Faith Is Rational Without Evidence Debate: Challenger’s Rejoinder

Debate structure

  1. Justin’s Opening
  2. Phil’s Rebuttal
  3. Justin’s Rejoinder
  4. Phil’s Opening
  5. Justin’s Rebuttal
  6. Phil’s Rejoinder (this post)

    NOTE: It appears that as of Feb 12, 2011, Justin’s blog is off-line.


Response to Attempted Rebuttal #1

The Evil Demon Scenario

In “The foundation of rational belief” section of my opening, I argued that foundational mathematical parsimony warrants our belief that the world we perceive is objectively real is more probable than an illusory reality in which an evil demon is manipulating our perceptions. I argued this as follows.

With every additional entity, quality and relation, there is an exponential increase in the number of structural nodes in the ontology. Accompanying this increase in structural nodes is the higher probability of logical contradiction or existential incompatibility found within the corollaries of the original proposition. The rational mind, apart from the need to instantiate the variables and thereby independent of induction or empirical fact, can perceive that, as the number of variables increases in any particular claim, the chance of incoherency in the form of logical contradiction or existential incompatibility also increases. This breaks the evidential symmetry between the two notions that 1) the perceived world is real and that 2) the world is a product of an evil demon, and the epistemic agent can then rationally extend a greater degree of belief to the notion that the perceived world is real.

To this, Justin responds as follows.

That is not correct. The evil demon scenario could be scored as only having two entities: you and the evil demon are two unembodied minds. You and the evil demon are thus the only entities that exist. Phil is giving “impressions on the mind” or “mental states” ontological significance. I think that is questionable (does my dream about the Empire State Building mean that the ontology of our world includes both the real Empire State Building and my dream building? I’d argue no). But even if we include mental states as having ontological significance, we only need a minuscule subset of all the things that exist in the common sense scenario. All those distant planets need not be part of the illusion. Thus the evil demon scenario is vastly simpler.

Quite interestingly, we now have Justin boldly positing that the evil demon scenario is the least complex ontology, and therefore possesses greater evidential warrant than does the scenario that the universe that we perceive is objectively real.

Let’s not argue with Justin. Let’s assume that there may possibly be more evidence for this evil demon scenario. How does this assumption relate to the theme of this debate that “faith is rational without evidence”?

It doesn’t.

Faith remains an absurd irrational epistemic act in defiance of evidence. If the evil demon scenario does have more evidence in its favor, then that would simply categorize a very large percentage of humans as irrational. The faith that the bulk of humanity would then be placing in the existence of the perceived universe in epistemic defiance of the evidence to the contrary would be just as irrational as faith has ever been. If Justin were ever successful in convincing me that the evil demon scenario has more evidence in its favor, I would be irrational were I to defiantly disbelieve in the evil demon. My defiant disbelief in the face of the evidence would not sanctify my faith. It would only certify me as irrational. The evil demon scenario does nothing to redeem faith from its irrationality, and the irrationality of faith is the theme of this debate. Faith remains an irrational epistemic act.

So I need not argue further in defense of my position that the universe I perceive is an objective reality. I have honestly assessed the evidence, and have concluded based on this evidence that my perceived reality is actual. If I am wrong, it is not because I’ve irrationally gone contrary to the evidence as I’ve assessed it. It is because reality runs counter to the evidence. However, my epistemic act of believing based on evidence is not irrational no matter how wrong it is.

Faith, in contrast, is always irrational. Faith is an epistemic act in defiance of the evidence or lack of evidence. The mind that places virtue in faith has resigned itself to irrationality.

At this point, I could simply let readers assess which of our two scenarios is most supported by the evidence. My only claim is that, after they have determined which of the two scenarios is most supported by the evidence, to take an epistemic position in defiance of that determination, would be a clearly irrational act.

In fact, to avoid any conclusion that I need an argument demonstrating why the evidence favors the reality of the perceive universe over one projected by an evil demon to demonstrate the irrationality of faith, I will not spend any more time on it here, although I may address this in future posts on this blog.

