bookmark_borderStan Stephens’s Categorical Misunderstandings of Atheism, Part 3

I’m now going to comment on Stan’s post, “What I Learned at Patheos.”

Stan’s Integrity-Challenged Description of His Interactions at the Secular Outpost

My foray into patheos–land is over. I don’t usually venture into other blogs because they are commonly infested with nasty hangers-on (PZ anyone?), but this one seemed different… at first. And it is different, but really only in the politeness of their same old refusal to actually engage in any analysis of atheism. After I posted a number of comments with various commenters requesting the standard evidence and logic for support of their beliefs, everyone but two of them just went away: vanished. The two who remained educated me on the actual purpose of the forum, and then went into silly mode, as do most atheists who are challenged with producing the actual evidence and logic which they claim is their domain.

And a bit later in the same post, we read:

No matter how many times I pointed out that atheism should be robust enough to be defended based on its own facts and principles, no one engaged. No one ever produced any case in defense of Atheism, except for silly stories a couple of times. All they did was the standard dance around, dodging all attempts to get them to produce conclusive reasons for having atheism as a worldview.

If one read Stan’s revisionist history (in the above quotation) and nothing else, they’d think that Stan’s request for evidence and arguments for atheism went unanswered. But that’s a lie: I provided sixteen lines of evidence. Furthermore, it’s false that people just “went away” and “vanished” OR “went into silly mode.” Ryan M, Jason Thibodeau, and I did not just “go away.” Nor did we go into “silly mode.”
Stan denies that this is a lie. He writes:

Now I’m being called a liar, over at Patheos. It is claimed that I did not respond to the analysis nor to the list of purported empirical studies which apparently robustly prove that there is no deity possible and that a deity cannot exist. I replied to the analysis; and I also said that I would read all the list of evidence. Who is lying?

The accusation is not, “Stan responded neither to the analysis nor the list of empirical evidence; therefore, Stan lied.” Rather, the accusation is this: “Stan says that no one produced any case in defense of atheism, but Lowder did and Stan knows it. ”

Induction

The purpose of that area of the web, I was told, is not deduction; they just aren’t interested in deduction, it’s, well, not interesting. What they like at that site is induction and Bayesian probabilities. Now as we know over here, induction is a fine precursor to science, in the sense that it is a classification tool. Items with like or similar characteristics are placed into a single category, and then differentiated into sub-categories, and sub-sub-categories. But it also is a tool for rationalization, of a sort, where a conclusion is asserted and premises are sought which support it. This is intellectually hazardous, because a case can be built with supportive premises while ignoring, or not identifying, negating premises. When used exclusively, it can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. This is especially the case when it is used as the tool for justifying a cherished worldview.

1. No, Stan, induction is NOT a “classification tool.” It is a branch of logic. In addition to my own quick overview of inductive logic, interested readers may wish to consult the excellent article on inductive logic in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
2. What about Stan’s claim that inductive logic “is a tool for rationalization, of a sort, which supports it” because “a case can be built with supportive premises while ignoring, or not identifying, negating premises”? I guess that could be true if you ignore the fact that inductive logic’s Rule of Total Evidence requires that the premises of an inductive argument embody all of the relevant evidence. Or … maybe it’s false and Stan doesn’t know what the Hell he is talking about.

Deduction

Deduction, is rather the opposite. A hypothesis is declared, and investigated to determine its truth value, based on explicit rules for maintaining the complete integrity of all elements of the argument, as well as contrary alternatives. Empiricism uses deduction as a check on inductively declared hypotheses. Deduction/experimentation are the objective part of physical knowledge attainment. Induction is not.

This shows that Stan is also confused about deductive logic. In valid deductive arguments the premises entail the conclusion, in the sense that if the premises are true, the conclusion has to be true. This has nothing to do with “declaring a hypothesis” and then “investigating it to determine its truth value.”

Bayes’s Theorem and Probability Theory

Bayesian probability theory is an attempt to reconcile the tension between a hypothesis and its alternative(s).

