bookmark_borderAn Incompatible-Properties Argument against Objective Values

In this post I want to sketch an argument against objective values (moral or otherwise).
I shall first analyze the noun “value” and then the expression “moral value.” Finally, I will use these definitions to explicitly formulate an argument that objective values, so defined, have logically incompatible properties. In other words, the concept of an “objective value” is self-contradictory in the same way that “a married bachelor” or “a four-sided triangle” is self-contradictory.
The Objective-vs.-Value Argument
1. To be valuable, an entity must be valued (by someone).
2. To be objectively valuable, an entity’s value must not depend on being valued (by someone).[1]
3. Therefore, it is impossible for anything to be objectively valuable.(from 1 and 2)
Premise 1 might be challenged on the grounds that it equivocates between two senses of “valuable.” Premise 1 expresses the first sense of “valuable”: an entity that is valued (by someone). This sense is captured by the slogan, “Values requires valuers.” But, a critic might argue, there is another, equally legitimate sense of “valuable.” An entity can somehow have objective value, even in the absence of valuers, simply by being desirable or worth having.[2]
Premise 2 might also be challenged, on theological grounds. Theists have traditionally believed that God is the sustaining cause of everything else that exists. But premise (2), taken at face value, combined with the belief in God as a sustaining cause, entails that nothing else exists objectively. Not only would “God-based” moral values not be objective, but even the existence of things like rocks and rivers not be objective. But this counter-intuitive implication should be rejected. “Objectivity” should not be defined in such an absolutist way; rather, we should simply say that objective value does not depend upon the subjective states of humans. If moral values depend upon the subjective states of God, that shouldn’t disqualify moral values from being “objective.”
Whether or not this argument or either objection succeeds is hard to say. I am inclined to agree with premise 2, but I am less confident in the truth of premise 1. In other words, I’m not claiming that this argument is sound. Also, for the record, I don’t claim the argument is original with me, but I have never seen it explicitly made by anyone else. (If anyone has any references for anyone else stating or defending an argument like this, references would be most appreciated.)
Notes
[1] Nicholas Rescher, Introduction to Value Theory (Prentice-Hall, 1969), p. 56.
[2] Joel J. Kupperman, Value… And What Follows (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3; Louis P. Pojman, Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong (Third ed., Belmont, CA: Wadsowrth, 1999), p. 84, 91.

bookmark_borderFaith and the End of PoR – Part 2

John Loftus referred me to Chapters 7 and 10 of his book The Outsider Test for Faith (hereafter: OTF), so that I could get a better understanding of what he means by the word “faith” in his blog post arguing for the End of Philosophy of Religion (PoR).
Chapter 7 was of no help.  The only clear remarks about “faith” which might have provided a clue to Loftus’ use of the word were the quotations of Timothy Keller on the first page of the chapter (OTF, p.133).  But on the very next page Loftus declares, “…I do not accept Keller’s definition of faith.”  There ends the usefulness of Chapter 7,  as far as my concerns here go.   I found Chapter 7 to be very interesting and worthwhile reading, but it shed no light on what Loftus means by “faith”.
Chapter 10 is, however, a different story.  If anything there is TOO MUCH definition of “faith” going on in that chapter.  But since this is a recently published book, and since Chapter 10 is clearly focused on the meaning of the word “faith”, I have decided NOT to read the various blog posts on “faith” by Loftus, at least not for now.  Chapter 10 provides more than enough material about “faith” to chew on.
Loftus gives three different definitions of “faith” in the very first paragraph of Chapter 10 (OTF, p.207)!  He gives a fourth definition on page 209.  He returns to his very first definition on page 218, and again on page 221.
Loftus also quotes about a dozen different definitions of “faith” by various skeptical thinkers and philosophers (OTF, p.210-213).  The definitions of the skeptics that he gives are somewhat similar to each other and similar to his own definitions.   So, if one rejects the definitions of “faith” proposed by Loftus, one will probably also have to reject the definitions of most, or even all, of the skeptics whom Loftus quotes.  The list of skeptics who define “faith” in a manner similar to Loftus is impressive:  George H. Smith (p.210), Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Matt McCormick (p.212), Victor Stenger, A.C. Grayling, Bertrand Russell, and W.L. Reese (p.213).
In Chapter 10 we also see two of the main influences behind the thinking of Loftus about “faith”: George H. Smith and Anthropology professor David Eller.  Of Smith, Loftus says:
There was a time when I thought Smith was foolish, ignorant, and at best philosophically naive.  But not anymore.  Smith is right [about the opposition of reason and faith]. (OTF, p.210).  
Loftus has five different references to Smith on page 210, and appears to agree with each point made by Smith.  Loftus has six different references to writings by Eller, and makes the following comment about him:
David Eller, probably more than anyone else, has explained what religious believers do and why skeptics reject faith of any kind as fundamentally incompatible with scientifically based reasoning. (OTF, p.215)
Thus, to fully understand and evaluate Loftus’ understanding of “faith”, one needs to have some familiarity with the thinking of George Smith and David Eller concerning the relationship between faith and reason, since Smith and Eller appear to be significant influences on Loftus, at least for this topic.
Here are the four definitions of “faith” that Loftus proposes in Chapter 10:
Definition 1:

…faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities. (OTF, p.207)
Definition 2: 
Faith is an attitude or feeling whereby believers attribute a higher degree of probability to the evidence than what the evidence calls for. (OTF, p.207)
Definition 3:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate the confirming evidence and underestimate  disconfirming evidence. (OTF, p.207)
Definition 4:
Faith is an irrational cognitive bias. (OTF, p.209)
Actually, we can quickly set aside Definition 4, because it appears to be only a partial definition– a statement about the general KIND of thing that “faith” is.  In terms of genus/species definitions, it gives us the genus but not the species.  Definition 4 appears to state a portion of Definition 3, but Definition 3 is more specific, and thus looks to be a more complete genus/species definition.  Also, the phrase “irrational cognitive bias” seems redundant.  Are there such things as RATIONAL cognitive biases?  The idea of a bias already implies irrationality.  So, let’s set Definition 4 aside, as an incomplete version of Definition 3.
It seems to me that Definitions 2 and 3 are logically incompatible with each other.  If we take both to be genus/species definitions, it looks like we are given one genus in Definition 2 (i.e. “an attitude or feeling”) and a different genus in Definition 3 (i.e “a cognitive bias”).  There might be a causal relationship between these two different KINDS of things.  A “cognitive bias” might on some particular occasion cause mental events that result in a particular “attitude or feeling”, but a cognitive bias is a different KIND of thing than an attitude, and a different KIND of thing than a feeling.
So,  in the very first paragraph of Chapter 10, we are given two different and logically incompatible definitions of “faith”, it seems to me.  There is no attempt in Chapter 10 to try to reconcile what appear to be logically incompatible definitions.  This is NOT a good start to clarifying the meaning of the word “faith”.  Loftus leaves the genus of “faith” unclear.  Is “faith” an attitude? a feeling? or a cognitive bias?
One could try to defend these definitions by saying that “faith” is an ambiguous word, and that it can be used to refer to different KINDS of things.  Sometimes it is used to refer to a feeling.  Sometimes it is used to refer to an attitude.  Sometimes it is used to refer to a cognitive bias.  Perhaps that is an accurate description of the different ways in which this word is actually used.  However, in a philosophical discussion about “faith”, I think it is important to try to be clear and to avoid ambiguity.  I think Loftus would agree with me on this:
Dictionaries only tell us how people currently use words; they do not weigh in on whether the definitions of words are sufficiently precise for nuanced arguments like the ones presented in this book. (OTF, p.216)
Here is an objection that I have to Definition 3.  If I take Definition 3 literally, then I think it follows that EVERYONE has FAITH.   We ALL have cognitive biases.  One cognitive bias that we ALL have is that we “overestimate the confirming evidence” for our beliefs, and we ALL “underestimate the disconfirming evidence” for our beliefs.  At any rate, nearly all human beings have these cognitive biases, including Loftus, Smith, Eller, Harris, Dawkins, McCormick, Bertrand Russell, A.C. Grayling, and yours truly.
Since nearly all of us have these cognitive biases, if “faith” IS the possession of such cognitive biases, then Loftus, Smith, Eller, Harris, Dawkins, McCormick, Bertrand Russell, A.C. Grayling, and yours truly ALL have faith.  But neither Loftus nor I would accept this conclusion, so that implies that the assumption upon which this conclusion is based must be false. If Loftus and I do NOT have “faith”, then “faith” does NOT mean what Definition 3 says it means.  Therefore, Definition 3, it seems to me, is false.
==========================
NOTE/CORRECTION:
John Loftus has objected to my assertion that “neither Loftus nor I would accept this conclusion” i.e. the idea that EVERYONE has FAITH.  He claims it is, and has been for some time, his view that “we all have faith”.  He cites page 112 of the book God or Godless.  On that page Loftus makes this statement: “…I do agree that almost everybody has faith, but this isn’t a good thing.”  Although this statement does NOT say that we ALL have faith, it does come close to that universal quantification.  That is close enough to show that I was mistaken in thinking that Loftus would not accept the conclusion that EVERYONE has FAITH.
In my defense, I had attempted to understand what Loftus means by the word “faith” by reading chapters 7 and 10 of his book The Outsider Test for Faith.  Those were chapters that Loftus had pointed me to in a comment.  I did not notice anywhere in chapters 7 and 10 that Loftus held the view that EVERYONE has FAITH.  Furthermore, there is a passage in Chapter 10 in which it appears that Loftus holds the opposite view.  He raises an objection against a definition of “faith” by Rauser, saying:
Rauser thinks it’s easy to define faith. He defines it as “assent to a proposition that is conceivably false.”  By doing so he’s lowered the bar so far that everyone could be thought to have faith.
This is an OBJECTION to Rauser’s definition, so it seemed to me that Loftus was making the same general sort of objection to Rauser’s definition that I make above to Loftus’ definition.  It seemed to me that Loftus was implying that a definition of “faith” is DEFECTIVE if it “lowered the bar so far that everyone could be thought to have faith”.  This objection appears to assume that it is implausible to say that “everyone could be thought to have faith.”
Apparently that is NOT what Loftus intended to convey by this objection, but I think any reasonable person would agree that my initial interpretation of this objection by Loftus was a plausible one, and that at least part of the responsibility for my mistaken interpretation rests with the unclarity of the expressions and statements made by Loftus in this passage.
Furthermore, this problem of unclarity ALSO exists in the book God or Godless.  At the beginning of the section where Rauser and Loftus debate about the meaning of the word “faith”, we find the following headings (p.109):
EVERYBODY HAS FAITH
Arguing the Affirmative:  RANDAL THE CHRISTIAN
Arguing the Negative: JOHN THE ATHEIST 
Somebody besides me was ALSO confused as to Loftus’ position, because according to these headings, Loftus is NOT arguing FOR the proposition that “EVERYBODY HAS FAITH”.  Rather, Loftus was (according to the poor misguided soul who edited this book) arguing AGAINST the proposition that “EVERYBODY HAS FAITH”.
If the freaking EDITOR of Loftus’ book is confused about which side Loftus takes on this issue, then perhaps I deserve a bit of grace about my confusion concerning his view on this question.
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bookmark_borderFaith and the End of PoR

 
John Loftus has advocated the End of Philosophy of Religion as a discipline.  In his post defending this proposal, Loftus repeatedly talks about “faith”. The word “faith” occurs 23 times in the post, and it occurs in 7 out of the 13 paragraphs that constitute the post.  Some paragraphs have multiple references to “faith”:

  •  the word “faith” occurs six times in paragraph 4
  • the word “faith” occurs six times in paragraph 8
  • the word “faith” occurs four times in paragraph 9
  • the word “faith” occurs three times in paragraph 3
  • the word “faith” occurs two times in paragraph 7
  • the word “faith” occurs one time in paragraph 11
  •  the word “faith” occurs one time in paragraph 12

