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Does God Exist?
January 15, 2014 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Do we have good reason to think God exists? We do, says William Lane Craig. Craig has debated several high profile atheists, including Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.
posted by shivohum (516 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm an atheist, but I teach Craig and I find the fine-tuning argument particularly difficult to handle. Unless you posit infinite possible worlds which aren't fine tuned to make life possible, it does seem like a violation of basic Bayeseanism to explain the existence of the universe by mere chance.

That said, I haven't studied the matter and I worry that I'm missing a trick. Certainly the rest of these arguments have pretty clear and obvious responses that defeat them.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:15 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


This is precisely as philosophically and rhetorically cogent as the New Atheism WAKE UP SHEEPLE THERE'S NO SKY WIZARD it is I guess trying to rebut.

You know that whole thing about how you shouldn't mud-wrestle with a pig because you just end up dirty and the pig likes it? This is just a second pig.
posted by griphus at 6:16 AM on January 15 [38 favorites]


These all seem to be strangely circular arguments.
posted by dng at 6:18 AM on January 15 [20 favorites]


This thesis is so effective it not only proves the existence of God, but of His creator, SuperGod. After all, as the article suggests, the idea that something can simply exist without a creator is absurd.

Also, MegaGod, who created SuperGod.

GigaGod begat MegaGod.

TeraGod begat GigaGod.

You see, I'm already beginning to write the one true holy text!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:19 AM on January 15 [199 favorites]


It's gods, all the way up.
posted by sukeban at 6:20 AM on January 15 [111 favorites]


There is no proof either way so a debate is silly. The debate I want is what net benefit does organized religion give to society?
posted by any major dude at 6:20 AM on January 15 [25 favorites]


...."INVISIBLE SKY WIZARD" actually two pigs...

Got it.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:20 AM on January 15 [8 favorites]


Also:
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is a transcendent, personal being.

– which is what everybody means by ‘God’.
So I guess religious Jews that do not believe in the concept of a personal god are left out of "everyone"?
posted by griphus at 6:21 AM on January 15 [10 favorites]



2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a transcendent, personal being.

3. The universe is a contingent thing.


Hmmmm, way to smuggle that it in there....

Unless you posit infinite possible worlds which aren't fine tuned to make life possible, it does seem like a violation of basic Bayeseanism to explain the existence of the universe by mere chance.

Could you make this reasoning explicit?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:21 AM on January 15


Two circular pigs, creating more pigs.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:21 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Oh my god, none of these are new, and all of them were refuted years and years ago. That this man is called a professor of philosophy, even at an evangelical Bible school like Talbot, is shameful in the extreme.

People who want to prove the existence of God by logic are like climate "skeptics"- every single one of their arguments is long-disproven, yet they still keep using them. There's a special spiky seat in Philosophy Hell for people who continue to dishonestly use arguments which have already been refuted.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:22 AM on January 15 [52 favorites]


You see, I'm already beginning to write the one true holy text!

I think that's from the KJV*, right?

*Kaiju-Jaeger Version
posted by griphus at 6:22 AM on January 15 [18 favorites]


Also holy shit but trying to prove the existence of a God who says "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" is basically spitting in the face of your deity.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:23 AM on January 15 [30 favorites]




These are the same fallacies repeated for thousands of years.

Arguments 1, 2 and 3 are actually minor variations on the same argument, and are simply question-begging. If your argument is that everything must have a beginning (an unsubstantiated assertion itself), you don't "fix" anything by positing a creator that has no beginning. If a creator needs doesn't need a beginning, you've undermined your original case.

Argument 4 is just silly. If the universe was different with different laws, different life would marvel at how the universe was built "just for them". It's also putting a universe that supports life in a privileged position over universes that don't. We value this universe because we like it, that doesn't mean someone had to like us to make it. You might value getting a straight flush, because you value winning poker, but any five-card combination is equally rare. It's only though the arbitrary rules of poker (i.e., human, not objective value) that one is "better" than the other.

Argument 5 is just "I don't like the counter-argument". Also, it assumes there is something special about consciousness, which is a value statement only.

Argument 6 is question-begging again. What are "objective" morals? What evidence is there?

Argument 7 is the same magic trick people have been trying since at least Aquinas. It's embarassing that an adult would attempt to advance it. "Magic" is actually very apt here, because you can make the exact same argument replacing "god" with "magic". It's just saying, I want something, the something I want would exist in a universe that something I want would exist in, so that thing exists. By the same logic, I am very, very rich.

Argument 8 is at least honest; I feel there is a creator, so I insist there must be a creator. But individual emotional experience is meaningless. People are incorrect in their perceptions, and emotions can be framed by pre-exisiting narratives. This is neither an appeal to evidence or logic.

This list a philosophical and intellectual void.
posted by spaltavian at 6:24 AM on January 15 [171 favorites]


"Nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense." ― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
posted by Going To Maine at 6:25 AM on January 15 [10 favorites]


TL;DR - Eight Weird Things - You'll Never Believe How They Work!

Anyone reading the OP looking for a scintilla of new thinking will be disappoint. It's a shame; I'd like the theologians to reload with some worthwhile new ammo, but this really isn't it.

I sorta guessed even before getting into the, er, meat of the discourse, when I read "Atheism, although perhaps still the dominant viewpoint in Western universities, is a philosophy in retreat." - which has been the rallying cry of creationists since the turn of the last century,despite it being demonstrably quite the opposite.

anotherpanacea - the fine-tuning argument is otiose: there may indeed have been (or are, if you're multiverse-minded) an infinite number of universes where things weren't just right for life. How would we know? The possibility of past events is 1 - they happened. Douglas Adams (pbuh) put it best: it's like a puddle of water observing in wonder that the hole it's in is just the right shape to fit it! How could that ever have happened by chance?
posted by Devonian at 6:25 AM on January 15 [43 favorites]


Did I seriously just read someone making Anselm's ontological argument in 2014?
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 6:25 AM on January 15 [37 favorites]


I guess it's all well and good this thought experiment, but it fails to address a simple fact:

I will always refuse to worship and revere a being who would condemn someone to trillions of years of torture for saying something bad about them (and this is what most people like Mr. Craig believe).

So yes, using circular reasoning of a particularly weird bent, he has failed to address the central nugget of the whole thing - I'm not worshipping his god, validating all of his other views, or giving him any of my time or money to help him seek validation.

I am a proponent of the other benefits of religion. However, like nuclear power, I don't want it all up in my backyard because of people like Mr Craig.
posted by Fuka at 6:25 AM on January 15 [11 favorites]



it does seem like a violation of basic Bayeseanism to explain the existence of the universe by mere chance.

Who died and made Bayes God?
 
posted by Herodios at 6:26 AM on January 15 [9 favorites]


I am wondering exactly who will be persuaded by logic like this:
1. Objective moral values and duties exist.

2. But if God did not exist, objective moral values and duties would not exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.
... because that is a terrible argument.
posted by norm at 6:26 AM on January 15 [12 favorites]


Also also, this lie:
The atheist has to maintain that it’s impossible that God exists.
is one of the great big red flags of "I have no idea what atheists actually believe".
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:26 AM on January 15 [35 favorites]


Bayes will be Bayes.
posted by Devonian at 6:27 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]


Unless you posit infinite possible worlds which aren't fine tuned to make life possible

Plenty of people do posit that. See this post about Max Tegmark
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:29 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Okay, great, let's posit that God exists. You've won the argument, Dr. Craig. Congratulations.

Now what?

What do we do with this information? How does our knowledge of God's existence affect our day-to-day activities? What does God want from us? Must we abstain from eating pork, or beef, or garlic?

You may know that God exists, but does he know that you do? If he does, does he care?

I believe that Alpha Centauri exists, 4.37 light years away, but to the best of my knowledge my life is unaffected by this fact. Why does the existence of God matter any more than the existence of Alpha Centauri?
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:29 AM on January 15 [49 favorites]


What is irrefutable, is that all people, regardless of their belief, must exercise a certain faith in their conclusion of God's existence (or non-existence) as the basis of their convictions.

So, all of us have faith. Whether that is a faith in a God, or a faith that there is no God.

It is my personal belief that God is the totality of everything, which is, by its very nature, inclusive of any conception of God, up to and including "nothing". So, to me, atheists do believe in God, just in the facet of Him that can be perceived as nil.
posted by Debaser626 at 6:31 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


The debate I want is what net benefit does organized religion give to society?

William James, "The Will to Believe." (Not to be confused with with "Reason to Believe," by The Beat Farmers.)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:32 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I'd like the theologians to reload with some worthwhile new ammo, but this really isn't it.

Try taking a Jesuit priest out for a coffee or something. That's where you'll find the really funky discussions. (You still may not be convinced, but it's a much more interesting volley.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on January 15 [9 favorites]


Did I seriously just read someone making Anselm's ontological argument in 2014?

This guy has been the same argument since at least 1979.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:36 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


All God has to do is to stick his head out of the sky, like he does in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. Everyone will believe, and the world will be a better place and we'll all have puppies. So why doesn't he do that? Until or unless he does, include me out.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:37 AM on January 15 [14 favorites]



As if this entire article wasn't already specious enough:

(VII) The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists.

Maybe instead of hiding behind childish logic that "proves" once and for all that everything you were taught to believe is and always will be correct, you could address your rather obvious crisis of faith by actually reexamining what it means and how you relate to it.

But I guess that's much harder than stringing together a bunch of unknowable premises and a conclusion into a superficial argument.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:37 AM on January 15 [5 favorites]


So, all of us have faith. Whether that is a faith in a God, or a faith that there is no God.

Well, "all of us" except the people to whom the entire concept of God (or divine intelligence or whatever) is so inherently ill-defined as to be both practically and philosophically meaningless. Fun to debate and read about and study, sure, but faith in both the existence of god and the lack of a god is meaningful to me, personally, only as far as others' try to impress on me that they are correct about what they've decided God to mean to them. Which I am in no position to accept or deny what with not being them.
posted by griphus at 6:38 AM on January 15 [26 favorites]


All God has to do is to stick his head out of the sky, like he does in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. Everyone will believe, and the world will be a better place and we'll all have puppies. So why doesn't he do that? Until or unless he does, include me out.

But how could we tell apart "God" from Sufficiently Advanced Aliens?
posted by sukeban at 6:39 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Debaser626: What is irrefutable, is that all people, regardless of their belief, must exercise a certain faith in their conclusion of God's existence (or non-existence) as the basis of their convictions.

So, all of us have faith


This is not just easily refutable, it's completely misunderstands what faith is, which is actually a shame for someone for whom faith is very important to them.

Faith is the belief in something without appeal to reason. Reason is evidence and/or logic. Ask your local priest/rabbi/cleric/shaman: they'll agree!

If you are using reason, you are not using faith. For example, I do not have faith the sun will rise tomorrow. We have both evidence- it's risen every other day, so it is likely to do so again and logic- the heliocentric model of the solar system. At the same time, I could be wrong because of a supernova, but I'm using evidence, and accept the inclusion of new data.

I do not have faith, at all, in anything. You do not define the totality of humanity. If you wish, enjoy your certainty that I'll be punished in the afterlife, but we're actually here.
posted by spaltavian at 6:39 AM on January 15 [34 favorites]


Could you make this reasoning explicit?

Just this: there are maybe 50 physical constants that make the universe possible; not just intelligent life, but matter, gravitation, solar systems, etc. There's no particular reason for those constants to be set at the point that they're set at: they could just as easily be a little higher or lower, and for the universe have failed to come into existence as the kind of thing that an support intelligent life.

I've seen some guesses about the probabilities, and they're in the billions (and trillions) to one range.

So: why are the constants what they are? One possibility is that the nature of the universe is structured in terms of possible worlds, a "multiverse," so that each of the different possibilities is being tried, in the world next door, and next door to that, etc. So of course it looks like totally impossible odds that it would have worked out for us, but that's just the anthropic principle at work: of course we find ourselves in the universes where we are possible, and we don't see the ones where we're not.

But if you reject the reality of possible worlds (and I think it's a bit weird) then you have a problem: there's only one universe, and we're in it. And yet we seem to be improbably lucky that it worked out the way it did!
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:40 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


What is irrefutable, is that all people, regardless of their belief, must exercise a certain faith in their conclusion of God's existence (or non-existence) as the basis of their convictions. So, all of us have faith. Whether that is a faith in a God, or a faith that there is no God.

Not so. I, for one, consistently fail to pin down what "God" means clearly enough to decide whether I believe in it or not. I don't believe or disbelieve; it's just a word in a language I do not understand (despite having nominally been raised Catholic).

On preview, basically what Griphus said.
posted by jon1270 at 6:40 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


So, all of us have faith. Whether that is a faith in a God, or a faith that there is no God

An absence of belief isn't a belief in its absence.
posted by dng at 6:40 AM on January 15 [33 favorites]


Believe in God? Ha! When two dirty circular pigs creating more pigs FLY!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:40 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


I enjoyed reading Jim Holt's book, Why Does the World Exist? NYT review here. It tries to figure out if the question of an ultimate explanation for the universe makes sense, and what would even hypothetically constitute a satisfying answer. Recounts discussions mostly with philosophers and scientists, but a few writers and theologians, too. Gets better after it warms up.
posted by zittrain at 6:40 AM on January 15


tl;dr - God exists because reasons.

I remember seeing an ad on the side of a bus once that basically said "how could you look at the beauty of a sunset and doubt that God exists?" There was as much, if not more logic to that argument than anything present in the original link.
posted by dry white toast at 6:41 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:43 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]


I like the claims that these arguments are bad that largely spring from self-assurance that they are instead of, well, reasoning. It's no Bertrand Russell, kids! Russell's teacup argument disarms the ontological argument pretty well.

The moral argument is of no consequence.

Some of these arguments *are* bad, but some are not so bad. Some of them even get play in a heavily disguised sense by atheists. Simulation arguments of the type Nick Bostrom goes for are basically teleological arguments for atheists, and teleological arguments work largely because the alternatives, ranging from infinite universes to complex mathematical objects that can never be verified, are kind of silly.

That said, when the best arguments are stripped of theological yearning they end up being fascinatingly disappointing to theists and atheists alike--this "fuck all y'all" position, rather than simple agnosticism, is pretty much where I stand. Given the state of the literature it currently seems more likely that we live in a set of infinitely nested Boltzmann Brains that simulate our universe because that's probably less complex than a full universe, because the randomly generated B. Brain doesn't need to make the whole sandwich, but just the part we can taste. But this has nothing to do with Christianity--they lose too! Everybody loses!
posted by mobunited at 6:43 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


So, all of us have faith. Whether that is a faith in a God, or a faith that there is no God.

This is not true. I am a weak atheist - I don't believe in God but I don't believe that there is no God. There may be people who believe in the positive proposition "there is no God" with some degree of faith, but weak atheism requires only "I do not believe in any deity." No faith is required, just a reasonable assumption that deities are imaginary.
posted by graymouser at 6:44 AM on January 15 [9 favorites]


If you can spend 15 minutes on r/atheism and not believe there is a supreme being out there who not only exists but loves each and every one of those r/atheists purely out of spite then you are a much more compassionate person than I am.
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 6:44 AM on January 15 [27 favorites]


/r/atheism is the atheist equivalent of the sort of person who makes the ontological argument and says "I'll pray for you!" in spite.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:46 AM on January 15 [12 favorites]


graymouser: There may be people who believe in the positive proposition "there is no God" with some degree of faith

I don't want to derail this too much, but it's possible to argue that positive proposition with appeal to reason. I don't know any strong atheists who make that arugment from appeal to faith; indeed, the cornerstone of their argument is a disproof of the supernatual, which is what you need for faith to have any legs. You might not be convinced by their arugment, but the canard that you can't disprove a negative is just that. I doubt you accept the possibility of squaring the circle or perpetual motion.
posted by spaltavian at 6:47 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


The definition of faith I was ascribing to is faith as a "strong conviction or belief without material evidence."

At the core of it, however, I'm just saying that regardless of what anyone believes: catholic, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, Norse mythology, Wiccan, or just plain spiritual, you are right.
posted by Debaser626 at 6:48 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: A special spiky seat in Philosophy Hell.
posted by petrilli at 6:48 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


So You're Saying These Are Pants?, my first exposure to Anselm's proof was at university, where it came up in a history of philosophy class. That was all fine and good as we were studying medieval philosophers, but the prof actually ENDORSED the proof (and he really did. He always came from a position of belief and his reputation on campus also backed that up). I went through the roof about this during discussion and earned the campus nickname, "the angry man" afterward. Unfortunately, while I understood it as a tautology, I didn't have the vocabulary or rhetorical chops at the time to do more than sputter. Good times.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:49 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


Empress - I've had some great conversations with Jesuits and other intellectual, thoughtful believers. Overwhelmingly, their take is that belief is a choice, not a deduction: it's not a 'reasonable' act of logic, but a personal acceptance of an unknowable mystery that seems to them to be a fulfilling path. They freely admit that the conclusion that there isn't a god is perfectly reasonable, given the evidence of the world.

I'm a lot more comfortable with that than I am with the Dawkinsites, even though I'm very happy in my conclusion that, most probably, there's nothing remotely God-like out there - even more so if you define God as defined by most of the Bible. And I've had far, far more engaging and enriching conversations with the thoughtful and self-questioning than the certain, no matter what they believe.
posted by Devonian at 6:50 AM on January 15 [16 favorites]


Also also, this lie:
The atheist has to maintain that it’s impossible that God exists.
is one of the great big red flags of "I have no idea what atheists actually believe".
He's not describing what atheists believe, he is describing what it is necessary to believe in order to be an atheist, if you accept the ontological argument that a possible God must be an existent God. If you don't, then no harm no foul. But he claims the rest of the argument -- the "steps 2-7" which take you from a possible God to a necessarily existent God -- are uncontroversial. I fear that the claim that they are uncontroversial might not in fact be uncontroversial.
posted by edheil at 6:50 AM on January 15


I mean, the ontological argument is: "a possible God must be an existent God" where "God" is defined as "something which if it is possible must be existent." That worked fine for Anselm but sounds a bit sketchy to most people today.
posted by edheil at 6:53 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


There's no particular reason for those constants to be set at the point that they're set at: they could just as easily be a little higher or lower, and for the universe have failed to come into existence as the kind of thing that an support intelligent life.

No particular reason within the limits of our current understanding of cosmology. I don't know that we have the philosophical, theoretical, or experimental tools to push this statement (or any of the ontological claims about cosmology or deity) beyond the level of conjecture. Which is why I tend to be a theological noncognitivist when it comes to ontological poofs of deity.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:54 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Unless you posit infinite possible worlds which aren't fine tuned to make life possible

Well planets are 1 for 8 so far in terms of sustaining life.*

* as far as we can tell
posted by Slackermagee at 6:55 AM on January 15


...it does seem like a violation of basic Bayeseanism to explain the existence of the universe by mere chance.

I don't follow your reasoning, can you elaborate?
posted by Pararrayos at 6:55 AM on January 15


Do we have good reason to think God exists?

LOL, no. Not in that list anyway.

We do, says William Lane Craig. Craig has debated several high profile atheists, including Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

Well if you're only going to debate with idiots...
posted by Artw at 6:59 AM on January 15


Dawkins is very intelligent. Just not as intelligent as he thinks he is.

The Dunning-Krueger syndrome is a right bastard.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:01 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


That life is possible within our "fine tuned" universe (and to say it is fine tuned is to presume exactly that which is in question) does not mean life is inevitable, and certainly not any particular kind of life. Humanity exists as a contingency that need never have occurred. We, and our concepts of deity, did not exist for billions of years and, despite my hopes otherwise, I suspect there will be a future of billions of years without us as well.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:02 AM on January 15 [5 favorites]


In the realm of making bank and garnering the adulation of thousands, Dawkins is a fucking genius. The ideas that got him there are considerably less so inspired, but if the books fly off the shelves and the retweets keep coming, who cares?
posted by griphus at 7:03 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]



Meanwhile, over at the FPP Edge.org Annual Question 2014 we find various answers to the question,"what scientific idea is ready for retirement?"

First up: Uniformity And Uniqueness Of The Universe
For most of the 20th century, scientific thought was dominated by the idea of the uniformity of the universe and the uniqueness of laws of physics. . . .

A similar situation occurs with respect to the uniqueness of laws of physics. We knew, for example, that the electron mass is the same everywhere in the observable part of the universe, so the obvious assumption was that it must take the same value everywhere, it is just a constant of nature. . . .

Thirty years ago, a possible explanation of the uniformity of the universe was found. [cosmic inflation theory] . . .

But inflation does not predict that this uniformity must extend beyond the observable part of the universe. To give an analogy, suppose the universe is a surface of a big soccer ball consisting of black and white hexagons. If we inflate it, the size of each white or black part becomes exponentially large.

If inflation is powerful enough, those who live in a black part of the universe will not ever see the white part, they will believe that the whole universe is black [and t]hose who live in a white universe will never see the black parts and therefore they may think that the whole world must be white. But both black and white parts may coexist in an inflationary universe, without contradicting observations.

[Meanwhile, string theory which predicts six unseen dimensions that are 'compacted' and that] there are exponentially many different ways to compactify the extra 6 dimensions . . . Some estimates of the number of different options are as large as 10500. And each of these options describes a part of the universe with a different vacuum energy and different types of matter.

In the context of the inflationary theory, this means that our world may consist of incredibly large number of exponentially large "universes" with 10500 different types of matter inside them.

A pessimist would argue that since we do not see other parts of the universe, we cannot prove that this picture is correct.

An optimist, on the other hand, may counter that we can never disprove this picture either, because its main assumption is that other "universes" are far away from us. And since we know that the best of the theories developed so far allow about 10500different universes, anybody who argues that the universe must have same properties everywhere would have to prove that only one of these 10500 universes is possible.

And then there is something else. There are many strange coincidences in our world. The mass of the electron is 2000 times smaller than the mass of the proton. Why? The only known reason is that if it would change few times, life as we know it would be impossible. The masses of the proton and neutron almost coincide. Why? If one of their masses would change just a little, life as we know it would be impossible. The energy of empty space in our part of the universe is not zero, but a tiny number, more than a hundred orders of magnitude below the naive theoretical expectations. Why? The only known explanation is that we would be unable to live in the world with a much larger energy of vacuum.

The relation between our properties and the properties of the world is called the anthropic principle. But if the universe were given to us in one copy, this relation would not help. We would need to speculate about the divine cause making the universe custom built for humans. Meanwhile, in the multiverse consisting of many different parts with different properties, the correlation between our properties and the properties of the part of the world where we can live makes perfect sense.

Can we return back to the old picture of a single universe? Possibly, but in order to do it, three conditions should be met: One should invent a better cosmological theory, one should invent a better theory of fundamental interactions, and one should propose an alternative explanation for the miraculous coincidences which we just discussed.
posted by Herodios at 7:03 AM on January 15 [5 favorites]


Oh, boy, the argument from first cause! I haven't heard that one dusted off in years! He kind of waters it down with a weak attempt at Occam's Razor, but still!

Allow me to crib shamelessly from the last time we we talked about these "proofs."
1. Everything that exists must have a cause.
2. Nothing can be the cause of itself.
3. God exists.

Therefore, God must have a cause, and that cause cannot be God. Hmm. Let's call it SuperGod. By the same argument, SuperGod must have a cause; let's call it SuperSuperGod. The Axiom of Induction now implies that there is a SupernGod for any postive integer n. By the Axiom of Infinity, the infinite set SuperωGod = {SupernGod | n ∊ ℕ} exists, and thus must have a cause other than itself; call it Superω+1God. Transfinite induction implies that there is a SuperεGod for any ordinal ε. Amusingly, this argument does not require the Axiom of Choice; thus, the existence of the transfinite ordinal Gods is independent of the existence of free will.
posted by Mayor West at 7:03 AM on January 15 [10 favorites]


Argument 4 is just silly. If the universe was different with different laws, different life would marvel at how the universe was built "just for them". It's also putting a universe that supports life in a privileged position over universes that don't. We value this universe because we like it, that doesn't mean someone had to like us to make it

You have now introduced me to the concept of Universe Privilege. Thank you.
posted by GrapeApiary at 7:04 AM on January 15 [5 favorites]


So You're Saying These Are Pants?, my first exposure to Anselm's proof was at university, where it came up in a history of philosophy class. That was all fine and good as we were studying medieval philosophers, but the prof actually ENDORSED the proof (and he really did. He always came from a position of belief and his reputation on campus also backed that up). I went through the roof about this during discussion and earned the campus nickname, "the angry man" afterward. Unfortunately, while I understood it as a tautology, I didn't have the vocabulary or rhetorical chops at the time to do more than sputter. Good times.

I took a medieval philosophy class in college, and the class discussing the ontological proof was hilarious because basically everyone acted this way. Honestly, the quality of their attempts to argue against the proof suffered because everyone was so angry at the very idea. At the end you would have thought that Anselm was the sensible voice of reason in a world of people screaming at him incoherently.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:04 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


This thesis is so effective it not only proves the existence of God, but of His creator, SuperGod. After all, as the article suggests, the idea that something can simply exist without a creator is absurd.
Also, MegaGod, who created SuperGod.
GigaGod begat MegaGod.
TeraGod begat GigaGod.


They have a fight; Triangle wins.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:05 AM on January 15 [40 favorites]


It's sad that there are people who believe this bullshit.
posted by Flunkie at 7:05 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


If atheism is a religion, bald is a hair color...
posted by judson at 7:05 AM on January 15 [10 favorites]


The simplest case against God is that all the different religions that claim authority from a higher power cannot all be right.

Which leaves several options, including:

- There is a god, but whose will is so hard to interpret faithfully as to make their role as a moral compass redundant
- There is a god, but whose plan is that their will is interpreted differently, to the point that the existence of the god as a moral compass is redundant
- There isn't a god. Just people claiming authority and guidance from one.

In short: I don't really mind if I'm considered agnostic or atheist although I prefer the latter. As long as humans are flawed, the existence of a thing that is the cause of other things is an irrelevance.

Or to put it another way: if four people are holding a compass that assures them true north lies in four separate directions I'd prefer to find an alternative way or working out which way to go.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:06 AM on January 15 [15 favorites]


But if you reject the reality of possible worlds (and I think it's a bit weird)...

The trouble is, whatever you posit, it's going to be VERY weird. As soon as you get away from our comfort zone, which is basically the world we see around us, things start to become very strange, very quickly.

There is no 'ultimate explanation' for how we got here that isn't going to be utterly bizarre. You can't in all conscience decide which is most likely to have happened (and every word in "most likely to have happened" is utterly inadequate and misleading) by how weird it seems. A lot of my inner conviction that the theories of creation that our Bronze Age ancestors had aren't likely to be right is because they had No Idea At All how weird it really is out there. Father figures making stuff is a very human construct and not weird at all.

Now we know a lot more about weird - but, mirabile dictu, we've reined it in through mathematics, empiricism, logic, all of which have proven to be good guides to riding that wave. The ultimate origins of the universe are as fair game as why rainbows exist, but we now know that that quantum dynamics and the interaction between photons and particles - although much weirder - are a better explanation than Cosmic Dad having second thoughts about genocide.
posted by Devonian at 7:06 AM on January 15 [5 favorites]


This idea that first cause implies endless gods misunderstands the argument. The argument is that every THING requires a cause, that is, every bounded object subject to the laws of the physical universe. God is argued by theists to be not a thing in the same way that infinity is not a number.
posted by shivohum at 7:07 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


Two better debates with Craig, in my opinion:

with Bart Ehrman
with Robert M. Price

The latter was my introduction to Price, of whom I am now an enormous fan. Both debates, however, get at Craigs's intellectual dishonesty. There is not room for Biblical inerrantism (of which Craig is an adherent) in any sort of sincere discussion or debate. Craig appeals to reason when it suits him rhetorically, but the underlying basis for his beliefs is faith through personal spiritual revelation.

If the Bible is never, ever permitted to be wrong, then any claims Craig makes of rationalist support for his views are hollow. If you read Craig's most popular book, Reasonable Faith, all things ultimately rest on the notion that Craig has received personal confirmation from the Holy Spirit that the Bible is 100% correct.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:07 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]


If God exists, He doesn't know that we do.
posted by hanoixan at 7:07 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


God evolved to make sense out of the world, so it won't be easy to make sense out of God using the world. It's a rather straightforward story too. Good and bad things happened to good and bad people, with no particular logic. Only a whimsical God would have it so. Worse, because he was invisible to us, he was testing us. He was obviously testing to see if we would worship him in his absence, indicating a jealous and easily-angered God. This ended up as widespread fear, neurosis, and a lot of war and murder for God, which is what you would expect from a demonic idolatry, which is where it all came from.
posted by Brian B. at 7:09 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Argument 4 is just silly. If the universe was different with different laws, different life would marvel at how the universe was built "just for them". It's also putting a universe that supports life in a privileged position over universes that don't. We value this universe because we like it, that doesn't mean someone had to like us to make it. You might value getting a straight flush, because you value winning poker, but any five-card combination is equally rare. It's only though the arbitrary rules of poker (i.e., human, not objective value) that one is "better" than the other.

I'm an atheist, but I admit that the fine tuning issue is problematic, and I don't find the anthropic principle or multiverses entirely convincing as an explanation. Either of those positions is as much a matter of faith as a belief in god at this point, closer to neo-Platonism than science.

I am sure the solution is out there, but I don't think we'll have an answer to it in my lifetime, because the energy required to probe extra dimensions and so on is completely out of reach.

I don't think a scientifically minded person should just wave their hands and pretend there isn't a problem there, because there is.
posted by empath at 7:10 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


The argument is that every THING requires a cause, that is, every bounded object subject to the laws of the physical universe.

Why should the universe itself, as a whole, be a "bounded object subject to the laws of the physical universe"? It's like saying that a fishbowl has to be floating in water. The question of the universe's existence is entirely separate from the question of the existence of objects within the universe.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:10 AM on January 15 [11 favorites]


Craig's "Kalam" cosmological argument (argument II here) is a deliberate attempt that he has been putting forward for decades to avoid the circularity in the Aristotelian "prime mover" argument. His statement of it here:

1. The universe began to exist.
2. If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.
3. Therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause.

avoids the trivial circularity that the "prime mover" argument has (SuperGod, MegaGod, etc). The problem is, Craig arranges things very carefully for his "transcendent cause," but there's no reason to assume it, or even if we did grant it, to assume that the cause is something identifiable as a deity. That last transformation is question-begging.
posted by graymouser at 7:11 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


The latter was my introduction to Price, of whom I am now an enormous fan.

Of course I know Price best from his other job, where gods not being real is the best you can hope for.
posted by Artw at 7:11 AM on January 15 [9 favorites]


This idea that first cause implies endless gods misunderstands the argument. The argument is that every THING requires a cause, that is, every bounded object subject to the laws of the physical universe. God is argued by theists to be not a thing in the same way that infinity is not a number.
This analogy is at best ignorant of math, and in reality it backs the argument that you're attempting to use it to refute. Mathematicians have been long aware of the fact that there are actually an infinite number of different infinities, and moreover for any particular infinity, there are in fact an infinite number of different infinities that are bigger than it.
posted by Flunkie at 7:12 AM on January 15 [7 favorites]


His debates and dustups about 'The Unbelievers' with Lawrence Krauss are entertaining and and an interesting .
posted by sfts2 at 7:12 AM on January 15


When I was a believing Evangelical teenager these kinds of arguments always embarrassed me because it was just so painfully obvious that people came to belief through their personal experiences and NEVER EVER EVER through arguments like these. Plus it was clear that the arguer just started with the assumption that God exists and kind of filled in the blanks from there.

Also, my not believing in God does not have any faith element to it. I suspect that there is no God but I really have no idea or strong conviction about it. The only thing I'm absolutely convinced of, and to which I'll admit I take it on a bit of faith, is that it doesn't matter at all if I believe in God or not. I'm really not too worried about it.
posted by beau jackson at 7:13 AM on January 15 [11 favorites]


scientifically minded person should just wave their hands and pretend there isn't a problem there

I don't pretend there aren't open questions here, but that is the heart of science: to be comfortable with saying "I don't know." For myself, it isn't a matter of "faith" in the multiverse. It is a state of not knowing, a state wherein I do not have justified belief in any options. Saying "we don't know" is the opposite of pretending there isn't a problem.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:13 AM on January 15 [15 favorites]


the fine tuning issue is problematic

For purposes of Occam's Razor, the constants of the universe are no more problematic than the existence of a deity, and for more contradictory and complex deities, significantly less problematic. (This is why I'm a weak atheist, not a strong one.)
posted by graymouser at 7:14 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Back in the 1940s and ’50s it was widely believed among philosophers that any talk about God is meaningless, since it is not verifiable by the five senses.

But really, the reason not to believe in God is that his existence isn't necessary for our world to exist. Occam's razor. In fact, God is a blatantly arbitrary construct -- to think that anything that could create the universe would have a mind comparable to an ordinary human is crazy. A big-g God god would look a lot more like Cthulhu than the big sky god variant presented in the Bible. And if that's so then okay, present that, but it's usually that's not what people claiming to prove God's existence have in mind.

Attacking individual points:

(I) God is the best explanation why anything at all exists.
1. Every contingent thing has an explanation of its existence.

and
(II) God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe.

But the idea of "contingent things" (contingent: subject to chance, or dependent on) breaks down as you get closer to the idea of a prime mover, because it's arbitrary to declare that such an entity doesn't have one itself, or that it would look like God. The idea that a will exists outside of the universe isn't borne by evidence.

(III) God is the best explanation of the applicability of mathematics to the physical world.
Mathematics is the language of nature. But how is this to be explained?

Because we invented math as a way to describe deep pre-existing processes. Our math is just a way to model things that are more profound than that math. Anyway, what does "math is the language of nature" really mean?

(IV) God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.

The weak anthropic principle fits here just fine -- if the universe wasn't capable of supporting us, then we wouldn't be here to ask why.

But furthermore -- even if conditions were such that life like us could not exist, it could well be that life not like us could exist. And that's the same thing really, because whatever conditions there would be that would allow for life to exist, then we would take those conditions as "normal," our local universal state, and we'd be wondering about the possible existence of others!

(V) God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness.
1. If God did not exist, intentional states of consciousness would not exist.
2. But intentional states of consciousness do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.


