Physicalism Is Meaningless

In a recent discussion over at SoulSprawl, I encountered the following remark:

…solipsism is meaningless, not false, because there is no difference that we can know of, even in principle, that would tell apart a solipsist from a non-solipsist world.

The same goes for the doctrine of physicalism. To date, all definitions of physicalism I’ve seen lead to meaningless philosophical gibberish. There is nothing, even in principle, that could reliably differentiate between a physical and non-physical cause. If  you agree, please affirm. If you disagree, state a precise definition of physicalism and we’ll go from there.

109 Comments

  1. Garren says:

    If solipsism is meaningless, then so is the belief that there is more to the world than one’s self. I’m surprised there are still people who think we can’t talk about a possible distinction in how things are, if we can’t ourselves discover whether things are one way or the other.

    Are there intelligent beings in the universe outside the Earth’s light cone? Meaningless! Because we don’t think it’s possible for us to find out. (how silly)

  2. Crude says:

    I think Garren’s getting on this same point, but just to put it my own way…

    “solipsism is meaningless, not false, because there is no difference that we can know of, even in principle, that would tell apart a solipsist from a non-solipsist world.”

    Wouldn’t that work both ways?

    Here’s claim X and claim Y.
    There is no way for us to tell the difference between X and Y.
    Y is meaningless.

    But consistency seems to demand we say X is meaningless too. Wouldn’t it?

  3. cl says:

    To be honest, I’m not quite sure what either one of you are getting at…

  4. Crude says:

    cl,

    Well, here’s another way to put it.

    You’re quoting someone who’s saying that solipsism is meaningless because there’s ‘no difference we can know of, even in principle, that would tell apart a solipsist from a non-solipsist world’.

    Alright. Well, let’s think of a non-solipsist position, like physicalism. Is there any difference we can know of, even in principle, that would tell apart a physicalist from a non-physicalist world? At the very least, there’s no way to tell apart the physicalist world from the solipsist world, at least according to whoever you quoted. And if there’s no way to tell them apart, then it’s meaningless. Right?

    I suppose someone could argue, “Well, okay, we could tell apart a physicalist world from a non-physicalist world, aside from solipsism!” Alright. What about idealism? That’s not solipsist. But we still can’t tell it apart from the physicalist world. And idealism is supposed to be as far from physicalism as you can get. (I’m putting my usual objections to this sort of thing aside.)

    A boiled down way to say it is, “If a person is claiming that the inability to distinguish between assertion A and assertion B makes claim A meaningless, they also have to hold that assertion B is meaningless. Because the inability to distinguish applies to both A and B if it holds at all.”

  5. cl says:

    Crude,

    Is there any difference we can know of, even in principle, that would tell apart a physicalist from a non-physicalist world?

    No, not when it’s just a handy euphemism for “all that we could ever possibly detected via our senses” -ism.

    A boiled down way to say it is, “If a person is claiming that the inability to distinguish between assertion A and assertion B makes claim A meaningless, they also have to hold that assertion B is meaningless. Because the inability to distinguish applies to both A and B if it holds at all.”

    If by that you simply mean to imply that non- “all that we could ever possibly detected via our senses” -ism is also meaningless, I agree.

  6. Crude says:

    cl,

    No, not when it’s just a handy euphemism for “all that we could ever possibly detected via our senses” -ism.

    I agree. Like I said, it seems to me that the ‘if there’s no way to distinguish between it and another view, then it’s meaningless’ claim is all or nothing. If the argument takes down solipsism, it takes down physicalism with it. If it doesn’t take down physicalism, it’s not taking down solipsism.

    I mean, someone could make the move of ‘Alright, perhaps we can’t tell a difference between them using our senses – but, if we use logic and philosophy and…’ But at that point what’s doing the work isn’t our inability to tell a difference using our senses anyway.

    If by that you simply mean to imply that non- “all that we could ever possibly detected via our senses” -ism is also meaningless, I agree.

    Well, that’s what I took the person you were quoting to mean. They couldn’t have possibly meant that solipsism and (say) materialism are utterly identical ontologically. So we’re left with their being identical to our senses.

    I imagine someone could be willing to bite the bullet and say ‘Alright, materialism is meaningless too.’ I think people truly willing to do that are extremely thin on the ground.

  7. Garren says:

    cl,

    I was exclusively addressing the principle in the quote about solipsism being meaningless because we can’t determine whether or not it is the case. It’s a bad principle.

    Your complaint about physicalism is not primarily about determining whether it’s the case, but about the difficulty of making a conceptual distinction between physicalism and non-physicalism.

  8. cl, you know I agree with you on this, which is why I’ve spent a decent amount of time writing on my blog about what I think naturalism actually is, and how we might be able to determine what a non-naturalist world would look like.

    For summary, I suggest that naturalism is the idea that any effect must have an underlying mechanism or cause, and that it is logically impossible to influence events with no underlying mechanism, as is said in “X can do something by sheer acts of will”.

    Additionally, I suggest that naturalism also entails that it is impossible to suspend or transcend the laws of physics, ruling out “water to wine” miracles and the like. Therefore you could disprove naturalism by establishing a miracle, but perhaps that is just substituting one frustrating debate for another.

    Since no one here is arguing for physicalism right now, I’ll also come forward as the guy who wrote that “solipsism is meaningless” quote, since I’m interested in Garren and Crude’s take on it.

    I’m surprised there are still people who think we can’t talk about a possible distinction in how things are, if we can’t ourselves discover whether things are one way or the other.

    You’re welcome to dismiss my comment out of hand, but it would be far more educational for me to at least have some sort of grounding for why you do so.

    My reason for why solipsism is meaningless is that it doesn’t actually suggest anything about our world — there are no experiences or consequences of solipsism that we anticipate. There are no implications of solipsism; nothing we should do differently given our stance on the issue. This makes solipsism meaningless precisely because that’s what I thought the definition of “meaningless” was.

    If you have two things that are indistinguishable on every single possible level, then there are no differences between those two things, right? The solipsist world and the non-solipsist world (to my understanding) are indistinguishable on every single level. (This reminds me a lot now of the arguments surrounding Chalmer’s p-zombies.)

    If solipsism is meaningless, then so is the belief that there is more to the world than one’s self.

    Maybe. But regardless, we still observe that people exist and display agency independent of ourselves. So I don’t think this is an actual problem.

    Are there intelligent beings in the universe outside the Earth’s light cone? Meaningless! Because we don’t think it’s possible for us to find out. (how silly)

    This example is far more intriguing, but I think it actually is something that is testable in principle. Since it is logically possible to travel faster than the speed of light, so it’s logically possible to contact these intelligent beings.

    Wouldn’t that work both ways?
    Here’s claim X and claim Y.
    There is no way for us to tell the difference between X and Y.
    Y is meaningless.
    But consistency seems to demand we say X is meaningless too. Wouldn’t it?

    I’m not really suggesting that claim X and claim Y are meaningless, but that if there is no difference between the two claims that is logically possible to find then talk about a difference between the two claims is meaningless.

    Suggesting that solipsism is meaningless instead of false is not a suggestion that other people don’t have the ability to influence events independent of my beliefs and desires about them.

  9. cl says:

    Garren,

    Your complaint about physicalism is not primarily about determining whether it’s the case, but about the difficulty of making a conceptual distinction between physicalism and non-physicalism.

    It’s actually about both. Given definitions that reduce to, “anything we can detect via the five senses,” it is impossible, in principle, to determine whether physicalism is true. It is also impossible to demonstrate the existence of a non-physical entity. This means any flippant atheist who buys the aforementioned definition — yet then turns around and chides theists for inability to demonstrate the non-physical — argues incoherently.

    I don’t think it’s impossible to offer a meaningful conceptual distinction between “physical” and “non-physical,” but I do think “all that we can detect via our senses” -ism is a terribly lame ontology.

    Peter Hurford,

    …I suggest that naturalism is the idea that any effect must have an underlying mechanism or cause…

    I don’t have any problem with that.

    …and that it is logically impossible to influence events with no underlying mechanism, as is said in “X can do something by sheer acts of will”.

    Why can’t a “sheer act of will” qualify as an underlying mechanism?

    Therefore you could disprove naturalism by establishing a miracle, but perhaps that is just substituting one frustrating debate for another.

    That’s exactly why one *CAN’T* disprove naturalism by establishing a miracle: a miracle is nothing more than an unexplained, unlikely event. All a committed naturalist needs to do is retreat to the standard position of promissory naturalism [i.e., “we don’t know why this girl’s cancer dissolved the night after prayer, but science will probably find a physical reason”]. Been there, done that.

    My reason for why solipsism is meaningless is that it doesn’t actually suggest anything about our world — there are no experiences or consequences of solipsism that we anticipate. There are no implications of solipsism; nothing we should do differently given our stance on the issue. This makes solipsism meaningless precisely because that’s what I thought the definition of “meaningless” was.

    This is exactly the case with “all that we can detect via our senses” -ism, too.

    If you have two things that are indistinguishable on every single possible level, then there are no differences between those two things, right?

    Wrong. No differences perceived does not entail no actual differences.

    …regardless, we still observe that people exist and display agency independent of ourselves. So I don’t think this is an actual problem.

    That was my initial reaction to Crude’s comment, too.

  10. Crude says:

    I’m not really suggesting that claim X and claim Y are meaningless, but that if there is no difference between the two claims that is logically possible to find then talk about a difference between the two claims is meaningless.

    What do you mean “logically possible to find”? There’s obvious differences between solipsism and (say) idealism ontologically, so that can’t be it.

    Do you mean no difference we can detect with our senses?

    Either way, I don’t see how you can say you were saying that, if you’re the source of the quote. The original quote wasn’t about ‘a difference between the two claims’, it was about whether one of the claims was meaningful, or if it could even be called false or true.

    Maybe. But regardless, we still observe that people exist and display agency independent of ourselves. So I don’t think this is an actual problem.

    What we have, according to the solipsist, is data that we have to interpret. You interpret the data as ‘these people exist, they display agency independent of ourselves’. The solipsist interprets the data as ‘these are the thoughts I’m experiencing, end of story.’ They would deny that would really do ‘observe that people exist’ (as opposed to ‘having thoughts of people) or that ‘they display agency independent of ourselves’ (as opposed to our thoughts having whatever content.) And even someone who believes in an external world never directly observes another mind – the problem of other minds isn’t just for solipsists.

    Like I said, if solipsism is meaningless because there’s no way we can – using our senses – tell the difference between the solipsist world and the non-solipsist world, then the (metaphysics asserting a non-solipsist) world seems to get dragged down as meaningless as well. And I did say, sure, you can always bite that bullet.

    As for ‘establishing a miracle’, I’m with cl. It’s baloney, because there’s always an opportunity for retreat and retrenching. I think people get caught up in this because of the idea of ‘the laws of physics’ – where we get this impression that there’s some definitive rulebook out there which shows everything that can happen in nature, and if something happens which goes against what we read in the book, then we’ll conclude it’s a miracle. Except we’ve had to go back and rewrite the rulebook repeatedly already, and there’s nothing stopping us from doing it again. If ‘finding exceptions to what our current best theories say about nature’ were the standard, then the history of science is just one long string of defeats for naturalism.

    Further, the claim that ‘everything must have an underlying mechanism or cause’ will dump a large number of ‘naturalists’ immediately, since ditching causality at least at some point is a popular option nowadays.

  11. cl says:

    Crude,

    I think people get caught up in this because of the idea of ‘the laws of physics’ – where we get this impression that there’s some definitive rulebook out there which shows everything that can happen in nature, and if something happens which goes against what we read in the book, then we’ll conclude it’s a miracle. Except we’ve had to go back and rewrite the rulebook repeatedly already, and there’s nothing stopping us from doing it again.

    Yes. Don’t forget that, ya know, if your car suddenly teleports itself to the outside of your garage, you can always attribute it to quantum tunneling. Don’t laugh! Anything can happen, no miracles or gods required! The math allows for it! Sagan said it! I believe it!

  12. @cl/@Crude:

    What do you mean “logically possible to find”? There’s obvious differences between solipsism and (say) idealism ontologically, so that can’t be it. Do you mean no difference we can detect with our senses?

    I wouldn’t use “detect with our senses” because that’s kind of vague: for is a logical inference something we detect with our senses? Is the historical method something that involves only our senses? Is using a compass to determine where north is something that involves only our senses?

    I don’t think there is any way to get information other than through information gathered by our senses, but I use the word “senses” very, very broadly. So by “logically possible to find”, I mean using any form of logically possible detection followed by any amount of sound and valid reasoning.

    Also, remember not everyone who says “solipsism” is defending the same thing. Some people can’t even point to a coherent ontological difference, but if they could and tied solipsism to that ontological difference, then anything that makes that ontological determination also would make a determination for solipsism. If there is a coherent ontological difference, solipsism becomes meaningful.

    Either way, I don’t see how you can say you were saying that, if you’re the source of the quote. The original quote wasn’t about ‘a difference between the two claims’, it was about whether one of the claims was meaningful, or if it could even be called false or true.

    I am the source of the original quote — if you go to where cl refers you, you’ll see my name on it. I also don’t just use that one sentence to explain my position, I link to an entire essay on the issue, “The End of Cartesian Demons”, which cl omitted.

    There is no difference between solipsism and non-solipsism, but with the important clarifier that by “solipsism” I mean it as I have understood and encountered the theory of solipsism. Perhaps I’m attacking a straw man, and I’m just unaware of this. Perhaps there is a coherent, testable in principle difference between the underlying ontologies, for instance.

    What we have, according to the solipsist, is data that we have to interpret. You interpret the data as ‘these people exist, they display agency independent of ourselves’. The solipsist interprets the data as ‘these are the thoughts I’m experiencing, end of story.’ They would deny that would really do ‘observe that people exist’ (as opposed to ‘having thoughts of people) or that ‘they display agency independent of ourselves’ (as opposed to our thoughts having whatever content.) And even someone who believes in an external world never directly observes another mind – the problem of other minds isn’t just for solipsists.

    I would say that the two are not disagreeing about anything that actually occurs — both the solipsist and non-solipsist agree that these people appear to act without regard to your personal thoughts or desires. For instance, I can’t make someone disappear by desiring they disappear, or by no longer thinking about them.

    Even if I am a firm solipsist, there is nothing about life that I should do any differently. People still influence me exactly the same way, and I have exactly the same control over them.

    Like I said, if solipsism is meaningless because there’s no way we can – using our senses – tell the difference between the solipsist world and the non-solipsist world, then the (metaphysics asserting a non-solipsist) world seems to get dragged down as meaningless as well. And I did say, sure, you can always bite that bullet.

    It depends on what the underlying metaphysics is.

    As for ‘establishing a miracle’, I’m with cl. It’s baloney, because there’s always an opportunity for retreat and retrenching.

    I agree that this does happen, but I don’t agree that it *has* to happen — moving the goalposts is a fallacy no matter who does it.

    For instance, you can’t turn water into wine without substituting the basic hydrogen and oxygen for more complex carbohydrates. If you can somehow change the chemical compounds without splitting atoms and causing explosions, then you have a paranormal claim. If you can observe water under a microscope and all of a sudden *pop* the water turns to wine with no chemical changes, then you have a supernatural claim. If you can turn water to wine reliably under even the most controlled conditions without the need of chemical changes, then you have strong evidence of the supernatural. Anyone who looks at that miracle and dismisses it out of hand is a fool.

    If ‘finding exceptions to what our current best theories say about nature’ were the standard, then the history of science is just one long string of defeats for naturalism.

    That’s not the standard, because something that is outside current science is not necessarily supernatural. I think of the supernatural as doing something without needing an underlying mechanism.

    We’re also forgetting the idea of supernaturalism suggesting something that is fundamentally, ontologically, irreducibly purposeful or mental. Though I have no idea how you could ever establish something like that to exist.

    Further, the claim that ‘everything must have an underlying mechanism or cause’ will dump a large number of ‘naturalists’ immediately, since ditching causality at least at some point is a popular option nowadays.

    Right. I’m still not sure where I am in understanding quantum mechanics, especially as it applies to naturalism. It’s an ongoing process.

    Yes. Don’t forget that, ya know, if your car suddenly teleports itself to the outside of your garage, you can always attribute it to quantum tunneling. Don’t laugh! Anything can happen, no miracles or gods required! The math allows for it! Sagan said it! I believe it!

    Yes, but if someone can reliably teleport a car under even the most controlled conditions, you have quite the paranormal claim. No appeal to quantum tunneling makes any sense here, and after the third observation of teleportation saying “But there’s still a chance it’s all just lucky quantum tunneling, right?” is ludicrous.

    I can’t imagine anyone being quite that thick-headed.

  13. cl says:

    Peter,

    I wouldn’t use “detect with our senses” because that’s kind of vague:

    …then,

    I don’t think there is any way to get information other than through information gathered by our senses,

    ??? So, is “gathered by our senses” significantly different than “detect with our senses?”

    …I link to an entire essay on the issue, “The End of Cartesian Demons”, which cl omitted.

    You say “omitted” as if I committed a crime against charitable representation, but I wasn’t attacking or critiquing what you said. I was agreeing with you, and using our agreement as a springboard for a broader discussion about physicalism.

    Perhaps I’m attacking a straw man, and I’m just unaware of this.

    FWIW, I don’t think you are.

    I agree that this does happen, but I don’t agree that it *has* to happen — moving the goalposts is a fallacy no matter who does it.

    Given a miracle claim, you have these options: 1) accept the claim as evidence of the “non-physical” and commit the God / non-physicalist of the Gaps argument; 2) assert that science will explain the phenomena with a “physical” explanation, which is meaningless. So, while I agree with you that moving the goalpost doesn’t *HAVE* to happen, I think it’s undeniable that some departure from logic *HAS* to happen. I warmly invite you to prove me wrong.

    Anyone who looks at that miracle and dismisses it out of hand is a fool.

    I agree. Similarly, I think anyone who looks at the miracle of life and dismisses it out of hand… well, I wouldn’t go so far as to call them a fool, but I would suspect they were impermeable to reason and guilty of special pleading.

    That’s not the standard, because something that is outside current science is not necessarily supernatural

    Then there goes your whole “water to wine” schtick. With all due respect, be consistent!

    I think of the supernatural as doing something without needing an underlying mechanism.

    I submit that an act of sheer will *IS* an underlying mechanism. How is it not?

    We’re also forgetting the idea of supernaturalism suggesting something that is fundamentally, ontologically, irreducibly purposeful or mental. Though I have no idea how you could ever establish something like that to exist.

    Yes, it seems you’re grokking the dilemma. Do you now see why I react with a furrowed brow when some smug atheist asked me to demonstrate the existence of something that can’t be detected via the five senses?

    I can’t imagine anyone being quite that thick-headed.

    Well, you don’t debate internet atheists, either… :)

  14. @cl:

    By the way, sorry I glanced over your above initial comment to me, so this will address both comments at once.

    Why can’t a “sheer act of will” qualify as an underlying mechanism?

    Because acts of will don’t typically have any causal influence on the events they are said to bring about. How does it make sense to cause something by doing nothing but willing it to happen?

    That’s exactly why one *CAN’T* disprove naturalism by establishing a miracle: a miracle is nothing more than an unexplained, unlikely event.

    Surely a miracle is more than just that? There are many unexplained, unlikely events that are not miracles.

    All a committed naturalist needs to do is retreat to the standard position of promissory naturalism [i.e., “we don’t know why this girl’s cancer dissolved the night after prayer, but science will probably find a physical reason”]. Been there, done that.

    I agree the retreat to “science will one day prove” is immensely frustrating, so call me out if I ever do it, and count me as a supporter to stamp this out. *However*, I do agree that a single girl’s cancer dissolving the night after prayer is likely a chance remission, which science does currently explain. So unless you find a case that rules out chance remissions, or you find out that prayer is overwhelmingly healing cancer beyond what chance allows, I’m not with you on this example. (Don’t forget that we also had that nice conversation on my piece where I wrote at length complaining about the failures of prayer.)

    No differences perceived does not entail no actual differences.

    Right, but that’s not what I was trying to say. I was talking about a case where there are no differences that can be perceived, ever, under any circumstance, even only in principle; where perceiving differences is logically impossible. What do we do here? Does this entail no actual differences?

    I wouldn’t use “detect with our senses” because that’s kind of vague:
    …then,
    I don’t think there is any way to get information other than through information gathered by our senses,
    ??? So, is “gathered by our senses” significantly different than “detect with our senses?”

    What I did was say I didn’t want to play by the traditional notion of “detect with our senses” because that sounds like scientism or “if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist”, but once you put everything into a *very* broad definition of “detect with our senses”, then I’m down with it.

    Sorry for not being clear.

    …I link to an entire essay on the issue, “The End of Cartesian Demons”, which cl omitted.
    You say “omitted” as if I committed a crime against charitable representation, but I wasn’t attacking or critiquing what you said. I was agreeing with you, and using our agreement as a springboard for a broader discussion about physicalism.

    Sorry for that implication, that’s not what I meant; bad phrasing on my part. I think you were completely fine with how you presented my quote and your material; I would have done the same. Omitting the link did cause some unforeseen confusion, though.

    Given a miracle claim, you have these options: 1) accept the claim as evidence of the “non-physical” and commit the God / non-physicalist of the Gaps argument; 2) assert that science will explain the phenomena with a “physical” explanation, which is meaningless. So, while I agree with you that moving the goalpost doesn’t *HAVE* to happen, I think it’s undeniable that some departure from logic *HAS* to happen. I warmly invite you to prove me wrong.

    This is part of the problem I think is inherent with all supernatural claims — I’m becoming more and more convinced that they don’t actually explain anything, which is what is forcing you into #1. It’s a lot like the problems outlined in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions.

    So you’d have to come up with an account of how the supernatural works and explain how it isn’t just a mysterious answer to a mysterious question. You’d have to differentiate it from my hypothetical Blainetology. Only then do I think you could smash out of #1 and avoid committing any God of the Gaps.

    I agree. Similarly, I think anyone who looks at the miracle of life and dismisses it out of hand… well, I wouldn’t go so far as to call them a fool, but I would suspect they were impermeable to reason and guilty of special pleading.

    You’d have to demonstrate that life is a miracle first. This is basically just the Argument from Design, something that I place between unestablished and debunked. That being said, surely the existence of intelligent life isn’t something so contrary to current science; we’ve actually made great strides at explaining it, as I’m sure you’re aware. This is in no way an obvious miracle akin to teleporting a car, but I’m very interested in your further thoughts on this issue.