It is clear that the concept of “faith” plays a key role in this argument for the End of PoR.
Loftus is advocating the End of Philosophy of Religion (PoR), but more specifically he is advocating various changes in how PoR is taught in public colleges and universities.  Loftus believes that if his proposed changes are implemented this will lead to the actual extinction of PoR as a discipline.
I’m going to sum up Loftus’ views in a rough and somewhat crude way, as a first-cut at the logic of his argument. This will need to be clarified and expanded upon later to make it more  accurate and complete:
1. FAITH is a bad thing.
Therefore:
2. All professors at public colleges and universities ought to teach all their courses in a way that:
(a) does not promote FAITH, and (b) actively discourages FAITH.
Therefore:
3. Professors of philosophy at public colleges and universities ought to teach their philosophy of religion courses in a way that:
(a) does not promote FAITH, and (b) actively discourages FAITH.
Loftus believes that if professors of philosophy teach their PoR courses in the way that he prescribes, a way that is aimed at actively discouraging  FAITH, this will bring about the extinction of philosophy of religion.  I’m not sure how his new way of teaching PoR is supposed to do this, but I have not yet read his posts that go into those particular details.
I recently wrote a post in which I criticized William Lane Craig (WLC) for using the words ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ without defining these terms:
 The first thing to note about any interpretation of the above quoted passage, is that WLC does not provide a definition of either ‘faith’ or ‘reason’. At least, I have not been able to locate such definitions in the Chapter that the above passage came from (“Faith and Reason: How do I know Christianity is True?”). Because WLC does not define these key terms, he cannot express his own views clearly and unambiguously. 
The same criticism applies to Loftus’ post.
In fairness, WLC’s statements were in a published book, not in a blog post, and the Chapter in which those statements by WLC appeared was  titled “Faith and Reason: How do I know Christianity is True?”, so WLC’s failure to define these key terms is a bit more egregious than Loftus’s failure to define “faith”.
However, it is clear that “faith” is a central concept in the argument for the End of PoR, so Loftus’s argument is vague and unclear as it stands, until the meaning of the word “faith” is clarified.
Clarity is a gateway standard of critical thinking.  Without clarity, we cannot do much in the way of evaluation.  No intelligent critical thinker will either agree or disagree with Loftus on this subject until the word “faith” has been defined or clarified in some way.
In order to do justice to Loftus’ argument, I will need to read other posts where he discusses “faith” to see if I can figure out what he means by this word.
But for right now, since Loftus  did not provide any definition or clarification of the word “faith” in his post, I’m going to simply turn to my dictionary, and do some preliminary thinking and analysis with respect to each of the various meanings of the word as specified in the dictionary (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition).
I will consider two questions relative to each of the different dictionary definitions of “faith””
1. Is FAITH (in the sense defined) a bad thing?
2. Is this a plausible interpretation of what Loftus means by FAITH in the post about the End of PoR?
My dictionary gives seven different definitions of the word  “faith”:
Definition 1:  A confident belief in the truth, value, trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
Is FAITH (Def.1) a bad thing?  No.  It is a good thing, or can be a good thing, to have a confident belief in the truth of an idea.  It is a good thing, or can be a good thing, to have a confident belief in the trustworthiness of a person.  It is a good thing, or can be a good thing, to have a confident belief in the value of a thing.
Of course, FAITH (Def.1) can sometimes be a bad thing.  If you confidently believe in the truth of an idea that is actually false, then that is a bad thing.  If you confidently believe that a certain person is trustworthy when that person is in fact a very dishonest, selfish, and unreliable  person, then that is a bad thing.  It all depends upon whether the object of your confident belief has the character that you believe it to have, and whether you have good reason to believe it has that character.
Is FAITH(Def.1) a plausible interpretation of how Loftus is using the word “faith”?  I don’t think so.  It is fairly obvious that FAITH(Def.1) is NOT intrinsically or necessarily a bad thing.  It all depends upon the actual character of the object of the confident belief (and on the rationality or justification of that confident belief).  Because it is obvious that FAITH(Def.1) is NOT intrinsically or necessarily a bad thing, it would be unfair to interpret Loftus as using the word “faith” in this sense, because it would make his basic premise (1) obviously false.  If at all possible, we need to find an interpretation of “faith” that makes his basic premise (1) true, or at least makes his premise (1) initially plausible.
Definition 2:  Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
Is FAITH(Def.2) a bad thing?  It certainly seems to be a bad thing, at least from the point of view of philosophy and critical thinking.  In philosophy and in critical thinking, we learn to demand reasons, arguments, and evidence in support of claims and theories.  If there is no good reason or argument or no evidence given to support a claim, then the claim should be rejected or at least set aside and we should hold back our assent until some reason or evidence can be given in support of the claim or theory.
But a universal demand for reasons and evidence appears to be problematic.  First, there is the problem of infinite regress.  If I demand a reason for every claim, then no claim can ever be rationally justified, because reasons are themselves claims which (on this view) stand in need of support by other reasons.  Second, there do appear to be some legitimate starting points for justification of claims.  I know that there are five fingers on my right hand.  I can see my right hand, and I can quickly count the number of fingers.  The simple experiential justification of the claim that I have five fingers on my right hand seems to be at, or very near, the bottom of the epistemic chain of justifications.  To the extent that some of our beliefs are ‘properly basic’ or justified without the need of reasons or arguments, then we need to admit that the demand for reasons and arguments does not apply universally to all claims or beliefs.
The exception of ‘properly basic beliefs’ however, is a subtle and tricky notion, so there is at least some initial plausibility to the idea that “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence” is always a bad thing.  Because it is not obviously false that FAITH(def.2) is a bad thing, this second definition is a plausible interpretation of what Loftus means by “faith” in his post.
A second way in which FAITH(def.2) might NOT be a bad thing, is if the belief rests on an illogical proof, but the logical error in the proof is difficult to perceive.  It is a good thing to rely on an illogical proof when that proof appears to be a correct logical proof to the person who believes the conclusion on the basis of that proof.  If someone understands logic and reasoning well, and examines a proof carefully, and concludes that the proof is a correct logical proof, then that person ought to believe the conclusion of the proof (unless there is some other reason or evidence pointing in the opposite direction).  Such a person is believing in accordance with his/her epistemic duties, even if he/she has missed a subtle logical error in the proof.
Let’s consider the remaining definitions to see whether any of them is also a plausible interpretation of the word “faith” as used by Loftus in his post on the End of PoR.
Definition 3: loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance…
Is FAITH(def.3) a bad thing?  No, it is not.  Loyalty to a person is a good thing, or can be a good thing.  Friendship is partly a matter of loyalty.  A good friend is a loyal friend.  Betrayal by a friend can be painful, and often results in the end of the friendship.
Loyalty and allegiance can sometimes be a bad thing.  If a person was loyal to Hitler and the Nazi Party, that person may have helped Hitler to succeed in his evil plans.  If a person had allegiance to the Communist Party under Stalin, that person may have helped Stalin to succeed in his evil plans.  Loyalty can be a good thing or a bad thing, it depends in large part on the person or thing that is the object of one’s loyalty or allegiance.  Loyalty to and from a good friend can be a good thing.  But loyalty or allegiance to an evil dictator or an evil organization can be a bad thing.
Since it is fairly obvious that loyalty can sometimes be good and sometimes be bad, depending on the object of one’s loyalty, the basic premise of Loftus’ argument would be clearly false if interpreted in terms of FAITH(def.3).  Thus, to be fair,  we should reject this as an interpretation of what is meant by the word “faith” in his argument for the End of PoR, especially since we have already identified a possible interpretation that gives premise (1) at least some initial plausibility.
Definition 4:  Belief and trust in God.
Is FAITH(def.4) a bad thing?  If God exists, then belief in God is NOT a bad thing.  If God does NOT exist, then belief in God is a bad thing, at least it would be bad in the respect that it would be a false belief.
But it is conceivable that someone could have a good reason to believe that God exists even if God does not in fact exist.  Sometimes evidence can be misleading and point us in the wrong direction.  If someone believed in God and had a good reason to believe in God, and yet God did not actually exist, then that would be partly a good thing and partly a bad thing.  It would be partly a good thing, because that person would be believing something that he or she had good reason to believe, but it would also be a bad thing because that belief would be false (on the scenario under consideration).
Similarly, someone might believe in God on the basis of weak or defective reasons, and yet God might exist.  In that case the person’s belief in God would be partly good and partly bad.  It would be partly good because they would have a true belief concerning God, but it would be partly bad because they would hold this belief irrationally or on the basis of defective reasoning.
What about trust in God?  Again, if God exists, then it seems like a good thing to trust in God (I’m assuming that “God” implies a person who is perfectly morally good).  But if there is no God, then it is a bad thing to trust in God.  However, if someone had good reason to believe that God existed,  yet God did not actually exist, then trust in God would be partly good and partly bad.  It would be partly good in that this person would believe in God in accordance with reason, and trust in God would be rational and justified, but this would be partly bad because, the belief in God would be false and there would be no God present to act in a trustworthy manner towards this believer.
Loftus might object that there are no good reasons to believe in God, and that there are plenty of good reasons to believe there is no God, so belief in God is like belief in Santa Claus or fairies or belief in astrology, and this belief is something that we should NOT tolerate in grown adults who are taking college courses.
I disagree with this view, but there is no need to settle this issue now, because ‘belief in God’ does not work as a plausible definition of “faith” in relation to Loftus’ post on the End of PoR.
In the post, Loftus repeatedly speaks of “faith-based claims”.  He also speaks of “faith based conclusions” and “faith based answers”.  Belief in God’s existence might typically be based on faith, but this is not necessarily the case.
Some people believe in the existence of God on the basis of reasons and arguments.  Perhaps the reasons and arguments are defective in some way, but there are a few people who, if you show them that the reasons and arguments they have for the belief in God’s existence are defective, then they will change their minds and stop believing in God.  These people may be rare and the exception to the rule, but there are some such people.  I would thus say that although most people believe in God as a “faith based conclusion” there are a few who believe in God on the basis of reason, not faith.
Furthermore, even if I am wrong and every single person who has ever believed in God has believed on the basis of faith, there is still clearly  a distinction to be made between WHAT they believe (i.e. that God exists) and WHY they believe this.  In talking about “faith-based claims” or “faith based conclusions” Loftus implies that faith is a WAY of holding a belief, and thus that faith is WHY some people hold some beliefs, such as WHY some people believe that God exists.  But the explanation of WHY someone holds a particular belief is a separate issue from WHAT it is that the person believes.  Thus, the belief that God exists cannot be that to which Loftus refers when he speaks of “faith” in his post on the End of PoR. He clearly does NOT mean FAITH(def.4).
To be continued…
 