That "proof" is laughable, a way to take 1. and avoid unpacking it, and thus shield it from attack. Anyway, no physical process in our world models "intentionality," it is an interpretation we dreamed up ourselves, like ownership. We ourselves intend things, but it's a process that requires a mind to do the intending. And in our universe, all the minds we've seen require brains. Where is God's brain?

(VI) God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.

Now we're progressing from the idea of creation and prior intentionality, which are honest, philosophical questions that don't need holy texts to back them up, and moving into religious concerns, and religions don't make more than a token effort to prove themselves. How we "should" act ultimately resolved down, not to what a God says, but what other people say he says, and I'm going to go ahead and call Appeal To Authority on that one, Fallacy Man comic be darned, darned to socks.

(VII) The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists.

This goes on to provide a standard bit of reasoning about the nature of great beings and possibilities, directly from Anselm of Canterbury, from those times when people were keen to marry logic to religion and examine and justify it, no matter how tortured the process or how many angel's feet had to be pin-pricked to do it.

This can be attacked from point 1:
1. It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.

Because we don't know the maximal limit to greatness. Actually, we don't even have a good definition of great -- it doesn't seem to be bigness, and just attributing to it a nebulous idea of "power" starts to make God seem like Son Goku. "He's over 9,000! Over 9,000 great!"

Our universe puts hard limits on the timing of anything in it to affect anything else, by way of Relativity. To even know something is happening some distance away, its changes have to propagate through the universe to you, and Relativity implies that, to you, those changes haven't happened before they reach you. It's more than just a limit on perception, it's a limit on causation, and there is no objective reference frame on which they occur; you have to figure it out from each point. There is no room for an outside God in this scheme; its existence would suggest that outside reference point. Which, okay, you might have an idea for God that can get around this somehow, but go ahead and state that and we'll see what it'd look like.

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.


I bring this out as an example of the kinds of reasoning they used to try to prove God into existence. Again, it seems to me to be a very Dragonball-Z kind of reasoning, a way of saying bigger than the biggest big biggest thing ever bigged, just putting a big ol' Lesser Than sign after everything you could hope to say in response and hoping you swallow that.

(VIII) God can be personally known and experienced.
This isn’t really an argument for God’s existence;

Oh, then why is it on the list?

rather it’s the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments, by personally experiencing him.

I would call this an airy-fairy argument, but I wouldn't want to offend the fairies. (They have surprising legal resources.) There have been all kinds of things people have claimed to know from personal experience, including Nature's Harmonic Simultaneous 4-day Time Cube and the healing power of heroin. At best, this arguement puts a sweet, adorable, soulful-eyed Grandma directly in front of you, clutching a rosary and a knitted doily reading God Bless Everyone and says "Go ahead, tell her she's deluded, YOU BASTARD!!!" In other words, appeal to emotion, on one level or another.

Well, plenty of personal experiences are mistaken. I'm coming to suspect that they're all mistaken in some way. While it's fallacious to apply logic to the mystic, when one thinks one's had a personal experience with the divine, I suggest that you're either seeing some unforeseen pattern in nature, or some feeling is bubbling up from within, or you've taken some psychedelic drug, or, it has to be said, you're just deluded.
posted by JHarris at 7:14 AM on January 15 [16 favorites]


Particularly, it's not the case that if there were a different universe, there would be different life. If the parameters governing physical law were even slightly different, there would be no universe at all... No matter, no structure, no life. The problem of the low entropy state of the early universe is also unsolved.

Both of these, are of course neatly resolved by an appeal to a designer. Science needs to come up with a better answer, and right now there isn't one.
posted by empath at 7:15 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


All God has to do is to stick his head out of the sky, like he does in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. Everyone will believe, and the world will be a better place and we'll all have puppies. So why doesn't he do that?


Guy_Inamonkeysuit,
I think possibly He's too busy making movies at the moment!

I was at the cinema yesterday and saw back to back trailers for what appear to be seriously religious big budget mainstream movies - one for a very beard, sandals and thunderbolts period epic, Son of God (with an Abercrombie & Fitch-hunk style Jesus) & something called Heaven Is For Real - which looked like a pious remake of The Sixth Sense & but is apparently based on a best selling book about a kid with Christian visions?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:16 AM on January 15


Why should the universe itself, as a whole, be a "bounded object subject to the laws of the physical universe"?

Well that's what atheists say it is: the universe being nothing more than the collection of objects in space and time, and the laws thereof. That's what materialism dictates.

If they said that the universe itself was something transcendental, i.e. non-physical, that would violate materialism. That wouldn't make them Christians, but it would put them on the same side as believers. They'd be positing something non-physical to ground the physical.
posted by shivohum at 7:16 AM on January 15


"If atheism is a religion, bald is a hair color..."

This gets repeated a lot but is at least in most conceivable contexts, and particularly the ones its always used in, misleading at best. As someone who has been on both sides of this aisle, those of us who FEEL REALLY STRONGLY ABOUT RELIGION really do have a lot more in common than most of us would like to admit. If you are meticulously shaving your head every morning to maintain a baldness trimmed to ideological perfection, that really is a hairstyle just like some else’s similarly magnificent bouffant or pompadour is.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:16 AM on January 15 [7 favorites]


The problem with all these "proofs" of the existence of a nebulous, abstract idea of a deity is that even if you take them as valid, there is no straight line from First Cause to Yahweh, Inanna, Amaterasu Omikami, Quetzalcoatl or Shiva. I honestly don't understand how people can go from "best explanation of the applicability of mathematics to the physical world" to "Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, who Died For Our Sins".
posted by sukeban at 7:16 AM on January 15 [14 favorites]


Both of these, are of course neatly resolved by an appeal to a designer.

A designer who just so happens to have the perfect attributes to be able to design the universe? Surely that can't just be chance. Again, this is proof of an intelligent designer designer, and so on. There's nothing neat about it.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:18 AM on January 15 [11 favorites]


Both of these, are of course neatly resolved by an appeal to a designer. Science needs to come up with a better answer, and right now there isn't one.

Not particularly. You have to explain the designer, which is at least as complex as explaining the illusion of design. It's a huge leap to go from "we can't explain this" to "therefore something omnipotent and eternal designed it."
posted by graymouser at 7:19 AM on January 15 [7 favorites]


I honestly don't understand how people can go from "best explanation of the applicability of mathematics to the physical world" to "Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, who Died For Our Sins".

Well that's the weakest part of Craig's arguments. His arguments justify belief in a transcendental, non-physical grounding of the physical universe. To go from there to a Christian God you'd have to add personal intuition and experience into the equation.

But then again, we do that all the time. We have no proof that the world doesn't disappear behind us every time we turn around, but we believe it. We have no proof that our memories are real, yet we believe it. We have no proof that scientific patterns observed in the past have any bearing on the future (problem of induction), yet we believe it. We have no proof that other people actually have minds like us and are not cleverly constructed robots, yet we believe it. We have no proof that the world isn't simply a dream, yet we believe it (mostly!).
posted by shivohum at 7:25 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


shivohum: The argument is that every THING requires a cause, that is, every bounded object subject to the laws of the physical universe. God is argued by theists to be not a thing

Than in what way could such an entity be said to meaninfully exisit? If you're not bounded by reality, you have no qualities or characteristics (because at the very least, if you can be said to be A you're not not-A.) To be outside of reality is to be unreal. Give this idea one identifiable trait and you're now in the motal realm. If you really want to retreat from a personal deity, you're faced with a much deep chasm; you're not longer even transmitting a intelligble concept.

GrapeApiary: You have now introduced me to the concept of Universe Privilege. Thank you.

I really, really didn't mean it in this newer use of "privilge". It's simply that all possible universes are value-neutral; so there is nothing inherently special about this universe. (It's possbile, given certain scientific theories, thall all possible universes do exist, if true, wer'e really, really not special.)
posted by spaltavian at 7:26 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


I didn't say anything about the attributes of the designer. We could live in a simulation running on some extra dimensional being's xbox.

If you're connected to a windows server running on a VM, do you need to know what operating system that VMware is running on?

Again, I'm not saying that there is a designer or that I believe there is a designer, but it's completely plausible to say that the universe was created by something outside of it without having any answer for what created that something.

It might be possible that there is something that exists outside the universe which we can never have access to and never explain.

Is that satisfying to me? No. I'd prefer to have a scientific explanation that doesn't appeal to a supernatural or external being. But right now, I don't feel like we have that explanation, and probably won't any time soon.
posted by empath at 7:26 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Well that's the weakest part of Craig's arguments. His arguments justify belief in a transcendental, non-physical grounding of the physical universe. To go from there to a Christian God you'd have to add personal intuition and experience into the equation.
No, that is a weak point of his arguments, but it's by no means weaker than lots of other parts, and his arguments in no way justify anything. They all boil down to "Assume God exists. Therefore God exists. QED." Or at best "Assume some particular claim without evidence. Further assume without evidence that that claim, if true, would imply that God exists. Therefore God exists. QED."

It's just bullshit, and nothing but, and that's true regardless of whether God exists, and regardless of whether the Christian god exists.
posted by Flunkie at 7:31 AM on January 15 [11 favorites]


I always thought you were supposed to believe in God and Jesus and all that stuff through faith, because you had "let Jesus into your heart" and "felt the presence of the holy spirit" and not because you let some proof into your brain. Changing your faith with tricky proofs sounds like something the slippery old devil would try to pull.

But maybe he sees this as his way of preaching to the heathens in their vulgar tongues.
posted by pracowity at 7:31 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I didn't say anything about the attributes of the designer.

That doesn't matter. You can't solve an unknown by introducing a different and totally arbitrary unknown.

Again, I'm not saying that there is a designer or that I believe there is a designer, but it's completely plausible to say that the universe was created by something outside of it without having any answer for what created that something.

You said before that it was "neatly resolved" - but it really isn't. You're answering one question by inserting a bigger, completely unanswerable question in its place. That's not a resolution at all, it's just a random hypothetical. And it's exactly why I feel weak atheism is justified - sure, there might be some random totally unknown entity that explains things, but there is no reason whatsoever to believe in it when we can just admit we don't understand a certain problem.
posted by graymouser at 7:33 AM on January 15 [11 favorites]


Than in what way could such an entity be said to meaninfully exisit?

In the same way that a concept like infinity or nothing can be said to exist: as a rareified abstraction that nevertheless runs through everything -- that is, as the grounding for a whole system of thought or worldview.

Give this idea one identifiable trait and you're now in the motal realm.

Correct, and yet this idea of God as that which is without qualities (at least in any sense that humans can understand) runs through the deepest theology of many religions.
posted by shivohum at 7:33 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


The problem with all these "proofs" of the existence of a nebulous, abstract idea of a deity is that even if you take them as valid, there is no straight line from First Cause to Yahweh, Inanna, Amaterasu Omikami, Quetzalcoatl or Shiva.

This is the most serious problem with all the "logical proofs," to my mind. Even if you accept any/all of them, you are no closer to the theology you prefer. They all end with "...and this is what we mean by God," but that rather abstract concept can't be linked to, say, any Christian concept of God (much less the Christian concept of God you prefer) unless you already assume that's true. It's interesting, but ultimately futile and frustrating, and, I suspect, more likely to erode faith than support it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:34 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


The explanation of the universe can lie only in a transcendent reality beyond it

hahahahahaha! what a clown.
posted by Zerowensboring at 7:34 AM on January 15


shivohum: But then again, we do that all the time. We have no proof that the world doesn't disappear behind us every time we turn around, but we believe it.

This is a desperate argument. Stretching the meaning of faith to such silly extremes to prove everyone is already a believer is a sure sign that someone knows their own arguments don't work.

Knowledge from appeal to evidence or logic is not faith, even if it's wrong. Your argument hopes that we forgot the scientific revolution and it's classical antecedents never happened, so that we have no language for logic, theory, model and tests. The epistemological choice isn't between god and a boundless chaotic universe of nonsense and sophism.

This is the same exact gambit as saying that if there's no god, than life is as likely as tornado assembling a 747 in a junkyard. Dude, it's been over a hundred years, we know about natural selection. We've seen it work! You might have been convincing when we had a puacity of thought and choices. No longer.
posted by spaltavian at 7:34 AM on January 15 [12 favorites]


And not to make an appeal to authority, but listen to top theoretical physicists talking about the philosophical issues they wrestle with revolving around entropy, fine tuning and naturalness. They're not easy problems to dismiss. The more into the math and probability you get, the more difficult the problem gets.

Whatever the truth is, I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the traditional conception of a god or designer, though, and religious people wouldn't be happy with it.
posted by empath at 7:34 AM on January 15


Hmm, I feel like it's a fundamentally fatalistic view of things and one that prioritizes life as something special in the universe- without taking into account the equal value of the things that didn't happen or the bits of the universe that don't have a gummy smear of self reproducing carbon clinging to it.

I mean, by the same argument for god, the statistical odds of life throwing out a person who is me with my genetics is astronomically small- even allowing for the odds of my conception and the conception of my ancestors right back to the first example of sexual reproduction, but to imply conscious intervention necessitates some sort of weight or value being applied to me- and not to the slightly more statistically probably Male!Me, or the Miscarriage!Me or HazelEyed!Me or DifferentParent!Me. That's even leaving aside random chance like my name- which takes into account the evolution of language, the pop culture and sub culture my mother was immersed in, the laws of my area of birth, etc, etc... And I meet people who could just as easily been me every bloody day.

I don't assume a hand of god was responsible for every single variable outcome in my life, and all these games of dice are equally valid as the one that threw out a protien based lifeform that just happened to glom together into multi-cellular organisms that begat the various things that became mammals and from there, primates and humans.

And in this case, in this sort of god-by-universe argument we are also moving the goal posts of what a god is to be fundamentally meaningless... And useless! We've gone from an anthropomorphic avatar of natural phenomena you can ask favours from or keep appeased to an alien consciousness with no coherent motivations that could be understood by a person. And frankly that sort of god is a giant waste of everyone's time on top of everything- it doesn't do or want anything or add any value to anything, or make the math for physics balance better.

I feel like the need some people have to explain a sensation of belief supersedes their acceptance that it might be a silly idea- as if we clung, violently, to the idea that the heart was the centre of emotions and kept re-writing how we defined emotion to fit that. Now the idea of god is a philosophical crutch that doesn't do anything a god might usefully do other than power stubborn theists- and not the nice kind who run soup kitchens in the name of their god's version of charity, but the kind who need it to alleviate the horror of living in a an unfeeling universe that doesn't give a fuck about them- at which point that idea of god is simply the talisman you wear around your neck when you experience a twinge that not everyone experiences, and all this does is provides a wedge issue for a particular sort of anti-science theism that it's in my active best interests to discourage.

And I also regret that secular organizing is too anti-feminist, because it leaves atheists like me hanging out with less serious pagans and Unitarians and the Christian left- who are in my experience awesome people who are more in tune with what I'd rather put my energy into. :P
posted by Phalene at 7:36 AM on January 15 [11 favorites]


I'm no philosopher, but I am (on average) more religious than some, and even I can recognize that trying to convince someone that God does or doesn't exist based on "logic" is silly. That presumes that humans are logical beings, and while we often flirt with it, we've never actually been married to it.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:37 AM on January 15


shivohum: Correct, and yet this idea of God as that which is without qualities (at least in any sense that humans can understand) runs through the deepest theology of many religions.

Yeah, I know. That's the first tip-off that it's wrong. The most fundamental quality is existence.

In the same way that a concept like infinity or nothing can be said to exist: as a rareified abstraction that nevertheless runs through everything -- that is, as the grounding for a whole system of thought or worldview.

I think you're in the wrong argument, I don't know anyone who says the concept of god doesn't exist. The concept of unicorns exists too. Mathematics, like infinity, are models (i.e. logic) of the univserse. What does your god concept model?
posted by spaltavian at 7:37 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


"I'll take unsolvable problems people like to fight about for $500, Alex."
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:39 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


The other thing that Craig manages to neglect completely, and I feel he is deeply intellectually dishonest in doing so, is the problem of evil. By failing to bring it up at all, he misrepresents the state of philosophy of religion so completely that it's comical. Craig subscribes to the free will theodicy, which is riddled with problems, but at least presenting it instead of rehearsing the ontological argument would have given a more honest picture of the god debate.
posted by graymouser at 7:39 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


You said before that it was "neatly resolved" - but it really isn't. You're answering one question by inserting a bigger, completely unanswerable question in its place. That's not a resolution at all, it's just a random hypothetical. And it's exactly why I feel weak atheism is justified - sure, there might be some random totally unknown entity that explains things, but there is no reason whatsoever to believe in it when we can just admit we don't understand a certain problem.

Let's imagine that the universe is, in some way, simulated. There are plenty of hints that it is. Imagine that we definitively prove it. That would explain where everything that we consider to be the universe today came from. It would tell us absolutely nothing about the world in which the universe is being simulated. It would give us no final answer. All we would know is that there is definitively something outside the universe which we can't explain and know nothing about.

There is no reason to believe that the universe is fundamentally completely understandable and knowable. The fact that math, for example, can model the universe is something that is in itself unexplained. It might be that we have to live with mysteries until the heat death of the universe.

People pointing out that there are really deep, unexplained questions does not make them fools (though I think this person is not sincerely motivated by a quest for truth).
posted by empath at 7:40 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I'll just leave this here.
posted by plinth at 7:41 AM on January 15


The epistemological choice isn't between god and a boundless chaotic universe of nonsense and sophism.

I never said it was. Nor must theists forsake science or evolution. I merely point out the obvious: that the many things we believe just because we find them amenable -- not because there's any proof -- do not admit of scientific argument. Everyone IS indeed a believer, and to call that a "desperate" argument is a non sequitur. It's simply the truth.

Now does that mean that all our unprovable assumptions are equally good? Not at all. There's no scientific proof for any of them, however. All arguments for or against them must be appeals to intuition.
posted by shivohum at 7:41 AM on January 15


An equally compelling fine-tuning argument (which is to say, not very, anthropic arguments are notoriusly weak) can be constructed to argue against a personal creator:
As Richard Carrier puts it
"In short, if atheism is true, we will only ever find ourselves in universes like ours (extremely old and large, extremely hostile to life, but at least barely capable of producing it somewhere at some point eventually), so the universe we observe (including all its apparent fine tuning) has a probability of 100% if there is no god. Whereas if a god created this universe for life, it would far more likely lack these features (it would not need to be extremely old and large, or extremely hostile to life), so the probability of observing the universe we do if god created it is actually very much less than 100%. Our universe is therefore more likely if God does not exist."
As for the ontological argument, it's of the same order as Curry's Paradox, fine as a cute trick that shows the inadequacy of naïve classical logic, deeply embarassing when someone takes it seriously.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 7:41 AM on January 15 [13 favorites]


shivohum: "We have no proof that the world doesn't disappear behind us every time we turn around, but we believe it."
I take it you've never tried to walk backwards?
posted by brokkr at 7:44 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


1. The universe began to exist.

We don't know this. Maybe the universe or multiverse has always been, and the Big Bang was just an event within it. Or maybe "time" is something internal to the universe, and therefore "causation", one event preceding and causing another, is not a useful concept external to the universe.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:44 AM on January 15 [7 favorites]


Pararrayos: I don't follow your reasoning, can you elaborate?

I tried to elaborate in this comment, which is above your question, but this is a fast-moving thread and you may have missed it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:44 AM on January 15


shivohum: I never said it was. Nor must theists forsake science or evolution. I merely point out the obvious: that the many things we believe just because we find them amenable -- not because there's any proof -- do not admit of scientific argument. Everyone IS indeed a believer, and to call that a "desperate" argument is a non sequitur. It's simply the truth.

Again, only through your nonsensical defintion of "faith". You misunderstand science and faith. Science is an epistemological process. Your arugment that I effectively believe in god if I accept general relativity, or you know, the world not disappearing when I'm not looking at it, just underlines the vacuousness of your argument.

My acceptance that the world exisits even when I'm not looking is a completely different epistemological process than your belief in the supernatural. We are not all "believers". I'm using evidence and logic to make a model of the universe. You are getting knowledge from, well, somewhere. These aren't related or even superficially similar.
posted by spaltavian at 7:49 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]


I just want to add that I don't have any respect for people who use these unsolved questions to make the argument for anything like religion or 'faith'. One simply doesn't follow from the other. But they are genuinely hard problems with no answers so far.
posted by empath at 7:50 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


As an individual who spent the first half of his life as a non-believer and the second half as an employed clergy-person I'd reiterate my previous position that very little of this matters until:

A. People of faith seek to enforce conformity of faith amongst the country-folk through judicial means,
B. People of faith generate and propagate narratives positing some irrational and eternal punishment for those who do not believe as they do.

I think that both of these impulses stem from the same human desire for the external to reflect and reify their own personal understanding of reality. Maybe this is comforting - it's something that children do.

There's a wonderful quote I found cited in my PhD adviser's dissertation from a 1967 text on Communication Theory: "Life - or reality, fate, God, nature, existence, or whatever name one prefers to give it - is a partner whom we accept or reject and by whom we feel ourselves accepted or rejected, supported or betrayed. To this existential partner, perhaps even as much as to a human partner, we propose our definition of self and then find it confirmed or disconfirmed; and from this partner we endeavor to receive clues about the 'real' nature of our relationship."

I was disappointed by Craig's arguments not because they were philosophically thin (and, as others have pointed out above, thoroughly discredited) but rather because they assume that faith and science are attempting to live in the same zip code.

In my setting we don't attempt to enforce conformity of thinking in our community, indeed, our own household assumed refugee status by being expelled from just such a scenario. Furthermore, we tend to embrace universalism because life is very short, experience so subjective, and the natural world so confounding that positing an anthropocentric justification for eternal reward and punishment would represent a sort of hubris tantamount to blasphemy.

We are digging wells. Some dig many wells, some dig one. I have come to the belief through personal experience that a particular first century Palestinian teacher has provided us with some excellent well-digging equipment. I encourage my people to dig deeply, and work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Fear, not because they are going to be cast into some hell, but because we are subject to a material world that may never offer any justification for the promises we hold to be infallible. But believing in promises always requires faith, rather than facts.

I don't see the church thriving in the 21st century until the church itself becomes the most vocal and ardent defender of atheism and the separation of church and state precisely because of, not in spite of, our faith in the promises of God.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:50 AM on January 15 [18 favorites]


What does your god concept model?

That which must ground the most rational view of existence. And of course the concept is not the reality, but only a pointer to it, in the same way that F=ma is not itself the law it describes, but merely a set of words that points to that law.

I'm using evidence and logic to make a model of the universe. You are getting knowledge from, well, somewhere. These aren't related or even superficially similar.

Yes, but your method of evidence-gathering is based on premises that are not themselves gathered from evidence. You're simply asserting over and over that they're different. It's an article of... faith... for you.

--
I take it you've never tried to walk backwards?

Heh. Clever, but of course beside the point. Maybe the ground beneath my feet is created as I walk. You know, like a video game which is rendered exactly and only when it's needed.
posted by shivohum at 7:51 AM on January 15


People pointing out that there are really deep, unexplained questions does not make them fools (though I think this person is not sincerely motivated by a quest for truth).

Fine tuning isn't a deep, unexplained question, though. It's a classic "god of the gaps" strategy, looking for areas that are as-yet unexplained so that "god" can be the only remaining explanation. It's exactly like the intellectually dishonest quest for "irreducible complexity" in biology by creationists so that they can posit the necessity of "intelligent design," only it's in physics instead of biology. Fine tuning is no more of a critical unexplained question than the latest target of the ID crowd.
posted by graymouser at 7:51 AM on January 15 [10 favorites]


The wonderful thing about belief structures is that they can be made of very light bricks. If more bricks are needed, they can be made very quickly by inspiration. If a wall of bricks falls down, a special brick can be quickly fashioned to perfectly fit the hole ... and it weighs no more than the bricks it replaces!

There's no limit to the size or ornateness of a belief structure; there's no law of gravity it has to obey. They can be summoned to support any purpose, from using unpaid labor to shoring up leaky ships of state.
posted by Twang at 7:56 AM on January 15


1) Assume I just presented a convincing argument for God's existence.
2) You are now convinced that God exists.
3) Checkmate, atheists!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:56 AM on January 15 [16 favorites]


Ultimately, Daniel Kahn explains it best in his song, The Silver Window.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:58 AM on January 15


I love this -- two groups of know-it-alls who have not a shred of evidence either way arguing as if they were experts on the matter.

Two sides of the same silly coin wanting to be taken seriously as they try to enforce their beliefs on one another and then want people to think they differ in some way.

People who don't even know what's going on under their own roofs trying to convince others they know whether gods exist all thumping various flawed books in the process, from bibles to the Origin of Species.

I am less impressed with how well you argue over things you don't know than how you treat the people who we can confirm exist.

Whoever said the Earth is the universe's asylum wasn't joking...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:58 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Yes, but your method of evidence-gathering is based on premises that are not themselves gathered from evidence.

What premise is that? The only way you have to go here is full sophism and say I don't even know that I actually exist, or that my sensory information could be wrong or maybe your blue is my red... whoa. Do you really think freshman year philosophy has never been encountered before?

But I do accept my sensory gathering information could be wrong, I do accept that my blue could be your red, but the evidence we do have supports that these "premises" are accurate, or workable. Have you never really encountered axioms before?

You're defining reason incorrectly again. Reason is appeal to evidence and logic. Math is a logical model of the universe. I'm not using faith when I do arithmetic; I am knowingly using a model that fits the evidence I have.

You're coming entirely from a pre-scientific model of knowledge. Observation, theory, hypothesis, experiement, conclusion: these advanced our ability to learn. You pretend they don't exist.
posted by spaltavian at 7:59 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Fine tuning isn't a deep, unexplained question, though. It's a classic "god of the gaps" strategy, looking for areas that are as-yet unexplained so that "god" can be the only remaining explanation.

You're conflating a question with a proposed answer. I'm in no way suggesting that god is the answer here. But it IS an unanswered question. We're spending billions trying to figure it out. And if they can't explain it, then the multiverse is basically the only game in town.
posted by empath at 7:59 AM on January 15


people are all hung up on proving shit. and i can prove it.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:59 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Heh. Clever, but of course beside the point. Maybe the ground beneath my feet is created as I walk. You know, like a video game which is rendered exactly and only when it's needed.

Well, since *you*'re clearly a figment of *my* imagination, that can't be it.
posted by sukeban at 8:00 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I love this -- two groups of know-it-alls who have not a shred of evidence either way arguing as if they were experts on the matter.
Oh, baloney. One side is arguing "Assume God exists, therefore God exists". You're right that they have not a shred of evidence. But the other side is not arguing "God does not exist". The other side is arguing that "Assume God exists, therefore God exists" is a specious argument.
posted by Flunkie at 8:04 AM on January 15 [18 favorites]


Spaltavian, are you familiar with the problem of induction? It's a freshman year philosophy problem -- one that remains unsolved, as do most of those problems. Induction is an axiom, but that does not make it not an article of faith. That induction works IS an article of faith. One that I, by the way, fully support.
posted by shivohum at 8:04 AM on January 15


To me the flaw in the god argument is that they are doing the old god in the gaps nonsense, but there are a lot of people in this thread that are arguing that the gaps aren't there, for reasons I don't understand.
posted by empath at 8:06 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


I love this -- two groups of know-it-alls who have not a shred of evidence either way arguing as if they were experts on the matter.

Er, no. The problem is that the article in the OP is by an academic who is supposed to be one of the foremost scholars in philosophy of religion today, and the arguments presented in it are so incredibly lame that they're getting trashed by amateurs on a blog. The kind of haughty "I'm above it all" nonsense doesn't fly when the author is supposed to know his shit.
posted by graymouser at 8:07 AM on January 15 [7 favorites]


I love this -- two groups of know-it-alls who have not a shred of evidence either way arguing as if they were experts on the matter

Are we reading the same thread? Because I've been reading a lot of thoughtful discussion about a philosophical argument with the requisite amount of internet snark and a refreshing lack of religion-bashing.
posted by beau jackson at 8:07 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I am less impressed with how well you argue over things you don't know than how you treat the people who we can confirm exist.

Agreed. Why not start with how you treat the people in this thread?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:08 AM on January 15 [7 favorites]


The question of whether god exists is completely irrelevant. Completely.

The relevant question is whether there is an afterlife. If there is no afterlife and god(s) do not interfere with the universe (which, discounting the medical "miracles" that the Catholic church uses for canonization (which tend to be things like falling from extreme heights and living or spontaneous remission of advanced and seemingly terminal cancer, not things like the suspension of the laws of physics in an area temporarily)), then why do we care if there are one or more gods?*

So the only place that these gods interact with us is in our afterlife. So the question becomes "is there an afterlife?" I have yet to see any good argument for that and have seen a couple of decent ones against it.

Thought experiment: I set up a simulation of a universe on a computer and walk away. Does it matter to the inhabitants who set up said simulation if the rules I set never change and when their agent terminates they do not start up again or terminate. Does the fact that I set said simulation in motion make any difference to the inhabitants once they figure out the rules for how things work? I guess knowing that I was the one who set things up gives them someone to be angry at or thankful to, which may improve quality of life, but if there actually was a tornado that swept through the computer recycling plant and put the thing together, they could make the same assumptions and get along with their lives.

In my mind it does not matter if there is a god. I tend to doubt it, but honestly, even if I knew there was one, it would not matter to me. I don't know what label to apply to my self (apatheist I guess). But I tend to look on these debates as pointless. If anyone can point me towards interesting arguments about the existence of an afterlife, that I would be keen to read/watch.

Quasi-relevant.

*This argument of course falls apart the minute someone has definite and verified from multiple objective sources proof that a miracle occurred, that is something that violates current what we know of as the laws of physics. It could be sufficiently advanced aliens, but something like making a large volume of water appear in a vacuum would suffice for me. It's either that or extreme probability manipulation through some unknown method which would be godlike enough that they get my vote.
posted by Hactar at 8:10 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


pracowity: "I always thought you were supposed to believe in God and Jesus and all that stuff through faith, because you had "let Jesus into your heart" and "felt the presence of the holy spirit" and not because you let some proof into your brain. Changing your faith with tricky proofs sounds like something the slippery old devil would try to pull."
Seriously, this.

The Bible is pretty explicit in the Epistles of St. Paul about how faith in God for Christians is very much supposed to be unproven and even more than a bit foolish. In orthodox1 Christian theology, if God makes sense to you, is part of some logical construction, then it isn't God at all but an idol. Christianity is supposed to not really make sense, its kind of part of the point. It doesn't make any sense to feel that all of mankind are your siblings because they aren't, or that you'll benefit in some tangible way by giving all of your shit to the poor because you won't, or that you should turn the other cheek to your enemies because you'll probably just get smacked again, or that you should care for the powerless at all much less especially so because what the fuck can they do for you being powerless, or that you should let anyone who steals your shit keep it because fuck that guy, or that you're not really meaningfully morally superior to a murderer if you harbor anger towards others because what the fuck Jesus, and that is much less that the benefits you're supposed to get from all of this very explicitly have nothing to do with letting others see you do any of it - in fact the opposite. Its not supposed to make sense that everyone you meet is just as infinitely worthy of your love and help especially if they can't/won't return it, or that truly honest self sacrifice is truly empowering, or that the most radically powerful and self affirming action you can take in any situation is generally surrender, or that this dude really was born of a virgin (the most universally human joke ever), because it doesn't. Its supposed to be something more, something deeper, and something often much more important than sensible. Faith.

1Note the little o, but its the same with the big O
posted by Blasdelb at 8:11 AM on January 15 [16 favorites]


That induction works IS an article of faith.

No, for the exact same reasons I've articulated half a dozen times now. It's not faith to think that something works when all available evidence says it works, and I am open to new data.

If you're just going to point to a very slightly different area and make the same argument over again, I don't think we're going to get anywhere. If you are at all interested, I suggest your read George H. Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God, becuase he spends a huge part the book specifically dealing with your epistemological nihilism.
posted by spaltavian at 8:11 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


On the one hand: sitting on a bench on a beautiful fall day by the river valley == maybe there *is* a God

On the other hand: sitting through 'Spanglish'
posted by mazola at 8:12 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


My lack of faith in a god is no more critical an aspect of my philosophy than my belief that there is no such thing as underwater fire monkeys.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:12 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


Look, I just called God on the phone to check. He says he doesn't exist. I'm going with that.
posted by delfin at 8:13 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Hactar: Thought experiment: I set up a simulation of a universe on a computer and walk away. Does it matter to the inhabitants who set up said simulation if the rules I set never change and when their agent terminates they do not start up again or terminate.

I suppose it matters if the inhabitants of your simulation anticipate being written to disk. Hoping against all hope that God occasionally hits Ctrl-s.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:14 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Eh, whether you're Dawkins or Craig "...and what came before that?" undoes all arguments. Like two dimensional beings in a three dimensional world, I'm not sure that the answer to the question is something we're able to 'get.'

Noodling on it is fun, though, and that's worth a few cups of coffee or glasses of wine.
posted by Mooski at 8:14 AM on January 15


What this thread tells me is that, if there is an afterlife, and if it's a just afterlife, Plotinus will be paying for his many crimes.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:15 AM on January 15


No, for the exact same reasons I've articulated half a dozen times now. It's not faith to think that something works when all available evidence says it works, and I am open to new data.

I don't think you actually understand the problem then. How do you know induction works? Only by having observed it work in the past. Yet to apply that past observation to draw inferences about the future is induction -- the very thing that's in question.
posted by shivohum at 8:15 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


>>Could you make this reasoning explicit?

>Just this:


You did not make the reasoning explicit through Bayes theorem. I'm interested in your application of Bayes, particularly how you resolve all the terms and how you obtain a posterior odds that has something to do with a supernatural being having created the universe.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:17 AM on January 15


"By far, the most probable observable universes in a World Ensemble would be worlds in which a single brain fluctuated into existence out of the vacuum and observed its otherwise empty world."