    Me: That’s not the standard, because something that is outside current science is not necessarily supernatural

    cl: Then there goes your whole “water to wine” schtick. With all due respect, be consistent!

    I spent a few lines outlining why this is consistent, for the “water to wine” analogy is a lot more than just being outside current science, but can actually entail things that blatantly contradict both thermodynamics and logic, such as the creation of carbohydrates ex nihilo, or the splitting of atoms without causing massive explosions.

    Me: We’re also forgetting the idea of supernaturalism suggesting something that is fundamentally, ontologically, irreducibly purposeful or mental. Though I have no idea how you could ever establish something like that to exist.

    cl: Yes, it seems you’re grokking the dilemma. Do you now see why I react with a furrowed brow when some smug atheist asked me to demonstrate the existence of something that can’t be detected via the five senses?

    Right, but if you don’t mind me naively pointing out: aren’t you the one who believes in the fundamentally, ontologically, irreducibly purposeful or mental? If so, on what basis do you hold this belief?

  15. Crude says:

    I don’t think there is any way to get information other than through information gathered by our senses, but I use the word “senses” very, very broadly. So by “logically possible to find”, I mean using any form of logically possible detection followed by any amount of sound and valid reasoning.

    Right, but it’s still coming down to our senses. Okay, you’ll also allow us to use a machine to detect these differences. We’re still seeing the same problems.

    Also, remember not everyone who says “solipsism” is defending the same thing. Some people can’t even point to a coherent ontological difference, but if they could and tied solipsism to that ontological difference, then anything that makes that ontological determination also would make a determination for solipsism. If there is a coherent ontological difference, solipsism becomes meaningful.

    But the point here is that you can have ontological differences without there being sense differences. That’s part of the point of solipsism to begin with – it’s a case of a vastly different ontological makeup than what is typically assumed, with no necessary change to the experiences.

    Even if I am a firm solipsist, there is nothing about life that I should do any differently. People still influence me exactly the same way, and I have exactly the same control over them.

    ‘Should’ or ‘should not’ has nothing to do with it. Though arguably, if you believe there’s no one but you experiencing anything, you ‘should’ stop reacting to them and thinking about them as if they do.

    For instance, you can’t turn water into wine without substituting the basic hydrogen and oxygen for more complex carbohydrates. If you can somehow change the chemical compounds without splitting atoms and causing explosions, then you have a paranormal claim. If you can observe water under a microscope and all of a sudden *pop* the water turns to wine with no chemical changes, then you have a supernatural claim. If you can turn water to wine reliably under even the most controlled conditions without the need of chemical changes, then you have strong evidence of the supernatural. Anyone who looks at that miracle and dismisses it out of hand is a fool.

    No; as far as we know, you can’t turn water into wine without substituting these things. And even that is suspect, since if I recall right this can happen with ‘quantum tunneling’. Also, even under a miracle there’s going to be a chemical change in the example you give – water one moment, wine the next, is a change.

    But more than that, all that’s happened is that nature as we know it has been violated. Someone can say, ‘Okay, so we were wrong about nature. It follows a different set of rules.’ Or even, ‘Alright, someone has access to technology we aren’t aware of or don’t understand.’ Doubly so in the case of a person who can turn water into wine under controlled conditions – you’ll have someone equally making the argument that we have evidence that we were dead wrong about nature, or that there exists some funky kind of technology, or even that we live in a simulation, etc.

    Saying that anyone who dismisses this is a fool is nice, but it’s still not covering up the problem here. There’s always an out available. You can say “Well, this would convince me”. That’s great, but the question isn’t about what would convince an individual in their personal opinion.

    That’s not the standard, because something that is outside current science is not necessarily supernatural. I think of the supernatural as doing something without needing an underlying mechanism.

    But your wine example would just be “outside of current science”! Heck, your very definition of a miracle amounts to basically that – “something which takes place that is outside of current science”. We are unable to verify that there is no ‘underlying mechanism’ – the best we can get to is admitting that we can’t see or identify the mechanism.

    Again, if that’s the standard – we can’t identify the mechanism with our current science – then naturalism has been experiencing one long series of beatings since science started in the west.

    Yes, but if someone can reliably teleport a car under even the most controlled conditions, you have quite the paranormal claim. No appeal to quantum tunneling makes any sense here, and after the third observation of teleportation saying “But there’s still a chance it’s all just lucky quantum tunneling, right?” is ludicrous.
    I can’t imagine anyone being quite that thick-headed.

    Forgetting for a moment you’re basically setting up your standards of evidence such that God has to be giving a non-stop magic show to anyone who asks at any time, imagine someone did that. The problem is that the options there are not ‘miracle or luck’. There’s also ‘technology’. There’s ‘our models of nature were wrong’. There’s combinations of these, and more. Why, there’s even solipsism – I remember PZ Myers saying that if the Virgin Mary appeared to him, he’d chalk it up to brain damage.

    I spent a few lines outlining why this is consistent, for the “water to wine” analogy is a lot more than just being outside current science, but can actually entail things that blatantly contradict both thermodynamics and logic, such as the creation of carbohydrates ex nihilo, or the splitting of atoms without causing massive explosions.

    Again, same problem. No, it’s not ‘a lot more than just being outside current science’. There’s no logical contradiction here. Heck, you wouldn’t necessarily even have to split atoms. How would you be able to tell that the water was ‘changed’ into wine, rather than there being water there one moment, wine the next?

    The example really would just be ‘outside of current science’. The fact that it would fly in the face of a lot of tested and well attested to theories doesn’t change that. It’s like hitting a home run: Argue whether the ball was hit 10 feet out of the park or 10 miles. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s a home run.

    So unless you find a case that rules out chance remissions, or you find out that prayer is overwhelmingly healing cancer beyond what chance allows, I’m not with you on this example.

    Prayer is not ‘magic words that are supposed to give anyone who use them what they want’. It’s worship of, or at least communication with, God. By your standard, God has to do what we ask at certain reliable rates or prayers don’t get answered. That’s silly, like insisting that if the president doesn’t veto X number of bills that clearly he doesn’t have the ability to veto anything.

    Finally, miracles don’t need to violate any laws of nature to actually be a full-fledged miracle – that’s a standard you’re using to try and differentiate between a naturalistic and non-naturalistic metaphysics. Theologically, God simply arranging nature to produce some particular amazing, even extremely unlikely, but ultimately ‘natural’ outcome can be an example of a miracle as well.

    This is part of the problem I think is inherent with all supernatural claims — I’m becoming more and more convinced that they don’t actually explain anything, which is what is forcing you into #1.

    Sure they explain something. They don’t provide a scientific explanation, maybe even not a philosophical explanation. But that was never their goal to begin with.

    If I find a flag on top of Mount Everest and wonder how it got there, saying ‘Sir Edmund Hillary planted it there’ doesn’t explain how he managed to get up there, how he did it, etc. But it still provides an explanation for the flag.

  16. joseph says:

    A simple question. If a supernatural (superphysical if you prefer) agency acted on a physical system, is it to be presumed (as I believe Dominic Crossan does) that this would be done through physical mechanisms?
    If yes, then I agree, a supernatural being could not be detected, and the difference between physicalism and supernaturalism would be meaningless (though not the actual systems themselves, perhaps.)

    If no, then events without physical causes could be detected.
    We do have the problem that physicalists would wait varying lengths of time before giving up on physicalism, because of it’s track record (compared to listening to the sayings and writings of “Holy” people). A supernaturalist could of course argue that some of the “Holy” people were charlatans, some were speaking to devils, some were deluded, some were misinterpreted etc.

    Can I ask how a supernaturalist would impose limits on what they believe? As I understand it only the illogical is prohibited (squaring a circle), and yet there seem to be logical inconsistencies in, say, ressurection, to me.
    I haven’t met many Christian theists who believe in witches for example.

  17. cl says:

    Peter Hurford,

    No offense, but in the interest of paring down both time and typing, I’m going to try a new tack: focusing on an isolated issue until we’ve come to some kind of conclusion, then moving on to other issues. I’m curious to see how this strategy will work. I think that super-long back-and-forths can sometimes lose their effectiveness. That said,

    How does it make sense to cause something by doing nothing but willing it to happen?

    There’s that incredulity again. “X is impossible because X doesn’t make sense to me” gets no love around these parts. Can you give me an actual reason why an act of sheer will cannot be an underlying mechanism?

  18. Crude says:

    Joseph,

    If no, then events without physical causes could be detected.

    They could possibly be reasoned to, with various metaphysical and philosophical arguments and commitments, but detected? Not in any ordinary sense of the term. At the end of the day, all scientific investigation – and I assume that’s what we’re talking about here – can get to is a seeming dead end. ‘We can’t detect what the cause is.’ Detecting the utter lack of a physical cause doesn’t show up.

    We do have the problem that physicalists would wait varying lengths of time before giving up on physicalism, because of it’s track record (compared to listening to the sayings and writings of “Holy” people).

    Physicalism’s ‘track record’ has been to A) Explicitly avoid topics that are problematic for physicalism (See ‘secondary qualities”), and B) to utterly change its commitments when encountering new data. (Contact mechanics giving way to Newtonian mechanics, Newtonian giving way to quantum, and everything being called physical each time.)

    Further, the matchup seems wrong – not just because they’re different fields and approaches. “Physicalism”, some abstract metaphysical commitment, versus “holy people”, particular individuals? This ignores that the intellectual graveyard is filled to the brim with dead physical theories, many of which were considered as close as one could get to ‘truth’ for physicalists and scientists once upon a time.

    I think a similar problem is present with the ‘varying lengths of time’ talk. It’s not like we can look at historical data and calculate, ‘Alright, if there’s no physicalism-friendly explaination in X years, time to dump physicalism.’ The subjective judgment call of an abstract individual is being mistaken for a rapt objective measure.

  19. Garren says:

    Hey Peter,

    I think we’re using different meanings of ‘meaning.’ You seem to intend it as something like ‘practical significance’ or ’empirically distinguishable,’ whereas I’m using it to mean ‘ontologically distinct’ or ‘conceptually distinguishable.’

    On a separate note, I do think belief in solipsism vs. non-solipsism can make a difference in behavior, because a person could have desires that involve the internal experience of suffering in others (i.e. not just concern about the outward appearances of suffering). Such a desire would have a different effect on non-solipsists than on solipsists. So the question of solipsism can have practical significance even if it’s not empirically distinguishable.

  20. joseph says:

    Yes you’re right I used detect somewhat lazily. Though when you go into a room, and the light is not on, do you say “it is in a state of absence of detectable light” or do you say “it’s dark”.
    From a human perspective regarding the absence of something as something in itself is an understandable way of thinking.

    Yes, I mean there would be an absence of detectable cause.
    Here you do come to a cross roads, do you say, “Supernatural!” or do you say “I guess X, I’ll think of a way of testing X, see how it bears up”.

  21. joseph says:

    I’ve got more to say but my phone crashed twice and deleted everything, now I am sad.

    If you want to reply could you answer the bit about where you draw a line under where supernaturalism stops?

    Otherwise I’ll start hunting for the Gremlins that live in my phone…

  22. joseph says:

    “The subjective judgment call of an abstract individual is being mistaken for a rapt objective measure”
    Actually I was pragmatically making the very same point, I agree.

  23. joseph says:

    Ok,
    so on a computer now.
    So you said:

    “Further, the matchup seems wrong – not just because they’re different fields and approaches. “Physicalism”, some abstract metaphysical commitment, versus “holy people”, particular individuals?”

    Well I am often wrong. I took this to be the most popular methodology used to detect the supernatural. Casting Lots is no longer popular, probably since the development of probability theory, interpreting dreams is an open market, horoscopes are now viewed as crankish, and looking at the livers of recently killed animals is right out.

    I’m not even attempting to be humourous, as you well know these are all previously respected methods of detecting the supernatural.

    Now I take it that if we cast aside physicalism we do need some other system of understanding reality. So again, where are we drawing our borders?

    When you get ill, are you going to say to the Doctor, “I won’t take medicine x as it was developed using physicalist assumptions, which are meaningless”?

    I almost certainly know you won’t, but I am genuinely curious as to what you will say instead.

    Do you say, “really all nature is God, and God is in all nature, so though it was d

  24. joseph says:

    -computer also has gremlins-

    …it was developed without direct reference to God, or supernaturalism, and using a meaningless system of thought, it was developed with a better understanding of nautre, therefore God, whether the developers knew it or not, so I will take it anyway”.

    If my match up is wrong I will absolutely accept suggestions of a better match up.

    You may be saying naturalistic methodology is good, but as a philosophical viewpoint it is empty. I am unsure.

    As for physicalism’s “problem” of avoiding that which it can’t explain, why not start analysing a problem in a humble way, aknowledge you can’t learn to swim by jumping into the artic sea, start in a paddling pool. Start small.

    And as for “utterly changing it’s commitments”, well again, would you rather scientists were still banging on about phlogiston, or would you criticise their ability to change their minds in the face of the evidence? It cuts…all sorts of ways.

  25. Crude says:

    Joseph,

    Here you do come to a cross roads, do you say, “Supernatural!” or do you say “I guess X, I’ll think of a way of testing X, see how it bears up”.

    I could easily paint this as a crossroads where you can either say ‘natural!’ or say ‘Perhaps an agent is ultimately behind this, or something not thought of as physical’.

    I think the natural-supernatural distinction doesn’t work anyway, because the term ‘natural’ is ridiculously fluid.

    I’m not even attempting to be humourous, as you well know these are all previously respected methods of detecting the supernatural.

    Respected by who? ‘Some people, at some time’? The same is true of homeopathy, now and in the past. Or miasma theory or phlogiston theory, among other things.

    And how does casting lots ‘detect the supernatural’? That’s a decision making move. Even in the most ‘supernatural’ context, it wouldn’t be detecting the supernatural but divining the will of an agent thought to have the power and at least sometimes the willingness to affect probabilities. And considering it deals with a singular case rather than averages, probability theory would have little to do with it.

    When you get ill, are you going to say to the Doctor, “I won’t take medicine x as it was developed using physicalist assumptions, which are meaningless”?

    I almost certainly know you won’t, but I am genuinely curious as to what you will say instead.

    For one thing, if it turns out that X actually doesn’t work, do you say ‘physicalist assumptions were incorrect’? Because if so, man, do you have a mountain of times where the physicalist was wrong. So much for the track record.

    For another, science doesn’t require physicalist assumptions anyway. I think you’re mistaking ‘apparent compatibility with physicalism’ with ‘requires physicalism’. Science is compatible with Aristotileanism, neutral monism, even full-blown idealism – and certainly dualism. (And before you mention that affecting the brain affects the mind, dualists need not and generally do not reject this.) The idea that science as a general practice flat out requires physicalism, or requires the rejection of theism and miracles, is bizarre. Popular, but bizarre.

    And as for “utterly changing it’s commitments”, well again, would you rather scientists were still banging on about phlogiston, or would you criticise their ability to change their minds in the face of the evidence? It cuts…all sorts of ways.

    The lesson there is that ‘physicalism’ is not necessary to do science, certainly not metaphysically and (I’d argue) not methodologically, and that whatever successes we consider science to have cannot be attributed to a metaphysical theory like that. It’s funny that changing the commitments of physicalism is treated as ‘changing their minds in the face of evidence’, but the idea that physicalism has been gravely wrong before – indeed, wrong over and over – is discounted. I suppose you could say, “I’ve never been wrong in my life. I have, however, changed my mind over and over.”

    Another funny thing is, when non-materialists change their minds in light of evidence, this usually gets painted as ‘Ha! See? They were so wrong!’

  26. joseph says:

    It’s late here so brief reply.
    I could easily paint this as a crossroads where you can either say ‘natural!’ or say ‘Perhaps an agent is ultimately behind this, or something not thought of as physical’.

    Sure, so where do we go with something supernatural. How do we define it, how do we limit it? Was it an angel? Was it a demon? Was it a demi-god? Was it a kitsune? Was it a ghost? And so on.

    “Respected by who? ‘Some people, at some time’? The same is true of homeopathy, now and in the past. Or miasma theory or phlogiston theory, among other things.”

    Are you denying that these were respected methods of inquiry to supernatural agents in the past? Many I mentioned are recorded in the Bible, some not all, by agents acting on behalf of the God of the Bible.

    Now I don’t say I respect them, I will not presume you respect them. I never expected you to tell me they weren’t historically used and popular. I invite you, many times to come up with your own system for getting answers from the supernatural.

    “The idea that science as a general practice flat out requires physicalism, or requires the rejection of theism and miracles, is bizarre. Popular, but bizarre”

    I would argue that, many great scientists are theists, but I would argue methodological naturalism is required.

    As for Aristotle, I will begin learning more, but I understand he believe in the Soul. How do we start analyzing the soul using Aristotlean methodology.

    And Idealism allows for non-physical consciousnesses, how do we start investigating a world where everything we don’t understand can be attributed to non-physical consciousnesses.

    Sorry if I made a strawman, it’s non intentional, born of ignorance.

    Now back to the commitments bit. Do we say physicalism is wrong or physicalists are wrong? Because something is misapplied does not mean it’s wrong. In some ways, a lot of the scientific method contains the assumption that we are wrong, we’ve just got a model we can’t yet falsify.

    And I will grant you that members of a religion, or a philosophical system, can be wrong, without the religion, or philosophical system being wrong.

    As I believe I heard/read someone quip “A maoist stole my cup of tea, DOWN WITH MAOISM!”

  27. joseph says:

    Sorry not “can’t falsify” but “haven’t proved false yet.”

    It’s late and as I mentioned a maoist stole my tea, so no caffeine.

  28. Daniel says:

    Hi,

    I think cl might already know that I endorse Hempel’s dilemma (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/#11).

    if physicalism is defined via reference to contemporary physics, then it is false — after all, who thinks that contemporary physics is complete? — but if physicalism is defined via reference to a future or ideal physics, then it is trivial — after all, who can predict what a future physics contains? Perhaps, for example, it contains even mental items. The conclusion of the dilemma is that one has no clear concept of a physical property, no concept that is clear enough to do the job that philosophers of mind want the physical to play(D. Stoljar 2009, “Physicalism”).

    Stoljar’s explanation is very good. He then tries to embrace one of the horns through some sort of Wittgensteinian obfuscation, which I don’t buy. In fact, I find most attempts to escape or embrace the horns of this dilemma quite lacking.

    Best,

    Daniel

    P.S. I won’t see you on CSA anymore cl, but I plan to continue to contribute comments to your blog. I enjoy the topics you cover very much!

  29. Crude says:

    Sure, so where do we go with something supernatural. How do we define it, how do we limit it? Was it an angel? Was it a demon? Was it a demi-god? Was it a kitsune? Was it a ghost? And so on.

    What about any of these things would make them ‘supernatural’ as opposed to ‘natural’? Action at a distance was supposed to be all spooky and occult at one point. The very idea of measurement – whether by an individual or ‘a system’ – affecting the outcomes of experiments would have been labeled the same. Are they supernatural?

    Are you denying that these were respected methods of inquiry to supernatural agents in the past? Many I mentioned are recorded in the Bible, some not all, by agents acting on behalf of the God of the Bible.

    I asked you what you meant by ‘respected methods of inquiry to supernatural agents’, so asking me that again without a clear answer doesn’t move us anywhere. And I pointed out that plenty of ‘respected methods’ and ideas of science turned out to be wrong. Below you say ‘well, just because physicalists were wrong doesn’t mean physicalism was wrong’. Seems anyone can use that reply eternally, especially if they get to redefine their commitments repeatedly.

    I would argue that, many great scientists are theists, but I would argue methodological naturalism is required.

    Considering defining ‘natural’ is itself a task which is under great debate to this day, I question that. Science required methodological something to be properly defined and limited. ‘Naturalism’ ain’t it.

    As for Aristotle, I will begin learning more, but I understand he believe in the Soul. How do we start analyzing the soul using Aristotlean methodology.

    Do you appreciate that what Aristotle believed about the soul, including what the soul was, is very different from various other beliefs about the soul? Do you appreciate that not every difference between them is one about the soul? For Aristotle and Aquinas, the world itself, matter itself, is considered very different from Cartesians, even aside from the question of human souls.

    And – here’s an important point – for the Cartesians, the day to day world aside from the mind is the same as for the materialists. To make great discoveries about geology is not ‘a victory for physicalists!’, as if the discoveries are incompatible with the Aristotilean, Cartesian dualist, and other systems.

    And Idealism allows for non-physical consciousnesses, how do we start investigating a world where everything we don’t understand can be attributed to non-physical consciousnesses.

    Idealism allows for non-physical EVERYthing. It’s a different metaphysical system entirely.

    Now back to the commitments bit. Do we say physicalism is wrong or physicalists are wrong? Because something is misapplied does not mean it’s wrong. In some ways, a lot of the scientific method contains the assumption that we are wrong, we’ve just got a model we can’t yet falsify.

    If we allow physicalism to be redefined whenever it’s wrong and say ‘therefore physicalism was never wrong’, it’s pretty pointless to talk about.

  30. Wow, a lot of buzz has gone on here. Taking it one at a time where I feel my comments are relevant.

    @Crude:

    Right, but it’s still coming down to our senses. Okay, you’ll also allow us to use a machine to detect these differences. We’re still seeing the same problems.

    I think my position can be best explained by the suggestion that everything we know is reducible to senses. How do we know which way is north? Well, we have our sense of what the compass looks like and our sense that compasses reliably tell us which way is north. Some of this could be memories of many, many sense experiences.

    But the point here is that you can have ontological differences without there being sense differences. That’s part of the point of solipsism to begin with – it’s a case of a vastly different ontological makeup than what is typically assumed, with no necessary change to the experiences.

    But if that ontological difference is completely disconnected from sense differences, then there’s going to be no way to determine if that ontological difference exists. The difference is fundamentally undetectable — it’s not just that we currently don’t notice the difference, it’s that we will unequivocally *never* notice the difference.

    And if we know for sure the difference will never come up in our lives, then to say discussion of solipsism is impractical is saying the least.

    Though arguably, if you believe there’s no one but you experiencing anything, you ‘should’ stop reacting to them and thinking about them as if they do.

    I disagree, and don’t know how you demonstrate that reaction as appropriate. If you stop reacting to them or stop caring about them, you will end up with negative reactions and a lower quality of life.

    No; as far as we know, you can’t turn water into wine without substituting these things. And even that is suspect, since if I recall right this can happen with ‘quantum tunneling’. Also, even under a miracle there’s going to be a chemical change in the example you give – water one moment, wine the next, is a change.

