Is a presupposition of cause-effect a legitimate requisite to honest inquiry? 

Recently I had someone claim the following.

Acceptance of premise ‘X’ on the basis of evidence ‘y’ demonstrates your acceptance of the principle of cause and effect, logically prior to the observance of those regularities.

This is misguided. 

Observation is needs no commitment to any cause-effect paradigm. It could be the case that observed regularities lead to no predictive power. No commitment to a cause/effect paradigm is logically necessary, and, in fact, woud be epistemically dishonest. 

The rational mind will commit to cause/effect only after there has been some validation of that notion. The validation of cause/effect is the predictive and explanatory power that is noted after the observation of regularities. 

Most of us go through this stage of validating cause/effect when we are very young, when the validated expectation of cause/effect is deeply sublimated, leading many to assume cause/effect is a necessary presumtion for exploration of the world to get off the ground. It is not. It is entirely possible that the regularies we perceieve have not predictive poweer, thus making the notion of cause/effect impotent and essential false. 

Most of us have rationally determined, without presuming, that cause/effect is a justified belief due to its predictive and explanatory power. But because the predictive and explanatory power legitimating accepting cause/effect comes after the observation of regularities, it would be epistemically dishonest for anyone to begin a quest for truths with a mere presumption that cause/effect existed. 

One might be tempted to claim that this is self-defeating in that finding predictive efficacy itself requires an unlegitimated commitment to cause/effect. Nonsense. Rationality is simply following what we perceive to work to the degree that it works for as long as it works. Irrationality is following what we perceive not to work. To observe a corrrelation between A and B, and to observe that the greater the correlation, the greater the chance of C, is not presuming cause/effect. It simply observing the necessary correlation that legitimates belief in the efficacy of the notion of cause/effect.

Imagine you find a metal detector laying on the beach. You don’t need to nor should you presume that metal detector is accurate and well calibrated. You test its signal against its successes detecting metal. The same holds for the potentially useful notion of cause/effect. If we are to remain rational, we test it for predictive power before placing confidence in it.

This notion that scientists and rationalists must hold presuppositions is a common tactic of theists who would like to level the playing field with tu quoque arguments. It is a dishonest attempt to make religious belief equivalent in quality to scientifically established belief. 

To the degree that theists do this intentionally, to that degree they are dishonest. To the degree that they do it unintentionally, to that degree they are ignorant of the nature of rational belief. 

No presuppositions are necessary. Only follow what you honestly percieve to be providing predictive power, including fundamental notions such as cause/effect. 

Persistent Erroneous Beliefs about Beliefs

  • 1. Belief is not an on/off switch. It is not binary. Belief can come in degrees. And it must come in degrees to the rational mind that maps the degree of evidence to the degree of the balance of evidence. Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the relevant perceived evidence. Any ideology that suggests you must either believe or not believe can be dismissed as nonsensical. Doubt is not only natural in the context of less-than-absolute evidence, but is rational and noble. 
  • 2. The feeling of confidence accompanying a belief is not evidence of truth behind that belief. Humans can conjure up the emotion of certainty. We can force ourselves to believe things we know are not supported by evidence if the pleasure from believing or the pain from not believing are strong enough. Religions play on this psychological weakness and embellish contexts of possible belief with beautiful music and social encouragement, plus threats of pain or loss, that draw attention away from a focus on the actual evidence.
  • 3. There is nothing noble about holding firmly to a belief in the face of contrary evidence. The rational mind will adjust its degree of belief/doubt as new confirming/disconfirming evidence arrives. The rational mind will seek out new evidence that can be added to the balance of evidence so it can appropriately adjust its degree of belief/doubt. A belief that does not change to an appropriate degree in the face of new evidence is not rational, and this irrationality is not noble. 

Don’t be fooled by false notions of belief. Rational belief is commensurate to the relevant perceived evidence. The human drive for certainty must be suppressed, and a more honest focus on the influx of evidence must be maintained. The result will be more successful assessments and decisions as we align beliefs to the evidence. And that increased success makes for a happier existence.

Entertaining Claims of Supernatural Causation

We regularly see the unsophisticated claim that, since some claimed event is improbable based on known natural causes, it probably has a supernatural cause.

Probability ( of a SuperNatural Cause ( for CLaimed ( EVent ))) = 1 – Probability ( of a Known Natural Cause ( for CLaimed ( EVent ))) 

… or P(SNC(CL(EV))) = 1 – P(KNC(CL(EV)))

The inadequacy of this formulation of supernatural causation is immediately clear. We have ignored the probability of the claim being true or false. Eye-witness claims are subject to an examination of the honesty and cognitive reliability of the witness. Only the most dishonest of supernaturalists attempt to omit this variable. So let’s revise our formulation.

