On the delusion of Crude and Lotharson: a response to Tildeb

A fellow called Tilbed wrote the following comment:

Good grief, Crude and lotharson. Your misunderstanding of Boghossian’s thesis combined with your fear of atheists and lack of critical thinking leads you to draw conclusions that are not just wrong but borders on delusional.

His thesis is one I’ve long promoted, that how people come to conclusions about reality matters because they act on this understanding. There are justified beliefs and unjustified beliefs classified by how the conclusions and explanations are reached. When we allow reality to arbitrate our beliefs, we have some measure of independence from our biases and prejudices. This is essential to recognize in critical thinking. We can fool ourselves if we use only measures dependent on our beliefs. I’m sure you can appreciate how using beliefs to justify those beliefs is a method that doesn’t work very well. Yet this is <i.exactly the kind of justification used in any faith-based – and not adduced evidence – belief! If a religious believer had compelling evidence arbitrated by reality to support a particular belief claim, he or she would bring that forward to help justify why he or she believes that a particular claim had merit independent of the beliefs brought to the claim. this is the method of science… where no dependent faith is required.

But believers don’t have this arsenal of evidence adduced from reality available. That’s why they introduce faith into justifying the claim! And this inclusion is where disagreements arise between believers themselves.

Religion is not alone in utilizing the method of faith to justify claims made about reality. We see exactly the same method used to sell many dubious products and extraordinary explanations… from alternative medicine to conspiracy theories, from denying the efficacy of vaccinations to a refusal to accept climate change caused by human activity. Faith-based beliefs are not – ever – justified. And this is the claim Boghossian makes, teaching people that how we arrive at our conclusions and explanations about how reality operates is a vital component to evaluating their justifications. And that’s why he criticizes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from exempting behaviours – listing the signs and symptoms of illnesses – if categorized to be ‘religious’. Is this exemption justified? Because the method of arriving at the claim is of dubious justification, Boghossian argues that this is insufficient reason to then allow the exemption. And he’s right.

But rather than understand Boghossian’s argument about why the method used to arrive at conclusions and explanations matters, you two saddle up your biases and prejudices and take them for a ride… allowing these biases and prejudices free rein to arrive at the destination you’ve preselected: accusing atheists of trying to impose a totalitarian anti-theist political system based on hate.

Both of you reveal a scope of mental processes deeply influenced by very poor reasoning, very poor comprehension, very high bias, very high prejudice, all in the service of what you assume is a pious regard for a broken method of thinking about how reality operates. The reality you’ve created exists only in your mind and you have no means at your disposal to self-correct these bizarre and absurd explanations. This is the very problem Boghossian is talking about, and you’ve demonstrated why your method is such a problem because you end up arriving at an unjustified, uncritical, delusional conclusion that if acted upon can and will cause real harm to real people in real life not based on reality but your unjustified beliefs about it.

As a person, I am offended by your unjustified and hate-inspiring attack on a group of people you demonize based on your own biases and prejudices; and that’s the very definition of discrimination you meet with flying colours. As a New Atheist, I’m not surprised. This is standard operating procedure for many theists who assume pious belief is good… because it’s supposedly good. Not sharing this ‘good’ belief must therefore mean those who do not believe is ‘bad’. And that’s the extent of critical thinking many theists undertake… a failure, in other words, of methodology (to find out what’s true, what’s justified by reality’s arbitration of the belief) – of epistemology, to use Boghossian’s description of this method – to use the brain (you believe) god gave you. In my mind, one does not serve the divine by being by exercising discrimination against one’s fellow human beings.

But you find that bit of wisdom in any ACE or PACE workbook any more than you will in any of scriptures used to defend claims of justified faith.

First of all, I am extremely thankful to Tildeb for his genuine kindness and respectful tone.

I would need incredibly much “faith” (as he defines the word) for believing he is one of the most loving human beings living under the sun.

I don’t agree, however, with this type of definition.

For me faith means hoping when the evidence is not sufficient. And it is my contention that everyone walks by faith so that Boghossian’s criticism utterly fails in my case. 

