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Hume’s Argument Against Belief in Miracles, Part 2

Daniel Schrock stops by to discuss Hume and his philosophical position on miracles. This is part two of a two part discussion. Download Daniel Schrock’s paper Hume’s Argument Against Miracles.

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Philosophy for Theologians aims to look critically at the problems of philosophy by considering everything in light of God's revelation. The program not only wants to address philosophical questions but also to equip you with a way to think about these questions. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Belzebutt

9 years ago

Very interesting webcast once again. I have some reservations about your positive argument however:
1) The claim Daniel makes at the beginning is that his positive argument is intended to show how Christian miracles are somehow different from other miracles, i.e. miracles in other religions. The argument is that because these Christian miracles are a crucial part of the Christian belief system, they are true. The first question that comes to my mind: why? Why does being important to a belief system makes miracles true? You don’t provide a justification for that claim.
2) Your argument could easily be used to justify countless miracles in other belief systems, I’m certain that if you ask a Muslim or Jahovah’s Wintess about some of their miracles, they will explain to you that this is very important in setting their religion apart from the rest. So again we’re back to the situation where Christian miracles are no different from many other miracles.
3) Saying your believe in Christian miracles because they have a purpose in Christian belief is simply saying “I believe in the miracles of the Bible because the Bible says these miracles had to happen”. You’re essentially saying what Wilson say, “I believe because I believe”, you’re just taking longer to state that. Yet, you cringed at Wilson’s argument.

Let’s look at the negative argument as well:
It is true that Hume cannot account for why statistics and past experience should be trusted. But how can we put that on the same level as belief in miracles? A living being would not be able to function without using past experience. If you encounter a beast in the wild and your friends get eaten, you quickly learn from that lesson. Every living being functions by counting on past laws repeating themselves. Yet, we could all function perfectly well believing that miracles never happen. While this does not *prove* the absence of miracles, it does make them seriously unlikely. And that notion that probability is all we can get is enough for many to discount miracle claims, after all we cannot accept or act on every unlikely claim that exist, we have to stop paying attention at some point. I was looking for a good argument as to why Christian miracle claims can be considered “likely”, but your argument is about all miracles, which makes them cancel each other out.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Guys, I have to say that I’m very disappointed. Daniel did such a good job in Part 1 of outlining the problem Hume creates for believers… he obviously understands that Christians do, indeed, need to muddle through their epistemology just like everyone else and that they share certain standards and practices of reasoning with everyone else. I thought, “Great! Someone who understands the thrust of the argument and is still a Christian. He must have found some interesting solution to these problems!”

Unfortunately, he hasn’t. I’ll echo Belzebutt and say “Why does being important to a belief system make miracles true?”

I have a hunch Daniel knows that the answer he provided (and you all agreed with) is not really satisfactory. It should be pretty obvious to you all that (despite some vigorous assertions to the contrary) the miracles are fundamental to Christianity; they are not merely typological fulfillments or signs or whatever. It’s very simple, and I’ve heard this claim stated on your own show:

No resurrection? No Christianity.

And the resurrection is a miracle. Without first believing in the miracle of the resurrection, there is no Christian theology, no biblical hermeneutic, no doctrines of God or salvation, no redemptive-historical context.

More broadly, if the miracles in the Bible are not true, if they didn’t actually, factually happen, then the Bible is a myth, and your whole religion (and all its intellectual frameworks) provide no justification for anything. Your response to Hume consists of nothing more than asserting that your religion and the intellectual frameworks you’ve erected around it are just true, and therefore the miracle claims that form the foundation for all this architecture must be true as well.

But it’s perfectly possible that you’ve been building on a foundation of sand. You know that it’s possible, because you believe that everyone else is. You believe that every other religion is founded on miracle claims which are false, and it makes no difference to you how impressive are the theological, liturgical, metaphysical, or analytistical frameworks the believers in those religions have constructed. And yet your argument for the reality of your miracles boils down to, “But look what we built on them”!

I’m sorry, I think I’m starting to repeat myself… but seriously, I was very disappointed in you all.

Steve

Jared

9 years ago

Hey guys, thanks for the input. Just a brief comment. It is not the formal structure of the arguments that make Christianity true. It is not that they cannot formally be applied to anything else such as Islam, Hume’s epistemology, or anything else. Steve, you are anything but neutral (and neither are we). You have a stated position on things with particular beliefs you take for granted (and so do we). It’s not the case that we believe in miracles because they’re important. We believe them because the God who created you inspired writers to record them in God’s Word to communicate how He has been redeeming His people throughout history. If you read what God has said (God’s words) about those historical events and don’t believe Him, that’s on you and you’ll answer for that. You’ll answer for stiff-arming what God has said and demanding that He fit into what you and those you talk to and read have dubbed ‘evidence.’ You’re so confident with these terms and how they fit into your system that you’re going to go with what you think you know over what God explicitly tells you? I’m not suggesting you epistemologically gamble, and I know that no one can be forced to be convicted of anything, but someone has to have pretty much everything figured out in precise detail before telling God, “You’re wrong, and I’m certain of it.”

Belzebutt

9 years ago

Jared,

“If you read what God has said (God’s words) about those historical events and don’t believe Him, that’s on you and you’ll answer for that. You’ll answer for stiff-arming what God has said and demanding that He fit into what you and those you talk to and read have dubbed ‘evidence.'”

But here, aren’t you just making the Wilson argument “I believe because I believe”, aka “these miracles of the Bible are true because the Bible says they’re true, and I believe what the Bible says because it tells me of these miracles”. In the podcast you guys all cringed at that argument, and Daniel’s paper was presented as a different, better alternative to that kind of belief statement. At least that’s what I was led to expect. You guys seemed very disappointed in Wilson’s statement, so how can you now offer that same kind of statement as a response – with an added “[or else] you’ll answer for that” for good measure?

Jonathan

9 years ago

Belzebutt,

There is a difference in evidence and/or pure rational argumentation being the grounds for miracles, and corroborating evidence in line with scripture understood as authoritative principium. Just think about what your asking for here in light of scripture. What would a positive answer look like that takes scripture as its principium vs. an answer that will put scripture as a neutral piece of data that relies on some ‘positive response’? Positive Arguments are only corroborating, they are not our principium. Given that, Ridderboss is helpful here in that he points out that the miracles are all self disclosures of the person of Christ in his work as Prophet, Priest, and King who has condescended to confer a kingdom unto his people. That is the hermeneutic that explains why a Muslim/ or a JW miracle is no miracle at all. You see we have a difference at the onset of the meaning of miracle. We cannot pretend that there is an agreed upon neutral term “miracle”, for as soon as that happens it is Man that is the Measure….epistemic failure.

Belzebutt

9 years ago

So all along you’re not arguing against Hume’s definition of “miracle”? I thought this was implied given that Daniel’s essay is a response to Hume’s argument against miracles.

Patrick

9 years ago

I have a general question for the RF hosts, and a reply to the posts by Steve and Belzebutt.

Has anyone here read the “The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth” by Timothy and Lydia McGrew that is in the new Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology? I ask because I’m wondering if a Van Tillian could properly incorporate their form of argument into a wider transcendental apologetic. The structure of the McGrews’ argument is fairly typical: they begin by taking on the assumption that the best attested biblical records (the three synoptic gospels, Acts, 1. Cor. and Galatians) are around as reliable as other ancient historical records (e.g., Creaser’s biographies and other early Roman histories). Then, confining themselves to three facts that even skeptical New Testament scholars most typically grant (the report of the empty tomb by the women, the change in the apostles after reporting to have seen and talked to Jesus after his death, esp. in their willingness to die, and Paul’s conversion) they give a Bayes factor analyses of the likelihood of Jesus’s resurrection over the primarily naturalistic explanations, and come up with a probability of 0.9999 that the resurrection occurred. It is a very well-argued essay (certainly not original of course).

Can such an argument be used by a Van Tillian—I mean, an argument which attempts to derive the probability of the main biblical miracle on naturalistic prior probabilities alone? In other words, can a Van Tillian argue that some feature of the Christian worldview is likely given their own naturalistic beliefs? (Even Gordon Clark left room for such arguments, calling them rather confusingly “ad hominems” although I am not sure how he would argue as such, given his general disdain for probability).