Probability ( of a SuperNatural Cause ( for CLaimed ( EVent ))) = 1 – Probability ( of a Known Natural Cause ( for (True ( CLaimed ( EVent )))) – Probability ( of the Falsity of ( CLaimed ( EVent ))

…or P(SNC(CL(EV))) = 1 – P(KNC(CL(EV))) – P(F(CL(EV)))

Is this an adequate formulation? Not yet. We have not yet addressed the probability that the cause of the event may be an unknown natural cause. In centuries past, epileptic fits had no known natural cause, leading supernaturalists to claim the cause was therefore something supernatural such as demon-possession. So we need to remedy this omission. 

Probability ( of a SuperNatural Cause ( for CLaimed ( EVent ))) = 1 – Probability ( of a Known Natural Cause ( for ( True ( CLaimed ( EVent )))) – Probability ( of the Falsity of ( CLaimed ( EVent )) – Probability of ( UnKnown Natural Cause for ( True ( Claimed ( EVent )))

…or P(SNC(CL(EV))) = 1 – P(KNC(CL(EV))) – P(F(CL(EV))) – P(UNNC(T(CL(EV))))

This last essential variable in our formulation of the probability of a genuine supernatural event is often missing in discussions of the probability of supernatural events. How is P(UNNC(T(CL(EV))) assessed? It is assessed by examining the track record of supernatural claims in the past for which there was no natural cause available as an explanation at the time. Epilepsy has already been introduced. We now know the material mechanism behind the once materially inexplicable phenomenon of seizures. We have acquired a degree of epistemic humility. The fact that there is no current material explanation is no excuse to conclude the cause is supernatural. 

So what has been the track record of the claims of supernaturalists? How many times has a conclusion that an claimed event is supernatural been later shown to either 1) have a natural cause or 2) to have been fabricated?

The balance of the ultimate wins/losses of supernatural claims over history will give us degree of confidence we can honestly place in the probability of future claims of supernaturalists.
The following is a short list of some of the events supernaturalists once claimed were clearly supernatural. 

– Statistically more rain in a particular region due to the petitioning of a god by those living in that region.

– Seizures that were posited as evidence of demonic possession, leading to the torture and abuse of the epileptics. 

– Diseases, lightening strikes and accidents posited as the punishment of some deity. 

– The transfer of traits from parent to child prior to the discovery of DNA.

– The existence of thought before the discovery of neurons.

– The movement of celestial bodies prior to the discovery of natural laws of motion.

– Greater wisdom, altruism and self-control given to believers of a particular god to degrees not naturally possible prior to the ability to statistically assess whether such claims were true. 

A proper formulation of the probability equation for supernatural events, plus an assessment of the track record of supernaturalists’ claims demonstrates just how justified we are in dismissing future claims of supernatural causation as highly improbable. This is basis of the methodological naturalism that undergirds the accelerating success of science today.

Just how much belief is required for redemption?

