Link blog: ballroom, dancing, theodicy, gender

I assert that God is omnipotent, omniscient, but also all-Evil. How would you disprove this contention? : DebateAChristian
Someone takes Law’s Evil God Challenge over to /r/DebateAChristian, and makes a pretty good showing of it. Amusing for all the Thomists complaining that the poster doesn’t get it, without quite being able to say what it is OP doesn’t get.
(tags: theodicy stephen-law theology philosophy god good evil thomist aquinas)
Peter Loggins – On The Importance Of Learning Other Dances Aside From The Lindy Hop : Atilio Menéndez : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive
Loggins on how to dance at a real jazz club where most people are there to listen, and some history related to the old time ballrooms. Plus some advocacy for learning stuff other than lindy (maybe I should brush up my rusty ballroom skills).
(tags: ballroom dancing etiquette jazz lindy lindy-hop history)
Trevor Copp and Jeff Fox: Ballroom dance that breaks gender roles | TED Talk | TED.com
A couple of ballroom dancers who have developed various ways of switching lead/follow during the dance.
(tags: dance ballroom gender dancing waltz salsa)

Link blog: theodicy, perception, cycling, driving

A fighter pilot on how to avoid collisions when driving
It’s about saccades and detecting movement.
(tags: safety cycling driving fighter perception brain)
Video & Audio: Is the Universe Designed? – an Atheist’s View
Stephen Law talks at the Faraday Institute. Evil God Challenge gets most of the time, plus a bit of the new X-claim stuff.
(tags: stephen-law theodicy evil god faraday-institute lecture philosophy)

Link blog: stephen-law, belief, philosophy, atheism

Just why can’t we atheists see that religious belief is reasonable? Some religious answers
“Why do we atheists reject religious belief, and consider it irrational? Here is a survey of some of the explanations that have been offered by the religious. They’re not good. “
(tags: atheism religion philosophy stephen-law belief rationality)

Link blog: theodicy, stephen-law, epistemology, philosophy

Stephen Law: ‘Skeptical Theism and the Pandora’s Box Question’ – YouTube
Stephen Law did a half hour talk on the sceptical theist response to the Problem of Evil (“you can’t know that God doesn’t have good reasons for allowing some apparently gratuitous evils merely because you can’t think of such reasons”), and how adopting such a response leads to more general scepticism about just about everything (the Pandora’s Box objection, as he calls it).
(tags: theodicy theology religion philosophy problem-of-evil stephen-law epistemology)

William Lane Craig and God, now on Metafilter

God, yesterdayMetafilter wonders whether God exists, or more specially, whether that William Lane Craig chap has good arguments for the propositionIn reality, we all know God exists, otherwise who’s writing that Facebook page, eh? Checkmate, atheists.. I missed it all kicking off, so only contributed at the end.

By the point I noticed it, the thread had got into people talking bollocks about induction (mainly the sort of nonsense I examine below, but also including atheists who just don’t get what the problems are). I think the tactic Stephen Law calls going nuclear must be in some apologetics manual somewhere, because you certainly see a lot of it about. So, this is how I’d respond to that:

All this induction stuff is very interesting, but let’s go back to shivohum’s original comment.

This uses a standard Christian apologetical strategy (one that Craig has used himself) in response an atheist’s to use of a naive evidentialism to discount religious claims. If an atheist says “All reasonable beliefs require evidence, there is no evidence for God, therefore belief in God is unreasonable”, the clever apologist will ask “All reasonable beliefs? Really? What evidence could there be for your belief that all beliefs require evidence?” They will then go on to point out that it seems we all have to accept some unevidenced beliefs (induction is a good example for the apologist because it’s pretty hard to see how we would get evidence for belief in it without making a circular argument, as Hume knew, but Cartesian doubts about the external world are also popular). “Aha!” says the apologist, “you see, we all rely on faith, and my belief in God, angels, demons and whatnot is just an article of faith, like your belief in this induction thing you’re so fond of. We’re not so different, you and I.”