Ummm, no. Bayesian probability theory uses Bayes’s Theorem to measure the effect of new information upon one’s degree of belief in a hypothesis.

One of the problems with Bayesian calculations arises when the actual probabilities are not known, and the prejudice of the person doing the calculations is allowed entry into the calculating process. A famous case called simply the Philpott Example is used in one statistics book to demonstrate the collapse of the calculation into prjudice: it occurs when the calculator believes that the proposition being investigated is absurd so he assigns a probability of zero to it. That winds up giving the Bayesian calculation a value of zero divided by zero. Even if he assigns an actual non-zero value to it, it still can be seen to be prejudicial, being based solely on the opinion of the individual. This is an Argumentum Ad Absurdum falsification for the use of Bayes, at least for ideologies.

1. This point has nothing to do with the arguments I provided, which rely solely upon objective factors to determine the relevant probabilities.
2. If the use of Bayes’s Theorem were inappropriate for the philosophy of religion, then theistic Bayesians like Richard Swinburne, the McGrews, and Richard Otte didn’t get the memo. Or … maybe it is appropriate and they understand Bayesian probability theory better than Stan does.

Bayesian calculations are also circular, in the sense that a presupposition of truth of a proposition actually serves to place the conclusion into the hypothesis. Since the calculation involves a subjective input, it is again based solely on the opinion of the individual. So used in isolation from other techniques (disciplined deduction for example), dependence on Bayes can devolve into self-fulfilling prophecies just like induction.

False. A circular argument is an argument in which the conclusion is stated in (or entailed by) one or more of the premises. Consider the following argument which uses Bayes’s Theorem.

Let B be our background information; E be the existence of human consciousness; T be theism; and N be naturalism.
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. N is not intrinsically much more probable than T, i.e., Pr(N | B) is not much greater than Pr(T | B).
3. Pr(E | T) =1 > Pr(E | N).
4. Other evidence held equal, N is probably false, i.e., Pr(N | B & E) < 1/2.

Which premise(s) entail the conclusion? Answer: none. This shows the argument is not circular.

There are instances where opinion of the calculator would not necessarily be a factor; atheist calculations of the probability of the truth of atheism would not qualify as objective, however, and would not qualify as one of those instances.

This is a yet another statement of Stan’s prejudice. To show why it is false, let’s consider an actual evidential (Bayesian) argument for naturalism.

(1) Evolution is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true.
(2) The statement that pain and pleasure systematically connected to reproductive success is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that evolutionary naturalism is true than on the assumption that evolutionary theism is true.
(3) Therefore, evolution conjoined with this statement about pain and pleasure is antecedently very much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true. [From 1 and 2]
(4) Naturalism is at least as plausible as theism.
(5) Therefore, other evidence held equal, naturalism is very much more probable than theism. [From 3 and 4]
(6) Naturalism entails that theism is false.
(7) Therefore, other evidence held equal, it is highly probable that theism is false. [From 5 and 6]

Whether one agrees with this argument or not, the probability calculations in this argument aren’t subjective. They’re either objectively true or objective false.
 

bookmark_borderStan Stephens’s Categorical Misunderstandings of Atheism, Part 2

In my last post about Stan Stephens, I documented how he fundamentally misrepresents the purpose and nature of my evidential case for naturalism, in turn because he seems to fundamentally misunderstand inductive arguments.
Let’s continue reviewing Stan’s post on empirical evidence.

Now we can more readily see that not a single line item is a defeater for the question being asked, which again is this:

“where is the material, empirical, falsifiable but not falsified, replicable and replicated, open data, peer reviewed undeniable evidence that there cannot exist a deity?” And no matter how the questions are answered, they do not select or differentiate atheism as truth, necessary or even contingent.