The following is part of an exchange between myself and an up-and-coming apologist who writes on the failures of non-christian idelogies. For several years now, apologists have been simply attacking various idologies with the implicit notion that, if they can only demonstrate an incohernency in another ideology, this will somehow validate their own ideology. I’m attempting to return the proper forcus to the question of whether Christianity itself is incoherent. I believe it is, but getting a straight answer from a Christian apologist is not unlike getting my donkey to speak its mind. At the point of this exchange, I had posted the same question 4 times. 
Phil: Thanks for your response [NAME]. Now, based on that, how would you respond to the following question?
When John says “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται· ὁ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται,…), does he simply means that you can disbelieve to any degree as long as your degree of belief is not at zero? In other words, could someone split their belief between Jesus and 2 other possible messiahs, and the Christian god would still honor that 33% degree of confidence in Jesus?
Apologist: When you find yourself not engaging with another person but only repeating your question verbatim like an automaton, it might be that the form of the question is limiting you and preventing you from thinking in fresh ways. (Like “have you stopped beating your wife?”)
As I said, the form of your latest question is invalid–monotheism says there is one God, hence one Messiah, and it makes no sense to talk about “splitting belief between Jesus and other possible Messiahs.” Whatever you are getting at, this way of framing the question won’t advance the discussion.
As I said, even a probabilistic approach does not take the simplistic Baconian approach of totting up bits of “certainty” and correlating bits of “belief” in a quantifiable manner. Read philosophers of science like Kuhn, for that matter read Karl Popper, who said this is not the way even science works.
Phil: You have suggested that I have introduced a compound questions such as “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”
Husbands who have never beat their wife respond to such a question with “I’ve never beaten my wife”. 
Husbands who are indeed beating their wife evade the question.
Instead of vaguely suggesting the question contains a false assumption, point out that assumption. Simply demonstrate I don’t understand or that I am attempting to straw-man you. 
In addition, I would certainly hope you have the philosophical acumen to immediately note that, the (ontological) fact that Christianity is monotheistic speaks nothing to the epistemic assessment of truth of that proposition. Once again, you are conflating epistemic assessment with ontology. If you don’t understand this, let me know, and I’ll expound on this further. 
So, no, my question is most certainly not invalid, nor it is its repetition the product of an automaton as you suggest. Its repetition is the product of the absence of an answer as you admit to when you wrongly suggest the question was invalid.
Here is the question again.
Based on your notion of salvific faith, how would you respond to the following question?
When John says “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται· ὁ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται,…), does he simply means that you can disbelieve to any degree as long as your degree of belief is not at zero? In other words, could someone split their belief between Jesus and 2 other possible messiahs, and the Christian god would still honor that 33% degree of confidence in Jesus?
(You suggested that Kuhn, Popper and Bacon did not think certainty was quantifiable in this way. That is simply not true. All of them held that certainty was on a continuum, and Kuhn and Popper were of an age in which the science of probabilities was coming into its own. Simply explore the 5 sigma standard CERN scientists applied to the Higgs, or the everyday probabilities Vegas card counters employ. The fact that your mind can not apply precise percentages does not mean you can hold that, based on the evidence available to you, 3 different monotheistic gods are equally probable. This does not mean they can co-exist. This is what I mean when I say you are conflating epistemology with ontology.)
This question is not whether Baalam’s donkey spoke with an accent. This question goes to the very heart of redemption. The very coherency of Christianity rests in the hope for a coherent response to this question.
This question is philosophically rigorous intentionally. The details reveal the coherency of general platitudes. “Believe in Jesus and be saved”. This is most certainly not a description of redemption worthy of respect. Belief in intrinsically on a continuum just as is affection. Imagine telling a man you’ll marry him if he likes you. You’ve so far left redemption as undefined as this. 
And this is no time to be creative. You say the rigor of my question is “preventing [me] from thinking in fresh ways”.  You are talking about the doctrines of a Bible from which, allegedly, not one jot or tittle will vanish. It’s far too late to be creative with redemption. My question is very specific, very clear and very pertinent to the entire project of Christianity. Now all that remains is for you to either answer the question coherently so we can move on to other issues, or to admit you don’t understand the mechanism of redemption. 
Which is it? 
(Sorry for the stronger tone. I appreciate you letting me comment on your page. But I’m sure you’d do the same if postmodernists were to claim your reductio ad absurdum arguments against their position were preventing you from “thinking in fresh ways”, and continued to evade your clear and rigorous questions.)



Nancy Pearcey – Not Finding Truth

The following is a response to a post by Nancy Pearcey to promote her book Finding Truth. She claims five points found in Romans chapter one serve as a foundation to address other worldviews. 

The life-diminishing blunder of following a holy book instead of honestly examining reality is never more salient than it is in Nancy’s 5 points she extracts from Romans 1. 
1. (Identify the Idol) Calling an appreciation of reason (after finding it quite reliable after a lifetime of testing) an “idol” or god-substitute is as absurd as the liberals calling George Bush a “Hitler”. This intentional linguistic distortion to poison the well speaks directly to the degree of dishonesty Nancy and other apologists are willing to employ, absurdly to defend a “god of truth”. 
2. (Identify the Idol’s Reductionism) If you eliminate possible conclusions from your quest for truth as unacceptable, then you are not an honest seeker. Your psychological longing to have more intrinsic dignity than other animals is evidence of nothing. If it feels “dehumanizing” for you to be merely the product of a materialistic reality, and you, as a result reject that conclusion, you most certainly can not claim to be an honest seeker. No presuppositions are allowed for the honest seeker. 

3. (Test the Worldview) Excellent! This is correct! But no cherry-picking. If you have never seen something uncaused, and you therefore conclude both that 1) the universe is caused and that 2) there is an uncaused god, you are cherry-picking. Pay honest attention to all the things you have never seen including a) a disembodied mind, b) life after death, and c) the mechanism that something “spiritual” could manipulate the physical world. If you find inexplicable contradictions on both sides, be willing to say “I don’t know”. And test well the claims of Christianity, not the least of them the Romans 1 claim that the unevangelized have enough information to make them culpable to a degree that would deserve hellfire. Test the power of prayer against the vast bodies of statistical data we have today. Test the wisdom granted by the Holy Spirit against wisdom after a good education. Assess how many logical fallacies those with the Holy Spirit commit against those without the Holy Spirit. Statistically the data for the power of the Holy Spirit in respect to divorce rates, obesity rates and crime rates in areas in which the Holy Spirit is claim to be most powerful. Yes! Test your worldview! 

