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Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

William Lane Craig and logical fallacies

by Massimo Pigliucci
Recently a reader posted this video on my Facebook page, asking me what I thought of it. It features theologian extraordinaire William Lane Craig calling Richard Dawkins to task for committing the genetic fallacy.
I’ve had the pleasure of debating Craig twice, a number of years ago. I think it is fair to say that the first debate (on the existence of god) was a draw (it was my very first). During the second (on the existence of the Christian god) I wiped the floor with Craig’s ass, repeatedly. Apparently, by that time I had gotten a degree in philosophy, I knew much more about his rhetorical tricks and pomposity (“Surely, Prof. Pigliucci does not believe that...” — implying that if I believed it, I was a certifiable idiot).
Back to the fallacy stuff. The first segment of the video shows Dawkins addressing someone in the audience who had just told him that his belief in god is no delusion, to which Dawkins replies: “If you had been born in India, I dare say you would be saying the same thing about Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva; if you had been born in Afghanistan I dare say you would be saying the same thing about Allah.” And so on, you get the gist. (The “I dare say” is just as annoying as Craig’s “Surely,” but we’ll let it pass.)
Forward to time stamp 0:37 and you see Craig appearing on the screen, eloquently explaining to us that Dawkins just committed the genetic fallacy, dismissing belief in god because of the way it comes about (i.e., because of its origin). Of course, Dawkins does no such thing, and Craig lands himself straight in the mud of really really bad reasoning.
First, let’s see what the genetic fallacy actually is. The Fallacy Files, an excellent resource on all matters fallacious, classifies it under “informal fallacies” (bear this in mind, it’s important), and particularly as a sub-class of Red Herring, related to the Straw Man and Bandwagon fallacies. The site defines the genetic fallacy as “the most general fallacy of irrelevancy involving the origins or history of an idea. It is fallacious to either endorse or condemn an idea based on its past — rather than on its present — merits or demerits.”
Craig is therefore claiming that Dawkins is dismissing the idea of god just because the guy in the audience believes in a particular god as a result of happenstance (i.e., the fact that he was born at a particular time in a particular place). But a first rule in philosophy (as opposed to sophistry) is that one always interprets an opponent’s argument in the most charitable way, to avoid setting up straw men. Had Craig followed this basic rule of intellectually honest discourse he would have acknowledged that Dawkins’ point was simply to show the arbitrariness of specific religious beliefs. Even if gods exist, it should give one pause that people fervently believe in their own “true” god simply because of an historical accident.
But in fact, this isn’t all there is to the genetic fallacy. The Fallacy Files adds an important caveat to the definition, often neglected by sophists: “unless its past in some way affects its present value.” In other words, there are situations where invoking the origin of an idea or belief is actually pertinent to the discussion, and does not constitute a fallacy at all. This sort of qualification is what makes the genetic (and many, many other fallacies) an informal fallacy, as opposed to formal ones, where there are no qualifications and the reasoning is always bad (an example is affirming the consequent: If p then q. q. Therefore, p — there ain’t no saving this one).
Moreover, Craig goes on to engage in some really bad reasoning of his own (time stamp 1:18). He says (correctly) that psychologists have shown that young children looking at an object disappearing behind a screen and then reappearing at the end of it have the belief that the object continued to exist all along, an example of belief that is hard wired in the human brain. At 1:40 Craig claims (again, correctly) that nobody would say that that belief is false just because it is hard wired, but then immediately proceeds to claim that, similarly, some studies show that belief in god is hard wired (they don’t), and that (1:49) he is “inclined to view this [hard wired belief] as god’s provision.”
To begin with, it doesn’t matter at all what Craig is inclined to believe, inclinations are not arguments. Second, it simply doesn’t follow that because one hard wired belief is true another one also is true (bonus points if you can name that fallacy). For instance, research shows that most people have awful instincts when it comes to probability theory, repeatedly making wrong guesses when it comes to estimating the likelihoods of different outcomes. But perhaps that hardwired belief was also implanted by gods, so that casinos and state lotteries can make a buck.
Lastly, it isn’t clear what hardwired beliefs have to do with Dawkins’ original argument, since he wasn’t talking about that at all, but rather about cultural (i.e., environmental) influences, sort of the opposite of hardwired ones. Unless Craig was somehow trying to say that both cultural and hardwired beliefs are well, beliefs, and should be treated analogously. But in that case he would run straight into a contradiction, because he is now saying that it’s okay for him to be “inclined” to believe that the (actually non existent) hardwired belief in god is the result of god’s will, but is denying Dawkins’ the complementary move of dismissing a belief on the grounds of its (cultural) origin. What a mess! All throughout, of course, Craig appears very convincing because he is highly polished and self assured, and he wears a nice suit (though I question his taste in ties, but I digress — and no, my dislike of Craig’s tie is not meant as an argument against his beliefs).
And you know what the icing on the cake is? At 1:58 Craig actually demands an argument from his opponent (who, I take it, happened to be developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert) to show that god doesn’t exist, when in fact it is Craig (or any other apologist) who owes us an argument for believing in imaginary beings for which there isn’t a single shred of evidence. I’m an a-theist in the same sense in which I’m an a-unicornist, because I don’t see any evidence for the existence of unicorns, and if you are a unicornist, you owe me that evidence, I don’t owe you anything at all, as “any intro to philosophy student” (0:51) ought to know.