Tildeb wrote “There are justified beliefs and unjustified beliefs classified by how the conclusions and explanations are reached. When we allow reality to arbitrate our beliefs, we have some measure of independence from our biases and prejudices.”

How is it possible to use reality for disproving the claim you are a brain in a vat? All evidence you could come up with would be perfectly compatible with your experience being spawned by a program running your brain.

BildWhile empirical arguments are extremely important, they cannot be the whole story.

Finally I was truly dumbstruck by the following sentence: “As a person, I am offended by your unjustified and hate-inspiring attack on a group of people you demonize based on your own biases and prejudices”.

There are many errors and fallacies going on here.

1) There are countless atheistic philosophers and scientists arguing against belief in God  towards whom I feel a great respect.

Jeffrey Jay Lowder and Andre Comte-Sponville are two nice examples.

I always respect respectful opponents.

2) I profoundly despise anti-theist (also called the New Atheists) because we have strong grounds for seeing them as a far right hate group, who are animated by the same type of fundamentalist biases as those dominating their life as they were religious fundies.

3) It is ironic that Tildeb feels outraged whereas his fellow New Atheists use exactly the same type of hateful rhetorics for demonizing ALL religious believers, even liberal and progressive ones who fight religious extremists.

The aim of my blog is to foster a respectful and nice dialog between people having different worldview, thereby overcoming this loveless culture war.

Bild

So if Tildeb is ready to stop mocking and ridiculing progressive religious believers who have never harmed him, I will warmly welcome him as a conversation partner.

I am not, however, particularly interested in the perspective of yelling at each other.

Faith, Richard Dawkins and Peter Boghossian

Nowadays faith is under attack and the word has become (in some Western circles) one of the most offensive insult somebody could utter.

There is no consensus about this question because the word is ambiguous and understood differently by many people.

Christian Rationalism

Christian rationalists such as W. H. Griffith-Thomas (1861-1924), a noted Anglican theologian, defined it in the following way:

“[Faith] affects the whole of man’s nature. It commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence; it continues in the confidence of the heart or emotions based on conviction, and it is crowned in the consent of the will, by means of which the conviction and confidence are expressed in conduct.”

In a similar manner, C.S. Lewis wrote

Faith is holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.

The New Atheism and scientism

On the other side of the worldview spectrum, Richard Dawkins (the Pope of militant atheism) defends the opposite position.

The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.

I want to examine that dangerous thing that’s common to Judaism and Christianity as well: the process of non-thinking called “faith”.

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.

Fanatic antitheistic philosopher Peter Boghossian share the same feelings.

[Faith is] pretending to know things you don’t know.

Faith is not a virtue; faith is an epistemology. Once we understand how faith is an epistemology, everything changes. Because then you’re talking about knowledge, then you’re talking about how people know something. People who make faith claims are making knowledge claims; they’re trusting, for example, in Jesus. “I trust that after I die, I’m going to heaven and be with all of my relatives and Jesus.” Once somebody makes that claim, that’s a knowledge claim. So when you understand that, you can target their epistemology and help them see that that’s just a delusion.

Ultra-Darwinian biologist Jerry Coyne asserted:

I still feel that faith—belief in the unevidenced—is a disease that requires a societal cure, for it’s always better to have good reasons for what one believes.

Reformed epistemology and foundationalism

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser is currently writing a review of Boghossian’s offensive book on his blog.

He summed up the presuppositionalist approach of folks such as Alvin Plantinga:

There is nothing per se wrong about believing without evidence. Any foundationalist will tell you that. (And many if not most epistemologists today adopt a foundationalist theory of noetic structure. Problems only arise when you believe a putative basic belief despite a strong defeater for that belief, or when you believe a non-basic belief without evidence. For more you can see my debate with Chris Hallquist.)

The necessity of basic beliefs

The main argument for foundationalism can be summed up as follows:

1. We are justified in our belief that we really know many things about the reality we see around us.

2. To avoid circularity and infinite regress (see the Muenchhausen’s trilemna) there must be basic beliefs in need of no further justification.

3. It follows from 1 and 2 that there are such basic beliefs.

Now it is extremely controversial (to say the least) that belief in God (let alone in a particular religion) can be considered as properly basic.

