Can all our beliefs be based on evidence?

Jonny Scaramanga (a former British fundamentalist I interviewed here) wrote an interesting article about the way children may become persuaded of the truth of far fetched beliefs.

Jonny Scaramanga teaching a class
Jonny Scaramanga, former fundamentalist, activist and PhD student at the Institute of Education, University of London, studying student experiences of Accelerated Christian Education.

********

Children are not that gullible, which makes indoctrination even more odious

I recently submitted an article on indoctrination for publication in an academic journal. I was attempting to explain what indoctrination looks like in practice in an educational environment, and along the way I made an assertion that I think most people would accept: “Young children … in most cases will believe whatever they are told”.

This is a widely assumed to be true, so I am grateful to my anonymous peer reviewer for pointing out that I was mistaken. The reviewer recommended I read a paper by Dan Sperber et al, “Epistemic vigilance”, which, happily, is freely available online. The section on children begins on page 371. The evidence suggests that children from very young ages use sophisticated techniques to work out who to trust.

Even at a very early age, children do not treat all communicated information as equally reliable. At 16 months, they notice when a familiar word is inappropriately used (Koenig and Echols, 2003). By the age of two, they often attempt to contradict and correct assertions that they believe to be false (e.g. Pea, 1982). These studies challenge the widespread assumption that young children are simply gullible.

Do young children have the cognitive resources to allocate trust on the basis of relevant evidence about an informant’s trustworthiness? Given the choice, three-year-olds seem to prefer informants who are both benevolent (Mascaro and Sperber, 2009) and competent (e.g. Clement ´ et al., 2004). In preferring benevolent informants, they take into account not only their own observations but also what they have been told about the informant’s moral character (Mascaro and Sperber, 2009), and in preferring competent informants, they take past accuracy into account (e.g. Clement ´ et al., 2004; Birch et al., 2008; Scofield and Behrend, 2008). By the age of four, they not only have appropriate preferences for reliable informants, but also show some grasp of what this reliability involves. For instance, they can predict that a dishonest informant will provide false information (Couillard and Woodward, 1999), or that an incompetent informant will be less reliable (Call and Tomasello, 1999; Lampinen and Smith, 1995; Clément et al., 2004). Moreover, they make such predictions despite the fact that unreliable informants typically present themselves as benevolent and competent.

The paper goes on to explain that four- and five-year-olds develop methods of spotting deception and also hypocrisy. Further, they are good at interpreting signals about what other people think about information (and the informers), and they use this to assist their own judgements about who is a trustworthy informant and what information is reliable. They’re also pretty good at spotting when someone intends to deceive them, and they know to ignore that information. From the age of four, children are particularly careful about who to trust.

All of which is not to say that children can’t be fooled, of course, but adults can be fooled too. It turns out children are not the trusting dopes they are sometimes depicted as.

But I know, and you know too, that if you stick a class of children in a room with a teacher who tells them that God made the Earth in six days six thousand years ago, most of them are going to believe it (and this was my point when I said that children generally believe what they are told). So what’s going on?

The answer, of course, is that children have excellent reasons to trust their teachers and their parents. Even in the most extreme cults, the vast majority of the verifiable information we learn from our parents in our formative years turns out to be true. Stoves are indeed hot and plug sockets are dangerous. Waiting for the green man does make it safer to cross the road. The food they recommend is generally good tasting and non-poisonous, and the things they recommend for entertainment are usually enjoyable. Up to the age of four, most of what we know about the world comes from parents, and most of it is right.

Then our parents hand us over to the care of teachers, which implicitly tells us that they are to be trusted. Our parents may also explicitly tell us to trust our teachers, with phrases like “You should listen to what your teacher says”. We trust our parents because they haven’t steered us wrong so far, and sure enough the teacher does seem to be reliable as well. She teaches us to read, which is very useful, and when we read signs using the methods she taught us, we arrive in the right places. She shows us that when we connect wires to metal contacts, the bulb lights up, and when we connect them to plastic, nothing happens.