The naturalist could certainly argue that the best attested New Testament texts are still unreliable in the relevant areas. I expect the main response by a Reformed apologist would be, as Van Til argued, that the naturalist could allow the resurrection of Jesus while rejecting any theological baggage. “Strange things have happened, I suppose, but they’re still thoroughly naturalistic.” What I think Van Til is partly getting at is something even the McGrews concede: the prior probabilities for the naturalists don’t even allow the possibility of miracles. The case is decided before the naturalist has to look at the particular facts that supposedly corroborate the miracle.

So, RE: Steven and Belzebutt, if you didn’t hear the RF hosts give a persuasive argument that Christian miracles, on any background probabilities, have occurred, you’re right, they didn’t (I take it). I believe they even said arguing from miracles to the existence of God is pointless, or something like that. This is because prior probabilities for the Christian and the naturalist already determine what can and cannot (or at least “almost certainly will and will not”) happen in the physical world. Arguments for or against miracles, then, are non-starters. Miracles have redemptive-historical significance, not apologetic, which is why the show started to should terribly, circularly theological in part 2.

I’m not fully convinced, though, that an argument from the resurrection is pointless. Maybe it can be persuasive while still being theologically suspect. On another note, has anyone read the widely cited critique of Hume’s argument by John Earman (one of the most distinguished philosophers of science alive)? I haven’t but it is probably essential reading on the argument from miracles: http://www.amazon.com/Humes-Abject-Failure-Argument-Miracles/dp/0195127382

Belzebutt

9 years ago

“Arguments for or against miracles, then, are non-starters. Miracles have redemptive-historical significance, not apologetic, which is why the show started to should terribly, circularly theological in part 2.”

That makes perfect sense. What bothered me was that prior to that part of the show the hosts clearly voiced their displeasure at circular arguments, so I expected something different.

Jonathan

9 years ago

Sorry about any confusion over circularity, we have addressed that topic in former episodes, so we might be assuming it the whole time here when we address Hume. To put it quickly, circularity is always, at root, going to be the stick for every worldview. In other words, there is not one philosophical utterance that that has even come close to putting circularity under foot. As Jared said in a former episode, “It is not about who is being circular, it is about who’s circle can explain reality.” With Hume, you conveniently have him arguing against miracles because he thinks they are mythical, yet at the same time he puts ’cause and effect’ into the same bag. So it is not only miracles that go out the window, but also the scientific method. So if we follow Hume down to his own circularity, we find that he can only have utter skepticism.

As far as Partick’s inquiry on the historical resurrection. Yes, We (the panelists) all think there is a vital place for the historicity of the resurrection, but it functions at a corroborating level in a robust system of Apologetics. We only never (whether stated or not in doing Apologetics) want to divorce the event of the resurrection from the meaning of the resurrection. When the Spirit monergisticly convicts through the preaching of the word, both the event and the meaning are simultaneous in its conviction. As for a matter of persuasion, VanTil said, “God can use a crooked stick to strike a man’s heart.” So Patrick is correct on the importance of the persuasive value that can have theological suspicion. Thanks for pointing that out.

Jonathan

9 years ago

Belzebutt,

I am not questioning that we have the same referent. I am question the meaning of the referent. In other words, Hume could say “when Jesus walked on water” and I say, “yea when Jesus walked on water”. Are we speaking of the same thing? Yes, but we have totally different meanings for the event referred to. It is Hume that assumes a neutral definition, not Daniel.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Jared wrote,

Steve, you are anything but neutral (and neither are we).

Right, but based on Daniel’s statements in the show, you already subscribe to my epistemology: you already use reason, probability, and observation to build out your theories about how the world works. It’s just that you also make claims that go way outside of that epistemology, and which cannot be justified within it.

You’ll answer for stiff-arming what God has said and demanding that He fit into what you and those you talk to and read have dubbed ‘evidence.’

But why shouldn’t we demand that your claims about God, and Muslim claims about Allah, and Hindu claims about Shiva, and so on, all fit into our standard of ‘evidence’? You’ve still failed to provide a single, non-ad hoc standard that would delineate between the claims of the various religions, despite that being one of the goals of this show.

I’m not suggesting you epistemologically gamble, and I know that no one can be forced to be convicted of anything, but someone has to have pretty much everything figured out in precise detail before telling God, “You’re wrong, and I’m certain of it.”

That’s assuming that one can speak to God at all, which is in fact one of the questions under discussion. I personally don’t tell God (or Allah, or Shiva) anything, because I do not believe in any such entity. When I reject the Bible, I’m not rejecting “what God explicitly tells” me, I’m rejecting this old book written by men. When I reject your assertions, I’m not rejecting God’s word, I’m rejecting your assertions and, as I seem to routinely need to remind you, you are not God.

Mike

9 years ago

This discussion began under The Divine Attributes as the Foundation of Science thread. However, Steve Ruble wanted to continue the discussion under this thread – so I’ll continue here.

(according to the Christian worldview) GOD has revealed to us (thru his word) that he created an orderly, rational world and we are created in the image of GOD. Therefore, we have a justification for trusting in our rational faculties and the reliability of our sense experiences. So within the Christian worldview it makes sense to talk of laws and universals and such (and science makes sense).

But that doesn’t mean that any and all scientific claims made by a Christian are correct, does it?

That doesn’t follow. To assert that we can have knowledge does not equate to asserting that we have perfect knowledge. How do I function in the world? You answered that question later in your posting:

You don’t look to God for an explanation of why your car won’t start, or why your clock is blinking 12s, or where babies come from, do you? No, you consider your accumulated experiences and observations, reason about them, and formulate theories which you choose between based on their probability, consistency with observation, and usefulness. Of course, you could be mistaken in trusting any of those theories, but you do your best.

Correct, that’s exactly how I function in the world. And so do you. But the question is, what is the justification for proceeding with expectation that these techniques are likely to lead to the truth (even if they don’t always work)? You still haven’t answered that question.

So where, exactly, does God come into it? You can’t ever know if your theory really rests on the orderly foundation, or if there is another layer (or ten) between your theory and the truth.

When I talked about the universe (at bottom) being orderly, I was not trying to imply that there were layers to the universe that we could know or not know. What I was trying to get across was the idea that the entire universe was orderly.

Adding God on top of that doesn’t get you one micron closer to eliminating the problem of induction (which might be better named “the problem of you might be wrong”).

Disagree. A far more accurate name would be “the problem that you don’t have a rational justification for your expectation that your previous experiences are relevant to anything you have not experienced”. It’s not that you might be wrong. It’s that you don’t a rational justification for assuming that you might be right.

Even if your God was speaking directly to you, you wouldn’t be able to eliminate the problem of induction, because you might be wrong about whether the voice was actually God’s. Even if the Bible made reliable predictions that came true like the ticking of a clock (and it doesn’t), that wouldn’t change the fact that it could stop any time.

I am not asserting the Bible should be trusted because it makes accurate predictions (although it does). The Christian worldview asserts the Bible should be trusted because it is the word of GOD. And that GOD created an orderly rational universe. And that we are capable of comprehending that universe (although that doesn’t mean that we are mistake free). That’s what the Christian worldview asserts. And when I point out that the Christian worldview makes these assertion – that is not (as you have twice incorrectly asserted) a bare assertion. It’s simply a fact that this is what the Christian worldview asserts. You can reject the Christian worldview but you can’t rationally reject that this is what the Christian worldview asserts. And so, WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW, there is a justification for induction, human rationality, etc.

This is not a question of whether we live in an orderly, rational universe where we are justified in using induction (metaphysics). We both agree on that we do. The real question is whether we have a worldview that provides an account of how we know that this is the sort of universe we live in (epistomology). Do we have a worldview with an epistemology to support its metaphysics. My worldview does. Your worldview does not. And that is not a bare assertion.

One final point. Notice what I am not asserting. I am not asserting that non-Christians don’t know things. But I am asserting they couldn’t know anything if they thought and acted in a manner consistent with their worldview. They are, in effect, borrowing from the Christian worldview.

Mike

9 years ago

Sorry but my fonts don’t work – I’ll do it this way:

This discussion began under The Divine Attributes as the Foundation of Science thread. However, Steve Ruble wanted to continue the discussion under this thread – so I’ll continue here.

Mike: (according to the Christian worldview) GOD has revealed to us (thru his word) that he created an orderly, rational world and we are created in the image of GOD. Therefore, we have a justification for trusting in our rational faculties and the reliability of our sense experiences. So within the Christian worldview it makes sense to talk of laws and universals and such (and science makes sense).