But the existence of basic beliefs seems to be extremely sound.

280px-Braininvat

Let us consider the possibility that you are a brain in a vat in a simulation being carried out by an unknown scientist.

Now it is true that there might be facts showing this to be the case.

The Joy of Tech comic

But try for a few minutes to show this is extremely unlikely.

I bet you cannot do this without begging the question and already assuming things about the real world.

You cannot say, for example, that the blog you are reading is so brilliant and amazing that it must surely stem from a real human genius.

For any beinglargely outshining the intellectual abilities of our species could program the content of this blog in the software running your brain.

(Don’t worry too much about the mental health of the real author of this blog, for he only holds such beliefs about himself after having spent the whole evening sniffing coke and drinking white wine).

The problem with knowledge

It is true that even if we cannot justify our belief we are not a brain in a vat, we almost always feel confident this is not the case.

I am not a foundationalist because I do not buy that a belief without any grounding can be called “knowledge” (in the objective, absolute sense).

So I would turn the above reasoning on its head.

1. To avoid circularity and infinite regress (see the Muenchhausen’s trilemna) there must be basic beliefs in need of no further justification.

2. There are no such basic beliefs

3. Thus there is exist no objective and absolute knowledge

According, to my pragmatic epistemology, we are justified on pragmatic grounds to adopt basic beliefs without which we cannot make sense of the world and our life.

Faith as hope in the face of insufficient evidence

This leads me finally to explain how I view faith.

Faith is the hope in some extremely desirable things even if the evidence is not sufficient for concluding.

Given such a definition, faith does not necessarily have to be irrational and I would say that every human being walks by faith.

It also seems to perfectly fit how most Christians (at least in Europe view their faith). While there are interesting arguments for the existence of an immaterial world, of God and of His incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, there are also counter arguments, and neither camp seems to dispose of compelling reasons.

Finally I want to conclude with the definition of faith one can find in the book of Hebrews, the one that Peter Boghossian heavily criticized for its alleged irrationality.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”

I am not a proponent of Biblical inerrancy and view the author of Hebrews as a great Christian writer inspired in the same way as C.S. Lewis (who was arguably the greatest Christian apologist of the past century) was.

So I am quite open for the possibility that both of these authors made mistakes.

That said, I am far from being certain that the author of Hebrew really meant that faith creates evidence out of nothing.

He could have meant that faith is a subjective trust in a hope which is based on evidence (such as miracles, and the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God) and an invitation to go beyond the rational arguments which are not enough to conclude.

If so, there is no reason to think that such a faith is irrational.

As argued above, almost all humans feel confident that they are not a brain in a vat even if it cannot be justified without begging the question.

The great duel: Ken ham versus Bill Nye

The great duel: Ken ham versus Bill Nye

I think that few debates have been awaited with more passion and indignation than the duel between the pope of Creationism (and some would say of irrationality too) and the “humanist guy”.

Since the event is widely known and has been reviewed by an almost infinite number of bloggers, I will just offer my own thoughts on points I found interesting in a chronological fashion.

Ken Ham began by pointing out there are great scientists who believe that creationism is the best explanation of nature, and complained about science being “highjacked by secularists”.

The united states, creationism and economical collapse

Later on Bill Nye warned that the spreading of creationist ideas would lead to a considerable deterioration of the scientific performances of America with stark repercussions on the economy.

I respectfully think he is wrong here.

People typically develop incredible abilities to compartmentalize their intellectual life, as the examples of brilliant creationists Ham mentioned clearly show. These folks have managed to be extremely rigorous in their professional works while being incredibly sloppy while trying to fit reality to their fundamentalist convictions.

As a side note, I don’t believe that wild capitalism is such a great promoter of science as Nye seems to believe.
It goes hand in hand with a huge decrease of the number of researcher positions (such as in Germany where lecturer positions Mittelbau have been completely suppressed).
As a consequence, there is a very strong competition between young scientists which often leads to dishonesty and sloppiness for maximizing one’s number of publications, which is nowadays almost the only criterion for getting hired in the Academia.