Our parents and teachers tell us stories, and from quite early on they distinguish between true stories and those which are ‘only stories’. So when they tell us about Noah’s Ark, the exodus from Egypt, and the walls of Jericho, we trust them. We have every reason to do so—they have demonstrated their reliability. We would, as Sperber’s paper argues, be pretty good at telling if they were trying to deceive us, but of course they aren’t.

In short, when children are taught creationism by their parents and teachers, they accept it because this is the rational thing to do. Even the most committed skeptic cannot check everything out first hand. We all gain much of our knowledge from reliable others, and for most of us parents and teachers are the most reliable others we will ever know. It would be insane to trust them on everything except religion when religion is presented as true in the same way as all other knowledge taught at home or school. Of course the children believe you. That’s what you’re for. When you use that fact to make children believe things for which there is insufficient evidence, you are abusing your power and abusing their trust.

Presenting religious ideas as though we can believe them with the same confidence we can believe that clouds make rain or electricity flows through metal better than plastic is just immoral. I find it difficult to overstate how wrong this is. There are not many things I would call sacred, but the duty of care to children must be one of them. Ironically, I find myself wanting to use religious language to emphasise the gravity of this point. From the point of view of the Christian teacher, God has put these children in your care. It is despicable to use this position to present scientific and religious information as though they are both equally knowledge. Your job is to educate children, and you’re lying to them. It is the educational equivalent of a doctor poisoning patients.

*******

I think this raised quite important questions about the nature of faith and what our convictions should be grounded on.

Here was my response.

Hi Jonny.

I certainly agree it may be pretty harmful to teach far-fetched beliefs to children.

I don’t think, however, that one can generally say that fundies are being immoral for doing so.

Most I talked with are sincerely convinced that there are good arguments for a young earth or an exodus out of Egypt and that if it doesn’t belong to public knowledge, it is only because “godless” scientists “suppress the truth”.

Young earth creationism: poor dinosaurs are seeing the ark departing while the raging water is about to flood them.
Young earth creationism in all its glory.

So they teach what they are honesty convinced of and I think that very few of them teach things they know very well to be false.

Of course, I believe they are either utterly irrational or terribly uninformed. But that changes nothing to their sincerity.

Otherwise, I doubt it is possible to only believe in things we’ve evidence for.

Consider the proposition:

“We do not live in a simulation ran by beings we know nothing about.”

Brain in the vat: "I'm walking outside in the sun!"
Brain in a vat. My thought experiment here is far broader than that and include the possibility of being part of a simulation of beings radically different from everything we can conceive of. Or being fooled by a deceitful demon about whose abilities and psychology we know nothing.

Almost all human beings accept this.
Yet, I strongly doubt it is possible to bring up evidence for this without already making assumptions about reality, i.e. without begging the question.

As far as I can tell, nobody has ever come up with a satisfactory answer to the Muenchhausen dilemna,
****

All justifications in pursuit of ‘certain’ knowledge have also to justify the means of their justification and doing so they have to justify anew the means of their justification. Therefore, there can be no end. We are faced with the hopeless situation of ‘infinite regression’.
One can justify with a circular argument, but this sacrifices its validity.

The brain is the most important organ you have. According to the brain.
Circular reasoning.

One can stop at self-evidence or common sense or fundamental principles or speaking ex cathedra or at any other evidence, but in doing so, the intention to install ‘certain’ justification is abandoned.

An English translation of a quote from the original German text by Albert is as follows:[8]

Here, one has a mere choice between:

An infinite regression, which appears because of the necessity to go ever further back, but is not practically feasible and does not, therefore, provide a certain foundation.
A logical circle in the deduction, which is caused by the fact that one, in the need to found, falls back on statements which had already appeared before as requiring a foundation, and which circle does not lead to any certain foundation either.
A break of searching at a certain point, which indeed appears principally feasible, but would mean a random suspension of the principle of sufficient reason.
******

Consequently, I think there are some very basic beliefs we hold which cannot be justified.
This leads me to reject claims of knowing how things really are and to adopt a pragmatic view of our beliefs.
I view “faith” as hope in something highly desirable even if evidence is unavailable or insufficient.