This sentence -- which feels like maybe a telling one, as far as his overall thought processes go -- can only make sense if you don't believe in evolution?
posted by nobody at 8:19 AM on January 15


I think the sticking point for me is that posing that there's a ontological primal cause, or an ontological ground is one thing. Posing that it is the same thing as an objective morality (much less a knowable objective morality) is another. And posing that it's the prophetic god of Moses and Abraham something else entirely. In fact, I think the ontological arguments are at odds with the endgame of a fair bit of Christian apologia which is a Being foundational to Being but estranged from Being without the historical miracle of the crucifixion of Being for the sins of Being.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:22 AM on January 15


Blasdelb: "
The Bible is pretty explicit in the Epistles of St. Paul about how faith in God for Christians is very much supposed to be unproven and even more than a bit foolish. In orthodox1 Christian theology, if God makes sense to you, is part of some logical construction, then it isn't God at all but an idol. Christianity is supposed to not really make sense, its kind of part of the point.
"

Was Thomas damned when I wasn't looking? I thought Judas was the fallen apostle.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 8:24 AM on January 15


And I see little utility in talking about it in the implicitly anthropic term "God" as opposed to "Pratītyasamutpāda" or "Tao."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:24 AM on January 15


I haven't got into these sorts of arguments since college, when I used to engage with those paired evangelists who strolled around campus to give you the good news; the charming, sociable one and the one who knew his theological shit. The first would start the conversation but by the time I'd got two sentences out he'd tag his buddy and I'd spend the rest of the conversation dueling with the second guy while the first looked on in something like dumbfounded amazement. Once in a while just for fun, I'd wait until they expressed concern about my atheism so I could respond "you find my lack of faith disturbing? You and Darth Vader, pal." But only if they were dicks, which they usually weren't.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:25 AM on January 15


As far as rationalism and belief goes, Roman Catholic theology has held since Aquinas that the existence of God can be rationally proven. Protestantism tends to swing wildly around this, varying from philosophers like Craig who take an Aquinas-style approach to ones like Kierkegaard who insisted on a "leap of faith." It's a pretty big can of worms to get into.
posted by graymouser at 8:26 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


What this thread tells me is that, if there is an afterlife, and if it's a just afterlife, Plotinus will be paying for his many crimes.

More a sort of après vie, I suspect.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:26 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


All of the arguments I have read so far basically boil down to this gem.

1: A chicken has crossed the road.

2: If a chicken has crossed the road, then this event MUST have a transcendent cause.
posted by cirrostratus at 8:27 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


If a chicken has crossed the road, then this event MUST have a transcendent cause.

A chicken that has crossed the road is more perfect than a chicken who has not crossed the road.
posted by graymouser at 8:29 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Blasdelb: It's pretty likely that Paul anticipated Christ's imminent return, something which comes across in Corinthians 1 if you're looking for it - " He chose what is not considered to be important to do away with what is considered to be important." So I think that Paul's faith was justified by his expectation of the triumph of God's power (which in turn he saw as based on the word of Christ). Now what you're proposing is that Faith is only worthy of the name if it is completely unfounded. I see that as an early re-interpretation of Pauline Christianity in the light of Christ continuing not to return. Then all this stuff that Anselm and co. came up with is pretty clearly the rebirth of a rationalist approach to faith that prefigured the Enlightenment.
posted by topynate at 8:30 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Now what?

What do we do with this information? How does our knowledge of God's existence affect our day-to-day activities? What does God want from us? Must we abstain from eating pork, or beef, or garlic?


This. And its converse: if God is not real, does that mean I have to stop finding joy, personal meaning, humor etc. in the religious experiences I have? Is my marriage now meaningless because my wife and I met through the religion we shared at the time? Should I stop my diabetes treatment because I was originally told by a god, via a trance-possessed priest, to see a doctor?

We know the Earth orbits the sun; it doesn't go up and down and sink into the ocean or get swallowed by a giant serpent or something. That doesn't stop us from enjoying a fine sunset.


In my mind it does not matter if there is a god.

I agree with that, and I believe anyway. As Blasdelb said, that's kind of the point.

I also don't particularly care if there's an afterlife. I'm plenty busy with this life right now.

To me, faith is art, not science. It makes a damned poor substitute for science, but unfortunately a lot of religious people use it that way, and because of that, a lot of atheists assume that's all there is to it.

I think most of the world's religions are a mixed bag of great stuff, needless baggage, and (generally the bigger they are) corruption and oppression -- just the rest of the world's social institutions.
posted by Foosnark at 8:33 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Crap... buried by the overburden, but here goes...

Who cares?

Unless you can do something WITH it, god being or not being does not matter.

Fact is, it doesn't work. For anything. Ever. A useless entity that explains and/or reliably allows manipulation of NOTHING is just a complete waste of everyone's time.

When ANYONE can setup a double-blind that I can use as effectively as I can boil water, I'll pay attention.

Till then, it's a business, using salvation as a marketing plan.
posted by FauxScot at 8:34 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


...it does seem like a violation of basic Bayeseanism to explain the existence of the universe by mere chance...

Conditional on its existence?
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:35 AM on January 15


If a chicken has crossed the road, then this event MUST have a transcendent cause.

A chicken that has crossed the road is more perfect than a chicken who has not crossed the road.


A species of chicken, all of whom have crossed the road, is more perfect than a species that has not crossed the road.

A perfect species of chicken must exist, because it is more perfect to exist than to not exist.

Therefore, all chickens have crossed the road.

Therefore, officer, the chicken in my neighbor's yard belongs to me.
posted by echo target at 8:35 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


I've always liked this exchange with Sam Harris:

Interviewer: "You don't assert as a positive fact that there is no God. Doesn't that really make you an agnostic?"
Harris: "Well, put it this way: I've never met anyone who was agnostic about Zeus."
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:36 AM on January 15 [8 favorites]


But if you reject the reality of possible worlds... then you have a problem: there's only one universe, and we're in it. And yet we seem to be improbably lucky that it worked out the way it did!

It's hard to say for sure, of course. Maybe life is an emergent property of the universe-as-it-is; maybe there were a bunch of failed "dry run" universe "creations" before this one, and it's just that this universe is one that can hold together because of the way physics needs to work. So maybe we live in a mutant universe. Natural selection, and all that...

The point is, we just don't know.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:38 AM on January 15


Till then, it's a business, using salvation as a marketing plan.

Not all religions are Christianity. Not all religions have the concept of "salvation." Not all religious proselytize. Not all churches (even Christian ones) are rolling in money.

And most of the things that make people happier are "a waste of time."
posted by Foosnark at 8:39 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


My lack of faith in a god is no more critical an aspect of my philosophy than my belief that there is no such thing as underwater fire monkeys.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:12 AM on January 15 [+] [!]


Ah yes, but have you actually examined the totality of underwater environments to determine that underwater fire monkeys don't exist?

If you haven't, then you are assuming, on faith, that underwater fire monkeys don't exist.

Therefore, the statement "underwater fire monkeys probably don't exist" requires as much faith as saying, "Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God and died for our sins".

Therefore, Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God and died for our sins. Also, underwater fire monkeys probably exist.

QED.
posted by Avenger at 8:40 AM on January 15 [7 favorites]


I suppose that if I win the lottery, I can look back and find reasons why a benevolent god fixed the win for me, but that doesn't really argue for the existence of such a god.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:40 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Did I seriously just read someone making Anselm's ontological argument in 2014?

Last night, there was a report on ESPN Radio about the hiring by the University of Texas of Charlie Strong, the first black head coach of any sport at that institution (NPR story here.) With accompanying UT booster billionaires' negative reactions to his hiring predictably having nothing to do with his race. This after years of being passed over for other head coaching positions at various universities despite being well-respected and over-qualified.

The report ended with a note that if Strong winds up winning a national championship at UT, it'll mean black assistant coaches around the nation will be given a second look.

My reaction was almost exactly yours - how is it we are having this conversation in 2014? There may have been some cursing interspersed within that question.

When juxtapositions like that occur, one gets a full dose of the reality of how many people not only are not in 2014, but are actively, constantly working to keep the cultural clock either still or moving backwards. As if a movie montage showing the pages whipping off a wall calendar was replaced by a crowd of people frantically trying to glue the old days back on.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:46 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]


The report ended with a note that if Strong winds up winning a national championship at UT, it'll mean black assistant coaches around the nation will be given a second look.

OT, but holy shit. Please tell me I'm still asleep and did not just read this.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:49 AM on January 15


Foosnark: Not all religions have the concept of "salvation."

Name one that doesn't.
posted by cirrostratus at 8:54 AM on January 15


Cthulhu worship.
posted by Flunkie at 8:56 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


If there are an infinite number of Gods, all creating their subordinate, if you add them all up, the sum of all Gods is -1/12.

See here...
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 8:56 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


This looks to me to boil down, once again, to the constant repetition of the "God is the best explanation of..." trope. As if this is the line that intellectual theologists take when they realize that going off of "because the [$INFALLIBLE_TEXT] says so" is a loser's game. This line of argument, to me, only makes sense to someone who can't live comfortably knowing that there isn't yet an explanation for some things; and, instead of applying their lives to pursuing actual insight and answers, instead decides that filling in the blanks with "Oh, that? That part's God. There, done. Cosmic mystery. What's for dinner?" is in some ways equivalent.
posted by phong3d at 8:57 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Atheists have it pretty easy. No god. Believers have to contend with the nearly infinite number of definitions and conceptualizations of what "god" is. It is particularly challenging for those defending the existence of some sort of god, because they are often hard pressed to articulate what they actually mean when they use the word. The objective referent for the word is often something they think is obvious to everyone, but when asked to describe this thing, the concepts that come out vary widely from individual to individual as well as from tradition to tradition. It seems to me there isn't a single conceptualization of god, but rather a collection of subjective impressions that don't match. We pretty much all agree that the color red is the color red, but there is nowhere near any unanimity on what "god" is. This confusion lends itself to the constant revisiting of this conversation periodically, and makes for lively discussions where participants can practice all manner of rhetorical flourishes. It's not really philosophy, though.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:01 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


"Atheists have it pretty easy. No god. Believers have to contend with the nearly infinite number of definitions and conceptualizations of what "god" is."

Have you run this characterization by very many actual believers?
posted by Blasdelb at 9:02 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


"Oh, that? That part's God. There, done. Cosmic mystery. What's for dinner?" is in some ways equivalent.

Not unlike this famous cartoon.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:07 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


"It's pretty likely that Paul anticipated Christ's imminent return, something which comes across in Corinthians 1 if you're looking for it - " He chose what is not considered to be important to do away with what is considered to be important." So I think that Paul's faith was justified by his expectation of the triumph of God's power (which in turn he saw as based on the word of Christ). Now what you're proposing is that Faith is only worthy of the name if it is completely unfounded. I see that as an early re-interpretation of Pauline Christianity in the light of Christ continuing not to return."

I'm not saying unfounded exactly, the foundations of faith are everywhere and were conspicuously present in Paul's communities, I'm saying something closer to stupid. I mean seriously, this is an entire religion based around worshiping a dude whose signature act was allowing himself to be so weak that he could be nailed naked to a tree next to common thieves and left to die, suffocated by the weight of his own body, in excruciating pain with his conspicuous suffering and powerlessness displayed openly for all to see and his body discarded by authorities like it was excrement. What fucked up kind of clever plan is that? That is pretty inherently fucking stupid right? Its not logical, it doesn't make sense but it is also something conspicuously dramatically beautifully much much more than that.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:08 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Well, just from Wikipedia I get:
God is often conceived as the Supreme Being and principal object of faith.[1] In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. In deism, God is the creator (but not the sustainer) of the universe. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. Theologians have ascribed a variety of attributes to the many different conceptions of God. Common among these are omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one God or in the oneness of God. God has also been conceived as being incorporeal (immaterial), a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the "greatest conceivable existent".[1] Many notable medieval philosophers and modern philosophers have developed arguments for and against the existence of God.[2]
There are many names for God, and different names are attached to different cultural ideas about who God is and what attributes possessed. In the ancient Egyptian era of Atenism, possibly the earliest recorded monotheistic religion premised on there being one "true" Supreme Being and Creator of the Universe,[3] this deity is called Aten.[4] In the Hebrew Bible "He Who Is," "I Am that I Am", and the "Tetragrammaton" YHVH are used as names of God, while Yahweh, and Jehovah are sometimes used in Christianity as vocalizations of YHVH. In Arabic and other Semitic language, the name Allah, "Al-El," or "Al-Elah" ("the God") is used. Muslims regard a multitude of titular names for God, while in Judaism it is common to refer to God by the titular names Elohim or Adonai, the latter of which is believed by some scholars to descend from the Egyptian Aten.[5][6][7][8][9][10] In Hinduism, Brahman is often considered a monistic deity.[11] Other religions have names for God, for instance, Baha in the Bahá'í Faith,[12] Waheguru in Sikhism,[13] and Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism.[14]
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:09 AM on January 15


This. And its converse: if God is not real, does that mean I have to stop finding joy, personal meaning, humor etc. in the religious experiences I have?

I don't know. The nature of religious experiences and the existence of deities strike me as orthogonal. Mine point toward reasonable doubt.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:15 AM on January 15


I'm interested in your application of Bayes, particularly how you resolve all the terms and how you obtain a posterior odds that has something to do with a supernatural being having created the universe.

I'm... not going to do that here. You understand, right? Even getting formulas to work in html is beyond me, and you're asking for a lot of work when there's a charitable QED there for you if you think it through (and know enough to ask the question.)

I'm happy to talk it out with you, though of course my conclusion is much weaker than the one you mention, and is compatible with simulation arguments. But I'm not a theist, just worried about this particular argument, so I don't want to spend a long time on it unless it produces lecture notes for me, which is what I'm supposed to be doing right now.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:16 AM on January 15


Mental Wimp: It is particularly challenging for those defending the existence of some sort of god, because they are often hard pressed to articulate what they actually mean when they use the word.

This does not seem to be an unreasonable burden.
posted by spaltavian at 9:28 AM on January 15 [11 favorites]


Does anyone else get a bit worried when they see these arguments taken seriously? Even as a religious 13/14 year old I thought these arguments were silly, for pretty much the reasons given in this thread. I know that an appeal to authority should never be the end of an argument, but it does give me pause; between 13-year-old me and a professor of philosophy, who is more likely to have made such huge and obvious mistakes in their reasoning that they look full-on ridiculous to the other?

I've occasionally chatted about evolution with creationists of various stripe, and it turns out that several (most?) of them had somehow ended up with painfully flawed versions of the theory and the evidence. They were completely correct to reject that version of evolution, and completely correct to think that only an idiot or someone taking a massive leap of faith could accept it. But that doesn't change the fact that they were very, very wrong about the actual theory, and about the people who accept it. It's a common pattern: obviously experts can be wrong, but in my experience laypeople who leap to declare that experts are obviously, blindingly wrong, stupid, and possibly lying, tend to be arguing against something very different from what the expert is actually trying to say.

...None of which is to say that I'm convinced by his reasoning, and I'm not suggesting that anyone in the thread, including me, has suggested that this guy stupid or a liar. But it worries me, whenever I find myself looking an expert in an unfamiliar field and wondering at how he gets away with espousing such obviously, trivially flawed ideas.
posted by metaBugs at 9:36 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


I'd heard of Craig, and heard that his reasoning was sound and that he was a tough debater. This link does nothing to convince me he's an intellectual threat. Perhaps b/c it's more of a popular read; contingency and metaphysical necessity and all these really hair things he just sort of plops in there really require elaborate arguments about themselves.

On the one hand, natural theology often seems to reduce (to me) a more sophisticated version of "There just has to be...."

On the other hand, I'm perfectly comfortable dealing with facets or modes of existence that are not entirely empirical, even if they can be ultimately explained or evoked by empirical things.

I'm actually a bit tired of God/No-God, so I've more or less switched to a different controversy: if there is God, then no mortal person can know His will and all acts perpetrated for the sake of Him are not justifiable on that assertion alone.

If.
posted by adoarns at 9:37 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Crediting a supernatural being for the mechanics of the universe means that scientific endeavour must eventually bump into the face of god, and everything beyond is forever unknowable. This is wouldn't be such a problem if religious people weren't so eager to stake out the unknowable and treat scientists as people trying to usurp their authority.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:39 AM on January 15


Therefore, Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God and died for our sins. Also, underwater fire monkeys probably exist.

Water exists.

Fire exists.

Monkeys exist.

Hockey Monkey exists.

Footage of a monkey that plays hockey exists.

Mexican Fire Hockey exists.

Therefore, underwater fire monkeys play hockey in Mexico, and therefore God exists but took one look at them and said "My work here is done" and buggered off to see what he could get started on Neptune.
posted by delfin at 9:40 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


To be fair, between that and the platypus I think He'd pretty much peaked. Call it a masterpiece, and move to the next canvas.
posted by metaBugs at 9:44 AM on January 15


God exists but took one look at them and said "My work here is done" and buggered off to see what he could get started on Neptune.

c.s. lewis knew that.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:46 AM on January 15


That tautologically-necessary, transcendent cause of everything could just be Rule 110 plus the infinite (but highly compressible) initial state 011011100101… (the concatenation of the binary representation of all the nonnegative integers), because that system would encode an accurate simulation of the universe where we find ourselves (as well as all other possible things).
posted by jepler at 9:51 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


it does seem like a violation of basic Bayeseanism to explain the existence of the universe by mere chance.

Only if you burden yourself with an assumption which isn't required by any fact that I'm aware of; such as that all universes are equally possible, or indeed that any universe other than this is possible, or even that the universe is the product of any process or event in the sense we normally think of it. I'm not saying that I have good alternatives for any of these assumptions, only that they are assumptions, and reality is pretty good at confounding what we would consider to be basic assumptions once you start examining it at the kind of scales that weren't available to our ancestors.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:54 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why people are so convinced by the "fine tuning" argument. As expressed in this piece it is very problematic.

With respect to the Big Bang being fine-tuned to produce intelligent life, this sort of places an arbitrary value on intelligent life over the existence of massive orbs of flaming gas collapsing and absorbing their surroundings, for example. Spaltavian's "straight flush" example is very apt.

Then this, perhaps I'm just not following:

First, when the laws of nature are expressed as equations, you find appearing in them certain constants, such as the gravitational constant. The values of these constants are independent of the laws of nature.

Seems to me the "constants" are a fundamental part of the laws of nature? The "laws of nature" are based on our observations of the things around us, which are subject to these "constants". Why are we saying they are independent? How did we get there?

the odds of all the constants and quantities’ randomly falling into the incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range are just so infinitesimal that they cannot be reasonably accepted

This can be applied to the existence of just about anything in the universe, alive or not. It is no less "reasonably acceptable" than the existence of a god independent of anything observable, with no beginning and no end, that created all this vast expanse just so intelligent life could exist on an infinitesimally small part of it all. Would that not be much harder to accept?

I'm also not sure why "multiverses" needs to be brought in to apply a concept like chance to the question of why intelligent life exists. It seems like he brought it in just to make the idea of life existing by the same chance as anything else existing look flimsy.
posted by Hoopo at 9:54 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


I don't know. I entered this thread an unbeliever but I'm really starting to feel, deep in my heart, that underwater fire monkeys do exist.
posted by perhapses at 9:55 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]


To be fair, between that and the platypus I think He'd pretty much peaked. Call it a masterpiece, and move to the next canvas.

I love the idea of Beard-and-Robe God as a journeyman god auf der Walz, having just finished His apprenticeship with the Old Gods and now wandering the world, learning skills and putting them to use.

In Australia, he creates the platypus as his Meisterstück and opens his own Godhood Guild where he teaches the Dreaming to apprenticed Australian Aborigines.
posted by griphus at 9:56 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Seems to me the "constants" are a fundamental part of the laws of nature?

It's not clear whether the constants are potentially variable, which is one of several holes in the fine-tuning argument. But that's not as important as the fact that it's a raw "god of the gaps" argument and has no validity on that basis.
posted by graymouser at 9:59 AM on January 15


this penrose interview* from the tegmark thread is great! (so god is math /anathem... independent of physical reality ;)

i guess i'm holding out hope -- my hopeothesis! -- that our reality has 'access' to the multiverse and that our brains, somehow (if not microtubules...), perform quantum calculations, re: quantum biology, like if plants and FPGAs can do it...
A number of years ago, a team of research scientists tried to improve the design of a certain kind of computer circuit. They created a simple task that the circuit needed to solve and then tried to evolve a potential solution. After many generations, the team eventually found a successful circuit design. But here’s the interesting part: there were parts of it that were disconnected from the main part of the circuit, but were essential for its function. Essentially, the evolutionary program took advantage of weird physical and electromagnetic phenomena that no engineer would ever think of using in order to make the circuit complete its task. In the words of the researchers: ‘Evolution was able to exploit this physical behaviour, even though it would be difficult to analyse.’
because the energy required to probe extra dimensions and so on is completely out of reach
...the 11th dimension of M-theory, although small, may not be undetectable. Some versions of the theory suggest it may intrude into 3D space over distances of a tenth of a millimetre or so. That is eminently measurable; it is just that no one has, until recently, bothered to try measuring the gravitational attraction between objects less than a tenth of a millimetre apart.

Eric Adelberger, at the University of Washington, in Seattle, is now doing so. M-theory predicts that the attraction may be stronger than expected, though Dr Adelberger has not yet found any discrepancy. It also predicts that it should be possible to make gravitons in particle accelerators...
oh and check out leonard susskind's awesome tour of modern cosmology on boltzmann brains and the anthropic principle [1,2,3]

---
*i think i have the road to reality lying around somewhere but i have yet to crack it :P
posted by kliuless at 10:01 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Foosnark: Not all religions have the concept of "salvation."

Name one that doesn't.


Others have done that already: The Big Religion Chart


Add to that Kemetic Orthodoxy / ancient Egyptian religion, where if you are an absolutely horrible person, your soul gets destroyed at death rather than getting an afterlife -- not specifically contingent on belief or fealty. (Lots of afterlife concern in antiquity, but mostly that you'd be comfortable and prosperous in death and protected from unknown dangers.)

Arguably, other African traditional religions, and things like Vodoun and Santeria, which are about getting the most out of life rather than avoiding a grisly fate in the afterlife.

Plenty of pagan/neopagan religious practices.

Discordianism, where "hell is reserved for those who believe in it" and the lowest circle is for those who only believe in it because they believe they'll go there if they don't.

The Christian minister who took over the church my mom and grandma went to when the founder died, who didn't believe in hell.

And arguably, the many Eastern religions where "salvation" is just "attain enlightenment and stop suffering", there is no specific threat to nonbelievers.
posted by Foosnark at 10:08 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


The fine-tuning argument begs itself as it assumes that life is special, in some manner more so than any other phenomenon, and therefore cannot be accounted for as a simple natural byproduct of physics. Might as well call it the special snowflake argument. The universe isn't fine-tuned to make life possible. Life exists because it is possible for life to exist, as does everything else that exists. Anthropomorphizing the entire universe just because we happen to be capable of noticing our own existence isn't a logical proposition.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:25 AM on January 15 [7 favorites]


But that's not as important as the fact that it's a raw "god of the gaps" argument

i don't even see the gap, Craig is creating one where none exists.
posted by Hoopo at 10:26 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Just this: there are maybe 50 physical constants that make the universe possible; not just intelligent life, but matter, gravitation, solar systems, etc.

I find this line of reasoning unconvincing.

First, we don't know if those 50 physical constants are independent variables or not. The fact that they are all different and incommensurable doesn't imply that they are not related. It could be that there is only one way for those constants to be, and this is it.

Second. There have been various computer models assuming that varying the constants will lead to a universe with no molecules, or a universe that's already collapsed, etc. Even if that is the case, we don't know that these are "NO LIFE" conditions. Just as some other universe might wrongly assume that our universe is a "NO LIFE" universe because we obviously lack the polka quark without which scooby matter can never exist, as well as the slack meson, which is necessary for the formation of gravtricity. No gravtricity, and the proton and the electron wind up vastly different in mass, which obviously would make the formation of atoms impossible.

Third. Imagine a universe where almost everything is alive. The very heavens teem with life and bright, spectacular abundance. And then imagine a universe which is dark, cold, and as far as can be told, nearly lifeless. Are we really "lucky" to be in the suckverse?
posted by xigxag at 10:27 AM on January 15 [14 favorites]


Have you run this characterization by very many actual believers?

After about 15 years of trying to have interfaith discussions I'm deeply convinced that trying to discuss theology in an etic context, and even interpersonal contexts end up becoming a game of wack-a-mole among different liturgical languages and theories that only have meaning in an emic context. I think the best summary of my entirely personal position is that I'm both a theological and cultural ignostic. Not only am I skeptical that ontological arguments have objective meaning, I'm skeptical that they mean the same thing from religious community to religious community.

Similarly, I have rather strong opinions about people who attempt to talk about atheism in the singular, rather than the plural atheisms.

Which is likely a big reason why my new-year's goal is to express my peculiar little non-theistic religion primarily through bad poetry. At least in modern interpretations, the subjectivity and locality of poetic language tends to be assumed, while other forms of rhetoric seem to bend toward universal TRUTH even in the presence of explicit qualifiers, limitations, and hedges.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:33 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Given that we don't actually know -- for some value of "we" that really consists of people competent to study these things as opposed to, say, me -- anything about cosmogenesis, any argument based on "what if the dials had been set to different values" presupposes quite a bit. What for example if those values arose as an inevitable consequence of the preceding states -- to the extent that "preceding" or even "state" are useful words here. "Boy, if those knobs had been set to something different we wouldn't even be here" presupposes a lot about knobs.

And speaking of knobs, if any of thousands of my male ancestors had kept it in their pants on a specific night, I wouldn't be here either! What are the odds, eh?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:41 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Presupposes a lot about knobs.

I'll just presuppose that I'm a knob.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:43 AM on January 15


What are the odds, eh?

Infinitesimal! Therefore God
posted by Hoopo at 10:44 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


The simplest case against God is that all the different religions that claim authority from a higher power cannot all be right.

There are all sorts of ecumenical or syncretic world views that consider all religions to be right, though.

And there are all sorts of religions that are non-theistic.

If the Bible is never, ever permitted to be wrong, then any claims Craig makes of rationalist support for his views are hollow. If you read Craig's most popular book, Reasonable Faith, all things ultimately rest on the notion that Craig has received personal confirmation from the Holy Spirit that the Bible is 100% correct.

That seems like rather ad hominem. Biblical inerrantism need not be Biblical literalism. People can start with an axiom that presupposes a religious text or something else is true and then work with reason from there. That's what theologians of any religion have been doing for centuries, and some of their work must have merit. Perhaps he has arguments that harmonize various passages with reason.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:45 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


When I was a believing Evangelical teenager these kinds of arguments always embarrassed me because it was just so painfully obvious that people came to belief through their personal experiences and NEVER EVER EVER through arguments like these.

Maybe all along, apologetics has been crafting arguments and philosophies to one day convince A.I. of the existence of God through reason alone, so the forces of theism will have super-intelligent robot buddies on their side after the Singularity.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:50 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Apocryphon: "Maybe all along, apologetics has been crafting arguments and philosophies to one day convince A.I. of the existence of God through reason alone, so the forces of theism will have super-intelligent robot buddies on their side after the Singularity."

With arguments like Craig's he'd be lucky to get ELIZA.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 10:54 AM on January 15


Actually, it seems to me like ELIZA would demolish Craig's arguments.

It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.

Why do you say that it is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists?

If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

What makes you believe that if it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world?
posted by Flunkie at 11:02 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]


That's what theologians of any religion have been doing for centuries, and some of their work must have merit.

Not to be snarky, but for "theologians", try substituting "alchemists" or "astrologers" here and see how it reads.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:06 AM on January 15 [6 favorites]


George_Spiggott, thus revealing your complete lack of understanding regarding the disciplines of modern theology.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:07 AM on January 15


Baby_Balrog, your lack of understanding of the disciplines of modern alchemy is obvious.
posted by delfin at 11:09 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


I like the claims that these arguments are bad that largely spring from self-assurance that they are instead of, well, reasoning.

I am not seeing this. Craig is playing with metaphysics and rhetoric, and people are responding in kind. And it's pretty easy for a lot of people, frankly, because this material is covered in a single lecture in most "intro to philosophy" courses people can take as freshmen. The self-assurance comes from familiarity, because Craig hasn't brought anything new to these old arguments that they all know the response to.
posted by Hoopo at 11:10 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


False, for I regularly turn wine into water.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:10 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


Newton was an alchemist.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:11 AM on January 15


The debate I want is what net benefit does organized religion give to society?

This is a rerun of a reply i made before - here's my 'i'm an atheist and i think religion is good' argument.

1 - There are people who are scared of death. The fear of death can render a fraction of them both unable to function in society and also detrimental to society. Christianity effectively ameliorates this fear in those people - allowing them to function.

2 - There are people who are going to behave poorly unless confronted with an active, disproportionately severe punishment that is absolutely unavoidable. Christianity provides this as well. Being tortured forever (realize to most christians, that is what hell is) is a pretty strong threat, especially coming from someone who you can't negotiate with and who will punish you in the same way if you even say bad things about them.

Christianity provides a remarkable protection against a large number of antisocial behaviors, as well as keeping people busy at for at least 1/14 of the week.
posted by Fuka at 11:12 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


.....Fuka, that addresses what benefit Christianity gives to society. What about all the other religions?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Christianity provides a remarkable protection against a large number of antisocial behaviors,

Which is why everything is so great!
posted by spaltavian at 11:17 AM on January 15 [8 favorites]


Empress, it really also addresses judaism and islam (despite our cultural distaste for one of those).

Spaltavian, thanks for the snark.
posted by Fuka at 11:18 AM on January 15


Fuka, that's a rather ... elitist view of religion. It's not necessary for you but there are other people for whom religion is needed, so that they don't "behave poorly." I find it rather repellent, and false. Social mores and controls form in cultures without religions with a "punishment" component equivalent to Christianity's.
posted by graymouser at 11:19 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Fuka:
"1 - There are people who are scared of death. The fear of death can render a fraction of them both unable to function in society and also detrimental to society. Christianity effectively ameliorates this fear in those people - allowing them to function.

2 - There are people who are going to behave poorly unless confronted with an active, disproportionately severe punishment that is absolutely unavoidable. Christianity provides this as well. Being tortured forever (realize to most christians, that is what hell is) is a pretty strong threat, especially coming from someone who you can't negotiate with and who will punish you in the same way if you even say bad things about them.

Christianity provides a remarkable protection against a large number of antisocial behaviors, as well as keeping people busy at for at least 1/14 of the week.
"

This argument implicitly makes empirical predictions about the different social outcomes one would expect from societies with different proportions of religious/christian citizens that seem pretty conclusively contradicted by the evidence.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 11:20 AM on January 15 [5 favorites]


.....Fuka, that addresses what benefit Christianity gives to society. What about all the other religions?

The other religions fill a similar need in humanity, which has always wrestled with the same primal questions: How did we get here? How did all this around me get here? What am I supposed to do and not do? Why did [event x] happen? What happens when we die? Where do I go next?

The guy with the best story that couldn't be disproven by earthly evidence had his story passed on. And so on, and so on, and so on. Soon, those who controlled the stories found that inserting themselves as intermediaries between humanity and That Guy Girl Or Mythical Beast Up There With All The Answers significantly increased their bargaining power, which was the beginning of organized religion.

Jack Chick -- yes, THAT Jack Chick -- once showed a very brief flash of insight in this page of one of his tracts, which sums up organized religion neatly in two panels. (Of course, he then spent the rest of the tract prattling on about how their religion was The Devil's Work and his religion was The Correct One and follow it or burn burn burn, but considering the source this was still a breakthrough.)
posted by delfin at 11:22 AM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Empress, it really also addresses judaism and islam (despite our cultural distaste for one of those).

Judaism (as a religion) does not have the fire-and-brimstone conception of the afterlife. There is no fear of being tortured forever for the common person committing common-person sins.

And negotiating the interpretation of the law of God is an inherent part of the Jewish religion to the extent that numerous Old Testament figures straight-up bargain with god.
posted by griphus at 11:25 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


George_Spiggott, thus revealing your complete lack of understanding regarding the disciplines of modern theology.

Nonsense, merely an illustration that you cannot assume that just because people have been doing a thing for centuries that any of it has merit. The thing itself might simply be completely stupid. I'm not even saying that it is, just pointing out that the sentence begs the very question in dispute by presupposing that it is not.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:26 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


The other religions fill a similar need in humanity, which has always wrestled with the same primal questions

We don't really know if there is such a "need" in the human mind. We know that we've been told there is hundreds of times by people with a vested interest in there being one (religious figures, true believers), but all you have to do is find one exception to disprove it, and there seem to be many.
posted by JHarris at 11:30 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


This argument implicitly makes empirical predictions about the different social outcomes one would expect from societies with different proportions of religious/christian citizens that seem pretty conclusively contradicted by the evidence.

Fuka, that's a rather ... elitist view of religion. It's not necessary for you but there are other people for whom religion is needed, so that they don't "behave poorly." I find it rather repellent, and false. Social mores and controls form in cultures without religions with a "punishment" component equivalent to Christianity's.

I don't disagree with either point. However, we are most likely getting benefit from this, currently and will continue to get some benefit going forward. The debate wasn't whether or not religion is the sole source of this benefit, but whether or not it had any benefit. I argue that it does have benefit to me and therefore, i think it is objectively 'good.'

Social controls are tools that make and repair order. Not all tools are made equally and one person's nailgun is another person's hammer. Religion is not, by itself, any sort of negative. The negative arises when the weak or terrible decide to turn religion the tool into religion the weapon. There are precedents for this happening with other tools, but we have yet to ban the hammer over a few bludgeonings. We also do not have entire rafts of people who don't see the need for hammers just because they aren't carpenters or repairmen.
posted by Fuka at 11:34 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I apologize. I am re-reading your comment in context and see your point. I, personally, believe that the field of theology has contributed quite a bit to our understanding of the human condition. But I'm a humanities-type and don't feel that the merit of a particular field is determined entirely by its applicable output. See, for example, poetry. Or political science.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:34 AM on January 15


Religion isn't a tool, it's a justification for reserving tools for your pet projects.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:39 AM on January 15


We don't really know if there is such a "need" in the human mind. We know that we've been told there is hundreds of times by people with a vested interest in there being one (religious figures, true believers), but all you have to do is find one exception to disprove it, and there seem to be many.

Fair enough. I also didn't mean to imply that those primal questions necessarily have a deity-shaped answer; "no one knows," "it just happens -- it's part of life" and "SCIENCE!" are all acceptable alternatives and will move you on to the bonus round.
posted by delfin at 11:41 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Newton was an alchemist.