Summary: Justin’s claim that there is more evidence available for the objective reality of an evil demon than for the objective reality of our perceived world subtracts nothing from the notion that faith is always irrational. If true, it only demonstrates that an extremely large percentage of humanity is irrational.

Response to Attempted Rebuttal #2

Non-epistemic Pragmatic Choices

After making the argument in my opening demonstrating the higher probability of an objective reality behind our perceptions, I then introduced non-epistemic pragmatic choices. This is a choice in which there is either no evidence or equal evidence for all options, and, without an epistemic commitment to the proposition that any of the options reflect, an individual makes an arbitrary choice of one option.

I presented this as follows.

Here I want to make an important point.

I choose to act as if X.

Pragmatic belief-free choices are not irrational.

The pragmatic choice of one of 2 equally substantiated/unsubstantiated possible truths is not irrational. Even if the evil demon illusion and the reality of perception propositions were equally substantiated or unsubstantiated, it would not be irrational to choose the reality of perception. It is a belief-free choice. If I come to a fork in the road, and have no evidence where either path leads,

I believe X.

Irrational epistemic commitment in the absence of evidence.

I am not irrational in choosing either. If I have equal evidence for any two propositions, choosing one out of pragmatism does not constitute irrationality. Anyone accusing as irrational individuals who choose

I believe Y.

Irrational epistemic commitment contrary to acquired evidence.

to live life as if their perceptions were true must show that the evil demon proposition is more probable than the proposition that reality maps to our perceptions. Where there is merely choice without epistemic commitment, there is no irrationality. It would be irrational to believe with full certainty that the reality of my perception was true and that the evil demon proposition was false if there was equal evidence for the evil demon, but as I have shown above, this is clearly not so due to fundamental mathematical parsimony. However, the epistemic agent who believes in an evil demon (and I have yet to meet someone who does) and understands foundational mathematical parsimony would believe in the evil demon irrationally.


To this, Justin responds with the following.

Hang on here. Phil has just made an illegal move from epistemology to decision theory. Here is a simple Bayesian example that should be familiar to armchair economists and social scientists. Suppose there is an equal chance that there is a car behind door #1 and a toaster behind door #2. Then I would make my choice based on the higher expected utility and go for the car. In fact, I would choose the car on pragmatic (expected utility) grounds even if it had a lower chance. That’s because pragmatic concerns really do effect decision making.

They do not effect belief.

If Phil is to hold his evidentialism consistently then he needs to proportion his beliefs to the evidence. And since we are supposing that the evil demon scenario and the real world scenario have equal evidence, then Phil must hold them to be equally probable.

For whatever reason, Justin is inappropriately attempting to infuse a non-epistemic choice with epistemic significance. When I come to a fork in the road, and must make a choice due to traffic behind me, I don’t need to believe anything about either of the prongs to chose one. This choice is non-epistemic. It is pragmatic and cannot be assessed for rationality since neither evidence nor subsequent beliefs were the motivation for the choice.

Justin absurdly calls this this pragmatic choice “an illegal move from epistemology to decision theory”. Decision theory is based on beliefs, not pragmatics. It has nothing to do with non-epistemic pragmatic choices made in the absence of evidence. (It would be a very boring discipline if it were.)

It actually appears that Justin is quite confuse about what a pragmatic choice made in the absence of evidence looks like as revealed in his example.

At the risk of looking like I’m snickering at someone falling on their rhetorical face, let’s take another look at his example.

Suppose there is an equal chance that there is a car behind door #1 and a toaster behind door #2. Then I would make my choice based on the higher expected utility and go for the car. In fact, I would choose the car on pragmatic (expected utility) grounds even if it had a lower chance. That’s because pragmatic concerns really do effect decision making.

Inexplicably, his example has available to the contestant the evidence that the door #1 contains a car and door #2 containing the toaster available to the contestant. It is as if the choice is made with the doors wide open.

Non-epistemic choice in which all options are equally evidentially (un)supported

This is strange indeed. Actual games shows represent non-epistemic choices correctly with both doors closed so that the contestant has no evidence that would make one door more of a rational choice than the other.