    But you can notice the change from water to wine and see if there are intermediary steps. If there are no intermediary steps, then I think that qualifies as a miracle. I don’t think quantum tunneling can turn water to wine without detectable intermediary steps, but I don’t know much about quantum tunneling.

    Saying that anyone who dismisses this is a fool is nice, but it’s still not covering up the problem here. There’s always an out available. You can say “Well, this would convince me”. That’s great, but the question isn’t about what would convince an individual in their personal opinion.

    What is the question about then? I’ve pointed out what I think any reasonable person should accept as a tentative demonstration of the supernatural.

    You could complain that they could try to use an out, but there’s always an out for *every* theory. Don’t think that Abraham Lincoln was really president? There’s always an out that all the evidence was forged. There’s always room to be an unreasonable person.

    We are unable to verify that there is no ‘underlying mechanism’ – the best we can get to is admitting that we can’t see or identify the mechanism.

    Right; we’ll never have absolute knowledge. But as we rule out more and more mechanisms, we can be more and more sure that we are seeing something with no underlying mechanism. (Though I think that it is logically impossible for there to be no underlying mechanism.)

    I’d like to turn the tables a bit here and ask you some questions:
    1. What do you think a miracle is?
    2. Do you believe in miracles? Why or why not?
    3. Can you establish the existence of miracles? If so, how?
    4. If you answered yes to 2 but no to 3, why do you believe something you can’t establish?
    6. If you answered yes to 2 but no to 3, do you think it is reasonable to reject the existence of miracles?

    Forgetting for a moment you’re basically setting up your standards of evidence such that God has to be giving a non-stop magic show to anyone who asks at any time

    Sure, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all. If God can’t be demonstrated without his revelation, I don’t see why he doesn’t reveal himself. It doesn’t even have to be a magic show, it could just be conversations with nonbelievers and answering their questions.

    I remember PZ Myers saying that if the Virgin Mary appeared to him, he’d chalk it up to brain damage.

    I don’t think this is unreasonable either — given that currently all known appearances have been attributed to brain damage, it makes sense to count yourself in this set if you experience an appearance.

    This doesn’t mean appearances aren’t demonstrable, though, for you can rule out brain damage if there is an appearance to a large enough sample… say the entire population of New York, or everyone in the world.

    How would you be able to tell that the water was ‘changed’ into wine, rather than there being water there one moment, wine the next?

    The observation of intermediary/transitionary steps.

    Prayer is not ‘magic words that are supposed to give anyone who use them what they want’. It’s worship of, or at least communication with, God. By your standard, God has to do what we ask at certain reliable rates or prayers don’t get answered. That’s silly, like insisting that if the president doesn’t veto X number of bills that clearly he doesn’t have the ability to veto anything.

    That’s not my only argument against prayer, see The Contradictory Failure of Prayer for my full argument.

    If I find a flag on top of Mount Everest and wonder how it got there, saying ‘Sir Edmund Hillary planted it there’ doesn’t explain how he managed to get up there, how he did it, etc. But it still provides an explanation for the flag.

    It doesn’t provide an adequate explanation, because it just establishes “Edmund Hillary -> ??? -> Flag”. The same is true of “God -> ??? -> Universe” or “Phlogiston -> ??? -> Combustion”. Until you fill in the “???” with at least something, I don’t think you know anything more about how the flag got there.

    And I don’t think miracles can fill in the “???” with anything, specifically because they don’t appeal to explanations in the traditional way.

  31. @cl:

    No offense, but in the interest of paring down both time and typing, I’m going to try a new tack: focusing on an isolated issue until we’ve come to some kind of conclusion, then moving on to other issues.

    Fair enough and I’m willing to try the new approach, but I worry that the other issues will be simply forgotten.

    There’s that incredulity again. “X is impossible because X doesn’t make sense to me” gets no love around these parts. Can you give me an actual reason why an act of sheer will cannot be an underlying mechanism?

    Let’s say you want to move a block through a sheer act of will? Does your act of will change anything about the block? If it does not change anything about the block, then what makes the block move?

    If it does change something about the block, then what caused that change? You would have to keep tracking the changes back until you finally track back to the act of will. If this is the case, then you’ve established the causal mechanism.

    For instance, perhaps your act of will changes atoms in your brain, which slightly change how you breathe, which creates an eddy that eventually manifests in the atmosphere creating a freak storm, which causes lightning to hit the block, knocking it off balance, moving it. In this case, your sheer act of will can move a block with no logical contradiction.

    But if you can move the block without changing anything about the block, then you’re influencing something without influencing it, which is X and ~X, a logical contradiction.

  32. @Garren:

    I think we’re using different meanings of ‘meaning.’ You seem to intend it as something like ‘practical significance’ or ‘empirically distinguishable,’ whereas I’m using it to mean ‘ontologically distinct’ or ‘conceptually distinguishable.’

    I think that’s the case too. My responses to Crude regarding solipsism also apply to you considering ontological distinctions, though — if you can’t establish these distinctions, then what is the point?

    On a separate note, I do think belief in solipsism vs. non-solipsism can make a difference in behavior, because a person could have desires that involve the internal experience of suffering in others (i.e. not just concern about the outward appearances of suffering). Such a desire would have a different effect on non-solipsists than on solipsists. So the question of solipsism can have practical significance even if it’s not empirically distinguishable.

    That’s true and a good point, but the difference only works if the agent has any reason to think solipsism is more likely than non-solipsism. I hold that there’s no way the agent can have any reason to think that.

    Therefore there’s no reason to deny or affirm that people are real instead of p-zombies, so since the outward appearances of suffering are the only thing you can possibly go on, you might as well make your moral judgements about those.

  33. Crude says:

    And if we know for sure the difference will never come up in our lives, then to say discussion of solipsism is impractical is saying the least.

    I think I’m with the other commenter who mentioned ‘Well, now I see what you mean by meaningless’. If all you mean is ‘there’s no way to tell if solipsism is true or not by empirical methods’, I’d agree. That’s part of the point of it.

    I disagree, and don’t know how you demonstrate that reaction as appropriate. If you stop reacting to them or stop caring about them, you will end up with negative reactions and a lower quality of life.

    “Negative” according to who? “Lower quality of life” according to who?

    Are you saying that if a person could get a better or equal quality of life by no longer caring about them (You can ‘react’ to them, but you’d ‘react’ ultimately the same way you’d react to automata or mere mindless things), then this would be okay?

    But you can notice the change from water to wine and see if there are intermediary steps. If there are no intermediary steps, then I think that qualifies as a miracle. I don’t think quantum tunneling can turn water to wine without detectable intermediary steps, but I don’t know much about quantum tunneling.

    See, you can’t actually “see if there are no intermediary steps”. At best you can look and maybe you’ll see intermediary steps, maybe you won’t. But if you don’t see them, you don’t know they aren’t there. And hey, welcome to the limits of science and observation.

    Likewise, you can see processes and infer things that aren’t really there. People ‘saw’ phlogistons.

    What is the question about then? I’ve pointed out what I think any reasonable person should accept as a tentative demonstration of the supernatural.
    You could complain that they could try to use an out, but there’s always an out for *every* theory. Don’t think that Abraham Lincoln was really president? There’s always an out that all the evidence was forged. There’s always room to be an unreasonable person.

    And, prior to Big Bang theory, one of the lines in the sand and attitudes was “If the universe had a beginning, then supernaturalism is true.” And that was probably seemed as a very reasonable bet as near as a hundred years ago.

    But when the evidence went in the other direction? Suddenly that position was scrapped. Now it’s not unreasonable anymore.

    I’m not interested here in ‘what reasonable people would accept’, because what’s ‘reasonable’ and not has proven to be ridiculously fluid over time, especially on these questions – I don’t think there’s a rapt system for determining reasonability. In my view, ‘reasonable people’ can infer God, even the truth of Christianity, right at this moment with the evidence available. There are people – scientists even – willing to give up causality now. This was unthinkable once.

    Right; we’ll never have absolute knowledge. But as we rule out more and more mechanisms, we can be more and more sure that we are seeing something with no underlying mechanism. (Though I think that it is logically impossible for there to be no underlying mechanism.)

    No, we can’t. Because it’s not like we start with a Master List of Mechanisms, and we cross each out as we test. There can be mechanisms we don’t imagine yet. There can be mechanisms we never will imagine. There could be brute facts. There can be mechanisms that just aren’t investigatable to us.

    1. What do you think a miracle is?

    I’m undecided on the true extent of what is a miracle, but ‘acts of God or gods, direct or intermediate, meant to communicate to us’ would at least be included.

    2. Do you believe in miracles? Why or why not?

    I do. Why? Because it seems very reasonable to regard our universe as a created thing, and likewise reasonable to imagine the creator or creators (I’m a monotheistic Christian, but I’m speaking broadly here) interacting with creation. I think some events are reasonably explicable as miracles.

    3. Can you establish the existence of miracles? If so, how?

    Establish the existence of miracles? What, beyond all doubt? No. I’m skeptical and cynical.

    6. If you answered yes to 2 but no to 3, do you think it is reasonable to reject the existence of miracles?

    I could see it being reasonable to reject particular miracles. To reject the very possibility of miracles? Not really.

    Sure, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all.

    Well, then we’re at an impasse, since I think that’s entirely ridiculous. And I think it illustrates that what you’re asking for here is not ‘the right kind of miracle’, it’s closer non-stop 24/7 miracles.

    If God can’t be demonstrated without his revelation, I don’t see why he doesn’t reveal himself. It doesn’t even have to be a magic show, it could just be conversations with nonbelievers and answering their questions.

    Nothing can be ‘demonstrated’ so strongly in my view, though there are arguments for God that purport to demonstrate him via logic and reason which I’m sympathetic to – but we have our hands full with this topic. And really? Conversations? Question one would be ‘How do we know you’re God anyway?’ And then we’re back to the need for the magic show.

    I don’t think this is unreasonable either — given that currently all known appearances have been attributed to brain damage, it makes sense to count yourself in this set if you experience an appearance.

    This is flat out false. No, not ‘currently all known appearances have been attributed to brain damage’. Unless you mean ‘all known experiences could have in principle been brain damage’. But that would apply to absolutely every experience, not just ‘miraculous’ ones.

    This doesn’t mean appearances aren’t demonstrable, though, for you can rule out brain damage if there is an appearance to a large enough sample… say the entire population of New York, or everyone in the world.

    The Miracle of the Sun took place. It got written off as a case of mass hallucination, or extremely good timing of a very rare event that couldn’t have been foretold in advance by those in question (Which, given that it was a prophetic event, is kind of funny.)

    Again, by “demonstrable” all you mean is “something I personally would accept”. But I’m not interested in subjective judgment calls – they’re ridiculously slippery.

    The observation of intermediary/transitionary steps.

    And the lack of observing those steps don’t mean they don’t exist. And what if there are transitionary steps, but we can’t make sense of them or explain how they could have been manipulated so?

    It doesn’t provide an adequate explanation, because it just establishes “Edmund Hillary -> ??? -> Flag”. The same is true of “God -> ??? -> Universe” or “Phlogiston -> ??? -> Combustion”. Until you fill in the “???” with at least something, I don’t think you know anything more about how the flag got there.

    Adequate meaning complete? Sure, no doubt. But it does provide a partial explanation, which is enough.

    If your standard for accepting miracles is “I have to know the rapt mechanism of how it happened”, and your standard for miracles is “things which happen without a mechanism”, you’re in an interesting position. Not to mention, this sort of standard doesn’t even fly in day to day life – do you accept that evolution is true and explains various organisms, even though you don’t know all of the mechanisms involved or what took place to result in various organisms?

    Likewise, there are ‘laws’ in science. Do you demand a mechanism for the laws? If so, then you’d have laws governing those mechanisms, and so on unto infinity. If you don’t, well…

  34. joseph says:

    Okay,
    So when I asked how to assess whether a supernatural agency was involved or not, I didn’t get an answer. I just got questioned as to whether the examples I gave where supernatural.

    Clearly I don’t understand your conception of supernatural.

    If we ran an experiment, and a kitsune was controlling the resilts we’d get all kinds of mischief (oh my goodness, kitsune are in charge of quantum mechanics). Why would conscious, supernatural beings lead to repeatable law like results? Why wouldn’t we get unlaw-like results (energy-matter was not preserved, because a demon ate my left sock?

    I gave some examples of previously respected methods of inquiry into the divine. You say you don’t know what I mean, I don’t know whats not to understand. I’ll throw in:

    Main Entry: 2respect
    Function: transitive verb
    Date: 1560
    1 a : to consider worthy of high regard : esteem

    Not to be offensive, but as I don’t know what else you want (numbers of people, percentage of GDP spent in ancient babylon on horoscopes, the names of those involved, biblical references).

    To make it clear that I am not holding you to a double standard, and the supernaturalism may be spot on, but it’s human proponents (I can’t say formulaters without risk of causing offence) I have asked for your own suggestions. Sure, it’s been ages, supernaturalists may well have moved on, old systems of supernaturalism may be outdated, where are we now? What’s modern supernaturalistic thought on communing with the supernatural? I don’t know.

    Aristotleanism, so you know much more about this than me, how are souls different, and how would that mean we scientifically investigate them?

    Idealism, non physical anything, how do we investigate that?

    If we allow physicalism to be redefined whenever it’s wrong and say ‘therefore physicalism was never wrong’, it’s pretty pointless to talk about.

    I’ll give religion the same leeway, and remember physicalism is a man made system based on current knowledge
    @thomas – yes I totally agree with your recent post on this.
    Physicalism is wrong now, it’s just related to the most workable approach for investigation and it self corrects.

  35. joseph says:

    Back to a much earlier question:

    . If a supernatural (superphysical if you prefer) agency acted on a physical system, is it to be presumed (as I believe Dominic Crossan does) that this would be done through physical mechanisms?

    If a supernatural being wanted to do something miraculous could it eventually be understood by naturalistic methodology (which is not to say physicalism is right), or could it not (which is to say physicalism is unsalvageably wrong).

  36. Crude says:

    Joseph,

    So when I asked how to assess whether a supernatural agency was involved or not, I didn’t get an answer. I just got questioned as to whether the examples I gave where supernatural.
    Clearly I don’t understand your conception of supernatural.

    Like I said earlier, I don’t really care for the distinction of ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’. Natural’s been changed so many times, and right now has severe trouble even being given a meaning. When that’s the case, what’s the point of pretending something is supernatural?

    If we ran an experiment, and a kitsune was controlling the resilts we’d get all kinds of mischief (oh my goodness, kitsune are in charge of quantum mechanics). Why would conscious, supernatural beings lead to repeatable law like results? Why wouldn’t we get unlaw-like results (energy-matter was not preserved, because a demon ate my left sock?

    What makes a ‘kitsune in charge of quantum mechanics’ supernatural? Because it sounds funny?

    Why would getting ‘unlaw-like results’ mean ‘supernatural’? How do you know the difference between ‘unlaw-like results’ and ‘results that we haven’t identified a law for yet’?

    I’m a computer programmer in a hobbyist fashion. I create programs quite often that function in predictable, lawlike ways. So what, you can’t attribute the programs I make to me because I’m an agent?

    I gave some examples of previously respected methods of inquiry into the divine. You say you don’t know what I mean, I don’t know whats not to understand

    Because “some isolated person or small group of people thought this was a good idea” does not add up to ‘respected’ in any relevant sense. Should I say that homeopathy and scientology are ‘respected scientific theories’? I mean, there are people out there who ‘hold them in esteem’. How about eugenics? Lamarckism? Color wheel treatment? Kellogg and his claim that eating sugar-less cereal will keep people from masturbating?

    I already pointed out the problem of comparing ‘physicalism’ with individuals. I don’t know why you don’t get it.

    Not to be offensive, but as I don’t know what else you want (numbers of people, percentage of GDP spent in ancient babylon on horoscopes, the names of those involved, biblical references).

    What makes horoscopes ‘supernatural’? The fact that you think they’re wrong? Are phlogistons supernatural in retrospect too? I’ve seen Victor Stenger accuse Fred Hoyle’s steady state theory of being supernatural and/or miraculous. That would have been news to Hoyle.

    Let me repeat: I personally reject the supernatural/natural distinction for the most part. I don’t think it works, especially since what qualifies as ‘natural’ or even ‘physical’ has changed, repeatedly, and considerably – and likely will in the future.

    Aristotleanism, so you know much more about this than me, how are souls different, and how would that mean we scientifically investigate them?

    Souls are forms/principles, not substances. Trying to ‘scientifically investigate’ a metaphysical view – whether it’s materialism, Aristotileanism, or otherwise – isn’t a question given the limits of science. Just as you don’t ’empirically investigate’ whether 6 / 4 = 1.5. There’s another method of investigation.

    I’ll give religion the same leeway, and remember physicalism is a man made system based on current knowledge

    I don’t care if you give it leeway. What qualifies as physical has already been changed repeatedly in light of new evidence. It will probably change again. That alone weighs heavily against even taking ‘physicalism’ seriously, much less the claim that ‘physicalism’ has had some kind of amazing track record. (Hell, look at the original idea of something having created our universe. That was probably the best, oldest example of a supernatural claim, regardless of what created our universe, God or anything else. Until multiverses became popular, conjoined with the Big Bang. Then, the idea of something ‘spawning’ universes became natural practically overnight.)

    Also, not all aspects of religion involve revelation from God. Aristotileanism was a ‘man made system based on current knowledge’, though the knowledge had more to do with axioms and logic rather than empiricism.

    Look, I appreciate that you’d like this all wrapped up and neatly packaged, where THIS is natural and THAT is supernatural. But it can’t be done anymore, and was never really done to begin with.

  37. Crude says:

    joseph,

    If a supernatural (superphysical if you prefer) agency acted on a physical system, is it to be presumed (as I believe Dominic Crossan does) that this would be done through physical mechanisms?

    We’re back to this. What qualifies as a ‘physical mechanism’ again? Do particles that pop into existence out of apparent nothingness count as a ‘physical mechanism’? And what does it mean to ‘do something through’ physical mechanisms?

    If a supernatural being wanted to do something miraculous could it eventually be understood by naturalistic methodology (which is not to say physicalism is right), or could it not (which is to say physicalism is unsalvageably wrong).

    If physicalism is unsalvageably wrong in the case that something cannot be understood by us using ‘naturalistic methodology’, physicalism is as good as dead anyway. (Unless we’re, yet again, back to the game of ‘Maybe someday a billion years from now someone will understand this and you never know’, but then what’s the point of even asking this?) Even self-identified naturalists and physicalists admit that science will never answer all questions. And how can you ‘understand’ a miracle by naturalistic methodology? Make an Intelligent Design inference? But even those inferences are exact that – inferences, not total understanding.

  38. joseph says:

    @crude
    Sorry if I am slow, I am learning as I go along.

    Apparent nothingness count as a ‘physical mechanism’?
    It obeys laws we derive without recourse to supernatural mechanisms, such as a Kitsune made it happen. I don’t understand it, if that’s what you mean.

    And what does it mean to ‘do something through’
    So if God did X, would it be hidden through a veil of natural laws, not in contradiction to them, or would it contradict them and forever remain inexplicable?

    Why would physicalism be dead if it is making ground? Why does it immediatley have to have all the answers? Why can’t it be progressive?

    “Souls are forms/principles, not substances.”
    I absolutely don’t understand this. I will look into Aristotle for a few months and think it over. Thankyou for raising a line of inquiry.

  39. joseph says:

    “What qualifies as physical has already been changed repeatedly in light of new evidence. It will probably change again.”

    Same goes for the supernatural as far as I can tell…but I am not discounting it, just asking for an up to date formulation.

    I accept maybe you view it as a false distinction. To me that would make God, spirits, kami, the claims of prophets etc understandable amd open for investigation.

    “What makes horoscopes supernatural”
    I always though it was the definition of a horoscope as an interpretation of a message from a divine being, plus the contention held by practicioners that any attempt to investigate them using scientific methods would fail. Nothing to do with whether they are right or wrong.

    As for the questions about homeopathy, you could say it was respected at one time. I mean respected to the point where it would form a major part of a nation. For example Christianity is a respected view in modern Northern America, but if we expanded across all nations across time, we would no longer view Christianity as respected (by people).

    Kitsune and quantum mechanics, not because it sounds funny, but because I would attribute such a unintuitive system to a trickster God of some sort. Of course I am not right (or I hope not).

    I’m a computer programmer in a hobbyist fashion. I create programs quite often that function in predictable, lawlike ways. So what, you can’t attribute the programs I make to me because I’m an agent?

    You can, but I’d expect you could break those rules at will.

    ” i already pointed out the problem of comparing ‘physicalism’ with individuals. I don’t know why you don’t get it.”

    I’ve missed it. Way I see it, physicalism is a human construct, all our failings are reflected in it, it doesn’t pretend to be more.

    Look, sorry if I’m not understanding you quickly enough, thankyou for giving me Aristotleism to consider. If there is no real distinction between supernatural and natural, and many previous religions were mistaken, then we live in exciting times.

  40. joseph says:

    This is possibly an even more stupid question, but why can’t I test the proposition 6/4=1.5?
    I get 6 loaves, divide into 4 equal amounts and check that I get 1.5 loaves.
    If I had supernatural powers, like Jesus, I might be able to disprove this.

  41. Crude says:

    Joseph,

    It obeys laws we derive without recourse to supernatural mechanisms, such as a Kitsune made it happen. I don’t understand it, if that’s what you mean.

    But I’m asking you why “a kitsune made it happen” is supernatural. And the impression I’m getting – forgive me if I’m wrong – is ‘because it sounds silly to me, maybe even magical’.

    So if God did X, would it be hidden through a veil of natural laws, not in contradiction to them, or would it contradict them and forever remain inexplicable?

    Why either-or? And what about other options, like being apparently explicable through an incorrect theory? “That miracle was a quantum fluctuation” or “That was the result of a hallucination”. These can both in theory explain the miracle – but still be wrong.

    Why would physicalism be dead if it is making ground? Why does it immediatley have to have all the answers? Why can’t it be progressive?

    You’re the one who offered up that if physicalism could not explain something, then physicalism is wrong. But it seems you want to add on ‘but physicalism has an eternity to find answers, so if at any point it doesn’t have an answer that doesn’t mean it’s wrong’. Add in the fact that physicalism can and already has changed its commitments, and it’s pretty vacuous as a position.

    Same goes for the supernatural as far as I can tell…but I am not discounting it, just asking for an up to date formulation.