Absolutely. In the 17th century there weren't many kinds of scientist you could be, and alchemy was somewhere in the middle of the field as far as silliness goes. Indeed if we judged the field of "medicine" today by what passed for it in 1690 the word "Doctor" would be a joke now. But we began to learn: the Enlightenment was basically Western Civ starting to transition from "not knowing jack shit in any formal sense about much of anything" to "okay let's start figuring this stuff out". Newton was a towering genius. And an alchemist. But pretty much none of his accomplishments were in the field of alchemy.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:42 AM on January 15


Empress, it really also addresses judaism and islam (despite our cultural distaste for one of those).

Nah, actually, it doesn't. You don't mention either Judaism or Islam in your arguments (and, for the record, I believe you have a point with the "it helps some people function who would be otherwise too overwhelmed with 'what's the point of everything' angst" argument), you mention only Christianity.

But I apologize, because I'm trying to make a point myself and am being obtuse at it, so I'll just state it - I've noticed that if someone is making an argument against "organized religion", often their objections refer to Christianity specifically. Or, their objections refer to the behavior of one certain subset of Christian teaching. I know that in your case you were speaking on the side in support of organized religion, but couldn't help notice that even there there was an "organized religion = Christians!" sub-summation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on January 15


Sigh. More cycles wasted on futile debates over God's "existence."

Any thoughtful Christian should be at least partly agnostic. There is more we cannot say about God than there is that we can say. There is virtually nothing we can "prove."

The least incorrect thing we believers can say about God is that God is Selfless Love, self-gift. As Paul Tillich said, "God is not a being. God *is* being."

And we Christians, by choice, by faith, *choose* to see the world as being created by and for love. I can't prove that, I just *choose* to see things that way and act accordingly. This is what Jesus referred to as the "Kingdom of Heaven."

For sure you could choose to see things some other way. As stochastic randomness or an evolutionary march toward something or other.

Or you could choose to see the world as a place meant for selflessness and love, even though there's a lot of the opposite around. Many people I know do that even though they don't use my theological words or observe my tribe's rituals or sing my tribe's songs. But where the poor are fed, strangers are welcomed, the naked are clothed, etc. There are my brothers in Christ, "Christians" or not.

Arguing God's existence has never fed a hungry child or cared for a senior with Alzheimer's, so, meh. I don't need to prove God exists to have "faith" in Him.
posted by cross_impact at 11:45 AM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Sigh. More cycles wasted on futile debates over God's "existence."

Well, we settled the question of the underwater fire monkeys, so we have some time to spare on this.
posted by delfin at 11:46 AM on January 15 [8 favorites]


I love the idea of Beard-and-Robe God as a journeyman god auf der Walz, having just finished His apprenticeship with the Old Gods and now wandering the world, learning skills and putting them to use.

"Oh the platypus? Yeah, um ... I'm more of a beetle guy, really."
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:49 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


I have no need to talk anyone out of a belief in god. Just don't legislate on that belief or close off my opportunities or interfere in the practice of medicine and we're all good. If it were as harmless as Buffy fandom I wouldn't have a care in the world.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:53 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


At this point, I've adopted a sort of pleasant but insidious form of atheism in which I say nothing confrontational to anyone ever about their beliefs, but I'm out as an atheist to all around me. This doesn't do anything toward making believers come around my way. But I feel like having them have to acknowledge that yes, that guy works hard at his job, loves his family, tries to be a good neighbor and friend, and does this without any notion of god... That's sort of its own long game.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:56 AM on January 15 [4 favorites]


"The fine-tuning argument begs itself as it assumes that life is special, in some manner more so than any other phenomenon, and therefore cannot be accounted for as a simple natural byproduct of physics. Might as well call it the special snowflake argument. The universe isn't fine-tuned to make life possible. Life exists because it is possible for life to exist, as does everything else that exists. Anthropomorphizing the entire universe just because we happen to be capable of noticing our own existence isn't a logical proposition."

Yeah, it's fundamentally post hoc ergo propter hoc, with a side of inferring design out of coincidence. (The quote that comes to mind is Feynman's "You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won't believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!")

"We have no proof that scientific patterns observed in the past have any bearing on the future (problem of induction), yet we believe it."

You're overstating the problem of induction by refusing the reasonable inference that after billions upon billions of entirely predictable interactions, it's significantly more likely that they will continue than they will cease. The lack of a formal proof in logic does not argue for the existence of God; that's wishful thinking from theology. And it seems especially perverse to use the radical skepticism of Hume to support a theological argument.
posted by klangklangston at 12:01 PM on January 15 [6 favorites]


Do we have good reasons to use the royal we?

We do!
posted by Zed at 12:02 PM on January 15


Everyone IS indeed a believer...

You keep saying this. I think you're making a false assumption, by thinking that I give a shit. I really don't, in the same way that I don't care about your favorite sports team or shoe preference. The only times I care at all are as outlined just above by George_Spiggot, or when fronted by some proselytizing bonehead. Otherwise, the existence of gods falls into that area of things that do not affect me and that I cannot affect, so I do not expend energy on them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:02 PM on January 15


But I feel like having them have to acknowledge that yes, that guy works hard at his job, loves his family, tries to be a good neighbor and friend, and does this without any notion of god... That's sort of its own long game.

That's actually how many saints - and by some arguments, the Big J Himself - are supposed to have preferred Christians testify on behalf of their faith, is just by being good people and letting other people realize "hey, you notice that Sid seems to be a cool dude? Lemme ask him what's up with that."

No matter what club you're talking about, though, there are a few zealots who just come across like jerks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:03 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Ah yes, but have you actually examined the totality of underwater environments to determine that underwater fire monkeys don't exist?

Yes, I have actually. You could choose not to believe me, but then forever after, we would have to consider it a core principle of your philosophy that you're a nonbeliever in the principle that DirtyOldTown Has Explored All Underwater Environments. Naturally, that would become the lens through which you see the entire universe.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:03 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


This dude would have been laughed out of alt.atheism in about 10 seconds flat. Why do people keep dredging up the same tired old bullshit arguments? Maybe someone should send Craig a link to the alt.atheism FAQ like any other newbie?
posted by Justinian at 12:05 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


So, all of us have faith. Whether that is a faith in a God, or a faith that there is no God.

This comment needs to be singled out for being particularly egregious and insulting to our collective intelligence.
posted by Justinian at 12:06 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]


Contrary to how they are portrayed in the liberal media, underwater fire monkeys are not, in fact, fire moneys who live under water. Underwater fire monkeys are monkeys who paid more for their homes than they are currently worth, so they burn them for the insurance.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:07 PM on January 15 [15 favorites]


And sorry, but this was a terrible article full of absolute bullshit, the sort of thing that should be given to fourth-grade atheists to train them to spot further bullshit in the world.

That this is combined with repeated intentional conflation on terms like "faith" and "belief" (and even "reason"), makes it even more dubious.

And I recognize that it's my bias, but from the looks of it, the only person putting up any sort of credible theological argument is Blasdelb, who seems to recognize that using rationality to "prove" the fundamentally irrational nature of faith is a losing proposition and requires pretty much immediately ceding all of the important framework to atheists.

There are some terrible arguments for atheism (mostly, to my mind, consequentialist), but these hoary philosophical pseudo-arguments should be best seen as equivalent to arguing that dolphins are fish.
posted by klangklangston at 12:07 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Contrary to how they are portrayed in the liberal media, underwater fire monkeys are not, in fact, fire moneys who live under water. Underwater fire monkeys are monkeys who paid more for their homes than they are currently worth, so they burn them for the insurance.

So named because the insurance companies made monkeys out of them by insuring them for market value rather than financial loss.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:08 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Also, those searching for evidence of underwater fire monkeys may be failing because they are looking for large colonies of fire monkeys. As many a Mac user knows, fire monkeys are generally solitary creatures.
posted by delfin at 12:10 PM on January 15


This comment needs to be singled out for being particularly egregious and insulting to our collective intelligence.

Yes, it's a version of the "everyone is a believer" thing I quoted, and is utterly worthless.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:13 PM on January 15


he New Atheism is, in fact, a pop-cultural phenomenon lacking in intellectual muscle and blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy.

Really? The idea that metaphysicians are somehow the most important group to get here is just willful ignorance.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:18 PM on January 15


everyone is a believer

You know what they say: "There are no true Scottish fire monkeys in FOXNewsHoles." Ha Ha - it's so true, isn't it? What's next, Megyn? Well, Bill, for all you kids watching at home, monkeys are just on fire. They are what they are, and just so you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:22 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Is god a Boltzmann Brain?
posted by Artw at 12:24 PM on January 15


Underwater fire monkeys are monkeys who paid more for their homes than they are currently worth, so they burn them for the insurance.

And where will these monkeys live after they burn down their houses? A barrel? That doesn't sound like fun.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:25 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


You're overstating the problem of induction by refusing the reasonable inference that after billions upon billions of entirely predictable interactions, it's significantly more likely that they will continue than they will cease.

There is no "overstating" the problem of induction. It's like being pregnant. You either are or you aren't. Billions and billions of entirely predictable interactions does not add one WHIT, not the tiniest iota, of credibility to induction, because such a move depends on assuming induction to begin with.
posted by shivohum at 12:26 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I can't believe all this loose interpretation of the gospel. Underwater fire monkeys are monkeys that are on fire underneath the water. End of story. If they aren't literal, I don't even see how I could go on living.
posted by perhapses at 12:27 PM on January 15


Is anyone familiar with Philosophy Now as a serious academic publication? Because I hope this isn't what passes for rigorous philosophical thought now. As others have pointed out many times in this thread, the whole thing is mostly just arguments that were last taken seriously centuries ago.

Suppose you were hiking through the forest and came upon a ball lying on the ground.
I thought it was supposed to be a watch.

When God created the physical universe He designed it in terms of the mathematical structure which He had in mind.
It would be a lot more convincing evidence of god if pi were an integer. Or at least rational.

God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.
Now that's just being insulting to atheists.

But the point that folks like Craig always miss is that "god exists" is a statement of fact. Facts aren't determined by debate, but by observation, experimentation, repeatable and verifiable evidence. If you think argument alone will result in some sort of proof of god's existence, then you are not even wrong.
posted by TedW at 12:33 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


In the Bible, it is written "blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe" or some such. If, for argument's sake, we accept God as being real, then perhaps it could be presumed that God would choose to leave no proof of His existence at all in order to give us the CHOICE to believe or not. After all, (and once again, just for argument's sake, let's assume the Adam and Eve thing was true) in Eden, Adam and Eve CHOSE to disobey God, which is why they were cast out. Therefore it would seem logical that God would want us to come to him by faith rather than proof. Proof gives us no choice, so it would be meaningless to God if we came to him that way, whereas if we came to Him purely out of faith, then it would be truly meaningful to Him.

Once again, I understand this line of reasoning isn't all that scholarly, but I think it makes some sense in giving a possible reason why we will never have proof of God's existence.
posted by Quasimike at 12:36 PM on January 15


Who's paying Craig to engage in this nonsense? Is he making money from books or appearance fees or something?
posted by The World Famous at 12:37 PM on January 15


Once again, I understand this line of reasoning isn't all that scholarly, but I think it makes some sense in giving a possible reason why we will never have proof of God's existence.

I have an alternative theory as to why we will never have proof of God's existence!
posted by Justinian at 12:47 PM on January 15 [9 favorites]


Kind of like "Friend of Dorothy" some decades ago, I think Atheists need some kind of code phrase.

"Excuse me, do you drink from Russell's Teapot?"
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:47 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]


"Do you swim with the underwater fire monkeys?"
posted by beau jackson at 12:51 PM on January 15 [4 favorites]


What does alt.atheism think about r/atheism?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:54 PM on January 15


What does alt.atheism think about r/atheism?

Wild guess here: 10/10. Would bang.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:01 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


The "everyone has faith" argument reminds me of the end of the film version of Life of Pi, in which, a mushy will to believe triumphs over a caricatured atheism. (What would Vonnegut do? Frame the entire thing around non-linear time travel to come at trauma and horror sideways.)

It's an argument that almost always starts and ends with the idea that atheisms are equally irrational/dogmatic/evangelistic compared to some flavor of monotheism, and not extended to the ideas that atheists might benefit from chaplaincy services, can be good role models in the BSA, can have moral values, or have good family relationships. (A shallow critique of Viz's research method of applying Freudianism to selective biographies of selected historical figures can be found here.) And hey, Sunday Assembly still gets called a "church" this month, although the press dropped the hyperbolic and inaccurate "mega." It's frequently coupled with a "anything but an atheist" ecumenicism which will appropriate Therevada of all things but keep atheists on the outside.

But no, I don't think my doubts are the same thing as my uncle's experience of transubstantiation or my friend's commitment to live orthodox. I don't know they're the same as each other, and rhetorical equivocation of it all as the same thing to put one over on us atheists (either via inclusion or exclusion) strikes me as arbitrarily flattening human experience for the sake of pushing the argument.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:03 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Just this: there are maybe 50 physical constants that make the universe possible; not just intelligent life, but matter, gravitation, solar systems, etc. There's no particular reason for those constants to be set at the point that they're set at: they could just as easily be a little higher or lower, and for the universe have failed to come into existence as the kind of thing that an support intelligent life.

I'm always surprised by these anthrocentric arguments. They tautologically raise our personal experience "intelligent life" as this great important thing and then marvel that we are so "lucky" that it happened.

Yet the core assumptions (that there is some state that differs us from rocks, plasma or whatever), and that there is consciousness and intelligence and all of that are only subjective assumptions.

But really, beyond what we tell ourselves about our experience, there's no evidence that those things have an objective existence.

Put another way, we are products of a phenomenon that repeats itself. The germ line is only a phenomenon that began repeating itself. But there are many such phenomena, stars, planets, galaxies, whatever. The only reason we highlight this one particular phenomena is because we are its product.

Simliarly, what we exalt as intelligence is just one means by which this phenomena repeats itself. Objectively, it is no different than long claws, or even the existence of fusion in the core of stars, it is one part of the phenomenon which makes its repetition possible.

And if this is true, why is it so special that these things exist. What makes these things seem "so lucky" is just the valuation of the elements of this phenomenon that make it repeat. And if that is no big deal, then its no big deal that constants in this universe allow for phenomena that repeat, making these arguments based on a subjective valuation not an objective amazing series of coincidences.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:09 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


shivohum, the problem of induction was solved by the scientific method. Inductive reasoning doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's combnied with deductive reasoning. Induction is simply making an assumption based on obsverations of reality (this is not a faith-based process). It would only be irrational at that point to suppose you are absolutely correct in this assumption and then refuse to follow up on it, or deny all further information.

You're clinging to a pre-modern view of knowledge; it's not an edifice that you can tear down by undermining the first floor. It is a process, a method, a scientific method, if you will, of updating old ideas with new information, challenging and willing to be challegened. We constantly through our assumptions through the filter of reality, and when we see what remains, we hone and improve our knowledge. We learn as much from "failure"- our inductive assumptions being proved wrong- as we do from being right the first time. If we accept that, we are being rational, not faith based.

You are overstating the problem, and you're ignorining the reality of modern thought. Disprovability is perhaps the most important concept to science; it's fine to go with what works as long as it doesn't slip into dogma. The basic axioms have been working for 3,000 years.
posted by spaltavian at 1:12 PM on January 15 [6 favorites]


I don't know they're the same as each other

That's kind of the big key, I think. The point is just, no one knows What It All Means, and everyone is at least sometimes a little bit interested in a clue (occasionally out of curiosity, more commonly out of emotional need). In that sense, our attempts to come up with ways to understand can be put under an umbrella, even though it's a pretty gigantic and misshapen umbrella.
posted by mdn at 1:14 PM on January 15


It's a fact that the earliest scriptural references to underwater fire monkeys were set down in a region known to have reddish-orange lemurs that foraged coastal wetlands at low tide, so it's worth bearing in mind that these so-called myths usually have some basis in reality.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:17 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Why do people write (and read and link to) these things?

Things like gods and souls are definitionally objects for which evidence can neither be presented for or against. If you can prove it, or present evidence that it's true or false, then it's not a god (or a soul or anything else in that vein).
posted by kavasa at 1:22 PM on January 15


Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!
posted by delfin at 1:24 PM on January 15 [12 favorites]


Things like gods and souls are definitionally objects for which evidence can neither be presented for or against. If you can prove it, or present evidence that it's true or false, then it's not a god (or a soul or anything else in that vein).
So gods can't prove that they themselves exist? Why not?
posted by Flunkie at 1:30 PM on January 15


Why do people write (and read and link to) these things?

At the risk of making a comment that more properly belongs in MetaTalk, I'm participating because I enjoy the topic, but to be honest I think the act of posting this on Metafilter by anyone who's been a member for more than a few weeks is, well, I'll be charitable and say more prankish than constructive in intent.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:31 PM on January 15


Why do people write (and read and link to) these things?

because they find it interesting or enjoy doing it or are paid to do it because other people find it interesting or enjoy it. For others, maybe it's even important to their worldview. Lots of reasons, really.
posted by Hoopo at 1:32 PM on January 15


Gods can't prove they exist because it would unleash the power of the underwater fire monkeys, and no one, no one, wants that.
posted by perhapses at 1:33 PM on January 15


Also, MegaGod, who created SuperGod.

GigaGod begat MegaGod.

TeraGod begat GigaGod.
Our Father in heaven, according to the Prophet, had a Father, and since there has been a condition of this kind through all eternity, each Father had a Father, until we come to a stop where we cannot go further, because of our limited capacity to understand.

—Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th president of the Church of the Latter-day Saints
posted by XMLicious at 1:34 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]



So gods can't prove that they themselves exist? Why not?


God knows.
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:40 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Induction is simply making an assumption based on obsverations of reality (this is not a faith-based process).

An assumption backed up by what, precisely? An assumption backed up by evidence the relevance of which depends on the assumption!

The basic axioms have been working for 3,000 years.

Which is relevant ONLY ON the assumption that the fact that something has worked -- call it the scientific method, a set of institutions, a "modern" form of knowledge, or whatever else you care to call it -- has a bearing on whether it will work in the future.

This, the question of bearing, IS the inductive assumption that is itself under dispute!
posted by shivohum at 1:40 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


—Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th president of the Church of the Latter-day Saints

Seriously, why in the hell do people omit "Jesus Christ" from the name of the LDS church like that so often? Where did you pull the quote from, and did it give the church's name that way?

That issue aside, yeah, when I read the MegaGod, SuperGod etc. comment, my immediate reaction was "yeah, so Mormonism, then?"

And with that, I'm a little surprised that a Joseph Fielding Smith quote was posted on MetaFilter and it wasn't something horribly racist or odious. Kudos!
posted by The World Famous at 1:45 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Uh oh. I've just realized something. If God is omnipotent, then it is within His power to exist in spite of any evidence to the contrary or lack of evidence in support.

Crap. I think I just converted myself.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:46 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


This, the question of bearing, IS the inductive assumption that is itself under dispute!

Now THIS. THIS is where we get into an argument that is too silly even for me.
posted by Hoopo at 1:48 PM on January 15


Then I saw her face -- now I'm a believer.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:49 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]


Seriously, why in the hell do people omit "Jesus Christ" from the name of the LDS church like that so often?

I've got the habit of doing so because the acronym is "LDS" instead of "JCLDS" but I'm entirely happy to change that habit if it's more proper. I only just noticed that "day" isn't capitalized when it's written out.
posted by XMLicious at 1:52 PM on January 15


Gods can't prove they exist because it would unleash the power of the underwater fire monkeys, and no one, no one, wants that.

If I had to choose between the existence of God or underwater fire monkeys, it would be monkeys all the way!

Though I'm an atheist, it's nothing against God, just that aquatic, flaming primates sound so damned cool!
posted by Bokmakierie at 1:55 PM on January 15


shivohum, if you have such severe doubts about the correctness of induction, would you care to make a bet on the date when a natural number n which is a counterexample to the equivalence
i = 1 to n i = n * (n+1) / 2
will be discovered? Whatever date you pick, I'll take the "over" (offer void if I typo'd the equation).
posted by jepler at 2:00 PM on January 15


If I had to choose between the existence of God or underwater fire monkeys, it would be monkeys all the way!

What if God is an underwater fire monkey? Betcha never thought of that.
posted by The World Famous at 2:01 PM on January 15


Later, when my wife asks what I did today, I have a feeling she is not going to be appropriately impressed when I tell her invented the phrase, "underwater fire monkeys."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:04 PM on January 15 [11 favorites]


there are maybe 50 physical constants that make the universe possible; not just intelligent life, but matter, gravitation, solar systems, etc. There's no particular reason for those constants to be set at the point that they're set at: they could just as easily be a little higher or lower, and for the universe have failed to come into existence as the kind of thing that an support intelligent life.

I've seen some guesses about the probabilities, and they're in the billions (and trillions) to one range.

So: why are the constants what they are? One possibility is that the nature of the universe is structured in terms of possible worlds, a "multiverse," so that each of the different possibilities is being tried, in the world next door, and next door to that, etc. So of course it looks like totally impossible odds that it would have worked out for us, but that's just the anthropic principle at work: of course we find ourselves in the universes where we are possible, and we don't see the ones where we're not.

But if you reject the reality of possible worlds (and I think it's a bit weird) then you have a problem: there's only one universe, and we're in it. And yet we seem to be improbably lucky that it worked out the way it did!


I have not read the whole thread and I assume there are probably several people here who have advanced degrees in philosophy, so I am quite surprised that nobody seems to have addressed this from a very basic philosophical perspective - I've performed a control+F search for "determinism" and found 0 results.

Strong determinism, or flavor of necessitarianism disposes of this with alacrity. In this scenario, we immediately deny that:

"There's no particular reason for those constants to be set at the point that they're set at: they could just as easily be a little higher or lower, and for the universe have failed to come into existence as the kind of thing that an support intelligent life"

arguing that yes there is a particular reason, and to posit otherwise is equivalent to saying, "well isn't it convenient that 1+1=2, because if it were anything else, for example 1+1=3, then blah."

Depending how strong the flavor of determinism, we could either then deny the mere possibility of multiverses, or absorb them altogether into determinism as in "whatever multiverses exist could not have not existed".

A prankster might claim that this argument rather resembles the "the possibility of god existing makes him exist", which might be worth a chuckle, except the difference being one that makes all the difference: this universe exists and is not posited, a claim that cannot be made for god, who remains posited in equal status to Russell's teapot (and so it goes in the opposite direction).

Now, from strong determinism it flows very quickly that everything is exactly as it is because it couldn't have been any other way, and that includes the origin of the universe.

Of course determinism has been explored in endless varieties through the ages, but its underlying strength is such that rather than being argued against, most philosophers found it more convenient to pass over it in silence. I've seen this in action when I was pursuing my phil degree at the uni, to comic effect. I'd bring it into the mix and the first response would be some weak and irrelevant argument from quantum physics and the latest cosmology, and when that "argument" was disposed of, there'd be the same attitude as if you'd enter a hobby room dedicated to Tolkien's creations and attempted to point out logical problems with Tolkien's world, i.e. the response would be "oh, come on, we have to drop that particular line of attack, because otherwise our imaginary Tolkien world could not be discussed, and where would be the fun in that?". So for the sake of pursuing other areas of philosophy, we just assume strong determinism to be outside of the bounds of discussion, so we can get on with our fun.

The interesting part of course is in tackling determinism head on, and as always in such cases, you can spend the rest of your academic career just working in one small part of that field.

Be that as it may, a simple way out is to ask - so what are the alternatives to determinism in its strongest flavor? Platonic randomness at every instant? Even that won't work, when we fold in the most basic laws of logic, such as identity a=a into the deterministic schema. And determinism has one powerful, indeed overwhelming advantage: the world around us exists and to even speak of it, think, reason, discuss or perceive, we have no choice but obey such fundamental rules.
posted by VikingSword at 2:04 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Have you ever looked at modus ponens? I mean, really looked at it?
posted by Flunkie at 2:05 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I have not read the whole thread and I assume there are probably several people here who have advanced degrees in philosophy, so I am quite surprised that nobody seems to have addressed this from a very basic philosophical perspective

Metafilter seems to have evolved to the point where we no longer waste energy repeating and arguing over all that stuff over and over again - which is refreshing. Maybe it's just me, but it really seems like there's been a gradual change for the better on the site in that regard.
posted by The World Famous at 2:07 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Now THIS. THIS is where we get into an argument that is too silly even for me.

Why? It doesn't mean we reject induction. It just means we recognize that we accept it without evidence - at least not scientific evidence. It falls into the same category as our belief in the veracity of our memory.

if you have such severe doubts about the correctness of induction

I don't have significant doubts about the correctness of induction. But I recognize that my lack of doubt is not and cannot be supported by the fact that induction has worked before. Rather, humans are simply psychologically so constituted as to find induction intuitively plausible. It is, in other words, not empirical evidence that supports induction but ultimately a kind of gut feeling, perhaps elaborated upon by philosophical argument.
posted by shivohum at 2:08 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


DirtyOldTown, you no longer need a wife. You are a prophet. Spread the word far and wide. I will follow you, as will many others.
posted by perhapses at 2:08 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


DirtyOldTown, you no longer need a wife. You are a prophet.

Or take more wives. Your option.
posted by The World Famous at 2:10 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]


An assumption backed up by what, precisely?

Sensory perception; you know, evidence. Not always great evidence, but that's where you start. Then we improve with science.

An assumption backed up by evidence the relevance of which depends on the assumption!

No it's not. Once again, we combine this with the scientific process. If I see a piece of wood burn, I might conclude that another piece of wood will burn. Your argument is that If try to light a fire with it, I'm using faith. However, I won't freeze to death because I know you're wrong: I'll test my assumption by trying to burn it, and then I'll be deductively confirmed in my assumption, and I'm warm!

Observation, theory, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion.

I get you're going full sophist here, and you'll question how do I know that's even a piece of wood, how do you even know it's cold, how do you know you are even you? But again, these are all assuptions that get tested in reality all the time. If you have evidence (bong hits) that I am not me, present it, but I'll roll with the evidence of me using the concept of "me" as evidence that I am me for now. It's a workable model of reality.

Again, knowledge is a model. We make an assumption, the only way to validate it is experimentally (formally or informally). Your'e demanding a full provenance of every synaptic signal before we just go ahead and find out if something is right or not.
posted by spaltavian at 2:10 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Metafilter seems to have evolved to the point where we no longer waste energy repeating and arguing over all that stuff over and over again - which is refreshing.

Evolved exactly as the OP subject has evolved - by bringing up old arguments long since debunked as if they were the fresh and "refreshing" thing not seen before; ignore the counterargument as if it's never been made. How refreshing! It's like that stage of political arguments at the Thanksgiving table, when the crazy uncle is now old enough to forget what was said last time around and pulls out the same old talking points dismantled ten years ago, and takes heart from the fact that he's no longer contradicted by the rest of the weary party.

Actually I don't think Metafilter has evolved one way or another in this respect, there are some new people and some old people drifted away, but it's more or less the same. Whether that's refreshing or not, I suppose depends on one's perspective.
posted by VikingSword at 2:14 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Huh. I guess I've been assuming that about 98% of this thread is tongue-in-cheek.
posted by The World Famous at 2:17 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


You have to love how these guys always assume it's the God of the Bible that they are proving exists
posted by thelonius at 2:19 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


I'll test my assumption by trying to burn it, and they I'll be deductively confirmed my assumption, and I'm warm.

You can test it, but the question is what the meaning of the test is.

Suppose the wood burns.

In order for that to be relevant to the next time you try to burn the wood, you have to posit that there are physical laws that repeat in an orderly pattern, such that the fact that it burned today is relevant to the fact that it will burn tomorrow. Because obviously if the laws of physics changed every day, your test today would be meaningless as regards tomorrow.

That assumption of an orderly, repetitive relationship between past and future physics is necessary, or your test is meaningless.

Yet how would we know that the laws of physics aren't going to change tomorrow?

"Because, of course, they haven't! We've tested them over and over for millenia!"

But how would we know what the meaning of such a test is? In order for the fact that we'd tested them for millenia to be relevant to the next time you tested them, you have to posit that...there are physical laws that repeat in an orderly pattern, such that the fact that they'd been orderly for millenia is relevant to the fact that they'll continue to be orderly.

We'd be in the same position as with the fire, only this time, we're trying to prove thing we'd need to make our test valid. Which we can't do.
posted by shivohum at 2:23 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


This thesis . . . proves the existence of God
His creator, SuperGod.
  Also, MegaGod, who created SuperGod.
        GigaGod begat MegaGod.
            TeraGod begat GigaGod.


You know, as with so many ideas, the ancient Greeks were there first.

The revered the Olympians, led by Zeus.

But where did Zeus come from?

He was the son of Cronus, King of the Titans, of course

But where did Cronus come from?

He was the son of Uranus, Ruler of the universe, of course.

But where did Uranus come from?

He was the son of Aether, one of the First-Born Elementals, of course.

But where did Aether come from?

He was the son of Erebus, His Darkness, of course.

But where did Erebus come from?

He was the son of Chaos, first of the Primordials, of course.

But where did Chaos come from?

Zizz is Kaos, Shtarker! Ve do not do "recursion" here!
 
posted by Herodios at 2:27 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


It seems very important for people to convince other people to believe what they do, or don't believe.
posted by walrus at 2:28 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


I guess I've been assuming that about 98% of this thread is tongue-in-cheek.

Always assume maximum tongue.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:43 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


The primordial gods are depicted as a place or a realm. The best example is Tartarus who is depicted as the Underworld, Hell, and a bottomless abyss. His sibling Erebus is also depicted as a place of darkness, pitch-black or a vast emptiness of space.

Their mother, Chaos is depicted as an empty void.


That almost sounds like the Greeks were miraculously predicting modern scientific discoveries, if not for the fact that the universe prior to the Big Bang was supposed to be the complete opposite of space as we currently know it.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:47 PM on January 15


Apocryphon: That almost sounds like the Greeks were miraculously predicting modern scientific discoveries, if not for the fact that the universe prior to the Big Bang was supposed to be the complete opposite of space as we currently know it.

Actually, the universe wasn't supposed to have existed before the Big Bang. According to most theories, there is no before the Big Bang. Time is a local feature of this universe, and it started at the Big Bang.

One might argue that there is an *outside* beyond the Big Bang in which something could have caused the Big Bang to occur, but really we have no idea at all. Plus, time is a feature of our universe, so understanding how change or causation could occur *outside* of the time and space we know is kind of hard to think about.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:57 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


One thing that seems certain; considering the vastness and longevity of the universe, we must be almost entirely insignificant to the plans of any divine creator.
posted by walrus at 3:00 PM on January 15


No, considering the vastness and longevity of the universe, I have to assume that the entire thing was designed just so I can achieve my full potential. Sadly, this is pretty much my full potential.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:02 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]


One thing that seems certain; considering the vastness and longevity of the universe, we must be almost entirely insignificant to the plans of any divine creator.

Not necessarily! In addition to being omniscient and omnipotent he could be omninosy, omnifussy and omnibossy.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:04 PM on January 15 [8 favorites]


Well, it's a start.
posted by walrus at 3:04 PM on January 15


You can test it, but the question is what the meaning of the test is.

That's not the question at all, because we've already gone over the scientific method. You can even learn things through flawed tests. Columbus' voyage was a flawed experiment to get to Asia, it still increased our knowledge of the world.

In order for that to be relevant to the next time you try to burn the wood, you have to posit that there are physical laws that repeat in an orderly pattern, such that the fact that it burned today is relevant to the fact that it will burn tomorrow

As I said, assumptions based on evidence that we keep testing. The base assumption you're challenging here, you're "gotcha" is the assertion that like things behave alike. But this too is an assumption based on evidence, not an article of faith. When it's wrong, it's usually because we were not accurate in saying two things were alike!

That assumption of an orderly, repetitive relationship between past and future physics is necessary, or your test is meaningless.

This is just sophism again. If the wood doesn't burn then I need to refine my theory about wood burning (huh, I guess it doesn't work if it's wet).

Yet how would we know that the laws of physics aren't going to change tomorrow?

The laws of physics have changed; before the four forces split everything worked differently. Yet, we've got pretty good models to recombine three of the forces despite not even being smart enough to have flying cars. You're really not throwing up insurmoutable challenges here.

But how would we know what the meaning of such a test is?

We know what the test says about our model of the universe. All knowledge is a model that we improve upon. You're confusing the map for the territory.

In order for the fact that we'd tested them for millenia to be relevant to the next time you tested them, you have to posit that...there are physical laws that repeat in an orderly pattern, such that the fact that they'd been orderly for millenia is relevant to the fact that they'll continue to be orderly.

Yes, this is precisely the kind of model we develop based upon tested evidence. This is reason, not faith. We had Newton's model. It worked as far as we knew. Then we found places it didn't work and then we had Einstein's model. When we found out some tricky things about light, did we go "Newton was wrong, nothing is real!"?. No, we refined Newton. We are modeling laws, the rational person changes their model with new evidence, this is what we're doing with Einstein's model know. This is what thought experiement me is doing with the wet log.
posted by spaltavian at 3:08 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]


In addition to being omniscient and omnipotent he could be omninosy, omnifussy and omnibossy.

But not seemingly omni-anything enough to make very efficient use of the whole shebang.
posted by walrus at 3:08 PM on January 15


Damn omnislacker.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:10 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


But not seemingly omni-anything enough to make very efficient use of the whole shebang.

He may be omnipotent, but he's no William Hung.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:11 PM on January 15


You have to love how these guys always assume it's the God of the Bible that they are proving exists

Or try to imagine Craig's response if you were to say, "you have convinced me, and after careful study and seeking the wise counsel of many faith leaders I have renounced Atheism and converted to Islam."
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:22 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


shivohum, are you claiming that the faith that we all have in induction is the same faith the some people have in, for example, a supreme being? Because it seems that faith is really a decision that we make and we don't make it without thought. Our thinking behind the decision to believe in induction seems quite different than the thinking we use to believe in supernatural things. (which isn't to say that some people don't decide to believe based on their interpretation of repeated answers to prayer, for example)
posted by sineater at 3:25 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


So gods can't prove that they themselves exist? Why not?
Because they exist outside of time and space, a quality which is inherently impossible to prove or disprove, or even present evidence for or against. You can't use tools within a universe to prove that something beyond it is or is not.
posted by kavasa at 3:27 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


There is no is or is not. There is only try.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:35 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Always emotion is the future.
posted by The World Famous at 3:37 PM on January 15


Because they exist outside of time and space

but also within both. It's complicated.
posted by Hoopo at 3:38 PM on January 15


If there exists a God capable of speaking to human beings in an understandable way, surely He could also write "RICHARD DAWKINS IS A DOUCHEBAG" in flaming letters across the sky, or something.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:42 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


I'm reluctant to believe in one or more gods who commune with their believers and tell them: "I exist! Spread the word!" but then spend the rest of the time hiding in the cupboard, rather than scattering about flaming tablets and uncreating guinea worm. It seems a bit capricious.

