Flipping Coins

Imagine you and your friend find a coin on the street, and without either of you examining the coin carefully, you make a bet. If a flip of the coin turns up “heads”, you must pay your friend a dollar, and every time it turns up “tails”, he pays you a dollar.

You flip. A “heads” turns up. You pay your friend a dollar.

You make the same deal again, and again a “heads” deprives you of another dollar.

Not wanting to cut your losses, and certain that there are at least a few “tails” ahead, you try again. “Heads”.

You sigh as you hand over a 3rd dollar, but then challenge your friend to a 4th flip. Again you lose.

Imagine yourself so stubborn that you continue this for 1,000 flips. Yet, the result is “heads” every time.

At what point would you suspect the coin, for whatever reason, is “double-headed”?

Methodological naturalism is precisely this. Years ago when people, without the modern tools or the body of scientific knowledge available to us today, pondered the phenomena around them, the were quite warranted in betting on supernatural or divine causation for any given phenomenon.

So, over the centuries as science advanced, supernatural causation was posited for many phenomena such as fire, lightning, the movements of heavenly bodies, bad weather, psychoses, conception, inherited traits, mental processes, eclipses, and plagues.

Each time the supernatural explanation lost to a material explanation. Yet, humans in every generation acted as if the coin-flipping game ought to be reset to even; that previous coin-flips deserved no consideration in their new posit of divine causation for another unexplained phenomenon.

Most humans would begin to suspect after a few dozen coin flips turning up “heads” that “heads” was all that was possible. Yet each new generation of humans discounts the previous flips of the coin of scientific inquiry, and consider the odds to be close to 50/50.

Are you among those who play this game with the faith that, eventually, a “tails” must turn up?

Or are you among those who acknowledge the past successes of material explanations as legitimate warrant for a current expectation of continued material explanations for unexplained phenomena?

This warranted expectation is the methodological naturalism that under-girds the current acceleration in scientific discovery, and the technologies that subsequently emerge.

So survey the history of scientific discovery. How many times has an immaterial cause been suggested? How many times has the suggestion (or arrogant affirmation in many cases) turned out to be wrong, and a material explanation been uncovered?

Isn’t it time to reconsider your certainty that there exists a divine “tails” out there somewhere?

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47 thoughts on “Flipping Coins

  1. McDaddyo says:

    Scientific method is based on repeatability. Experiments generate outcomes that confirm or refute a proposition when the outcome is repeatable.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with probability.

    We look to science to confirm or refute because we understand how this method can demonstrate cause and effect, not because it worked well in the past.

    As you point out, supernatural explanations “worked” far longer than science has, eg humans for many centuries believed God in one form or another gave them diseases and/or made them healthy. They believed this because, often enough, the person who prayed got well and because, many other observable phenomenon seemed to behave according to the given stories about God.

    Several of Einstein’s theories have either been disproven or are well on their way to that fate. We can safely assume much of what we call science today seems very likely to be disproven at one point or another and 10,000 years from now will look utterly silly. Yet we believe in science because we belief in the method by which it describes phenomena and develops laws. Science gives us one way to describe the world, but are best off assuming it’s very far from complete.

    Given that, it seems silly to pretend we believe it because it has a better track record than religion.

    • Methodological naturalism is a well-established heuristic in scientific methodology.
      http://philstilwell.com/methodologicalnaturalism.pdf

      And I would suggest that the reason you believe one person over another, all other things being equal, is due to their respective track records. Why would (especially) science be any different?

      Note what you said.

      Scientific method is based on repeatability. Experiments generate outcomes that confirm or refute a proposition when the outcome is repeatable. This has absolutely nothing to do with probability.

      Wrong on 2 counts.

      1. Scientific methodology is not based on a single principle such as repeatability, and it is evolving. Currently it incorporates falsification, repeatability, parsimony and methodological naturalism, but even this menu of heuristics depends on the field of inquiry to a great degree. It is evolving closer to what is inductively proven to produce superior explanatory and predictive results.