    Yeah, various things that were previously considered occult or supernatural are now considered natural. That’s part and parcel with changing the definition of natural and physical.

    I accept maybe you view it as a false distinction. To me that would make God, spirits, kami, the claims of prophets etc understandable amd open for investigation.

    Why? That seems like a pretty severe change of mind for what amounts to a definition change. Just because something is called “natural” doesn’t magically make it open to observation.

    I always though it was the definition of a horoscope as an interpretation of a message from a divine being, plus the contention held by practicioners that any attempt to investigate them using scientific methods would fail. Nothing to do with whether they are right or wrong.

    ‘Message from a divine being’? No, there’s many forms of it, but it basically comes down to the idea that the positions of celestial bodies can impact world events and beings. Even wikipedia lists it as a pseudoscience.

    Worse, if I ask ‘What makes astrology supernatural?’ and saying ‘Because it involves interpretation of a message from a divine being’ – if divine and supernatural are roughly equivalent here – would just lead me to ask, ‘What makes that being supernatural?’ That he has divine powers? What makes his powers supernatural?

    You can, but I’d expect you could break those rules at will.

    I can. What if I never do? What if I never need to, because the program I code will take care of that without my intervention?

    If there is no real distinction between supernatural and natural, and many previous religions were mistaken, then we live in exciting times.

    No, because ‘many previous religions’ don’t automatically become ‘mistaken’ due to pointing out that a type of definitional distinction is invalid.

    This is possibly an even more stupid question, but why can’t I test the proposition 6/4=1.5?

    Because your ‘test’ is not an empirical test, it’s a mathematical one. You need to know and take on mathematical axioms – the ‘pieces of bread’ are superfluous.

  42. @Crude, on solipsism:

    Me: And if we know for sure the difference will never come up in our lives, then to say discussion of solipsism is impractical is saying the least.

    Crude: I think I’m with the other commenter who mentioned ‘Well, now I see what you mean by meaningless’. If all you mean is ‘there’s no way to tell if solipsism is true or not by empirical methods’, I’d agree. That’s part of the point of it.

    But it’s slightly more potent than that. If you have no way of knowing solipsism is false, how does it make sense to call it false?

    What do you think a meaningless theory is, if not for a theory that asserts that no fundamentally detectable difference in the world will take place? (And by “fundamentally detectable”, I mean it is logically possible for one to detect this.)

    Me: I disagree, and don’t know how you demonstrate that reaction as appropriate. If you stop reacting to them or stop caring about them, you will end up with negative reactions and a lower quality of life.

    Crude: “Negative” according to who? “Lower quality of life” according to who?

    According to the psychology which suggests that caring about people correlates with happiness. Even from a game theoretic standpoint, cooperation with these people leads to benefits that are true regardless of the unobserved ontology of their minds.

    You can ‘react’ to them, but you’d ‘react’ ultimately the same way you’d react to automata or mere mindless things

    I still think this is an inappropriate response, even given the ontology. Consider Commander Data from Star Trek — he’s an automata; a merely mindless thing, but he’s still capable of the full range of life, purpose, and meaningful relations.

    On a naturalist/reductionist view, humans do reduce to fundamentally mindless interactions, so one could even suggest that we are automata too. But this doesn’t make solipsism true.

    Are you saying that if a person could get a better or equal quality of life by no longer caring about [people], then this would be okay?

    Sort of. What I am saying is that (1) I don’t think you actually can get a better or equal quality of life by no longer caring about people, and (2) if it was the case that you could, then other people have reasons to change that.

  43. cl says:

    Hi all. Sorry for my relative lack of input in this thread. I’m trying to catch up now. Combing through the thread, a few questions caught my attention…

    joseph,

    If a supernatural (superphysical if you prefer) agency acted on a physical system, is it to be presumed (as I believe Dominic Crossan does) that this would be done through physical mechanisms?

    I don’t delineate between “supernatural” and “physical.” As far as mechanisms are concerned, they exist, or they don’t. Thus far, the word “physical” has not been meaningfully defined. Therefore, it makes no sense to talk about “physical mechanisms.”

    If a supernatural being wanted to do something miraculous could it eventually be understood by naturalistic methodology (which is not to say physicalism is right), or could it not (which is to say physicalism is unsalvageably wrong).

    That’s just it: physicalism cannot, even in principle, be demonstrated as wrong. Remember, “physicalism” = “all that we could ever detect via the senses” -ism. If science ever got to the point where it could explain the transfiguration of water into wine, then it would simply subsume that phenomenon under “physicalism.” This, of course, makes “physicalism” a meaningless, empty term, and it makes reprehensible those who use “physicalism” as a shield [i.e. those promissory “physicalists” like Luke Muehlhauser, who say of miracle claims, “I’m sure science can provide a physical explanation some day”].

    I see that you and Crude are getting along in your discussion; let me know if there are any specific questions you’d like me to answer. Sorry if that doesn’t satisfy, it’s just that this thread has grown quite long, to the point that it seems daunting to go back and respond to every single question. But, I’d be more than happy to tackle a few key questions, if you can take the time to figure out what you’d most like to hear from me.

    Peter,

    Earlier, I asked you to give me an actual reason why an act of sheer will cannot be an underlying mechanism. You replied,

    Let’s say you want to move a block through a sheer act of will? Does your act of will change anything about the block? If it does not change anything about the block, then what makes the block move?

    If it does change something about the block, then what caused that change? You would have to keep tracking the changes back until you finally track back to the act of will. If this is the case, then you’ve established the causal mechanism.

    For instance, perhaps your act of will changes atoms in your brain, which slightly change how you breathe, which creates an eddy that eventually manifests in the atmosphere creating a freak storm, which causes lightning to hit the block, knocking it off balance, moving it. In this case, your sheer act of will can move a block with no logical contradiction.

    But if you can move the block without changing anything about the block, then you’re influencing something without influencing it, which is X and ~X, a logical contradiction.

    You didn’t give me a reason why an act of sheer will can’t be a underlying causal mechanism. In fact, you explained, satisfactorily in my opinion, how an act of sheer will *CAN* be an underlying causal mechanism. Also, I’ll wager to say that nobody, not even God, can move a block without changing anything about the block. And no, not because of my intuition. It’s logically impossible. So, do we now agree that an act of sheer will cannot be disqualified as an underlying causal mechanism?

  44. Crude says:

    Peter,

    What do you think a meaningless theory is, if not for a theory that asserts that no fundamentally detectable difference in the world will take place? (And by “fundamentally detectable”, I mean it is logically possible for one to detect this.)

    A theory that makes no ontological difference, which is different from a theory which makes no empirical difference.

    According to the psychology which suggests that caring about people correlates with happiness. Even from a game theoretic standpoint, cooperation with these people leads to benefits that are true regardless of the unobserved ontology of their minds.

    First, psychology is not set in stone – keep in mind the psychology in question here tends to focus on ‘normal, healthy’ people. Standards which get very subjective given naturalism. Are you denying that it’s naturally possible for a person to benefit from not caring about others?

    As for game theoretic standpoints, those only work with assumptions of value. If Frank and I will gain 10 dollars together if we cooperate, 0 dollars if we betray each other, and 2 dollars if one of us screws over the other while the other tries to work with the other, the ‘rational response’ is for Frank and me to gain 10 dollars… if my main concern is maximizing money.

    What if I’ll be happier if Frank gets nothing? What if losing out on 2-10 dollars means I skip out on a trip to Wendy’s today, but it means Frank starves – and I really don’t like Frank?

    I still think this is an inappropriate response, even given the ontology. Consider Commander Data from Star Trek — he’s an automata; a merely mindless thing, but he’s still capable of the full range of life, purpose, and meaningful relations.

    I have no idea if Data is mindless. Neither do the characters in the series, really. He’s, at best, capable of certain appearances.

    On a naturalist/reductionist view, humans do reduce to fundamentally mindless interactions, so one could even suggest that we are automata too. But this doesn’t make solipsism true.

    Automata wouldn’t have the inner life we do, in my view. Nor does a ‘naturalist, reductionist’ view get there anyway – it depends on what you reduce to, first off. (Panpsychism comes to mind.) And naturalism? That word still has problems.

    Sort of. What I am saying is that (1) I don’t think you actually can get a better or equal quality of life by no longer caring about people, and (2) if it was the case that you could, then other people have reasons to change that.

    Right, but obviously my question assumes 1 is false, or at the very least not certainly true. As for 2, sure they do. And if I can keep them from doing so, I suppose I should, eh?

    Honestly, that’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario for you as near as I can tell. If the laws of nature are such that it is always in everyone individual’s best interests to act as kind and cooperative and generous as possible regardless of situation, then wow – talk about an argument that nature is fundamentally teleological.

    If the laws of nature aren’t such, then that does some interesting things to any prospective morality given a naturalist viewpoint.

  45. cl says:

    Crude,

    As for game theoretic standpoints, those only work with assumptions of value. If Frank and I will gain 10 dollars together if we cooperate, 0 dollars if we betray each other, and 2 dollars if one of us screws over the other while the other tries to work with the other, the ‘rational response’ is for Frank and me to gain 10 dollars… if my main concern is maximizing money.

    Exactly. That’s an example of the fundamentally necessary “arbitrary proclamation” a naturalist must make when pontificating on morality.

    And naturalism? That word still has problems.

    Yes, most notably that it’s typically used as shorthand for, “no God” -ism.

    Honestly, that’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario for you as near as I can tell. If the laws of nature are such that it is always in everyone individual’s best interests to act as kind and cooperative and generous as possible regardless of situation, then wow – talk about an argument that nature is fundamentally teleological.

    Well said.

  46. @Crude, on miracles:

    See, you can’t actually “see if there are no intermediary steps”. At best you can look and maybe you’ll see intermediary steps, maybe you won’t. But if you don’t see them, you don’t know they aren’t there. And hey, welcome to the limits of science and observation.

    I agree with you here, so now you’re going to start seeing me backpedal naturalism, concede to you, and change my tune. Fair warning.

    And, prior to Big Bang theory, one of the lines in the sand and attitudes was “If the universe had a beginning, then supernaturalism is true.” And that was probably seemed as a very reasonable bet as near as a hundred years ago.

    I think this is true as far as a “something from nothing” event requires supernaturalism. Now that other conversations have made me not hold that position as strongly, however, I’m more inclined to agree with you here.

    I also agree with you that the definition of “supernatural” has changed plenty over the years, or it hasn’t even been well established in the first place.

    That being said, I don’t think the current universe actually has a beginning, or at least not an established one.

    I do [believe in miracles]. Why? Because it seems very reasonable to regard our universe as a created thing, and likewise reasonable to imagine the creator or creators (I’m a monotheistic Christian, but I’m speaking broadly here) interacting with creation. I think some events are reasonably explicable as miracles.

    Which events do you think are reasonably explicable as miracles, and what criteria singled those events out to you?

    Do you think that if we establish that our universe was created and we establish the creators interact with their creation, we’ve established the existence of miracles?

    I could see it being reasonable to reject particular miracles. To reject the very possibility of miracles? Not really.

    Do you agree though that we can’t demonstrate the existence of miracles, even in principle? Because that’s what it sounds like you’ve been arguing. If so, doesn’t that make miracles a lot like solipsism?

    Well, then we’re at an impasse, since I think that’s entirely ridiculous [to ask God to prove himself via magic show]. And I think it illustrates that what you’re asking for here is not ‘the right kind of miracle’, it’s closer non-stop 24/7 miracles.

    The right miracle done in the right setting with today’s media coverage would be far more powerful than miracles done back in Biblical times, however.

    I wrote about this in my essay “Where is God?”: what exactly is ridiculous about asking God to grant a personal revelation to every single human being? A universal revelation could not be attributed to hallucination or brain damage, and is not different than what was given to Doubting Thomas.

    there are arguments for God that purport to demonstrate him via logic and reason which I’m sympathetic to – but we have our hands full with this topic.

    I would love to discuss these with you sometime, though.

    This is flat out false. No, not ‘currently all known appearances have been attributed to brain damage’. Unless you mean ‘all known experiences could have in principle been brain damage’. But that would apply to absolutely every experience, not just ‘miraculous’ ones.

    You’re right; I’m going to backpedal here. I meant that enough appearances are attributable to brain damage that it’s a good first guess.

    The Miracle of the Sun took place. It got written off as a case of mass hallucination, or extremely good timing of a very rare event that couldn’t have been foretold in advance by those in question (Which, given that it was a prophetic event, is kind of funny.)

    And that’s why The Miracle of the Sun is the by far best attested miracle known today, right along with The Hindu Milk Miracle. I fail to see how something even more clear cut and obvious, like something that doesn’t involve staring at the sun, wouldn’t be a clincher.

    Me: It doesn’t provide an adequate explanation, because it just establishes “Edmund Hillary -> ??? -> Flag”. The same is true of “God -> ??? -> Universe” or “Phlogiston -> ??? -> Combustion”. Until you fill in the “???” with at least something, I don’t think you know anything more about how the flag got there.

    Crude: Adequate meaning complete? Sure, no doubt. But it does provide a partial explanation, which is enough.

    But how do we tell the difference between the validity or soundness of “God -> ?? -> Universe”, “Phlogiston -> ?? -> Fire”, “Edmund Hillary -> ?? -> Flag”, and “Evolution -> ?? -> Humanity”?

    Without filling in those question marks at least some, we get nothing more than a circular definition: “Humanity arose through evolution, and evolution is the process that caused humanity to arise” vs. “God created the universe, and God is the entity that is capable of creating the universe”.

    If your standard for accepting miracles is “I have to know the rapt mechanism of how it happened”, and your standard for miracles is “things which happen without a mechanism”, you’re in an interesting position.

    Yes, this is quite the dilemma, which is why I think miracles may be logically impossible and/or logically impossible to demonstrate.

    Not to mention, this sort of standard doesn’t even fly in day to day life – do you accept that evolution is true and explains various organisms, even though you don’t know all of the mechanisms involved or what took place to result in various organisms?

    I accept evolution because a good deal of the ?? has been filled in. I don’t need the ?? to be completely filled, I just need there to be something. It can’t be those circular explanations I mentioned above.

    Likewise, there are ‘laws’ in science. Do you demand a mechanism for the laws? If so, then you’d have laws governing those mechanisms, and so on unto infinity. If you don’t, well…

    The laws are just mechanisms themselves, and yes, some of them are attributable to other mechanisms. With an eternal universe, maybe it does go all the way on forever. I don’t know.

    Let me repeat: I personally reject the supernatural/natural distinction for the most part. I don’t think it works, especially since what qualifies as ‘natural’ or even ‘physical’ has changed, repeatedly, and considerably – and likely will in the future.

    I’m going to agree with you here, but I think it’s because what is currently said to be supernatural is impossible to demonstrate. I said I’d walk back naturalism, and I will: I’m going to change my position to reductionism for the time being, in want of a better name.

    Either that or a position that just stands for affirming Solomonoff Induction.

  47. Crude says:

    That being said, I don’t think the current universe actually has a beginning, or at least not an established one.

    Well, if anything looks like a beginning we can always say ‘There’s something we’re missing.’ And if it looks like there was no beginning we can always say, ‘There’s something we’re missing.’

    Which events do you think are reasonably explicable as miracles, and what criteria singled those events out to you?

    Do you think that if we establish that our universe was created and we establish the creators interact with their creation, we’ve established the existence of miracles?

    The existence of the universe itself, the resurrection of Christ, the reported miracles associated with Christ… etc, etc. There are various other reported miracles that I’m ambivalent on or I don’t have a firmer opinion on.

    As to the second question, yes, in a practical sense.

    Do you agree though that we can’t demonstrate the existence of miracles, even in principle? Because that’s what it sounds like you’ve been arguing. If so, doesn’t that make miracles a lot like solipsism?

    And I’ve asked, what do you mean by ‘demonstrate the existence of’? Beyond any possible doubt? I can’t ‘demonstrate the existence of’ your mind or an external world to that level. ‘Can one reasonably infer it’? Sure, by my standards.

    No, miracles sound nothing like solipsism. They require an ontologically different world for one thing, are open to some amount of investigation, etc.

    Really, between the two of us, you’re the one who has to answer ‘Doesn’t physicalism sound a lot like solipsism?’ Because you’re the one saying that there’s no difference, in your opinion, between solipsism and physicalism that you can identify, and therefore the distinction melts.

    The right miracle done in the right setting with today’s media coverage would be far more powerful than miracles done back in Biblical times, however.

    I question that – you have to assume one hell of a lot to come to that conclusion. Especially given our advancements with technology. If I sent around video of a legitimate miracle, the accusations of duplicity would come right away. And if backed in a corner, there’s always an out.

    And the miracles done in biblical times were sufficient to accomplish quite a lot. Even nowadays, theism seems to be the preferred position for most.

    And that’s why The Miracle of the Sun is the by far best attested miracle known today, right along with The Hindu Milk Miracle. I fail to see how something even more clear cut and obvious, like something that doesn’t involve staring at the sun, wouldn’t be a clincher.

    Argument from a lack of imagination? ;)

    Seriously though, I think you underestimate the power of people to resist data. Again, back to PZ Myers. He’s drawn a line in the sand: There can be no evidence for God, period. Naturalism would always win with him. He’s not alone. Hell, he said that and was cheered on.

    Without filling in those question marks at least some, we get nothing more than a circular definition: “Humanity arose through evolution, and evolution is the process that caused humanity to arise” vs. “God created the universe, and God is the entity that is capable of creating the universe”.

    Call it a starting point of inquiry if you want. I don’t think it results in a circular definition – it results in an attribution of an act to an agent.

    I accept evolution because a good deal of the ?? has been filled in. I don’t need the ?? to be completely filled, I just need there to be something. It can’t be those circular explanations I mentioned above.

    A good deal? I’m a TE, and I question that severely. There are still arguments over what ‘natural selection’ really is at the end of the day. The bulk is appeal to imagination and logic. ‘Here’s a very simple process. Now, give it millions, even billions of years…’

    The laws are just mechanisms themselves, and yes, some of them are attributable to other mechanisms. With an eternal universe, maybe it does go all the way on forever. I don’t know.

    You wouldn’t even need an eternal universe. But you still have the laws, and it does not good to say ‘the laws are just the mechanisms themselves’. The laws themselves stand in need of explanation – or asserting them as brute, in which case that’s just saying they have no explanation.

    I’m going to agree with you here, but I think it’s because what is currently said to be supernatural is impossible to demonstrate. I said I’d walk back naturalism, and I will: I’m going to change my position to reductionism for the time being, in want of a better name.

    If demonstration means proving such that it can’t possibly be false even in principle, very little can be demonstrated. Me, I’m not interested in that level of demonstration – I’m more than comfortable with some uncertainty in life.

  48. cl says:

    Peter,

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to field some of your replies to Crude as if they were to me…

    That being said, I don’t think the current universe actually has a beginning, or at least not an established one.

    Now that’s astounding. On what grounds do you deny physics and astronomy from Einstein to COBE? Honestly, if you’re going to go that route, I don’t know what to say. I mean, I’m open to challenging so-called “well established evidence,” but there has to be a reason. Else, I can’t take any sort of “we should follow the evidence wherever it leads” propositions seriously.

    Do you agree though that we can’t demonstrate the existence of miracles, even in principle? Because that’s what it sounds like you’ve been arguing.

    We can demonstrate the existence of phenomena that can’t be explained through current science. That’s it. This is, very, very, very easy to do. The problem is, once this is done, people tend to process the facts through their worldviews: theists say, “we have a miracle!” and atheists say, “we have something science can one day explain.”

    The right miracle done in the right setting with today’s media coverage would be far more powerful than miracles done back in Biblical times, however.

    Why? Because it seems that way to you? I could just as easily argue the converse. For example, due to the exponential increase in technology, miracles today are subject to a higher degree of scrutiny. After all, we’ve got Photoshop and Final Cut, right? Not to mention covert government projects that make Photoshop look like a brick.

    I wrote about this in my essay “Where is God?”: what exactly is ridiculous about asking God to grant a personal revelation to every single human being?

    What *ISN’T* ridiculous about asking God to grant a personal revelation to every single human being?

    Yes, this is quite the dilemma, which is why I think miracles may be logically impossible and/or logically impossible to demonstrate.

    They’re actually quite easy to demonstrate. You know as well as I do that miraculous things happen quite often. What’s impossible to demonstrate is the underlying mechanism, because, no matter what I say, you can always reply, “Well it’s probably just something physical that caused this unexplainable event.”

    I accept evolution because a good deal of the ?? has been filled in.

    Yet here you are denying the whole of cosmology! Why?

    The laws are just mechanisms themselves, and yes, some of them are attributable to other mechanisms

    Laws are NOT mechanisms. Laws are handy shorthand we use to describe the regularity we see. Period.

    I’m going to agree with you here, but I think it’s because what is currently said to be supernatural is impossible to demonstrate. I said I’d walk back naturalism, and I will: I’m going to change my position to reductionism for the time being, in want of a better name.

    That’s awesome. I like that you can do that. Anyone, atheist, theist, or neither, should be able to see the utter meaninglessness of the terms as typically defined today.

    Either that or a position that just stands for affirming Solomonoff Induction.

    Well, first you’ve got to make real-world sense out of what sounds like a bunch of tech gibberish.

  49. joseph says:

    @crude

    I’m very happy, if all the supernatural claims can be empirically tests, defined and understood by humans that’s awesome.

    If I am locked out of understanding them, defining and testing them by definition then I will ignore them.

    Thankyou

  50. joseph says:

    @Crude and CL
    Because this may pinpoint where I’ve gone wrong…
    this caught my eye:
    Just because something is called “natural” doesn’t magically make it open to observation.
    That is the difference between “natural” and “supernatural” that I’ve been taught. Natural is observable, can be described by mathematical models (so much so that they are called Laws) and can be tested.

  51. cl says:

    Peter,

    I’ve been spending time on your blog. When you get a second, can you explain the apparent discrepancy between,

    …I don’t think the current universe actually has a beginning, or at least not an established one.

    …and,

    The idea of a Big Bang being the origin of the universe sounds crazy, but it has been overwhelmingly proven by General Relativity, Vacuum Energy, other proofs of expansion, Microwave Background Radiation, and the number of light elements, among other things.

  52. Crude says:

    joseph,

    That is the difference between “natural” and “supernatural” that I’ve been taught. Natural is observable, can be described by mathematical models (so much so that they are called Laws) and can be tested.