Experimental and historical science, evidence and probabilities

Ken Ham said that there is a strong difference between experimental and historical science, the latter one failing to generate knowledge. Bill Nye responded by stating that such a distinction is utterly nonsensical.

I think that reality might be more complex than those two binaries opinion.

Henri Gee, chief editor of nature, wrote a book entitled “In search of deep time” where he argued that knowledge about the far past is extremely hard to generate.

In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life

I take the view that while historical science use the same methodology as experimental science for assessing evidence, the number of data is much more limited as you go back through the mist of history.

I also believe that, unlike most scientific theories or propositions, historical events (including those about the evolution of the universe, earth and life) have an objective physical probability which could (in principle) be computed (WARNING: the two linked posts are quite geeky 🙂 )

Statistics and the unlikelihood of events

Creationists are well known to use (misguided) statistical arguments against Darwinism, stating that many evolutionary events are too unlikely to have occurred.

Bill Nye turned that upside down and conclusively argued that a worldwide flood six thousands years ago has an astronomically low probability to have produced numerous well ordered geological features of the world.

This includes:

– the huge number of fossils and limestone

–  the bio-geography of current wildlife (for instance, the absence of Kangaroos or remains thereof outside of Australia)

– the great number of living species: 16 000 000

– independent dating methods converging to the same values

Such ordered features could not have been brought about by a chaotic global flood.

The worldwide flood and the oldest tree of the planet

Nye also mentioned evidence directly contradicting Young Earth Creationism, such as the oldest tree of the world in Sweden being 9,550 years old.

Darwinism, Jesus, abortion and the afterlife

The most egregious crime of Ken Ham was his insistence that consistent Christians have to believe in a young earth, and that accepting evolution goes hand in hand with losing any hope of an afterlife and supporting abortion.

While one can find the same kind of assertions in the writings of militant atheists (Dawkins, Coyne et al.) this is completely rubbish.

I find abortion bad (expect for protecting the physical or mental health of the mother) and I passionately hope in the resurrection of all dead persons, following that of Christ. Many Roman Catholics accepting and celebrating evolution have pretty much the same convictions.

I find it wonderful that (as a humanist) Bill Nye pointed out that many Christians all over the world have no problem whatsoever to reconcile their faith with mainstream scientific views of our origins.

I also think Bill truly ought to be applauded for his kind, joyful and respectful tone during the entire debate.

Culture war and debating irrationality

I am really not sure I would have been capable of as much civility if I had been the one debating Ham.

To conclude, I believe that Bill undoubtedly won the debate at an intellectual level, and that all honest knowledgeable people cannot fail to realize this was a disastrous debacle for Ham.

I fear, however, that Ham’s rhetorical skills were enough for keeping non-scientific minds in his camp.

Ist das Fehlen von Beweisen der Beweis des Fehlens?

English version: Does the absence of evidence mean evidence of absence?

Feel free to comment there at any time!

Lasst uns das Problem der Existenz Gottes betrachten.

Grundsätzlich gibt es drei Möglichkeiten, die mit Wahrscheinlichkeiten nuanciert werden können;

1. Ich weiß, dass Gott existiert (Theismus)

2. Ich weiß, dass Gott nicht existiert (Atheismus)

3.  Ich weiß nicht, ob Gott existiert oder nicht (Agnostizismus)

Für viele Leute heutzutage ist es so, dass wenn wir weder Beweise für noch gegen Gottes Existenz haben, wir nicht nur 1) sondern auch 3) ablehnen und Atheisten sein sollten.

Viele Menschen würden dies dadurch begründen, dass das Fehlen von Beweisen der Beweis des Fehlens ist, ein Prinzip dass fortan als PA bezeichnet werden wird.

Sie illustrieren häufig das durch das unrühmliche unsichtbare rosafarbene Einhorn (das gerade auf dem Boden neben Ihnen liegen könnte!)

Image

Obwohl sie sehr selten gut formuliert wird, scheint das Schlussfolgern wie folgt zu sein:

  1. Es ist sicher, dass das unsichtbare rosafarbene Einhorn nicht existiert
  2. Wenn es sicher ist, muss es eine Begründung geben.
  3. PA ist die einzige mögliche Begründung
  4. Deswegen muss PA wahr sein.