If Stan knew as much about philosophy as he claims, he would know that questions don’t have defeaters. That massive category error–which lies at the heart of his statement that “not a single line item is a defeater for the question being asked”–simply reveals his ignorance of defeaters, not a problem with the evidence provided. But let that pass.
At the heart of Stan’s confused reply is the myth that atheists, naturalists, and materialists must believe that God cannot exist. That is a straw man of his own creation. The atheist qua atheist does not believe that God cannot exist; rather, he believes that God does not exist. The naturalist qua naturalist does not believe that the supernatural cannot exist; rather, he believes that the supernatural does not exist. The materialist qua materialist does not believe that the immaterial cannot exist; rather, he believes that the immaterial does not exist.
Because atheists, naturalists, and materialists aren’t required to believe that God, the supernatural, and the immaterial, respectively, cannot exist, there is no justifiable reason for Stan’s insistence that they prove as much.
If you’ll pardon an analogy between God and Sasquatch, here’s an analogy. I am an aSasquatchist because I think the existence of Sasquatch is extremely improbable. Stan’s requirement that atheists prove that God cannot exist is analogous to the demand that aSasquatchists prove that Sasquatch cannot exist. The proper response to both demands is, “Why? Why must I prove that such things cannot exist, when I don’t even believe that?”
Stan continues:

It is apparent that the concept of empirical evidence is different for JJ Lowder, in that it seems to refer to personal inferences which are taken from material situations, and even then not all of the claims even refer to actual material “things”. Perhaps this is a consequence of habitual inductive thinking; but the term “empirical” should ring a bell, one would think. Empiricism is the gold standard for material evidence. However, under mataphysical [sic] naturalism, who knows what the criteria might be, since they would likely be metaphysical? That renders them nonfalsifiable, empirically, though, and thus they can’t actually qualify as knowlege.

This is mostly a bunch of philosophical gibberish, but let me attempt to clarify what I think they key issues are. (1) As a Bayesian, I believe evidence is a term that describes a relationship between two or more propositions. One proposition (A) can be evidence for another proposition (B) insofar as A increases the probability of B.  (2) For “ultimate” metaphysical hypotheses like supernaturalism, naturalism, and theism, we can objectively compare the intrinsic probabilities of such hypotheses using such criteria as modesty and scope. 

The idea that subjective conclusions which are inferred from observations are conclusive, is incorrect.

Once again we see Stan attacking that stupid “atheists must believe conclusively / categorically / incorrigibly that God cannot exist” caricature of atheism. (What would Stan do without that idea?)
Stan then complains I did not respond to the following challenge.

Here’s the challenge to atheists: Rather than disproving disproof, as your approach has been, the more straightforward simple proof for atheism illuminates the problem for atheism:
When you can prove, conclusively, robustly, and incorrigibly that there positively is no deity in existence, cannot under any circumstance be a deity in existence, and have the material evidence for that, or even a disciplined, grouunded, [sic] deductive argument for that, then you have proven your case (atheism), and not until.
Further, when you can prove, conclusively, robustly, and incorrigibly that there positively is no non-material existence outside and beyond the capacity of material detection, and have the material evidence for that, or even a disciplined, grounded, deductive argument for that, then you have proven that case (materialism/physicalism as closed system), but not until.
Failure to provide these straightforward proofs would indicate that atheists and physicalists cannot have actual knowledge which supports their atheism and physicalism. Without that knowledge, atheism and physicalism are no more supported than mere fantasies.

At the risk of repeating myself, here is my response.
1. Atheists qua atheists don’t believe that there “cannot under any circumstance be a deity in existence,” so there is no justifiable reason for Stan’s demand that they provide such evidence.
2. Atheists qua atheists don’t believe that there “is no non-material existence outside and beyond the capacity of material detection.” Here Stan seems to be confusing atheists with materialists, and so his demand of atheists is misplaced.
3. Stan’s assertion–that the belief that God does not exist requires a deductive proof to be justified–is just that: an assertion or a claim which requires some sort of justification. I do not find such a reason anywhere in his post. On the contrary, it seems to me that there is good reason to think Stan’s assertion is false. Just as theism can be justified if the weight of the evidence makes God’s existence highly probable, atheism can be justified if the weight of the evidence makes God’s existence highly improbable.