    Natural is observable? So people proposing multiverse speculations involving ‘alternate universes’ that can never be observed even in principle are proposing supernatural ideas? Tell the proponents that. I’d love to hear that various cosmologists and physicists have embraced supernaturalism.

    What about the claim that certain things – laws, universes – are brute facts. You can’t observe the bruteness. You can’t even test it. Are these now supernatural claims?

    What about the existence of an external world? Or the existence of other minds? This isn’t open to testing – back to the solipsism conversation. Is an external world or the existence of other minds now in the supernatural category?

    You have, as near as I can tell, been taught wrong.

  53. joseph says:

    Well, for the bruteness of our universe you can keep researching back into the first moments of the existence of our universe; you could investigate for non-physical minds, or you could attempt to research the creation accounts of varrious religions and see how they near up (though of course metaphor befuddles that path). All I would cautiously propose so far is that the initial expectations of the biblical creation account have not been literally affirmed, cosmic egg scenarios are on the cards, as are deist and of course pantheist ideas.

    As for the multiverse, as you do I doubt a direct test is possible, but can we test the physical laws from which the notion springs? I’d guess so, though I’d guess if we have this conversation in 30 years it will be a different conversation. As a brief aside do you know of any prohibition, biblically, on a multiverse?

    Testing consciousness, if you aren’t a dualist is easy, if you are a dualist….well for me that’s the problem with dualism. Physicalism says things like “if you stimulate these neurones, x will probably happen, let’s see”. Dualism, as far as I can work out, says “yeah even if stimulating those neurones causes x, the mind is still untouched, you’ve just fiddled with it’s interpretive apparatus”.

    If my mind has created this world, which to some extent is true, then I will gladly investigate the world my mind has created. It seems to have created other people as equal if not improved versions of me, so respecting them as I’d respect myself seems a reasonable idea. The only test is by predicting how they’d act if they were conscious and checking for a match. Pop culture leaves me very suspicious of “zombies”.

    Don’t we face a similar problem with the supernatural? Most of the arguments I’ve read for God work as well (some better, some worse) for an evil God, or many Gods (hence Kitsune, ummm…they aren’t particularly funny….but if you find them so it’s your opinion).

  54. joseph says:

    Can I ask, if it’s a meaningful question, how have you embraced supernaturalism in your life?

    If your objection to that question is the definition of supernatural, then more specifically; God, Gods, the Devil, Angels, Demons, Spirits, Ghosts, Souls, Kami, witchcraft, magic, sorcery, necromancy, soothsaying, astrology, buddhas, ghede.

    I’ve cast a wide net, and don’t mean to offend, some of my loved ones do believe in such things.

  55. cl says:

    joseph,

    If you don’t mind, I’m going to butt in a little…

    …you could investigate for non-physical minds…

    You can’t though, not when “physicalism” *actually* means “anything we can ever empirically detect” -ism. The so-called “non-physical” minds would simply become subsumed under that definition of “physical.” Now, one might object that this is just semantics — and to a certain extent it is. However, it’s beyond semantics when proponents of physicalism claim their position is superior. Their position isn’t actually superior; it simply steals things from the non-physicalists worldview and calls them physical. So, can we now agree on the utter futility of claiming physicalism is a superior worldview?

    As a brief aside do you know of any prohibition, biblically, on a multiverse?

    I can’t think of any direct prohibitions at the moment…

    Most of the arguments I’ve read for God work as well (some better, some worse) for an evil God, or many Gods…

    Which arguments are you referring to, and can you briefly explain how they work as well for evil / many gods?

  56. Crude says:

    Joseph,

    All I would cautiously propose so far is that the initial expectations of the biblical creation account have not been literally affirmed, cosmic egg scenarios are on the cards, as are deist and of course pantheist ideas.

    Great, it doesn’t need to be. I think Genesis is a shockingly good account of the universe, even allowing that a day is not a literal day.

    “In the cards”? How could they not be in the cards? But full-blown theistic scenarios are in the cards too.

    As a brief aside do you know of any prohibition, biblically, on a multiverse?

    I’m not concerned with what’s biblical or not here. I’m concerned with what is or isn’t supernatural. And by your stated standards, quite a lot of these things are supernatural. I think the standards are bad.

    Physicalism says things like “if you stimulate these neurones, x will probably happen, let’s see”.

    Dualists can and do accept that too. Theirs is a metaphysical, not necessarily an empirical, distinction.

    Can I ask, if it’s a meaningful question, how have you embraced supernaturalism in your life?

    Again, I find the distinction of ‘supernaturalism’ to be near meaningless, due to ‘naturalism’ being pretty much meaningless. And even ‘physicalism’ too, nowadays.

    I accept an agent as being largely responsible for and the cause of our known universe, and I think it’s very reasonable to believe this agent has communicated with us. Is that supernatural? I used to be willing to affirm that – but given the ‘naturalism’ problem, I refuse to play that game anymore. It mostly ends up as being ‘supernatural is any explanation I find laughable and wrong now’. Again, I’ve seen Stenger call Hoyle’s cosmology supernatural. Hoyle probably would have knocked the man’s teeth out at that suggestion.

  57. joseph says:

    “In the cards” is american english? I was merely illustrating that metaphors are very stretchy. I was bought up in a faith that took each day of creation as a millenium, so I always find it a hard stretch to biblical inerrancy to go to an undefined age.

    Sorry for my bad standards. I have asked for a better definition, but, sorry if I’ve got this backwards, the answer I get is that there is no clear division. I was taught that angrls, demons etc were beyond scientific, physicalistic (?) explanation, and that was a failure of Science.

    “concerned with what’s biblical or not here”

    Again, sorry. As a christian I was often, and such things cross my mind. Many christians object to a multiverse, and I am unsure on what grounds. Sorry for the tangent.

    On naturalistic grounds, if you think one universe can arise, and know no prohibition on it happening again, then a multiverse seems a default view, though not open to direct observation.

    Myself, I am oftrn caught up in the “Why Nothing?” question.

    As for Stenger and Hoyle, I have no more problem with that than a scientist deriding a fellow scientist by any other language. It sounds like a cheap shot.

    Why think physicalism is losing ground if it’s actually explaining more of what was regarded as supernatural? Why say it’s changing commitments?

    If a religion changes, which many do, many believers say it is unfair for atheists to label it as wrong for changing commitments. If we take this as writ, bye bye many modern religions…

  58. joseph says:

    @CL,
    No, not at all, it’s nice to see you in your own world.

    “their position isn’t actually superior; it simply steals things from the non-physicalists worldview and calls them physical. So, can we now agree on the utter futility of claiming physicalism is a superior worldview?”

    It seems to have more explanatory power, because it encourages explanation. Perhaps my opinion is a relic of the view that God was not, and could not be empirically tested, so that “God did it” (for example to explain Noah’s Ark) meant no further questions, could or needed to be asked.

    On the multiverse, me neither.

    As for the arguments bit, the Kalam, your Aristotlean first mover, 3 of Thomas Aquinas’s proofs…and so on. I find no implicit moral judgement in those, and no strict limit on number (the trinity always stumps me) just a warning that 1 is more parsimonius.

  59. joseph says:

    “Dualists can and do accept that too. Theirs is a metaphysical, not necessarily an empirical, distinction”

    My understanding (probably wrong) is they view the brain as the medium through which the mind operates. So a physicalists would say an action performed on the brain affects the mind directly, and a dualist would say something like the mind itself is not physical so is unchanged, but forced to operate through a muddled transmitter?

    As you can see I am appalling bad at metaphysics, and need these things broken down into basic english at this stage.

  60. Sorry for the late responses, but I’ve been busy getting back to college and you people respond so fast. Everything will be responded to in due time.

    First, @Crude on miracles:

    Well, if anything looks like a beginning we can always say ‘There’s something we’re missing.’ And if it looks like there was no beginning we can always say, ‘There’s something we’re missing.’

    You make it sound like it’s impossible to have objectivity in science.

    The existence of the universe itself, the resurrection of Christ, the reported miracles associated with Christ… etc, etc. There are various other reported miracles that I’m ambivalent on or I don’t have a firmer opinion on.

    Why don’t you have a firmer opinion on them? Why have you specifically only mentioned the Christian miracles? Do you have any opinion on, say, the Hindu Milk Miracle or the Miracle of the Sun? Or of the splitting of the moon by Mohammed?

    And I’ve asked, what do you mean by ‘demonstrate the existence of’? Beyond any possible doubt? I can’t ‘demonstrate the existence of’ your mind or an external world to that level. ‘Can one reasonably infer it’? Sure, by my standards.

    Do you think naturalism would make sense then as a position “we can’t reasonably infer any miracles”?

    And the miracles done in biblical times were sufficient to accomplish quite a lot. Even nowadays, theism seems to be the preferred position for most.

    Me: And that’s why The Miracle of the Sun is the by far best attested miracle known today, right along with The Hindu Milk Miracle. I fail to see how something even more clear cut and obvious, like something that doesn’t involve staring at the sun, wouldn’t be a clincher.

    Crude: Argument from a lack of imagination? ;)

    What would you accept as an indication of an absurdly obvious revelation? Something like a Bible appearing in *every* home with a magic flash would do it for me. I’d love to see someone call that a quantum fluctuation.

    Seriously though, I think you underestimate the power of people to resist data.

    I’ve had discussions with Flat Earthers and ardent Young Earth Creationists. I know people resist data and appeals to scientific consensus quite resolutely. I don’t care about those people. I care about what the people who don’t deny data would say, and those capable of making logically valid arguments.

    Again, back to PZ Myers. He’s drawn a line in the sand: There can be no evidence for God, period. Naturalism would always win with him. He’s not alone. Hell, he said that and was cheered on.

    I know, and I strongly disagree with him and anyone who cheered him on. He’s just as bad as the Christian Presuppositionalists, except he’s a Naturalist Presuppositionalist.

    Me: Without filling in those question marks at least some, we get nothing more than a circular definition: “Humanity arose through evolution, and evolution is the process that caused humanity to arise” vs. “God created the universe, and God is the entity that is capable of creating the universe”.

    Crude: Call it a starting point of inquiry if you want. I don’t think it results in a circular definition – it results in an attribution of an act to an agent.

    Ok, it’s a starting point of inquiry. But how do you plan on continuing the inquiry? Or is it just something beyond human knowledge that we’ll never be able to understand?

    I can attribute any action to an agent, and if I’m creative enough, I can make the agent such that all counterarguments fail. What if I suggested that gravity is due to the pulling of tiny gremlins?

    Me: I accept evolution because a good deal of the ?? has been filled in. I don’t need the ?? to be completely filled, I just need there to be something. It can’t be those circular explanations I mentioned above.

    Crude: A good deal? I’m a TE, and I question that severely. There are still arguments over what ‘natural selection’ really is at the end of the day. The bulk is appeal to imagination and logic. ‘Here’s a very simple process. Now, give it millions, even billions of years…’

    I’m pretty sure it’s more soundly demonstrated than that. The inference to common descent from similarities in DNA is fairly convincing in my opinion.

    You wouldn’t even need an eternal universe. But you still have the laws, and it does not good to say ‘the laws are just the mechanisms themselves’. The laws themselves stand in need of explanation – or asserting them as brute, in which case that’s just saying they have no explanation.

    The regularity in the universe does need an explanation. And then that explanation would probably need an explanation, possibly on to infinity. I don’t think there’s a real problem with that infinite regress, but I’m open to being smacked with a good reason why infinite regresses are undesirable.

    If demonstration means proving such that it can’t possibly be false even in principle, very little can be demonstrated. Me, I’m not interested in that level of demonstration – I’m more than comfortable with some uncertainty in life.

    Same here, and that’s not what I think demonstration should be about. This is why I was surprised you were going with the “there’s always an out” when it comes to miracles. I’m personally fine with “reasonable inferences” as you said later.

  61. Second, @cl on miracles:

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to field some of your replies to Crude as if they were to me…

    That’s perfectly fine, and perhaps cool. But don’t forget my other comments to you from when you were dealing them one at a time. (And my comments on the Problem of Evil. Perhaps we talk about too much at once?)

    Me: That being said, I don’t think the current universe actually has a beginning, or at least not an established one.

    cl: Now that’s astounding. On what grounds do you deny physics and astronomy from Einstein to COBE? Honestly, if you’re going to go that route, I don’t know what to say. I mean, I’m open to challenging so-called “well established evidence,” but there has to be a reason. Else, I can’t take any sort of “we should follow the evidence wherever it leads” propositions seriously.

    Hold on. I don’t think “physics and astronomy from Einstein to COBE” currently holds to a definite beginning. If it does, then please smack me with the evidence and I will accept it. I don’t think I’m denying evidence here, but going with it.

    My reasoning is that I’ve heard the Big Bang postulates that the universe started in an infinitely dense, infinitely small, infinitely hot singularity. But it also postulates that such a singularity is impossible, indicating that our current scientific understanding breaks down at this point.

    Another complication, and again I completely concede this is beyond me, but the B-Theory of time makes the idea of a “beginning of time” even more nonsensical than it initially sounds. All this uncertainty makes it seem very unlikely to me that all of physics and astronomy has well established a beginning.

    We can demonstrate the existence of phenomena that can’t be explained through current science. That’s it. This is, very, very, very easy to do. The problem is, once this is done, people tend to process the facts through their worldviews: theists say, “we have a miracle!” and atheists say, “we have something science can one day explain.”

    Right. But how can we consider this phenomena objectively? What criteria should we use? Who’s worldview should we accept and why? Do we just pick whatever worldview is fashionable and use it?

    As for me, I have no patience for the “it depends on your worldview” stuff. If it truly depends on your worldview and you can truly just pick whichever one tickles your fancy, then I’m not going to pick an answer. I want there to be some sort of experience I can make predictions from.

    Me: The right miracle done in the right setting with today’s media coverage would be far more powerful than miracles done back in Biblical times, however.

    Cl: Why? Because it seems that way to you? I could just as easily argue the converse. For example, due to the exponential increase in technology, miracles today are subject to a higher degree of scrutiny. After all, we’ve got Photoshop and Final Cut, right? Not to mention covert government projects that make Photoshop look like a brick.

    Two reasons: (1) sheer volume of media, and (2) access to skeptical, controlled evaluations. There are many, many miracle reports from ancient history — they didn’t even need to Photoshop something, you just told a story that may or may not be embellished, and it would grow through retellings.

    It reminds me of the Witchcraft Argument.

    What *ISN’T* ridiculous about asking God to grant a personal revelation to every single human being?

    Merely restating my question by changing it to the inverse and providing emphasis is not a counterargument. I honestly don’t think it’s ridiculous; consider Doubting Thomas for instance.

    If I’m going to change my entire way of life to serve a God, I want to be fairly certain such a God exists. Instead, it’s the exact opposite — I’m fairly certain such a God doesn’t exist.

    God could answer my questions and help me along to the faith. As many believers have said, it’s ultimately up to God who comes to the faith anyway, so I’m left imagining that God is (so far) neglecting me.

    They’re actually quite easy to demonstrate. You know as well as I do that miraculous things happen quite often. What’s impossible to demonstrate is the underlying mechanism, because, no matter what I say, you can always reply, “Well it’s probably just something physical that caused this unexplainable event.”

    It depends on what “miraculous” means in miraculous things happen quite often. If you mean unlikely and inexplicable, then yes. But that’s not what I mean. Supernatural events are nearly impossible to demonstrate, as you just agreed.

    That’s awesome. I like that you can do that. Anyone, atheist, theist, or neither, should be able to see the utter meaninglessness of the terms as typically defined today.

    If that’s the standard for “awesomeness”, I pity your normal conversational opponents.

    Well, first you’ve got to make real-world sense out of what sounds like a bunch of tech gibberish.

    I’m working on building my basic understanding. Just because it sounds like gibberish to you, doesn’t make it gibberish, obviously.

  62. cl says:

    A superb example of the equivocation and goalpost moving I accuse “physicalists” and “naturalists” can be found here, at Martin Freedman a.k.a. faithlessgod’s blog.

    I have a deflationary metaphysical world view I call naturalism today, call it N1.It makes the claim that everything held today to be supernatural does not exist, call this S1.

    Now new data – say proving Ganzfeld experiments – would imply that what I count today as in S1 [editor’s note: I think he meant N1 there] is false. Regardless of whether a natural explanation of Ganzfeld or not was found, or it was work in progress, my world view N1 would have been falsified. I would then have a revised, or modified, world view in the light of this new data, I would still likely call it naturalism but it would then be N2, where N1 != N2.

    This is exactly what Crude and I are saying: no matter what turns out to be true, it’s automatically subsumed under “physicalism” or “naturalism,” which in turn makes those ideas meaningless, which in turn makes any claims to their superiority meaningless.

  63. @cl, a second time for clarification:

    Peter,
    I’ve been spending time on your blog. When you get a second, can you explain the apparent discrepancy between,
    …I don’t think the current universe actually has a beginning, or at least not an established one.
    …and,
    The idea of a Big Bang being the origin of the universe sounds crazy, but it has been overwhelmingly proven by General Relativity, Vacuum Energy, other proofs of expansion, Microwave Background Radiation, and the number of light elements, among other things.

    You’re right that does indeed sound very inconsistent. However, here I was using “origin of the universe” as “origin of the current universe arrangement / origin of the inflationary period”. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it’s what I meant.

    It’s kind of like how the painter is the origin of a painting, but doesn’t explain the origin of the paint and canvas itself.

  64. @cl, on “sheer act of will as a mechanism”:

    Earlier, I asked you to give me an actual reason why an act of sheer will cannot be an underlying mechanism. You replied,
    Let’s say you want to move a block through a sheer act of will? Does your act of will change anything about the block? If it does not change anything about the block, then what makes the block move?
    If it does change something about the block, then what caused that change? You would have to keep tracking the changes back until you finally track back to the act of will. If this is the case, then you’ve established the causal mechanism.
    For instance, perhaps your act of will changes atoms in your brain, which slightly change how you breathe, which creates an eddy that eventually manifests in the atmosphere creating a freak storm, which causes lightning to hit the block, knocking it off balance, moving it. In this case, your sheer act of will can move a block with no logical contradiction.
    But if you can move the block without changing anything about the block, then you’re influencing something without influencing it, which is X and ~X, a logical contradiction.
    You didn’t give me a reason why an act of sheer will can’t be a underlying causal mechanism. In fact, you explained, satisfactorily in my opinion, how an act of sheer will *CAN* be an underlying causal mechanism. Also, I’ll wager to say that nobody, not even God, can move a block without changing anything about the block. And no, not because of my intuition. It’s logically impossible. So, do we now agree that an act of sheer will cannot be disqualified as an underlying causal mechanism?

    Then we were in agreement all along, but merely disagreed about what was a “sheer act of will”. But even things done by sheer acts of will (by your definition) do involve implementing chains of cause and effect. (My opinions on causality are still muddy.)

    To make sure I understand you, if I move a box with my hands, could it be said that I moved the box by a sheer act of will? Why or why not?

  65. cl says:

    Peter,

    Perhaps we talk about too much at once?

    I think we do at times, and that’s why I chose to focus on the sheer will issue earlier. I suppose I should have kept focus, so I’ll incur a little bit of the guilt for the current digression. That said, let’s return to the sheer will issue. I noticed you have not given a final answer there. Please review the linked comment and let me know where we stand. Once you do, we can proceed.

  66. As your aware now, I just gave a resolution to the issue at the same time you were typing up your question.

    Maybe we would benefit from making a list of topics to discuss in order, and never talk about a different topic until we resolved the first one? I don’t want the other points to get permanently lost.

  67. cl says:

    So, to clarify, and in contrast to what you said here, an act of sheer will *CAN* qualify as an underlying causal mechanism?

    To make sure I understand you, if I move a box with my hands, could it be said that I moved the box by a sheer act of will? Why or why not?

    No, because you moved it with your will *PLUS* your hands. I define an “act of sheer will” to be a causal sequence initiated by mental / spiritual power alone, ala Uri Geller.

    Maybe we would benefit from making a list of topics to discuss in order, and never talk about a different topic until we resolved the first one?

    Well, as regards this thread, I’m not really sure what’s left to talk about aside from the side stuff. You apparently agree with me that “all we can possibly detect via the senses” -ism is a meaningless ontology. What do you want to talk about now?

  68. So, to clarify, and in contrast to what you said here, an act of sheer will *CAN* qualify as an underlying causal mechanism?

    Yes, that is correct. But don’t accuse me of backpedalling or conceding anything here. I do my best to acknowledge whenever I backpedal, concede, or change my opinion, but this was just a legitimate case of us using two different conceptions of “sheer act of will”.

    No, because you moved it with your will *PLUS* your hands. I define an “act of sheer will” to be a causal sequence initiated by mental / spiritual power alone, ala Uri Geller.

    I hope you’re not offering Uri Geller as a legitimate example (and I don’t think you are), but I get the point. But now I must ask, what mental and spiritual powers look like? (And what makes the two different, if anything?)

    For instance, is a mental power something that changes the atoms in the mind which end up interacting with other atoms, that end up interacting with other atoms, that end up causing the spoon to bend? What I mean by this is how do the mental/spiritual powers actually interact with the spoon, since you agree you must interact with it to cause it to change?

    This is what I’m skeptical of. I’ve heard weaker formulations of supernaturalism that suggest “the spoon just starts bending; no interaction or change of the state of the spoon is necessary”, and this sounds like a classic X and ~X contradiction — the spoon changes without changing.

  69. You apparently agree with me that “all we can possibly detect via the senses” -ism is a meaningless ontology.

    Yes.

    What do you want to talk about now?

    I’d like to go back to this comment, specifically to address the following points:

    1. On what basis do you know that certain things are fundamentally, ontologically, irreducibly purposeful or mental?

    2. How are miracles not mysterious answers to mysterious questions?

    3. If a miracle is any “unexplained, unlikely event”, doesn’t that mean as soon as the event is explained (even with a “God did it”), then it is no longer a miracle?

    4. What do you think of my idea of Blainetology?

    ~

    I would add PoE discussions here, but it looks like you already created a wonderful and lengthy response that I’ll spend due time considering, re-evaluating, and responding. Thanks!

  70. @Crude, on morality:

    First, psychology is not set in stone – keep in mind the psychology in question here tends to focus on ‘normal, healthy’ people. Standards which get very subjective given naturalism.

    Agreed.

    Are you denying that it’s naturally possible for a person to benefit from not caring about others?

    I’m exploring the hypothesis for morality that denies it’s naturally possible for a person to benefit from adopting a life-long policy of not caring about others. I have Richard Carrier’s moral theory and Gary Drescher’s moral theory in mind here.

