Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why sexism is obsolete

In previous centuries, people earned their living off the sweat of their brow, and if people fought battles, they fought them hand to hand. So physical strength was at a premium if you were going to survive, and it was more economical for women to be baby-making machines to make sure parents had people to take care of them when they were old. (More precisely, son-making machines). I'm not thinking here of justice, but rather of economics. When your survival is under constant threat, the question of "How can we survive" comes before the question of "What is fair?" With industrialization, this changes. I have never held a job a woman couldn't do as well or better than me.

So, I'm not inclined to be too hard on past cultures for their sexism. But I am hard on people who want to carry sexism into the present day. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A critique of opponents of biblical archaeology

BK, of Christian Cadre, responds to criticism of claims that archaeology supports scripture.

The Passing of John Stott

John Stott, a leading light of evangelicalism for many years, passed away at the age of 90.

The Problem of the Single Case

I was looking at some exchanges I had with skeptics on Debunking Christianity, and one aspect of my views that was difficult to get across to them was the idea that, without attributing blatant irrationality to anyone, we can allow that different people are going to be able to assess the antecedent probability of something like the Resurrection of Jesus in different ways. These people are accustomed to working in scientific contexts where Bayes' theorem is used as a forecasting tool, and I take it what happens in those scientific contexts is that there are frequencies that are thought to determine what the antecedent probability of something is. So, we can look at how frequently something has happened in the past, and we can determine how likely it is to occur in the future. There is therefore a single, determinable answer as to how likely something is to occur.

However, to do this,  you have to subsume events within a reference class, and ask how likely that type of event is to occur. In the case of historical events, however, all of them are at least in one sense completely unique. How frequent are Kennedy assassinations? The guy could only be assassinated once. So, we receive a report that Kennedy was assassinated. We could argue that since the event was unprecedented, the probability of that event was zero, while the probability of false newspaper reports is considerably higher than zero. Therefore, we ought to disbelieve the report and assume that the newspaper report was erroneous.

On the other hand, political leaders are assassinated from time to time, so if we subsume the Kennedy assassination into the reference class of assassinations of political leaders, it becomes considerably less improbable. If we subsume it under the category of assassinated Presidents, we know that of the 34 Presidents that preceded JFK, three of them were killed by an assassin's bullet.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. OK, can we measure the extraordinariness of the Kennedy assassination? How?

This is from the linked Stanford Encyclopedia essay on interpretations of probability:

Finite frequentism gives an operational definition of probability, and its problems begin there. For example, just as we want to allow that our thermometers could be ill-calibrated, and could thus give misleading measurements of temperature, so we want to allow that our ‘measurements’ of probabilities via frequencies could be misleading, as when a fair coin lands heads 9 out of 10 times. More than that, it seems to be built into the very notion of probability that such misleading results can arise. Indeed, in many cases, misleading results are guaranteed. Starting with a degenerate case: according to the finite frequentist, a coin that is never tossed, and that thus yields no actual outcomes whatsoever, lacks a probability for heads altogether; yet a coin that is never measured does not thereby lack a diameter. Perhaps even more troubling, a coin that is tossed exactly once yields a relative frequency of heads of either 0 or 1, whatever its bias. Famous enough to merit a name of its own, this is the so-called ‘problem of the single case’. In fact, many events are most naturally regarded as not merely unrepeated, but in a strong sense unrepeatable — the 2000 presidential election, the final game of the 2001 NBA play-offs, the Civil War, Kennedy's assassination, certain events in the very early history of the universe. Nonetheless, it seems natural to think of non-extreme probabilities attaching to some, and perhaps all, of them. Worse still, some cosmologists regard it as a genuinely chancy matter whether our universe is open or closed (apparently certain quantum fluctuations could, in principle, tip it one way or the other), yet whatever it is, it is ‘single-case’ in the strongest possible sense.

So, if we can't measure the extraordinariness of the Kennedy assassination, how can we measure the extraordinariness of the Resurrection? 

Monday, August 22, 2011

A treat for oldies music fans

This site has channels for each year from 1950-1989, and also channels for different genres.

Metacrock's discussion of ECREE

An important point is from this quotation from Marcello Truzzi.

The central problem however lies in the fact that "extraordinary" must be relative to some things "ordinary." and as our theories change, what was once extraordinary may become ordinary (best seen in now accepted quantum effects that earlier were viewed as "impossible"). Many now extraordinary claims may become more acceptable not when they are replicated but when theoretical contexts change to make them more welcome.

Are skeptics brighter than believers?