Steve: But that doesn’t mean that any and all scientific claims made by a Christian are correct, does it?

Mike: That doesn’t follow. To assert that we can have knowledge does not equate to asserting that we have perfect knowledge. How do I function in the world? You answered that question later in your posting:

Steve: You don’t look to God for an explanation of why your car won’t start, or why your clock is blinking 12s, or where babies come from, do you? No, you consider your accumulated experiences and observations, reason about them, and formulate theories which you choose between based on their probability, consistency with observation, and usefulness. Of course, you could be mistaken in trusting any of those theories, but you do your best.

Mike: Correct, that’s exactly how I function in the world. And so do you. But the question is, what is the justification for proceeding with expectation that these techniques are likely to lead to the truth (even if they don’t always work)? You still haven’t answered that question.

Steve: So where, exactly, does God come into it? You can’t ever know if your theory really rests on the orderly foundation, or if there is another layer (or ten) between your theory and the truth.

Mike: When I talked about the universe (at bottom) being orderly, I was not trying to imply that there were layers to the universe that we could know or not know. What I was trying to get across was the idea that the entire universe was orderly.

Steve: Adding God on top of that doesn’t get you one micron closer to eliminating the problem of induction (which might be better named “the problem of you might be wrong”).

Mike: Disagree. A far more accurate name would be “the problem that you don’t have a rational justification for your expectation that your previous experiences are relevant to anything you have not experienced”. It’s not that you might be wrong. It’s that you don’t a rational justification for assuming that you might be right.

Steve: Even if your God was speaking directly to you, you wouldn’t be able to eliminate the problem of induction, because you might be wrong about whether the voice was actually God’s. Even if the Bible made reliable predictions that came true like the ticking of a clock (and it doesn’t), that wouldn’t change the fact that it could stop any time.

Mike: I am not asserting the Bible should be trusted because it makes accurate predictions (although it does). The Christian worldview asserts the Bible should be trusted because it is the word of GOD. And that GOD created an orderly rational universe. And that we are capable of comprehending that universe (although that doesn’t mean that we are mistake free). That’s what the Christian worldview asserts. And when I point out that the Christian worldview makes these assertion – that is not (as you have twice incorrectly asserted) a bare assertion. It’s simply a fact that this is what the Christian worldview asserts. You can reject the Christian worldview but you can’t rationally reject that this is what the Christian worldview asserts. And so, WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW, there is a justification for induction, human rationality, etc.

This is not a question of whether we live in an orderly, rational universe where we are justified in using induction (metaphysics). We both agree on that we do. The real question is whether we have a worldview that provides an account of how we know that this is the sort of universe we live in (epistomology). Do we have a worldview with an epistemology to support its metaphysics. My worldview does. Your worldview does not. And that is not a bare assertion.

One final point. Notice what I am not asserting. I am not asserting that non-Christians don’t know things. But I am asserting they couldn’t know anything if they thought and acted in a manner consistent with their worldview. They are, in effect, borrowing from the Christian worldview.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Mike wrote,

This is not a question of whether we live in an orderly, rational universe where we are justified in using induction (metaphysics). We both agree on that we do. The real question is whether we have a worldview that provides an account of how we know that this is the sort of universe we live in (epistomology). Do we have a worldview with an epistemology to support its metaphysics. My worldview does. Your worldview does not. And that is not a bare assertion.

You haven’t even started to show that your God-based metaphysics establishes “an orderly, rational universe where we are justified in using induction”. Prima facie, a universe with a god in it can be instantly changed to whatever state the god wants it to be in, making nonsense of any inductive claims. This is especially the case where the god in question is said to perform miraculous interventions: under your worldview, inducing that Jesus would stay dead based on the fact that people always have would not just be incorrect, it would be violating the sovereignty of God. In fact, trusting in induction in a God-controlled universe could easily be seen as blasphemous, because you should always keep in mind that God can change anything at will.

So your worldview, far from providing a metaphysical support for induction, actively destroys the possibility of any inductive claim being reliable – God can always make things work differently than they have in the past.

The Christian worldview asserts the Bible should be trusted because it is the word of GOD. And that GOD created an orderly rational universe. And that we are capable of comprehending that universe (although that doesn’t mean that we are mistake free). That’s what the Christian worldview asserts. And when I point out that the Christian worldview makes these assertion – that is not (as you have twice incorrectly asserted) a bare assertion. It’s simply a fact that this is what the Christian worldview asserts.

Mike, I know that it is a fact that your worldview is founded on the assertion that “the Bible should be trusted because it is the word of GOD” etc. That doesn’t make it any less of an assertion. It’s just a simple, bare assertion with no more force behind it than your personal authority. Why should I care? What makes Mike such an authority that his assertion that the Bible is the word of God is more credible than any other claim about any other scripture? You can claim that the Bible itself claims that it is the word of God, but where could the writers of the Bible possibly get the authority to credibly claim, “These words we are writing, right now, are the words of God”?

I know, you’ll say, “The authority comes from God,” but what makes you an authority on what God says? Are you able to search out all the farthest corners of the universe and determine that there are no other gods out there? Can you see back into time to tell whether the god you worship is really the one who created the universe? Are you able to asses the claims your God has made about Himself and discover whether they are true?

I’ll venture a guess and say that, no, you are not able to do those things. Instead, you merely assume that your God is who and what you assume he says he is, and you go around asserting that you have sufficient epistemological power to make these assumptions, because your God is who and what… etc.

That’s all you’ve got. Your own authority. I don’t see how it’s any better than mine.

Mike

9 years ago

Steve : You haven’t even started to show that your God-based metaphysics establishes “an orderly, rational universe where we are justified in using induction”. Prima facie, a universe with a god in it can be instantly changed to whatever state the god wants it to be in, making nonsense of any inductive claims. This is especially the case where the god in question is said to perform miraculous interventions: under your worldview, inducing that Jesus would stay dead based on the fact that people always have would not just be incorrect, it would be violating the sovereignty of God. In fact, trusting in induction in a God-controlled universe could easily be seen as blasphemous, because you should always keep in mind that God can change anything at will.

Mike : As pointed out above, according to the Christian worldview, GOD created an orderly rational world. According to the Christian worldview, we thus have a rational justification for our belief that the universe has been and will remain be orderly because GOD has promised that this would be the case and GOD is incapable of lying or changing his mind (Numbers 23:19). Thus, your statement that “GOD can change anything at all” does not apply to the Christian worldview. However, the fact that GOD maintains an orderly universe doesn’t mean that GOD can’t temporarily allow for temporary departures from the regular operation of the universe (what we would call a miracle). However, the fact that GOD may cause an occasional departure from the norm does not preventing us from recognizing the norm. So your objection is groundless.

Steve: Mike, I know that it is a fact that your worldview is founded on the assertion that “the Bible should be trusted because it is the word of GOD” etc. That doesn’t make it any less of an assertion. It’s just a simple, bare assertion with no more force behind it than your personal authority. Why should I care? What makes Mike such an authority that his assertion that the Bible is the word of God is more credible than any other claim about any other scripture? You can claim that the Bible itself claims that it is the word of God, but where could the writers of the Bible possibly get the authority to credibly claim, “These words we are writing, right now, are the words of God”?

Mike: My assertion that “the Bible should be trusted because it is the word of GOD” is not a simple, bare assumption. It is an assertion grounded on the Christian worldview. The reason I am convinced the Christian worldview is true is that the Christian worldview must be true in order for us to have knowledge (rationally justified true belief). Let’s take a closer look.

(A) If there is no GOD, we can’t have knowledge.

(B) But we do have knowledge.

(C) Therefore, GOD exists.

This proof relies on the rule of inference called Modus Tollens. It can be found in most introductory logic textbooks. If A and B are true then C must be true. I assume you accept B since you have been arguing for the last week or so about those things you do know. The proof hinges upon C (which is what we have been arguing about for the last week or so). I have been arguing for the Christian worldview, which asserts that we can know things because of GOD and conversely, we couldn’t know anything without GOD. You have been arguing that you don’t need GOD to have knowledge.

I have provided a rational justification for my assertion that my (as you put it) “God-based metaphysics” provides an epistemological foundation so we can know things (and obviously without this epistemological foundation we can’t know anything). You only objection (we couldn’t trust induction because GOD could change his mind) has been answered. One the other hand, I have repeatedly asked you to justify your claim that we don’t need GOD to have knowledge and you have not. Therefore, I feel justified in claiming that I have justified my claim and you have not justified yours.