The atheist’s evidentialism is pretty naive and they probably deserve that sort of response, but still, there seems to be something wrong with equating the rejection of fairly radical sceptical positions with belief in God. I think Chris Hallquist has it right: “belief in the Christian God isn’t very much at all like most of the common-sense beliefs commonly cited as threated by Descartes & Hume-style skepticism (like belief in the reliability of our senses), but is an awful lot like beliefs most Christians wouldn’t accept without evidence–namely, the beliefs of other religions. That kind of response is very hard to reject without special pleading on behalf of Christianity, and doesn’t involve commitment to any potentially troublesome epistemic principles.”

That is, religious beliefs do seem to be the sorts of things that require evidence, as even Christians agree if you ask them what it’d take to convince them of the truth of some other religion. If a Christian were to say, “no, but, you see, it’s only Christian beliefs which are like rejection of Cartesian doubt”, we’d just say “riiiiight“. OTOH, if it’s not just Christian beliefs which are now OK because we all have to rely on faith sometimes, why not be a pagan, Muslim or Pastafarian instead?

I followed up with another comment explaining why Craig gets (admittedly grudging) respect from atheistsYou’ll see atheists explaining that Dawkins was right not to have a debate with Craig because Craig supports genocide (by which they mean the Biblical massacres like the one recorded in Numbers 31). This is silly: Dawkins will not debate with Craig because Dawkins would lose, horribly (note that one can concede this and still remain an atheist). Dawkins’s refusal to dance with Craig is prudent, but let’s not see it as some great moral stand.. I also talked about what I think is the shakiest point of the Kalam argument: where Craig needs to show that the transcendental “cause” must be something like a person: he says mathematical concepts don’t have causal powers (a recent Mefi may disagree) but then wants to argue for that the best explanation is a person who lacks several of properties of all persons we encounter (not material, not existing in time) and has properties unlike that of any persons we encounter. If we’re allowed to do that sort of thing, why not just say that there’s at least one mathematical concept with causal potency? Or even that there’s maybe more than 2 kinds of transcendental thing, for all we know? Someone must have written a paper about this, right?

Stephen Law: are unbelievers without excuse?

Stephen Law read a bunch of stuff by top apologist William Lane Craig and noted that Craig believes a bunch of odd things (apart from the odd things you’d already know about from Craig’s debates, I mean). There was some discussion in the comments over this one:

“Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.”

[William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), pp. 35-36.]

This is all very Biblical: Craig’s “loves darkness rather than light” is a reference to the verse following that famous verse in John 3:16: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

As a good inerrantist, Craig apparently believes this and other passages like Romans 1 (see my old blog post about this) where the Apostle Paul writes that unbelievers are “without excuse”. Atheists know there’s a God really but don’t worship him because to do so we’d have to acknowledge how bad we are, or something. This is a culpable error, not a mistake, too.

The pathologising of non-belief based on knowing what people think better than they do is itself pathological, as Thrasymachus says, at least if it’s used to dismiss atheist arguments without engaging with them (note that Craig does not do this in debates, though he seems to do it personally, and to advocate other Christians doing it, which is bad).

In the comments, wombat suggests that the evangelical claim is that atheists are in the situation “where one accepts something intellectually but not at a more basic emotional level e.g cigarette smokers who continue in spite of acknowledging its dangers. The Christian apologists here are claiming that the “knowledge” is at that deeper visceral level.” wombat also linked to Jamie Whyte’s observation that religious believers don’t really act like they believe what they say they believe.

On that subject, there’s also Georges Rey’s “Meta-atheism: religious avowal as self-deception“, where he argues that Christians generally don’t act as if they believe what they say they believe. I’ve discussed Rey’s paper before.

There’s a folk psychology where “thoughts” are propositional sentences that occur to us, and “beliefs” are the ones we hold on to as true over time and use to guide our actions. But the way the phenomenon we call “belief” really works doesn’t seem much like that. This doesn’t just apply to religion: see The Mystery of the Haunted Rationalist.