 
 
 

bookmark_borderPhilosophy as Astrology

A comment by hisXmark on one of my recent posts challenged the value of philosophy:
The nature of knowledge is not to be found in philosophy, it is to be found in neuroscience and psychology. All that remains of philosophy is myth and fairy tale. Like its stepchild, theology, philosophy is fantasy that has lost its function.
Unfortunately, hisXmark could not reason his/her way out of a wet paper bag, so that conversation went nowhere. I demanded a reason or argument in support of these strong claims, but got nothing of any value in response from hisXmark.
Perhaps someone might think I was being unfair in demanding an ARGUMENT to support this viewpoint.  Isn’t reasoning and argument a philosophy game?  If philosophy is just “myth and fairy tale” and if neuroscience and psychology have all the answers we need concerning the nature of knowledge, then shouldn’t I have asked for an EXPERIMENT or some SCIENTIFIC OBSERVATIONS instead of an ARGUMENT?  Was I biasing the outcome by demanding that we play the game of philosophy instead of the game of science?
I don’t think it was unfair to demand an argument in support of these strong claims.  First of all, scientists don’t just perform experiments and observations; they formulate REASONS and ARGUMENTS for conclusions that are based upon their experiments and observations.  In other words, an experiment is an event, and an observation is an event, and events are not self-interpreting.  Someone has to interpret these events; someone has to present REASONS and ARGUMENTS for conclusions that are based on or drawn from these events.
It would, I suppose, beg the question to insist that an anti-philosophy point of view be defended or supported by a PHILOSOPHICAL argument.  But I did not demand a philosophical argument, I just asked for a reason or argument of some sort, and the argument given to me looked a lot like a philosophical argument; thus, hisXmark immediately undermined his/her own anti-philosophical position by giving me a PHILOSOPHICAL argument, insisting that the argument was a GOOD argument, and concluding that philosophy was completely useless and without any merit.
Although hisXmark was unable to provide any intelligent defense of the anti-philosophical viewpoint, I know that there are more reasonable and intelligent defenders of this viewpoint.   The position of hisXmark is simply an extreme version of NATURALIZED EPISTEMOLOGY, which has been advocated by Quine and Rorty.  I’m not familiar with the debate on this topic, but I do have some thoughts on the subject.
If any readers are familiar with the debate over NATURALIZED EPISTEMOLOGY, please help me out and provide some feedback on my thoughts here.
1.  Conceptual Analysis
How in the heck can science perform the task of conceptual analysis?
What experiment will answer this question:
Is knowledge the same thing as justified true belief?
What empirical observations will answer these conceptual questions:
What is a belief?
What is a proposition?
What is the relationship between beliefs and propositions?
2.  Normative Epistemological Questions
What experiments or observations will resolve these normative epistemological questions:
What makes some beliefs justified beliefs?
What makes some beliefs true beliefs?
What makes some beliefs rational beliefs?
Do human beings have any justified beliefs?
Do human beings have any true beliefs?
Do human beings have any justified true beliefs?
Do human beings have any knowledge?
Do human beings have any rational beliefs?
3. Theoretical Questions of Epistemology
What experiments or observations will resolve these theoretical questions:
Is internalism true?
Is externalism true?
Is foundationalism true?
Is relativism true?
Are some beliefs properly basic beliefs?
Does naturalism imply that our belief formation is unreliable?
=========================
It seems to me that no experiment or observation could ever answer any of these questions.  An experiment will not help us to analyze the concept of knowledge.  An experiment will not establish any normative principles of epistemology.  An experiment is not going to answer the sort of theoretical questions that philosophers have about knowledge.
Perhaps I am myopic and stuck in my ways.  Let’s suppose that there are scientific experiments and observations that could answer or resolve some of these questions.  It seems to me, however, that as in the case of other ordinary scientific experiments and observations, what we get are some facts and descriptions of events, and that it is up to some scientist to draw the meaning out of those facts and events.  Some scientist will need to not only think up an experiment, and conduct the experiment, and describe the experiment, but he or she will also need to present REASONS and ARGUMENTS for some conclusion that is based upon the observations and experiments that were made.
In presenting REASONS and ARGUMENTS based upon some experiment or observations, that scientist will be interpreting certain facts and events in a way that makes those facts and events relevant to some PHILOSOPHICAL issue or claim.  I understand that this does not ENTAIL that the reasons and arguments given would be PHILOSOPHICAL reasons and arguments.
However, I find it extremely difficult to imagine how the gap between ordinary scientific experiments and observations on the one hand, and conceptual analysis conclusions about ‘knowledge’ or ‘belief’ or ‘justification’ could be bridged without engaging in something that will look, smell, feel, and sound like a PHILOSOPHICAL argument.  I find it extremely difficult to imagine how the gap between ordinary scientific experiments and observations on the one hand, and normative epistemological principles could be bridged without engaging in something that will be indistinguishable from PHILOSOPHICAL reasoning.  I find it extremely difficult to imagine how the gap between ordinary scientific experiments and observations on the one hand, and answers to theoretical questions of epistemology could be bridged apart from making statements and inferences that will look and sound just like those made in PHILOSOPHICAL discussions about those issues.
Am I missing something here?  If so, please enlighten me.
 