    (Notice: The above comment contains backpedalling, indicating that your comments have indeed made me unsure about your position. This doesn’t mean you’re right and I’m wrong, it’s just means I have more work to do.)

    What if I’ll be happier if Frank gets nothing? What if losing out on 2-10 dollars means I skip out on a trip to Wendy’s today, but it means Frank starves – and I really don’t like Frank?

    Then you would consider harming Frank. But I’m suggesting the idea of hating and harming Frank in that way leads you to be consumed with hatred, which makes your quality of life worse. It also opens you up to retribution from Frank or Frank’s friends, also potentially lowering your quality of life.

  71. @Crude, on solipsism:

    I have no idea if Data is mindless. Neither do the characters in the series, really. He’s, at best, capable of certain appearances.

    But the same is true of anyone you’d ever meet. Heck, the same could even be true of you; perhaps you are mindless, but merely deluded to thinking you have a mind. Though I don’t even know what you mean by “mind”, honestly.

    Automata wouldn’t have the inner life we do, in my view.

    What is “inner life”?

  72. @Crude, on morality again:

    Me: Sort of. What I am saying is that (1) I don’t think you actually can get a better or equal quality of life by no longer caring about people, and (2) if it was the case that you could, then other people have reasons to change that.

    Crude: Right, but obviously my question assumes 1 is false, or at the very least not certainly true. As for 2, sure they do. And if I can keep them from doing so, I suppose I should, eh?

    If you can keep them from doing so, sure. And they would find out ways to keep you from keeping them from doing so. And you’d have to start living a paranoid life on the run, which I don’t think is the kind of life you want.

    Honestly, that’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario for you as near as I can tell. If the laws of nature are such that it is always in everyone individual’s best interests to act as kind and cooperative and generous as possible regardless of situation, then wow – talk about an argument that nature is fundamentally teleological.
    If the laws of nature aren’t such, then that does some interesting things to any prospective morality given a naturalist viewpoint.

    This is a good point, and I have no adequate resolution to it as of yet.

  73. cl says:

    Peter,

    What conception of “sheer act of will” were you using?

    …now I must ask, what mental and spiritual powers look like?

    That’s a category error. They don’t “look” like anything.

    What I mean by this is how do the mental/spiritual powers actually interact with the spoon, since you agree you must interact with it to cause it to change?

    I don’t know, but my currently preferred [and probably incorrect] hypotheses invoke waves and information transfer. Also, I only agree one must “interact” with the spoon so long as “interact” is not unfairly defined atomically.

    I’d like to go back to this comment, specifically to address the following points:

    That link was empty… which comment did you intend to point me towards?

    1) On the same basis as anything else: logic, deduction, inference, observation, analysis, meditation, etc.

    2) I can rarely read Yudkowsky without wanting to vomit in response to his arrogance, and that post was no exception. I love how he gets all uppity on vitalists apparently without realizing that “because atoms per determinism” is also a curiosity stopper, but that’s besides the point. To answer your question, I don’t think these questions are mysterious, nor do I think my answers are mysterious. A “mystery” signifies that which is unknowable, or kept secret. I’m not positing anything secret or unknowable. Neither do I proffer “mystery” as an explanation for anything.

    3) I only use “unexplained event” to respect the fact that atheists don’t believe in God. Obviously, I think a genuine miracle entails an act of God. So, no: if we could somehow prove that God healed person X, and understand all the causality behind it, it would remain a miracle.

    4) It’s another parody of religious belief that does nothing to advance the conversation. It was funny though. I’ll give you that :)

  74. joseph says:

    @CL
    Mind if I make a brief interjection into your discussion with P.Hurford?

    A bit intrigued if acts of will could, if they can be used to bend a spoon, be used to turn turbines, thus driving dynamos, producing a clean source of electricity.

    Would they be subject to conservation of energy? I.e. You could do it, but it would ultimately be inefficient as the person doing it would have to eat a greater amount of energy (as food, drink), than could be converted to electricity by our dynamo?

    Or would the energy required be drawn from an external reservoir of sorts so not prone to the limitations of individual energy intake?

    Would this reservoir have a will of it’s own preventing such pragmatic, planet saving uses?

  75. What conception of “sheer act of will” were you using?

    One in which a person simply willed something and it was done, with no need of a causal chain between the will and the event. For instance, if I had such a power, I could just will Mars into an orbit around Jupiter and it would take place, without any need to change anything about Mars, or Jupiter, or Gravity. It just happens, and no further explanation can be given.

    Of course this story entails a logical contradiction. …or at least I think so.

    Me: …now I must ask, what mental and spiritual powers look like?

    cl: That’s a category error. They don’t “look” like anything.

    Fair enough, permit me to rephrase: how do you recognize a mental or spiritual power? And what is the difference between the two?

    Me: What I mean by this is how do the mental/spiritual powers actually interact with the spoon, since you agree you must interact with it to cause it to change?

    cl: I don’t know, but my currently preferred [and probably incorrect] hypotheses invoke waves and information transfer.

    Can you elaborate?

    Also, I only agree one must “interact” with the spoon so long as “interact” is not unfairly defined atomically.

    Sure. It’s just that I personally don’t know of any other methods of interaction without there being a change in atoms somewhere in the causal chain.

    That link was empty… which comment did you intend to point me towards?

    Weird. I meant this one, comment #10436 in this thread. (If this link doesn’t work, it means you can’t directly link to comments for some reason.)

    1) On the same basis as anything else: logic, deduction, inference, observation, analysis, meditation, etc.

    So you agree with me that it is possible to make a reasonable inference to a miracle, despite there “always being an out”?

    To answer your question, I don’t think these questions are mysterious, nor do I think my answers are mysterious. A “mystery” signifies that which is unknowable, or kept secret. I’m not positing anything secret or unknowable. Neither do I proffer “mystery” as an explanation for anything.

    Yudkowsky suggested four indications of a “mysterious answer”:
    1.) “the explanation acts as a curiosity-stopper rather than an anticipation-controller”
    2.) “the hypothesis has no moving parts – the model is not a specific complex mechanism, but a blankly solid substance or force. The mysterious substance or mysterious force may be said to be here or there, to cause this or that; but the reason why the mysterious force behaves thus is wrapped in a blank unity.”
    3.) “those who proffer the explanation cherish their ignorance; they speak proudly of how the phenomenon defeats ordinary science or is unlike merely mundane phenomena.”
    4.) “Fourth, even after the answer is given, the phenomenon is still a mystery and possesses the same quality of wonderful inexplicability that it had at the start.”

    I’ll grant that three does not apply to you, but I wonder what your response is to the other three.

    3) I only use “unexplained event” to respect the fact that atheists don’t believe in God. Obviously, I think a genuine miracle entails an act of God. So, no: if we could somehow prove that God healed person X, and understand all the causality behind it, it would remain a miracle.

    Ok, this makes sense. Could you walk me through how you know which unlikely events are acts of God and which aren’t?

    4) It’s another parody of religious belief that does nothing to advance the conversation. It was funny though. I’ll give you that :)

    Thanks, but I was actually trying to advance the conversation. I’m interested in knowing why I failed, beyond the simple assertion.

  76. cl says:

    Peter,

    Of course this story entails a logical contradiction. …or at least I think so.

    I think it does. Even if I “sheer willed” said orbit, I would still be changing things about Mars.

    Fair enough, permit me to rephrase: how do you recognize a mental or spiritual power? And what is the difference between the two?

    If you see somebody do something ala Uri Geller, I think that’s a good indication you might be dealing with a spiritual or mental power. As far as elaborating on the difference, some other time.

    Can you elaborate?

    Yeah but I’d rather wait and do it in a well-thought-out post instead of a rushed comment.

    It’s just that I personally don’t know of any other methods of interaction without there being a change in atoms somewhere in the causal chain.

    I’m not positing that no atoms are changed in water-to-wine, or spoon-bending. My first draft of that reply read, “in an atom-to-atom manner.” IOW, as long as you don’t unfairly define the change as a change in atoms all the way down. On my view, the spiritual moves the atomic. This is basic Aristotle: potency -> actuality.

    So you agree with me that it is possible to make a reasonable inference to a miracle, despite there “always being an out”?

    Kind of, but there’s always an out, and the “physicalist” can always label the reasonable inference a God of the Gaps argument. I’ve seen this happens dozens of times. Probably more. That’s why I chuckle at the “show me a miracle and I’ll believe” strain of atheists. No they won’t, at least not in my experience. They’ll simply invoke promissory physicalism to say that the cause is “probably physical,” or they’ll say that “correlation is not causation,” or “we need controlled studies” or some other such rationalization.

    Yudkowsky suggested four indications of a “mysterious answer”:

    Remember though, I don’t give a rat’s ass about what some self-styled “rationalist” says. Like I said, his explanations act as “curiosity-stoppers” for me. Further, he’s got no business ruling out a substance or force–especially when it seems like modern physics is headed back that direction–and that he tries to make that move really reveals his ridiculous Newtonian bias. Further, I don’t “cherish my ignorance.” Man, this guy is annoying as ever! But to answer your question, the part of 2 applies to me, but that’s because the Yud is irrational there. He rules out a substance or force a priori.

    Could you walk me through how you know which unlikely events are acts of God and which aren’t?

    Not really. Each case is different. I’m sure you’ll find that disappointing, but I’m not proffering a new branch of science here. That’s the mistake most atheists make IMO. They want an explanation of miracles that reduces to a scientific formula, but in so doing, they seek to redefine miracles. How do we “know” when event X is a miracle? Sans revelation, we don’t. The best we can do is attempt a reasonable inference. If you want a general example, I think existence is a miracle–but I suspect that won’t cut the mustard for you despite the ridiculous improbability against it.

    Thanks, but I was actually trying to advance the conversation. I’m interested in knowing why I failed, beyond the simple assertion.

    Because all that piece did was restate the situation substituting “Blaineology” for “religion” and “magic” for “miracles.” Nothing new was brought to the table, IMO. No offense, that’s just how it struck me.

  77. joseph says:

    @CL
    I’m trying desperately to understand Aristotle, is potency something like energy, or potential energy, and actuality something like matter?

    Lifeline! Please!

  78. Hey cl, new reader to your blog and this was my introductory post. Your observation caught me on the jaw, and I’ve spent the last few days mulling it over. That alone makes your blog worth its internet weight in internet gold, so I plugged it on my blog, trying to turn all two of my readers on to you. Keep up the good work!

  79. Crude says:

    Joseph,

    If you want to learn more about Aristotle, I don’t think this is the place to do it. You’ll need to google around, or read a book like The Last Superstition. It’s not something you can really grasp in a combox discussion because it isn’t about a single claim, but a metaphysical system.

    Peter,

    You make it sound like it’s impossible to have objectivity in science.

    Total subjectivity? It is. Hawking will tell you a lot of the same things I’m telling you here, though he doesn’t fully appreciate what it means. I think even PZ Myers will admit that science isn’t about truth, it’s about models, and the models can always be overturned.

    Match that with the importance people attach to questions like this, and I think my response is entirely down to earn. You can always have a person in the holdout position.

    Why don’t you have a firmer opinion on them? Why have you specifically only mentioned the Christian miracles? Do you have any opinion on, say, the Hindu Milk Miracle or the Miracle of the Sun? Or of the splitting of the moon by Mohammed?

    Miracle of the Sun? Very well attested. Why don’t I have a firmer opinion? Because I don’t spend all day investigating miracles. As for non-Christian miracles, I’m willing to grant some are reasonable to believe in. Splitting of the moon? Never heard of it. Milk miracle? I’ve seen video, but the video isn’t what impressed me so much as the attestation – reasonable based on what I’ve heard. I don’t play the game of ‘If it’s not Christian, it’s unreasonable to believe it happened’ – and I find few Christians do.

    Do you think naturalism would make sense then as a position “we can’t reasonably infer any miracles”?

    Not really, because we’re back to the problem of defining what’s natural or supernatural or miraculous to begin with. I can give personal standards, but keep in mind that what I count as a miracle could easily really happen, really be attributed to an agent, but also really be called natural. I’m serious about the word having lost almost all meaning – even when I use it, I’m being loose.

    What would you accept as an indication of an absurdly obvious revelation? Something like a Bible appearing in *every* home with a magic flash would do it for me. I’d love to see someone call that a quantum fluctuation.

    And how do we know it appeared in everyone home? Do we do a worldwide census? How many people have bibles in their home as is? The damn things are all over the place. What about mass hallucination? What about conspiracy? What, we’re going to assume a being has the power to instantly put a bible in every house, but not the power to trick people on a wide scale?

    Like I said, argument from lack of imagination. I’m not being cute here, I really think you don’t appreciate the power of people to rationalize, and are mistaking what you think you would believe in a hypothetical situation for how any person would believe.

    I’ll repeat: PZ Myers took a position of ‘no evidence for miracles is possible, I would always use a naturalistic explanation’. He was applauded.

    I’ve had discussions with Flat Earthers and ardent Young Earth Creationists. I know people resist data and appeals to scientific consensus quite resolutely. I don’t care about those people. I care about what the people who don’t deny data would say, and those capable of making logically valid arguments.

    You can make logical arguments that can lead one to discount scientific consensus. Hell, I’m a TE and I think scientific consensus is a load of crap half the time.

    Few people ‘deny data’. Many people interpret data differently. Interpretations are not automatically data. And c’mon, you’ve had a discussion with a flat earther? Where? I think you’ve been trolled.

    I know, and I strongly disagree with him and anyone who cheered him on. He’s just as bad as the Christian Presuppositionalists, except he’s a Naturalist Presuppositionalist.

    Granted, but notice that Myers’ rep didn’t exactly fly into the toilet after that very public move. The freaking Community of Rational Logically Thinking Brights supported him by and large, and went against Coyne on that note. And Coyne, bless his heart, shut up about evidence pretty quickly after that.

    That’s one reason why you’re talking about miracles that would convince anyone, and I’m just looking at you funny. I don’t think it’s anywhere near that easy.

    Ok, it’s a starting point of inquiry. But how do you plan on continuing the inquiry? Or is it just something beyond human knowledge that we’ll never be able to understand?
    I can attribute any action to an agent, and if I’m creative enough, I can make the agent such that all counterarguments fail. What if I suggested that gravity is due to the pulling of tiny gremlins?

    Same way I plan on continuing any inquiry that involves an agent, especially one in a position of such power – trying to work with them, what they’ve said, or what they’ve done. I have to rely on them in part, they are not a system sitting around waiting for me to experiment on them.

    Tiny gremlins? I’d ask why you were so specific. I actually wouldn’t automatically rule out a fundamental agency as an explanation for our universe (Berkeleyan idealism).

    I’m pretty sure it’s more soundly demonstrated than that. The inference to common descent from similarities in DNA is fairly convincing in my opinion.

    Great, you and Mike Behe are on the same page. We’re still very much in the dark about a lot of the mechanisms involved with evolution, what’s related to what, etc. Again, I accept evolution, I’m a TE in essence, but the idea that ‘a lot of the ???s have been filled in’ for evolution just doesn’t fly. It’s especially a problem since evolutionary biology is largely a historical science.

    The regularity in the universe does need an explanation. And then that explanation would probably need an explanation, possibly on to infinity. I don’t think there’s a real problem with that infinite regress, but I’m open to being smacked with a good reason why infinite regresses are undesirable.

    Would be an interesting convo, but I’ll bypass it for now.

    Same here, and that’s not what I think demonstration should be about. This is why I was surprised you were going with the “there’s always an out” when it comes to miracles. I’m personally fine with “reasonable inferences” as you said later.

    Here’s the problem: Everyone, even PZ Myers I bet, will say “I’m fine with reasonable inferences.” But what counts as a reasonable inference? PZ says any inference towards God is unreasonable, period. “There’s always an out” is appropriate because “there’s always an out” doesn’t mean ‘One guy who everyone acknowledges is a nut refuses to believe’, but ‘Large groups of people can always deny what they want and think they’re being reasonable’.

    I’m exploring the hypothesis for morality that denies it’s naturally possible for a person to benefit from adopting a life-long policy of not caring about others. I have Richard Carrier’s moral theory and Gary Drescher’s moral theory in mind here.

    It doesn’t even need to be a life-long policy, man. If it is beneficial once within a single lifetime, that spells out a major problem for these positions as they are.

    Then you would consider harming Frank. But I’m suggesting the idea of hating and harming Frank in that way leads you to be consumed with hatred, which makes your quality of life worse. It also opens you up to retribution from Frank or Frank’s friends, also potentially lowering your quality of life.

    First, why does being consumed with hatred make my quality of life worse? Second, what if I have a very practical approach to hating Frank? I screw with him when I can and can get away with it.

    Your final response is conditional on A) Anyone being able to harm me, B) Me being found out, C) Me not taking care of them as problems, etc. Dangerous response for you given the moral positions you’re talking about, since the flipside of those amounts to ‘But if they can’t touch you, if you can evade detection, and if you can handle them, go for it.’

    But the same is true of anyone you’d ever meet. Heck, the same could even be true of you; perhaps you are mindless, but merely deluded to thinking you have a mind. Though I don’t even know what you mean by “mind”, honestly.

    Subjectivity, experience, consciousness. And no, I can’t be deluded into thinking I have a mind. Cogito ergo sum. I can be deluded about my memories, but my first-person subjective experience is not an inference. It’s raw data.

    If you can keep them from doing so, sure. And they would find out ways to keep you from keeping them from doing so. And you’d have to start living a paranoid life on the run, which I don’t think is the kind of life you want.

    I see this response a lot. I think it should be given a name, something like “Argument ad Hamburglar”. The idea that a criminal or a bastard who harms people to his own benefit always must be inept and eventually caught, or at the very least get indirect punishment always if he’s never caught. But that just opens up the response of ‘So if they can get away with it, they should do it, right?’ Not every villain is found, not every man who deserves justice gets it in this life, and not every killer goes to his grave overwrought with remorse.

    In fact, I’ve been thinking lately that not only do Carrier-style moralities have this problem, they actually have a natural enemy in the views of many atheists. Notice for a moment that Carrier’s argument – which I think is riddled with flaws beyond this – depends on there being a human nature that is concrete enough to not be changing radically anytime soon. Meanwhile, Luke and the Cult of the Electric God are frantic that within their lifetimes being able to radically reconfigure themselves and their natures will be a real possibility. If Luke and company are even close to right about our technological capability, Carrier’s point of view is in the garbage can *even for someone sympathetic to him* because it’s a view of morality with a very close expiration date on it. I have cans of tuna that will last longer than Carrier’s morality given Luke’s views, even if we ignore all the problems with his claims.

  80. cl says:

    Patrick Mefford,

    Hey there. Thanks for the plug. Sorry your comment took a while to appear; it got stuck in the spam folder for some reason (I’m thinking maybe the TypePad URL? Who knows).

    At any rate, thanks again, and I’ll be checking out your blog in a little more detail when time allows. I just looked at it briefly. Good stuff.

  81. joseph says:

    @Crude

    Ok, won’t demand an explanation of aristotlean terms in ordinary english. Though it does seem strange that a doctor can explain complex medical concepts on demand and yet to understand Aristotle Iishould read an antiatheist tome that gets compared to Dawkins.

    So far I can see no limit to possible “supernatural” agencies, you have said you believe in God, but not said you believe in angels, demons, demi-gods, kitsune, kappa, etc.

    You argue that various facts have been successfully explained by naturalistic methodology, that were previously regarded as Supernatural, and yet present this as a weakness, as human’s currently aren’t able to limit what naturalistic methodology is able to offer explanations for. Could I ask for specific example?

    You don’t seem to think that God is beyond naturalistic methodology, or miracles. Which I genuinely belief humanity would be delighted by, if it were the case.

    The most supernatural things that we’ve established so far are mathematical axioms, metaphysical systems.

  82. cl says:

    joseph,

    LOL! Your education is your own responsibility. It’s not our fault you haven’t looked into this stuff; why act like we owe you an explanation? I mean, Aristotle’s writings have been available for two thousand years.

  83. joseph says:

    You don’t. You have told me to educate myself, offered a little help and I’ve not got angry, not been abusive, just noted I find it curious! I think of these forums as a way of sharing information.

    Sorry if you thought i was being, or intended to be.

  84. cl says:

    It just seemed like you were snarking Crude for not taking the time to explain that which is better explained elsewhere. No hard feelings.

  85. joseph says:

    Thanks CL, sorry for any annoyance I caused. Finding a good book on Aristotle is not proving easy, then I will have to wait approximately 1 month for postage…as I live in a slightly unusual location. Maybe I did let a bit of frustration out (and snarking is considered friendly amongst the Brits).

  86. cl says:

    Why order a book? I’d Google around. It took me two seconds to type “Metaphysics Z” into the search bar. It returned 2,270,000 results. “Aristotle kinesis” returned about 30,000 results.

    snarking is considered friendly amongst the Brits

    This is tangential, but that’s interesting; I wonder how that sort of thing fits into Carrier’s ethics?

  87. cl says:

    Oh, another thing: you can’t “cause” me to become annoyed. Since I reject physicalism and it’s determinist siblings, I am the master of my own emotions.

  88. Crude says:

    joseph,

    Though it does seem strange that a doctor can explain complex medical concepts on demand and yet to understand Aristotle Iishould read an antiatheist tome that gets compared to Dawkins.

    Er, what? TLS isn’t comparable to Dawkins’ screed at all. It’s 95% philosophy, metaphysics, and a heavy dose of history. And no, a doctor can’t explain complex medical concepts on demand – unless he’s dumbing things down because gists, not accuracy, are what matter. But you’re not after a gist here.

    There’s a reason medical school takes as long as it does. Part of it is that no, complex medical concepts can’t really get explained on demand. (And one argument from modern Aristotileans is that explanations of biology are replete with teleological language that fits better in an Aristotilean context than the typical alternative.)

    Could I ask for specific example?

    Action at a distance versus contact mechanics. Measurement affecting experiments. The idea that the universe had a beginning in time. Ex nihilo creation. The existing of things capable of creating universes. The existence of universes other than our own. Indeterminism even at a physical level. And that’s a partial list. A short way to think about it is that we’ve had physical systems defined, with phenomena outside of those physical systems regarded as supernatural/occult – and then we’ve gone and radically upended the physical systems more than once.