If the evangelical claim is just to know that atheists are secretly lying, it’s bizarre, as Thrasymachus says. On the other hand, if the evangelical claim is that atheists anticipate-as-if there’s a God while avowing-as-if there isn’t, I don’t think that works. What are the things that atheists are doing which give away the fact that they are anticipating that way? And why does this make them culpable and deserving of Hell?

I don’t think the atheist version (i.e. Rey’s or Whyte’s) has the same problem, because there are plenty of examples of Christians who don’t act like there’s a God.

Stephen Law and the existence of Jesus

Stephen Law’s paper Evidence, miracles and the existence of Jesus argues that the New Testament (NT) is not good evidence for the existence of Jesus. He takes an interesting approach: he argues that the evidence for the NT miracles isn’t good enough, and that the presence of the miracle stories contaminates the non-miraculous parts of the story such that we should be sceptical of those too.

Law introduces and defends two principles:

P1 Where a claim’s justification derives solely from evidence, extraordinary claims (e.g. concerning supernatural miracles) require extraordinary evidence. In the absence of extraordinary evidence there is good reason to be sceptical about those claims.

and

P2 Where testimony/documents weave together a narrative that combines mundane claims with a significant proportion of extraordinary claims, and there is good reason to be sceptical about those extraordinary claims, then there is good reason to be sceptical about the mundane claims, at least until we possess good independent evidence of their truth.

He then uses these in a deductive argument, concluding that “there’s good reason to be sceptical about whether Jesus existed”.

Debating P2

Most of the debate in the comments on Law’s blog is about P2. Law says that “Because once we know that a powerful, false-testimony-producing mechanism (or combination of mechanisms) may well have produced a significant chunk of a narrative (e.g. the miraculous parts), we can no longer be confident that the same mechanism is not responsible for what remains.”

Bradley C. came up with some counter-examples to P2. Bradley rightly says that the false-testimony-producing mechanism is key. What feels different about the ancient miracle reports (and perhaps Law’s “sixth islander” thought experiment) compared to Bradley’s examples is that in the ancient reports, we don’t really know what the mechanism was, we just know something has gone wrong. (In Bradley’s examples, we know that magicians and faith healers do tricks). If we don’t know quite what has gone wrong, we have to consider various possible mechanisms, which includes ones where the mundane testimony is also false. If we give such mechanisms any weight, that makes the mundane testimony less convincing (though it may still be positive evidence for the mundane events). But I think we’d have to consider how much weight to give them based on the circumstances, which makes it hard to come up with something general like P2.

So, I think Bradley’s come up with the equivalent of Gettier cases for P2 as it stands: even if they’re contrived, they show P2 needs changing.

Law responds to Bradley saying “You need to identify a mechanism as being the likely mechanism accounting for the false miracle claims, and then explain why that mechanism wouldn’t quite likely result in false mundane claims too.”

I don’t agree with Law here. If all we know is that something’s gone wrong with the testimony but the mechanism is obscure, perhaps it’s reasonable to say that it’s as likely that we’d have the testimony if it’s mundane parts were true as it is that we’d have it if the mundane parts were false. Then the testimony is no evidence for or against the mundane events: you should consider the events as likely as you did before you heard the testimony.

I’m not sure I’d want to go further than that and say that the burden of proof is on the people who believe the mundane portion of the testimony to show why it isn’t contaminated: mightn’t they equally well argue that the burden is on you to show that it is? But that’s what P2 says, I think: in P2, the testimony becomes evidence against the mundane events.

If you give a mechanism, though, maybe that’s just what you can argue: if you think Jesus’ disciples made it up, for example, who’s to say where the made up stuff ends? (Though why not make stuff up based on a real person, for verisimilitude?)

