Statistical and logical illiteracy

Many think statistics can be used to illegitimately defend even the most absurd positions. Is this true? Only among the statistically illiterate. Those who understand statistics are led into rigorous conclusions that may significantly differ from what they want to conclude. Those who don’t understand statistics, instead of blaming their own statistical illiteracy and modifying their positions, will dismiss the most rigorous statistical studies by suggesting statistics are some kind of mathematical trickery, and of the same evidential weight as anecdotes and emotional appeals. 
Recently, there has appeared the same attitude towards logic. Ever hear someone say “Well, that’s just YOUR logic” as if logic were as subjective as your choice in socks? In this US election cycle, logic is being treated as something that is malleable and accommodating of nearly every position…and is not that important anyway. Logical arguments have been replaced by unfounded accusations by those hoping to poison the opposition’s well, and attempt to justify this behavior through the childish retort “Well, THEY started it”. And since logic requires focus and fidelity and an honest positioning of conclusions to the actual facts, logic seems far too troublesome and restrictive. Far fewer voices are ashamed of their intentional illogic. This is not a good thing. 
Emotional intensity has replaced logic as the measure of a good argument. And this is only accelerating the recent dismissal of logic in the public forum to a point at which minds no longer have access to even the logic necessary to comprehend their illogic. 

10 philosophical concepts relevant today

Something I wrote up on Quora.

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.

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.)



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

A coherent and actionable goal for AI?

Can the following goal proposed for AI be successfully implemented?

“Our coherent extrapolated volition is our wish if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished we were, had grown up farther together; where the extrapolation converges rather than diverges, where our wishes cohere rather than interfere; extrapolated as we wish that extrapolated, interpreted as we wish that interpreted.”

The Drifting Argument from Design

Imagine the following 3 beaches.

  1. A beach on which there are a billion stacks of clams, all stacked 4-high.
  2. A beach on which there are only 4 clams, stacked 4-high.
  3. A beach on which there are 4 clams stacked 4-high, plus a billion other unstacked clams.

Which beach has an intelligence likely visited?

Most rational persons would say beach #1 since it is highly unlikely that what is perceived as of human design (a stack of 4 clams) would have been duplicated a billion times. Beach #2 would be second since it would be unlikely that, if there were 4 clams on the beach, those 4 clams would be stacked on top of each other.

However, most humans would concede that, with a billion clams on an ocean beach, it is quite likely that what would be unlikely on the uncluttered beach #2 would exist naturally on busy beach #3.

Now consider which hypothetical universe below would offer greatest evidence of intelligent design.

  1. A universe in which there are a billion planets, all populated by intelligence.20130908-205116.jpg
  2. A universe in which there is only one planet, populated by intelligence.
  3. A universe in which there is only one planet, populated by intelligence, plus a billion other unpopulated planets.

I think you get the picture.

For centuries, the argument for design was promoted under the assumption of universe #2; that there were no other planets. Now that we have indeed ascertained that there are billions of potential worlds out there, theists have exchanged the old argument for a new argument. Why would this planet, of all the billions of planets, be the only one known to be populated by intelligence?

They have forgotten their previous argument, and fail to consider that, on a beach with a billion clams, it is far from unlikely that you would find 4 clams stacked 4-high, and in a universe with a billion planets, it is far from unlikely that you would find a single planet with some sort of complexity.

The argument from design remains a possibly valid argument if it can be shown that nature can not by itself generate complexity to the point of intelligence, but to suggest that this argument is now now significantly weaker than in centuries past in which we accepted #2 is dishonest. And the question of why an actual intelligent designer would not have created universe #1 or #2 warrants doubt about the existence of any proposed intelligent designer.

I remain open-minded but unconvinced that the universe required an intelligent designer, especially since there has been no substantiated case of an intelligence existing apart from a material substrate.