According to that definition, it is my contention that everyone walks by faith.
I don’t have children but I think I would try to explain this to them as soon as they are old enough to grasp that (without hopefully making them too dizzy).
To my mind, these considerations lead to a humble pluralism rather than to a confident materialism.

I don’t, however, hold anything I said dogmatically and would be glad to see your objections, if you have some.

I certainly sympathize with the children of fundamentalists who go through terrible ordeals as you did.

Cheers.

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Are miracles improbable natural events?

Deutsche Version: Sind Wunder unwahrscheinliche Naturereignisse?

Stefan Hartmann is one of the most prominent scholars who deal with the philosophy of probability.

In an interview for the university of Munich, he went into a well-known faith story of the Old Testament in order to illustrate some concepts in a provoking way.

*****

 Interviewer: let us start at the very beginning in the Old Testament. In the Book of Genesis, God reveals to hundred-years old Abraham that he’d become father. Why shall Abraham believe this?

 
Hartmann: if we get a new information and wonder how we should integrate it into our belief system, we start out analysing it according to different criteria.
Three of them are especially important: the initial plausibility of the new information, the coherence of the new information and the reliability of the information source.
These factors often point towards the same direction, but sometimes there are tensions. Like in this example.
We have to do with a highly reliable source, namely God who always says the Truth.
However, the information itself is very implausible, hundred-years old people don’t get children. And it is incoherent: becoming a father at the age of hundred doesn’t match our belief system.
Now we have to weigh out all these considerations and come to a decision about whether or not we should take this information in to our belief system. When God speaks, we are left with no choice but to do that. But if anyone else were to come up with this information, we’d presumably not do it, because the missing coherence and the lacking plausibility would be overwhelming.
The problem for epistemology consists of how to weigh out these three factors against each other.

*****

It must be clearly emphasised that neither the interviewer nor Hartmann believe in the historicity of this story between God and Abraham. It is only used as an illustration for epistemological (i.e. knowledge-related) problems.

As a progressive Christian, I consider that this written tradition has shown up rather late so that its historical foundations are uncertain.

Still, from the standpoint of the philosophy of religion it represents a vital text and lies at the very core of the “leap of faith” of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

For that reason, I want to go into Hartmann’s interpretation for I believe that it illustrates a widespread misunderstanding among modern intellectuals.

I am concerned with the following sentence I underscored:

However, the information itself is very implausible, hundred-years old people don’t get children. And it is incoherent: becoming a father at the age of hundred doesn’t match our belief system.

According to Hartmann’s explanation, it looks like as if the Lord had told to Abraham: “Soon you’ll get a kid in a wholly natural way.”

And in that case I can figure out why there would be a logical conflict.

But this isn’t what we find in the original narrative:

Background knowledge: hundred years old people don’t get children in a natural way.

New information:a mighty supernatural being promised to Abraham that he would become father through a miracle.

Put that way, there is no longer any obvious logical tension.

The “father of faith” can only conclude out of his prior experience (and that of countless other people) that such an event would be extremely unlikely under purely natural circumstances.

This doesn’t say anything about God’s abilities to bring about the promised son in another way.

Interestingly enough, one could say the same thing about advanced aliens who would make the same assertion.

The utter natural implausibility of such a birth is absolutely no argument against the possibility that superior creatures might be able to perform it.

Did ancient people believe in miracles because they didn’t understand well natural processes?

A closely related misconception consists of thinking that religious people from the past believed in miracles because their knowledge of the laws of Nature was extremely limited.

As C.S. Lewis pointed out, it is misleading to say that the first Christians believed in the virgin birth of Jesus because they didn’t know how pregnancy works.

On the contrary, they were very well aware of these states of affairs and viewed this event as God’s intervention for that very reason.

Saint Joseph would not have come to the thought of repudiating his fiancée if he hadn’t known that a pregnancy without prior sexual intercourses goes against the laws of nature.

