RVA Dialog: Proof Of God’s Existence

Jim of Reason vs. Apologetics offers a series of thought experiments titled Proof of God’s Existence to explore the epistemic parameters of what he calls “common sense inquiry.” He identifies they ways people assess evidence and probability in everyday affairs and suggests that common sense inquiry is grounds for skepticism.

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What Is Evidence? Proof Of God’s Existence, 7

I’ve fallen behind in my responses to jim’s series Proof of God’s Existence, but that’s okay. In fact, I’d say it’s even preferred. After all, his series is a thought experiment, which means the more we think about it, the more mental heavy lifting we’re doing. Mental heavy lifting is a good thing.

Although Scene 4: The Newspaper is pretty short, volumes could be written in response to it, especially the opening paragraph:

What is evidence? What does someone mean when they say there’s ‘no evidence’ for any particular claim? Is a claim, itself, evidence all on it’s own? Can something be rightly called evidence one day, and not the next? Is evidence automatically strengthened on the basis of multiple claimants?
jim, Reason vs. Apologetics

Those are definitely meaningful questions, but I must confess to a certain sense of mixed emotion when I hear jim ask them. On the one hand, I believe (a)theists should ask them. In fact, I’d say if (a)theists want to get anywhere in their discussions, they’re obligated to start from common ground. Otherwise, without firmly cemented goalposts that clarify what is and is not acceptable as evidence, (a)theist discussion often descends into an unproductive shell game.

On the other hand, both jim and other atheists have sharply criticized me for similar inquiry, which makes this newfound interest in it seem a little backhanded. After all, I’ve asked jim and countless other atheists these same exact questions, only to be met with accusations of sophistry and insult!

All the while the questions remain: what is evidence? What do people mean when they say there’s no evidence for any given claim? Is a claim evidence all on its own?

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Carol Should Have Partied! Proof Of God’s Existence, 6

This is my sixth response to jim's series, Proof of God's Existence.

jim spent the first few paragraphs of The Party arguing that science arose from our need to perceive the world as it really is. For example,

All of us want to be objective. That is, we all want to see the world for what it truly is.  …  This is why we have science. Science is that small part of us that wants to get a handle on how the world REALLY operates. To garner a bird’s eye viewpoint unclouded by ignorance, or purely emotional concerns, or simply by the unwieldiness of way too much information. Science is a process by which we seek to see more clearly and completely.

I would agree with jim there, and would add that granted the methodologies are different, I believe that's why we have philosophy and religion, too. jim went on to create what I saw as a meaningful distinction between the commonplace "little science" normal people use every day, and the not-so-commonplace "Big Science" that professional scientists engage in under controlled circumstances. I took jim's "little science" to be categorically analogous to the "common sense inquiry" he alluded to in the Introduction, and all of this built to the following question:

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Conservatively Stated Belief: Proof Of God’s Existence, 5

I’ve been slowly digesting jim’s series Proof Of God’s Existence for the past month or so. I hope he keeps it going.

We ended 4 with a provisional definition of justified belief as, “conservatively-stated beliefs or conclusions that correspond to face value observation and are not sufficiently challenged by anomalous data.” We also discussed an hypothetical auto accident and noted that since drivers don’t normally crash into each other intentionally, most people refer generically to most traffic collisions as automobile accidents.

If we see a Mazda t-bone a parts truck at noon on some weekday, our justified belief conservatively stated is that we saw a collision between a Mazda and a parts truck at noon on some weekday. That’s it. We could responsibly paraphrase that by saying we saw some sedan slam into a truck, or that a work-truck got hit by some car, but any description that adds unconfirmed assumptions or omits confirmed facts exhibits some degree of inaccuracy. In the everyday world where pragmatism overrides commitment to technical accuracy, I wouldn’t take issue, but in philosophy and logic such laxity can be lethal.

Some might be tempted to say that since most traffic collisions are in fact accidents that we’re justified to begin with that assumption. While there is certainly enough of an argument there that I wouldn’t call that assumption irrational, at the same time I would not consider the assumption conservatively-stated. Although most likely true (because most traffic collisions are in fact accidents), that we saw an accident between a Mazda and a parts truck is not conservatively stated. It adds the unconfirmed assumption that the collision was accidental. In everyday or pragmatic usage reasonable speakers understand what is meant, but imagine the catastrophe oversight like that might cause in some nuanced philosophical discourse. We should be responsible interlocutors and say no more or no less than statements or data permit. Anything less is a disservice to clarity. 