bookmark_borderCritical Thinking – Part 1

What is ‘critical thinking’? Why is it important? Why should anyone try to be a critical thinker? What does critical thinking have to do with secularism and humanism and naturalism?
There are two main ideas to consider behind the term ‘critical thinking’. First, and most obviously, we should consider the ordinary meaning of the word ‘critical’. Second, and less obviously, we should consider the use of the term ‘critical’ in relation to various philosophical theories/viewpoints (i.e. ‘critical idealism’, ‘critical realism’, and ‘critical theory’), to look for further clues about the meaning of this word.
Before we get into constructing a careful definition of the term ‘critical thinking’, a more general idea is worth thinking about: a critical thinker is a GOOD thinker, someone who thinks well, who does a good job at thinking. In other words, ‘critical’ is a positive term, it implies a positive evaluation of a person’s thinking.
Some Initial Thoughts about Critical Thinking
Being a critical thinker contrasts with being a fool, a dupe, a credulous person who believes too quickly and too easily. It contrasts with being unrealistic, engaging in wishful thinking, being overly optimistic, as well as with being overly cautious, timid, and overly pessimistic. It contrasts with being a closed-minded or dogmatic person, as well as with being overly tolerant and indiscriminate. It contrasts with being illogical, irrational, and unreasonable. It contrasts with being prejudiced and biased and with thinking that jumps hastily to conclusions that are not well supported by the available evidence. We call a person a ‘critical thinker’ only if he or she thinks well, at least most of the time on most subjects. It is probably the case that no one thinks well all of the time on all subjects. We all have times and topics in which our thinking is unreasonable or less than fully rational.
The Ordinary Meaning of the Word ‘Critical’
The American Heritage Dictionary (1981) gives nine different definitions of ‘critical’:
1. Inclined to judge severely; given to censuring.
2. Characterized by careful and exact evaluation and judgment.
3. Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of critics or criticism.
4. Forming, or of the nature of, a crisis; crucial.
5. Fraught with danger or risk; perilous.
6. Designating materials and products essential to some condition or project but in short supply.
Definitions 7, 8, and 9 are technical uses of the word relating specifically to medicine, mathematics, and chemistry & physics. Since ‘critical thinking’ is a general term that is used across various disciplines and areas of specialization, and beyond disciplines and areas of specialization, these last three technical uses can be ignored.
Definitions 4, 5, and 6 can be quickly set aside as well. Concerning definition 4, critical thinking can be useful in a crisis, but the usefulness of critical thinking extends beyond dealing rationally with a crisis. Further, thinking critically does not amount to a crisis in one’s thinking; ideally thinking critically should be an ordinary everyday mode of thinking that one engages in frequently.
As for definition 5, it is sometimes dangerous and risky to think critically (especially if one lives in a country with a totalitarian government and one publishes or promotes ideas that conflict with the party line), but more often it is dangerous and risky to think uncritically or to just act on instinct and impulse without any attempt at thinking (“Should I drive home even though I have just had four beers?”). Furthermore, one can think critically about questions which do not have an immediate or direct impact on one’s health or safety, so definition 5 does not apply.
Definition 6 concerns things that are essential to a condition or project. Thinking critically about how to succeed in a project requires that one identify the things that are essential to the success of that project, but one can also think critically about things that are NOT essential to the success of a project (such as things that would help to reduce costs or increase the positive impacts of the project), and one can think critically about things other than projects (“Now that I have lost 20 pounds and achieved my target weight – by a weight-loss project – how can I stay this same weight over the coming years – maintain this weight for the rest of my life?”), so definition 6 does not apply.
Definition 1 can also be rejected. One who is “inclined to judge severely”
and who is “given to censuring” has a kind of bias or prejudice towards negativity. Critical thinking or good thinking is balanced thinking; it is neither overly optimistic nor overly pessimistic; it is realistic thinking. As a matter of fact, there are few things, if any, that are completely bad or perfectly evil. Even Hitler who was clearly an evil and despicable person, had his good points. So, if one is rational, objective, and balanced in one’s thinking, one will usually have some positive things to note even of something or someone who is, overall, very bad.
That leaves us with just two relevant definitions of the word ‘critical’:
2. Characterized by careful and exact evaluation and judgment.
3. Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of critics or criticism.
Definition 2 is the most helpful of the two, giving us a couple of adjectives and a couple of nouns:
careful and exact
evaluation and judgment
Critical thinking is careful thinking. Critical thinking is exact thinking.
Critical thinking ends up with an evaluation or a judgment.
Strong-Sense Critical Thinker vs. Weak-Sense Critical Thinker
Richard Paul distinguishes between a strong-sense critical thinker and a weak-sense critical thinker. A weak-sense critical thinker is someone who has mastery of basic skills and concepts and tools of thinking, but who only employs these skills, concepts, and tools from time to time, but not regularly and constantly, or who employs the skills, concepts, and tools regularly, but typically does so in order to serve self-interest or to serve the interests of a particular in-group (my family, my church, my company, my country). A weak-sense critical thinker may be very good at spotting problems and errors in the thinking of others, particularly those with whom he/she disagrees, but may be very poor at spotting problems and errors in his/her own thinking or in the thinking of those with whom he/she agrees.
A strong-sense critical thinker, on the other hand, employs the skills, concepts, and tools of thinking regularly, even constantly, and typically uses these skills, concepts, and tools in the service of truth and fairness, and is aware of natural temptations towards bias and prejudice and closedmindedness in himself or herself (such as egocentrism and sociocentrism) and makes efforts to avoid, reduce, and mitigate these natural irrational tendencies.
In short, a strong-sense critical thinker not only has the intellectual skills and knowledge necessary to think objectively and fairly, but has developed intellectual virtues so that he or she thinks critically on a regular basis, and often succeeds in resisting natural tendencies towards irrationality, bias, prejudice, oversimplification and closedmindedness. Critical thinking in the strong-sense implies that the aims of truth, objectivity, rationality, and fairness have an anchor in the motivations and character of the thinker.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderStan Stephens’s Categorical Misunderstandings of Atheism