94 comments:

  1. Massimo: Aren't Environmental and Cultural factors the elephant in the room when it comes to our understanding of Genetics? How can we be sure they are not "hardwired"? Could they not be the behavioral phenotypes with some foundation or universality just like Grammar or Morality (the latter being more controversial)?

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  2. it simply doesn’t follow that because one hard wired belief is true another one also is true (bonus points if you can name that fallacy).

    Weak analogy, anecdotal fallacy?

    I have a hard time believing your first debate with Craig was "a draw"/ Perhaps because I do not understand how these debates are won, lost, or are considered a tie. Even if Craig is using formal logic well, his premises are unproven. If you start with wrong data you will reach wrong conclusions even if your logical tool use is impeccable. Perhaps I just don't have a lot of admiration for rhetorical skills.

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  3. Excellent write up.

    I think Dawkin's "dare say" is somewhat justified - even if it is annoying. Saying "If you were born in India you would be a Hindu" is a bit presumptuous, it should to be a probabilistic statement.

    But I come from the north of England and we tend not to use "Dare say".

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  4. Massimo,

    I'm looking for a text to help me recognize logical fallacies in thinking and conversation: is there a book or a series you would suggest? While Fallacy Files looks wonderful, I haven't had any classes in logic or philosophy, so I feel I need somewhere to start.

    I thoroughly enjoy the blog! Thanks!

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  5. Roshan,

    not sure what you mean. "Hardwired" in this context means genetically determined, which environmental influences are not, by definition. Unless you mean that the genotype has intrinsic plasticity, so that the way organisms respond to environments is limited by their genetic makeup. That is correct, indeed it was my field of research when I was a practicing biologist.

    Adriana,

    debates, unfortunately, are won only in part because of logic or evidence. A lot hinges on likability and rhetorical skills, which is something that a lot of my colleagues don't seem to understand, and regularly gets them in trouble.

    apotheosis00,

    try this one: http://goo.gl/Oa6sw I use it for my critical reasoning class at CUNY.

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  6. In Behavioral sciences and Psychiatry and as an extension any concepts dealing with the Mind, aren't we be reductionistic in assuming that certain things are hardwired? What are "hardwired" beliefs? Can they not be changed when one starts to doubt,which in itself is a part of belief. Are you referring to temperaments or certain traits like open-mindedness, suggestibility; even these traits are plastic based on environments and cultures. What I was trying to state was the dearth of studies when it comes to understanding the Biology of Culture (esp. how plastic our beliefs could be based on our upbringning), not to mention the advances in Neuroscience referring to not only Neuroplasticity but also Neurogenesis. How to translate these advances to the environmental and cultural factors remains the holy grail, doesn't it?

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  7. Well, this is rather tangential to the post, but there is a large literature on innate human behavior, like the experiments on infants' expectations about physics that Craig was referring to. Hard to imagine that that sort of response isn't hardwired.

    I don't have a problem with reductionism, when it's not greedy. There are emergent properties, and there are complex interactions, but some things are indeed more or less hardwired, even in humans.

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  8. Nicely put. Another garden-variety sophist dealt with nicely. The genetic fallacy is very frustrating to be accused of, because it ought to be obvious that the causal origin of some idea is almost always extremely important. I've only actually seen a *fallacious* genetic "fallacy" once.

    Yudkowsky is fond of saying that knowing a little about fallacies can hurt you, because it gives you a toolbox of Fully General Arguments to deploy against any idea you dislike. I have seen this happen to people.

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  9. Massimo,

    “Had Craig followed this basic rule of intellectually honest discourse he would have acknowledged that Dawkins’ point was simply to show the arbitrariness of specific religious beliefs.”