It looks like someone who wants to justify their belief in the mundane stuff has a motive to push the unbeliever to identify the mechanism so they can criticise it. The problem with my “average over possible mechanisms” idea, above, is that it’s pretty hard to identify them all. I don’t think we have a duty to do that with every weird testimony, though. Earlier, in defence of P1, Law correctly says that “the fact that it remains blankly mysterious why such reports would be made if they were not true does not provide us with very much additional reason to suppose that they are true.”

So, I’m not that convinced by Law’s general contamination principle, but I think he makes some good points along the way. For example, Law says:

It would also be foolish to try to construct a two part case for Jesus’ miraculous resurrection by (i) bracketing the miraculous parts of the Gospel narrative and using what remains to build a case for the truth of certain non-miraculous claims (about Jesus’ crucifixion, the empty tomb, and so on), and then (ii) using these supposedly now “firmly established facts” to argue that Jesus’ miraculous resurrection is what best explains them (yet several apologetic works – e.g. Frank Morrison’s Who Moved The Stone? – appear implicitly to rely on this strategy).



William Lane Craig’s rebuttal

The apologetical strategy Law talks about is used by William Lane Craig in his “4 facts” defence of the resurrection (see Craig vs Ehrman, for example). Craig read Law’s paper and attempted a rebuttal on his own blog, which I think was only partially successful.

Craig’s stuff about Ehrman is weird. I guess Craig’s point here is to show how reasonable he’s being by pointing out that even this bloke he beat in a debate (Ehrman) agrees with him. But Ehrman is not a radical sceptic, Law is not die-hard mythicist. The conclusion of Law’s argument is that we should be sceptical about J’s existence, not “Therefore J never existed”, so it’s not even clear that Ehrman’s ire applies to Law, or that we should care if it does, unless Ehrman’s arguments are made more explicit.

On Sagan’s dictum that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, Craig writes: “This sounds so commonsensical, doesn’t it? But in fact it is demonstrably false. … Rather what’s crucial is the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred. This can easily offset any improbability of the event itself.”

Craig makes a reasonable statement of Bayes Theorem. However, Sagan’s dictum can be read in a Bayesian way (by incorporating all the probabilities Craig mentions, so that the evidence is Bayesian evidence). Craig gives no good argument that the dictum must mean what Craig takes it to mean, or that Law’s argument relies on taking it to mean what Craig thinks it means.

Craig continues: “In the case of the resurrection of Jesus, for example, this means that we must also ask, “What is the probability of the facts of the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, if the resurrection had not occurred?” It is highly, highly, highly, improbable that we should have that evidence if the resurrection had not occurred.”

This might be Craig’s attempt at that argument, namely, Craig saying that Law hasn’t considered that it’s unlikely we’d have the evidence we do if Jesus didn’t do miracles. But Craig plays fast and loose: the facts are that we have the gospel narratives (and whatever other historical documents we have to hand). The empty tomb and post-mortem appearances are not facts, and Law’s argument against the “bracketing” strategy is that they cannot be treated as facts. Craig cannot have the empty tomb or the post-mortem appearances as “facts” without addressing Law’s arguments.

Oddly, Craig doesn’t address really P2 or Law’s arguments for it at all: he just says “oh no it isn’t”. Craig’s strongest when he says that there is extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’ existence. I’m not an expert, but my understanding is that Josephus’ mentions of Jesus is thought by historians to have a core around which Christian interpolations accreted, for example. Since even if we grant P2, Law’s argument fails without premise 6 (“There is no good independent evidence for even the mundane claims about Jesus (such as that he existed)”), perhaps this is a good tactic on Craig’s part. Law appears to agree that premise 6 is his weakest empirical premise: “6 is at the very least debatable”. In a way, it’s odd that everyone is concentrating on P2.

So, I think Craig casts doubt on Law’s conclusion about Jesus’ existence, but he doesn’t do much to convince us that Jesus rose from the dead or did any other miracles.

Jerry Coyne’s blog has some good comments on Craig’s rebuttal.