      2. Repeatability is important precisely because of probabilities. A single study of a small sample may, due to the size of the sample, produce a p-value above what can be considered statistically significant. Replicated studies strengthen the positive hypothesis by increasing the overall sample size which reduces the p-value and consequently increases the probability that the initial positive hypothesis was correct.

      This is inductive reasoning, and is inextricable from probability theory.

      • simon says:

        Hi

        I have to agree with Phil on this. I think it was Russel who tried very hard to find a logical basis for science (one that validated inductive reasoning), but failed. Science, and inductive reasoning is pretty much based on the “track record”.

  2. McDaddyo says:

    Probability applies to random events, not those where there is a cause.

    The flipping of a coin is subject only to probability and that is self-evident. Nothing causes the coin to come up heads or tails, so we can predict the result using probability.

    I must say the coin toss you suggest is not a very good hypothetical device in this case. If you wager on a coin toss without checking the coin first, or after losing thrice, you certainly aren’t conducting an experiment in anything other than absurdity. You imply that the coin may be heads on both sides, thereby introducing cause into what is initially presented as a cause-free event, rendering it meaningless as a demonstration.

    Consider the weather. Probability is only relevant in the absence of evidence of cause. If we are planning an orgy in Yoyogi park in June, we can check the record and discover that out of the past 100 June 14ths, it has rained 5 times. So we conclude there is 95 percent chance of good weather and thereby send the invitations. (We could even cheaply purchase a weather derivative that would provide insurance, covering our costs in case of rain.)

    Alas, one week before the event, we learn there is a low-pressure system bringing a series of storms to Tokyo. If we’re rational, we adjust the 95 percent chance substantially in our thinking and send out a message that we may postpone until the following week, even though the record shows that June 21 offers only an 80 percent chance of good weather. Two days before the orgy, the weather map shows a massive typhoon heading straight for Tokyo. The historical record is now totally meaningless.
    We can use probability only as a very rough guide for weather, but only because we understand that atmospheric conditions are relatively stable and do not change much year to year. When those conditions do change, the probability becomes irrelevant.
    If there are 10 accidents a year at a particular intersection on average, we have no reason to believe there will be 10 the year after we install crosswalks and traffic lights.
    Scientific method isn’t evolving. It remains the same and we can’t expect it to change in the future. Even if it hasn’t rained for 100 years straight on June 14, if the June 13 weather map shows a storm heading straight for Tokyo, the scientific method will conclude that your best bet is to move the thrills indoors.

    • You said,

      Probability applies to random events, not those where there is a cause.

      Clearly not true. Everyday scientists assess the probability that a particular effect can be attributed to a particular cause. This is the concept behind “p-values”.

      You also say,

      I must say the coin toss you suggest is not a very good hypothetical device in this case. If you wager on a coin toss without checking the coin first, or after losing thrice, you certainly aren’t conducting an experiment in anything other than absurdity.

      You are here implying that certainty that a supernatural domain does not exists can be had. Not true. Negative proof for a logically consistent concept is not possible.

      Your other comments depend on this fallacy.

      And any one who states,

      Scientific method isn’t evolving

      cannot be taken seriously. There is a “history of science” because its methodology has evolved. The approach of the positivists, Popper’s falsification and Kuhn’s notion of paradigm shifts are just a few of the contributing concepts in this process. And the debate goes on as science tweaks its methodology to more closely approximate the most efficient way to expand the web of scientific knowledge.

      My post is in defense of methodological naturalism. Am I correct in assuming that, somewhere in your comments, you are attempting to show that this concept is illegitimate?

  3. McDaddyo says:

    “A symmetric coin has two sides, arbitrarily labeled heads and tails. Assuming that the coin must land on one side or the other, the outcomes of a coin toss are mutually exclusive, exhaustive, and interchangeable. According to the principle of indifference, we assign each of the possible outcomes a probability of 1/2.

    “It is implicit in this analysis that the forces acting on the coin are not known with any precision. If the momentum imparted to the coin as it is launched were known with sufficient accuracy, the flight of the coin could be predicted according to the laws of mechanics. Thus the uncertainty in the outcome of a coin toss is derived (for the most part) from the uncertainty with respect to initial conditions. ”

    This is part of wikipedia’s explanation of the “principle of indifference.”