    Yes, I think I agree with you here, though I may want to construe Dawkins' comments as concerning religious experiences and the inductive connection they may have to religious beliefs (note his inquirer's comment: he appeals to his subjective experiences in an attempt to justify his belief in the Christian god). In his many debates, Craig employs the argument from religious experiences for the existence of the Christian god, which goes something like this:

    If I do not have a defeater for my religious experiences, then they confirm my belief in the Christian god; I do not have defeater for my religious experiences; Thus, they confirm my belief in the Christian god.

    Of course, the occurrence of similar religious experiences in other agents who purport that their experiences confirm theistic beliefs that are inconsistent with belief in the Christian god does provide a defeater for the veridicality of Craig's (and other Christians') religious experiences.

    Re: “Second, it simply doesn’t follow that because one hard wired belief is true another one also is true (bonus points if you can name that fallacy).”

    Craig here commits a hasty generalization (or hasty induction).

    Ian,

    Re: genetic fallacies.

    Marxists have in detailed ways constructed a vast portion of their ideological edifice upon base genetic fallacies. As for the causal origin of arguments and beliefs, it holds no relevance for (1) the validity and soundness of arguments or (2) the truth of beliefs. Craig's argument from religious experiences, e.g., is not unsound because of his theistic preconceptions and cultural influences. Rather, it is unsound because of defeaters which disconfirm his conclusion.

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  10. Dawkins says "I dare say" quite a lot, because he is an upper-middle class Englishman of a certain age. He doesn't mean anything by it.

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  11. Yes, I know, but it's still a bit annoying.

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  12. Correct me if I'm wrong, but there might have been a mix up in this blog post? The Youtube clip consists of different (confusing) sequences, and the one starting at 0:51 is where Craig is addressing Lewis Wolpert in a debate (i recognize the chairs behind him).

    I don't think there has been any duel between Dawkins and Craig, yet.

    /Cecilia

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  13. Cecilia,

    yes, the Craig video is from a Wolpert debate, but Craig is clearly referring to Dawkins' argument. I don't actually know who put the video together.

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  14. Cecilia,
    yes, the Craig video is from a Wolpert debate, but Craig is clearly referring to Dawkins' argument. I don't actually know who put the video together.


    Hm, what do you mean? Surely (!) Craig must have addressed Wolpert there? (Obviously, the person who put the Youtube video together wanted to give the impression that Craig was addressing Dawkins)

    /Cecilia

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  15. Cecilia,

    yes, Craig was probably addressing Wolpert. I assume that Wolpert had made essentially the same argument as Dawkins, as Craig is almost verbatim repeating some of Dawkins' words (and he uses the word "delusion," presumably referring to religious belief).

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  16. it simply doesn’t follow that because one hard wired belief is true another one also is true (bonus points if you can name that fallacy)

    It could be a hasty generalisation.

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  17. Hi Massimo, was that a non-sequitur? Rougthly translated as 'it doesn't follow'.
    I don't have a problem with Dawkins 'I dare say that' it's an educated way of saying 'You'd probably have been'. Granted, I'm envious of his Oxford education and status, but that's neither here nor there. :)

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  18. "I don’t owe you anything at all, as “any intro to philosophy student” (0:51) ought to know."
    Antony Flew - The Presumption Of Atheism", right?

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  19. Well, I wasn't thinking of Flew, but yes, that would fit!

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  20. I do not have a problem with how Dawkins uses "I dare say" in that example but, generally, it is not good to use such terms in philosophy or a debate. Terms like 'Surely', 'I dare say', or (the big one) 'It is intuitive that' are buzz words that will draw the attention of a trained philosopher. In a lot of occasions philosophers will use those terms to try to get the reader to accept something without justification. So, if you are looking for a spot to attack a paper on first glance, those terms are a beacon to start there.

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  21. Cecilia,

    there has been a team debate between WLC and RD. The teams were Matt Ridley, Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer facing David Wolpe, William Lane Craig and Douglas Geivett. The topic was "Does the Universe have a Purpose?"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6tIee8FwX8

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  22. Had Craig followed this basic rule of intellectually honest discourse he would have acknowledged that Dawkins’ point was simply to show the arbitrariness of specific religious beliefs.

    It certainly seems to me that, even being charitable, Dawkins was indeed trying to say that theism is false. The questioner said "my belief is not a delusion," and Dawkins responded with his retort: "Had you been born India...etc." Therefore...what? Therefore nothing, is the correct answer.