Epistemic choice in which there is clear evidence available of a superior option

I actually feel a bit guilty about pointing out the complete absurdity of Justin’s argument here.

Summary: Where there is no evidence favoring any of the options available, there is no irrationality. Irrationality is assessed by weighing the belief against the available disparate evidence among the options. Justin falls flat in his refutation attempt here. I only hope he misread my argument.

Response to Attempted Rebuttal #3

Faulty Logic

Close to the end of his rebuttal post, Justin once again invoked the evil demon.

If the demon is manipulating us, or feeding us the contents of our current mental state, then it is certainly capable of fooling us about our logical capacities. Phil may think that he is capable of logical thought, but if his mental states are fed to him by an evil demon, then he could also be fooled about his ability to think logically. Logic could be an illusion of an evil demon.

Making irrational epistemic choices requires access to genuine logic that the epistemic agent can willingly violate. Where the genuine standard of logic is made inaccessible to an epistemic agent due to brain injury, an evil demon, or any other form of short-circuiting, there can be no illogical thinking. Any belief in an unwarranted proposition by a logically-impaired epistemic agent carries no culpability. The most you could call this non-culpable epistemic act is alogical thinking, for the standard of genuine logic is no longer available to the epistemic agent to violate, and the ability to make logical epistemic choices has been involuntarily removed. Calling the person forming faulty beliefs under such a deficit “irrational” would be like tagging an adult with downs syndrome and their accompanying poor judgment with the pejorative “idiot”. Where there is no access to undistorted logic, there is no culpability in arriving at distorted conclusions. In any case in which the epistemic agent believes they are logically weighing evidence rather than employing faith to reach a conclusion, even when they are actually not, that conclusion is rational. It is perhaps not objectively logical, but it is certainly as rational as is possible, and as far from irrationality as is possible since the epistemic agents have consciously banned faith from their epistemic methodology.

Summary: Any epistemic choice that an epistemic agent presumes was made logically in a context in which the integrity of logic has been compromised cannot be irrational since there is then no available proper standard of logic that can be consciously violated by the epistemic agent. The conscious defaulting to biblical faith, away from any standard of evidence, however, is always irrational.


Rather disappointingly, Justin did not even attempt to rebut my dismantling of biblical faith found in my “Challenger’s Opening” accounting for nearly half of my entire post, and the three components of his rebuttal to the other half of my opening addressed above were utter failures, to put it kindly. But then he did had the disadvantage of being on the wrong side of truth, a side to which I hope he allows my arguments to guide him.

Faith falls far below any coherent standard of rationality, and is inappropriate for the honest seeker of truth.

Metadebate comments

Readers will note how Justin floundered once off-script. This is common among those who approach truth with a conclusion, then work their way backwards by devouring arguments that are purported to support their conclusion. They accumulate all the arguments made over the ages which are favorable to their conclusion, cite them and their authors left and right, yet fail to give an original argument when the need arises. A competent philosopher finds no need to cite either -isms or -ists to infuse his arguments with borrowed respectability.

Analogous to this is a young chess enthusiast who reads book after book on all the classic moves of the game, then completely flounders when faced with a novel configuration on the board. He may mentally search across all the classic moves he has learned vainly hoping for a plug-and-play solution, and may even attempt an unreasoned move that feels intuitively well-adapted to the board’s configuration. Yet he will predictably fail in the end since he has learned the game largely by rote.

Justin might have done better had he paid more attention to the actual arguments rather than trying to categorize them into some historical or topical pedigree, and attempting to address them with scripted responses. This is pseudo-philosophy. A commitment to truth comes first rather than a conclusion. Justin implied that, because some of my arguments fly in the face of conclusions commonly held by other non-theists, I should be less inclined to invoke them. This exposes a projection of his own commitment to a conclusion rather than to following the arguments to wherever they might lead. There are no conclusions, neither mine nor anyone’s, that have impunity from contrary evidence. Evidence and argumentation are prior to conclusions, and any attempt to perversely invert this proper hierarchy by invoking the imagined sanctity of faith is shameful.


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