    My point is that the scientific method searches for causes, not predictability. Probability is irrelevant where we have knowledge of the forces acting on the phenomenon.

    It doesn’t matter how many times the Pope wins the lottery. He could win it 100 times in a row and we could not, using scientific method, support his assertion of supernatural powers. His assertion is not falsifiable, so we can’t test it using the scientific method.

    • You say

      A symmetric coin has two sides, arbitrarily labeled heads and tails.

      and completely ignore my scenario in which I make it clear that whether the coin is T/T, H/T or H/H is unknown.

      You can create your own scenario in which only a double-headed coin is possible, but it does not relate to my scenario and the methodological naturalism I am illustrating.

      You also say

      Probability is irrelevant where we have knowledge of the forces acting on the phenomenon.

      You are speaking as if knowledge comes in discrete packets. Science does not operate this way. The project of science is to approximate as high a degree of certainty about a given fact as possible by quantifying the probability of the hypothesis. Try this google search. (“global warming”, anthropogenic, probability). Certainty will always be elusive. Proper science assigns probabilities to its “facts”.

      Therefore, as the lottery wins of the Pope sequentially mount, the probability that there is not a material cause behind his wins increases, but never reaches certainty. Knowledge can but rarely falls into discrete boxes of “certain” and “falsified”.

  4. McDaddyo says:

    “as the lottery wins of the Pope sequentially mount, the probability that there is not a material cause behind his wins increases, but never reaches certainty.”

    His track record of wins and losses has nothing to do with the probability of causes, let alone with they would be material or supernatural. Maybe the Holy See has bribed the lottery organizers. Maybe he has installed hidden cameras over the desk of the lottery official who writes the algorithm that generates the winning numbers and thereby can duplicate them. Maybe he’s just really lucky.

    His sequentially mounting wins would tell us nothing at all about which of these might be the cause. Nor, of course, would it be any evidence whatsoever that the Pope is the “vicar” of Jesus Christ, who’s really God, who has known the winning lottery numbers since the beginning of time.

    Probability doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter how many times you flip a coin, the odds never change. If you want to include the possibility that the coin is fixed in some way — the probability is different, but it never changes, unless the coin itself changes, or the way we flip it, perhaps.

    • The more the probability of a material cause diminishes, the greater the probability that there is an immaterial cause.

      When you construct your own scenarios on your blog, you can insert additional variables such as bribes and video cameras. Just don’t insert them into mine.

  5. Brett B says:

    “At what point would you suspect the coin, for whatever reason, is “double-headed”?”

    Depends on who my friend is.

    “Are you among those who play this game with the faith that, eventually, a “tails” must turn up?”

    No, but I do have faith that eventually, a heads will not turn up. At this point seeing my opponent denied a dollar is a victory for me.

    “Or are you among those who acknowledge the past successes of material explanations as legitimate warrant for a current expectation of continued material explanations for unexplained phenomena? ”

    I’ll acknowledge it, but I’m still not satisfied.

    “How many times has an immaterial cause been suggested? How many times has the suggestion (or arrogant affirmation in many cases) turned out to be wrong, and a material explanation been uncovered?”

    Many times. But the reverse has happened, as McDaddyo mentioned above in reference to Einstein. That’s more than a sufficient helping of doubt for me.

    Isn’t it time to reconsider your certainty that there exists a divine “tails” out there somewhere?

    I am unable to arrive at this conclusion based upon your above demonstration. In particular, I am no more or less certain.

    • Isn’t it time to reconsider your certainty that there exists a divine “tails” out there somewhere?

      Someone isn’t paying attention.

      We started with the assumption that a “tails” was entirely possible. After thousands of tosses turning up only “heads”, which direction should this assumption be moving? Towards being more probable or less probable?

  6. simon says:

    Interesting post, I would perhaps suggest that superstition is partially shielded from rational arguments due to its nature.