Es ist die einzige Weise, worauf ich die Absicht der Skeptiker verstehen kann, die solche Arten von herumwandernden Monstern in öffentlichen Debatten verwenden.

Sofort fällt es mir auf, dass es völlig absurd ist und  man sich so hoffnungslos im Kreisen bewegt.

Wir wissen nicht, ob PA wahr ist und wollen es nachweisen. Nun wollen wir den Beweis von PA auf unsere Sicherheit zurückführen, dass es kein rosafarbiges unsichtbares Einhorn gibt. Aber wir können nur wissen, dass es kein solches Biest gibt, wenn PA wahr ist!

PA muss aber sich einem viel ernsterem Problem stellen: in vielen Situationen würde es uns zu absurden Ergebnissen führen!

Lasst uns zum Beispiel vermuten, ich hätte eine Zeitmaschine erfunden, und würde damit zum alten Griechenland fliegen.

Ich begegne dort einem epikurischen Philosoph, der ganz fromm an PA glaubt. Im Laufe unserer Diskussion erkläre ich ihm mit vielen Details, wie ein Känguru aussieht.

Image

Er scheint, amüsiert zu sein, schaut auf mich und sagt mir: “Da ich keinen Beweis habe, dass es ein solches Geschöpf gibt, kann ich fast sicher sein, dass es nicht real ist.”

Würde sein Glaube begründet sein?

Nun lasst uns zur Gegenwart zurückfliegen: ich habe keinen Beweis, dass es ein bärähnliches intelligentes Wesen am Rand der Milchstraße gibt, das sich den Kopf kratzt. Kann ich daraus schliessen, dass es kein solches Wesen gibt?

Das Fehlen von Beweisen ist nur ein Beweis des Fehlens, wenn man erwarten würde, dass solche Beweise vorliegen.

Aber wenn wir PA abgelehnt haben, was sollten wir nun mit unserer besten unsichtbaren Freundin und ihrem einzigen rosafarbigem Horn anfangen?

Image

Der Grund unseres Unglaubens sollte nicht PA sondern die selbstwidersprüchliche Natur der Sache sein.

Ich bin völlig offen bezüglich der Existenz eines rosafarbigen Einhorns irgendwo im Multiversum, oder eines für unsere Augen unsichtbaren Geschöpfs, aber nicht für die eines Wesens, das gleichzeitig beide Eigenschaften hat.

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Erfordern außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise?

English version: Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence? 

 

https://lotharlorraine.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/4e4f9-1797-dog-walking-on-water.jpg

Die Beantwortung dieser Frage erweist sich als viel schwieriger, als was viele Leute gern denken.

Der berühmte Skeptiker der Parapsychologie Richard Wiseman aus dem vereinigten Königreich wurde einmal gefragt, warum er außerkörperliche Wahrnehmungen (ESP) und Fernwahrnehmung ablehnt. Seine Antwort war aufschlussreich:

„Ich stimme zu, dass nach den Normen jedes anderen wissenschaftlichen Themenfeldes Fernwahrnehmung bewiesen ist. Es stellt sich jedoch die Frage: Brauchen wir höhere Standards von Beweisen, wenn wir das Übernatürliche erforschen? Ich glaube schon. Wenn ich behaupten würde, dass sich ein rotes Auto außerhalb meines Hauses befinden würde, würden Sie mir mit Sicherheit glauben. Wenn ich Ihnen jedoch sagen würde, dass dort soeben ein UFO gelandet ist, würden sie wahrscheinlich mehr Beweise dafür wollen. Da Fernwahrnehmung eine solch sonderbare Behauptung ist, die die Welt revolutionieren würde, benötigen wir überwältigende Beweise, bevor wir irgendwelche Schlüsse ziehen. Im Augenblick haben wir keine solche Beweise “

Eine solche Herangehensweise bezüglich anormalen Phänomenen wird häufig durch das legendäre Theorem von Baye bestützt, das besagt, dass man die Wahrscheinlichkeit der Wahrheit einer Theorie durch die Berücksichtigung der aus neuen Tatsachen stammenden Informationen aktualisieren kann.