On the plus side for believers, I think we're approaching a critical mass of Russian dashcams and will soon catch some demigod/angel seducing a pretty shepherdess or getting sucked into a jet engine.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:46 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]


surely He could also write "RICHARD DAWKINS IS A DOUCHEBAG"

Or at the very least done something about Aleister Crowley. The guy made it to 72!
posted by Hoopo at 3:48 PM on January 15


Maybe Richard Dawkins wants to be a nice guy but god makes him act like a douchebag.
posted by perhapses at 3:49 PM on January 15


"There is no "overstating" the problem of induction. It's like being pregnant. You either are or you aren't. Billions and billions of entirely predictable interactions does not add one WHIT, not the tiniest iota, of credibility to induction, because such a move depends on assuming induction to begin with.

Bullshit. You walk through any walls lately? Get up, run right at the closest wall. Full speed. I'll wait. I mean, you can't prove that you won't pass through it unscathed, so it's just superstition that keeps you from trying it out.

The best part? After you run into that wall at full speed, you still can't "prove" that it won't happen again. Keep running into that wall until you are ready to believe that induction is reasonable.

The problem of induction is a difficult one, philosophically. In day to day life, it has very little impact.

To put it another way, one of the ways to deduce is to assume a premise is true, then see if it is consistent with everything else we know. It may be shown to be wrong in the future, but at that point, we can examine it again. At this point — after billions upon billions of interactions — induction is entirely consistent with objective experience.

Finally, what do you expect to prove? That induction is faith and God is faith so they're equivalent? But God is pointedly not supported by any real evidence, but rather what end up being the spherical cows of theology. Likewise, not a single one of the "proofs" offered by the FPP can function without inductive reasoning.

The problem of induction is a good one for exposing the limits of pure reason and abstraction. However, it is a rather terrible one for making a case about atheism. It's a case that I've tried to make before, and was pretty well overstating the problem of induction, similar to how you are now. I only hope that you can similarly recognize how finding a speck of sand in the ocean does not mean you're standing on dry land.
posted by klangklangston at 3:49 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


you're "gotcha" is the assertion that like things behave alike. But this too is an assumption based on evidence, not an article of faith.

You can't test it unless you assume that the test you made just is repeatable.

Look, I'm clearly not communicating the problem adequately to you. It's a problem that has been taken very seriously for centuries by philosophers of all stripes and let me tell you that "test it" is not a logically possible response. Maybe try looking at the wiki page and see if that clarifies things?

If the wood doesn't burn then I need to refine my theory about wood burning (huh, I guess it doesn't work if it's wet).

Nope, that's still not the issue. How do you know that the law of friction won't be repealed tomorrow for a random 30 seconds just for your stick of wood and then go back into effect? And maybe you'll blame the wetness of the wood when in fact it was that random event?

This is the kind of thing that induction assumes away.
--
Our thinking behind the decision to believe in induction seems quite different than the thinking we use to believe in supernatural things. (which isn't to say that some people don't decide to believe based on their interpretation of repeated answers to prayer, for example)

Well, the fact that induction has worked can't be the reason people believe in induction, since that reasoning is already inductive.

People believe in induction for psychological reasons. They also believe in God and many other things for psychological reasons, though not necessarily the same ones.

Now if we classify induction, God, and other beliefs of this type as "metaphysical," we'll understand that they're all a matter of appeals to intuition. Arguments can and should be made about them, but they are not scientific arguments but philosophical ones.
--
To put it another way, one of the ways to deduce is to assume a premise is true, then see if it is consistent with everything else we know. It may be shown to be wrong in the future, but at that point, we can examine it again.

This statement shows you don't actually understand the problem. Consistency with other experience is itself an inductive argument.
posted by shivohum at 3:57 PM on January 15


Get up, run right at the closest wall. Full speed. I'll wait. I mean, you can't prove that you won't pass through it unscathed, so it's just superstition that keeps you from trying it out.

I just tried it and passed through the wall unscathed. But 10 minutes ago, I took a massive dose of LSD and Cortexiphan, so that might have had something to do with it.
posted by The World Famous at 3:58 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


You can't know that for sure, though!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:06 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Could you make this reasoning explicit?

Just this: there are maybe 50 physical constants that make the universe possible; not just intelligent life, but matter, gravitation, solar systems, etc. There's no particular reason for those constants to be set at the point that they're set at: they could just as easily be a little higher or lower, and for the universe have failed to come into existence as the kind of thing that an support intelligent life.

I've seen some guesses about the probabilities, and they're in the billions (and trillions) to one range.

So: why are the constants what they are? One possibility is that the nature of the universe is structured in terms of possible worlds, a "multiverse," so that each of the different possibilities is being tried, in the world next door, and next door to that, etc. So of course it looks like totally impossible odds that it would have worked out for us, but that's just the anthropic principle at work: of course we find ourselves in the universes where we are possible, and we don't see the ones where we're not.

But if you reject the reality of possible worlds (and I think it's a bit weird) then you have a problem: there's only one universe, and we're in it. And yet we seem to be improbably lucky that it worked out the way it did!


anthropanacea, if you haven't already looked through the related topics in this post from yesterday, you may get something out of it. There are oversimplifications in the assumptions used in the average criticism of fine tuned universe problems, and the first response from theoretical physicist Andrei Linde mentions a big one (I'm not going to quote his whole block of text here, but it's a quick read at the top of the last link). In brief, though, the plea is for scientists to drop the uniformity assumptions until there's evidence to do so.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:06 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


shivohum, if you know that much about induction you should also know that (for example) Popper makes a good argument that you're wrong.
posted by Justinian at 4:11 PM on January 15


If there exists a God capable of speaking to human beings in an understandable way, surely He could also write "RICHARD DAWKINS IS A DOUCHEBAG" in flaming letters across the sky, or something.

"God never wrought miracle, to convince [refute] atheism, because his ordinary works convince [refute] it." - Francis Bacon
posted by Apocryphon at 4:13 PM on January 15


"I just tried it and passed through the wall unscathed. But 10 minutes ago, I took a massive dose of LSD and Cortexiphan, so that might have had something to do with it."

Walter?
posted by klangklangston at 4:18 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


shivohum, if you know that much about induction you should also know that (for example) Popper makes a good argument that you're wrong.

I don't really see how his argument works for that purpose. Even if science is all about "disproving" rather than proving things, the question is whether the tested-but-not-disproven theories should then be trusted to predict anything. If they should be, on what basis if not induction?

My understanding, though of course this is an appeal to authority, is that most modern-day philosophers of science don't find Popper's response a real solution to the problem.
posted by shivohum at 4:19 PM on January 15


Walter?

Roscoe Joyce.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:25 PM on January 15


This statement shows you don't actually understand the problem. Consistency with other experience is itself an inductive argument.

It's not a problem in any sense than trying to establish some sort of philosophical absolute truth, which is not required or possible in pretty much all cases. If there is no evidence of any other outcome than that which has been experienced, observed, and repeated with consistency, then it is reasonable to expect that is the usual outcome of a causal relationship. If there are cases where something different inexplicably happens? Then we challenge our assumptions, change them, adapt them based on further observation and testing until we get something that is consistent with what is observable. This is a built-in feature of the scientific method. It does not claim to produce absolute truth. It's predictive ability is a matter of probability, and this is acknowledged.

People believe in induction for psychological reasons

No, it's for practical reasons. So we don't need to rethink the nature of the universe and existence from scratch every time we wake up in the morning. I don't need to question that causal relationships exist and that allows me to take specific intentional steps toward getting a desired and predictable result. Experience tells me things behave in a certain way and react to certain inputs or actions on my part, like turning the faucet to get water to come out. Because we observed how water behaves and based on our conclusions we are now able to reliably manipulate its behaviour to such a degree we're able to get it to come from a reservoir miles away and pour out of a faucet on the 18th floor of a building on demand.
posted by Hoopo at 4:25 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


The World Famous: "I took a massive dose of LSD and Cortexiphan"

Cortexiphan is the extremely rare and rather poorly understood crystalline substance left behind by the evaporation under moon light of the distilled tears of Metafilter moderators.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:41 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


"I don't really see how his argument works for that purpose. Even if science is all about "disproving" rather than proving things, the question is whether the tested-but-not-disproven theories should then be trusted to predict anything. If they should be, on what basis if not induction?"

While hard falsifiability has been largely abandoned, the answer is pretty simple: Because they have not been disproven, and since the goal would be to iterate future opportunities for falsifiability, then they should be trusted to either conform with future results or be disproven. The problem of induction would halt us from abstractly deciding that A is true; it would not prevent us from deciding that A is not false in this instance and testing it again in another instance.

But again, none of the problem of induction predicts a God; it might as well just predict solipsism.
posted by klangklangston at 4:41 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


it might as well just predict solipsism.

Don't tempt it.
posted by The World Famous at 4:44 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


It does not claim to produce absolute truth. It's predictive ability is a matter of probability, and this is acknowledged.

Forget absolute truth, you can't even get to probability without induction. To believe that science will be of even the slightest help in any affair of life has no evidence to support it. It is completely and purely a matter of our arational inclinations, our will-to-believe. This is also true of the fact that we think it is "practical" to believe in science. We only think that because we think science works, at least to some extent. Again, we have no evidence for that.

--

The problem of induction would halt us from abstractly deciding that A is true; it would not prevent us from deciding that A is not false in this instance and testing it again in another instance.

Come to think of it, I don't see why it should even do that. Without induction, how can you assume that the theory that fails now will fail tomorrow?

But again, none of the problem of induction predicts a God; it might as well just predict solipsism.

It doesn't predict a God. What it does do is highlight a class of beliefs that are necessary but cannot be proven scientifically. They can be argued about only through appeals to intuition. Belief in God is one such belief. To claim that it has no scientific evidence for it is, therefore, irrelevant.

But even intuitive beliefs can be more or less justified -- some more than others -- through philosophical argument.

Now IS induction more clearly justified than a belief in God, if not by scientific evidence, then by something else? Perhaps, but it's quite difficult to say just what this might be.
posted by shivohum at 4:53 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


it might as well just predict solipsism.

Don't tempt it.


Nobody predicts the Sophist Solipsism!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:54 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


I like how the argument has morphed from "His arguments justify belief in a transcendental, non-physical grounding of the physical universe" to "Well we don't really know anything, man"
posted by Flunkie at 4:56 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Forget absolute truth, you can't even get to probability without induction

Indeed. That is not a problem.

To believe that science will be of even the slightest help in any affair of life has no evidence to support it

What is it you think evidence is, anyway?
posted by Hoopo at 5:00 PM on January 15


Stuff in the Bible.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:08 PM on January 15


IS induction more clearly justified than a belief in God, if not by scientific evidence, then by something else? Perhaps, but it's quite difficult to say just how this might be

No it isn't. It's easy. Induction is more clearly justified than a belief in God because whether induction constitutes "proof" by your definition or not, it still describes the universe in a manner allowing for predictions that can be used to walk, talk, drink, eat, reproduce, and make complex things that work more or less exactly according to those predictions. God, on the other hand, continues to provide no useful predictive value with a result better than chance. His existence is strictly hearsay, and is, quite frankly, not terribly useful. Some people claim some moral usefulness, but the history is full of counter examples on that score, as well. So induction: it's what's for dinner.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:11 PM on January 15 [9 favorites]


What is it you think evidence is, anyway?

Stuff in the Bible.


I always hide evidence in the Bible. It's the last place they'll look.
posted by The World Famous at 5:15 PM on January 15 [9 favorites]


Induction is more clearly justified than a belief in God because whether induction constitutes "proof" by your definition or not, it still describes the universe in a manner allowing for predictions that can be used to walk, talk, drink, eat, reproduce, and make complex things that work more or less exactly according to those predictions. God, on the other hand, continues to provide no useful predictive value with a result better than chance. His existence is strictly hearsay, and is, quite frankly, not terribly useful.

BRYAN: Yes, sir. And let me add, one miracle is just as easy to believe as another.

DARROW: It is for me.

BRYAN: It is for me, too.

DARROW: Just as hard?

BRYAN: It is hard to believe for you, but easy for me. A miracle is a thing performed beyond what man can perform. When you get beyond what man can do, you get within the realms of miracles; and it is just as easy to believe the miracle of Jonah as any other miracle in the Bible.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:28 PM on January 15


What is it you think evidence is, anyway?

Well the way I was using it up there was "empirical evidence," i.e. scientific evidence. Of course induction can't have any because you need to accept induction to do science in the first place.

--

it still describes the universe in a manner allowing for predictions that can be used to walk, talk, drink, eat, reproduce, and make complex things

That's assuming it works, which begs the question.

A Christian could just as easily say that a belief in God is supremely useful, since it allows one to obtain heaven and avoid hell, periods of infinite pleasure and pain respectively. But that's only IF the Christian God exists, right? Same deal here. Induction does all these cool things IF it's true. But what non-inductive reason do we have to believe it is?

The question is: if we couldn't consider the fact that induction has appeared to work (since that makes use of the very inductive reasoning we're trying to justify), is there something else that would give it superior intuitive justification over a belief like that in God? That's the question to which the answer is difficult.
posted by shivohum at 5:37 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go back and actually read this thread for funsies, but.

First impressions: the article's 8 bullet points explaining why god is a necessary explanation for X are ridiculous.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:38 PM on January 15


Well the way I was using it up there was "empirical evidence," i.e. scientific evidence

So you think there is no scientific evidence to suggest science has any application to life. No empirical evidence exists of its predictive value.
posted by Hoopo at 5:51 PM on January 15


"To believe that science will be of even the slightest help in any affair of life has no evidence to support it. It is completely and purely a matter of our arational inclinations, our will-to-believe. This is also true of the fact that we think it is "practical" to believe in science. We only think that because we think science works, at least to some extent. Again, we have no evidence for that."

Bullshit. This requires a tortured view of epistemology and conflates logical proof with practical experience. The only way to support this is a hyper-radical skepticism that is indistinguishable from solipsism. And that induction cannot be proven does not mean that everything from it is arational or irrational, nor does it come from an ill-defined "will-to-believe." Again, run full speed into a wall and tell me whether it's your "will-to-believe" that stops you, or if the wall might actually have some objective existence.

We have a lot of solid evidence for science and the material world functioning in a pretty predictable way. To argue otherwise is to use an overly narrow definition for "evidence," based on an abstraction that does not comport with the physical world. And at the very least for the freshman bong session you're counterfeiting for philosophy, add in the Godel incompleteness theorem.
posted by klangklangston at 5:58 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


The question is: if we couldn't consider the fact that induction has appeared to work (since that makes use of the very inductive reasoning we're trying to justify), is there something else that would give it superior intuitive justification over a belief like that in God?

Inductive reasoning doesn't require inductive reasoning to support itself. The fact that induction appears to work is why we find it useful as a tool in the first place. That's just one order of induction. If we remove the "because it appears to work part", you're just saying, don't use induction in your empirical proofs at all; which is to say, please disregard the evidence part of your logical proof. So, yeah - once we throw out the evidence part, you're right - God is as "reasonable" a proposition as absolutely anything else you want to propose sans reason, and we're back to underwater fire monkeys.

The real problem is, the argument for God also requires induction, because the argument for God is an appeal to authority based on belief in a continuity of narrative. We believe in God because we were told about God by people we trust, and we believe we see evidence to support that continued trust and belief.

Which, of course, shows that specific inductive reasoning can certainly be based on faulty assumptions. But that doesn't mean we can simply disregard inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is literally how we function.

And now - I have to leave. Because induction tells me I still have to drive home.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:30 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]


So you think there is no scientific evidence to suggest science has any application to life. No empirical evidence exists of its predictive value.

No non-inductive evidence. And that's the point. We're trying to justify induction.
posted by shivohum at 6:43 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Inductive reasoning is literally how we function.

Yes, I know. That doesn't mean that we have good reason to function that way.
posted by shivohum at 6:44 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Induction is justified by it's applicability; I'm not sure how many different ways there are to say that.

We have a good reason to function that way because we actually do successfully function that way. Try to operate without it- soon, all your theories will fail, because acorns won't grow into crabs, rocks won't float in air and making random noises will not carry the same meaning as English. There is nothing to support not using it, and evidence to support using it. We can go back infinitely on this if you want, the underlying basis is the assertion is that there is existence.

If I solve an algebra equation by guessing the value for x; I can still go back and use that result to then figure out how to do it deductively. That's not faith; it's trial and error, which is essentially the informal scientific method.

I know you've latched onto this as some silver bullet argument, but you haven't advanced it at all despite the counter-arguments. It's really not that meaningful or challenging a question.
posted by spaltavian at 6:56 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Well, and again, it's profoundly silly to insist that because induction can't formally be proven without the circular use of induction, that means logic and rationality are irredeemably flawed, all in the same breath as posting this ridiculous question-begging claptrap masquerading as an argument. If the problem of induction really bothers you that much, then focus on these theological pseudoproofs, as they're much, much worse with it.
posted by klangklangston at 7:02 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Induction is justified by it's applicability; I'm not sure how many different ways there are to say that.

And to prove applicability, you need to use induction. And that's a circular argument. I'm not sure how many different ways there are to say that.

I know you've latched onto this as some silver bullet argument

This isn't some nutty way of proving the existence of god that shivohum has come up with. This is a basic philosophical point that you won't find many philosophers disagreeing with (and one that doesn't necessarily bear directly on the arguments for the existence of god, so it's maybe a bit of a derail). There's a reason why philosophers have pretty much given up on using induction as the basis of philosophy of science.

shivohum, if you know that much about induction you should also know that (for example) Popper makes a good argument that you're wrong.

Actually (leaving aside for the moment that Popper is pretty much out of favor in philosophy of science these days), I think Popper would have agreed with shivohum. One of the reasons that Popper came up with his falsifiability criterion was that induction didn't work as a basis for science. To oversimplify greatly, Popper's idea was that it didn't matter how you came up with your scientific theory (you could use induction, you could use time cube, whatever), what mattered is what you did with it afterwards -- you needeed to try to falsify it, and then you needed to give it up if it ever was actually falsified.
posted by klausness at 7:08 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


If I can just inject a pause here for a point of order, once we've worked out whether Yaweh exists, we've still got the rest of the Canaanite pantheon to work through so I suggest we move it along. For reasons of time should we lump them all together or take them on one at a time? Or if we're going to give priority to modern belief do we want to take on the Hindu pantheon first?
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:08 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Hold on! Yaweh?!?!? No no no no no. I thought we were talking about Tlaloc this whole time. Start over!!
posted by The World Famous at 7:12 PM on January 15


Induction is justified by it's applicability; I'm not sure how many different ways there are to say that.

And I'm not sure how many ways there are to say that as a matter of logic, that fails.

If you want to say "I don't care, I'm a practical person, logic in my philosophy doesn't matter to me," that's fine of course.
posted by shivohum at 7:16 PM on January 15


I don't think one can argue logically that logic isn't logical.
posted by empath at 7:31 PM on January 15 [4 favorites]


I believe the currently in vogue position of logicians and mathematicians about the basis of their work is that logic and math are simply a kind of game -- manipulating symbols according to rules. That they ever reflect reality is an empirical observation, not something that's essentially important to the process of doing math or logic. And in fact it's perfectly possible to construct consistent logical or mathematical systems which have no seeming relationship to reality at all.

One can attempt to construct a game or system that models reality, but it may or may not actually describe reality, and certainly a chain of inductive logic starting from empirically observed facts doesn't prove anything. One has to check with experiment that it matches. And even then you haven't proved that your logic is correct, only that it appears to match reality for now.
posted by empath at 7:53 PM on January 15


anotherpanacea: "it does seem like a violation of basic Bayeseanism to explain the existence of the universe by mere chance."

I am an atheist, and do not feel a particular need to explain the existence of the universe. I leave that to those most qualified to answer such questions: cosmologists.

Southern Reformed Cosmologists.

But seriously: the old "Oh yeah? Then how can you explain ___?! Huh?" canard isn't exactly an especially solid argument for a Sky-Father.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:10 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Southern Reformed Cosmologists.

The South's gonna RISE AGIN!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:13 PM on January 15


Debaser626: "What is irrefutable, is that all people, regardless of their belief, must exercise a certain faith in their conclusion of God's existence (or non-existence) as the basis of their convictions.

So, all of us have faith. Whether that is a faith in a God, or a faith that there is no God.
"

Even though you claim to not believe in people who are unsure, they exist.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:13 PM on January 15


"And to prove applicability, you need to use induction. And that's a circular argument. I'm not sure how many different ways there are to say that."

And to use math or logic, you have to take as axiomatic unprovable, unfalsifiable concepts.

"This isn't some nutty way of proving the existence of god that shivohum has come up with. This is a basic philosophical point that you won't find many philosophers disagreeing with (and one that doesn't necessarily bear directly on the arguments for the existence of god, so it's maybe a bit of a derail). There's a reason why philosophers have pretty much given up on using induction as the basis of philosophy of science."

Right. However, it is reasonable to conduct one's life and one's science and even one's reason as if induction works and is functional. Further, the idea that there is no evidence for induction is pretty clearly false — there's no evidence for induction as a first principle that's not circular, however there's a tremendous amount of evidence for both the utility and predictability of induction, c.f. pretty much all science everywhere.

And finally, shivohum is overstating the problem of induction, in that it does not, in fact, keep us from doing meaningful science or investigation into the universe — I cite the computer in front of you for that. It shows us the limit of abstract logic; it does not falsify science.
posted by klangklangston at 8:13 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Right. However, it is reasonable to conduct one's life and one's science and even one's reason as if induction works and is functional.

Yeah, this is more of a probability thing. Shivohum wants metaphysical certainty, and science doesn't offer that.
posted by empath at 8:36 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


If god didn't exist, could we have these action figures?
(sadly, no underwater fire monkey)
posted by The pets.com Mascot at 8:36 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


there's no evidence for induction as a first principle that's not circular, however there's a tremendous amount of evidence for both the utility and predictability of induction, c.f. pretty much all science everywhere.

There's no argument for Holy Book X being infallible that's not circular, however there's a tremendous amount of evidence for both the utility and predictability of Holy Book X, c.f. the knowledge of the creation of all existence, the ability to avoid hell and enter heaven through the right actions, etc.

Oh wait, you say, what's the evidence Holy Book X does these things? PLENTY of evidence -- once you're willing to accept this one little first principle -- an evidentiary principle -- which cannot be justified except circularly. Using that principle, all this amazing evidence of the utility of that principle follows!

And finally, shivohum is overstating the problem of induction, in that it does not, in fact, keep us from doing meaningful science or investigation into the universe

I never said that. What I said was that the problem of induction highlight[s] a class of beliefs that are necessary but cannot be proven scientifically. They can be argued about only through appeals to intuition.

--

Yeah, this is more of a probability thing. Shivohum wants metaphysical certainty, and science doesn't offer that.

Unfortunately, you can't even get to probability on a metaphysical footing. Even ascribing a mere likelihood to science being right is based on ungrounded assumption...
posted by shivohum at 8:50 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


shivohum: If you actually believed what you were arguing you would be completely incapable of functioning and living your life. You would be paralyzed with fear that if you stepped outside your door you might fly up into space and asphyxiate. You would fear that your bottled water might have spontaneously turned into arsenic. Hell, you'd be frantic that at any moment your heart might melt and a giant strawberry would take its place and you'd die instantly.

You clearly are functional so you must not actually believe what you're arguing except possibly in a "WHAT IF WE'RE ACTUALLY IN THE MATRIX RIGHT NOW?" kind of way. Except less plausible since it's a lot more likely we're in a simulation than that we've just been really, really lucky that induction has proven to work out so far.
posted by Justinian at 8:51 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


Oh for gods sake, you're betting on science being right every time you flip a light switch and turn the key in your car's ignition or open your refrigerator or... gah.
posted by Justinian at 8:53 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Apart from everything else, if you abandon the concept of cause and effect, that is the very opposite of an argument for a First Cause.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:54 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


If you actually believed what you were arguing you would be completely incapable of functioning and living your life.

That's a logical leap. Recognizing that some of my core beliefs may be hard or impossible to justify does not mean that I would choose not to hold them. In fact, in a way this IS my point: that these kinds of metaphysical beliefs are necessary to live life. I'm just showing that science, too, rests on this sort of foundation. So the arguments against God because God cannot be proved scientifically are besides the point if God is not a scientific concept -- just like induction, the basis of science, is not a scientific concept. That doesn't prove God, by the way. It simply clears away a certain kind of popular misconception about the wrongness of such proofs. People don't realize that God and induction don't play by the same rules as the physical world, and don't operate by the same kind of proof.

Don't get me wrong: they CAN be argued about. It's simply that the arguments are philosophical, not scientific.
posted by shivohum at 9:04 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a pretty good overview of the problem of induction.
posted by klausness at 9:14 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


you must not actually believe what you're arguing except possibly in a "WHAT IF WE'RE ACTUALLY IN THE MATRIX RIGHT NOW?" kind of way

Welcome to the philosophy department!
posted by Hoopo at 9:28 PM on January 15 [6 favorites]


That SEP article is handy because I'd thought we were talking about this, which made the discussion somewhat incoherent.
posted by XMLicious at 9:30 PM on January 15


"There's no argument for Holy Book X being infallible that's not circular, however there's a tremendous amount of evidence for both the utility and predictability of Holy Book X, c.f. the knowledge of the creation of all existence, the ability to avoid hell and enter heaven through the right actions, etc."

Man, you really wanna play pretzels for theism, huh?

First off, let's look at Holy Book X. Does it make any falsifiable claims, say, with regard to the creation of the universe? Do those claims comport with the rest of our known, material knowledge?

Second off, pretending that the utility and predictability of Holy Book X are anywhere near the general edifice of science, that's pretty much bullshit, right? You can concede that's just sophistry and we don't have to play at false equivalence?

Regarding your c.f., you recognize that Holy Book X's claims aren't even internally consistent, right?

I mean, seriously, you're going from, "We can't provide a formal proof for induction, but it's consistent in an explainable, predictable way with pretty much all of existence," to "LET'S ALL BE MORONS ABOUT PROOF!"

"Oh wait, you say, what's the evidence Holy Book X does these things? PLENTY of evidence -- once you're willing to accept this one little first principle -- an evidentiary principle -- which cannot be justified except circularly. Using that principle, all this amazing evidence of the utility of that principle follows!"

No, actually, I just pointed out that since we have other tools besides formal proof for assessing truth value, and that Holy Book X is a giant excremental failure on all of those rubrics, that only an idiot would take it literally. Further, for someone who seems hung up on formal logic, you sure are playing mighty sloppy with the definitions of things like "utility" and "evidence."
posted by klangklangston at 9:33 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


"Recognizing that some of my core beliefs may be hard or impossible to justify does not mean that I would choose not to hold them. In fact, in a way this IS my point: that these kinds of metaphysical beliefs are necessary to live life."

Well, no. They're not, and the only way you can hold that they are is to abuse the definition of belief and metaphysics.

"I'm just showing that science, too, rests on this sort of foundation. "

No, you're really not. You're showing that you don't understand the claims you're making.

"So the arguments against God because God cannot be proved scientifically are besides the point if God is not a scientific concept"

Yes, that's true. But you posted 'em, sport, not me.

"just like induction, the basis of science, is not a scientific concept."

No, not "just like." They're "just like" in the way that getting kicked in the nuts is the same as getting a hand job, in that they both involve contact with genitals. But if you close your eyes, I bet you can still tell the difference.

That doesn't prove God, by the way."

No, of course not.

"It simply clears away a certain kind of popular misconception about the wrongness of such proofs."

No, it doesn't. It shows the relative weakness of these kinds of proofs, as they require an extreme amount of special pleading relative to every other proof.

"People don't realize that God and induction don't play by the same rules as the physical world, and don't operate by the same kind of proof. "

This is the dictionary example for "special pleading."

"Don't get me wrong: they CAN be argued about. It's simply that the arguments are philosophical, not scientific."

They are terrible, idiotic philosophical arguments.
posted by klangklangston at 9:39 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


What I said was that the problem of induction highlight[s] a class of beliefs that are necessary but cannot be proven scientifically. They can be argued about only through appeals to intuition.

One possible response is to reconsider what we mean by "scientific" (or by "scientific proof", if one means "proof" in an informal sense rather than a logical sense). While I'm not necessarily convinced that Popper solved the problem of induction, I think that this is exactly the sort of thing that he was trying to do. If we're looking at falsifiable claims that have not been falsified (despite our best efforts), then these don't depend on induction, so we don't don't need to worry about the problem of induction in making these claims.
posted by klausness at 9:51 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


If we're looking at falsifiable claims that have not been falsified

Is that not what science is and claims to be? What's the quote, "we can never be sure we're completely right, but we can be certain when we're wrong" or something.

"LET'S ALL BE MORONS ABOUT PROOF!"

To be fair I think his point was initially about how we have to accept certain things about the observable world with a degree of faith. Which isn't wrong, but this discussion got way off the rails. Somebody pass the hemlock, already.
posted by Hoopo at 9:58 PM on January 15


Does it make any falsifiable claims, say, with regard to the creation of the universe? Do those claims comport with the rest of our known, material knowledge?

Non sequiturs given the accepted circularity of the epistemological premise. Falsifiability is an arbitrary value whose worth must again be ascientifically justified, and "our material knowledge" is of course dependent on "our epistemology." You might as well ask whether science comports with the Word of God and devalue it if it doesn't.

Second off, pretending that the utility and predictability of Holy Book X are anywhere near the general edifice of science, that's pretty much bullshit, right? You can concede that's just sophistry and we don't have to play at false equivalence?

Nope. Your asking for this demonstrates a lack of comprehension of how these questions of philosophy work.

I mean, seriously, you're going from, "We can't provide a formal proof for induction, but it's consistent in an explainable, predictable way with pretty much all of existence," to "LET'S ALL BE MORONS ABOUT PROOF!"

Nope. You clearly haven't grasped what I've stated many times.

I think you're too emotional for this discussion to be productive. You're unfamiliar with the necessary precision of the arguments, and instead of trying to learn, you're trying to use bombastic talk-show style rhetoric and "call bullshit" and "score points." That might work in the CNN comments section, but it won't fly with this stuff.
--
If we're looking at falsifiable claims that have not been falsified (despite our best efforts), then these don't depend on induction, so we don't don't need to worry about the problem of induction in making these claims.

Unfortunately, unless I'm missing something, I think we do -- because how can we assume that something that was falsified once will stay falsified without induction?
posted by shivohum at 10:49 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]


Without induction, it is impossible to make a logical argument against induction, because there would be no recognizable first principles to start from, and no path from first principles to conclusion. Also, as I pointed out above, a world without induction doesn't favor an argument for the existence of God, it simply has to acknowledge that all things are equally possible, because nothing can ever be ruled out. Which proves that dude, have you ever really looked at your hand?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:25 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


I can't quite believe so many words in this thread have been spilled on the problem of induction without even a mention of Solomonoff Induction. It's like arguing over whether we can ever infer causal relationships without referencing Judea Pearl.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 11:48 PM on January 15


Without induction, it is impossible to make a logical argument against induction, because there would be no recognizable first principles to start from, and no path from first principles to conclusion.

Yeah, it's the same problem that dooms the idea of Boltzmann's brains, really -- if we're actually just a mind that's spontaneously formed out of thermal equilibrium with false memories and experiences, then we have no sound basis to believe anything at all, let alone that we are boltzmann brains. It's incoherent.

But any system of thought has this problem of how do you start the thing, without circular definitions and self-reference?

I think a big part of the problem is just the limitation of human consciousness. We're built to think and perceive in a certain way, so it's hard to even conceive of another way of being. Imagine, for example a universe without time or cause and effect -- it's nearly impossible. But it may be the case that time and cause and effect aren't fundamental properties of the universe.
posted by empath at 12:23 AM on January 16


Without induction, it is impossible to make a logical argument against induction

I don't think this is the case. You can validly assume induction if you want to argue against it. Say you have a valid argument against induction, but the argument needs to assume induction in order to be valid. Then you can embed it as follows to produce a version that does not require that assumption:

1. Either induction holds (a), or it does not (b).
2a. If (a), then [argument that refutes induction which itself relies on induction], therefore induction is invalid.
2b. If (b), then induction is invalid.
posted by polychora at 1:49 AM on January 16


Well yes, but you're following the rules of induction to get to the conclusion, which makes the whole thing incoherent.
posted by empath at 1:51 AM on January 16


Well yes, but you're following the rules of induction to get to the conclusion, which makes the whole thing incoherent.

What do you mean? It's just the law of the excluded middle. It's deductive.
posted by polychora at 2:10 AM on January 16


As long as there's enough bathwater, we can throw out the law of the excluded middle with it too.
posted by jepler at 5:10 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Shiv, baby, humor me. Just what is the ultimate point of all this? That deduction is the only way to know something or that nothing can be known at all?
posted by octobersurprise at 5:59 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I have, relatively recently, come to the conclusion that the existence or non-existence of a god/creator being sort of misses the point.

We live in a world of flesh and murder. Almost every living thing is either is destroyed or murdered to provide sustenance for another being, or in turn destroys or murders another creator for that sustenance. Or both. If a living entity doesn't destroy or murder another one for sustenance, often it will in some way infect another one, inflicting misery on that being in a myriad of ways. Many living beings have nervous systems that allow them to feel pain and fear when being murdered in this way.

There is fungus that can infect your skin to such an extent that you get itchy rash that can become horrid bleeding sores if left untreated. There are medicines we have to have to treat that. Other fungi do worse. Really think about that. Really focus on how upsetting and horrid that is. Think about tapeworms living in your guts, or ticks burying their heads in your skin to suck your blood. Think about pneumonia. Have you ever had pneumonia? It's the fucking pits. Think about cerebral palsy, and cancer, and all the other myriad inflictions that we have beat back to the edges of our society only in the past century. Many of us were born before the death of the last person who can remember the world without fucking antibiotics. Think about all the diseases we still can't handle.