Although professor Hartmann is doubtlessly an extremely intelligent person, I think he missed the main point.

Are we open to the existence of a God whose actions do not always correspond to the regular patterns of nature? And whose preferences might not always been understood by human reason?

 

But as progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser argued, I think that the true epistemological and moral conflict only begins when God demands Abraham many years later to sacrifice his son, which overthrows very deep moral intuitions.

Like the earlier German philosopher Immanual Kant, Rauser strongly doubts that such a command is compatible with God’s perfection.

Recovering from the Conservative apologetic industry

Randy Harman has just published his fascinating testimony about his experiences as a former Conservative Evangelical apologist.

Part 1

Part 2

part 3

He told us from the very beginning that ” Just as it is easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater, these posts are in no way an attempt to say apologetics as a whole is a pointless discipline, nor are they intended to say that by defining myself as an “ex-apologist” I refuse any rational argumentation or apologetic endeavors.

I am an apologist in so far as it is a “tool” in my belt, not a vocation or an identity.”

In what follows I have copied some of the passages which I find the most profound and insightful.

Reason did little to strengthen my faith, despite my repeated claim that it “saved it.” It just turned me into a jerk with a lot of ammo–a jerk who merely pretended to have things put together by the overwhelming evidence of Christianity but, in reality, who was more assuredly as confused, carnal, and lost as the person I was insistent to win over to Christ through rigorous argumentation.

The doubts that I dealt with ten years ago are the same doubts that I deal with now, albeit in different ways sometimes and I routinely pray, not read, for faith. Rationalism never quenches the thirst of doubt; it only masquerades it.

Apologetics did not save my faith. It saved my pride.”

  • Why is it that so many are threatened when popular boundaries are brought into question by none other than fellow Christians?
  • Why is it, as I have seen personally, so many apologists turn out to be jerks, little different in rhetoric and spirit than the New Atheists they so fervently wish to counter?

As the late Stan Grenz and John Franke note in their tremendous book Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context, it is somewhat ironic that modernist thinking has extended so far in both the directions of the “godless” and the “godly.” For every atheist that’s incorrigibly committed to the truth of his philosophical naturalism there is an evangelical incorrigibly committed to his theism in such a way that neither one lacks the need to feel absolutely certain.

For these evangelicals, conviction leaves no room for doubt, and so in popular Christian apologetics doubt is something to be assuaged with answers

I find beauty in the multitude of voices, for the truth is sometimes life does seem nihilistic and we need Ecclesiastes to stand beside us or Job to yell at God with us;

I find beauty in reading Scripture primarily to save my soul and teach me how to live like and within Christ, not in teaching me what to believe and how to think about Christ.

My last two posts (here and here) dealt with my testimony as a trained apologist and a transformation that took place when I allowed myself to really stop thinking of faith as a science. This post still deals with what I find to be a strange irony in the discipline of apologetics, namely, the insistence on a “rational and well thought out” faith with the insistence on upholding scriptural inerrancy and creationism.

To that end, I have to confess that I am incredibly bothered by the fact that the popular apologetics movement laments the 75% of students who leave the faith (they say, “because they don’t have intellectual answers for what they believe”) and yet they demand that one cannot embrace certain conclusions of their disciplines, no matter how well thought out and evidenced.

It is my conviction that when we insist that young people have to choose between evolution and God or the critical results of scholarship and faith, we are not at all helping students overcome some of the intellectual barriers and questions they might have. Rather, we contribute to the swath of students who find Christianity to be opposed to reason.

I have watched too many friends abandon all trust in God because they were told they need to choose between the boundaries set by evangelical apologetics and science.

Though he is still more conservative than I am, I agree with most he has written.

I also want to point out that the enlightenment leaves us with a false dichotomy, namely:

1) having no grounds for thinking that Christianity is true, therefore pretending to know what you don’t know

2) having a Christian faith warranted by evidential arguments in the same way our belief in the theory of universal gravitation is warranted.

Unlike the claims of anti-theists, there are many Evangelicals who think that their faith is grounded on reason and evidence, thereby rejecting 2).