According to this response at CADRE, religion is a nonfactor in IQ.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Emperors, Clothing, and the Courtier's Reply

I think the Courtier's Reply can be effective in certain contexts. Let's take the Emperor's Clothes case. If I someone says that the emperor has clothes on even though he appears naked, and he runs through a long list of different types of invisible fabric that he's wearing, of course, that doesn't cut any ice. If, for some reason, he has an argument for why, in spite of the fact that the emperor appears naked,  he nonetheless really does have clothing on, and is attempting to offer an explanation as to why this might be, then at the very least you've got to get the argument right. Granted, you could use a G. E. Moore type response, (it's evident to the senses that the king is naked, and that is more evident than any reason we might have for thinking he is clothed), but what you can't do is straw-man the argument in defense of the emperor's clothes.

For example, if I don't believe that angels exist, it seems to me that I can hold that belief without knowing a lot of angelology, or being able to distinguish between different types of angels, etc., if I have good reason to believe that there aren't any angels.  However, if someone has an argument for the existence of angels, then I can't use this as an excuse to misrepresent the argument. I have to get it right, if I am to be credited with actually refuting it. I can't get away with presenting a cosmological argument that says "Everything's got to have a cause, so the universe has to have one, too."

Similarly, if I am defending an argument from evil for atheism, then I had better know what the theistic responses are and get them right. Otherwise, I'm just straw-manning.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Old Exchange between Keith Parsons and myself over theistic explanations

This is one that appears in my paper on Hume on Miracles, Frequencies and Prior Probabilities. 

Science is unavoidably naturalistic, or atheistic if you prefer. Science operates in terms of scrutable, independently testable entities that operate in accordance with knowable regularities. Supernatural beings, on the other hand, are essentially mysterious; claims made on their behalf are not independently checkable, and there are no "laws of supernature" governing their behavior. Furthermore, "explanations" in terms of supernatural entities are inevitably post hoc and untestable. In other words, proponents of supernaturalistic theories can glibly account for things we already know, but become strangely silent when asked to predict something new, something that would allow their theory to be tested.[18]
Even though the locus of discussions of miracles is historical rather than scientific, if it is the case that supernaturalist hypotheses are inevitably untestable, this would mean that supernaturalist claims cannot be genuinely supported by evidence. But some points can be made in response to this position. First of all, I see no in principle impossibility in "laws of supernature." One cannot, of course, generate deterministic laws governing divine conduct, but one cannot generate such laws concerning the behavior of subatomic particles, either. One can, of course, form probabilistic expectations concerning the conduct of subatomic particles, but, as we have noted, one can generate probabilistic expectations concerning divine conduct as well. It would disconfirm belief in the Christian God if Jim Bakker were to die and rise again on the third day, ascending into heaven a few weeks later. The "laws" of supernature that Christians or other theists are inclined to postulate may not be as detailed as the laws scientists hope to discover in nature, but they leave theistic claims open to confirmation and disconfirmation.

[18] Keith Parsons, "Is there a Case for Christian Theism?" in J. P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen, Does God Exist: The Great Debate (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990) p. 189.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Jesse, I think there's an important point, and that is, "Who's the outsider?" Now, if we take the word "outsider" as meaning, well, someone who's not in fact committed to any particular revealed religion, then Lewis even when he had knelt and prayed, was an outsider, since he did not accept any special revelation at that time, and did not do so for a couple of years.

However, when Loftus actually describes the so-called "outsider," it is an outsider Loftus has created in his own image. For him to acknowledge that a person's religion has passed the OTF, there has to be evidence that at least ought to persuade someone like himself; someone who accepts a broadly scientistic epistemology, etc. But you can be an outsider without subscribing to Loftus's brand of scientism. So it's not an Outsider Test for Faith, it's the SLTF, the Satisfy Loftus (or Articulett, or Papalinton, etc. etc., etc.) test for faith. But if that's the case, why is faith unreasonable if it can't be proven to the satisfaction of its harshest critics? Why are they in the catbird seat, determining the rationality of all beliefs?

Did C. S. Lewis take the Outsider Test?

A redated post.

"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." – Surprised by Joy

I don't know about you, but I'd say he passed with flying colors.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Jesse Parrish and Thrasymachus: Two atheist critics of the OTF

Parrish's critique is linked from the title. Thrasymachus' is linked here.

Now, I'm not going to make the argument that since even atheists criticize the OTF, there's got to be something wrong with it. Arguments have to be discussed on their merits. However, I do like these critiques.

Flippancy and Argument

A redated post.

This is C. S. Lewis's description of Flippancy in the Screwtape Letters:

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.

This passage helps me explain the atmosphere that I found in secular philosophy departments when I was in graduate school. It never seemed to me as if people actually had arguments against theism, or dualism, etc. Everyone acted as if the Argument had been made, maybe on the day I was absent. But no one actually made it. "Everyone is a materialist." "Determinism is obviously true." "No one believes that anymore." "God??? How quaint." Etc. Etc. Etc. Oh yes, and my favorite. "We've grown up."

Is it the same way nowadays?

Devilish Advice for Keeping People from Becoming Christians

I note what you say about guiding your patient's reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naïve? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.

But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous--that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.