    Perhaps one answer to your post would be our predisposition for dualism and anthro-centrism. While we can reason about the external physical universe we can save a heavy dose of irrationality for explanations of our mind/souls and this provides a bulwark from which to defend religion.

    It is interesting that study of the mind is one area science is not making much progress. Perhaps this is because our mind lacks the ability to reason about the mind (ala Chomsky) and this is one reason for the refusal to deny all ssupernatural explanations?

    • I tend to disagree with the idea that the study of mind is not making much progress. 15 years ago there were very few cognitive science departments, and the brain was essentially a black box and there were few cognitive science departments in universities. Now most large universities have a cogsci department, and, among other interesting breakthroughs, we are able to actually read thoughts with brain scans (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/mar/11/mind-reading-brain-scans-thoughts).

      What the average Joe wants is an emotionally satisfying explanation to ” How can the brain produce my subjective experience?” Joe is dissatisfied with the quantified and objective explanation of complex brain circuitry. He wants a subjectively satisfying explanation for something that has at its very core only an objective explanation. Joe will never be satisfied with this, and will always maintain that this is an instance of the failure of science, not realizing that he has improperly confounded the objective and subjective realms of explanation and meaning.

      • simon says:

        Progress is being made, but compared to other branches of science, it is slow.

        That study, while interesting (particularly the claim that the measurements were consistent between subjects), is very limited in what it can tell us about how the mind works.

        Of course I accept that the objective explanation is “brain circuitry” but your dismissal of awareness as being an improper confounding of the objective and the subjective, goes too far.

        Something in the brain circuitry is allowing us to form our subjective awareness. It is this emergent property that is what is difficult to reason about. Studies about physically observable brain activity can perhaps allow us to test hypotheses about this property, but from what I can gather there is only speculation so far.

        Not to say observing brain activity is not cool. I still remember reading a paper at school about an experiment measuring the “pre-activity” of intent. You could actually measure the brain activity build up prior to a person forming the conscious intent to do something.

        • What other branches of science are you comparing the progress of cognitive science to?

          I’m currently reading “The Really Hard Problem” Owen Flanagan on the question of an objective explanation to subjective phenomena. I agree that we will arrive at a firm objective explanation to subjective experience, but the problem will be that it will be emotionally unsatisfying to those who want an explanation that feels emotionally similar to the experience. This is like expecting an economic recession, emergent of a substrate of round metal objects and green paper, to have an explanation that appears similar to metal and paper.

  7. simon says:

    Also – I don’t think an earlier reply was posted – (It got stuck in my spam folder. Fixed now. -phil)

    I think Phil is right about science being based on “track record”, cause and effect, expected outcomes and probability.

    I think Bertrand Russel worked on inductive reasoning for yonks and basically came to the conclusion that there is no logical basis except for “it has happened n times before so it will happen again”.

    Until we understand the basic mechanisms of the universe – quantum physics, sub atomic particles and beyond, we can not for sure about anything. Nothing has a probability of 1, because we do not have complete experience or complete knowledge of the system it is occurring in.

    • That’s right. The probability of any phenomenon reoccurring is always less than 1.

      The problem is that many take doubt properly quantified by predictive successes, tag it with the discrete generic tag of “doubt” in contrasts to “certainty”, then attempt to say that scientists have “faith” just as do believers in “gods” or “unicorns”, concepts with track records of failure.

  8. simon says:

    Just about them all, for instance physics going from Greek Atomists to Quantum physics.

    While theories of the mind have the speculation of immaterial souls from Plato right up to modern times. While this has been rejected in favour of a natural explanation, nothing really concrete has been theorised.

    Of course I am talking strictly about the problem of mind/brain, not about our knowledge of brain anatomy, structure or mechanism.

    The book sounds interesting. I think it is similar to the problems we have understanding quantum mechanics. It is just so antithetical to how we think (we ten d to think and reason about macro events and constant entities), that it almost impossible to conceptualise such things. Perhaps he is right, that explanations must fit an emotional register as well as a cognitive one (or perhaps failure to fit the cognitive can cause negative emotional responses) .