But I think that one option has been utterly left out.

3) Faith does not mean pretending to know what you don’t know, but to passionately hope in something even if the evidence is not sufficient.

I certainly believe there are good arguments against materialism and intriguing ones for the existence of a supernatural realm and theism.

Yet I also recognize that all these arguments (as well as those for atheism) depends on some postulates which cannot be proven and whose acceptance might very well strongly hinge on one’s own psychological make up.

Let us also consider the need of intellectually humility emphasized by Einstein:

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of “humility.” that is to say the warranted conclusion that there might very well be many things our minds cannot fathom.

I think we have good grounds for concluding that many of our ideas about ultimate reality are pretty tentative and should never be made absolute.

But there is nothing which prevents us from passionately hoping in their truth.

Actually I know no human being who can practically live without hoping in many things he cannot asses the likelihood of.

Do you?

 

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A mathematical proof of Bayesianism?

This is going to be another boring post (at least for most people who are not nerds).

However before approaching interesting questions such as the existence of God, morality and history a sound epistemology (theory of knowledge) must already be present. During most (heated) debates between theists and atheists, people tend to take for granted many epistemological principles which are very questionable.

This is why I spend a certain amount of my time exploring such questions, as a groundwork for more applied discussions.

I highly recommand all my reader to first read my two other posts on the concept of probability before reading what follows.

Bayesianism is a theory of knowledge according to which our degrees of belief in theories are well defined probabilities taking on values between 0 and 1.

According to this view, saying that string theory has a probability of 0.2 to be true is as meaningful as saying that a normal dice randomly thrown has a probability of 1/6 to produce a “3”.

Bayesians like asserting over and over again that it is mathematically proven to say we ought to compute the likelihood of all beliefs according to the laws of probability and first and foremost Bayes formula:

BayesGeneral

Here I want to debunk this popular assertion. Bayes theorem can be mathematically proven for frequential probabilities but there is no such proof that ALL our degrees of belief behave that way.

Let us consider (as an example) the American population (360 millions people) and two features a person might have.

CE (Conservative Evangelical): the individual believes that the Bible contains no error.

God-said-it-believe-it-1

FH (Fag Hating): the individual passionately hates gay people.

homobashing

Let us suppose that 30% of Americans are CE and that 5.8% of Americans hate homosexuals.

The frequencies are f(CE) = 0.30 and f(FH) = 0.058

Let us now consider a random event: you meet an American by chance.
What is the probability that you meet a CE person and what is the probability that you meet a FH individual?
According to a frequentist interpretation, the probability equals the frequency of meeting such kinds of persons given a very great (actually infinite) number of encounters.
From this it naturally follows that p(CE) = f(CE) = 0.30 and p(FH) = f(FH) = 0.058

Let us now introduce the concept of conditional probability: if you meet a Conservative Evangelical, what is the probability that he hates faggots p(FH|CE)? (the | stands for „given“).

If you meet a fag-hating person, what is the probability that he believes in Biblical inerrancy p(CE|FH)?

To answer these questions (thereby proving Bayes theorem) it is necessary to get back to our consideration of frequencies.

Let us consider that 10% of all Conservative Evangelicals and 4% of people who are not CE hate faggots: f(FH/CE) = 0.1 and f(FH/CE) = 0.04. The symbol ⌐ stands for the negation (denial) of a proposition.

The proportion of Americans who are both conservative Evangelicals and fag-haters is f(FHCE) = f(FH/CE)*f(CE) = 0.1*0.3 = 0.03.

The proportion of Americans who are NOT conservative Evangelicals but fag-haters is f(FH∩⌐CE) = f(FH/⌐CE)*f(⌐CE) = 0.04*0.7 = 0.028.

Logically the frequency of fag-haters in the whole American population is equal to the sum of the two proportions:

f(FH) = f(FHCE) + f(FH∩⌐CE) = 0.03 + 0.028 = 0.058

But what if we are interested to know the probability that a person is a conservative Evangelical IF that person hates queers p(CE|FH)?