The world is a nightmare, and if there's a god, he created all that. If there is a god, he is a psychopath. Why would you worship that dude? Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Caduceus at 6:16 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Earlier you were saying that the arguments in the main article justify (what I assume to be) your beliefs. Now you're saying you recognize it's hard or impossible to justify your beliefs. The arguments in the main article are not "hard" arguments; they're simple arguments (they're also dumb, invalid arguments, but that's besides the point).

Am I misunderstanding, or did you really so very rapidly switch from "it's easy to justify my beliefs, and here is specifically how to do so" to, more or less, "my beliefs cannot be justified but that doesn't mean they're wrong"? Or are you trying to hold both simultaneously?
posted by Flunkie at 6:20 AM on January 16


Cadeuceus, while you may feel "is it possible to prove the existance of God" is something that "Misses the point", it is in fact the topic at hand. So - I'm not sure what you're getting at, unless you're attempting to build a case for non-existence based on an argument that "an entity so dickish can't possibly exist". Which can be easily countered, I think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:23 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Mmm. Fair enough.
posted by Caduceus at 6:24 AM on January 16


I believe the currently in vogue position of logicians and mathematicians about the basis of their work is that logic and math are simply a kind of game -- manipulating symbols according to rules.

"Major themes include the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and the philosophical debate between Platonic realism and formalism." /anathem :P

(p.s. not this one!)
posted by kliuless at 6:32 AM on January 16


Just what is the ultimate point of all this? That deduction is the only way to know something or that nothing can be known at all?

Just want to point out that there is a problem of deduction that parallels the problem of induction. Deduction cannot be justified by induction, and a deductive justifcation of deduction is circular.
posted by painquale at 7:12 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Inductive reasoning is literally how we function.

Also, abductive reasoning.
posted by Brian B. at 7:14 AM on January 16


I enjoyed reading Jim Holt's book, Why Does the World Exist?

he had a fun interview with john leslie (also here ;)

theosophists and panspermians might also like what alan watts has to say (ref'd in her!)
posted by kliuless at 7:34 AM on January 16


I've enjoyed following this discussion (which feels like it's coming to an end as frustrating as all discussions of this nature, unfortunately) but I think Caduceus's argument was too quickly dismissed and now that we've all agreed that trying prove God's existance is a futile exercise, we should get to play with the questions of "If there really is a God, what does that imply?"

Personally, my own form of theodicy when I was a theist was "Well, who would want to read a novel in which nothing bad or difficult ever happened? How could one sympathize with a character who never suffered? How could such a character have any depth at all?" I figured God put suffering into the universe for the same reason that writers put suffering into their stories, ie, because a bunch of Mary Sues in Sparkle Land would be boring as heck. What if God created us mainly because he was bored in the first place? That made sense to me. After he finished making galaxies and playing with beetles, I mean, which probably kept him occupied for quite some time. (Of course, this raised the problem if why there supposedly isn't suffering in heaven, a question which I never really answered to my own satisfaction. Nor does it seem to justify the existance of Hell, which is a big part of why I eventually became an atheist.)

Still, while it lasted, the form my faith took was believing that we really were all in a simulation, or rather, a story, that we were all figments of God's imagination and only more "real" than other fictional characters to the extent the characters in Hamlet are more real than the characters in the play-within-a-play in Hamlet. If induction works and the universe appears to follow rules and so on, it's only because stories in which anything can happen at all are so unsatisfying. In that case, the highest laws governing the universe are the laws of narrative. (This is why I liked Terry Pratchett's books so much. And also, in a way, why I chose my user name.)
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:07 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


"I can't quite believe so many words in this thread have been spilled on the problem of induction without even a mention of Solomonoff Induction. It's like arguing over whether we can ever infer causal relationships without referencing Judea Pearl."

Huh, I hadn't seen Solomonoff Induction before. I learned something cool today.
posted by klangklangston at 8:20 AM on January 16


Just what is the ultimate point of all this?

That metaphysical beliefs have their own standard of justification, and it is not a scientific standard. It's a philosophical standard based on the way these beliefs appeal to our intuition. So that a belief in God or induction doesn't need to -- indeed cannot -- be justified in the same way that a belief in underwater fire monkeys should need to be justified. Most of the proofs of God Craig gives, then, should be seen in an entirely different light than most atheists want to see them. They should be judged on how well they appeal to intuition, not whether they have scientific evidence available to support them. Because in the metaphysical realm there's no such thing. And yet we must have metaphysical beliefs. Can't do without them.
--
In that case, the highest laws governing the universe are the laws of narrative.

Yeah, excellent. I more or less agree.
posted by shivohum at 8:34 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Just want to point out that there is a problem of deduction that parallels the problem of induction. Deduction cannot be justified by induction, and a deductive justifcation of deduction is circular.

I would also consider it a problem that deductive reasoning would more than likely reveal only valid statements, not true statements, about the world around us which is only known and experienced and observed subjectively. Nearly anything about the observable world not deduced from premises that can't be traced directly back to "I exist" would likely have inductive origins, and produce statements whose truth is only as verifiable as the truth of its premises. Unless all you want to talk about is abstract concepts like symbols and numerals, which...that's not a discussion of "Does God Exist?", the title of this post.


They should be judged on how well they appeal to intuition, not whether they have scientific evidence available to support them


They are being judged on the same grounds they are being made. Rhetoric. His arguments are bad, and it's not because of "scientific evidence." Your argument has been pretty clumsy.
posted by Hoopo at 8:46 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


The fine-tuning argument begs itself as it assumes that life is special, in some manner more so than any other phenomenon, and therefore cannot be accounted for as a simple natural byproduct of physics.

What you say is true, but the most obvious problem with the fine-tuning argument is analogous to my previous comment on winning the lottery. Having won the lottery (or life having evolved), I cannot look back and say that someone must have rigged the numbers so I would win (life evolved) and those other suckers lost (life didn't evolve).
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:47 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


They are being judged on the same grounds they are being made. Rhetoric.

No, I don't think they are. Some of his arguments are better than others, but the general gist is that they're "obviously wrong." That shows a lack of understanding of the standard of evaluation of this kind of belief. Such beliefs and arguments for them are rarely if ever obviously wrong because they're appeals to intuition. They're more or less appealing because...
posted by shivohum at 9:02 AM on January 16


So the argument essentially boils down to "We must ignore the fact that his reasons are blatantly stupid."
posted by Flunkie at 9:03 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


It's a philosophical standard based on the way these beliefs appeal to our intuition.

Something that appeals to our intuition today may not tomorrow. Don't we have to rely on induction to know that our intuitions will not change completely over night?

What if appeals to intuition give completely different answers to different people and depend on cultural upbringing? Which god is true? Yahweh? Jesus? Shiva? Buddha? Ah-Pook?, no god (atheism)? Or is there a pluralistic god/non-god? or an existentialist god?

Many of our intuitions turn out to be completely wrong empirically. Shouldn't that give us pause?
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:03 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


In the same way that the problem of inductions means we can't know what will happen in the future, we also can't trust what we think has happened before now. How do we know that a moment ago a powerful being didn't just make massive changes to our world including all of our memories? There's no way to know that the past really happened. These thought games are in the same realm as the problem solipsism as mentioned by a couple of people above.

the question of the existence of god is not in this realm for almost everyone. the question is whether or not god exists in a consistent reality. whether or not you believe in a consistent reality is different that whether or not you believe in god in the context of a consistent reality.

the entire concept of science depends on a consistent reality. to say that evidence is not scientific because of the problem of induction is actually an attempt to change definitions. it doesn't make sense to talk about science outside of a context where induction is accepted as an axiom.

the faith required to accept induction is the same faith required to accept reality. it doesn't make sense to compare that faith to the faith in the existence of god within the context which everyone else is using.
posted by sineater at 9:13 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I mean, really, if all we're allowed to rely upon in a discussion of Craig's "proofs" is our intuition, then my intuition says that someone who seriously advances reasoning that is simultaneously blatantly circular and blantantly resting on unfounded assumptions, such as:
  • Every contingent thing has an explanation of its existence.
  • If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a transcendent, personal being.
  • The universe is a contingent thing.
  • Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.
  • Therefore, the explanation of the universe is a transcendent, personal being.
... then that person is either flat-out dumb or else is willing to ignore any potential level of dumbness as long as it leads them to the conclusion that they want to be led to.

That's what my intuition says.
posted by Flunkie at 9:19 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


how can we assume that something that was falsified once will stay falsified without induction

We don't have to. The principle is just that we reject anything that has been falsified. Any scientific claim might be falsified tomorrow, maybe because there's some new evidence, or maybe because the way that the universe works has suddenly changed.

Now if the universe doesn't follow regular rules, then we may end up eventually rejecting all scientific claims (because any claim could be false at some point in time in a randomly-functioning universe). But that hasn't happened yet, so we're OK so far...
posted by klausness at 9:19 AM on January 16


or like how charlie kaufman's synecdoche, new york was 'unsatisfying' vs. say, woody allen's midnight in paris
Adriana: I can never decide whether Paris is more beautiful by day or by night.

Gil: No, you can't, you couldn't pick one. I mean I can give you a checkmate argument for each side. You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can't. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there's nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.
cheers!

oh hey...
-Solomonoff Universal Induction
-An Intuitive Explanation of Solomonoff Induction
-From Philosophy to Math to Engineering
-Causal inference [1,2,3]
-Probability Theory and the Undefinability of Truth (previously)
-Possibility theory [0,1]
-Beyond Bayes: causality vs correlation: "Our brains favor simple, linear narratives."
-How can mathematics make this diagram meaningful? [*]
-Non-monotonic logic
posted by kliuless at 9:24 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


So that a belief in God or induction doesn't need to -- indeed cannot -- be justified in the same way that a belief in underwater fire monkeys should need to be justified.

This doesn't follow from your arguments at all. You have made no case for why God is a special consideration once induction is thrown out. Sure, if you disallow induction, arguments against God fail, but so do arguments against underwater fire monkeys and absolutely anything else.

To put it another way: Seriously, if it is necessary to disallow induction to argue for your belief, you have already ceded the point that your belief is logical.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:50 AM on January 16


(I'm loving this thread. Personally, I lean towards shivohum's views here. Carry on.)
posted by ovvl at 10:12 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Such beliefs and arguments for them are rarely if ever obviously wrong because they're appeals to intuition.

What intuition is he appealing to?

Is the intuition appealed to that God exists? Because if you need to intuitively believe God exists in order for his arguments to make sense, there is a problem with his arguments. And this is not a a conclusion reached because of "scientific evidence". You will note Craig himself attempts to invoke "science evidence" to prove his points, however, which pretty much makes the interpretation of that scientific evidence fair game in responding to his points.
posted by Hoopo at 10:27 AM on January 16


Many of our intuitions turn out to be completely wrong empirically. Shouldn't that give us pause?

Well intuitions of the kind I'm talking about, like induction, cannot be verified or falsified empirically. But sure, cultural differences intuitions should give us pause. But then what? We still have to choose fundamental beliefs. There's no way to escape it.
--
Now if the universe doesn't follow regular rules, then we may end up eventually rejecting all scientific claims (because any claim could be false at some point in time in a randomly-functioning universe). But that hasn't happened yet, so we're OK so far...


Interesting. But doesn't the very idea that we should engage in this process implicitly assume that we are in a universe with regular laws? Why else follow this process? If we thought we lived in a universe with irregular laws, we would assume that all laws would eventually be rejected, so we wouldn't even begin the testing process.
--
You have made no case for why God is a special consideration once induction is thrown out.

The point was not to throw out induction. The point was that induction cannot be justified by a belief in induction, because that's a circular argument. Just like the Islam cannot be argued to be true because the Koran says it is. Again, circularity. So that when you argue for induction, you cannot use the results of induction to prove its worth or truth, just like you cannot use the heavenly benefits the Koran bestows on believers as proof of Islam's worth or truth.

The point was also that beliefs of this metaphysical sort cannot be proven or disproven by science; that's really a separate issue from whether induction works.
--
What intuition is he appealing to?

Each of his arguments appeals to different intuitions. His first argument, for example, appeals to the intuition that the existence of things has an explanation. In other words, given the existence of any particular thing, it's reasonable to ask why it exists: i.e., one can expect an answer.

He then tries to extend that to say well -- if it's reasonable to inquire into the existence of any particular thing, then surely it's reasonable to ask why anything at all exists. It's a logical, intuitive extension of that feeling that there is an explanation. Only if you ask for an explanation of the existence of any particular thing, you can refer to another particular thing. But if you ask for an explanation of the existence of anything, you cannot. You have to look for explanation outside that particular class of things. So you'd expect the existence of anything at all to be grounded in something that is not-a-thing, i.e. something transcendent.
posted by shivohum at 11:14 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Well intuitions of the kind I'm talking about, like induction, cannot be verified or falsified empirically.

Yeah, but the fact that intuitions about things that can be verified so often turn out to be wrong is a big problem for intuitions that can't be verified. That said, I like the idea of some sort of objective morality and meaning that is essentially discovered and not reducible to an artifact of human behavior.

So you'd expect the existence of anything at all to be grounded in something that is not-a-thing, i.e. something transcendent.

Is "something that is not-a-thing" even coherent? Does it or or the word "transcendent" have any real meaning at all? It seems this is a place for the mystic not the philosopher.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:36 AM on January 16


The point was not to throw out induction. The point was that induction cannot be justified by a belief in induction, because that's a circular argument.

You keep insisting this, but belief in induction is not the justification for induction. The justification for induction is that induction predicts results that can be observed and either verified or discarded. Induction is a methodology which is justified or not by the result, not by the theory of induction itself.

In fact, I would suggest that you have this exactly backwards: Induction is not justified by a belief in induction. Rather, a belief in induction is justified by the result of induction.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:38 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Is "something that is not-a-thing" even coherent? Does it or or the word "transcendent" have any real meaning at all? It seems this is a place for the mystic not the philosopher.

I think it does have meaning, albeit very subtle, very abstract meaning, much like the concept of infinity. First, it's a conceptual "event horizon" that can make systems of philosophy more satisfying. Humans seek conceptual closure, and this potentially gives it by outlining the outer bounds of human knowledge. Second, it can give a strong, rational reason to believe that "this is not all there is" and that the things we experience and suffer DO have meanings beyond what we can see and comprehend. There's more magic and beauty in a world with the transcendental, IMO. Finally, it gives a rational reason to believe in and pursue the mystical, just as you point out. If there is something transcendental, perhaps there are transcendental ways of contacting it.
--
The justification for induction is that induction predicts results that can be observed and either verified or discarded.

But what I've been trying to point out over and over is that you don't know whether those successful predictions are just coincidence or not -- and you can NEVER know that it isn't just coincidence unless you adopt induction to begin with.

In other words, the "results" of induction -- the fact that induction has worked in the past -- are only relevant to the justification of induction if you assume that past results say something about future performance. Which is the inductive assumption that we are trying to justify.
posted by shivohum at 11:56 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]


For actual philosophy on what radical transcendence entails, see: Yeshayahu Leibowitz. He pretty quickly demolishes the assertions of Craig.

"But what I've been trying to point out over and over is that you don't know whether those successful predictions are just coincidence or not -- and you can NEVER know that it isn't just coincidence unless you adopt induction to begin with. "

And the reply you've gotten over and over again is, "So what?" If they're coincidence, then there will be a falsifying event. And this is, at best, weakly related to any argument for transcendence.
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


There's more magic and beauty in a world with the transcendental, IMO. Finally, it gives a rational reason to believe in and pursue the mystical, just as you point out.

You know, I can at least entertain the truth and/or psychological value of your first sentence but I have no clue how you get from the first to the second since, as near as I can make out, your entire argument is some variety of "since we can never really know anything for certain, we must just follow our subjective intuitions and live our lives by nature's highest laws, the laws of storytelling." Such an outlook may have psychological or social utility, but it's only "rational" by some rather idiosyncratic definition of the word. (And why one needs or would need a "rational" reason to pursue the mystical escapes me as well.)
posted by octobersurprise at 12:43 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


But what I've been trying to point out over and over is that you don't know whether those successful predictions are just coincidence or not -- and you can NEVER know that it isn't just coincidence unless you adopt induction to begin with.

No, you don't need to adopt induction to begin with; you don't have to try to pre-justify using it based on past performance. You apply it as a potential tool to make predictions, that may or may not work for your experiment, then you observe the result and determine whether the predictions were successful. Then based solely on your results, your use of induction is either justified or it is not.

In other words, you can use induction to make predictions whether you believe in induction or not. You can then verify whether the predictions were successful, whether you believe in induction or not. Every time. Granted, you are more likely to know about and apply the technique if you understand it and believe in its utility, but like computers and phones, you don't actually have to know how they work or believe in the historical validity of the principles that make them work in order to use them and verify their results.

only relevant to the justification of induction if you assume that past results say something about future performance. Which is the inductive assumption that we are trying to justify

No it isn't, but I can see now why you are stuck on the circularity of the assumption - it's because you are limiting your thought experiments to examples that nest inductive reasoning. So, for example, you are saying that if I use induction to predict the weather, I can't then justify the continued use of induction for future predictions of the weather based on the success of this experiment. That in fact, I can't justify my current use of induction based on past successful results, either. But I don't actually have to take current successful results and assume future success based on them. In fact, it's not even good practice to do so until many, many, many successful predictions have been validated. Yet you wouldn't claim that induction hadn't been used at every stage of the investigation just because it wasn't applied at a meta level until massive amounts of data was in.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:01 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


And the reply you've gotten over and over again is, "So what?" If they're coincidence, then there will be a falsifying event.

That's what you're not getting. You can never tell whether it's your theory is wrong or whether it's induction that doesn't exist.

--

Then based solely on your results, your use of induction is either justified or it is not.

So if I read tea leaves and they tell me the stock market is going up tomorrow, and it does, then I'm retroactively justified in having used that technique. That's what follows from this argument. And if it doesn't work the next time, that's fine, since of course I "don't actually have to take current successful results and assume future success based on them". And if I try it again and its prediction is right, then, hey, it worked again. And was justified... Right?
posted by shivohum at 1:11 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Such an outlook may have psychological or social utility, but it's only "rational" by some rather idiosyncratic definition of the word.

It's rational in the sense that any of our fundamental, unprovable beliefs is rational.
posted by shivohum at 1:13 PM on January 16


Betteridge's Law.
posted by forgetful snow at 1:18 PM on January 16


Any of who's fundamental, unprovable beliefs?
posted by octobersurprise at 1:18 PM on January 16


As observed way above, induction is falsifiable. For instance, a natural number n which is a counterexample to sum(1, ..., n) = n*(n+1)/2 would falsify induction. In that sense, induction is as much subject to revision as newtonian dynamics or the heliocentric model were.
posted by jepler at 1:38 PM on January 16


No matter how hard you spin it, absolute belief in a magic being is not equivalent to provisional belief in induction and deduction. If you object to the "magic" part, then I fail to see what this god is besides a theoretical thing that can neither be proven nor disproven and has no impact on human existence.

The fact is that no one can know Truth (whatever that is), all we can know is what seems to be. And by that I mean what our senses and our reason can tell us and further experience confirms.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:47 PM on January 16


So if I read tea leaves and they tell me the stock market is going up tomorrow, and it does, then I'm retroactively justified in having used that technique. That's what follows from this argument. And if it doesn't work the next time, that's fine, since of course I "don't actually have to take current successful results and assume future success based on them". And if I try it again and its prediction is right, then, hey, it worked again. And was justified... Right?

But that's not how induction works. Induction doesn't look at a single prediction and result. Your tea leaves example produces a result, but doesn't contain enough data to make an inductive prediction. An inductive experiment would look at many past tea leaf predictions and results and then make multiple new predictions based on that data. If those new inductive predictions turn up to have a statistically high success factor, then yes, you have been justified in the use of induction to show the statistical efficacy of reading tea leaves to predict the stock market during your experiment. Or, if your results aren't statistically better than chance, then you have been justified in showing the likelihood that reading tea leaves was not a statistical predictor of the stock market during your experiment. And yes, your results are absolutely meant to be reexamined in light of future experimental results.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:51 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


(or alternately, we might decide that the counterexample falsified arithmetic rather than induction. Arithmetic, too, must be subject to falsification and revision.)
posted by jepler at 1:53 PM on January 16


As observed way above, induction is falsifiable. For instance, a natural number n which is a counterexample to sum(1, ..., n) = n*(n+1)/2 would falsify induction.

Mathematical induction is a different animal. E.g. "mathematical induction should not be misconstrued as a form of inductive reasoning (also see Problem of induction)."
--
If you object to the "magic" part, then I fail to see what this god is besides a theoretical thing that can neither be proven nor disproven and has no impact on human existence.

Does ethics impact your life, despite being something that can neither be proven nor disproven?

Induction doesn't look at a single prediction and result.

Again, that's irrelevant. The success of your multiple experiments is only relevant if (multiple experiments --> predictive success) is itself something that is likely to hold true in the future. That that which has succeeded many times is more likely to succeed in the future than that which has succeeded only once is once again just the inductive assumption... which is of course what we are trying to prove.

You might want to try working it out in a formal proof with premises and conclusion to see this...
posted by shivohum at 2:16 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Do any gods read the comments down here?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:23 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Each of his arguments appeals to different intuitions. His first argument, for example, appeals to the intuition that the existence of things has an explanation. In other words, given the existence of any particular thing, it's reasonable to ask why it exists: i.e., one can expect an answer.

But this is the problem with Craig's arguments - they only make sense if you come to them assuming, perhaps from intuition, that a personal god exists. If you don't, there is simply no reason to accept any of them. Arguments I to VII try (but fail) to conceal the assumption in their premises, but then argument VIII comes along and makes it plainly obvious.

What Craig has done is to collect a series of claims and arguments that prove god exists if you assume that god exists, which I guess is something. What he hasn't done is come up with anything capable of convincing anyone who doesn't already agree with him. Since the whole point of the article is that he has, I'm not impressed.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:25 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


which is of course what we are trying to prove

You keep saying this and it keeps not being true. "We" are not trying to prove that at all. You are trying to limit the conversation to that single idea such that your assertion must be found to be true.

That that which has succeeded many times is more likely to succeed in the future than that which has succeeded only once is once again just the inductive assumption

Again, no. That something that has succeeded many times in the past continues to succeed in the present is an observation. That which has succeeded many times is more likely to succeed in the future than that which has succeeded only once is an inductive prediction (not assumption), and may or may not turn out to be valid. Many predictions based on induction turn out to be wrong, because conditions change or are misunderstood. That doesn't invalidate induction. To the contrary, it calls for the collection of more data. People who actually believe in induction rarely make assumptions based solely on induction, but include an understanding of the underlying mechanics of the system to help strengthen the prediction. I don't believe the sun will rise tomorrow because the sun always comes up tomorrow. I believe it because it usually comes up and I am unaware of any pending cosmological events to prevent it. I could still be wrong, but hey, if so, I won't be here to care.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:37 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


But this is the problem with Craig's arguments - they only make sense if you come to them assuming, perhaps from intuition, that a personal god exists.

Well actually as far as I'm concerned, they don't prove a personal God. They just prove the existence of the transcendent. But anyhow, I think many people want to believe in God but don't feel they can rationally do so without plausible reasons -- which Craig provides.
--
Many predictions based on induction turn out to be wrong, because conditions change or are misunderstood. That doesn't invalidate induction. To the contrary, it calls for the collection of more data.

This doesn't make any sense. Collection of data doesn't make any sense unless you already accept induction.

People who actually believe in induction rarely make assumptions based solely on induction, but include an understanding of the underlying mechanics of the system

The mechanics of the system are known...how?

I believe it because it usually comes up and I am unaware of any pending cosmological events to prevent it.

How do you know what constitutes a relevant cosmological event?

Many predictions based on induction turn out to be wrong, because conditions change or are misunderstood. That doesn't invalidate induction.

No, and neither do the predictions being right validate it, unless you accept induction as a validating principle. The "mechanics of the system" are also inductively derived. How do you know what the "mechanics" of the system are except through theories based on inductino?

Let me try to put it in a really crude logical proof for you:

Pure Observations:
Premise 1: the sun's come up many times in the past
Premise 2: I have observed various events A, B, C, D, and E in the physical system over time
Premise 3: I observe only events P, Q, R, S right now

Induction-based premises:
Premise 4: the cosmological system is a mechanism that can be understood
Premise 5: if certain patterns of events A, B, C, and D are observed and if the system is mechanical, then the system works via Mechanism 1
Premise 6: if events Y or Z is observed and the system works by Mechanism 1, then there are pending cosmological events to prevent the sun rising.
Premise 7: if the system works by Mechanism 1, then if the sun has risen many times in the past, and there are no pending cosmological events to prevent the sun rising, the sun will rise again tomorrow

Conclusions:
Conclusion 1: By 2, 3, 4, 5 the system works via Mechanism 1
Conclusion 2: By C1 and 2 and 6, there are no pending cosmological events to prevent the sun rising
Conclusion 3: By C1 and C2 and 1, 6, 7, the sun will rise again tomorrow.

Now if you want to show me your point, please go ahead and construct a logical model that achieves your objectives without relying on inductive premises and without assuming that the results that follow from induction are actually because of induction, which is begging the question.

If you want to discuss some other topic, some random topic rather than this "single idea" that we're talking about, please let me know so I can stop trying to communicate the logic here.
posted by shivohum at 3:20 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


That which has succeeded many times is more likely to succeed in the future than that which has succeeded only once is an inductive prediction (not assumption), and may or may not turn out to be valid.

Okay, but, you can make predictions with any system, which 'may or may not turn out to be valid', even a system that is obviously invalid.

The reason we need the inductive principle is because without it, our predictions have no value: they might turn out to be valid, or they might not, but without the inductive principle, we can't really say anything about the likelihood of either case.

Of course, we can go through the motions anyway, but unless we can employ inductive reasoning, the predictions are meaningless.
posted by polychora at 4:48 PM on January 16


If I understand shivohum correctly, s/he is not saying that we can't use inductive reasoning, only that if we do use it, we need to accept the first principle on, for want of a better term, faith, because if we attempt to use induction to prove the validity of induction, that argument is circular, and therefore not valid.

And from that, the argument seems to be that since we accepted induction on 'faith' we should be able to accept other kinds of things, like the existence of a transcendental, non-physical grounding of the physical universe, on faith, or using non-inductive reasoning, or something. I'm a bit lost at this point of the argument, to be honest.
posted by misfish at 5:28 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


And from that, the argument seems to be that since we accepted induction on 'faith' we should be able to accept other kinds of things, like the existence of a transcendental, non-physical grounding of the physical universe, on faith, or using non-inductive reasoning, or something. I'm a bit lost at this point of the argument, to be honest.

Yeah, it's the leap between "pragmatically, this seems to be a reasonable to provisionally adopt this conjecture in limited ways, even if there's not easy or obvious proof" to "therefore god" and then "therefore people who don't adopt my conjecture about god are wrong in ways that are harmful" where presuppositional apologetics goes off the rails in my opinion.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:51 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


to "therefore god" and then "therefore people who don't adopt my conjecture about god are wrong in ways that are harmful" where presuppositional apologetics goes off the rails in my opinion

Absolutely. However, I don't think anyone in this thread is making that argument (particularly not shivohum).
posted by polychora at 6:29 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


"You keep saying this and it keeps not being true. "

HOW DO YOU KNOW? INDUCTION!

"They just prove the existence of the transcendent."

They do no such thing, and if you'd been listening to your solipsistic claptrap, you'd recognize that. Or if you understood "transcendent" you'd recognize that it's not subject to truth claims as such. You cannot prove the existence of the transcendent. That's an inseparable property of transcendence.

"Now if you want to show me your point, please go ahead and construct a logical model that achieves your objectives without relying on inductive premises and without assuming that the results that follow from induction are actually because of induction, which is begging the question."

1) From Bernoulli, a sufficient sample closely represents a population at a fixed relationship.
2) Observations of particular events are samples of the larger set of all such events.
3) Each new instance of induction increases the sample size by 1
4) Assuming all prior instances of induction are true, the probability is n/(n+1)
5) .9999 (repeating) =1
6) Assuming all prior observations are true, the probability of a future unobserved event is 1.

There's one.
posted by klangklangston at 7:37 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


There's another form of induction that we haven't addressed in this discussion as far as I can tell. Inductive proof has a form where one proves that some statement for i=1 is true. Then the usual form of syllogistic proof is used to show that if X(i) is true, then X(i+1) is true. This then induces the truth for all X(i), where i=1,...,∞.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:51 PM on January 16


Please go ahead and construct a logical model that achieves your objectives without relying on inductive premises

Easy. Cogito ergo sum. You don't have to accept the "I" part, but it does prove existence.

You know how I've said multiple times that you can go full sophist, all the way back to if you want, and it still doesn't help your case? Fine.

We know the universe exists. We know that without induction. We are .999 repeating sure what it is like, but even if we are wrong about all of that, we know the universe exists. Maybe we're hallucinations, but then at least a hallucination exists. Maybe we're just a big simulation, but then a simulation exists. Maybe the universe is the dream of a boltzmann brain, that will flit out of existence a millisecond from now. But then, if even for a instant, a dream and a dreamer existed. Maybe we have every single rule, law and idea wrong, but there is someone to be wrong. You cannot argue against existence. You are arguing; even if the rest of us are just p-zombies, you are arguing with yourself. There is, in some form or another, information. It could possibly be completely different than we perceive, but what ever "it" is, it is there. I'm not inducting anything here, this is pure observation.

If there is reality, then there is one distinct quality of the universe, because at the very least, we have two distinct states, existence and non-existence.

"So what?", an epistemological nihilist like you would say. But that's because you're caught up on rational thought needing causation, and you think causation hasn't been proved. But reason already has the first law of the universe here, which is A=A. By existing, the universe doesn't not exist. Not amount of supposition of error can reduce this premise further. If we were wrong about this there would be nothing to be wrong about and no one to be wrong. It's "seeing is believing" without the nagging doubt of faulty sensory perception.

Reality has consequences. It follows some rule even if it changes, even if it's impossibly complex. In practice, we know this does mean some basic things; you can't run though walls, a bear won't turn into a spaceship and boron won't suddenly behave like oxygen. But you don't have to give us that; because that could all be wrong, but there is still a medium in which we can wrong. There are still things to be wrong about. Information exists, so the universe must have qualities. Qualities allow predictability and probability. Again, not inducting anything here. While in life, evidence precedes logic, epistemologically, logic precedes evidence. (A god can't exist here, by the way, because transcending means not existing, otherwise he'd have definable qualities and therefore not be a god.)

So, we're already off to the races, because we have the first objective trait with which to judge other things on. Our assumptions are based on this; there is no induction circularity.

All these "intuitions" you keep talking about are guesses and models based on this bedrock: things have qualities. Like things behave alike is an inference based on A=A. We then test it experimentally.

So we have universe and we have a constraint. A system.

Now that we have our first model, we plug in observations and continually improve it (see: last 3,000 years).

But this is the problem with Craig's arguments - they only make sense if you come to them assuming, perhaps from intuition, that a personal god exists.

Well actually as far as I'm concerned, they don't prove a personal God. They just prove the existence of the transcendent.


This is actually worse than Craig's arguments. They do no such thing. How does a theist wishlist prove the transcendent, in light of you not allowing the scientific method to suggest probabilities.
posted by spaltavian at 8:59 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Observations of particular events are samples of the larger set of all such events.

You keep making the same error endlessly. This is where induction snuck in.
--
There's another form of induction that we haven't addressed in this discussion as far as I can tell.

It was addressed above.
--
Qualities allow predictability and probability.

I agreed with everything up to this point, but then your argument falls flat. No. Qualities do not allow predictability and probability. There is no logical entailment of the latter from the former without adding an assumption (viz induction).

Like things behave alike is an inference based on A=A.

No. A=A is a tautology. Logically nothing follows about the world.

Or to put it in more concrete terms, there may be no things that are "alike" in the relevant way and in a way amenable to testing. To presume that there are -- and testing starts with just such a presumption -- again assumes in the thing we're debating.
posted by shivohum at 9:28 PM on January 16


And this argument:

Without induction, how can you assume that the theory that fails now will fail tomorrow?

You mean, what can do with the observation of change through time? A foundational relationship in the universe, that gives us all sorts of constraints and knowledge about the universe? If you're allowing that we can observe this, you're giving away all sorts of information for free here. What's the counter-argument, how do I know it will be a different time tomorrow?
posted by spaltavian at 9:29 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


And from that, the argument seems to be that since we accepted induction on 'faith' we should be able to accept other kinds of things, like the existence of a transcendental, non-physical grounding of the physical universe, on faith, or using non-inductive reasoning, or something. I'm a bit lost at this point of the argument, to be honest.

Well, the argument is that we should be able to accept other kinds of things based on philosophical reasoning that appeals to intuition. Now we can argue about what that kind of reasoning should be, and what kinds of constraints should be placed on it, but that is a discussion of its own.
--
You mean, what can do with the observation of change through time?

I simply meant that the rules of the universe might change such that the tests that disproved a theory one day might not disprove it the next.
posted by shivohum at 9:34 PM on January 16


Tautology is perfectly sound at this level. If the universe is itself, I can make a model that everything is itself, and that it will behave like itself, since it consistently equals itself. Whatever you want to call the next inference, that like things behave alike, it's simply model building, and it comes from at least one concrete thing. I have an incredibly low bar here, as I am not the one arguing that knowledge doesn't exist.
posted by spaltavian at 9:41 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Or to put it in more concrete terms, there may be no things that are "alike" in the relevant way and in a way amenable to testing.

You've accepted that a quality can be learned without induction once. No one's argument was against induction or that it was irrational in any particular case. Your argument was that induction was circular (and therefore faith-like) because we had to start with induction, and therefore our models assumed there were relationships to model. But it didn't start with induction, because we know the universe has qualities without induction.

If you're saying that I can't get anywhere from there without induction, that's not really relevant to your argument, because your argument was only that induction has irrational qualities because it's circular. So are you saying I can't get anywhere from there at all, even with induction?
posted by spaltavian at 9:57 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Tautology is perfectly sound at this level.

Tautology is always sound. The question is what logically follows from it.