4. (Test the Idol) Nancy claims that every reductionist worldview contradicts itself. Yet here I remain, willing to answer questions about my worldview so that any contradictions can be exposed. Fire away. If you ignore the coherent statements of the many individuals with non-religious approaches to the world, and hunt for ideologies that are incoherent or inconsistent, you’ll find them. It’s like finding a mistake in Tommy’s equation, then claiming your own equation must be therefore correct. This is probably the biggest deception among apologists today; demonstrate someone is wrong and imply you are therefore correct.

5. (Replace the Idol) Yes, if you can find someone who is wrong, you can then dishonestly suggest your own ideology is therefore correct. And this is done all the time. Demonstrating someone else’s god (idol) is made of clay does not make your own iron god anything more than iron. This move is both irrational and dishonest.

Critical thinking is great! But let’s not pretend motivated reasoning billed as critical thinking is anything less than dishonest.

Would you kill a “terrible” two-year-old?

In one of the most surreal encounters with Christians to date, I recently discovered that the order by Jehovah to kill the Amalekite infants is not just a little uncomfortable for those claiming the Bible is the source of truth.
Here is the command of Jehovah in question.

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. (1 Samuel 15:3)

 (Lest there be any confusion, the Hebrew word translated “infant” means to suckle. These were nursing infants.)

Consider the following 2 possibilities.
  1. You are a god who wants all the Amalekites killed. You don’t want any confusion about your wishes. How would you state your commandment?
  2. You are a god who wants only the adult Amalekites killed. You don’t want any confusion about your wishes. How would you state your commandment?
  • The phrasing of 1 Samuel 15:3 is nearly precisely the words I would use if I were the god in scenario #1.
  • The phrasing of 1 Samuel 15:3 is most certainly not the words I would use if I were the god in scenario #2.

Christians claim the Bible was authored by an actual creator of the universe who presumably can articulate his wishes without ambiguity or vagueness. Let’s look at the verse again.

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. (1 Samuel 15:3)

Does this commandment not clearly require that infants be killed? Incredibly, some Christians I’ve recently engaged say that this verse says no such thing.
“It’s hyperbole.” (An actual statement of a Christian to explain away this verse.)
Hyperbole? Really? Was it hyperbole when Jehovah stipulated that no one touch the Ark of the Covenant, then killed Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:7) out of anger when Uzzah attempted to keep the Ark from falling to the ground?
This is one of the most egregious intentional distortions of the Bible by its own proponents I’ve ever seen. It is shameful to say the least. You don’t get to claim the Bible is the clear revelation of the God of the Universe, then ignore it when it goes out of its way to require the killing of infants.
And the absurdity does not stop there. I asked a few clear questions to understand the actual position of these Christians.
I asked “Would you kill an infant if your god so commanded?
Of the 8 or so Christians engaged on the thread, zero were able to answer “yes” or “no”, even after reposting the question five times.
One of the posters actually stated “He wouldn’t ask, so the question is irrelevant. You have yet to show us where people killed infants for Jehovah.
Let’s go back to the story of the Amalekites.
But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs–everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.” (1 Samuel 15:9)
What do you think? Were the weak infants killed?
But does it actually matter? The only relevant question is whether Jehovah intended his audience to belief they should kill infants. Here is the verse again.

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. (1 Samuel 15:3)

Is there any equivocation? None.
Is there any reason why Christians, if they were honest, should not be able to clearly state whether they would or would not obey a clear commandment of Jehovah to kill infants? None.
This is the current state of Christian apologetics. Evasion of questions, and the distortion of the very Bible they claim to venerate.
Fortunately, this depth of absurdity is what is driving millions of more rational young people away from the nonsense of Christianity towards a reality of open-eyed empathy in which the commandment to kill an infant by any authority can be answered with an unequivocal “no“. 

How do we know our minds are reliable?

There has been a recent odd argument that, if our brains are the product of evolution in which survial is the only “goal”, then we can not have any certainty that our mental processes are generating true conclusions. I responded to this notion on a Facebook thread begun by a Christian apologist recently.

Thanks for a well-formulated response, Nancy.

You asked how I know rational thought is a valid means of knowing truth.

Suppose you find an old compass in the middle of the woods. You want to know whether it functions reliably. What should you do? Do you attempt to discover the manufacturer of the compass? Probably not. Do you need to know how the compass ended up in the middle of the woods? I doubt it.

All you need to do is to test the compass. To the degree that the compass gives you sufficient predictive power to successfully navigate your way through the woods, to that degree you are justified in your confidence in the reliability of the compass.

The same is true for rational thought and our minds that process rational thought. To the degree that rational thought succeeds in accomplishing our goals, to that degree we are warranted in Continue reading