Ich werde einer kritischen Unterschung der verwandeten Philosophie Bayesianismus zukünftige Konversationen widmen.

Im Zweiten Buch der Chroniken von Narnia “der König von Narnia” verwarf der berühmte Schriftsteller C.S. Lewis völlig diese Methode.

Die junge Lucy kamm in Narnia, eine paralellen Welt, nachdem sie sich in einer Garderobe versteckt hatte. Zurück im Haus rannte sie auf ihre Geschwister zu, die die Realität ihrer Erfahrung völlig verleugneten.

Besorgt, weil ihre kleine Schwester an der Wahrheit ihrer unglaublichen Geschichte festhielt, suchten sie den Professoren Kirke, der sie zurecht wies, Lucy nicht vertraut zu haben.

Nachdem sie erwidert hatten, dass ihre Behauptung außergewöhnlich war, antwortete er:

“Logik!” sagte der Professor, halb zu ihm selber. “Warum lehren sie keine Logik in diesen Schulen? Es gibt nur drei Möglichkeiten. Entweder erzählt euch eure Schwester Lügen, oder sie ist verrückt, oder sie sagt euch die Wahrheit. Ihr wisst, dass sie keine Lügen erzählt und es ist offensichtlich, dass sie nicht verrückt ist. Für den Moment müssen wir dann davon ausgehen, dass sie die Wahrheit erzählt, es sei denn, neue Beweise auftauchen.”

Das heißt, für den alten weisen Professoren waren normale Beweise oder Evidenzen ausreichend, um die seltsame Behauptung des kleinen Mädchens für wahr zu halten.

Hier bin ich irgendwie über die Gültigkeit der beiden Prinzipien verwirrt.
Einerseits ist es klar, dass wir immer unser Hintergrundswissen in Betracht ziehen sollten, bevor wir eine neue Hypothese oder Theorie einschätzen.

Andererseits, wenn ein Satz von Tatsachen ausreicht, um eine gewöhnliche Behauptung zu beweisen, dann sehe ich nicht ein, warum ein ähnlicher Satz von Tatsachen daran scheitern würde, eine außergewöhnliche Behauptung zu belegen.

Lasst uns nun manche konkrete Beispiele von gut bekannten Phänomenen uns anschauen, die in der Vergangenheit aufgrund ihrer vermeintlichen Außergewöhnlichkeit verleugnet wurden.

Im Nachhinein zu sagen, dass sie doch nicht außergewöhnlich waren, wäre allzu einfach denn dies war die Weise, wie sie von Wissenschaftlern zu dieser Zeit wahrgenommen wurden.

Die Existenz von Meteoriten wurde damals als eine haarsträubende Behauptung angesehen und die normalen vorliegenden Beweisen wurden als irdische Phänomene oder Halluzinationen der Zeugen wegerklärt.

In 1923 fand der deutsche Geologer Alfred Wegener normale Beweise für die Kontinentaldrift, aber da er nicht fähig war, einen sinnvollen Mechanismus darzustellen, wurde seine Theorie während Jahrzehnten ignoriert oder sogar verlächerlicht.

Dasselbe könnte über die Blitzkugel gesagt werden, die oft als das Produkt der Sinntäuschungen und Halluzinationen der Zeugen abgelehnt worden war.

http://csironewsblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/balllightning_joethomissen.jpg

Heutzutage kann ein ähnliches Phänomen in Bezug auf den kleinen Anteil von wirklich unidentifizierten fliegenden Objekten beobachtet werden.

Wenn außergewöhnliche Behauptungen außergewöhnliche Beweise erfordern, dann existieren UFOs (in der Gegenwart) nicht und die Kontinentaldrift, Meteoriten, und Blitzkugel existierten in der Vergangenheit nicht.

Aber wenn man nur nach normalen Beweisen sucht, kann eine feste Argumentation dafür aufgebaut werden, dass manche UFOs (gemäß der ursprünglichen Definition “unidentifiziert”) wirklich existieren. Ich werde dies in zukünftigen Posten erläutern.

Wir werden auch zusammen die Möglichkeit berücksichtigen, dass es wirklich normale Beweise für die Auferstehung von Jesus von Nazareth gibt.