David B Marshall’s rebuttal

David Marshall also had a go at rebutting Law. He didn’t do as well as Craig, as his arguments relied on attempts to differentiate Law’s thought experiments (“Ted and Sarah”, and “The Sixth Islander”) from the claims about Jesus, but the distinctions he made between these, distinguishing magic from miracles, weren’t relevant to Law’s arguments, as far as I can tell. You can see my response to him here , his reply here and my response to that here, another attempt by Marshall here and my final response here.

I think this rebuttal is interesting for what it shows about what ordinary believers (rather than super-apologists like Craig) think are good arguments. Marshall appears to think that because the Jesus story is more fleshed out and more meaningful, it’s more likely to be true. I’m not sure whether this is a straightforward example of conjuction bias (obligatory Less Wrong link), or of the notion that the point of religion is to be in a meaningful story. Charitably, it might be an attempt at inference to the best explanation, but I don’t think the stuff that Marshall mentions means that the best explanation of the NT stories is that they are true.

So what do you think?

There was bloke called Jesus who was the basis of the NT stories. Pre-moderns had porous selves, so it’s pretty difficult to understand their writings in modern terms, but there is no good evidence that this bloke did miracles or rose from the dead. I don’t know how much of the NT is true, but I don’t accept Craig’s bracketing or 4 facts arguments: taking out the core miracle but leaving the context which points to a miracle does look like cheating without independent evidence of the context, because mechanisms where both the context and miracle are made up seem pretty likely to me.

Link blog: christianity, richard-dawkins, philosophy, dawkins

What is the proper place for religion in Britain’s public life? | World news | The Observer
An exchange between Dawkins and Will Hutton. D: “That doesn’t mean religious people shouldn’t advocate their religion. So long as they are not granted privileged power to do so (which at present they are) of course they should. And the rest of us should be free to argue against them. But of all arguments out there, arguments against religion are almost uniquely branded “intolerant”. When you put a cogent and trenchant argument against the government’s economic policy, nobody would call you “intolerant” of the Tories. But when an atheist does the same against a religion, that’s intolerance. Why the double standard? Do you really want to privilege religious ideas by granting them unique immunity against reasoned argument?”
(tags: uk secularism politics religion dawkins richard-dawkins will-hutton)
The Sins of the Fathers – Richard Dawkins – RichardDawkins.net – RichardDawkins.net
Dawkins sez: “Yesterday evening I was telephoned by a reporter who announced himself as Adam Lusher from the Sunday Telegraph. At the end of a week of successfully rattling cages, I was ready for yet another smear or diversionary tactic of some kind, but in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined the surreal form this one was to take. I obviously can’t repeat what was said word-for-word (my poor recall of long strings of words has this week been highly advertised), and I may get the order of the points wrong, but this is approximately how the conversation went.” Lusher says Dawkins’s ancestors owned slaves and wonders whether D will make reparations. Bizarre and desperate.
(tags: adam-lusher slavery dawkins richard-dawkins journalism newspapers telegraph)
Stephen Law vs. William Lane Craig Debate: Argument map » » The Polemical MedicThe Polemical Medic
“there’s lots of debate over who won the Law/Craig debate. Instead of joining that, I though I’d do something niftier: I’ve mapped the whole of the debate in argument form, to give a more intuitive way of seeing how all the arguments and objections interact”. This is excellent stuff.
(tags: religion theodicy philosophy christianity atheism debate william-lane-craig stephen-law)
Evangelism, disbelief, and being ‘without excuse’ » » The Polemical MedicThe Polemical Medic
“Christians who indulge in evangelism and apologetics often hold to a thesis of disbelief as epistemic pathology – that disbelief is the result of some culpable error of judgment. Such an attitude is a poor fit for the facts and counter productive to the cause of evangelism. Ironically, the urge of these people to pathologize disagreement is diagnostic of their own epistemic pathology.” I’ve mentioned this attitude (inspired by Romans 1) before: Thrasymachus neatly dissects it.
(tags: philosophy epistemology christianity religion apologetics evangelicalism evangelism)

Comments elsewhere on theodicy, de-conversion, sex and fat

I’ve been commenting in other places. You might be interested in where:

The Evil God Challenge

Stephen Law’s Evil God Challenge is a new take on the problem of evil. The challenge is to ask theists why it’s more reasonable to believe that there’s a good God (accepting the standard theodicies for the problem of evil) than it is to believe there’s an evil God (accepting flipped theodicies, for example, that evil God created us with free will so that we could freely choose to do evil).