    Anyway, always interesting stuff to think about.

    • I agree with the way you suggest theories of mind may be as counter-intuitive as aspects of quantum mechanics. Conceptualization is limited to human minds which tend to over-estimate their capacities.

  9. McDaddyo says:

    We needn’t contest the soundness of Phil’s reasoning about the coin example, because the experiment itself violates reason.

    Phil writes:
    “We started with the assumption that a “tails” was entirely possible.”

    And also that:
    “At what point would you suspect the coin, for whatever reason, is “double-headed”?
    Methodological naturalism is precisely this.”

    But there is only one way tails is “entirely possible:” That is if the coin is two-sided. The answer, then, can only be “never.” We know the coin is two-sided from the premise. From there, simple reasoning also dictates that if the coin lands on heads 1,000 times in a row, one side is much heavier than the other (as with loaded dice).

    So Phil’s conclusion:
    “ After thousands of tosses turning up only “heads”, which direction should this assumption be moving? Towards being more probable or less probable.”

    “Neither” is the obvious answer, because it was zero, based on the experiment’s design.

    There is certainly a possibility that the coin is made of an unstable metal that can change from heads to tails at some point during the experiment. But in that case it is not “entirely possible” that the coin could land on tails. Likewise, if we know the coin’s face may change, there’s no reason to conduct a measure of probability without checking the coin each time to confirm whether it’s one- or two-sided after each toss, since the parameters of the experiment dictate it alway starts two-sided.

    Any “scientific” inquiry into this case — in which a two-sided coin may have morphed into a one-sided one — would involved physical examination of the coin and/or the tossing method and landing place. At that point, probability is irrelevant to any prediction about the coin’s future performance.

    • Nope.

      You’re changing my scenario into an “experiment”. I’ve never used the term. Leave it as a scenario and as I’ve laid it out.

      We can start with the assumption that a “tails’ is possible. It does not follow that we cannot be warranted in concluding that this particular coin is double-headed based on a very long series of “heads”, and decide that our initial allowance of the possibility of a “tails” is no longer tenable.

      • McDaddyo says:

        Tails is only possible with a two-sided coin.

        In order for your scenario to make any sense at all, you’ve got to allow for a case where it is possible that the coin changes from a two-sided coin to a one-sided one, since the question you ask is whether we ought to believe the coin is one sided.

        If we are considering a scenario in which the coin toss is no longer random, ie there is a physical property having to do with its weight or ability to morph, then probability is irrelevant.

        We could get familiar with how a pair of dice was loaded by observing 1,000 results. But by then, the “scientists” who loaded them would have already taken our money.

        Whatever you do, Phil. STAY AWAY from Vegas….

        • You’re lost.

          My scenario -> Two boys discover a coin, and based on what they know about coins, they are warranted in assuming it has a “heads” and a “tails”. Based on this assumption they play a game of flipping the coin, only to see 1,000 “heads” after 1,000 flips. They are then warranted in abandoning their initial assumption that the coin has both a “heads” and a “tails”.

          You’ve said many things about probabilities that I agree with that have nothing to do with my scenario.

  10. McDaddyo says:

    More broadly, you may be confusing the concept of mathematical probability with the repeatability. Mathematical probability — like coin tosses — deals with predicting numerical outcomes where the variables are discrete.

    A layman may be willing to bet ibuprofen will eliminate his headache because it did so 9 of the 10 last times he tried it. But a scientist would make that bet based on an understanding of how the chemical compound reduces inflammation and constriction in the blood vessels around the head. Moreover, ibuprofen’s probability of effectiveness in curing a headache would tell us nothing about whether it would also cure cancer or cut fever and swelling, whereas knowledge of it’s anti-inflammatory properties would tell us that.

    • You’re lost.

      My scenario -> Two boys discover a coin, and based on what they know about coins, they are warranted in assuming it has a “heads” and a “tails”. Based on this assumption they play a game of flipping the coin, only to see 1,000 “heads” after 1,000 flips. They are then warranted in abandoning their initial assumption that the coin has both a “heads” and a “tails”.