    I’d even throw in – though other theists will resist – Luke and the Cult of the Electric God. In any other age, talk about the singularitarian AI overlord-mind would be placed right alongside Zeus and company. For another example, the Omega Point in its heydey (Tipler/Deutsch version). Tipler, to his credit, flat out called the OP God. Deutsch testily disagreed for some weak reasons.

    You don’t seem to think that God is beyond naturalistic methodology, or miracles.

    No, I deny that there is such a thing as ‘naturalistic methodology’ at all, at least in a relevant sense. We keep going around in circles on this – I point out that physicalism is shockingly empty as a concept, that naturalism has changed repeatedly, drastically, and can in principle change again in the future, and thus has little meat to it. Then you just go back to talking about physicalism and naturalism as science, as if these were the same things and interchangeable.

    I know people love to insist on that: I’m saying that’s bunk.

  89. @cl on miracles:

    If you see somebody do something ala Uri Geller, I think that’s a good indication you might be dealing with a spiritual or mental power. As far as elaborating on the difference, some other time.

    Ok. I’m sure you realize Uri Geller is a really terrible example of actual spiritual powers. However, it is a great example of the kinds of inferences we can make: what do we have to do to make sure someone ala Geller is not a fraud?

    I know you can always claim “fraud” to anything, but sometimes people really are frauds, so there is a balance to strike here, kind of like a Type I vs. Type II error dilemma.

    Yeah but I’d rather wait and do it in a well-thought-out post instead of a rushed comment.

    Sounds great; I look forward to it.

    I’m not positing that no atoms are changed in water-to-wine, or spoon-bending. My first draft of that reply read, “in an atom-to-atom manner.” IOW, as long as you don’t unfairly define the change as a change in atoms all the way down. On my view, the spiritual moves the atomic. This is basic Aristotle: potency -> actuality.

    Gotcha, though this makes me wonder how an “unmoved mover” is supposed to be conceived of. How do you conceive of something being uncaused? I’d have to grapple with quantum mechanics before I could even have a coherent position.

    But to answer your question, the part of 2 applies to me, but that’s because the Yud is irrational there. He rules out a substance or force a priori.

    I’ve been doing some thinking, and I think the reason why this is a problem is that given what you have said about the supernatural, absolutely every event is potentially a supernatural event, and we have no current way of ruling the supernatural in or out.

    How do we “know” when event X is a miracle? Sans revelation, we don’t.

    So miracles could never prove the existence of God then, since you would first need to establish the existence of a specific God and specific set of revelations?

    If you want a general example, I think existence is a miracle–but I suspect that won’t cut the mustard for you despite the ridiculous improbability against it.

    I discussed this in one of my previous comments, but another interesting angle is anthropics. I don’t mean this in a “Antrhopics -> ??? -> existence” way, but in a sense that existence is to be expected for anyone who exists, regardless of how unlikely it is.

    Or, in other words, I don’t see why the ridiculous improbability of life is a count for God… assuming life is ridiculously improbable.

    Because all that piece did was restate the situation substituting “Blaineology” for “religion” and “magic” for “miracles.” Nothing new was brought to the table, IMO. No offense, that’s just how it struck me.

    No offense taken, but the point was larger than that. I was talking in general about two things:

    (1) the naturalist inference that *all* of Blaine’s tricks are reducible to slight of hand, even if some of the more complex tricks haven’t been explained yet

    (2) that “Magic -> ??? -> Blaine’s tricks” isn’t getting us anywhere

    Do you think it’s reasonable to be a Blainetologist? Why or why not?

  90. cl says:

    I’m sure you realize Uri Geller is a really terrible example of actual spiritual powers.

    I actually don’t have much of an opinion there. IME, most atheists share your opinion. It’s whatever to me.

    However, it is a great example of the kinds of inferences we can make: what do we have to do to make sure someone ala Geller is not a fraud?

    Well, presumably, you think he’s a fraud… or at the very least, you think his claims have been falsified… so you tell me. I think demonstrating that someone is a “fraud” is much harder than most positivists think.

    How do you conceive of something being uncaused?

    It’s pretty easy for me: I simply discard the seemingly logically impossible assumption that everything needs a cause.

    I’ve been doing some thinking, and I think the reason why this is a problem is that given what you have said about the supernatural, absolutely every event is potentially a supernatural event, and we have no current way of ruling the supernatural in or out.

    Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I believe everything supervenes on God, so everything is “supernatural” in that regard. No, in the sense that a rock tumbling over a precipice remains a “natural” act, despite its ultimate supervenience on the “supernatural.”

    So miracles could never prove the existence of God then, since you would first need to establish the existence of a specific God and specific set of revelations?

    Nothing can “prove” God. The whole line of reasoning is silly. The best we could hope for would be a direct manifestation, but even then, one could still have doubts of some sort.

    I don’t mean this in a “Antrhopics -> ??? -> existence” way, but in a sense that existence is to be expected for anyone who exists, regardless of how unlikely it is.

    Sounds like a cop-out to me, but maybe you could clarify.

    Or, in other words, I don’t see why the ridiculous improbability of life is a count for God… assuming life is ridiculously improbable.

    Because as far as I know, all–or at least the vast majority of–the empirical evidence we have suggests our universe is the only one in existence. This leaves the atheist with the uncomfortable burden of explaining how everything came out “just right” for life on the first roll.

    Do you think it’s reasonable to be a Blainetologist? Why or why not?

    I don’t know what it means to be a Blainetologist. Do I think it’s reasonable to believe that there are “magic tricks” which don’t supervene entirely on the physical? Yes. Why? Because of the who-knows-how-many examples of phenomena that fit the bill and consistently elude the supervenience physicalists’ explanations.

  91. joseph says:

    @CL,
    Genuinely thankyou..I searched “aristotlean metaphysics” and was not at all happy with the quality of results, the wiki article was particularly useless (I read it and had more questions than i started with, it seeemed nonsensical)..why a book? oh because for various annoying reasons i use a phone only for internet access, trust books more etc, but the stanford site in particular seems good.

  92. joseph says:

    @Crude,
    Suppose it depends what you mean, but ask a doctor to drfine a few standard terms like cardiomyopathy, or rhabdomyolysis, they could pretty easily. True ask them to explain the complete interacting of hyperadrenocorticism with every other endocrinopathy and that would slow them down. Medics actually spend a shockingly low time learning how to communicate, most of it is just, at some stage, medical concepts must be taught in basic english, as I would guess is true of Aristotleanism.

    But I’ve accepted your judgement anyway, and CL’s kind pointer, and ordered some literature. So well done, you have improved my knowledge. One odd thing I’m noting is Aristotle does mot seem fully harmonius with Christianity, but this is only after dabbling, and Thomistic Aristotleanism probably attempts to bridge any divide.

    So, looking at your examples it does seem your problem lies with the definition of physicalism having changed not the results. With the idea of action over distance, would you have wanted physicalism to haveproduced a system which interpreted the results without fields? It seems strange in that currently “contact” is also understood in terms of electromagnetic interactions. Or would you want Physicalists to say, “we are wrong, no contact, therefore yes, it is supernatural”? Isn’t physicalism obliged to change in relation to new data?

    I mean this in a non-snarky way, but if physicalism led us to a superintelligent, caring creator, whether we could currently recognize it as todays physicalism or not, don’t you think physicalists would view that as amazing? I just find many theists closed to the idea that God might be open to experimentation.

    I am struggling to see a reason for abandoning physicalism, as without it we can create any possible answer, you never said why you did not believe in angels for instance or why you thought I might be proposing Kitsune because I thought they were funny.

  93. joseph says:

    @crude
    You say aristotleanism might offer an out, so I’ll get reading. All the talk of knives having the essence of cutting seems so strange, as do souls that are non-eternal, women having less teeth than men…but i’ve ordered some material…I am curious if you are pointing me to aristotle or thomism?

  94. joseph says:

    @crude
    I realised i previously asked a similar question as regards phlogiston, and you replied science doesn’t need physicalism. I guess that’s true, in a sense as physicalism will redefine itself in accordance to science, maybe that’s what cl and yourself are getting at. Still seems better to me than philosophy refusing to adapt to science.

    @CL
    “It’s pretty easy for me: I simply discard the seemingly logically impossible assumption that everything needs a cause.”

    If I’ve followed your argument from kinesis correctly, you mean God would be uncaused.

    A lot of atheists go back to an uncaused beginning too.

  95. @Crude, on miracles:

    Me: You make it sound like it’s impossible to have objectivity in science.

    Crude: Total subjectivity? It is. Hawking will tell you a lot of the same things I’m telling you here, though he doesn’t fully appreciate what it means. I think even PZ Myers will admit that science isn’t about truth, it’s about models, and the models can always be overturned.

    I think you meant “Total objectivity? It is.”. But I agree with you here that science is provisional, and therefore can never produce absolute knowledge. But you make it sound more like science is completely incapable of producing objective knowledge because scientists will always just come up with whatever positions suit their fancy.

    You can always have a person in the holdout position.

    Right, but as I’ve been saying, I don’t think that matters at all. What I want to know is what merits the holdout position has, why people would choose or not choose it, and whether I should have a holdout position.

    As for non-Christian miracles, I’m willing to grant some are reasonable to believe in.

    Can you name some you find reasonable?

    Splitting of the moon? Never heard of it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splitting_of_the_moon

    It’s even backed up by some science: http://interaksyon.com/article/10098/moon-formed-by-two-bodies-that-crashed-merged—study

    Milk miracle? I’ve seen video, but the video isn’t what impressed me so much as the attestation – reasonable based on what I’ve heard.

    Do you think the merit of the Milk miracle changes anything about the validity of Hinduism or the validity of Christianity?

    Me: Do you think naturalism would make sense then as a position “we can’t reasonably infer any miracles”?

    Crude: Not really, because we’re back to the problem of defining what’s natural or supernatural or miraculous to begin with.

    Do you think there is any scientific outcome that would provide some evidence that event X was miraculous?

    Do you think there is any empirical/testable outcome, even if only in principle, that would provide some evidence that event X was miraculous?

    What would personally convince you that event X, which you currently think is a miracle, was not actually a miracle?

    Me: Something like a Bible appearing in *every* home with a magic flash would do it for me. I’d love to see someone call that a quantum fluctuation.

    Crude: And how do we know it appeared in everyone home? Do we do a worldwide census? How many people have bibles in their home as is? The damn things are all over the place. What about mass hallucination? What about conspiracy?

    Let’s amend my proposed miracle a bit: everyone personally witnesses a Bible appear out of thin air in front of them. It contains clarifications of every dispute in Christianity, letting us definitively know the correct denomination to follow. The Bibles that remain are indestructible.

    No one could truthfully deny the event took place, because they personally witnessed it (though I suppose they could lie to try to diminish the miracle).

    People could try to attribute it to a global hallucination, but the Bibles would still be there, as seemingly indestructible as ever, for anyone to verify.

    People could assume a conspiracy, but it would be the most ridiculous conspiracy ever conceived, a group of people with global reach and the ability to deceive everyone as well as create billions of indestructible bibles is, I think, more unlikely than Christianity.

    What, we’re going to assume a being has the power to instantly put a bible in every house, but not the power to trick people on a wide scale?

    It’s the same thing for all practical purposes.

    Like I said, argument from lack of imagination. I’m not being cute here, I really think you don’t appreciate the power of people to rationalize, and are mistaking what you think you would believe in a hypothetical situation for how any person would believe.

    I think you have a lack of imagination — that people are so hopelessly deluded that there is no possible event that wouldn’t cause even just 20% of the non-Christian population to change sides.

    I am simply flabbergasted that anyone would respond to the Global Bible Miracle and sincerely shrug it off. I guess we’re at an impasse here, with our lack of imagination fighting each other. I suppose the only way to resolve it would be with some sort of poll of people: what would be your reaction to this Global Bible Miracle?

    I’ll repeat: PZ Myers took a position of ‘no evidence for miracles is possible, I would always use a naturalistic explanation’. He was applauded.

    I’ll repeat too: He is practicing bad philosophy there, and I disagree with him and everyone who cheered him on. There are quite a few popular atheists who chided him on this, and they were also cheered on in their counterattack.

    Me: Ok, it’s a starting point of inquiry. But how do you plan on continuing the inquiry? Or is it just something beyond human knowledge that we’ll never be able to understand?

    I can attribute any action to an agent, and if I’m creative enough, I can make the agent such that all counterarguments fail. What if I suggested that gravity is due to the pulling of tiny gremlins?

    Crude:Same way I plan on continuing any inquiry that involves an agent, especially one in a position of such power – trying to work with them, what they’ve said, or what they’ve done. I have to rely on them in part, they are not a system sitting around waiting for me to experiment on them.

    How can you work with an agent to get indication that the agent exists? Do you have any suggestions for how I should go about this?

    Crude: Tiny gremlins? I’d ask why you were so specific. I actually wouldn’t automatically rule out a fundamental agency as an explanation for our universe (Berkeleyan idealism).

    The point is agency can explain everything. I have qualms about theories that can explain everything, but I have trouble putting those qualms into words.

    “There’s always an out” is appropriate because “there’s always an out” doesn’t mean ‘One guy who everyone acknowledges is a nut refuses to believe’, but ‘Large groups of people can always deny what they want and think they’re being reasonable’.

    I suppose this would mean that we just need to be more rigorous about what it means to deny evidence or be “unreasonable”. For instance, I’d say that the amount of Obama birthers and Obama-is-a-muslim-ers three years ago were a large group. But the size of the group did nothing to prevent them from being labeled “nutty”.

  96. @Crude on solispsism (note I’m conceding the conversation on morality until I have a stronger theory developed; your points are well-taken)

    Me: But the same is true of anyone you’d ever meet. Heck, the same could even be true of you; perhaps you are mindless, but merely deluded to thinking you have a mind. Though I don’t even know what you mean by “mind”, honestly.

    Crude: Subjectivity, experience, consciousness. And no, I can’t be deluded into thinking I have a mind. Cogito ergo sum. I can be deluded about my memories, but my first-person subjective experience is not an inference.

    I agree your first-person subjective is not an inference. But if you were a computer program (android), you could still have a first-person subjective despite a mechanical mind. You could even be a computer program amid normal humans with their own first-person subjectives. That’s what I was referring to.

  97. @cl, on miracles:

    Me: However, it is a great example of the kinds of inferences we can make: what do we have to do to make sure someone ala Geller is not a fraud?

    Cl: Well, presumably, you think he’s a fraud… or at the very least, you think his claims have been falsified… so you tell me. I think demonstrating that someone is a “fraud” is much harder than most positivists think.

    It’s harder to the degree of how you want to balance Type I vs. Type II error.

    I personally would presume someone like that to be a fraud until they demonstrate their abilities under somewhat controlled conditions. For Geller, this would mean Geller would not be able to use his own props or go anywhere near them until the actual performance.

    What would it take for you to consider someone a fraud?

    Me: How do you conceive of something being uncaused?
    Cl: It’s pretty easy for me: I simply discard the seemingly logically impossible assumption that everything needs a cause.

    What makes the assumption logically impossible? I agree that, especially with vacuum fluctuations, the idea of uncaused events is a possibility. I just can’t wrap my head around them.

    This is because it again seems we’re in a position where the object spontaneously changes, with nothing about that object changing. Kind of like Mercury spontaneously popping into existence around Jupiter without any pre-pop change in Mercury.

    Me: I’ve been doing some thinking, and I think the reason why this is a problem is that given what you have said about the supernatural, absolutely every event is potentially a supernatural event, and we have no current way of ruling the supernatural in or out.

    Cl: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I believe everything supervenes on God, so everything is “supernatural” in that regard. No, in the sense that a rock tumbling over a precipice remains a “natural” act, despite its ultimate supervenience on the “supernatural.”

    What I mean is you can take *any* phenomena and explain it as a supernatural event.

    Nothing can “prove” God. The whole line of reasoning is silly. The best we could hope for would be a direct manifestation, but even then, one could still have doubts of some sort.

    Ooops — I meant “provide evidence” or “provide grounds for an inference towards”, not “prove”; we agreed on this before, and I forgot.

    Do you agree that miracles cannot provide any grounds for an inference towards God, because the miracles are themselves inferences from God?

    Me: I don’t mean this in a “Antrhopics -> ??? -> existence” way, but in a sense that existence is to be expected for anyone who exists, regardless of how unlikely it is.

    Cl: Sounds like a cop-out to me, but maybe you could clarify.

    Well, if intelligent life didn’t exist, there would be no intelligent life to complain about it. It is impossible for us to observe the amount of trials in which intelligent life did not result.

    Anthropics doesn’t explain why we are here, but it does cast doubt on the idea that being on the fortunate end of this radically unlikely event is something problematic (assuming it is radically unlikely).

    Because as far as I know, all–or at least the vast majority of–the empirical evidence we have suggests our universe is the only one in existence. This leaves the atheist with the uncomfortable burden of explaining how everything came out “just right” for life on the first roll.

    I don’t know the degree to which the empirical evidence makes the concept of the multiverse unreasonable, but I’ll grant that for now.

    Even granting that, we don’t know how many universe combinations could have resulted in intelligent life; we have no basis to assign a probability to the existence of intelligent life.

    It’s kind of like saying this: the vast amount of Christian theology suggests God is the only God in existence. This leaves the Christian with the uncomfortable burden of explaining how all his characteristics came out “just right” for life on the first roll.

    I don’t know what it means to be a Blainetologist. Do I think it’s reasonable to believe that there are “magic tricks” which don’t supervene entirely on the physical? Yes. Why? Because of the who-knows-how-many examples of phenomena that fit the bill and consistently elude the supervenience physicalists’ explanations.

    For Blaine specifically, how would you know if a specific card trick of his was supernatural or not?

  98. cl says:

    Peter,

    I personally would presume someone like that to be a fraud until they demonstrate their abilities under somewhat controlled conditions.

    That’s too presumptuous for me. I’d suspend judgment altogether.

    What would it take for you to consider someone a fraud?

    It’s hard to make a rule and say “this works every time.” It’s more like, “I know it when I see it.”

    What makes the assumption logically impossible?

    Infinite causal regress seems to be logically impossible, but I’m sure you can find someone who says otherwise, and you could always reply that uncaused entities seem logically impossible. Quite the conundrum when we get down to it. Wherefore art thou, objectivity?

    I just can’t wrap my head around them.

    That’s fine, as long as “I can’t wrap my head around them” is NEVER offered in support of “therefore it’s likely they don’t exist.”

    What I mean is you can take *any* phenomena and explain it as a supernatural event.

    I know what you meant. I explained the ways in which that is and is not the case.

    Ooops — I meant “provide evidence” or “provide grounds for an inference towards”,

    Revisiting your statement with that clarification in mind:

    So miracles could never [provide evidence for] or [provide grounds for an inference towards] the existence of God then, since you would first need to establish the existence of a specific God and specific set of revelations?

    Miracles can provide evidence and grounds for inference. If a group of us pray over person X and their cancer remits the next day, that would be consistent with a few hypotheses, one of them being that God exists and intervenes on occasion. So it is “evidence” and “grounds for inference” for or towards God.

    It is impossible for us to observe the amount of trials in which intelligent life did not result.

    That doesn’t matter. So long as we’re trying to compare hypotheses, we’re still left with the burden of explanation. We can’t just shirk it.

    Even granting that, we don’t know how many universe combinations could have resulted in intelligent life; we have no basis to assign a probability to the existence of intelligent life.

    I disagree. Many have made attempts in this regard, and there’s one thing they agree on: highly, highly improbable on the assumption of non-teleology. From Drake to Penrose.

    It’s kind of like saying this: the vast amount of Christian theology suggests God is the only God in existence. This leaves the Christian with the uncomfortable burden of explaining how all his characteristics came out “just right” for life on the first roll.

    It’s not like saying that at all. There’s no “roll” in a teleological explanation. On the Christian view of a rational, creative, all-powerful God, we would expect everything to produce life on the first roll.

    For Blaine specifically, how would you know if a specific card trick of his was supernatural or not?

    I don’t. This is like the question, how would I know my life wasn’t just a simulation? I don’t. Neither do you. We make inferences, we reason, we observe, we ask questions… and we take the rest on faith.

  99. Me: What would it take for you to consider someone a fraud?

    cl: It’s hard to make a rule and say “this works every time.” It’s more like, “I know it when I see it.”

    Are you sure there aren’t some criteria you can name that would provide evidence for fraud?

    Infinite causal regress seems to be logically impossible

    Not to my personal intuitions, so I’m interested in how our intuitions conflict. This is just a personal “see if I can grasp this concept thing”, definitely not a “my intuitions prove I’m right” thing.

    Me: What I mean is you can take *any* phenomena and explain it as a supernatural event.

    cl: I know what you meant. I explained the ways in which that is and is not the case.

    You responded that the answer was “No, in the sense that a rock tumbling over a precipice remains a ‘natural’ act, despite its ultimate supervenience on the ‘supernatural.'” But I’m not sure what, according to you, can remain a natural act (despite ultimate supervenience). Does lightning remain a natural act? Does consciousness? Why or why not?

    Revisiting your statement with that clarification in mind:
    So miracles could never [provide evidence for] or [provide grounds for an inference towards] the existence of God then, since you would first need to establish the existence of a specific God and specific set of revelations?

    Miracles can provide evidence and grounds for inference. If a group of us pray over person X and their cancer remits the next day, that would be consistent with a few hypotheses, one of them being that God exists and intervenes on occasion. So it is “evidence” and “grounds for inference” for or towards God.

    But weren’t you just talking about how there is always an out, and that even if the cancer remits, this doesn’t count as evidence towards God?

    I agree with you that this scenario does provide evidence for God, but I also think that if a group of you prays over person X and the cancer does not remit, that would be “evidence” and “grounds for inference” to atheism.

    Me: Even granting that, we don’t know how many universe combinations could have resulted in intelligent life; we have no basis to assign a probability to the existence of intelligent life.

    cl: I disagree. Many have made attempts in this regard, and there’s one thing they agree on: highly, highly improbable on the assumption of non-teleology. From Drake to Penrose.

    Could you cite specifically what you are referring to?

    Me: It’s kind of like saying this: the vast amount of Christian theology suggests God is the only God in existence. This leaves the Christian with the uncomfortable burden of explaining how all his characteristics came out “just right” for life on the first roll.

    Cl: It’s not like saying that at all. There’s no “roll” in a teleological explanation. On the Christian view of a rational, creative, all-powerful God, we would expect everything to produce life on the first roll.

    Yes, we would, assuming the Christian God specifically existed. But why not some other God? Why not a rational, all-powerful, but uncreative God who doesn’t feel like making life?