One final point, in your comments you have referred to other theistic worldviews (you talked about other gods). If someone else wants to assert that the Koran is the revelation of Allah – well fine. That will be an interesting conversation. However, please realize that that doesn’t affect our current conversation concerning our two worldviews. Any speculation that one theistic worldview rather than another theistic worldview is the correct worldview doesn’t get the non-theistic worldview off the hook.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Mike, arguing with you is a very frustrating experience.

My assertion that “the Bible should be trusted because it is the word of GOD” is not a simple, bare assumption. It is an assertion grounded on the Christian worldview.

Until you provide some reason to believe it, beyond “I already believe it”, it’s a simple assertion.

(A) If there is no GOD, we can’t have knowledge.

(B) But we do have knowledge.

(C) Therefore, GOD exists.

Seriously? Do you think that by defining “knowledge” in such a way that it requires God to substantiate it you can prove that God exists? Your argument makes Anselm’s ontological argument look sophisticated and profound.

I’ve already explained how I create what I take to be knowledge – roughly, by making observations and creating theories derived from and tested by further observation – and you’ve agreed that you also use those methods to find out about the world. Nevertheless, you keep claiming that these methods, which we both use, do not actually give us knowledge because knowledge isn’t really knowledge unless it’s guaranteed by God. This despite the fact that you have also agreed that your belief in God does not give you any additional information about the world beyond what can be acquired through our agreed-upon methods, and that your belief also fails to confer on you any additional epistemic power. So your belief in God actually gives you nothing except the feeling that you can say, “My knowledge is knowledge-which-is-supported-by-God,” which you think I cannot say. But your “knowledge-which-is-supported-by-God” is no more likely to correspond to reality than is mine, so I can’t help but think that all you’re doing is trying to play a semantic trick. “Let’s take a closer look.”

1. If there is no God, we can’t have knowledge-which-is-supported-by-God.
2. But we do have knowledge-which-is-supported-by-God.
———————————————————————————–
3. Therefore, God exists.

But I don’t believe we have knowledge-which-is-supported-by-God. I think we need to settle for plain old regular knowledge. To assert that we do have knowledge-which-is-supported-by-God is merely to assert that God exists, which is properly your conclusion (despite your claim that “[t]he proof hinges upon C”).

Let’s take another look:
4. If there is no God, we can’t have knowledge-which-is-supported-by-God.
5. We have observations and theories derived from those observations, which may be incorrect or faulty but which nevertheless are all we have.
———————————————————————————–
6. Therefore, God exists.

That argument is not valid.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Mike wrote,

One final point, in your comments you have referred to other theistic worldviews (you talked about other gods). If someone else wants to assert that the Koran is the revelation of Allah – well fine. That will be an interesting conversation. However, please realize that that doesn’t affect our current conversation concerning our two worldviews. Any speculation that one theistic worldview rather than another theistic worldview is the correct worldview doesn’t get the non-theistic worldview off the hook.

You are missing the point of my remark. It doesn’t matter whether anyone in this specific conversation is asserting that Allah is the “epistemological foundation” for belief; the point is that your assertions about God and the Bible contain no more authority that the equivalent assertions from a Muslim or Hindu believer. What makes the assertions of Mike so authoritative, but would be absent from the assertions of Mikail or Mikul?

I’m also not speculating “that one theistic worldview rather than another theistic worldview is the correct worldview”, I’m pointing out that they are all equally suspect. This is one of Hume’s points which was touched on briefly in the podcast. In the absence of anything beyond personal authority, all claims to revelation count as evidence against the truth of all other claims. For any given claim, there is an enormous weight of evidence with the same level of credibility arguing against the truth of that claim. As a result, even if all such claims cannot be refuted as a whole, any given claim (such as yours) is incredible.

As the person putting forward the claim, you need to do more than assert that your claim is correct (all religious claim-makers do that). You need to show that each competing claim is mistaken on grounds other than the assertion that your claim is correct. That’s the only way you can attain more credibility than all the other claim-makers. This, you have profoundly failed to do, instead choosing to argue entirely on your own authority as the evaluator of the truth of holy books – which, honestly, doesn’t get you very far.

Mike

9 years ago

Steve: Seriously? Do you think that by defining “knowledge” in such a way that it requires God to substantiate it you can prove that God exists? Your argument makes Anselm’s ontological argument look sophisticated and profound.

Mike: I used the classical definition of knowledge – rationally justified true belief. That’s how I defined knowledge in my previous posting. True beliefs that are rationally justified (as opposed to beliefs that happen to be true by coincidence).

Steve: I’ve already explained how I create what I take to be knowledge – roughly, by making observations and creating theories derived from and tested by further observation – and you’ve agreed that you also use those methods to find out about the world. Nevertheless, you keep claiming that these methods, which we both use, do not actually give us knowledge because knowledge isn’t really knowledge unless it’s guaranteed by God.

Mike: I don’t believe there can be knowledge without GOD. But that is the conclusion of my argument. I am not asking you to blindly accept it. All I am asking is for you to provide a rational justification for your beliefs. You make observations, create theories, test them and so forth. And they seem to work (most of the time). The standard pragmatic justification. Fine. But that is not the question I have asked you over and over. I asked for a rational justification of why pragmaticism leads to truth. Why does the fact that something works (most of the time) mean that it leads to truth? Simply describing the method you use (pragmaticism) over and over isn’t a rational justification for asserting that pragmaticism leads to truth. This you have profoundly failed to do!

Steve: …you need to do more than assert that your claim is correct (all religious claim-makers do that). You need to show that each competing claim is mistaken on grounds other than the assertion that your claim is correct.

Mike: Agreed. I do need to do that – in discussions with supporters of those other worldviews.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Mike wrote:

You make observations, create theories, test them and so forth. And they seem to work (most of the time). The standard pragmatic justification. Fine. But that is not the question I have asked you over and over. I asked for a rational justification of why pragmaticism leads to truth. Why does the fact that something works (most of the time) mean that it leads to truth.

As I said in my first reply to you, I think that a theory or claim is more likely to be true the more it agrees with observation. I don’t know what the alternative would be… to think that a theory or claim is less likely to be true the more it agrees with observation? To think that the truth of a theory or claim has nothing to do with observation? What alternatives are you proposing?

It feels like you and I have a fundamental misunderstanding about what an epistemology is. If I have a pragmatic epistemology, it means that I think the very method of assessing the truth of a claim is by comparing that claim and predictions drawn from that claim to past and future observations to see if the claim successfully predicts and retrodicts my observed reality. That’s it. It makes no sense to ask me why I think my method for evaluating the truth of claims properly evaluates the truth of claims, because I can only evaluate it by itself. What

And the thing that boggles my mind the most about this conversation is that you agree that you use the same method for evaluating claims. Except when it comes to claims about God. Then you use a truth function which seems to be defined as “If Mike believes claim x then x is true.”

In other words, every argument you might bring to bear on my epistemology also affects yours, except when it comes to claims about God, where you are content to make claims on your own authority.

Mike

9 years ago

Steve,

I am enjoying the conversation. I am on travel next week and will have limited internet access.

I’ll get back to you in a couple of days.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Weird, it posted my reply before I was done with it. Must have pressed tab accidentally.

Anyway, you ended your post with “I do need to do that – in discussions with supporters of those other worldviews,” in reference to my point about every religious claim acting as evidence against every other religious claim. You continue to miss my point, which has nothing to do with you discussing things with other religious believers, but with the very nature of the claim you are making. Every claim to revelation ever made by every believer who does not share your beliefs counts as evidence against your claims, because you’re all making claims based on your own authority as the bearers of a revelation from a god, and you all have exactly the same authority. Therefore the evidence is always that you are wrong, until you provide some evidence other than your own authority. Which you have not provided.

Daniel

9 years ago

Hey guys, I haven’t checked this site in a week and now that I have I see that there is no possible way that I could enter this discussion fruitfully, given the amount of material that has been posted by multiple individuals.

If anyone is in the Philly area and is interested in meeting in person, grabbing a beer or coffee and discussing these objections I’d love to meet up. Shoot me an email at schrock68@yahoo.com

Daniel Schrock

Belzebutt

9 years ago

“(A) If there is no GOD, we can’t have knowledge.
(B) But we do have knowledge.
(C) Therefore, GOD exists.”