If the universe is itself, I can make a model that everything is itself, and that it will behave like itself, since it consistently equals itself.

If all you're saying is that the universe behaves like the universe behaves, then I agree. Nothing interesting follows, however.

Whatever you want to call the next inference, that like things behave alike, it's simply model building, and it comes from at least one concrete thing.

Even if like things behave alike, the problem is that you cannot tell if any thing is "like" any other thing in that sense. There may be only completely unique objects, none of which behave like any other.

So are you saying I can't get anywhere from there at all, even with induction?

I'm saying that a model where the universe does as the universe does, doesn't get you to science. You still need to add the arational (rather than irrational) assumption of induction.
posted by shivohum at 10:16 PM on January 16


"You keep making the same error endlessly. This is where induction snuck in."

Nope.

It's definitional, not inductive — it's no more inductive than saying for the set of natural numbers {4, 5, 6, 7…} is a subset of {4, 5, 6, 7, 8…}.

There are other objections to that sort of probabilistic proof, but that's not one of them. You're snapping at fantods.
posted by klangklangston at 10:19 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


"Even if like things behave alike, the problem is that you cannot tell if any thing is "like" any other thing in that sense. There may be only completely unique objects, none of which behave like any other."

Well, since that's clearly not true in any meaningful sense, you've successfully reduced your argument to absurdity. You can observe that two objects are the same without induction.

You've gone from the dubious position of overstating induction to the frankly absurd position of denying that there are like objects, and that no objects can be determined to be alike without induction.

I mean, I had good fun with the LaRouche folks on campus by denying the ability to meaningfully abstract (e.g. that we could deduce anything from a straight line because there's no such thing as a straight line), since their nutsoid philosophy is all based on some cargo cult Platonic geometry, but it's not a serious position.
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 PM on January 16


It's definitional, not inductive

Then you're talking about pure math, not math as applied to the real world. As soon as you touch the real world, the question arises whether your definitions apply, and you need induction in the sense we've been discussing.

So your proof is either wrong or irrelevant.
posted by shivohum at 10:30 PM on January 16


"Then you're talking about pure math, not math as applied to the real world."

No, it's a logical proposition. Trying to squirm out with objections about the real world is weak sauce.

"As soon as you touch the real world, the question arises whether your definitions apply, and you need induction in the sense we've been discussing."

No, if you're going to try to weasel around like that, I'll simply point out that induction functions in the real world, ergo it's the logical proof that is lacking, not the function. And then I'll point out that in the real world, "reason" includes "induction," ergo arguing that induction can't be proven through reason is incoherent.

"So your proof is either wrong or irrelevant."

Nope. Try again. Like I said, there are legitimate objections to probabilistic proofs like that, but that's not one of them.
posted by klangklangston at 10:35 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


No, if you're going to try to weasel around like that, I'll simply point out that induction functions in the real world, ergo it's the logical proof that is lacking, not the function. And then I'll point out that in the real world, "reason" includes "induction," ergo arguing that induction can't be proven through reason is incoherent.

This is gibberish.

We have not been discussing whether mathematical proofs are valid.

The problem we've been discussing is whether, given observations of the physical world, we can predict anything.

That's the problem of induction.

A proposition of formal logic, like a mathematical proof, deals with wholly abstract definitions and variables. Whether those apply to observations in the world -- whether observations fit the definitions and variables in a way that permits the kinds of predictions at issue -- is the problem of induction.

So a proof in formal logic cannot bear on the real world without an extra premise, namely, the idea that the real world fits the various definitions used in the proof. That premise is the inductive premise.

Capiche? I'm not sure how many more times and in how many more ways I can explain it.

The fact that "in the real world," reason includes induction is also irrelevant to the argument, since the "reason" we're talking about here is rigorous, deductive philosophical argument, not the colloquial use of the word reason in day-to-day life.

I'll simply point out that induction functions in the real world

The same problem. Yet again. No, we don't know whether induction functions in the real world because the only evidence for that is inductive evidence. We just assume it does.

Do you still not understand?
posted by shivohum at 10:50 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


"This is gibberish."

No, it's not.

We have not been discussing whether mathematical proofs are valid.

You demanded a proof; proofs are formal logic; math is a formal logic.

"The problem we've been discussing is whether, given observations of the physical world, we can predict anything."

And the answer is yes.

That's the problem of induction.

No, that's not the problem of induction. It's related, but the problem of induction is broader than the physical world.

A proposition of formal logic, like a mathematical proof, deals with wholly abstract definitions and variables. Whether those apply to observations in the world -- whether observations fit the definitions and variables in a way that permits the kinds of predictions at issue -- is the problem of induction."

Nope. The problem of induction is that of inferring a rule from instances. It has nothing inherently to do with the physical world; it's a problem for formal logic too. Bertrand Russell wrote extensively about it, specifically in the realm of formal, symbolic logic.

So a proof in formal logic cannot bear on the real world without an extra premise, namely, the idea that the real world fits the various definitions used in the proof. That premise is the inductive premise.

Nope. You don't understand induction and are overstating it. We can, in fact, make observations about physical phenomena without inducting.

Capiche? I'm not sure how many more times and in how many more ways I can explain it.

Until you get it right, I imagine.

The fact that "in the real world," reason includes induction is also irrelevant to the argument, since the "reason" we're talking about here is rigorous, deductive philosophical argument, not the colloquial use of the word reason in day-to-day life.

Well, no, now you're trying to have it both ways. Is it "rigorous, deductive philosophical argument" or is the real world? Because a rigorous, deductive philosophical argument is by necessity abstract. But since induction is a problem only in rigorous, deductive philosophical argument, you can't argue against a proof by complaining that it only works in rigorous, deductive philosophical argument.

The same problem. Yet again. No, we don't know whether induction functions in the real world because the only evidence for that is inductive evidence. We just assume it does.

Run into a wall.

Do you still not understand?

I understand perfectly well — you've built yourself an incoherent edifice that psychologically serves you as a justification for a idiosyncratic theism and are unwilling or unable to process arguments that undermine that, to the extent that you can't even provide a coherent description of what you believe the problem to be. You've fixated on what you believe is a silver bullet objection to "induction," which means whatever you want it to mean at the moment, and are frustrated that literally everyone else around you recognizes this as incoherent and keeps pointing that out. Instead of embracing the entailments of a radical skeptic/transcendent philosophy, you want to keep one foot in the door of material life — since it's where you have all your stuff, after all — and think everyone else around you is terribly thick for not understanding that if you squint just right, you can't tell that this is utter bullshit and probably not even all that comforting to you anymore.

So, yeah, over the last couple days, I learned a fair amount about the problem of induction, which I'd already had a pretty decent introduction, especially in how the philosophy of science has moved around it. You, on the other hand, seem to have simply dug in and refused to update any of your claims or concepts, because no one can reason you out of a position you arationalized yourself into.

I'm a big fan of transcendence and the limits of rationality; I think that they're really helpful in shaping how we think about existence. However, transcendence is a big, terrible thing that overwhelms and overawes to the extent that the problem of induction disintegrates before it, and instead of embracing that, you're trying to put forth a bowl of oatmeal and expecting everyone to tremble before your brown sugar.
posted by klangklangston at 11:14 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Argument
1: A sense of self requires at least a rudimentary instinctive recognition of phenomenological continuity. I can hold this thought long enough to complete it, therefore I am. But even that initial thought requires induction, as it presumes right out of the gate that the "I" at the beginning of the statement is the same as the "I" at the end. First knowledge and all knowledge thereafter must be learned from observation and pattern recognition, which requires induction. Essentially, knowledge is induction.

Conclusions
Conclusion 1: Induction cannot beg the question, because induction is the question.
Conclusion 2: The argument for induction cannot be circular because it is a single point.
Conclusion 3: Induction does not require justification, justification requires induction.
Conclusion 4: In the end, the justification for induction is the same as the argument against. You claim it is impossible to justify induction without using induction. I respond that if that were true, it would be equally impossible for you to evaluate the justification without using induction.

Yes - essentially, I am claiming that induction is Chuck Norris.

And with that, I bid you all adieu.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:55 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


*drops mic*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:19 AM on January 17


Finally, it gives a rational reason to believe in and pursue the mystical, just as you point out. If there is something transcendental, perhaps there are transcendental ways of contacting it.

I don't think beliefs or rational reasons are needed for mystical (aesthetic, moral) pursuit - direct experience of beauty, love, joy, meaning, wondrous awe at the existence of existence, etc. As soon as "something transcendental" like a god comes up, it seems to quickly become superstitious nonsense.

But what I've been trying to point out over and over is that you don't know whether those successful predictions are just coincidence or not -- and you can NEVER know that it isn't just coincidence unless you adopt induction to begin with.

I just can't figure out what you are on about with the hating on induction, but it reminds me of this quote from Wittgenstein's Tractatus which also mystifies me a bit.
5.133
All inference takes place a priori.
5.134
From an elementary proposition no other can be inferred.
5.135
In no way can an inference be made from the existence of one
state of affairs to the existence of another entirely different from it.
5.136
There is no causal nexus which justifies such an inference.
5.1361
The events of the future cannot be inferred from those of the present.
Superstition is the belief in the causal nexus.
5.1362
The freedom of the will consists in the fact that future actions cannot be known now. We could only know them if causality were an inner necessity, like that of logical deduction.—The connexion of knowledge and what is known is that of logical necessity.
I think he's just getting at anything outside of logic being strictly unprovable and unknowable (and anything that is knowable is tautological). But even if it is strictly unknowable, it is still reasonable to believe the sun will rise tomorrow, and not very reasonable to believe in the existence of a sky wizard. Maybe Wittgenstein is also getting at how we can look at life psychologically as existential and mystical rather than causal, random, predetermined.
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:00 AM on January 17


Maybe Wittgenstein is also getting at how we can look at life psychologically as existential and mystical rather than causal, random, predetermined.

I'm pretty sure this is completely antithetical to both W's intentions and his temperament. I don't know enough about the Philosophical Investigations, in which he largely repudiates the Tractatus, to comment authoritatively on further developments in The Curious Incident of the Wittgenstein in the Night Time, but I think it's fair to say his sensibility was that of an engineer rather than that of a mystic.
posted by Wolof at 4:35 AM on January 17


I'm feeling a bit sorry for shivohum, though I don't agree with every post. I think the point that you can't ever know that something will continue to be true in the future simply because it has always been true in the past is certainly true, just as we can't know that the whole universe isn't a hallucination, or that we weren't created five minutes ago with memories of our prior existence created at the same time, or that no unicorns exist simply because we've never seen one. Any of those widely-agreed-to-be-unknowable propositions suffices to make the that I believe shivohum is trying to make: you can't know that you aren't a brain in a jar or weren't created yesterday or that the forest isn't full of unicorns who are just really good at hiding from humans. But you believe these things anyway. Because it just seems too ridiculous to doubt them.

Likewise, you can't know that there isn't a God. We might be God's hallucination. God might be hiding in the forest like the Unicorns. God might have created us five minutes ago with carefully crafted memories of our previous existence (as authors do with their characters!)

Many non-believers will admit this and allow that they are "technically" or "really" agnostics, since you can't ever really know for sure that there isn't a god (or gods). But many call themselves atheists anyway because though they admit the possibility, they find these ideas completely unappealing.

Shivohum is saying that these "proofs" of God in the link are simply statements of why the idea of God might be appealing after all. That's a rather charitable interpretation -- I think this guy really does believe he's proving something, sadly -- but it's an interesting way of looking at arguments like this. And shivohum is right that "appealing" or "unappealing" is really all we can say about solipsism, "induction" (by which shivohum means the idea that the the universe will continue to follow the general rules that we have observed in the past) or theism.
posted by OnceUponATime at 4:48 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


But since induction is a problem only in rigorous, deductive philosophical argument, you can't argue against a proof by complaining that it only works in rigorous, deductive philosophical argument.

Oh brother. Only someone who has not a clue what we're talking about would write these sentences. I addressed mathematical induction much earlier in this thread.

All right. You insist on thinking you understand when it's crystal clear that you don't. Go and find academic philosophers of science and try arguing that your proof somehow bears on the scientific problem of induction we've been discussing. See how well that goes.

Your defensive desire to think you're right prevents you from learning anything.
--

essentially, I am claiming that induction is Chuck Norris.

Well obviously.

--

but it reminds me of this quote from Wittgenstein's Tractatus

I like it!

--
And shivohum is right that "appealing" or "unappealing" is really all we can say about solipsism, "induction" (by which shivohum means the idea that the the universe will continue to follow the general rules that we have observed in the past) or theism.

Sweet music to my weary ears. Thank you!
posted by shivohum at 5:35 AM on January 17


Absolutely. However, I don't think anyone in this thread is making that argument (particularly not shivohum).

Yes, because talking about an argument as it's used by the philosophical community referenced in the FPP is completely irrelevant here.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:43 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Of course if induction requires a leap of faith, one can't use induction to claim that a personal, creator, or moral god as the same kind of root principle, not without admitting that you're posing a conjecture rather than a proof. And having admitted it's a conjecture, you've admitted that non-theistic metaphysics is also a reasonable conjecture.

I have few problems with a god of any sort as a philosophical conjecture. Theoretical physics sometimes works with impossible universes after all. I'm still ignostic in that I don't think that kind of conjecture can be more than a conjecture without some whopping and largely unexplored assumptions about existence, causality, and morality.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:53 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


The Rationality of Induction provides a philosophically rigorous argument that induction can be justified without appeal to the "uniformity of nature" or other non-logical premises. When you combine the ideas there with even more modern results like Solomonoff induction I'm pretty comfortable saying that induction is easily as justified as classical logic.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 7:05 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


The Rationality of Induction provides a philosophically rigorous argument that induction can be justified

His book doesn't do that, unfortunately. See e.g. Indurkhya's critique, which eviscerates his arguments.
posted by shivohum at 7:53 AM on January 17


Indurkhya relies on the Grue paradox, which is defeated by Solomonoff induction.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 8:07 AM on January 17


Indurkhya relies on the Grue paradox

No, actually Indurkhya refutes each of Stove's proofs even without the Grue paradox. Read the paper if you want; it's short.
posted by shivohum at 8:16 AM on January 17


"Oh brother. Only someone who has not a clue what we're talking about would write these sentences. I addressed mathematical induction much earlier in this thread. "

No. Try again. This is not in reference to mathematical induction.

"All right. You insist on thinking you understand when it's crystal clear that you don't. Go and find academic philosophers of science and try arguing that your proof somehow bears on the scientific problem of induction we've been discussing. See how well that goes."

Since I basically adopted the two objections from Stove and Edwards, I don't have to look very far. And since you already put forth the Indurkhya paper, you should recognize that your objections previously written are not the objections Indurkhya uses. I noted there were other objections, just not yours.

"Your defensive desire to think you're right prevents you from learning anything."

Now you're just copying me (which is especially funny, given that I had just mentioned how I learned about the Solomonoff induction through this discussion).
posted by klangklangston at 8:30 AM on January 17


I noted there were other objections, just not yours.

No, actually they come to precisely the same thing. I said: "As soon as you touch the real world, the question arises whether your definitions apply, and you need induction in the sense we've been discussing."

This is the essence of Indurkhya's refutation as well. Yes, assuming that our observations are drawn randomly over space and time from a computable probability distribution, then we can draw certain inductive conclusions. Yet of course do not know that we do. We have to assume it.

QED.
posted by shivohum at 8:41 AM on January 17


shivohum, without the Grue paradox, all that is left of Indurkhya's arguments is an elementary misunderstanding of probability theory. Jaynes responds very well to arguments of this type in the seminal "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science".
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 8:54 AM on January 17


Jaynes responds very well to arguments of this type

Care to summarize? I don't really see how Indurkhya's exposures of Stove's mistakes have anything to do with elementary errors of probability. They expose errors in his understanding of the inductive skeptic's thesis.

Oh and btw, can you summarize how exactly Solomonoff induction defeats the grue paradox? I'm not familiar.
posted by shivohum at 8:56 AM on January 17


The error of probability is the typical frequentist mistake of assuming there is some property called "randomness" which some processes exhibit and some don't. In Bayesian probability as used by Stove such an idea is simply incoherent. When a Bayesian assigns equal probability to all members of a reference class not because a representative was "chosen randomly", but because they lack any information that the representative was chosen in a manner biased towards any particular subset. This is rationally warranted by elementary considerations of consistency, as explained by Jaynes.

Solomonoff induction assigns prior probabilities to hypotheses by their computational complexity, the Grue hypothesis thus recieves a penalty. In many ways it's a precise formulation of Occam's Razor.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 9:13 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Not to mention that Solomonoff induction seems, unless I'm mistaken, to rely on Ockham's razor, again easily as unproven an assumption as any we've been talking about.
posted by shivohum at 9:14 AM on January 17


Solomonoff induction assigns prior probabilities to hypotheses by their computational complexity, the Grue hypothesis thus recieves a penalty. In many ways it's a precise formulation of Occam's Razor.

Ok, right, just what I thought. That's not really a solution, since there's no proof that Occam's razor is right.

This is rationally warranted by elementary considerations of consistency, as explained by Jaynes.

"Elementary considerations of consistency"...meaning, again, foundational assumptions that cannot be proven in themselves and which it is not a formally logical paradox to deny. And in fact which are vigorously fought over.

So this is no solution at all to the basic point I've been making.
posted by shivohum at 9:17 AM on January 17


If you deny elementary consistency you deny logic and leave no paradox at all. And Solomonoff induction doesn't rely on Occam's Razor, it justifies it.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 9:28 AM on January 17


Not true. Refusing to assign equal probability to all members of a class as a prior probability does not violate the laws of logic. It might seem to violate common sense, but that's not what is at issue.

Solomonoff induction assumes that hypotheses of smaller length are preferable to those of greater length. That sounds a whole lot like assuming that simplicity is better than complexity in hypotheses. That is Ockham's razor. Which is unproven.
posted by shivohum at 9:36 AM on January 17


maybe wikipedia can clear things up? Inductive reasoning - "the premises seek to supply strong evidence for (not absolute proof of) the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is supposed to be certain, the truth of an inductive argument is supposed to be probable, based upon the evidence given... Inductive reasoning is inherently uncertain." (i wonder about the origins of probability, how they're established and what they mean tho ;) as opposed to Mathematical induction, which "is actually a form of deductive reasoning."

btw the invocation or wittgenstein reminded me of his argument with popper: "The two started arguing vehemently over whether there existed substantial problems in philosophy, or merely linguistic puzzles—the position taken by Wittgenstein." so back to platonism vs. formalism (some of which 'just happens' to correspond with reality, i guess?) /anathem :P

we need to accept the first principle on, for want of a better term, faith

cosma shalizi talks about this wrt bayesian consistency - "the Bayesian learner is consistent, except on a set of data of prior probability zero. That is, the Bayesian is subjectively certain they will converge on the truth. This is not as reassuring as one might wish, and showing Bayesian consistency under the true distribution is harder. In fact, it usually involves assumptions under which non-Bayes procedures will also converge..." [1,2,3]* (reminiscent of the barber's paradox?)

or consider maximum entropy methods
...ever since the pioneering work of E. T. Jaynes in the 1950s, the idea of maximum entropy has come to mean something different, or at least broader. Jaynes gave, or claimed to give, a completely general prescription for inferring distributions from data, which started with the observation that the Gibbs entropy looks exactly the same as Shannon's information-theoretic entropy. (That's why Shannon called it "entropy", after all.) According to Jaynes, then, the "least biased" guess at a distribution is to find the distribution of highest entropy such that the expectation value of our selected observables equals their observed values. Mathematically, of course, this just leads to the same exponential family as before, with parameters set to enforce the expectation-value constraints. But within an exponential family, the maximum-likelihood estimate of the parameters is the one where observations match expectations, so the maximum entropy distribution is the maximum-likelihood estimate within that exponential family. For the Jaynesian, max-ent school, statistical mechanics follows from a general rule of the logic of inductive inference, namely to maximize entropy under constraints. The exponential family distribution is primary, and Boltzmann's uniform-within-a-macrostate distribution is idle. Moreover, this perspective opens, or seems to open, all sorts of connections between informational and physical quantities. I think it is safe to say that this idea is pretty thoroughly entrenched among physicist who are interested in the intersection of their subject with information theory and computation, as I am. As a general prescription for statistical inference, however, I think max-ent sucks...
which can lead to weird results...
Cosma Shalizi argues that in the Bayesian approach to probability theory, entropy would decrease as a function of time, contrary to what's observed. He concludes: "Avoiding this unphysical conclusion requires rejecting the ordinary equations of motion, or practicing an incoherent form of statistical inference, or rejecting the identification of uncertainty and thermodynamic entropy."
or does it?
I find this argument interesting, but I'm not sure that he has made a full accounting of the issue. In particular in the steps between equations 2 and 3 he makes the assumption that we have measured macrostate m1, and that we should condition our new microstate distribution on the measurement of m1. However as any experimentalist would happily tell you, measurements are never perfectly accurate. I believe this is an issue with Jaynes theory as well. When Jaynes says that we should choose the maximum entropy distribution consistent with the macrostate I am not aware of any way in which he takes into account our uncertainty in the macrostate. If for example we know the volume of an ideal gas exactly but the pressure is measured only to 1 part in 10−6 (a very precise measurement) the implied uncertainty about the microstate due to that pressure uncertainty is huge since N = PV/kT and k is very small, a tiny error in P implies a much larger error in N which enters into the entropy via a factorial! Also, any measurement process itself requires an interaction with the system, which inevitably leads to increasing uncertainty...
Who died and made Bayes God?

The Statistical Mechanic: "Beware of the Bayesian superintelligence!"

---
*he cuts loose in [1] - "the pretense that Bayesianism is a solution to the problem of induction — bugs me intensely. This is the more or less explicit ideology of a lot of presentations of Bayesian statistics (especially among philosophers, economists* and machine-learners). Not only is this crazy as methodology — not only does it lead to the astoundingly bass-ackwards mistake of thinking that using a prior is a way of "overcoming bias", and to myths about Bayesian super-intelligences — but it doesn't even agree with what good Bayesian data analysts actually do."
posted by kliuless at 9:41 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Maybe Wittgenstein is also getting at how we can look at life psychologically as existential and mystical rather than causal, random, predetermined.

I'm pretty sure this is completely antithetical to both W's intentions and his temperament.
The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni is its contemplation as a limited whole. The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling. (TLP 6.45)

There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical. (TLP 6.522)
It seems to me it is undeniable that there is a mystical, 'therapeutic,' aspect to the Tractatus. I suspect this was actually the whole point of it and remains a component of his later works. This is a pretty good argument for that view:

Mysticism and Nonsense in the Tractatus (pdf)
Our suggestion, then, is that the point of the Tractatus is to get us to adopt a mystical point of view. The aim is to bring us to see the world rightly—which is to say, as a mystic sees it, as a limited whole, with its limits visible. This suggestion allows us to see the purpose of the Tractatus as at least overlapping with the aims of philosophy, on a natural and traditional conception of philosophy, while still being clearly distinct from it. On that traditional conception of philosophy, it is the business of philosophy to state what Kant called synthetic a priori truths—which he took to be truths about how the world must, can, and cannot be. According to the metaphysics of the Tractatus, these, of course, would be truths about the form of the world; and, since the form of the world is nothing other than the general form of the proposition, there can, according to theTractatus, be no such truths. So the business of the Tractatus is that of getting us to see something that escapes philosophy, because philosophy is always concerned to say something. This enables us to understand how the Tractatus might get us to see something ‘by being silent’, where philosophers have been ‘just gassing’.

The crucial difference is that while philosophy aims to produce thoughts and propositions—things that can be assessed for truth—mysticism involves having a certain kind of experience ...
Regarding his temperament:
Wittgenstein was here, and we discussed his book [the Tractatus] everyday. .... I had felt in his book a flavour of mysticism, but was astonished when I found that he has become a complete mystic. He reads people like Kierkegaard and Angelus Silesius, and he seriously contemplates becoming a monk. It all started from William James's Varieties of Religious Experience, and grew (not unnaturally) during the winter he spent alone in Norway before the war, when he was nearly mad. Then during the war a curious thing happened. He went on duty to the town of Tarnov in Galicia, and happened to come upon a bookshop, which, however, seemed to contain nothing but picture postcards. However, he went inside and found that it contained just one book: Tolstoy on the Gospels. He brought it merely because there was no other. He read it and re-read it, and thenceforth had it always with him, under fire and at all times. But on the whole he likes Tolstoy less than Dostoyevsky (especially Karamazov). He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (though he wouldn't agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking.

--Bertrand Russell to Lady Ottoline Morell, 1919

Letters to Russell, Keynes, and Moore, edited by G.H. von Wright, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1974, p. 82.
Okay, I'll stop spamming Wittgenstein now.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:05 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Okay, I'll stop spamming Wittgenstein now.

Wise. Brevity is the soul of Witt.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:08 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


This has been the Best MetaFilter Thread EVAR.

Now: Imagine a MetaFilter thread greater than which no thread can be conceived.

That thread must exist, and must be God.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 3:13 PM on January 17 [9 favorites]


Actually, there are three threads that make up the Godthread. Seek them out, pilgrim.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:20 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Solomonoff induction assumes that hypotheses of smaller length are preferable to those of greater length. That sounds a whole lot like assuming that simplicity is better than complexity in hypotheses. That is Ockham's razor. Which is unproven.

I hadn't heard of Solomonoff induction before, but this does seem to be a valid criticism (based on the little I've read about it since it was brought up here). In fact, the legitimacy of Solomonoff induction sounds like a stronger claim than the simple legitimacy of induction. It seems to be quite possible that the correct explanations of how the world works are not the simplest ones, but that induction is a reasonable way to draw conclusions about the world.
posted by klausness at 3:27 PM on January 17


Actually, there are three threads that make up the Godthread

Let's see, portobello, taters, and... not sure what the third would be.
posted by klausness at 3:29 PM on January 17


That shows a lack of understanding of the standard of evaluation of this kind of belief. Such beliefs and arguments for them are rarely if ever obviously wrong because they're appeals to intuition.

Each of his arguments appeals to different intuitions. His first argument, for example, appeals to the intuition that the existence of things has an explanation. In other words, given the existence of any particular thing, it's reasonable to ask why it exists: i.e., one can expect an answer.


His first argument tries to infer that a purpose exists for the universe and everything in it simply because things created by humans were created with a purpose, which is a problem. If you want to say it's not fair game to evaluate it from that angle, sure. Assuming things are created with a purpose, including the universe, this argument does nothing to solve the problem of what created the creator of the creator of the creator of the creator of the universe, or why it's gotta be "God". As people in this thread have pointed out, and others for hundreds of years. It seems like a great deal of this argument is pretty problematic, without ever bringing "scientific evidence" into it.
posted by Hoopo at 3:39 PM on January 17


this argument does nothing to solve the problem of what created the creator of the creator of the creator of the creator of the universe, or why it's gotta be "God".

I'm guessing the answer is "transcendental" solves this problem. Humans are not transcendental. God is a "transcendental personal being" and the buck stops there. Transcendental personal beings apparently have the property of not having to have been created.

or why it's gotta be "God".

Because if it wasn't God (a "transcendental personal being") then we would have the problem of the creator of the creator of the creator.

But if we are going to allow magic like "the universe was created by a transcendental personal being," I think we also have to allow magic like "the universe created itself from nothing" from Krauss and Hawkings. And nobody wants that.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:21 PM on January 17


All this induction stuff is very interesting, but let's go back to shivohum's original comment.

This uses a standard Christian apologetical strategy (one that Craig has used himself) in response an atheist's to use of a naive evidentialism to discount religious claims. If an atheist says "All reasonable beliefs require evidence, there is no evidence for God, therefore belief in God is unreasonable", the clever apologist will ask "All reasonable beliefs? Really? What evidence could there be for your belief that all beliefs require evidence?" They will then go on to point out that it seems we all have to accept some unevidenced beliefs (induction is a good example for the apologist because it's pretty hard to see how we would get evidence for belief in it without making a circular argument, as Hume knew, but Cartesian doubts about the external world are also popular). "Aha!" says the apologist, "you see, we all rely on faith, and my belief in God, angels, demons and whatnot is just an article of faith, like your belief in this induction thing you're so fond of. We're not so different, you and I. "

The atheist's evidentialism is pretty naive and they probably deserve that sort of response, but still, there seems to be something wrong with equating the rejection of fairly radical sceptical positions with belief in God. I think Chris Hallquist has it right: "belief in the Christian God isn’t very much at all like most of the common-sense beliefs commonly cited as threated by Descartes & Hume-style skepticism (like belief in the reliability of our senses), but is an awful lot like beliefs most Christians wouldn’t accept without evidence–namely, the beliefs of other religions. That kind of response is very hard to reject without special pleading on behalf of Christianity, and doesn’t involve commitment to any potentially troublesome epistemic principles."

That is, religious beliefs do seem to be the sorts of things that require evidence, as even Christians agree if you ask them what it'd take to convince them of the truth of some other religion. If a Christian were to say, "no, but, you see, it's only Christian beliefs which are like rejection of Cartesian doubt", we'd just say "riiiiight". OTOH, if it's not just Christian beliefs which are now OK because we all have to rely on faith sometimes, why not be a pagan, Muslim or Pastafarian instead?
posted by pw201 at 5:57 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]


I can't believe I missed this thread when it started, sadly looks like it's drawing to a close now. Anyhoo, a few points which occur, reading through:

Craig gets respect because he regularly beats atheists in live debates. He is a master of the form. He is prepared: if you go into a debate with him, he (or his researchers, I'm not sure whether he works with help) will have read everything you've written on the subject. He makes explicitly valid deductive arguments where he can. He knows debates are time-limited so he gets to the point without lots of spare words. When you don't rebut everything he's said, he will point out that you haven't ("calling drops", as debaters put it). He wins despite saying more or less the same things in all his debates, so that atheists lack the excuse of being surprised. I can only think that some people go up against him thinking they are good speakers (Hitchens) and can wing it, or that all Christians are ignorant and an intelligent atheist can beat them without studying their arguments beforehand. This turns out not to work out so well for the atheists.

Craig is too clever to make invalid arguments, so his arguments are weakest where he has to abandon the deductive form and either show how the argument shows there's a God even if it's sound, or show that it's sound by showing his premises are true.

For instance, I think the Kalam is weakest at the point where Craig needs to show that the "cause" must be something like a person: he says mathematical concepts don't have causal powers (recent Mefi may disagree) but then wants to argue for that the best explanation is a person who lacks several of properties of all persons we encounter (not material, not existing in time) and has properties unlike that of any persons we encounter. If we're allowed to do that sort of thing, why not just say that there's at least one mathematical concept with causal potency?

Similarly, the moral argument's premises are unjustified, and all he can do is point to the most radical reductionists (hi Rosenberg!) and claim that they represent "atheism". When he went up against an actual moral philosopher, he didn't have an easy time of it, and rightly so.
posted by pw201 at 6:25 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Great points and background, pw201. Glad you came in, if only at the end.

OTOH, if it's not just Christian beliefs which are now OK because we all have to rely on faith sometimes, why not be a pagan, Muslim or Pastafarian instead?

Absolutely, I agree. I don't think his arguments prove Christianity at all. I think they only really point to there simply being something beyond the material world that is aware and intelligent. Beyond that, we can't say.
posted by shivohum at 8:02 AM on January 18


I think they only really point to there simply being something beyond the material world that is aware and intelligent.

Even so, it's like arguing for or against the real value of monopoly play money. Proving that there is real money somewhere only devalues the monopoly money more.
posted by Brian B. at 9:35 AM on January 18


But, as I say, there's scant reason even to believe that the "something" is aware and intelligent. Even if you think that fine tuning is evidence of design, what have you learned? Hume didn't just write about induction, of course: "A man who follows your hypothesis is able perhaps to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something like design: but beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance; and is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology by the utmost license of fancy and hypothesis. This world, for aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance: it is the work only of some dependent, inferior deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors: it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity; and ever since his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it received from him."

Craig vs Stephen Law was a bit of a revelation on the point of knowing what God is like: Craig ended up arguing that the moral argument (which is perhaps his weakest) was the evidence for the deity's goodness. He was stuck, you see: he wants a sort of "mysterious ways" theodicy for the evidential problem of evil, but Law argues that such a theodicy can be flipped to argue that we can't show that the creator isn't evil (and permits so much good in the world because of his mysterious ways), so Craig can't plausibly argue that God is good on empirical grounds. It was interesting that Craig didn't try his religious experience/altar call argument when talking to Law (presumably because it's so easily flipped to argue for Law's evil God instead).
posted by pw201 at 9:49 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Proving that there is real money somewhere only devalues the monopoly money more.

You mean thinking that there's something more devalues the material world?
--
But, as I say, there's scant reason even to believe that the "something" is aware and intelligent.

I think there is, but I'm not entirely sure it's on the basis of Craig's arguments -- with the exception perhaps of the one regarding intentional consciousness. I think there is very good reason to believe that consciousness will never be reducible to matter. If so, materialism is false. And since dualism has problems, I think the most appealing ontological position is idealism. And if everything is thought, isn't it reasonable to think that behind all the thought there's a Mind(s) that thinks it? I think so.

As far as evil, I think the best argument by far is simply that life's a story, as was suggested upthread. Stories need suffering to create drama, and if, in fact, the human essence of consciousness is immortal, then the suffering is illusory. Ergo no real problem of theodicy. We're all just characters in a play, and are enduring no more than theatrical pain. When the curtain comes down, we drop the costumes and go back to the Beyond whence we came.
posted by shivohum at 9:59 AM on January 18


"Aha!" says the apologist, "you see, we all rely on faith, and my belief in God, angels, demons and whatnot is just an article of faith, like your belief in this induction thing you're so fond of. We're not so different, you and I. "
The atheist's evidentialism is pretty naive and they probably deserve that sort of response


Hey wait now, I don't think so! We have to rely on induction, sure, but we don't have to like it, and there's quite a leap between figuring out the sun will rise again after it sets, and the existence of God. That latter thing isn't inductive at all, it's just deciding without any evidence.
posted by JHarris at 10:17 AM on January 18


"I think they only really point to there simply being something beyond the material world that is aware and intelligent. Beyond that, we can't say."

No, they don't. The best you can manage is that it is formally unreasonable to believe in induction. That does not imply something aware and intelligent beyond. All you've done is make a negative case and pretend that if induction requires an unreasonable assumption, then all unreasonable assumptions are allowable.