Stan Stephens has finally decided to respond to my list of sixteen (16) lines of empirical evidence which favor naturalism over theism. Here is the first sentence of his reply.

Jeffery Jay Lowder provided a list of empirical proofs. (emphasis added)

I’ve emphasized Stan’s use of the word “proofs” because it exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of the arguments. The word “proof” has the connotation of certainty. But I’ve never claimed that my list of arguments are “proofs.” Rather, my list of evidence is a list of inductive arguments for naturalism. By definition, inductive arguments do not establish their conclusions with certainty. In short, Stan manages to completely miss the point of my arguments–and, indeed, all inductive arguments–in the very first sentence of his reply! 
It gets worse. After quoting my list of evidence, Stan then writes this.

In order to assess these as empirical arguments which disprove categorically the nonexistence of deity, it is only necessary to ask for the experimental data for each item on the list, and to see if that data proves incorrigibly that a deity cannot exist. One quick way to do that is to take the title of each line item and add this statement to it: “therefore there cannot exist a deity”.

Yes, it’s that bad. In fact, the purpose of inductive arguments couldn’t be more different than what Stan claims. At the risk of repeating myself, the purpose of inductive arguments for atheism is not, as Stan falsely claims, to prove that God cannot exist. Rather, the purpose of inductive arguments is to show that God probably does not exist.
Let E represent any item of evidence in my list. For each item of evidence, we assume that E could be true and that God exists. The question to ask is this, “What’s the best explanation for E?” For example, take the hostility of the universe to life. It’s possible that the universe is hostile to life and that God exists. But what’s the best explanation?
But in order to answer that question, Stan will need to drop his obsession with “categorical disproofs”– which I’ve already addressed here (skip down to the “Deductive Argument Objection”) and here–and instead engage with my actual arguments, not his straw man versions of them.