I think this argument is deeply flawed. Even if we define knowledge as you define it, we can still classify knowledge learned from experience, statistical knowledge, in that category. That kind of knowledge in no way requires God. There is no need for other worldviews to borrow from the Christian worldview.

I would also very much like to see an explanation of why Christian miracles are more believable than non-Christian ones. Daniel claimed that it is because there’s a construct around them, a greater purpose to them. Does that mean Christians should believe any miracle that has a construct around it and a greater purpose? Surely they would if THAT is the criteria – and it was the only one I heard on the show.

Mike

9 years ago

Steve: As I said in my first reply to you, I think that a theory or claim is more likely to be true the more it agrees with observation. I don’t know what the alternative would be… to think that a theory or claim is less likely to be true the more it agrees with observation? To think that the truth of a theory or claim has nothing to do with observation? What alternatives are you proposing?

It feels like you and I have a fundamental misunderstanding about what an epistemology is. If I have a pragmatic epistemology, it means that I think the very method of assessing the truth of a claim is by comparing that claim and predictions drawn from that claim to past and future observations to see if the claim successfully predicts and retrodicts my observed reality. That’s it. It makes no sense to ask me why I think my method for evaluating the truth of claims properly evaluates the truth of claims, because I can only evaluate it by itself.

Mike: We definitely have different epistemologies. We have different worldviews, and an epistemology is part of a worldview.

I asked what was your justification for your assumption that pragmaticism leads to truth. You responded that the question didn’t make any sense. I think you are making this assumption, but you are not aware you are making this assumption. To do otherwise would be irrational. Do you think it makes sense to follow a methodology (like pragmaticism) without assuming it leads to the truth? And look closely at what you said: “I think the very method of assessing the truth of a claim …… That’s it.” Isn’t this a bare assertion?

I believe that you have simply assumed this to be the case all your life and it never crossed your mind that it could be otherwise. I hope you see that this is not a rational justification. As you correctly pointed out above, I agree with your assumption but I think there needs to be a rational justification for that assumption.

You responded that you didn’t see how it could be otherwise. But that is not a rational justification. For example, to this point in time (despite what may presented on certain TV shows) no one has any idea how life might have originally began (assuming only natural causes). Because of the enormous level of complexity of even the simplest organism (what you have to have before natural selection can start to work), even Richard Dawkins has admitted no one has any idea how life might has originated from natural causes. But if creationists tried to use this as an argument for GOD (“I just can’t see how this could have happened naturally – therefore GOD must have done it”) they would be hammered by Dawkins and his minions (“That is simply a reflection of your limitations”).

And if you were having this discussion with a Hindu or Buddhist mystic, he could certainly see how it could be otherwise. He would assert that the pragmatic method doesn’t tell us anything about reality because what you call the world is simply an illusion. You discover reality by going into an altered state of consciousness where your mind shuts downs and then you connect with reality. You might consider that possibility to be absurd. But could you provide that you are right and he is wrong?

Steve: Every claim to revelation ever made by every believer who does not share your beliefs counts as evidence against your claims, because you’re all making claims based on your own authority as the bearers of a revelation from a god, and you all have exactly the same authority.

Mike: But the point I am making is that I don’t accept the claim that we all have the same authority. You (and Hume) are asserting that it’s just a bunch of people with each making personal claim and nothing to back it up – but I don’t accept that assertion (at least with respect to Christianity). If I did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Mike: I asked what was your justification for your assumption that pragmaticism leads to truth. You responded that the question didn’t make any sense. I think you are making this assumption, but you are not aware you are making this assumption. To do otherwise would be irrational. Do you think it makes sense to follow a methodology (like pragmaticism) without assuming it leads to the truth?

Mike, the only way I can make sense of this is by assuming that by “leads to truth” you mean metaphysically, not epistemologically. I’m not making a metaphysical claim about some Universal Truth that I hope to arrive at through a pragmatic methodology; I don’t really make metaphysical claims, because they largely unsupportable under my epistemology anyway – there are no observations to check against. All I’m doing is using a standard for evaluating claims which says that theories which match observation, which are reasoned out based on experience, and which make successful predictions are likely to be closer to the truth than theories which do not have those characteristics.

Mike: I agree with your assumption but I think there needs to be a rational justification for that assumption.

You responded that you didn’t see how it could be otherwise. But that is not a rational justification.

I think my justification is pretty rational. All the evidence we have about the world comes from observation, and (though it may be flawed or unreliable) I think it would destroy the meaning of the word “rational” to say that it would be more rational to ignore that evidence than to make what we can of it. If you disagree, we may have reached the limit of our ability to have a meaningful conversation.

On the other hand, you may be using a different definition of “justification” than I am. If so, please share.

Mike: And look closely at what you said: “I think the very method of assessing the truth of a claim …… That’s it.” Isn’t this a bare assertion?

I think it’s more of a definition. What I’m saying is that if you make a (non-deductive) claim about reality and say that it’s “true” (or “True”), but it doesn’t match past observation and/or makes no predictions about future observations, I don’t know what you mean by “true”. Once you go outside the constraints of conformance to past and future observation, as far as I can tell, all justifications for claims about reality have exactly the same epistemic status as, “I thought it up when I was stoned.”

Mike: I believe that you have simply assumed this to be the case all your life and it never crossed your mind that it could be otherwise.

Your belief is incorrect. I spent more than half my life thinking, as you do, that I could make metaphysical claims that were True just because I was privileged enough to have been told the Truth about God. Eventually I realized that I had absolutely no reason to think that I knew the truth, and that I was relying entirely on the authority of myself and the other humans who sat around telling one another our shared “Truth”. I realized that no one – including myself – has the omniscience or authority to assert that they know any metaphysical Truth about God, and even if they actually did there would be no way to tell them from the people that did not. So I stopped believing (and making) inductive claims about metaphysical matters. (Note that nothing in what I just said precludes deductive claims or internal critiques of metaphysical claims.)

Mike: You (and Hume) are asserting that it’s just a bunch of people with each making a personal claim and nothing to back it up – but I don’t accept that assertion (at least with respect to Christianity). If I did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Well, clearly. But if you’re going to grant that some holy books and holy men can speak with authority about God, don’t you feel compelled to have a rational justification for why you think that yours have it right? I believe that you have simply assumed this to be the case all of this conversation and it never crossed your mind that it could be otherwise. I hope you see that this is not a rational justification.

Mike

9 years ago

First, I apologize if my remark “I believe that you have simply assumed this to be the case all your life and it never crossed your mind that it could be otherwise” came across as condescending. That was not my intention. And now to continue our conversation!

Steve: Mike, the only way I can make sense of this is by assuming that by “leads to truth” you mean metaphysically, not epistemologically. I’m not making a metaphysical claim about some Universal Truth that I hope to arrive at through a pragmatic methodology; I don’t really make metaphysical claims, because they largely unsupportable under my epistemology anyway – there are no observations to check against. All I’m doing is using a standard for evaluating claims which says that theories which match observation, which are reasoned out based on experience, and which make successful predictions are likely to be closer to the truth than theories which do not have those characteristics.

Mike: You stated above that you don’t make metaphysical claims. Let’s look at the implications of that assertion.

You make observations, develop theories and test those theories against further observation. But all that entitles you to say is that these theories are true only with respect to what you have already observed. If you are going to extend your theories beyond what you have observed, you must have some sort of rational justification for making that jump. You need to have some sort of rational justification for presupposing the uniformity of nature. This is the principle that the laws of nature will operate tomorrow as they operated today, that they will operate in one point in space and time as they operate in another – that in basic ways nature is essentially uniform.

For example, thru repeated observation we develop the laws of gravity. But what is the justification for assuming that the next time you release a rock it will fall to the ground? You may say “every other time I have released a rock it fell to the ground”. But note that this is a subtle form of begging the question because this presupposes that future events will follow the same laws that past events have followed – which is the very question being asked. Or to put it another way, granting that in the past the future has been like the past, how do we know that in the future the future will continue to be like the past?

Yet we presuppose the uniformity of nature time and time again. We don’t have to do a detailed structural investigation of a chair every time we go to sit in that chair. We assume that because chairs have supported us in the past and the laws of structural mechanics are the same everywhere, the chair will hold us up. When you turn the ignition key in your car, take a breath of air, take a bite of food or a multitude or other things – you presuppose the uniformity of nature. If we didn’t presuppose the uniformity of nature it would be impossible to function in this world.