 
 

bookmark_borderNext Year

I wanted to retire this year, but that did not work out.   I might be able to retire a year from now, though.
There are a number of topics from this year that I plan to carry over into 2015:
1. The End of PoR?
John Loftus has argued that public colleges and universities should stop offering classes in the Philosophy of Religion.  I disagree.  But I have not yet evaluated his argument for the End of PoR, nor have I made my case in support of PoR.
2. Swinburne’s case for God
I finished the first draft of my article on Swinburne’s case for God.  The article is too long to be published by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (it is over 200 pages long), so I will be working on cutting it down to about 80 pages.  After I finish editing a short version of my paper, I will probably put in some more effort at evaluation of Swinburne’s case for God.  Eventually, I will also explore the final phase of his case, which is presented in The Resurrection of God Incarnate.
3. Is WLC’s reformed epistemology stupid?
Bob Seidensticker wrote that William Lane Craig’s view that the witness of the Holy Spirit to the truth of Christianity takes precedence over evidence to the contrary is ‘stupid’.  I disagree.  But Bob has raised some questions worth further thought and investigation:   (1) Is WLC’s reformed epistemology stupid?  (2) Is WLC’s view of faith and reason stupid?  (3) Is WLC’s view of the priority of the witness of the Holy Spirit over evidence stupid?  I think the answer to all three questions is ‘No’, but I need to carefully and accurately analyze and evaluate WLC’s statements and arguments in order to be confident in my answers to these three questions.
4. Critical Thinking and Skepticism
John Loftus argued that it is more important to teach skepticism than to teach critical thinking.  I disagree.  I plan to further explore related issues:  (1) What is skepticism?  (2) What is critical thinking?  (3) What is the relationship of skepticism and critical thinking?
5.  Reasons for Skepticism
I plan to continue developing a case for skepticism, at least working on fleshing out my seven  Reasons for Skepticism.
 
6. Norman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus
I will continue with my previous critique of Geisler’s case for the death of Jesus:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
One new topic (or two)  to add into the mix:
7.  The Case Against Jesus – My Ten-Year Plan
I was planning to retire this year and start work on a ten-year project of developing a multi-volume case against Jesus/Christianity.  The retirement did not happen, but I can at least get started on this project, even though it will be slow going while I’m still working my day job.