    In other words, there are situations where invoking the origin of an idea or belief is actually pertinent to the discussion, and does not constitute a fallacy at all.

    Right, but it isn't relevant to whether God exists or not. Which is what Dawkins was talknig about. Merely bringing up that a fallacy is sometimes not a fallacy is not enough; you need to show how it applies to this particular situation.

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  23. Massimo, I have a question that's kind of tangential. Which is the more philosophically sound position: A) there is no god B) there probably is no god C) I can't say if there is or isn't a god

    (Let's say god can be anything from a personal god to a deistic god.)

    If you can just tell me A, B, or C, I can work backward from there. Thanks

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  24. D) there is a god.

    Work back from that.

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  25. Martin,

    The gentleman said 'Sir, what do you have to say because I assure you for my life it [belief in god] has been no delusion.' I presume that the gentleman asserted that his belief in the Christian god is not delusory *because* various experiences [I interpret 'for my life' as 'based on experiences which I have had'] lend credence to his belief (i.e. on the experiences, his belief is more probably true than not).

    Instead of a genetic fallacy, a charitable interpretation shows that Dawkins' response highlights the likelihood that such subjective religious experiences do not lend inductive support to any particular theistic belief(s), and that agents interpret such subjective experiences via previously held theistic beliefs or, if not believers, via the theistic framework which may happen to predominate (e.g., Mormonism in Utah and Islam in Egypt).

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  26. Dear Massimo

    I have now found the speech from L Wolpert,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X33rNZ3zvHk&feature=related (mostly about how belief in God makes us feel better)

    which W Craig is responding to here (at 3:27)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCmC-OMkyKU&feature=related

    What I'm commenting on is this:

    Had Craig followed this basic rule of intellectually honest discourse he would have acknowledged that Dawkins’ point was simply to show the arbitrariness of specific religious beliefs.

    Craig is not answering that (about specific religions). He is answering Wolpert's argument about belief in God making people feeling better.

    + I am, like commentator Martin above, curious about the reason for this not being a genetic fallacy in this particular case.


    /Cecilia

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  27. Baron, thanks but I'm not interested in an obvious "joke". (At least put a little thought into it next time.)

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  28. Massimo,

    I came across your blog a few weeks ago (through an article on metaphorical thinking) and am delighted by the sort of content you and your co-writers post. Thank you all for that.

    Talking about informal fallacies, I thought you might find this slideshow I've put together useful: http://berto-meister.blogspot.com/2010/10/logical-fallacies.html . It tries to be both funny (to make the conceptual ideal sticky, hopefully) and to provide a visual understanding of the relationship and hierarchy between different sorts of fallacies.

    Cheers!

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  29. He says (correctly) that psychologists have shown that young children looking at an object disappearing behind a screen and then reappearing at the end of it have the belief that the object continued to exist all along, an example of belief that is hard wired in the human brain.

    Actually, no, object permanence doesn't develop in babies until about 9-10 months of age. (That's what the whole game of pick-a-boo is about...)

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  30. peel,

    (B), there probably is no god. (A) is a statement of certainty unwarranted in any case other than logical-mathematical truth. (c) is far too wishy washy, it would be like saying "I can't say whether there are unicorns or not."

    Cecilia,

    Wolpert (around 0:50 of part 4) is making the same argument as Dawkins. Wolpert (at 2:43) explains why people believe in god, but it is pretty clear from the context that it doesn't mean that as an argument against god's existence. For him it is reasonable to think that god doesn't exist because there is no evidence for it. Then we have a variety of other problems to address, such as "then why do so many people believe in it?" and he begins to address them.

    ildi,

    good point, though now we are getting into how tricky it is to do nature-nurture research in humans. It may still be that a behavior that begins later in life is hardwired (think of the onset of sexual maturity, for instance), so Craig is not necessarily wrong on that one. But as I said, nothing pertinent to the debate follows one way or the other.

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  31. Not to derail from the OP, but I care mainly because Craig seems to so often get away with distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings to suit his agenda.

    Hard-wired tends to imply there's no learning curve, independent of when it appears in the life cycle; e.g, reflexes. For example, there's evidence that sensitivity to looming is hard-wired; infants flinch at a very young age when they see a balloon being inflated at the same rate as a ball being thrown at them. There is definitely a learning curve with the establishment of object permanence.

    That is all...