Similarly, science would be impossible without presupposing the uniformity of nature. Suppose scientists didn’t presuppose the uniformity of nature. Then, in order to verify a theory about the behavior of electrons they would have to test the theory against every electron in the universe at every point in space and time in the universe. It would not do for a scientist to say, “I’ve tested my theory against lots of electrons and if we ever come across an electron that contradicts my theory we’ll change the theory”. That doesn’t solve the problem because science is only possible if we presuppose that nature is uniform. To simply say “we’ll go with the results of our testing and update our theory if some new data comes along” is not a justification for presupposing the uniformity of nature in the first place.

What’s so interesting about David Hume is how consistent he was in his empiricism. He understood what the results would be of pushing the empirical method to its logical conclusion – empiricism will reduce to psychology. What Hume referred to as “habits of the mind”. If this is the case, what we refer to as laws reduce to “habits of the mind”. And if laws (physical laws, laws of logic, mathematical laws) are reduced to psychology, then they have as much justification as believing in dreams.

So we come to the crux of the problem. We can’t make any sense out of this world without presupposing the uniformity of nature. However, the uniformity of nature can’t be inductively or deductively proven. This problem is referred to as the problem of induction. If you think this problem can be solved without making metaphysical claims, let me know how.

You might want to take a look at Introduction to Logic by Irving Copi and Carl Cohen (10 th edition). This is one of the standard introductory college textbooks on logic. In the chapter covering logical fallacies (ch. 6), the book talks briefly about the problem of induction and gives it as an example of the logical fallacy known as begging the question.

Steve: I think my justification is pretty rational. All the evidence we have about the world comes from observation, and (though it may be flawed or unreliable) I think it would destroy the meaning of the word “rational” to say that it would be more rational to ignore that evidence than to make what we can of it.

Mike: Simply asserting your believe again is not a rational justification. You followed the methodology you do because you can’t imagine how it could be otherwise. The Hindu mystic says he sees how it could be otherwise. He thinks all your observations are illusion. The creationist asserts that the origin of life could not have occurred due to natural causes because he can’t see how it could have occurred (or for that matter nobody has any idea how it could have happened – according to Richard Dawkins). If we are simply talking about the limits of your imagination versus the limits of what someone else can imagine, why should we choose you over the mystic or creationist? Your choice appears to be completely subjective.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Mike, do you think it would be more rational to not believe in the uniformity of nature? Why?

Mike:
You followed the methodology you do because you can’t imagine how it could be otherwise. The Hindu mystic says he sees how it could be otherwise. He thinks all your observations are illusion.

That’s not actually correct. The Hindu mystic is contradicting your metaphysics, not our epistemology. Just as you think that behind everything you experience there is a metaphysical reality which makes all your experiences real, the Hindu mystic believes that behind all experience there is a metaphysical reality which makes all his experiences illusory. But when you’re not talking about metaphysics, both of you act as if nature was uniform and the problem of induction is not a problem. Whether you believe the world is real or illusory, you believe that you will continue to experience that world as uniform and consistent (until some eschatological break in the future, but that’s a different topic).

Why do you believe this? Because it’s the rational conclusion. If all the evidence we have from prior experience doesn’t count as evidence supporting the conclusion that nature is uniform, then nothing counts as evidence for anything. And if nothing counts as evidence, then there is no rationality, because every conclusion is as justified as every other conclusion. An argument which concludes that it is rational to believe that there is no such thing as rationality is incoherent. I reject the argument and its conclusion.

Mike:
If we are simply talking about the limits of your imagination versus the limits of what someone else can imagine, why should we choose you over the mystic or creationist? Your choice appears to be completely subjective.

I hope it’s clear by now that we are not talking about the limits of my imagination. We’re talking about the limits of what it makes sense to say, and it does not make sense to say that evidence is not evidence and that rationality is irrational. You could say that, but whatever you said next wouldn’t be very interesting, would it? It would, by your own standard, be unsubstantiated and irrational.

Of course, those properties seem to be characteristic of metaphysics in general, where there is no evidence (if there was evidence, it would be physics, not metaphysics) and the same methodology can produce exactly contradictory conclusions (e.g., you and the Hindu mystic, and every other religious believer who makes universal claims on their own authority). That is why I don’t care much about metaphysics, and don’t make metaphysical claims: I don’t see any reason to think that they would be any more true than all the other ones.

Mike

9 years ago

Steve: Mike, do you think it would be more rational to not believe in the uniformity of nature? Why?

Mike : I am saying that without of the Christian worldview, there isn’t any rational justification for any belief one way or the other.

Steve: I hope it’s clear by now that we are not talking about the limits of my imagination. We’re talking about the limits of what it makes sense to say, and it does not make sense to say that evidence is not evidence and that rationality is irrational. You could say that, but whatever you said next wouldn’t be very interesting, would it? It would, by your own standard, be unsubstantiated and irrational.

Mike: I asked you a few posting back why you believe that pragmaticism leads to truth (although it’s now clear we have a different definition of truth). Anyway, you responded by saying “I think that a theory or claim is more likely to be true the more it agrees with observation. I don’t know what the alternative would be”. Therefore, I assumed, based upon the last part of that statement, that you were claiming that since you could not imagine an alternative to that idea (a theory being more likely to be true the more it agrees with the evidence), there couldn’t be an alternative. You have indicated that assumption was incorrect. As I now understand it: your position is that we should rely upon empirical evidence because to do otherwise would be irrational.

Assuming this understanding of your position is correct – Why is not relying upon the empirical evidence irrational?

Mike

9 years ago

And by the way, when did I assert that “evidence is not evidence and that rationality is irrational”?

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Steve:Mike, do you think it would be more rational to not believe in the uniformity of nature? Why?

MikeI am saying that without the Christian worldview, there isn’t any rational justification for any belief one way or the other.

Mike, I’m not sure what you mean by “justification” in this context. There’s not going to be a justification (in the sense of a valid argument) for the uniformity of nature – such a justification could only be either deductive (which won’t work because deductive arguments don’t bind to reality) or inductive (which won’t work because the validity of such arguments is what’s under dispute). You seem to think that you’ve found a third way – just asserting that you have a guarantee from God that nature is uniform – but (obviously) you are still begging the question, because you cannot “rationally justify” your belief that the guarantee will continue to be valid. You said earlier that ” GOD is incapable of lying or changing his mind” but still you are begging the question by now assuming that God is uniform in time – an assumption that you again cannot justify by rational argument. So we’re both in the same boat, and neither of us can provide an “rational justification” for having absolute certainty about the uniformity of nature without appealing to unsupported assertions.

Luckily, we don’t need absolute certainty. It’s perfectly normal to believe things because you think that the belief is rational based on the evidence you posses, without any need to be absolutely certain. You can’t be absolutely certain about whether it will rain today, but I don’t think that precludes making a rational choice about whether or not to go on a picnic. You can check the weather report, look at the sky yourself, etc., then make your decision. If you see that there the forecast predicts a 95% chance of rain and you can’t see the sun for thunderheads, the rational choice is to cancel your picnic (assuming you want to stay dry). Conversely, if there is a 0% forecast for rain and not a cloud in the sky, it would be rational to go on a picnic.

Now, I would be comfortable saying that ignoring the 95% chance of rain and the lowering sky and going on your picnic anyway would be irrational (ceteris paribus). Likewise, saying that you think weather forecasts are totally random and thunderclouds don’t have anything to do with rain would be irrational. I think that we can agree that such uses of the words rational and irrational are meaningful, right?

I’m going to get a little technical here because I want to be clear – bear with me.

Let E represent evidence that it is going to rain. Using the standards you’ve been arguing for in this conversation, observations of thunderclouds are not in E. The thunderclouds might dissipate, God might make them go elsewhere, the sun may have exploded moments ago, etc. (Notice that this is the case whether or not you believe in the uniformity of nature – the uniformity of nature does not preclude there being aspects of nature you don’t know about or anticipate.) But E is an empty set, then what do we mean when we say that sometimes it is rational to go on a picnic and sometimes it is irrational? Didn’t we agree that those statements are meaningful? We must have gone wrong somewhere – perhaps your standards of evidence are useless.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say your claim that all reasoning is undermined by uncertainty about absolute reality, or the uniformity of nature, or any such thing which has a metaphysical character, makes nonsense of how we think and speak. By rejecting the concept of evidence as we use it every day, you reject the concept of rationality itself.