bookmark_borderStrategies for the Problem of Evil

A recent post on the problem of evil (PoE) drew over 250 comments, a new record, I think. The comments were lively, but went in various directions, making it hard to follow a clear thread of argument after a while. Here I would like maybe to help focus discussion by offering my synopsis of the ways that the PoE is generally approached, and listing what I see as the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Theists have generally addressed the PoE in three ways, or perhaps we should say by deploying three general strategies: (1) theodicy, (2) defense, and (3) skepticism.
(1) Theodicy. This is the old-fashioned, traditional approach. Theodicy is the attempt to explain the ways of God to humans, i.e. to give the reasons why a perfectly good and all-powerful God might permit evil. Standard themes of theodicists include appeal to libertarian free will (C.S. Lewis), the opportunity for soul-building (John Hick), and the opportunity for humans to be morally responsible and shape their own destinies (Richard Swinburne). What these themes have in common is the idea that evil is necessary for the achievement of significant goods, goods without which human life would be trivial and not worthy of living. It is often argued, for instance, that libertarian free will is such a great good that it must be permitted free exercise, even if it is used to make terrible choices. The alternative to free will, it is said, is that we become robots, programmed to do good but incapable of choosing it for ourselves. The assumption is that life as robots would be vastly inferior to life as free creatures, even creatures allowed to grossly misuse that freedom. Not everyone has agreed with that assumption. T.H. Huxley once made a comment to the effect that if he could always do what is right and think what is true at the expense of being wound up like a mechanical doll every night, he would seal the bargain immediately. Nevertheless, the appeal to libertarian free will has intuitive appeal for many.
Similarly, John Hick said that evils present us with an opportunity. By making good choices we engage in “soul building,” that is, we make ourselves into morally better creatures. If there were no challenges to overcome or difficult choices to make, if, indeed, the world were a hedonistic paradise, with no opportunities for heroism or villainy, we would be a sorry lot of lazy lotus-eaters.
In the same vein, Richard Swinburne says that it is good that God allows humans a large share in shaping their own destinies. Automata do what they are programmed to do. Free creatures can choose to make things better or worse for themselves and others. As Swinburne puts it:
“He [God] must for example not merely give men the power to bruise each other, but also give them the power to become heroin addicts, and to drop atomic bombs. A God who greatly limits the harm which men can do to each other greatly limits the control over their destiny which he gives men—just as an over-protective parent who preserves his child from almost every possible physical and moral danger does not allow him to run his own life, and in turn to make through his own choice a difference in the lives of others (Swinburne, “Natural Evil,” The American Philosophical Quarterly, October, 1978).”
Advantages: A successful theodicy would be the most psychologically satisfying of the responses to the PoE. If we could see evil as a necessary condition for the best things in life, the things that make life worth living, then it would be easier to come to terms with the bad things. When, for instance, we hear that a gang of homicidal fanatics has murdered an entire village of innocent people, we are appalled, but we do not blame God because we know that the power to do great good unavoidably carries with it the power to do great evil. Further, the theodicists have clearly shown that a world with no challenges, no setbacks or obstacles to overcome, would not be an ideal world. A world of hedonistic indulgence would indeed be a fool’s paradise. Surely, also, anyone with a sense of pride desires self-determination even at the cost of risk and would resent a “helicopter” God always hovering to keep us from stubbing our toes or making a bad choice. Theodicy therefore has strong intuitive appeal.
Disadvantages: The chief disadvantage of theodicy is that, while it might effectively address some evils, the magnitude, duration, extent, and nature of other evils make them hard to justify in any terms. Some evils are so bad, and so apparently gratuitous and senseless, that to invoke any theodicy seems superficial and facile. Some evils, indeed, work directly against the very goods typically invoked by theodicists—free will, self-determination, soul-building, etc. For instance the various disorders that cause cognitive impairment, and the various sorts of mental illness work precisely to deprive victims of the ability to choose freely, be responsible for themselves, or make themselves into better persons. Alvin Plantinga admirably sums up the problems with theodicy:
“…I must say that most attempts to explain why God permits evil—theodicies, as we may call them—strike me as tepid, shallow and ultimately frivolous. Does evil provide us with an opportunity for spiritual growth, so that this world can be seen as a vale of soul-making? Perhaps some evils can be seen this way; but much leads not to growth but to apparent spiritual disaster. Is it suggested that the existence of evil provides the opportunity for such goods as the display of mercy, sympathy, self-sacrifice in the service of others? Again, no doubt some evil can be seen this way…. But much evil seems to elicit cruelty rather than sacrificial love. And neither of these suggestions, I think, takes with sufficient seriousness the sheer hideousness of some of the evils we see.” (from “Self Profile” in Alvin Plantinga, ed. by Tomberlin and Van Inwagen)
(2) Defense. Alvin Plantinga is the main advocate of offering a “defense” in response to the PoE rather than a theodicy. A defense does not attempt to explain why God permits evil. Plantinga candidly admits that he cannot explain why God permits evil. A defense has the much more modest aim of deflecting the PoE as an atheological argument. That is, Plantinga’s aim is to show that, in the face of atheological arguments from evil, the theist can still rationally believe that God has a good reason for permitting evil even if he cannot say what that reason might be.
Plantinga first addresses the logical problem of evil, that is, the charge that the existence of evil, or at least some evil, is logically incompatible with the existence of God. His strategy is to show that there is a proposition consistent with “God exists” which, when conjoined with “God exists” entails the statement “evil exists.” That proposition that we add to “God exists” to entail “Evil exists” need not be in any sense probable or plausible; it need not even be true. All that is required is that the added proposition be possibly true. If it is possibly true, then, since the conjunction of that proposition and “God exists” entails “evil exists,” we have demonstrated that there is a possible state of affairs in which God and evil co-exist. If there is a possible state of affairs in which both God and evil exist, then there can be no contradiction between “God exists” and “Evil exists.” After all, if two propositions contradict each other, there is no possible circumstance in which they could both be true. There is no possible world in which p and not-p are simultaneously true.
The details of Plantinga’s argument are very convoluted and technical, drawing upon the arcana of possible worlds semantics and invoking such mind-numbing concepts as “trans-world depravity” and the “counterfactuals of freedom.” Put in the simplest possible terms Plantinga argues that it is possible that even omnipotence cannot create a world populated with significantly free creatures and guarantee that those creatures will commit no evil. Whether Eve eats of the forbidden fruit is up to Eve, not God. Further, it might be that every possible free creature would commit at least one evil in any world in which that being exists. If we take the possibly-true proposition “God created the world and the free creatures in it, and every world with free creatures that God could create is a world in which at least one evil is committed” and we conjoin that with “God exists” the conjunction will entail that some evil exists in the world. With modification, this approach can be made to encompass not just some evil but all the evil that there is.
However, it might be objected that Plantinga’s defense applies only to moral evil, the evils due to the choices of free agents. What about natural evils, such as disease, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, volcanoes, and forest fires? Plantinga argues that we can extend his defense to natural evils if we see them as caused by evil spirits, demons who use their free will to create havoc wherever they can. If someone replies that Plantinga cannot be serious and that it is just silly to invoke evil spirits, his reply is that, silly or not, it is a possible state of affairs, and to deflect the charge of inconsistency, a scenario need not be plausible at all. Again, it can even be false. All that matters is that it is possible.
What, though, of the versions of PoE that claim merely that evil is evidence against the existence of God, i.e. that the occurrence of evil makes it less probable that God exists? Plantinga responded in a lengthy and detailed examination of the various interpretations of probability in the journal Philosophical Inquiry. He concluded that none of the recognized interpretations of probability can provide a basis for such an argument.
Advantages: The great advantage of a defense is that it puts the entire burden of proof on the atheologian. All that the theist has to do is show that the argument from evil does not work; there is no onus to provide positive reasons for thinking that evil is in fact justified. This makes the job much easier for the beleaguered believer who is attempting to fend off the attacks of pesky atheists. There is no reason to go out on a limb and try to say why God permits dreadful things. As Plantinga notes, given the sheer hideousness of some evils, such replies will sound superficial or even frivolous. Unlike the theodicists, the defender acknowledges the mystery and depth of evil, but merely argues that his faith is not thereby rendered irrational.
Disadvantages: Since defenses are formulated in reply to atheological arguments, their effectiveness is obviously hostage to the sorts of arguments that atheologians have so far deployed. Each such defense is a challenge to the atheolgian to come up with a new argument that gets around the defense. For instance, I would argue that the most cogent argument from evil would not claim that evil contradicts theism or makes it improbable. A more effective argument might be one based on inference to the best explanation: Given the facts of evil, the kinds, intensity, duration, and dispersion of evil in the world, what is the most reasonable way of explaining those facts? Are the facts best explained, as I would claim, by the hypothesis that they ultimately result from impersonal laws of nature and natural causes that were not in any sense designed or contrived to fulfill a moral purpose? In a universe with no overall plan, purpose, or design, you expect shit to happen, and too bad if sentient creatures are in the way when it does. On the other hand, are the facts of evil best explained on the hypothesis that natural causes are secondary causes that were created and allowed to operate as part of an overall plan that has an ultimate, morally good purpose? I will admit that evil might be logically compatible with this latter hypothesis, but how could anyone possibly say that it explains the facts of evil better than the no-purpose hypothesis?
At a deeper level, a defense might effectively address arguments from evil, but the PoE is more than just the arguments posed by atheologians. Theists themselves are often deeply troubled by the existence of horrific, undeserved evils in a world supposedly designed by a God of love. The Book of Job was not addressed to atheists. Even if theists can thumb their noses at would-be debunkers, there is still the deep question of how love is to be seen in an order of things that puts many innocent creatures to torture.
(3) Skepticism: The recent trend in dealing with arguments from evil is skepticism. The skeptical theist argues that any effort to adduce the facts of evil as evidence against the existence of God rests upon a dubious epistemological assumption. The assumption is that the phenomena of good and evil that we have so far observed can be projected into the indefinite future. Skeptical theists observe that the theistic God is conceived as all-powerful. Further, unlike human beings, there are no limitations on the time that is allowed to make things turn out. When we are concerned with an omnipotent and eternal being, such as God, the only perspective that matters is eternity. God can be absolved of culpability in the short run (even if the short run is billions of years) if all things are resolved for the good sub specie aeternitatis as Spinoza put it.
Thus, an argument from the existence of seemingly gratuitous evil—like, say, William Rowe’s argument about the fawn burned in a forest fire—cannot get off the ground. No matter how pointless an evil might appear to us given our limited perspective, this is no reason to think that it cannot and will not be redeemed for good by all-powerful benevolence working throughout eternity. When the poor milkman Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof demands of God “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?” the answer might well be “Yes!”  In a debate I had with William Lane Craig (in the pages of the Dallas Morning News, of all places) he expressed the thesis of skeptical theism as follows:
“We aren’t in a good position to assess with confidence the probability (or improbability) of whether God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting bad things. Suffering that appears utterly pointless within our limited framework may be seen to be justly permitted in God’s wider framework. The brutal murder of a child may have a ripple effect through history such that God’s reason for not preventing the evil may emerge only centuries later or in another country.” (Dallas Morning News, June 13, 1998)
We have no grasp of the vast complexity of things and no understanding of how infinite power might ultimately, in the course of eternity, bring good out of even the worst evils. Therefore, there is no basis for saying that evil is evidence against the existence of God.
Advantages: Like Defense, skepticism puts the burden of proof on the atheologian. Further, the burden the skeptic puts on is heavy indeed. Surely it would be arrogance bordering on sheer chutzpah for the atheologian to assert that he is in a position to judge what omnipotence might bring about in the course of eternity. It might truly be that, as Paul put it in I Corinthians 2:9 (KJV), “But as it is written, eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared…” That is, all of human experience may be wholly insufficient to judge what God can and will accomplish. The atheologian cannot even say that evils like the burned fawn are even prima facie gratuitous. We are in a positon of radical ignorance about the capacities of omnipotence exercised through eternity, so our everyday, commonsense judgments about good and evil just do not apply.
Disadvantages: Skepticism cuts both ways. In the above quote, William Lane Craig says that a horrible incident like the murder of a child may ultimately work out for good. Or maybe not. Who can say? Craig says that we are not in the epistemological position to justify saying that God probably does not have a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil. To exactly the same degree, and for exactly the same reason, we are not in the epistemological positon to justify saying that God probably does have a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil. Put another way, any consideration that can be given for saying that omnipotence can bring good out of even the worst evils is pari passu, reason for saying that omnipotence could bring about the good without those evils, or at least without some of them. If we have no idea about the potentialities of omnipotence, then we have no idea. Not the atheist. Not the theist. Nobody.
Actually, skepticism creates a much bigger problem for theists than for atheists. Recall that a theist cannot admit that any evil is gratuitous. That is, every evil must be such that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting it. If we equate evil with undeserved, unwanted suffering, how much evil has there been? How long have there been sentient creatures that have been subject to undeserved, unwanted suffering? It is impossible to say for sure, but surely the first creatures capable of experiencing undeserved, unwanted suffering must have existed far back in the Paleozoic Era. Let’s guess that since that time there have been one trillion, 1012, instances of unwanted, undeserved suffering. The theist must hold that none of these instances was gratuitous, that is, that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting each one. But how can the theist know for sure, or even with any degree of probability, that omnipotence could not have omitted even one of those instances? The tenets of skeptical theism would seem to make such an assurance absolutely unattainable.
 