This corresponds to the frequency(proportion) of Conservative Evangelicals among Fag-Haters: f(CE|FH).

We know that f(FHCE) = f(CE∩FH) = f(CE|FH)*f(FH)

Thus f(CE|FH) = f(FH∩CE) / f(FH)

FagBayesFrequencies

Given a frequentist interpretation of probability, this entails that

FagBayes

which is of course Bayes theorem. We have mathematically proven it in this particular case but the rigorous mathematical demonstration would be pretty much the same given events expressable as frequencies.

If you meet an American who hates gays, the probability that he is a Conservative Evangalical is 51.72% (given the validity of my starting values above).

But let us now consider the Bayesian interpretation of probability (our degree of confidence in a theory) in a context having nothing to do with frequencies.

Let S be “String theory is true“ and UEP “an Undead Elementary Particle has been detected during an experience in the LHC“.

StringTheory

In that context, the probabilities correspond to our confidence in the truth of theories and hypotheses.

We have no compelling grounds for thinking that

StringBayes

, that is to say that is the way our brains actually work or ought to work that way in order to strive for truth.

The mathematical demonstration used to prove Bayes theorem relies on related frequencies and cannot be employed in a context where propositions (such as S and UEP) cannot be understood as frequencies.
Considering ALL our degrees of beliefs like probabilities is a philosophical decision and not an inevitable result of mathematics.

I hope that I have been not too boring for lay people.

Now I have a homework for you: what is the probability that Homeschooling Parents would like to employ my post as an introduction to probability interpretation, given that they live in the Bible Belt  p(HP|BB)?

Image Of Thomas Bayes

On the ontology of the objective Bayesian probability interpretation

Warning: this post is going to analyse mathematical concepts and will most likely cause intense headaches to non-mathematical brains.

Image

 At the beginning I wanted to make it understandable for lay people before I realized I am not the right man for such a huge task.

I considered it necessary to write it since Bayesian considerations plays a very important role in many scientific and philosophical fields, including metaphysic problems such as the existence of God.

Basically, objective Bayesianism is a theory of knowledge according to which probabilities are degrees of belief (and vice-versa) whose values can be objectively identified by every rational agent disposing of the same information.

It stands in opposition to frequentism which stipulates that the probability of an event is identical with the frequency of a great (nearly infinite) number of events.

I illustrated how this plays out in a previous post.

The name of the philosophy stems from Bayes theorem which stipulates that

Image

where P(A|B) is the probability of an event A given an event B, B the probability of the event B given the event A, P(A) and P(B) the total probabilities of the event A and B, respectively.

At that point, it is important to realize that the Bayesian identification of these probabilities with degrees of belief in the hypotheses A and B is a philosophical decision and not a mathematical result, as many Bayesians seem to believe.

Bayes theorem is utilized to actualize the probability of the theory A as new data (the truth of B) come in. Unless one believes in infinite regress, there is going to be basic probabilities called priors which cannot themselves be deduced from former probabilities or likelihoods.

Here I want to go into two closely related problems of Bayesian epistemology, namely those of the ontological nature of these probabilities and the values one objectively assigns to them.

Let us consider that I throw a coin in the air. My degree of belief (1/2) it will land on heads is a subjective brain state which may (or should) be related to a frequency of action if betting money is involved.

But let us now consider the young Isaac Newton who was considering his newly developed theory of universal gravitation. What value should his degree of belief have taken on BEFORE he had begun to consider the first data of the real world?

Image

The great science philosopher Elliot Sobert wrote this about this particular situation:

Newton’s universal law of gravitation, when suitably supplemented with plausible background assumptions, can be said to confer probabilities on observations. But what does it mean to say that the law has a probability in the light of those observations? More puzzling still is the idea that it has a probability before any observations are taken into account. If God chose the laws of nature by drawing slips of paper from an urn, it would make sense to say that Newton’s law has an objective prior. But no one believes this process model, and nothing similar seems remotely plausible.”