      You’ve said many things about probabilities that I agree with that have nothing to do with my scenario.

  11. McDaddyo says:

    Phil: you stated that it was “entirely possible” that the coin could land on tails. Again, there is only one way that is possible: a two-sided coin. If you have another scenario in mind, where it could be entirely possible, but not two-sided, you’ll have to explain what that scenario is.

    If you want to posit an alternate universe, where a coin can have be two-sided and one-sided simultaneously, you need to stipulate that and explain why probability is relevant in such a universe.

    Perhaps what you meant to say was that, the boys who found the coin BELIEVE it’s entirely possible, given their experience with two-sided coins. But we know better, since we’re designing the scenario. The coin is, in fact, two-headed or some kind of “magic” coin.

    You said the probability of any event is less than 1, but that is not true. The probability of heads on a two-headed coin is exactly 100 percent, which is also why it has no relevance to a discussion of chance, nor, certainly of the role of track record in establishing the likelihood of repeat performance. How many times would you need to toss a two-headed coin to determine whether it would land on tails? Zero, obviously.

    If you study the literature on coin-flips, you will be very hard-pressed to find any reference to one-sided coins. That’s because if we include the prospect of a one-sided coin, we are no longer discussing mathematically probability. Likewise, in the vast literature on poker, you do not find chapters on the odds of drawing from a deck in which we don’t know whether it has 2 aces or 250 aces.

    Your broader point that repeatability of events makes them more plausible is self-evident. But that has nothing to do with mathematical probability. The odds of getting heads on a two-sided symmetrical coin is also 1:2, regardless of the track record. The boys who found the coin — but mysteriously failed to examine it before making wagers — were banking on that unassailable fact, not on the likelihood of a scam.

    • Phil: you stated that it was “entirely possible” that the coin could land on tails.

      Nope. Reread. (And it appears your entire “refutation” of my scenario is based on your misreading. You keep introducing common notions of probability I agree with, then suggest I disagree with them. Read what I say carefully, and you’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary words.)

      Here, let me make it easy. What I said is as follows.

      We started with the assumption that a “tails” was entirely possible. After thousands of tosses turning up only “heads”, which direction should this assumption be moving? Towards being more probable or less probable?

      Note that you also say…

      But we know better, since we’re designing the scenario. The coin is, in fact, two-headed or some kind of “magic” coin.

      No, “we” are not designing the scenario. I have.

      In my scenario there is no information about whether we actually have a 2-headed coin. We have only the result of 1,000 “heads”. We are warranted in assuming that the coin is 2-headed based on this result though we can never reach absolute certainty. If you have any questions about my scenario, please ask. But don’t rewrite it and claim you’ve made a point.

      • McDaddyo says:

        I don’t know how to make it any clearer. You wrote:
        “We started with the assumption that a “tails” was entirely possible.”

        So we started with a false premise. That is all you demonstrate.

        • Correct. Now you’re starting to get it.

          We make assumptions warranted by what we know, learn more, then discard or modify those assumptions.

        • McDaddyo says:

          If that’s all you intended, the parallel with religious faith is tenuous, at best.

          The hoodwinked coin bettors based their assumption on empirically proven facts: coins have two sides and wagers are therefore 50:50 prospects.

          That is not the case with religious faith. The initial premise is never established through empirical observation and cannot be falsified.

          We can falsify the coin by looking at it.

        • Based on an inductive survey of the history of science, the possibility of a supernatural realm has been demoted to a very low probability.

          And it appears you can’t help yourself but to attempt to change my scenario to a strawman you can argue with.

          I feel disinclined to endure that any longer.

        • McDaddyo says:

          “Based on an inductive survey of the history of science, the possibility of a supernatural realm has been demoted to a very low probability.”

          The supernatural premise, by definition, isn’t falsifiable by science. The superior track record of science in explaining natural phenomenon is irrelevant.

          The “probability” of a supernatural world has never changed, and never will. Perhaps you mean “plausibility?”

        • You keep agreeing with me, then pretending you said something important such as…

          “The supernatural premise, by definition, isn’t falsifiable by science.”

          And the superior track record of science in explaining natural phenomenon is entirely relevant to our assessment of how probable a supernatural realm is.

          And, no, I mean “probability” as a result of subjective analysis. You’re using “probability” in an objective sense quite distinct from my scenario.

  12. McDaddyo says:

    “We are warranted in assuming that the coin is 2-headed.”

    Absolutely not. The coin could be unevenly weighted. The fan in the room could be blowing wind at just the right angle. The coin could be made of a material that changes one side from tails to heads mid-air, then returns it to tails before flipping the next time.

    Tellingly, you assume that coins are either 2-sided or 2-headed, when we all know that coins are all 2-sided. If you’re going to alter the definition of coin for the purpose of discussion, then all bets are off and all you’re doing is showing that some people can be fooled by fake coins.

    This has nothing whatsoever to do with why science is displacing religion in providing explanations for the natural world.

    • We’ve identified the problem!

      …we all know that coins are all 2-sided.

      You’ve over-projected from your lack of experience.
      http://www.amazon.com/Headed-Quarter-Magic-Coin-Illusion/dp/B0016ZN17C

      I have an idea! Take a survey of your friends.
      Start with my scenario of an unexamined coin turning up 1,000 sequential heads after 1,000 flips, then ask others what is the most probable from among these logically possible options.
      1. The coin has 2 heads.
      2. The coin is sufficiently weighted to produce 1,000 sequential heads.
      3. The wind always blows the coin to heads.
      4. There are little invisible fairies turning the coin to heads midair.

      What ever is the most probable is the option they are warranted in choosing, even if it is wrong.

      The coin of metaphysics that science has been tossing was initially assumed to have a “supernatural” side. After thousands of “flips”, we’ve encountered only a “natural” result. We are therefore warranted in assuming this coin has only a “natural” side. We could be wrong, but, based on the diminishing probabilities, we are quite warranted in assuming that there is no supernatural realm.

  13. McDaddyo says:

    If that’s all you intended, the parallel with religious faith is tenuous, at best.

    The hoodwinked coin bettors based their assumption on empirically proven facts: coins have two sides and wagers are therefore 50:50 prospects.

    That is not the case with religious faith. The initial premise is never established through empirical observation and cannot be falsified.

    • Based on an inductive survey of the history of science, the possibility of a supernatural realm has been demoted to a very low probability. We are warranted in assuming a material ontology.

  14. McDaddyo says:

    The two-sidedness of a coin is verifiable by science; supernaturality isn’t. That’s why your “scenario” is meaningless. You’re comparing apples and hand grenades.

    Again, tjhe probability of a supernatural realm never changes, regardless of the track record. Just as the probability of a coin toss never changes, without regard to previoius tosses.

    For your “scenario” to make sense, you need to include the prospect that a spiritual claim (ie two-sided coin) is actually a scientific one (ie a one-sided coin).

    Infer importance at your own discretion, as always.

    • Nope.

      The two-sidedness of a coin is verifiable by science; supernaturality isn’t. That’s why your “scenario” is meaningless. You’re comparing apples and hand grenades.

      We are not “verifying” anything. Pay attention this time. We are assessing the probabilities given the data, then deciding what we are warranted in assuming. We are NOT verifying anything. In my scenario, the two-sidedness of the coin was not determined. I suggest you start your own blog with your own scenarios rather than changing mine into something you can attack and feel like you’ve said something important.

      Again, the probability of a supernatural realm never changes, regardless of the track record. Just as the probability of a coin toss never changes, without regard to previous tosses.

      The objective existence/nonexistence of a supernatural realm is not a probability. It is 0 or 1. We, as subjective and non-omniscient being, assign probabilities to something based on the information we have. You’ve once again set up a strawman you can attack, then imagine you’ve made a point.

      For your “scenario” to make sense, you need to include the prospect that a spiritual claim (ie two-sided coin) is actually a scientific one (ie a one-sided coin).

      Not even close.

      In my scenario, I started with a coin that have been heads/tails, tails/tails or heads/heads. The tails/tails was eliminated after the first “heads”. As the coin was continually tossed, the probability of the coin being heads/tails fell. After 1,000 heads, we are completely warranted in our assumption that the coin is heads/heads.

      Science started with a world that may have had natural/supernatural causation or only natural causation. After thousands of “tosses” of scientific inquiry, and coming up with only natural causes, the probability of a supernatural realm falls, and we are warranted in assuming that there are only natural causes.

      The parallel is clear. Sure, you can change my scenario to something you can attack, but it won’t be my scenario. Perhaps you ought to start your own blog where you can successfully attack the faulty strawmen you’ve set up for yourself, then smile at your amazing accomplishments.

  15. McDaddyo says:

    “We make assumptions warranted by what we know, learn more, then discard or modify those assumptions.”

    This makes no allowance for epistemic quality.

    Pat Robertson knows his sins are “forgiven” because it says so in the Bible and he believes the Bible. No amount of learning can cause him to modify that assumption, since it was not based on learning in the first place.

    Infer importance at your discretion, as always.

    • Epistemic quality was not introduced. It’s a related but different topic that detracts nothing from my point about methodological naturalism.

      Based on the history of your comments, I’m employing my discretion to block you from commenting on this site. You’ve added nothing to the discussion, and your inability to address my scenario instead of one you’ve conjured up annoys me.

  16. Stella says:

    Address MY scenario! MINE! MINE!
    lol just a little fun..

  17. e-motions says:

    “Isn’t it time to reconsider your certainty that there exists a divine “tails” out there somewhere?”

    I am ‘contaminated’ with the belief in God as you were before becoming an agnostic.
    Luckily I never felt the need to prove to the absolute certainty his existence.
    It is always enough to contemplate the quality of human life and see where and how it ends to make me refuse to rejoice in the science big discoveries.
    If God is an illusion it helped me much more than all the tehcnological and psychological comfort the science evolution has ever produced.

    Sorry for the quality of my ‘arguments’. I really appreciate your logic and I wouldn’t dare to chalenge you on it.

    My respects,

    Sam

  18. Hi Sam,

    Belief is warranted only where it maps to evidence. The evidence in this case is the consistent failure of supernatural and the consistent success of materialism. If your confidence in material causation is not increasing upon each of its successive successes, then you are not committed to following truth.

    Cheers.

    • e-motions says:

      Phil,

      I understand that after 1000 “tails” you can conclude that “head” is non-existent or is a “non-tail”; a mere notion to help giving to the “tail” a contour. Or it gives you an increased confidence that reason could be the only real instrument in finding the truth. Following this I could say that belief is in the same category as fantasy or fiction, a faulty, distorted reason.
      I am not convinced of this, I am just trying to put in my words what I got from your post here.

      My problem with “following truth” is that it implies the pre-existence of truth as an entity, perhaps a clearly defined one, and that the human brain can, at best, find the way to the Truth (this is what following means to me) merely by being true to itself (to the human brain) without buying into the imaginary worlds created by the fear of the Unknown.

      This is the reason why I don’t get the Christian apologetics. They cannot “prove” the existence of God (or Truth) as one cannot prove the existence of something one is still on the way to and never actually there.
      For the same reason I don’t buy into atheism.
      I prefer to “believe” in individual experiences (measurable or not, it doesn’t matter in the first instance) as they perceive them and try to acommodate their perception of reality into my system.

      A few thoughts

      Thanks for your patience

  19. […] Hard to believe (or Phil and his bill) By e-motions Apropo de Reason am re-intrat in discutie cu un mai vechi interlocutor al meu Mr Phil StilWell aici. […]

    • Belief falls into the same category as fantasy only if you reject parsimony and induction, 2 heuristics that have made science successful. Rejecting what has been successful seems certain to lead away from truth, rather than towards it. I’m a realist because of these 2 tools of science. I therefore believe that we are entirely warranted in having a very high degree of confidence that there is a material truth behind the consistency and tangibleness of our experience.

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