bookmark_borderWhy be Skeptical? Reason #1 (Lying Cheating College Students – Part 2)

If most people lie and if most people lie frequently, then that is a good reason to be skeptical.
In previous posts I have provided evidence that very young children lie and that most children  lie, that most teenagers lie and cheat and lie and cheat frequently, and that most college students lie and lie frequently.  Now it is time to look into whether and how much college students cheat.
There are two main kinds of cheating by college students that I will be providing evidence about: (1) academic cheating, and (2) cheating (and lying) in romantic relationships.  First, lets look at some evidence on academic cheating by college students:
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Understanding Academic Misconduct
Julia M. Christensen Hughes – University of Guelph
Donald L. McCabe – Rutgers University
Canadian Journal of Higher Education
Volume 36, No. 1, 2006, pages 49 – 63.
[Emphasis added]
[There is]…a growing body of primarily U.S.-based research that suggests academic misconduct has become commonplace amongst the majority of college and university students…(p.50)
 Results of U.S.-based studies have consistently shown that many students engage in academic misconduct in the completion of their academic work and that academic institutions and faculty have done little about it (see for example, Bowers, 1964; Hetherington & Feldman, 1964; Singhal, 1982; McCabe, & Trevino, 1993, 1996; Payne & Nantz, 1994; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 1999, 2001). (p.51)
 Rates of Engagement in Academic Misconduct (p.51-52)
 Purportedly, academic misconduct has always been with U.S.. It has been described in the higher education literature as “ubiquitous” (Pincus & Schmelkin, 2003); as an “epidemic” (Haines, Diekhoff, LaBeff, & Clark, 1986, p.342), a “perennial problem” (Davis, Grover, Becker, & McGregor, 1992, p.16), and “one of the major problems in education today” (Singhal, 1982, p.775). Such observations are primarily based on studies of undergraduate students at U.S. colleges and universities (both private and public), using a variety of data collection techniques (e.g., self report surveys, in-depth interviews, experiments), and differing sample sizes (e.g., from less than one hundred students in a single department to thousands of students on multiple campuses).
 Although they vary in methodology, these studies have consistently found that the majority of undergraduate students have engaged in some type of misconduct in the completion of their academic work. For example, in Bower’s (1964) seminal multi-campus study involving over 5000 students from 99 U.S. campuses, three out of four students reported engaging in at least one of 13 questionable academic behaviours, with 39% of students reporting having engaged in “serious test cheating” (e.g., copying during an exam with or withoutthe other student’s knowledge, using crib notes, helping someone else to cheaton a test or exam) and 65% reporting having engaged in “serious cheating on written work” (e.g., plagiarism, fabricating or falsifying a bibliography, turningin work done by someone else, copying a few sentences of material without footnoting).
 In a similar 1990-1991 study involving over 6,000 students across 31 small to medium sized U.S. campuses, McCabe and Trevino (1993) found that as many as two out of three students reported engaging in at least one of 14 questionable behaviours and that almost 20% of students reported engaging in 5 or more such behaviours. In this case, 64% of students were found to have engaged in serious test cheating and 66% in serious written cheating.
 Smaller, single campus studies have also reported high rates of academic misconduct. For example, Hetherington and Feldman (1964) used an experimental design in which 78 psychology students at one U.S. state university were presented with multiple opportunities to cheat on actual course exams. More than half (59%) of the students exhibited some form of cheating, the vast majority (87%) of whom were observed to cheat multiple times. Payne and Nantz (1994) used in-depth interviews to study the cheating behaviours of 22 business students in a medium-sized, U.S., state university. Nineteen (or 86%) of the students admitted to having cheated in their college work. Finally, Singhal (1982) surveyed 364 engineering students at a U.S. state university; 56% of students reported having cheated. 
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Some of the data from the above mentioned studies is shown in the following table (click on image below to get a clearer view of the table):
Summary Statistics Table
The table above is from page 223 of the following article:
Cheating in Academic Institutions: A Decade of Research
Donald McCabe – Rutgers University
Linda Travino -Pennsylvania State University
Kenneth Butterfield – Washington State University
ETHICS & BEHAVIOR 11(3) , 219-232.
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A review of a large number of studies on cheating by college students produced similar percentages:
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 “Bernard E. Whitley, Jr.(1998:238) reviewed 107 studies related to cheating among college students and found an average of 70.4 percent of students had cheated, 43.1 percent had cheated on examinations, 40.9 percent had cheated on homework assignments, and 47 percent had plagiarized.”  (p.491)
http://www.academia.edu/5074383/COLLEGE_STUDENTS_AND_ACADEMIC_DISHONESTY_
COLLEGE STUDENTS AND ACADEMIC DISHONESTY
NATHAN W. PINO, PH.D.
WILLIAM L. SMITH, PH.D.
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Georgia Southern University
Coll Stud J 37 no4 D 2003
NOTE: The original paper referenced above was:

Whitley, B. E. (1998).  Factors Associated with Cheating Among College Students: A Review.
Research in Higher Education, 39, 235-274.
======================

Much of the evidence about cheating by college students is obtained by anonymous questionnaires answered by college students.  But we already know that college students have a significant inclination to lie, so they might also be lying even on anonymous questionnaires about cheating.  There is evidence that college students do in fact under-report their own cheating on these anonymous questionnaires.
One study published back in 1987 noted that use of a a method called Randomized Response Technique yielded significantly higher cheating report rates when compared with standard anonymous questionnaires:
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Improved estimation of academic cheating behavior using the randomized response technique
N. J. Scheers, C. Mitchell Dayton
link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00991933
Research in Higher Education
1987, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 61-69
Abstract [emphasis added]
Academic cheating behavior by university students was surveyed using the randomized response technique (RRT) and by conventional anonymous questionnaire methods. RRT is a survey method that permits sensitive information to be collected but that precludes associating the respondent with a particular response to a survey item. The estimated proportions of students who have engaged in cheating behaviors were, in general, larger using RRT.  Moreover, this result is consistent with earlier findings for other sensitive behaviors. That underreporting is a serious problem with anonymous questionnaires is supported by the fact that the anonymous questionnaire estimates ranged from 39% to 83% below the RRT estimates. Furthermore, using a covariate modification of RRT, there was a distinct inverse relation between students’ estimated grade-point average and the tendency to engage in cheating behavior. While these results have direct implications for estimating cheating behavior in higher education, more broadly, they raise serious concerns about the use of anonymous questionnaires when survey topics are sensitive.
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Another reason that conventional anonymous questionnaires might result in minimizing the amount of cheating by college students is the problem of volunteer sample biases:
=============================
Under Reporting of Cheating in Research Using Volunteer College Students
Miller, Arden; Shoptaugh, Carol; Parkerson, Annette
College Student Journal
v42 n2 p326-339 Jun 2008
[emphasis added]
Reported rates of cheating may significantly underestimate the threat to academic integrity in universities due to volunteer sample biases. To vary the incentive states of the participants, we sampled using: 1) a 126 item questionnaire solicited through campus email, 2) a 33 item questionnaire solicited the same way, and 3) a questionnaire that offered course credit. Course-credit participants were more likely to report a cheating behavior (80.7%) than the long questionnaire (68.5%) or the short questionnaire (56.3%), both of which offered no tangible reward. We also asked subjects to respond regarding the cheating behavior of a person that they know best in two different research designs. In both designs, participants reported less cheating for themselves than they did for others. The hypothesis that we underestimate cheating through volunteer sampling was clearly supported. (Contains 4 tables.)
==================================
We have seen that data from the past several decades consistently shows that most college students cheat on either tests or written assignments or both.  70% is a conservative figure, but given that most of the data is self-reported cheating by college students, whom we know frequently lie, and given that there is empirical evidence that volunteer sample bias and use of conventional anonymous questionnaires results in significant underreporting of cheating, the actual percentage of college students who cheat may well be in the 80% to 90% range.

bookmark_borderChristian Apologist: Theists Care About Science but Naturalists Don’t

Christian apologist Wintery Knight has written an unintentionally funny post against naturalists in which he attempts to turn the tables on those who would use science to argue against religion.
Linking to an old article which explains how the planet Jupiter deflects comets and asteroids that might otherwise hit Earth, Wintery Knight argues that this shows our habitat was fine-tuned to be life-permitting. This would make sense if, say, we were talking about a junior deity (call him “Bob”) who was stuck with the laws, constants, or initial conditions of the universe–you know, the ones that on a good day make our universe look like a cosmic Hunger Games scenario–but who did have enough power to design the solar system to provide an imperfect, coarse-tuned Earth defense system (Jupiter). This does not, however, make any sense if we are talking about a “Triple O” deity (omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent) who can design the universe with any logically consistent laws, constants, and initial conditions–in other words, a universe that doesn’t need a planetary defense system because it doesn’t have random comets and asteroids tumbling through space!
But let that pass. The real howler is when he spins the significance of this evidence.

People who are not curious about science sort of take these blessings for granted and push away the God who is responsible for the clever life-permitting design of our habitat. In contrast, theists are curious and excited about what science tells us about the Creator. Theists care about science, but naturalists have to sort of keep experimental science at arm’s length – away from the presuppositions and assumptions that allow them to have autonomy to live life without respect, accountability and gratitude. Naturalists take refuge in the relief provided by speculative science and science fiction. They like to listen to their leaders speculate about speculative theories, and willingly buy up books by snarky speculators who think that nothing is really something (Krauss), or who think that the cosmic fine-tuning is not real (Stenger), or who think that silicon-based life is a viable scenario (Rosenberg), etc. But theists prefer actual science. Truth matters to us, and we willingly adjust our behavior to fit the scientific facts.

bookmark_borderIndex: The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds (APM)

The purpose of this page is to provide an index for my blog series on the evidential argument against theism based on the dependence of human minds upon physical brains.

See also: