends, this is simply stupid. (cl)

It's unfortunate that jim has refused to either understand or believe me when I've been maintaining the same thing for months, but hey — he's an atheist — trust issues come with the territory.

Now, in the specific context of one of DD's arguments, I did once use the fact that DD is "not omniscient" to challenge an argument he made. Yet, jim misconstrued that isolated instance as some epistemological rule of thumb of mine, when it was not, nor has it ever been. Unfortunately, jim got it lodged in his mind that such was my epistemological rule of thumb, and thus began jim's consistent false association of "appeal to N.O." as my strategy. I won't go so far as to claim jim's been disingenuous, because I have no idea how closely he read that post, if at all. 

However — let it now be clear beyond a shadow of a doubt — that I *DO* believe it is ultimately "impossible to come to a categorically unassailable conclusion about anything" *DOES NOT* translate to, "all judgments regarding evidences and lacking absolute justification are equal" in my epistemological rule book. 

Further, I don't think jim ever realized DD's "ambiguous, anything goes approach" to explaining purported miracles. If he did realize it, then his complaints are selective. After all, DD actually used the following as part of his argument to deny the miraculous nature of my hypothetical re-capitated man:

What if it was an elf, or a pixie, or a leprechaun, or an invisible dragon? Or a SMERF—a Spontaneous Magical Entropy Reversal Field? Any of these things could be responsible, if they were real. (DD)

jim apparently had no problem with DD's handy "ambiguous, anything goes approach" to explaining why a man's head might suddenly re-attach itself after prayer, so where's the consistency? 

Who's really "[devolving] into an ambiguous, anything goes approach to anything from mental phenomena to magic powered lady bugs?" It becomes ironic to note then that the full sum of jim's objections against me — which have been many — constitute sound objections to DD's aforementioned "ambiguous, anything goes approach" to explaining why a man's head might suddenly re-attach itself after prayer. 

On to jim's next objection of relevance, shall we? Here it is:

Folks, reality is NOT a deductive syllogism, as David Hume pointed out yay so many years ago. Like it or not, we are stuck with relative, inductive certainty given any issue relating to the real world. We draw inferences and extract conclusion based on the way things seem to operate, and the possibility of being mistaken is just part of the deal fate has handed to us.

I agree completely. How much of DD's response played by those rules, jim? I mean fer cryin' out loud, can't we have some degree of "inductive certainty" if a man's head were to re-attach itself after prayer? Further, look at your handling of the video game incident. You yourself took an "ambiguous, anything goes approach" of your own post, positing over a dozen hypothetical explanations, everything from "aliens" to "pixie dust" to "invisible psychic warriors." Get real.

Moving along… I don't think anybody needs a review of syllogisms, so I'll dismiss those paragraphs as irrelevant intellectual posturing on jim's behalf. 

When it gets down to it, it appears the meat of jim's objection to my post is,

There may indeed be no reason to prefer justified beliefs over unjustified beliefs in the unalloyed air of the N.O., but in the real world? Sorry, cl, but it just ain’t so. (bold mine)

IOW, when it boils down to it, I'm wrong because jim says "it just ain't so." Yet, that's the same argument the Fundamentalist uses.

I've stated before that jim's epistemology seems to be, "jim will beileve what jim will believe for whatever reason jim wants," and this could be construed as further evidence in that regard. I submit that he's failed to provide me with any legitimate reason to prefer justified beliefs over unjustified beliefs as an epistemological rule of thumb.

In conclusion, the salient point jim misses is that as with "there's no evidence for God" claims, atheists and skeptics who assert "justification of belief" to imply the superiority of their position don't have anything concrete going for them. The whole point of discussing "cathode rays" and asteroids was to demonstrate that,

..justified beliefs often prove false (as did belief in cathode rays), and unjustified beliefs often prove true (as did belief in asteroids).

So, I further asked,

..besides the obvious psychological self-soothing, what do we really gain to say that our beliefs are justified, if the quality of being justified is no reliable indicator of truth?

I submit that the entirety of jim's answer to that question was,

Every time you take a step with relative assurance that the ground isn’t going to gobble you up, you’ve answered your own question.

Yet, especially where I live in San Francisco, I don't hold "the ground won't gobble me up" as a justified belief in the first place. Indeed, the ground just might gobble me up the next time I check the mail.

*******

To recap: 

1)  That I believe it is ultimately "impossible to come to a categorically unassailable conclusion about anything" does not translate to, "all judgments regarding evidences and lacking absolute justification are equal" in my epistemological rule book;

2) In the context of our METAdebate, jim apparently had no problem with DD's handy "ambiguous, anything goes approach" to explaining purported miracles;

3)  Atheists and skeptics who assert "justification of belief" to imply superiority of their position don't have anything concrete going for them.

As usual, jim didn't touch any of that.

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