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Knowledge-dependent frequentist probabilities

 

This is going to be a (relatively) geeky post which I tried to make understandable for lay people.

Given the important role than epistemological assumptions play in debate between theists and atheists, I deemed it necessary to first write a groundwork upon which more interesting discussions (about the existence of God, the historicity of Jesus, miracles, the paranormal…) will lie.

Bayesianism, Degrees of belief

In other posts I explained why I am skeptical about the Bayesian interpretation of probabilities as degrees of belief. I see no need to adjust the intensity of our belief in string theory (which is a subjective feeling) in order to do good science or to avoid irrationality.

Many Bayesians complain that if we don’t consider subjective probabilities, a great number of fields  such as economy, biology, geography or even history would collapse.
This is a strong pragmatic ground for being a Bayesian I hear over and over again.

Central limit theorem and frequencies

I don’t think this is warranted for I believe that the incredible successes brought about by probabilistic calculations concern events which are (in principle) repeatable and therefore open to a frequentist interpretation of the related likelihoods.

According to a knowledge-dependent interpretation of frequentism I rely on the probability of an event is its frequency if the known circumstances were to be repeated an infinite number of times.

Let us consider an ideal dice which is thrown in a perfectly random way. Obviously we can only find approximations of this situation in the real world, but a computer can reasonably do the job.

In the following graphics, I plotted the results for five series of trials.

FrequencyNormal

FrequencyLog

The frequentist probability of the event is defined as

formel1

,

that is the limit of the frequency of “3” when the number of trials becomes close to infinity.

This is a mathematical abstraction which never exists in the real world, but from the 6000-th trial onward the frequency is a very good approximation of the probability which will converge to the probability according to the central limit theorem.

Actually my knowledge-dependent frequentist interpretation allows me to consider the probability of unique events which have not yet occurred.

For example, a Bayesian wrote that “the advantage of this view over the frequency interpretation is that it can deal with cases where there is no relative frequency to draw on: for example, Gigerenzer mentions the first ever heart transplant patient who was given a 70% chance of survival by the surgeon. Under the frequency interpretation that statement made no sense, because there had never actually been any similar operations by then.“

HeartTransplant

I think there are many confusions going on here.
Let us call K the total knowledge of the physician which might include the different bodily features of the patient, the state of his organs and the hazard of the novel procedure.

The frequentist probability would be defined as the ratio of surviving patients divided by the total number of patients undergoing the operation if the known circumstances underlying K were to be repeated a very great (actually infinite) number of times.formel2Granted, for many people this does not seem as intuitive as the previous example with the dice.
And it is obvious there existed for the physician no frequency he could have used to directly approximate the probability.
Nevertheless, this frequentist interpretation is by no means absurd.

The physician could very well have used Bayes’s theorem to approximate the probability while having only used other frequentist probabilities, such as the probability that the body reacting in a certain way would be followed by death or the probability that introducing a device in some organs could have lethal consequences.

Another example is the estimation of the probability it is going to rain tomorrow morning as you will wake up.

Wetter
While the situation you are confronted with might very well be unique in the whole history of mankind, the probability is well defined by the frequency of rain if all the circumstances you know of were to be repeated an extremely high number of times.

Given this extended, knowledge-dependent variant of frequentism, the probabilities of single events are meaningful and many fields considered as Bayesian (such as economical simulations, history or evolutionary biology) could be as well interpreted according to this version of frequentism.

It has a great advantage: it allows us to bypass completely subjective degrees of belief and to focus on an objective concept of probability.

Now, some Bayesians could come up and tell me that it is possible that the frequentist probabilities of the survival of the first heart transplant patient or of the weather does not exist: in other words, if the known circumstances were to be repeated an infinite number of times, the frequency would keep oscillating instead of converging to a fixed value (such as 1/6 for the dice).

Fluctuations

This is a fair objection, but such a situation would not only show that the frequentist probability does not exist but that the Bayesian interpretation is meaningless as well.