Mike

9 years ago

Steve: You seem to think that you’ve found a third way – just asserting that you have a guarantee from God that nature is uniform – but (obviously) you are still begging the question, because you cannot “rationally justify” your belief that the guarantee will continue to be valid. You said earlier that ” GOD is incapable of lying or changing his mind” but still you are begging the question by now assuming that God is uniform in time – an assumption that you again cannot justify by rational argument. So we’re both in the same boat, and neither of us can provide a “rational justification” for having absolute certainty about the uniformity of nature without appealing to unsupported assertions.

Mike: Actually, I am not assuming GOD is uniform in time. GOD is not in time. He is, and this is a very sloppy way of putting it, he is outside or beyond time. He created the time and space (Gen 1:1, 2 Tim 1:9). GOD does not change by his very nature (Num 23:19). Similarly, because of his nature, it is impossible for GOD to lie (Heb 6:18).

Steve: Luckily, we don’t need absolute certainty. It’s perfectly normal to believe things because you think that the belief is rational based on the evidence you posses, without any need to be absolutely certain. You can’t be absolutely certain about whether it will rain today, but I don’t think that precludes making a rational choice about whether or not to go on a picnic. You can check the weather report, look at the sky yourself, etc., then make your decision. If you see that there the forecast predicts a 95% chance of rain and you can’t see the sun for thunderheads, the rational choice is to cancel your picnic (assuming you want to stay dry). Conversely, if there is a 0% forecast for rain and not a cloud in the sky, it would be rational to go on a picnic.

Mike: I am not trying to claim that we need absolute certainty. I understand the point you were trying to make about the weather. And a similar point can be made about many other things in this world that are statistical in nature. Another example would be the laws of thermodynamics. But I am raising another point. Even talking about 85% chance of this or 95% chance of that presuppose an assumption of an underlying order to nature. For example, suppose you toss a coin over and over. Each time the exact location where it lands will vary because the forces your hand applies to the coin will be a little different. But the equations of dynamics and gravity that describe the path the coin will follow for each toss (once we provide inputs to the equation such as the forces we apply to the coin, aerodynamic drag and such) will be identical. See the difference? It’s the law like nature of the universe I am talking about, not the fact that we can’t precisely predict where the coin will land. The law like nature of the universe was what I was referring to in my earlier posting where I talked about the “uniformity of nature”. To put it another way, making a statistical estimate in the first place presupposes the uniformity of nature.

Repeating a paragraph from my earlier posting where I talked about the problem of induction:

For example, thru repeated observation we develop the laws of gravity. But what is the justification for assuming that the next time you release a rock it will fall to the ground? You may say “every other time I have released a rock it fell to the ground”. But note that this is a subtle form of begging the question because this presupposes that future events will follow the same laws that past events have followed – which is the very question being asked. Or to put it another way, granting that in the past the future has been like the past, how do we know that in the future the future will continue to be like the past?

Notice that in the example I talked about the law of gravity. That to presuppose the law of gravity would hold sway in the future because it had done so in the past was begging the question (circular reasoning). And justifying something based upon circular reasoning is no justification at all. The problem of induction is not that we can’t be 100% certain about gravity in the future – it’s that there is no justification for any assumption at all.

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Steve</b…you are begging the question by now assuming that God is uniform in time – an assumption that you again cannot justify by rational argument.

Mike: </bActually, I am not assuming GOD is uniform in time. GOD is not in time.

Uniform in your time, Mike. You assume that your God will be the same God to you tomorrow as he is today.

Mike: </bHe is, and this is a very sloppy way of putting it, he is outside or beyond time. He created the time and space (Gen 1:1, 2 Tim 1:9).

It does seem like a pretty sloppy way of saying whatever you’re trying to say. If you’re so sure of that claim, and you think you understand what it means, could you perhaps tell me when and where God perpetrated this creation?

Mike: </bGOD does not change by his very nature (Num 23:19). Similarly, because of his nature, it is impossible for GOD to lie (Heb 6:18).

That’s not an argument. I would be exactly as justified in saying that nature is uniform because it’s in the nature of nature to be uniform. But that is what is the claim that this whole argument is about! Why do you think it’s acceptable for you to make arbitrary uniformity claims which are utterly unverifiable, without providing any justification? Or, more precisely, why do you think it’s OK for you, Mike, to make such claims, but not OK for anyone else? Is it because you think it’s God making those claims, not you? And you’re just accepting what God says about himself? That can’t provide a justification, because it would still be you making the claim that those claims were made by God. So what makes you such an authority on which claims God has made?

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

With regard to the second part of your comment:

Mike, I know what the problem of induction is. I also understand what you mean by the uniformity of nature. But those two concepts have a more complicated relationship than you’re acknowledging. If there were a solution to the problem of induction, it would not require nature to be uniform – if nature were totally chaotic in 20% of cases, we could still make valid inductions by adding the caveat that our inductions are only correct 80% of the time. Similarly, nature could be totally uniform and totally determined by a set of unbreakable laws, but that uniformity could include imperceptible fairies who are dedicated to ensuring that a random fraction of our inductions are incorrect – in that case, induction would be unreliable.

That is why your assumption that God ensures that nature is uniform is not only unjustified, but irrelevant. So what if nature is uniform? Does that suddenly make your inductions correct? No, it doesn’t:

P1. All swans I’ve seen are white.
P2. Swans will never turn into goats, or violate any other aspects of the uniformity of nature.
—————————————————–
C1. All swans are white.

That is not a valid argument, whether or not you grant P2. So you are without a solution to the problem of induction (or, if you have one, you haven’t presented it yet). Nevertheless, you probably will continue to use induction even in the absence of a solution.

You wrote that “making a statistical estimate in the first place presupposes the uniformity of nature.” I don’t agree, but I think we have different understandings of the epistemology of statistics. I think you can make statistical estimates in the absence of the uniformity of nature – actually, you can make them in the absence of a lot of information. It just depends on the kind of claim you are making. If I make the claim, “There is a 50% chance of getting heads in a coin toss”, I’m not including the chance that the sun will explode before the coin hits the ground, or the chance that a bird will grab it out of the air, or the chance that nature will turn out not to be uniform and my coin will turn into a bowl of petunias. I’m implicitly saying, “(given that nothing unexpected happens)”. In other words, I’m leaving out of my statistical estimate events for which I have no way of knowing the probabilities. I have to do this, whether or not I believe in the uniformity of nature, because there are always things I do not know. I have to base my predictions on the evidence I do have, not the evidence I don’t have.

I think that past experience counts as evidence that future experiences will be similar, for the kind of claims made above – and that’s the only kind of claim I care about making. Of course there’s a chance that all my inductions are nonsense. What chance? I have no idea, so I leave it out of my consideration.

If you want to claim that past experience doesn’t count as evidence in favor of similar future experience, you can do that – you’re free to make your epistemology as strict as you want. But I have to ask, what are you going to do next? Saying that God ensures the uniformity of nature won’t turn your experiences back into evidence – in fact, excluding experience from your standard of evidence removes your experience of God as a piece of evidence as well. So, again, if you think the problem of induction is such a big deal, and should have some impact on how we go about making claims, what’s your solution?

Mike

9 years ago

Steve: Mike, I know what the problem of induction is. I also understand what you mean by the uniformity of nature. But those two concepts have a more complicated relationship than you’re acknowledging. If there were a solution to the problem of induction, it would not require nature to be uniform – if nature were totally chaotic in 20% of cases, we could still make valid inductions by adding the caveat that our inductions are only correct 80% of the time.

Mike: It appears from the above paragraph that you don’t understand what the problem of induction is. Take a look at the following quote from the Stanford Encyclodedia of Philosophy – Hume’s view is that the experience of constant conjunction fosters a “habit of the mind” that leads us to anticipate the conclusion on the occasion of a new instance of the second premise. The force of induction, the force that drives the inference, is thus not an objective feature of the world, but a subjective power; the mind’s capacity to form inductive habits. The objectivity of causality, the objective support of inductive inference, is thus an illusion, an instance of what Hume calls the mind’s “great propensity to spread itself on external objects” (Hume THN, 167).

Note that he refers to the driving force behind induction as a subjective power, not an objective feature of the world. The problem of induction is not that our inductions are only correct 60% or 80% of the time! The problem is that there is no justification for assuming any relationship whatever between past, current and future observation!

Steve: I think that past experience counts as evidence that future experiences will be similar, for the kind of claims made above – and that’s the only kind of claim I care about making. Of course there’s a chance that all my inductions are nonsense. What chance? I have no idea, so I leave it out of my consideration.