    Me: For Blaine specifically, how would you know if a specific card trick of his was supernatural or not?

    Cl: I don’t. This is like the question, how would I know my life wasn’t just a simulation? I don’t. Neither do you. We make inferences, we reason, we observe, we ask questions… and we take the rest on faith.

    Are there any grounds that would allow you to make a inference towards or away from “magic” as the explanatory hypothesis for a given magic trick?

  100. cl says:

    Peter,

    Are you sure there aren’t some criteria you can name that would provide evidence for fraud?

    Incriminating information from a personal journal would be strong evidence, much stronger than sub-optimal test results IMO. If I knew the person and found the journal myself, I’d be convinced as can be. Or, if I caught them staging a “magic” apparatus, after which they became fidgety.

    But I’m not sure what, according to you, can remain a natural act (despite ultimate supervenience).

    All kinds of things: the ebb of the tide, lightning, the motion of the planets, the process of photosynthesis… on and on and on etc. I believe these things ultimately supervene on God, but I believe that God put them into a process of self-propagation. IOW, I disbelieve that there is one set of deities behind lightning, another behind tides, yet another behind planetary motion… etc. Now, this isn’t to say that God [or perhaps even some other created spiritual being] couldn’t cause a change in the order. Why would I say these are “natural” acts despite their ultimate supervenience on the physical? Because they sustain themselves, as opposed to, say, spook phenomena or manifestations.

    As far as consciousness, I think it’s closer to both: there are organic and spiritual components to consciousness, on my view.

    But weren’t you just talking about how there is always an out, and that even if the cancer remits, this doesn’t count as evidence towards God?

    It doesn’t count as evidence in the average skeptic’s mind, it counts as evidence in the average believer’s mind. It is still “evidence” by any reasonable definition of that word.

    …I also think that if a group of you prays over person X and the cancer does not remit, that would be “evidence” and “grounds for inference” to atheism.

    …which is why I think prayer studies are utterly ridiculous, regardless of the results. There is no way to sufficiently account for confounders. People who use these things champion bad science.

    Could you cite specifically what you are referring to?

    Both of those men wrote equations that are accepted / contested to varying degrees. The whole “anthropic principle” thing. Surely you’re familiar with the claim. As even Stenger notes, “Undoubtedly, if the universe were to start again from scratch with random parameters it would not look at all the way it does today.” IOW, of all the random parameters that could have been, life is much less likely to occur.

    Why not a rational, all-powerful, but uncreative God who doesn’t feel like making life?

    Then there wouldn’t be life to evaluate anything. I don’t see what you’re getting at.

    Are there any grounds that would allow you to make a inference towards or away from “magic” as the explanatory hypothesis for a given magic trick?

    As far as “away from magic,” same as my answers to fraud. As far as towards, given the state of technology these days, it’s hard to say. It seems like anything could be faked.

  101. Crude says:

    Peter,

    I agree your first-person subjective is not an inference. But if you were a computer program (android), you could still have a first-person subjective despite a mechanical mind. You could even be a computer program amid normal humans with their own first-person subjectives. That’s what I was referring to.

    First, I’m not sure a computer program really could ‘have a first-person subjective experience’.

    Either way, that couldn’t be it. You said that one could be “mindless, but merely deluded to thinking you have a mind”. But an android with subjective first-person experience has a mind. There’s no delusion in that assumed case.

    And if one can have subjectivity ‘despite a mechanical mind’, then “mechanical” is going off the rails anyway.

    I think you meant “Total objectivity? It is.”. But I agree with you here that science is provisional, and therefore can never produce absolute knowledge. But you make it sound more like science is completely incapable of producing objective knowledge because scientists will always just come up with whatever positions suit their fancy.

    Right, I meant total objectivity.

    As for the rest: I don’t need to say that “science is completely incapable of producing objective knowledge” or anything so extreme. I just need to point out that the provisional nature of science, and the extremes at which these questions lie, make it so one never has to concede anything. One can always bank on “we’re missing something” or “in the future, perhaps we’ll discover” or, etc.

    They don’t even need to “come up with whatever position”. They can get by with agnosticism and a plea to future knowledge alone. Nowadays they can even speculate about things that are in principle unfalsifiable and unobservable but limp by with “well maybe we’ll find some way to observe this anyway…”

    Right, but as I’ve been saying, I don’t think that matters at all. What I want to know is what merits the holdout position has, why people would choose or not choose it, and whether I should have a holdout position.

    And I think you can get as far as laying out the data – the arguments, the reasons, etc – but the idea of being able to find anything close to an objective standard for determining what is or is not reasonable to believe in is a fool’s errand. The impression I get off you is that you think there’s a neat and tidy line there where… something like ‘any reasonable person would be able to agree that believing X is reasonable or unreasonable’. I’m far more cynical.

    Let me put it another way. I’m willing to grant it’s possible in theory to find that neat and tidy line. The idea that this neat and tidy line can, should, or would be reflected in the thinking of the majority, or sizable minority, is where my cynicism rolls out in spades.

    Can you name some you find reasonable?

    Not too many offhand, purely because – again – I don’t spend much time looking. I’d give the milk miracle points for being reasonable purely based on the amount of testimony, but I haven’t looked into it too deeply. (I’ve watched video, but who’s convinced by video nowadays? ;) Prophetic NDEs, perhaps. But are those miracles even if they’re legitimate? Back to the haziness of what to call a miracle or not.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splitting_of_the_moon

    Huh. News to me.

    I’ll put it to you this way: “Depending on how you regard the Quran, it may well be reasonable to believe in that miracle.” The Quran itself is supposed to be miraculous, but again, I’ve not dug too deeply into the ‘why’ on this one.

    Do you think the merit of the Milk miracle changes anything about the validity of Hinduism or the validity of Christianity?

    It depends on how you take the miracle. If you merely take it as evidence of a powerful agent intervening in our affairs, then it could boost the validity of both. If you take it as problematic on Christianity (We should never expect miracles of this type if Christianity is true, but we should if Hinduism is true), then it raises the credibility of one and lowers the other. If you take it as expected on Christianity (God gives signs to all / Agents other than God can be expected to do things like this), then it evaluates a different way.

    Do you think there is any scientific outcome that would provide some evidence that event X was miraculous?

    What counts as ‘providing evidence’ here? The lack of an explanation? The lack of particular explanations? I think that “science” is dead quiet on most issues of importance: On teleology, on miracles, on what is or isn’t natural (to say nothing of supernatural). Most people cut their science with philosophy on these questions, half the time without realizing it.

    Do you think there is any empirical/testable outcome, even if only in principle, that would provide some evidence that event X was miraculous?

    Is ‘seeing an effect and reasoning that it is best or possibly attributable to a mind’ count as empirical? If so, there’s empirical outcomes and evidence aplenty for the supernatural. “Testable” in the scientific sense? Not really, especially for the God in question.

    What would personally convince you that event X, which you currently think is a miracle, was not actually a miracle?

    Rather depends on the miracle, eh? For me to be convinced that the Miracle of the Sun was not a miracle as I’ve defined it would require either proof that the entire event never took place, took place but all the records were part of a lie conspiracy, or arguments that convinced me of the falsity of any form of theism. And being “convinced” is one hell of a high bar.

    People could assume a conspiracy, but it would be the most ridiculous conspiracy ever conceived, a group of people with global reach and the ability to deceive everyone as well as create billions of indestructible bibles is, I think, more unlikely than Christianity.

    Great. And PZ Myers and the Cult of Gnu could and probably argue that the reasonableness of such a conspiracy just gained tremendous credence. After all – ridiculous conspiracy? Why? Because there aren’t many political factions or people who stand to gain by convincing people of the truth of Christianity at any cost? It couldn’t be “they don’t have the power to do this”, because the evidence would indicate that SOMEone has the power. Why does that someone have to be the God of Christianity? Why give us all bibles rather than convince us by fiat? Why involve a reasoning process at all?

    Like I said – you underestimate the ability of people to resist evidence, to hold out, to come up with alternate explanations. And I’ve got to say, given PZ Myers’ performance and the response is generated among a community of people who, frankly, pretend to out and out deify Reason and Science, I think considerable evidence is on my side here. Since Coyne was throwing out examples to the extremes you are, and Myers still said no.

    I mean, I’ve personally seen more than one atheist go on and on about how only an idiot can believe God, any God, exists… then turn right around and say we have very good reasons to suspect we live in the Matrix or are simulations. And that throws yet ANOTHER wrench into your plea here. You know that old quote, “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”? People rarely dwell on what that means in a modern world where the technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, and you have Luke and the Cult of the Electric God forecasting the creation of what I maintain are full-blown old school deities, simulated universes, and who knows what else, possibly within our lifetimes.

    You’re suggesting people who believe such things are coming – rightly or wrongly – can’t think up other explanations than ‘Christianity is true’ for massive miracles?

    I think you have a lack of imagination — that people are so hopelessly deluded that there is no possible event that wouldn’t cause even just 20% of the non-Christian population to change sides.

    Wait a second now. I’m not doubting that an event like that could cause people, even many people, to ‘change sides’. But A) merely changing sides is not evidence that a person was persuaded by reason, or reasonably, B) people who want to hold out, could hold out, and C) I already have ample evidence that many of these holdouts actually exist, and are considered reasonable people.

    Let me stress that point. I know I keep beating the PZ Myers horse on this one, but he’s the gift that keeps on giving. Myers, and many of his followers, went up against Coyne on this very subject, with examples similar to yours. They maintained that no, such evidence would not convince them, that a ‘naturalistic’ explanation would either always be available immediately or, in principle, could be available.

    Did Coyne – who previously held this sort of ‘being persuaded by the evidence’ standard as a key difference, one which made atheists rational and theists not – denounce Myers for being irrational and hopelessly deluded? Did the greater atheist collective denounce Myers and company for taking such a stance in terms so strong?

    Or did they drop the subject pretty damn fast and say ‘well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree’ in essence?

    I’ll repeat too: He is practicing bad philosophy there, and I disagree with him and everyone who cheered him on. There are quite a few popular atheists who chided him on this, and they were also cheered on in their counterattack.

    “Practicing bad philosophy”? You previously said anyone who wouldn’t believe in comparable situations is “hopelessly deluded”. Coyne went against Myers on this and he sure as hell didn’t use language that strong. He moderated himself ridiculously to gently suggesting that perhaps Myers and crew were maybe in error here. That was the general response from people who disagreed with Myers – no charges of irrationality. And in the end it was quietly reduced to ‘Well, we disagree’ – and then there was silence.

    I have no doubt that someone out there raged against Myers. Probably some small blog, like “AtheistInNewark297′ or some equivalent. But you have to understand – you’re sitting here insisting there are events that would convince any reasonable person of the truth of Christianity, while I have great evidence that there are people who would reject those events and the conclusion. What’s more, they happen to be members of a community that superficially prides itself on its devotion to reason. And these members were considerable in number in this move – I’m not saying ‘all atheists are like this’, but I don’t need to to support my point on this one.

    How can you work with an agent to get indication that the agent exists? Do you have any suggestions for how I should go about this?

    Rather requires the agent to cooperate, given their power and capabilities, eh?

    As for how you should go about this – ask. Investigate. Research. Reason. What, you want me to give you magic words that force the agent in question to appear?

    I suppose this would mean that we just need to be more rigorous about what it means to deny evidence or be “unreasonable”. For instance, I’d say that the amount of Obama birthers and Obama-is-a-muslim-ers three years ago were a large group. But the size of the group did nothing to prevent them from being labeled “nutty”.

    Heh. They were labeled “nutty” – by people who disagreed with them. That’s a ridiculously low standard. What’s so unreasonable about the suspicion that Obama, the guy with the Kenyan father, possibly was not born on US soil?

    As for “Obama is a muslim”… I recall that Coyne and Myers both took opposing views. One said that Obama is an atheist but won’t admit it. The other says Obama is not an atheist. Which side is nutty there?

  102. Daniel says:

    Wasn’t the Hindu milk miracle discredited as capillary action long ago? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capillary_action

  103. Crude says:

    Daniel,

    I have no idea, but it wasn’t just some single event at the time. Supposedly the statues were taking up milk and it wasn’t ending up on the floor or whatever you’d expect from capillary action. I’m hesitant to equate ‘offered a hypothetical alternate explanation’ with ‘discredited’, either way.

  104. Daniel says:

    Crude,

    You bring up a good point. I should not assume that this alternative explanation is definitive, especially since I am open to supernatural explanations.

    Actually I was thinking of this w/regard to the atheist claim that they disbelieve one more God than most theists. This is not entirely true. Many Hindus are, of course, polytheists and some even accommodate Christ in their pantheon. Some Buddhists consider Christ a Buddha of sorts. Mormonism is somewhat polytheistic and there are other modern examples of polytheism.

    As a Christian I am open to the possibility that other “gods” and “goddesses” exist and have supernatural power. I just deny the fact that they are due worship, are uncreated, and are perfect. So I am open to the possibility that Hindu gods and goddesses preform miracles. I understand such beings to be immaterial intelligences, i.e. angels and demons.

  105. cl says:

    Daniel,

    As a Christian I am open to the possibility that other “gods” and “goddesses” exist and have supernatural power. I just deny the fact that they are due worship, are uncreated, and are perfect.

    As any Bible-believing Christian must be [cf. the Egyptian miracles, Satan’s deceptions in the end times]. Personally, this is why I think Jesus often got annoyed with the “show a miracle to prove yourself” crowd in His times, and why I think miracle-searchers are barking up the wrong tree. I think it is precisely this yearning for miracles that is going to lead the masses to worship Satan in the end.

    Peter,

    On this business of miracles:

    And that’s why The Miracle of the Sun is the by far best attested miracle known today, right along with The Hindu Milk Miracle. I fail to see how something even more clear cut and obvious, like something that doesn’t involve staring at the sun, wouldn’t be a clincher.

    Yet, you write that you are “almost certain” no God/gods exist. Why do you maintain such a strong position of denial despite the existence of miracles which you yourself describe as well-attested?

  106. Crude says:

    cl,

    Personally, this is why I think Jesus often got annoyed with the “show a miracle to prove yourself” crowd in His times, and why I think miracle-searchers are barking up the wrong tree. I think it is precisely this yearning for miracles that is going to lead the masses to worship Satan in the end.

    I agree. Actually, since I’ve referenced Coyne, I’ve thought more than once that the miracles which would (it seems) absolutely convince Coyne that Christianity was true, would go much further towards convincing me that whatever was responsible for what I was seeing, the God of Christianity wasn’t the prime candidate. If God shows up and starts appearing on talk shows healing limbs and mocking atheists (a rough approximation of the sort of miracle that was brought up), I’m going to start taking Loki a bit more seriously.

    The angels and demons thing – yeah, I think some people forget that Christianity in particular has room for multiple ‘powerful agents’. It’s not just God.

  107. joseph says:

    But if people are required to believe in the supernatural nature of jesus to be saved, it would seem understandable that they would want some evidence of something other than an intelligemt preacher with a good set of ethics.
    I agree on the demons bit, some of the miracles reported in the bible do not seem either benevolent or instructional.

  108. @cl:

    IOW, I disbelieve that there is one set of deities behind lightning, another behind tides, yet another behind planetary motion… etc.

    Why?

    Why would I say these are “natural” acts despite their ultimate supervenience on the physical? Because they sustain themselves, as opposed to, say, spook phenomena or manifestations.

    That’s a good distinction, but not one that we could really differentiate practically. How do we know if something is incapable of sustaining itself? (Especially considering consciousness.)

    It doesn’t count as evidence in the average skeptic’s mind, it counts as evidence in the average believer’s mind. It is still “evidence” by any reasonable definition of that word.

    Then in this scenario, using your own definitions, the skeptic is being unreasonable and the believer is being reasonable.

    Me: …I also think that if a group of you prays over person X and the cancer does not remit, that would be “evidence” and “grounds for inference” to atheism.

    Cl: …which is why I think prayer studies are utterly ridiculous, regardless of the results. There is no way to sufficiently account for confounders. People who use these things champion bad science.

    Could you explain how this isn’t you contradicting yourself? Logically, if successful prayers are evidence for God, failed prayers must be evidence against God, absent some other explanation.

    If I’m right, you either you have to (1) give up the idea that successful prayers are evidence for God or (2) start believing that failed prayers are evidence against God.

    I think prayer itself is ridiculous for reasons I’ve mentioned previously on my blog.

    Both of those men wrote equations that are accepted / contested to varying degrees. The whole “anthropic principle” thing. Surely you’re familiar with the claim. As even Stenger notes, “Undoubtedly, if the universe were to start again from scratch with random parameters it would not look at all the way it does today.” IOW, of all the random parameters that could have been, life is much less likely to occur.

    First, things like the Drake Equation demonstrate that while the existence of intelligent life is unlikely in any given location, it is overall still likely / possible even without factoring teleological influences into the equations. So I don’t see how they help your argument at all.

    Second, even if all that is true, it says nothing about whether intelligent life was possible under those other conditions.

    Me: Why not a rational, all-powerful, but uncreative God who doesn’t feel like making life?

    Cl: Then there wouldn’t be life to evaluate anything. I don’t see what you’re getting at.

    That’s my point exactly: you’re facing the same “problem of life” on Christianity as you’ve charged atheism, and you’ve answered it the exact same way I did: using anthropics.

    It’s the same as when you ask “Why is there life, despite it being unlikely” and I respond “Well if there isn’t, there wouldn’t be any life to evaluate. I don’t see what you’re getting at.”

    All Christianity (and any other religion) does is kick the can back one entity: rather than a somehow-just-right universe, we have a somehow-just-right God.

  109. @Crude:

    First, I’m not sure a computer program really could ‘have a first-person subjective experience’.

    Why not? It would have an evaluation of inputs that it might rightfully call a first-person subjective experience if able to communicate.

    And if one can have subjectivity ‘despite a mechanical mind’, then “mechanical” is going off the rails anyway.

    Why would you say that? If there was an android with a mind, would the android stop being mechanical?

    I just need to point out that the provisional nature of science, and the extremes at which these questions lie, make it so one never has to concede anything. One can always bank on “we’re missing something” or “in the future, perhaps we’ll discover” or, etc.

    Right. But if I’m interested in an argument to the best explanation, I don’t care about any of this.

    The impression I get off you is that you think there’s a neat and tidy line there where… something like ‘any reasonable person would be able to agree that believing X is reasonable or unreasonable’. I’m far more cynical.

    I think that such a neat and tidy line would be produceable in principle, but would become just another thing that people would “reasonably” or “unreasonably” argue about, making it almost self-defeating.

    The idea that this neat and tidy line can, should, or would be reflected in the thinking of the majority, or sizable minority, is where my cynicism rolls out in spades.

    I agree with you here.

    Me: Do you think the merit of the Milk miracle changes anything about the validity of Hinduism or the validity of Christianity?

    Crude: It depends on how you take the miracle. If you merely take it as evidence of a powerful agent intervening in our affairs, then it could boost the validity of both. If you take it as problematic on Christianity (We should never expect miracles of this type if Christianity is true, but we should if Hinduism is true), then it raises the credibility of one and lowers the other. If you take it as expected on Christianity (God gives signs to all / Agents other than God can be expected to do things like this), then it evaluates a different way.

    That makes sense, but what troubles me is it is the exact same thing anyone could say to justify their religion in the face of opposing miracles. Miracles could only be used to demonstrate one religion over another if we evaluate by your second case.

    Me: Do you think there is any scientific outcome that would provide some evidence that event X was miraculous?

    Crude: What counts as ‘providing evidence’ here? The lack of an explanation? The lack of particular explanations?

    I’m not exactly sure why I used “scientific” here. What I mean to get at, though, is you believe X is a miracle for some reason, and I want to know what that miracle is.

    Is ‘seeing an effect and reasoning that it is best or possibly attributable to a mind’ count as empirical? If so, there’s empirical outcomes and evidence aplenty for the supernatural.

    Yes. What’s your case?

    Most people cut their science with philosophy on these questions, half the time without realizing it.

    I agree this happens, but I don’t think it will always lead to negative effects like a loss of objectivity.

    Me: What would personally convince you that event X, which you currently think is a miracle, was not actually a miracle?

    Crude: Rather depends on the miracle, eh? For me to be convinced that the Miracle of the Sun was not a miracle as I’ve defined it would require either proof that the entire event never took place, took place but all the records were part of a lie conspiracy, or arguments that convinced me of the falsity of any form of theism. And being “convinced” is one hell of a high bar.

    That is definitely a high bar, but I suppose it is reasonable.

    Like I said – you underestimate the ability of people to resist evidence, to hold out, to come up with alternate explanations. And I’ve got to say, given PZ Myers’ performance and the response is generated among a community of people who, frankly, pretend to out and out deify Reason and Science, I think considerable evidence is on my side here. Since Coyne was throwing out examples to the extremes you are, and Myers still said no.

    I think we’re officially at an impasse on this issue, because all we’re doing is repeating our points to each other. I’m suggesting that (1) people can’t truly be *this* dense and (2) Myers isn’t representative of all atheists, and you’re suggesting the opposite. I don’t see any way we could resolve this dispute given our current resources.

    “Practicing bad philosophy”? You previously said anyone who wouldn’t believe in comparable situations is “hopelessly deluded”.

    I still stand by that.

    I have no doubt that someone out there raged against Myers. Probably some small blog, like “AtheistInNewark297′ or some equivalent.

    I know Greta Christina did, as seen in http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/11/theyre_all_still_arguing_again.php

    Me: How can you work with an agent to get indication that the agent exists? Do you have any suggestions for how I should go about this?

    Crude: Rather requires the agent to cooperate, given their power and capabilities, eh?
    As for how you should go about this – ask. Investigate. Research. Reason. What, you want me to give you magic words that force the agent in question to appear?

    What should I have done if I’ve already asked, investigated, researched, and reasoned? How long do I have to do that before the agent appears? When do I get to conclude that the agent either wants nothing to do with me or does not exist?

    They were labeled “nutty” – by people who disagreed with them. That’s a ridiculously low standard. What’s so unreasonable about the suspicion that Obama, the guy with the Kenyan father, possibly was not born on US soil?

    The existence of the birth announcement, short-form birth certificate, and lack of any indication that he wasn’t born on the US soil besides being foreign looking.

    As for “Obama is a muslim”… I recall that Coyne and Myers both took opposing views. One said that Obama is an atheist but won’t admit it. The other says Obama is not an atheist. Which side is nutty there?

    Whichever side said Obama was a closet atheist.

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