It seems utterly nonsensical to my mind to say that every rational agent ought to have a degree of belief of (say) 0.45 or 0.87 if the frequency of the event (given all known circumstances) would keep fluctuating between 0.01 and 0.99.
For in this case the event is completely unpredictable and it seems entirely misguided to associate a probability to it.

Another related problem is that in such a situation a degree of belief could be no nothing more than a pure mind state with no relation to the objective world whatsoever.

As professor Jon Williamson wrote:
Since Bayesian methods for estimating physical probabilities depend on a given prior probability function, and it is precisely the prior that is in question here, this leaves classical (frequentist) estimation methods—in particular confidence interval estimation methods—as the natural candidate for determining physical probabilities. Hence the Bayesian needs the frequentist for calibration.”

But if this frequentist probability does not exist, the Bayesian has absolutely no way to relate his degree of  belief to reality since no prior can be defined and evaluated.

Fortunately, the incredible success of the mathematical treatment of uncertain phenomenons (in biology, evolution, geology, history, economics and politics to name only a few) show that we are justified in believing in the meaningfulness of the probability of the underlying events, even if they might be quite unique.

In this way, I believe that many examples Bayesians use to argue for the indispensability of their subjectivist probabilistic concept ultimately fail because the same cases could have been handled using the frequentist concept I have outlined here.

However this still leaves out an important aspect: what are we to do about theories such as the universal gravitation, string theory or the existence of a multiverse?
It is obvious no frequentist interpretation of their truth can be given.
Does that mean that without Bayesianism we would have no way to evaluate the relative merits of such competing models in these situations?
Fortunately no, but this will be the topic of a future post.
At the moment I would hate to kill the suspense 🙂

Wann hat Gott seine Frau herausgepickt?

English version: when did God pick up His wife?

Image

Der berühmte Archäologe William Dever hat für Kontroverse gesorgt, nachdem er sein Buch “Did God Have a Wife” veröffentlicht hat, wo er (unter anderem) argumentiert, dass die Archäologie uns klar gezeigt habe, dass am Anfang der israelitischen Geschichte Jahwe nicht allein sondern neben anderen Gottheiten angebetet wurde, deren prominenteste Vertreterin die Göttin Asherah war, mit der er häufig dargestellt ist.

Grundsätzlich gibt es drei Möglichkeiten:

1)   Die Isrealiten begannen, nur Jahwe anzubeten, die Anbetung der Asherah als seine Frau war eine heidnische Korruption (Evangelikale Sicht)

2)  Die Isrealiten begannen, Jahwe und Asherah zusammen mit anderen Gottheiten anzubeten. Der Monotheismus war eine spätere Erfindung (Mainstream Sicht).

3) Am Anfang hat die überwiegende Mehrheit der Israeliten Jahwe und Asherah zusammen mit anderen Gottheiten angebetet aber einige von einigen dachten, dass Jahwe ein viel größerer Gott war.

Während es Fälle gibt, wo die Archäologie ganz klar der Bibel widersprochen hat, bin ich mir nicht sicher, dass es hier passieren wird.

Von Natur aus fassen archäologische Befunde nur einen kleinen Bruchteil der Vergangenheit um. Wenn die Israeliten, die allein (oder hauptsächlich) Jahwe angebetet haben, eine kleine Minderheit bildeten (die vielleicht schon glaubte, dass Darstellungen ihres Stammgottes keine gute Sache war) würden wir nicht zu hoch erwarten, Archäologische Spuren davon zu finden.

So glaube ich, dass in diesem besonderen Fall die archäologischen Ergebnisse manche Formen von 3) oder sogar 1) nicht unterminieren.

Meiner Meinung nach kann der beste Beweis von heidnischen Einflüssen auf die Theologie der frühen biblischen Schreiber in den in den Büchern von Josua und Samuel beschriebenen göttlichen Genoziden gefunden werden, wenn man davon ausgeht, dass sie nicht zuerst als mythologische Geschichten beabsichtigt wurden.

Wir haben starke Gründe, anzunehmen, dass die (angeblich) von Jahwe erforderte Herem-Vernichtungskriegsführung eine Art von menschlichem Massenopfer war, das denen von heidnischen Gottheiten angeordneten Massenopfern sehr ähnlich war.

 

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