Frequentism provides us with well-defined probabilities in many situations. The likelihood of getting a coin coming down as heads is identical with the frequency of this event if I were to repeat it an infinite number of times and the central limit theorem guarantees that one gets an increasingly better approximation of this quantity with a growing number of trials.

But what does the likelihood of the theory of universal gravitation being 2%, 5% or 15% mean?

And once one has come up with a definition one thinks to be valid, what is the objective value for the probability prior to any observation being taken into account?

I could not find any answer in the Bayesian papers I have read until now, these questions are apparently best ignored. But to my mind they are very important if you pretend to be building up a theory of knowledge based on probabilities.

 

Next episode: a mathematical proof of Bayesianism?

 

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Why probabilities matter

 

images

In real life, it’s pretty rare (some would even say utterly impossible) to be sure of anything at all, like knowing it’s going to rain in one hour, that a conservative president is going to be elected, that you will be happily married in two years and so on and so forth.

We all recognize that it is only meaningful to speak of the probability or likelihood of each of these events.

The question of how to interpret their profound nature (ontoloy) is however, far from being an easy one.

I will use the basic proposition: if I roll the dice, there is a probability of 1/6 I will get a 3 in order to illustrate the two main interpretation of the probability concept out there.

1. Frequentism

According to this interpretation, the probability of an event equals its frequency if it is repeated an infinite number of times. If you roll a dice a great number of time, the frequency of the event (that is the number of 3s divided by the total number of rollings) will converge towards 1/6.

Mathematically it is a well defined concept and in many cases it can be relatively easily approximated. One of the main difficulties is that it apparently fails to account for the likelihood of unique situations, such as that (as far as we know in 2013) the Republicans are going to win the next American elections.

This brings us to the next popular interpretation of probability.

2. Bayesianism

For Bayesians, probabilities are degrees of belief and each degree of belief is a probability.

My degree of belief that the dice will fall onto 3 is 1/6.

But what is then a „degree of belief“? It is a psychological mind state which is correlated with a certain readiness for action.

According to many proponents of Bayenianism, degrees of belief are objective in so far that every rational creature disposing of a set of information would have exactly the same.

While such a claim is largely defensible for many situations such as the rolling of dices, the spread of a disaease or the results of the next elections, there are cases where it does not seem to make any sense at all.

Take for exampling the young Isaac Newton who was considering his newly developed theory of universal gravitation. What value should his degree of belief have taken on BEFORE he had begun to consider the first data of the real world?

applenewton1

And what would it mean ontologically to say that we have a degree of belief of 60% that the theory is true? What is the relation (in that particular situation) between the intensity of certain brain processes and the objective reality?

Such considerations have led other Bayesians to give up objectivity and define „degrees of belief“ as subjective states of mind, which might however be objectively constrained in many situations.

Another criticism of (strong) Bayesianism is that it ties the concept of probability to the belief of intelligent creatures. Yet it is clear that even in an universe lacking conscious beings, the probability of the decay of an atom and of more fundamental quantum processes would still exist and be meaningful.

For completeness, I should mention the propensity interpretation of Karl Popper who viewed the likelihood of an event as an intrinsic tendency of a physical system to tend towards a certain state of affairs.

 

So this was my completely unbiased (pun intended!) views on probabilities.

When debating (and fighting!) each other, theists and atheists tend to take their own epistemology (theory of knowledge) as granted.

This often leads to fruitless and idle discussions.

This is why I want to take the time to examine how we can know, what it means to know, before discussing what we can (and cannot) know.

 theres-probably-no-god.jpg?w=500&h=283

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Next episod: Naked Bayesianism.

On the Self Consistency of Reductive Materialism / Über die Selbstkonsistenz des reduktiven Materialismus (Unten)

On the Self Consistency of Reductive Materialism

 

Reductive Materialism (RM) is the belief that everything which is real is identical to interacting particles.

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It is most likely the most popular form of atheism among Western elites.

The existence of truth has always been a problem for Reductive Materialism (RM), but I think a specific, obvious example suffices to show its self-defeating character.