"I think there is very good reason to believe that consciousness will never be reducible to matter."

Why? Again, denying induction doesn't let you deny the actual advances in science, including neurology.


"And if everything is thought, isn't it reasonable to think that behind all the thought there's a Mind(s) that thinks it? I think so."

No, it's not. If everything is thought, the simplest proposition is solipsism. You've essentially positioned yourself in a weird tu quoque, where because you believe that induction makes a single leap, all your leaps are thereby justified. But if you allow leaps, induction pretty clearly weighs against idealism; you have to keep making additional leaps to get to your position. You're basically saying that you want to allow magic, but only your magic.

"As far as evil, I think the best argument by far is simply that life's a story, as was suggested upthread. Stories need suffering to create drama, and if, in fact, the human essence of consciousness is immortal, then the suffering is illusory."

1) Narrative fallacy is a fallacy. 2) Stories do not need suffering for drama; a struggle is sufficient. Further, the problem of evil is bigger than required for drama; innocent babies don't need to die in order to spice things up. 3) There is no further evidence that minds are immortal. It's just as likely, even based on the idealist conception, that your reality will cease with your mind. (It also doesn't address the problem of other minds, then.)

"We're all just characters in a play, and are enduring no more than theatrical pain. When the curtain comes down, we drop the costumes and go back to the Beyond whence we came."

This is nihilist fantasy that is far more amoral than anything any atheist ever proposed. I do look forward to the next time you make a moral claim, and it can be dismissed because all reality is illusionary.
posted by klangklangston at 10:20 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]


You mean thinking that there's something more devalues the material world?

Consider those syncretic movements or religions that gather up all the good and valuable ideas about God and sell it as worthwhile, something for everyone. The problem they now have is authority, which is the only nagging issue about God, who only exists as genuine or false, like a brand. It was never about possibility, more like legal ownership. Any alien super intelligence, towards a lesser intelligence, can claim to be god or planet lord for example. We can think otherwise, even on faith. The more people think faith only goes one way is where fraud creeps in. And if we're only entertaining pantheism, then it's the same as atheism.
posted by Brian B. at 10:32 AM on January 18


I'm just repeating myself, but I think there is a huge flaw in all of his arguments.

the universe can lie only in a transcendent reality beyond it – beyond space and time – the existence of which transcendent reality is metaphysically necessary

This is fundamentally incomprehensible. "transcendent reality beyond space and time" does not have any meaning. Incomprehensible, incoherent, meaningless words can not be "the best explanation" for anything. There can't even be an argument really; we are fooling ourselves by having the discussion.

"I think there is very good reason to believe that consciousness will never be reducible to matter."

Why? Again, denying induction doesn't let you deny the actual advances in science, including neurology.


I don't think neurology can reduce consciousness to matter. It seems to me people who are saying this don't understand the problem, or deny that consciousness exists which is absurd. Describing a pattern of neurons firing and sodium ions moving around in the brain, or whatever, is not a satisfactory explanation for a conscious experience like the color red, even if it is ever possible to show causality counterfactually.

We're all just characters in a play, and are enduring no more than theatrical pain. When the curtain comes down, we drop the costumes and go back to the Beyond whence we came.

A Shakespearean god. He created the world so he could have an audience. I agree with klang, this seems pretty amoral and absurd.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:43 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I don't think neurology can reduce consciousness to matter. It seems to me people who are saying this don't understand the problem, or deny that consciousness exists which is absurd. Describing a pattern of neurons firing and sodium ions moving around in the brain, or whatever, is not a satisfactory explanation for a conscious experience like the color red, even if it is ever possible to show causality counterfactually.

I'm looking at the 3-body problem and wondering, hasn't the idea that we can methodologically reduce complex systems to the behavior of individual components been moribund for a century? It strikes me as a special pleading to say that the irreducibility of consciousness demands a non-physical spirit, but the irreducibility of turbulence, molecules, or gravitational systems with more than three bodies do not.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:00 PM on January 18


That is, irreducibility strikes me as an epistemological claim that really doesn't say much about the ontology of the thing in question. That simple systems can create problems that can't be solved within the frame of our universe (except through observation of the systems themselves) has been proven.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:13 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I'm looking at the 3-body problem and wondering, hasn't the idea that we can methodologically reduce complex systems to the behavior of individual components been moribund for a century? It strikes me as a special pleading to say that the irreducibility of consciousness demands a non-physical spirit, but the irreducibility of turbulence, molecules, or gravitational systems with more than three bodies do not.

The issue is not the reduction into individual components but reduction into terms that can be tested using the five senses, aided or unaided. Turbulence, molecules, and gravitational systems are concepts that account for publicly-testable sense data. They are nothing more and nothing less than their ability to account for just these phenomena, and are justified by this ability alone.

Whereas the inner movie of consciousness is not merely a concept that rests on public sense data but is its own kind of entity that needs to be explained.
posted by shivohum at 12:18 PM on January 18


or deny that consciousness exists which is absurd

You say this but my understanding is that there is mounting evidence that what we perceive as consciousness is somewhat illusionary.
posted by Justinian at 12:46 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


The biggest problem I see with all this is that we're trying to have it both ways. If we grant (purely for the sake of argument) that first principles such as induction require a suspension of first principles in order to justify themselves and that therefore any proposed solution must also be allowed to suspend first principles, that really doesn't buy us what has been proposed. Because in the first case, the suspension is just that - it is like lifting a house to repair the foundation. Then you immediately set the house back down. Because that was the whole point. Create and maintain a functional foundation.

But in the special cases we are pleading for now, the point of suspension is to argue for the existence (if "existence" even means anything in this context) of beings and/or forces that are not governed by first principles. In this case, the foundation is not being repaired, it is being discarded altogether.

But whether that foundation is immeasurably recursive, or not, it is inarguably useful. I say inarguably, because without first principles, there is no common language with which to argue. There is no way to measure, or recognize, or understand, or convey understanding about anything, so no valid claims can be made, as there is no way to measure vailidity (and indeed no concept of validity to measure).

The moment you try to talk about God as God impacts the knowable universe, you are forced back into reliance on first principles to describe effect and what is knowable, and having now put the house back on the foundation, you are immediately bound again by the same constraints we started off with, and God disappears.

TL;DR: It's all well and good to suspend disbelief long enough to propose ideas that would otherwise defy logical principles, but you cannot then use those same logical principles to defend subsequent claims without first reengaging the principles, and therefore being bound by them again. If there is a God as proposed here, He is not bound by first principles, so there is literally nothing we can logically claim to know about Him. If there was some form of "existence" "before" first principles applied to the universe, there is literally nothing we can logically claim to know about it. Because there is no logical foundation on which those claims can be based.

Even if we grant the premise of a deity, absolutely nothing else can follow logically from there, because logic has been discarded in the granting. Nothing else can be inferred, no conclusions derived, for inferrence and derivation are on holiday. All else is wishful thinking and heresay. And even heresay is disallowed as an appeal to authority.

If God, then so what? If all subsequent claims must still suspend logic, then you are stuck with faith, and all of this is postering.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:53 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


You say this but my understanding is that there is mounting evidence that what we perceive as consciousness is somewhat illusionary.

I know the conscious experience of metafilter blue exists because I am right now seeing it. I don't know how someone could deny that metafilter blue exists while having the experience of seeing it I am right now having, or what that would even mean. Saying it exists only "as an illusion" seems to me to just be creating a new ontological category of "illusion" or "seeming" that is perhaps practically identical with Cartesian dualism.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:58 PM on January 18


Even if we grant the premise of a deity, absolutely nothing else can follow logically from there, because logic has been discarded in the granting. Nothing else can be inferred, no conclusions derived, for inferrence and derivation are on holiday.

Not at all. God under this scheme would become a first principle, much like induction is a first principle. Once you accept induction, you can of course make reasoned conclusions using it. And once you accept some conception of God, you can do the same. Where might this actually make a difference? In how you choose to live your life, for example. Your values might change depending on whether you believed God existed, and what type of God it was, etc.
--
I know the conscious experience of metafilter blue exists because I am right now seeing it.

Yup. When it comes to consciousness, the "illusion" -- that appearance of our personal inner movie -- is the very thing that needs to be explained.
posted by shivohum at 2:17 PM on January 18


"The issue is not the reduction into individual components but reduction into terms that can be tested using the five senses, aided or unaided. Turbulence, molecules, and gravitational systems are concepts that account for publicly-testable sense data. They are nothing more and nothing less than their ability to account for just these phenomena, and are justified by this ability alone.

Whereas the inner movie of consciousness is not merely a concept that rests on public sense data but is its own kind of entity that needs to be explained.
"

Two things:

If you're granted that qualia are irreducible to "publicly-testable sense data," that doesn't mean they don't have effects that aren't reducible to publicly-testable sense data. We know this because we're very much able to use publicly-testable sense data about other people's qualia all the time — if someone tells you they're angry, we may not be certain they're telling the truth, but we may act as if they are (barring further context), and we know because they gave us the very basic data of their language. Another example would be fear, where we very much can see a physical response that corresponds with the qualia — pupils dilate, fight-or-flight responses kick in, nerve centers activate…

So, while the cause was granted as not testable, but the effects are, that means that either there is no cause, or something is acting that can act upon material. The posited transcendent force or being cannot act on the material; if it could, it would be bound by the same laws of causation that connect everything else.

And denying induction isn't a way around this — if there's no way to justify predictions then "publicly-testable sense data" is gibberish. You're forced to give the same answer — fundamental irrationality — to explain God as to justify gravity; it's a more exceptional claim, not less.

"And once you accept some conception of God, you can do the same. Where might this actually make a difference? In how you choose to live your life, for example. Your values might change depending on whether you believed God existed, and what type of God it was, etc."

The problem is that to make God coherent, you have to keep accepting God but keep denying inductive reasoning. Because of that, none of the further questions, e.g. values, will have meaningful conclusions. You might as well say that you're choosing to live your life on whether or not blue exists. It can either materially affect the world or it can't.
posted by klangklangston at 2:47 PM on January 18


"Yup. When it comes to consciousness, the "illusion" -- that appearance of our personal inner movie -- is the very thing that needs to be explained."

Why?

Because we all experience it?

Do we?

Well, we can't prove it.

So how can we explain it?

We can't.

So you wanna just say it's turtles?

Sure, turtles all the way down.

What's all the way up?

Turtle Gods.

Swell.
posted by klangklangston at 2:49 PM on January 18


I know the conscious experience of metafilter blue exists because I am right now seeing it. I don't know how someone could deny that metafilter blue exists while having the experience of seeing it I am right now having, or what that would even mean.

Probably means they are using the professional white background.
posted by empath at 3:08 PM on January 18


You're not addressing my key point, shivohum. I didn't say you can't believe things based on granting a deity, I said you can't use logic to derive those beliefs. If we set aside first principles to introduce a new first principle that can only be accounted for outside of the others, then the new first principle must replace the old ones. Once you create God, you kill logic. When step n of any proof can be, "And then a miracle happens," there really are no more proofs at all.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:09 PM on January 18


The issue is not the reduction into individual components but reduction into terms that can be tested using the five senses, aided or unaided. Turbulence, molecules, and gravitational systems are concepts that account for publicly-testable sense data. They are nothing more and nothing less than their ability to account for just these phenomena, and are justified by this ability alone.

Setting aside the fact that there are not just five senses, the notion that everything that exists can be tested by any combination of senses is a naive reading of materialism. It again, is mixing up epistemology (it's unknowable) with ontology (it's unknowable, therefore otherworldly).
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:49 PM on January 18


The posited transcendent force or being cannot act on the material; if it could, it would be bound by the same laws of causation that connect everything else.

The posited transcendent is a mind and the laws of causation and the material of the world among its thoughts.
--
I didn't say you can't believe things based on granting a deity, I said you can't use logic to derive those beliefs. If we set aside first principles to introduce a new first principle that can only be accounted for outside of the others, then the new first principle must replace the old ones.

No, this doesn't make any sense. Induction isn't accepted at the expense of all other first principles. It exists alongside it. Same with God. Also, it isn't the case that you can't use logic to derive induction/God/other first principles; it's that you can't use the principle at stake to justify itself. That's what's circular.
--
Setting aside the fact that there are not just five senses, the notion that everything that exists can be tested by any combination of senses is a naive reading of materialism.

Not really. The whole appeal of materialism is precisely that what exists is in principle knowable through science. Without that linkage, you're forced to posit "mysterious matter," "unknowable matter"... which is essentially a mystical concept. Materialism, positivism, atheism: these are all part of the same empirical worldview whose point is to banish mystical concepts.

There are a very tiny minority of materialists who think otherwise, e.g. Colin McGinn and his brand of, literally "mysterianism," but there's a reason why people like Dan Dennett so vociferously oppose him. They know it means effective death to the scientism-ist/materialist agenda.
posted by shivohum at 4:03 PM on January 18


 Induction isn't accepted at the expense of all other first principles. It exists alongside it. Same with God.

Not the same with God. Induction isn't accepted at the expense of all the other first principles because induction doesn't conflict with the other first principles. The only reason for setting first principles aside even temporarily was to move beyond the question of self-justification and allow the proposition of deity as first principle for the sake of argument. God, on the hand, had to call for a time-out on first principles not because of recursive self-justification (although that applies here, as well), but because God, pretty much by definition, is not bounded by the other principles, and if taken as a given, instantly invalidates the other principles in at least one known instance. The only way to justify God as a fist principle is to suspend the other first principles that God would otherwise violate.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:36 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]


Induction isn't accepted at the expense of all the other first principles because induction doesn't conflict with the other first principles.

Neither does God.

The only reason for setting first principles aside

Actually, I'm not sure where you got this notion of "setting aside" first principles. The only rule is that a first principle cannot be justified from an argument which uses that very principle as an assumption.

God, pretty much by definition, is not bounded by the other principles

Not true at all. There's no reason a belief in God has to conflict with any of the accepted first principles like, say, induction. God could ordain an orderly world; that's exactly what most religions believe. God in fact is precisely why we should believe that reason works and is capable of comprehending the world accurately, for example -- that's Descartes.

instantly invalidates the other principles in at least one known instance.

Nope. You might be thinking of, say, miracles. This is a completely separate topic from the existence of God per se.

The only way to justify God as a fist principle is to suspend the other first principles that God would otherwise violate.

So no. This is just not true.
posted by shivohum at 4:45 PM on January 18


Because we all experience it?

Are people who doubt this really claiming they don't have experiences? Or don't "know" they have experiences? Or is it just certain characterizations of experiences like "inner movie," "ineffable," that they reject? I'm really not sure at times. It seems to me if there is one thing we can assert the existence of without any doubt, it is our direct experience, regardless of our unreliable ability to remember and report it consistently.

I'm looking at the 3-body problem and wondering, hasn't the idea that we can methodologically reduce complex systems to the behavior of individual components been moribund for a century? It strikes me as a special pleading to say that the irreducibility of consciousness demands a non-physical spirit, but the irreducibility of turbulence, molecules, or gravitational systems with more than three bodies do not.

I don't know what "non-physical spirit" means, and am not arguing in favor if it as far as I'm aware.

The 3-body problem, as I understand it from wikipedia, has a Taylor series solution that requires numerical integration and is therefore un-computable over long time intervals with a realistic amount of computing power. This counts as a reductive explanation to me, so I don't even see an epistemological gap.

The problem of consciousness is essentially the same as trying to use Newton's laws of motion to show how to align planetary bodies such that the universe experiences pain, the color red, or the smell of sulfur, etc. The ontological problem comes into play in that before we were just predicting future position, velocity, acceleration from past such values whereas now we are predicting the coming into being of new entirely different properties of color, smell, and feeling which seem to have no connection whatsoever to position, mass velocity, etc. without applying magic glue.

This is admittedly not the best analogy. According to Laughlin and Pines' manifesto against reductionism below, there do seem to be many measurable higher order low energy physical phenomena that are determined by higher organizing principles and nothing else (not their high energy quantum states or other component properties).

The concept of emergentism (even epistemological) seems murky and dubious to me. Perhaps they make a case for not just epistemological but ontological emergentism. I can't tell. So often computability seems to be invoked as the primary cause of the emergentist explanatory gap. In any event, inferring pain, smell, or color from higher order physical behavior and microscopic structure seems to pose a much different and inherently more ontological problem than emergentist physics problems like inferring acoustic wave behavior (or turbulence or what have you) from atomic structure.

The Theory of Everything (PDF)
R. B. Laughlin and David Pines
.
This point is still not understood by many professional physicists, who find it easier to believe that a deductive link exists and has only to be discovered than to face the truth that there is no link. But it is true nonetheless. Experiments of this kind work because there are higher organizing principles in nature that make them work. The Josephson quantum is exact because of the principle of continuous symmetry breaking (16). The quantum Hall effect is exact because of localization (17). Neither of these things can be deduced from microscopics, and both are transcendent, in that they would continue to be true and to lead to exact results even if the Theory of Everything were changed. Thus the existence of these effects is profoundly important, for it shows us that for at least some fundamental things in nature the Theory of Everything is irrelevant. P. W. Anderson’s famous and apt description of this state of affairs is ‘‘more is different’’ (2).
...
The belief on the part of many that the renormalizability of the universe is a constraint on an underlying microscopic Theory of Everything rather than an emergent property is nothing but an unfalsifiable article of faith. But if proximity to a quantum critical point turns out to be responsible for this behavior, then just as it is impossible to infer the atomic structure of a solid by measuring long-wavelength sound, so might it be impossible to determine the true microscopic basis of the universe with the experimental tools presently at our disposal. The standard model and models based conceptually on it would be nothing but mathematically elegant phenomenological descriptions of low-energy behavior, from which, until experiments or observations could be carried out that fall outside its region of validity, very little could be inferred about the underlying microscopic Theory of Everything. Big Bang cosmology is vulnerable to the same criticism.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:06 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


"Are people who doubt this really claiming they don't have experiences? Or don't "know" they have experiences?"

Without induction, you can't know that anyone else has experiences in the way you do. Or, really, that they exist at all. Might just be a crazy demon fucking your shit up!

"God could ordain an orderly world; that's exactly what most religions believe."

That's not really transcendent. And it's introducing a new term with no explicative value to things we already have sufficient explanation for.

As Jeff Foxworthy says, if you find yourself believing in the same God that Carl Sagan did, you might be an atheist.
posted by klangklangston at 5:18 PM on January 18


That's not really transcendent.

Actually it's an orthogonal question.

And it's introducing a new term with no explicative value to things we already have sufficient explanation for.

Its explicative value has been touched on many times throughout this thread. You might want to go back and re-read.

As Jeff Foxworthy says, if you find yourself believing in the same God that Carl Sagan did, you might be an atheist.

Don't worry, that's not the case.
posted by shivohum at 5:26 PM on January 18


I'm still trying to figure out if you believe what you're arguing, shivohum. Do you really think there is no rational difference between believing in god and believing science works?
posted by Justinian at 5:36 PM on January 18


Not really. The whole appeal of materialism is precisely that what exists is in principle knowable through science.

A not even wrong characterization of materialism, which starts and ends with the idea that all things are matter. Whether those things are knowable through science is an entirely separate epistemological issue, and one can critique the nature of scientific knowledge without invoking non-material entities.

Without that linkage, you're forced to posit "mysterious matter," "unknowable matter"... which is essentially a mystical concept.

Setting aside the problem that there are entire schools of mysticism that are materialist, you're making the same mistake. You're trying to build a positive ontological claim from an epistemological gap.

Materialism, positivism, atheism: these are all part of the same empirical worldview whose point is to banish mystical concepts.

A profoundly ignorant and bad faith argument to chain two different diverse concepts to positivism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:09 PM on January 18


From far above:The argument is that every THING requires a cause, that is, every bounded object subject to the laws of the physical universe. God is argued by theists to be not a thing in the same way that infinity is not a number.

If God is not bounded or subject to the laws of the physical universe, you cannot use the principles defined to describe the laws of the physical universe to evaluate Him.

Actually, I'm not sure where you got this notion of "setting aside" first principles. The only rule is that a first principle cannot be justified from an argument which uses that very principle as an assumption.

This conversation started as a logical justification for faith, in which it was posited that induction as a first principle requires the same leap of faith as a belief in God, given that induction cannot be justified without using induction in the argument, which is disallowed by first principles. Setting aside of first principles, then, refers to this leap of faith required to accept first principles without prior justification.

Actually, though, I really think that you may be missing my point, because you seem to be arguing around it, even though I get the sense that you are arguing in good faith, and seem more than smart enough to understand what I am trying to say, whether you agree with me or not. So I can only assume that I am not doing a good enough job of expressing myself. Let me try another tack:

If God ordains the nature of the world, God is not limited by the nature of the world, and therefore the system designed to describe the nature of the world cannot also be assumed to apply to God. If we nevertheless try to impose that system to describe God, the system fails on both counts.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:31 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


"Its explicative value has been touched on many times throughout this thread. You might want to go back and re-read."

No, it really hasn't. It's been asserted, but not demonstrated. You might want to go back and reread.
posted by klangklangston at 6:34 PM on January 18


I'm still trying to figure out if you believe what you're arguing, shivohum. Do you really think there is no rational difference between believing in god and believing science works?

There are differences, of course. But they are not what people think they are, that's all. And I do happen to think that both are justified beliefs to have.
--
A not even wrong characterization of materialism, which starts and ends with the idea that all things are matter. Whether those things are knowable through science is an entirely separate epistemological issue, and one can critique the nature of scientific knowledge without invoking non-material entities.

What does it mean to be matter that cannot be known? The very essence of matter is its sense-knowability. Get rid of that and there is no reason or benefit in positing it. You don't seem to understand the game we're playing here, or the stakes.
--
If God ordains the nature of the world, God is not limited by the nature of the world, and therefore the system designed to describe the nature of the world cannot also be assumed to apply to God. If we nevertheless try to impose that system to describe God, the system fails on both counts.

Ah, I think I see the problem. You're confusing God the entity with God the concept. Of course we cannot directly describe the entity. But as a first principle, the concept of God does have certain properties that affect this non-transcendental world. For example, as I said before, it may affect our values. The concept of God stands in a kind of borderline position between the transcendental and the non-transcendental.
posted by shivohum at 6:55 PM on January 18


I don't know what "non-physical spirit" means, and am not arguing in favor if it as far as I'm aware.

Then it doesn't appear to be a critique of materialism.

This counts as a reductive explanation to me, so I don't even see an epistemological gap.

Well, you can call up down, wet dry, and yes no by that standard. If the behavior of the system can't be predicted by the properties of its parts, then you have an epistemological gap by definition. I don't find the existence of such gaps to be a particular problem for science, properly defined, which is perfectly comfortable saying, "I don't know," and even "I can't know."

The ontological problem comes into play in that before we were just predicting future position, velocity, acceleration from past such values whereas now we are predicting the coming into being of new entirely different properties of color, smell, and feeling which seem to have no connection whatsoever to position, mass velocity, etc. without applying magic glue.

Certainly qualia is a hard problem. My objection is to the epistemological-ontological leap, "We don't/can't know, therefore..." whether applied to qualia, human evolution, or cosmology. Again, I'm a theological noncognitivist. The "therefore..." involves too many assumptions about both the problem and the proposed solution to be compelling.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:58 PM on January 18


What does it mean to be matter that cannot be known? The very essence of matter is its sense-knowability.

Again, you're conflating an epistemological concern ("knowability") with an ontological one ("the existence of matter.") Knowledge is (to simplify somewhat) a property of human cognition and perception. If we take the uncontroversial view that humans are not individually or collectively omniscient, then it stands to reason that knowability is not an essential property of matter. And in fact, we know (to the best of our current knowledge) that some properties and states of matter are inherently unknowable beyond a certain level of approximation. We have known for almost a century now.

Get rid of that and there is no reason or benefit in positing it

I'd say that the problems of induction aside, methodological materialism has proven to be a reasonable assumption for increasing our knowledge about similarly material things. Admitting that we're not, in any sense, omniscient says nothing about whether matter exists behind the next horizon or in the error bars of our methods.

You don't seem to understand the game we're playing here, or the stakes.

Well, I understand in that having engaged in the sausage-making of creating knowledge and describing exactly what I did and did not know about time-bounded phenomena that I observed with painfully limited vision and recording tools, that you're barking at ideas that are naive and antique. I think I've said elsewhere that science is reductive in methodology not ontology, that is, unless all my microbiology mentors were blowing smoke up my ass about the principle that experiments in a petri dish may not map to ecological dynamics in soil.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:16 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


shivohum, a theodicy is literally a justification of God, so you don't have one! The idea that we are characters in a play does not justify God, because the end (the story) doesn't appear to justify the means (vast suffering). I doubt you'll get far with telling people that their sufferings are merely theatrical, since pain is as present to us as the colour blue is, something which you're anxious to argue is real. It's also not clear that some kind of recompense in the Beyond is sufficient to make up for suffering now.
posted by pw201 at 4:53 AM on January 19


The idea that we are characters in a play does not justify God, because the end (the story) doesn't appear to justify the means (vast suffering).

It does if people are in fact immortal and pristine and the suffering merely an appearance.

I doubt you'll get far with telling people that their sufferings are merely theatrical, since pain is as present to us as the colour blue is, something which you're anxious to argue is real.

They're both real as appearances, of course -- appearances in the story.

It's also not clear that some kind of recompense in the Beyond is sufficient to make up for suffering now.

It's not recompense so much as the suffering being revealed to be unreal, like a dream upon waking.
posted by shivohum at 8:27 AM on January 19


Without induction, you can't know that anyone else has experiences in the way you do.

Agreed. But it would be absurd not to induce that.

Or, really, that they exist at all. Might just be a crazy demon fucking your shit up!

Invoking a crazy demon as an explanation of their existence is admitting to their existence.
"My experiences do not exist because they were created by a demon" is not coherent.

A not even wrong characterization of materialism, which starts and ends with the idea that all things are matter.

Numbers exist. Irony exists. Materialism is false.

What does it mean to be matter that cannot be known? The very essence of matter is its sense-knowability. Get rid of that and there is no reason or benefit in positing it. You don't seem to understand the game we're playing here, or the stakes.
As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer . . . For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer's gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing, the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conceptions only as cultural posits.

-- WVO Quine
"The stakes"? I thought everything was appearances. I'm so confused.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:33 AM on January 19


"Invoking a crazy demon as an explanation of their existence is admitting to their existence.
"My experiences do not exist because they were created by a demon" is not coherent.
"

I was unclear. I was saying that you can't know that other people have experiences, because evil demon, not that it would preclude you from experiencing things.
posted by klangklangston at 12:08 PM on January 19


Oh, you mean because they could be an AI. Got it.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:09 PM on January 19


Numbers exist. Irony exists. Materialism is false.

Translation:
Ambiguous-undefined-noun ambiguous-undefined-verb.
Ambiguous-undefined-noun ambiguous-undefined-verb.
Oversimplified-undefined is false.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:37 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


shivohum: If you reject the idea that things which cannot be absolutely shown to be true can still be assigned relative probabilities how is your position any different than "Nothing can be known with certainty, therefore all beliefs are equally likely to be true?"

I mean, it's true that if I go outside and drop a rock from shoulder height the odds of it falling aren't absolutely 100%, but that doesn't mean the belief that the rock will fall and the belief that the rock will rise require equivalent faith.
posted by Justinian at 1:15 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


There is confusion about belief here. Belief is what you hold in your mind to guide your behavior. This is the only important meaning of belief. All else is misdirection and irrelevance. The philosopher who holds that the world may be just a hallucination still takes the stairs or the elevator rather than walking out the window of the 4th floor. Those that don't leave us abruptly. Saying you "believe" some version of "god" exists is irrelevant unless there is some meaningful difference in your behavior other than the trivial proclamations of this fact and vociferous argumentation for it. All this sophistry about brains and in jars and the "failure" of induction in the real world is just burbling. Belief in a material world and its knowability are strong but provisional in all sane people, not in antithesis to belief in "god" but more central and necessary to navigate life in any ordinary sense of the word.

The ontological problem comes into play in that before we were just predicting future position, velocity, acceleration from past such values whereas now we are predicting the coming into being of new entirely different properties of color, smell, and feeling which seem to have no connection whatsoever to position, mass velocity, etc. without applying magic glue.

Coming into being? Position, mass, velocity? Dare you mention wavelengths of light, molecules interacting with sensory nerve receptors and neural transmissions? Your subjective experience of these things doesn't automatically become mystical and ineffable because you don't intuitively connect them to these physical actions or because you don't understand how they give rise to your specific experience of these things, any more than not understanding how gravity arises makes your falling to the earth when you walk out that 4th floor window a mystical experience.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:42 PM on January 19


shivohum: If you reject the idea that things which cannot be absolutely shown to be true can still be assigned relative probabilities how is your position any different than "Nothing can be known with certainty, therefore all beliefs are equally likely to be true?"

Oh I don't think all beliefs are equally likely to be true. There are better and worse arguments, in my opinion. It's just that in the domain of philosophical beliefs, the ultimate measure is appeal to intuition, not, say, accordance with science. There is no strict way to verify or falsify most of there propositions, only various ways to appeal better or worse to intuition by claiming your argument is more beautiful, simpler, more consonant with other beliefs, etc. These criteria can themselves only be justified in the same way though...
posted by shivohum at 2:09 PM on January 19


It's just that in the domain of philosophical beliefs, the ultimate measure is appeal to intuition, not, say, accordance with science.

This idea doesn't appeal to my intuition. In fact, I find it ugly, over-complicated, and in conflict with other beliefs. So it must be wrong.
posted by misfish at 2:30 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


The ontological problem comes into play ...

Position, mass, velocity? Dare you mention wavelengths of light, molecules interacting with sensory nerve receptors and neural transmissions? Your subjective experience of these things doesn't automatically become mystical and ineffable because you don't intuitively connect them to these physical actions or because you don't understand how they give rise to your specific experience of these things, any more than not understanding how gravity arises makes your falling to the earth when you walk out that 4th floor window a mystical experience.


I don't see that subjective experiences are ineffable - it doesn't seem to me we have a problem naming and describing experiences. I've essentially used "mysticism" to refer to experiences like awe, wonder, beauty etc. Falling to earth may be a mystical experience to someone who understands gravity and even more so to someone who understands general relativity.

Quine, Putnum, Penrose, and others have argued that mathematical objects are "real" and ontologically separate from physical things without invoking a Sky Wizard. Maybe Wittgenstein has a way out of this with his claim that mathematics is "invented." I don't see why it is such a problem for mental phenomena to be a separate ontological category, if this is already the case for math.

Not that I really know what I'm talking about, but I don't think the current neuroscientific understanding of light, nerve receptors, and neurotransmitters predicts the conscious experience of the color blue. We try to attach this property to those processes after the fact. Even if it could predict our behavior including reporting the experience, it wouldn't predict having the experience. This is a different problem than other emergent properties in science which can be described in terms easily reducible to fundamental physical quantities - position, mass, kinetic energy, etc. - and where perhaps the only explanatory problem is not having enough computing power to calculate them from fundamental laws of physics.

“How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of Djin when Aladdin rubbed his lamp”. --T.H.Huxley
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:09 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


re: life, the universe and everything as a 'story' (which it is ;) for me, it's more about narrative consciousness, tribal/national founding mythologies and in-group/out-group psychology or the idea that religion/god is 'hardwired' in our brains somehow. like how a certain belief in X gives you a reflexive identity and advertises/signals your membership to Y, the lamarckian memetics of which lends itself to (group) evolution; think of political parties, team sports, burbclave franchulates or whatever.

that's one of the things i _like_ about, say mormonism and scientology, because the way 'dominant culture' views them today i feel was probably a lot like how the romans viewed early christianity (or mithraism), which exposes religions for what they are: mythology, and if that was good enough for tolkien and lewis why not embrace it and just equate the two?

what's fascinating to me is the intentional deconstruction of religion in say, dune or stranger in strange land, with parallels in conlang (quenya, klingon, etc.) and, getting more attention now, currency with the likes of bitcoin, which begs the question about our whole ISA/OS edifice writ large (or multiple competing applications of such) and whether they can be deliberatively 'rewritten' because after all 'we' made them up in the first place...
posted by kliuless at 11:42 AM on January 20


Because we invented math as a way to describe deep pre-existing processes. Our math is just a way to model things that are more profound than that math. Anyway, what does "math is the language of nature" really mean?

And that invention was so beautiful and so pleasing that we kept on extending it to describe things and relationships between things unimaginable without it, which is how mathematics - the general study of patterns - has become the beautiful and increasingly specialised artform that it now is.

The fact that some of what seem like purely invented relationships have since turned out to be useful tools for understanding subtle aspects of the very reality that mathematics was originally grounded in should not actually be all that surprising.

Every now and then somebody will wheel out this nonsense about constants needing to be exactly as they are lest the whole Universe collapse into non-feasibility, and maintain a straight face while drawing all kinds of bogus conclusions from the supposed unlikeliness of that. However, the shape and character of the formulae within which those constants are meaningful never seems to get any of the same "so amazingly improbable" treatment.

If the constants were different then the models would be wrong. That's the whole, unremarkable, prosaic, pedestrian truth of the thing.

Getting the wrong end of this particular argumentative stick is like trying to mount a serious case that a circle in a flat 2D plane is a closed continuous shape only because pi is very nearly 3.14159. To my way of thinking, it's the mark of somebody who has managed to fool themselves into believing that mathematics is itself some kind of God.
posted by flabdablet at 11:06 PM on February 4


Quine, Putnum, Penrose, and others have argued that mathematical objects are "real" and ontologically separate from physical things without invoking a Sky Wizard. Maybe Wittgenstein has a way out of this with his claim that mathematics is "invented." I don't see why it is such a problem for mental phenomena to be a separate ontological category, if this is already the case for math.

Not that I really know what I'm talking about...


That's only to be expected; neither do Quine, Putnum or Penrose when they sally forth from the comfortable walled garden of mathematics into the howling bewilderness of metaphysics.

Metaphysics is all made up for the amusement of people who enjoy arguing about it. When it comes to metaphysics, nobody understands what they're talking about. We just feel as if we do. But that particular emperor really isn't wearing any clothes at all. And he's smoking crack.
posted by flabdablet at 11:12 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]


On St. John's Wort
posted by homunculus at 3:09 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


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