That being said, let’s get back to The Boxes.

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When Is Belief Justified, Redux? Proof Of God’s Existence, 4

We left off promising a more in-depth discussion of jim's post. I understand that jim offers his series Proof Of God's Existence as a thought experiment, and that he's simply asking what our initial judgments would be, perhaps to help define the parameters of this "common sense inquiry" he alluded to in the introduction. Personally, I'm all for it, and as a writer I've always enjoyed reading jim, even his vitriolic tirades against me which were often colorful and creative (I even recall some limericks).

After setting up an odd series of events between Mary the neighborhood realtor and Carol the neighborhood skeptic, jim closes with the following set of questions:

Are Carol's [suspicion and uneasiness] justified at this point, slight though they be, or can they be summarily dismissed? Is this early foreboding of suspicion rational? Irrational? Pre-rational?

My short answer was that Carol's initial and ongoing uneasiness were justified, but any ongoing suspicion less so. Likewise, I answered that Carol's initial and ongoing uneasiness would also seem rational, but again, any ongoing suspicion less so. Tonight I'd like to address those questions in more detail, in hopes of churning out at least a provisional definition of justified belief.

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Why Is That? Proof Of God’s Existence, 3

Happy MLK Day, all. I encourage you to read jim's third installment of his series Proof of God's Existence for yourself before reading mine.

After setting up an odd series of events between Mary the neighborhood realtor and Carol the neighborhood skeptic, jim closes with the following set of questions:

Are Carol's [suspicion and uneasiness] justified at this point, slight though they be, or can they be summarily dismissed? Is this early foreboding of suspicion rational? Irrational? Pre-rational?

As far as justification goes, my first thoughts were that suspicion and uneasiness are ontologically distinct from beliefs. I'd say what we call uneasiness is pure feeling that may or may not be rooted in some observation or experience. On the other hand, suspicion seems to be a little bit of both feeling and belief. To me, a suspicion is basically a provisional hypothesis cast in response to some (often anomalous) observation or experience. As such we should evaluate each according to their own merits.

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When Is Belief Justified? Proof Of God’s Existence, 2

jim has written the second installment of his series titled Proof of God's Existence. The post introduces four fictional characters that jim uses in an intentionally loosely-framed thought experiment:

Bob Smith Bob is a somewhat elderly man, retired, whose wife and friends find innocent and trusting to the point of being gullible.

Carol Smith Bob’s wife is the counterpoint to Bob’s trusting nature, skeptical to a fault, and always on the lookout for a scam. (note: both Bob and Carol always try to be scrupulously honest with each other).

Mary Jones The Smiths’ nextdoor neighbor, as well as the local real estate agent. She’s a recent move-in, and neither of the Smiths know her very well.

Mr. Garcia The mysterious man across the street.

So far, everything sounds good to me.

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A Trip To The Hypothetical Fish Farm: Proof of God’s Existence, I

jim at RvA has blessed us with a new series titled Proof of God’s Existence, and I intend to respond to each installment of his series, which seems designed to corral the believer’s claims into the confines of what jim calls “common sense inquiry.” I suppose we’ll see just what that means as time unfolds.

He begins with words likely all too familiar to veterans in this game, centered around the question of what constitutes adequate proof of God’s existence:

It’s a common question on the tip of many a Christian’s tongue when confronted with skepticism regarding their theistic worldview, yes? Responses from skeptics generally revolve around some kind of convincing display(s) of ‘miraculous’ interventions, or other manifestations i.e. events beyond the generally accepted, deterministic norms of the most current naturalistic paradigm, and supported by scientific methodology such as observation, controlled testing, repeatability and the like.jim, reason vs. apologetics

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TWIM / RvA Dialog III

jim at RvA has responded to Reason, Intellect, Religion, & Belief. Per the usual format, my response follows, but we should address some tangential things which don’t relate to jim’s actual criticism of my post, first. I suspect that jim composed his response either drunk, or buzzed, because of the way it “went off.” I emailed jim and asked him to distill his criticisms into concise, clearly-stated objections. He refused, and hit me with the surprise of posting that email, instead. Well! It’s like that, eh?

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