Law has been dealing with responses to this challenge ever since his debate with William Lane Craig. On his blog, he mentions a conversation with Glenn Peoples. That blog entry attracted a few comments, so I joined in.

What does good mean?

There’s been a lot of chat about just what Law means by good or evil, how this is “grounded” and so on, as theists often want to say you cannot have meaningful morality if there’s no God (there’s no reason to suppose this is true, as far as I can tell, but it’s psychologically appealing even to atheists). Law says he’s using the terms in a “pre-theoretic” sense (I suspect because he doesn’t want the whole thing to turn into an argument about meta-ethics). Interestingly, I found a quote from Craig which says that theists shouldn’t argue that atheists can’t meaningfully use moral vocabulary, so I commented on that: it seems perfectly reasonable to use terms like (morally) good in the common sense way, or to point to cases like gratuitous suffering and call those evil (in fact, Law says he can make his challenge about suffering rather then morality: the challenge is then why it’s reasonable to believe there’s a God who doesn’t want us to suffer unnecessarily, I guess).

Thomist God

I’ve also been responding to some comments by someone called BenYachov. He’s been arguing that if you believe in the God of Thomas Aquinas (which apparently is the official God of the Catholic church), Law’s challenge won’t faze you. I was trying to tease out why. BenYachov claims that God “grounds” moral goodness but isn’t himself a moral agent (a moral agent being something which is capable of acting on moral considerations). As Thomist God is not a moral agent, he cannot be said to be morally good or morally evil. Nevertheless, he is still Good in some sense related to “grounding” all goods and being perfect (the Thomists seem to like to use lots of Capital Letters for Significant Concepts).

I wondered at this Thomist God’s “goodness” if it means nothing like moral goodness. I went on to say that this God is morally alien. He’s a bit like what happens when weird aliens build an artificial intelligence. I was also still not sure what it means for Thomist God to “ground” moral goodness as he’s not morally good, only Good: as I’ve said before, the word “ground” should be a red flag in debates like these, as it often means the other person is skating over something for which they don’t really have a good explanation. Finally, I responded to another comment of BenYachov’s, by saying that there’s no reason to worship something because it created you or because it’s mysterious.

I get the impression that there’s a lot of work being done by Capital Letter Concepts in BenYachov’s world, and a lot of trading on different meanings of the world “good”. There’s also the weird idea that these meanings have something in common and that there’s an attribute called “Goodness” which somehow incorporates them all. This seems a bit like what Jaynes calls the Mind Projection Fallacy, the idea that every property we perceive in something is out there in the world.

Problem page

Over on Metafilter, there’s a section where people can ask questions. Someone recently said they’d been talking to their father-in-law about religion and philosophy and ended up accidentally de-converting him from Christianity. Now the mother-in-law is trying to cut her daughter and son-in-law off. I posted a response trying to explain what the in-laws might be thinking, and suggesting that the best way back with the mother-in-law might be to talk about seeking truth.

Brains, sex, fat

livredor posted about brain sex differences and fat acceptance. I commented: I think the popularisation of research into neuroscience and evolutionary psychology leads to unscientific statements (see also this Less Wrong article about one way to misunderstand it), but there’s also a set of feminists who don’t believe in innate brain differences between men and women because it contradicts their ideology, making them equivalent to creationists. In the case of fat acceptance, I was also a bit suspicious of activist claims that the medical establishment is wrong about fat being unhealthy being linked with the desire to see fat people treated more kindly. I owe livredor some replies there.