bookmark_borderAn F-Inductive Moral Argument for Theism

Here is an F-inductive argument for theism based on ontologically objective moral values. Note that this argument assumes that such things exist. If you don’t think they exist, then you may want to skip reading this post.
As usual, let B be our background information; E be the evidence to be explained (in this case, the existence of ontologically objective moral values); T be theism; and N be naturalism. Here is the explanatory argument.
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1. [assumption]
2. N is not intrinsically much more probable than T, i.e., Pr(|N|) is not much greater than Pr(|T|).
3. Pr(E | T) =1 > Pr(E | N).
4. Other evidence held equal, N is probably false, i.e., Pr(N | B & E) < 1/2.
Theism logically entails that moral values such as goodness, badness, and the like are ontologically objective in the sense that their truthmakers are not in any way dependent upon the subjective states of human beings or even intersubjective agreement among all human beings. In other words, if theism is true, it is impossible for metaethical views like nihilism, subjectivism, error theory, and so forth to be true. In contrast, metaphysical naturalism does not entail that moral values are ontologically objective.
Here is another way to make the point. Assume for a moment that the only thing you know is that theism is true. If that were the case, you wouldn’t need to know anything else to deduce that ontologically objective moral values exist because their existence is built into the definition of theism. Now pretend that the only thing you know is that metaphysical naturalism is true. If that were the case, you would have literally no idea if ontologically objective moral values exist. Maybe they do and maybe they don’t, but you’re not going to find out from the truth of metaphysical naturalism. This is because metaphysical naturalism says nothing about metaethics except that theistic theories of metaethics are false.
Is this a good F-inductive moral argument for theism and against naturalism?
There are many possible objections; I will mention just one. It goes like this.

While it’s true that metaphysical naturalism doesn’t entail that ontologically objective moral values exist, it may be the case that ontologically objective moral values exist necessarily. If that is the case, then this would seem to be a fatal objection to this argument, since it would then be the case that Pr(E | T ) = Pr(E | N) = 1.

In order to fully assess this argument, then, one will need to answer this question: on the assumption that ontologically objective moral values exist, do they exist necessarily?
Related Posts:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2012/12/an-explanatory-argument-from-moral-ontology-against-metaphysical-naturalism-v2-0/

bookmark_borderCraig Responds to My Objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument

In my debate on the existence of God with Phil Fernandes, Fernandes defended the kalam cosmological argument. In my rebuttal, I provided objections. William Lane Craig, who so far has not debated me despite saying over a decade ago that he would so, responded to me on YouTube.

William Lane Craig’s response is not new; it was released on October 12, 2009. I just became aware of it today (March 27, 2014), however, thanks to Diego Vera.

bookmark_borderInteresting Blog Post about a Multiverse

Where Are We in the Multiverse?” (@ Why There is and Why There Is Anything)
Here’s the first paragraph:

There are two avenues from modern physics to the belief that the universe we see around us is not all there is, but is instead one of infinitely many like it. The first is inflationary cosmology; the second is quantum mechanics.  Though very different, these two multiverse models share two features: first, they both posit objective physical probabilities that tell us how likely we are to be in some portion of the multiverse rather than telling us how likely the multiverse is to be some way or another; and second, they both have a problem with prediction and confirmation.  I’ll discuss the relationship between self-locating probability and confirmation in these theories.

bookmark_borderMust Atheists Have Deductive Proofs for God’s Nonexistence to Justify Atheism?

Yet another objection to the possibility of a sound argument for the nonexistence of a god can be found in the writings of Bertrand Russell. In order to understand the basis for Russell’s objection, we must first understand how Russell defined the terms ‘atheist’ and ‘agnostic’:

An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an Agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism.[20]

On Russell’s view, while the agnostic is a person who holds that the existence of a god “is so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice” is “not far removed” from the atheist who holds that we can know that god does not exist, apparently they are removed far enough for Russell to insist upon the distinction. Yet what is the distinction in question here? If the agnostic who holds that the existence of a god “is so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice” is not an atheist, then, on Russell’s view, the atheist who holds that that same god does not exist must have a deductive proof for the nonexistence of that god.

To read more, see my essay, “Is a Sound Argument for the Nonexistence of a God Even Possible?