My argument is described below.

1| everything which is real is identical to interacting articles(premise for the reduction)

2| the fact of RM is real

3| therefore the fact of RM is IDENTICAL to a specific set of particles in energy fields

4| not only can we not conceive of this, but the very idea of seeking for such a bunch of particles in the universe sounds utterly absurd

5| therefore RM is an utterly absurd worldview

Now I’m trying to consider all possible objections.

A proponent of RM might reject 2) but then her own worldview would become meaningless.

My guess is that all attacks will be concentrated on step 4|, she will tell me that there does exist a set of elementary particles identical to the truth of RM.

The best answer I could think of would be that the fact of RM is identical with all the matter in the entire universe. But there is a huge problem here: all the particles of the universe (or of the multiverse for that matter) do not contain in themselves the information they are alone and lonesome.

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For the existence of all this particles forbids us by no means to think there are transcendent universes with transcendent laws of nature.

Therefore the (alleged) fact everything which is real is identical interacting particles cannot be identical to all existing material things because this don’t make the existence of other realms unlikely.

Now materialists might respond that the fact of reductive materialism is real and can be identified with a bunch of processes going on within human brains.

I would gladly accept the fact that the truth of materialism only exists within the brains of materialists.

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Über die Selbstkonsistenz des reduktiven Materialismus

 

Der reduktive Materialismus (RM) ist der Glaube, dass alles, was real ist, mit wechselwirkenden Teilchen identisch ist.

Das ist höchstwahrscheinlich die beliebteste Form des Atheismus unter der westlichen Elite.

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Die Existenz der Wahrheit ist immer ein Problem für den Reduktiven Materialismus (RM) gewesen, aber ich denke, dass ein besonderes, offensichtliches Beispiel seinen selbstzerstörenden Charakter offenlegt.

Mein Argument beschreibe ich in den folgenden Zeilen.

1| alles, was real ist, ist mit wechselwirkenden Teilchen identisch (Annahme für die Reductio Ad Absurdum)

2| die Wahrheit des RM ist real

3|deswegen ist die Wahrheit des RM mit einem spezifischen Satz von Partikeln in Energiefeldern identisch

4|wir können das gar nicht auffassen und die Idee selbst, nach einem solchen Haufen von Partikeln im Universum zu suchen, scheint völlig absurd zu sein

5| deshalb ist der RM eine völlig absurde Weltanschauung.

Nun versuche ich, all die möglichen Einwände zu berücksichtigen.

Eine Anhängering vom RM könnte 2| ablehnen, aber dann würde ihre eigene Weltanschauung sinnlos werden.

Ich errate, dass alle Einwände sich auf den vierten Schritt 4| konzentrieren werden, sie wird mir sagen, dass es wirklich einen solchen Satz von Partikeln gibt, der mit der Wahrheit des RM identisch ist.

Die beste Antwort, die mir eingefallen ist, wäre, dass die Wahrheit von RM mit der ganzen Materie des gesamten Universums identisch ist.
Aber es gibt ein riesiges Problem hier: all die Teilchen des Universums (oder des Multiversums, wenn man so will) enthalten nicht in ihnen die Information, dass sie allein und einsam sind.

Denn die Existenz all dieser Partikel verbietet uns keineswegs, zu denken, dass es transzendente Universen mit transzendenten Naturgesetzen gibt.

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Deswegen kann die vermeintliche Wahrheit „Alles, was real ist, ist mit wechselwirkenden Teilchen identisch“ nicht mit allen existierenden materiellen Dingen identisch sein, weil  sie uns keinesfalls zeigen, dass die Existenz von anderen, transzendenten Welten unwahrscheinlich wäre.

Nun könnten Materialisten darauf antworten, dass die Wahrheit des reduktiven Materialismus real ist und mit einer gewissen Anzahl von Hirnprozessen identifiziert werden kann.

Ganz froh akzeptiere ich die Tatsache, dass die Wahrheit des Materialismus nur in den Gehirnen von Materialisten existiert.

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