Mike: Amazing! You don’t have an answer so you simply ignore the problem! Your justification is completely non-rational!

Steve: That is why your assumption that God ensures that nature is uniform is not only unjustified, but irrelevant. So what if nature is uniform? Does that suddenly make your inductions correct?

Mike: How many times do I have to say this? I am not claiming that the Christian worldview somehow provides a justification for perfection! We do our best. Sometime we make mistakes. Sometimes the data is incomplete or incorrect. But at least the Christian worldview provides a justification for induction. It provides a starting point for making sense of the world! You worldview does not!

Steve: That’s not an argument. I would be exactly as justified in saying that nature is uniform because it’s in the nature of nature to be uniform. But that is what is the claim that this whole argument is about! Why do you think it’s acceptable for you to make arbitrary uniformity claims which are utterly unverifiable, without providing any justification? Or, more precisely, why do you think it’s OK for you, Mike, to make such claims, but not OK for anyone else? Is it because you think it’s God making those claims, not you? And you’re just accepting what God says about himself? That can’t provide a justification, because it would still be you making the claim that those claims were made by God. So what makes you such an authority on which claims God has made?

Mike : I think a central point is being missed here. This discussion is about worldviews. You are arguing from within your worldview critiquing mine. I am arguing from within my worldview critiquing yours. And from within my worldview, I have every right to make the claim above. Why? Because that’s my starting point! That’s what my worldview asserts – that GOD has revealed himself to us, his creation of the world, who we are and our relationship to him and so forth. Get it? That’s my worldview and if my worldview is correct those claims are valid claims to make.

You, on the other hand, have a completely different starting point. You assume the autonomy of the human mind – that you can look at the world and make sense of it without any help from GOD.

I understand that based upon your worldview, presupposing GOD is a nonstarter. You think that unless we present evidence that makes sense according to your rules it’s not legitimate. But remember, I am not trying to defend you worldview, I am defending mine. And my assumptions are valid within my worldview. And look where your worldview leaves you – saying things like ”I think you can make statistical estimates in the absence of the uniformity of nature”. Yes you could but there would be no justification for assuming the estimates would tell you anything about the world (see my comments earlier in this posting). So if we are searching for a cure for cancer, why even bother to look at scientific research? Why not just take a wild guess? Is that really the way you think we should do medical research? According to your worldview it is.

Think of this as a test of worldviews. The test is: Does a worldview allow us to make sense of the world? Seems like a good test since we both agree we can make sense of the world. And my worldview passes the test, yours flunks the test. And so my worldview should be accepted.

I know at this point you are going to assert: “That’s not good enough. What about all those other worldviews? You have to disprove all those other worldviews. All those other worldviews count as evidence against your worldview.” No they don’t. Your claim is that my worldview and those other non-naturalistic worldviews do essentially the same thing – someone claiming to speak for GOD and no justification to back it up. You think we are all in the same boat. But can you prove we are all in the same boat? Have you done a thorough investigation of every aspect of my worldview and those other worldviews, compared them and proved we are all in the same boat? No, you just assumed that to be the case. Until you have something to back up that claim it’s just an unsupported assertion. Each worldview stands on its own merits.

In other words, I don’t have to show that my worldview should be accepted over out all those other worldviews (although that is the case) in order to show that it should be accepted over yours.

One more thing. A few posting back we discussed why you chose your worldview over the Hindu mystic’s worldview. I claimed that your choice was completely subjective. You denied that and asserted that you chose your worldview because to reject the empirical evidence would be irrational. You talked about “evidence isn’t evidence”- something like that. I couldn’t understand what you were trying to say and asked for a clarification. There was no response. Could you tell me what you meant when you said that to reject the empirical evidence would be irrational?

Steve Ruble

9 years ago

Mike, right now I have essentially no interest in continuing to have a conversation with you. Here’s why:

Mike: I think a central point is being missed here. This discussion is about worldviews. You are arguing from within your worldview critiquing mine. I am arguing from within my worldview critiquing yours. And from within my worldview, I have every right to make the claim above. Why? Because that’s my starting point! That’s what my worldview asserts – that GOD has revealed himself to us, his creation of the world, who we are and our relationship to him and so forth. Get it? That’s my worldview and if my worldview is correct those claims are valid claims to make.

No, I don’t get it. I don’t get the concept that one can merely assert that the totality of one’s metaphysical beliefs constitute a “worldview” and thus are immune to critique and without need for justification. It’s stupid and sophomoric, and if I’d thought that you were eventually going to resort to it I wouldn’t have spent so much time typing arguments and trying to understand yours.

You seem to be perfectly willing to assert that the metaphysical Truth about the universe is exactly what you believe, no more and no less. Your justification for thinking that things are the way that you think they are is that you think they are – that’s it. Can you explain to me why I would continue talking to someone who takes that position? I can’t think of a reason.

Two more things:

First, the first part of your post totally misses my point. Re-read my post and watch for the word “if”, then see if you can get your head around the difference between the problem of induction and the uniformity of nature, and the issues that creates for your justification of your use of induction. I’m not going to try a third time to explain the dichotomy there, because I suspect you don’t actually care whether your argument is coherent. I’m not going to post any more comments until you demonstrate an understanding of this issue.

Second, since you didn’t notice my first or second responses to your question about evidence and rationality, here’s another (final) attempt.

Throughout this conversation I have tried my best to stick to epistemology. So, for the last time, in terms of epistemology: my experiences and observations seem to be evidence for themselves. In the language of Reformed epistemology, they would be properly basic, if that helps you understand at all. I don’t have anything else that could constitute evidence that my experiences are reliably connected to reality. Likewise, I don’t have anything else that could constitute evidence for the general reliability of induction. So, I have two options.

1) Decide that the fact that I can’t be certain my experiences represent reality and that they don’t provide evidence for the reliability of induction implies that experiences do not constitute evidence of anything at all, or
2) Decide that my experiences do constitute evidence for what they seem to constitute evidence for.

If I take option one, my epistemology becomes hyperbolic skepticism, I can have no ontological beliefs, and I can make no further claims. Rationality is over. If I take option two, I can have an epistemology that includes the caveat that I can’t make metaphysical claims about absolute truth, nor can I talk someone out of hyperbolic skepticism. I can define a set of rules for drawing conclusions from evidence which includes meaningful concepts of rationality and irrationality. So I choose option two. Maybe “irrational” isn’t a good word for choosing option one – maybe “arrational” would be better, but that’s not a word. In any case, only under option two does the concept of rationality exist in a meaningful way. Get it?

Mike

9 years ago

Steve: No, I don’t get it. I don’t get the concept that one can merely assert that the totality of one’s metaphysical beliefs constitute a “worldview” and thus are immune to critique and without need for justification. It’s stupid and sophomoric, and if I’d thought that you were eventually going to resort to it I wouldn’t have spent so much time typing arguments and trying to understand yours.

Mike: If you want to end this conversation just say so. But don’t give me this garbage about “stupid and sophomoric”. You know that I am doing the same thing you are doing. You have your most basic beliefs. They are (as you put it) evidences for themselves. There is nothing more basic and to ask for anything more basic makes no sense. But that is exactly what you are demanding that I do for my most basic beliefs! I reject that demand.

Mike

9 years ago

Maybe this will help to understand.

Think of this as an indirect test of worldviews. We each have our most basic beliefs and these beliefs can’t be proven directly. We can’t demand some more basic reason to prove our most basic beliefs (or they wouldn’t be our most basic beliefs.

So we can only prove our worldview indirectly. So we assume (for the sake of investigation) each worldview and then determine the consequences. If the consequences of assuming a worldview is that we can’t make sense of anything then we reject that worldview because we do know we can make sense of things. If the consequences of assuming a worldview is that we can make sense of things then we keep that worldview.
Think of it as similar to hypothesis testing. It’s done is logic, mathematics, science. You assume something is true. If ultimately that results in a contradiction you realize you made a mistake in your initial assumption.

That’s fundamental to transcendental reasoning. What is required in a worldview to allow us to make sense of the world. Because we do make sense of the world.

Against Hume on Miracles: Ronald Nash and Daniel Schrock | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog

8 years ago

[…] second find here was much more helpful: Episodes 8 and 9 from the Philosophy for Theologians podcast, which featured I think a very PEL-like group of guys […]

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