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  32. "Well, this is rather tangential to the post, but there is a large literature on innate human behavior, like the experiments on infants' expectations about physics that Craig was referring to. Hard to imagine that that sort of response isn't hardwired."

    Massimo, have you read Rethinking Innateness? That's a (non-polemical) appeal for epigenesis from a connectionist standpoint. Well worth looking into. If you have a hard time imagining that naive physics isn't hardwired I have a somewhat difficult time imagining that it is. Specifically: what genes/neural substrates would directly implement these expectations?

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  33. One can get indirect evidence of genetic influences without being able to specify the exact genetic underpinnings. That's the way genetics works.

    As for epigenetics, it's important, but it's a way to connect genes, development and environment, not an alternative to genetics.

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  34. "One can get indirect evidence of genetic influences without being able to specify the exact genetic underpinnings."

    That, or you may have overlooked something.

    "As for epigenetics, it's important, but it's a way to connect genes, development and environment, not an alternative to genetics."

    Didn't say so.

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  35. "I've only actually seen a *fallacious* genetic "fallacy" once."

    I assume that you are not counting "ad hominem," "argument from antiquity," or "appeal to authority" fallacies. Either that or you hang around some smart folks who are nice. Usually these are just more specific forms of genetic fallacy

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  36. Massimo & Peel,

    Yes, right, certain knowledge is on offer only in maths and logics, but, depending on the conception of god under consideration, one can rationally assert (A) 'there is no god' if that conception entails a contradiction. So, e.g., if a conception of god includes the propositions (1) god is boundless and (2) god is seperate from his creation, then we can be certain that *that* god does not exist.

    I happen to hold that the standard Abrahamic conception of god is contradictory, if not hopelessly incoherent (what could it mean for some thing to be an immaterial, atemporal, non-spatially located person?); contra Plantinga and van Inwagen, I am not convinced the logical problem of evil has been resolved.

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  37. Craig limits the debate to two propositions:
    If god exists then the universe has a purpose. If god does not exist then the universe has no purpose.

    He can't lose if you accept those limits to the argument. Because of course neither one can be exclusively true.

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  38. Rather than having to prove or disprove the existence of god or gods.....could we instead talk in probabilistic terms? One can say, for instance, that the preponderance of evidence that has been generated by the various disciplines that study history and cultures,supports the view that god and/or gods appear to be cultural constructions.

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  39. Para,

    out of curiosity, which parts of their ideology have Marxists constructed "upon base genetic fallacies", and how?

    The core of the ideology is the following: human history is best understood as a series of struggles over power and the structuring of economy (class struggles); the structure of the economy around us and our place in it is a crucial determinant of our personally held ideology; there is a conflict of interest between the owners of the means of production and the employees they hire because each want a larger share of the profit cake; capitalism is inherently unstable and experiences cyclic overaccumulation crises because each owner must increase their capital base to remain competitive but thus reduces the relative rate of profit (profit/capital); capitalism is guaranteed to be overthrown because the poor must necessarily increase in numbers and become more class-conscious.

    Because none of these defining assumptions of Marxism rely on criticizing the genesis of somebody else's arguments, I fail to see how a generic fallacy can be involved even if all of these assumptions are mistaken. (And I would say that items 1 to 4 are obviously not mistaken, while #5 certainly is.)

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  40. Really enjoyed you're insights.

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  41. "(B), there probably is no god."

    I'm a little confused regarding what "probably" means in this context. I'm likely to use the same word, but if I had to justify it, I'd say that the reasoning processes used to draw the conclusion are the same ones used successfully in the material world to draw inferences that are highly reliable.

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  42. Alex,

    While tangential to the issue at hand, suffice it to say that I disagree entirely with standard Marxian analyses of economic and social phenomena (1 – 5 are false).

    That said, (4) 'the structure of the economy around us and our place in it is a crucial determinant of our personally held ideology,' while true, I would argue, in a limited and trivial sense (of course the social milieu in which we are raised affects the formation of our belief systems), has served as cause for naïve Marxists (as opposed to, say, analytical Marxists such as G.A. Cohen, John Roemer, or Jon Elster), indeed, Marx and Engels themselves, to dismiss as mere ideology arguments which purport to defend the capitalist means of production from Marxian critiques because those who formulate said arguments are of a certain socio-economic class.

    In this way, via its analysis of ideology, and in particular false consciousness, naïve Marxism finds themselves committing genetic fallacies and, eventually, delving into polylogism.

    (As an aside, I would argue that the Marxian class analysis alienates the individual from himself, pace Stirner in the 'Ego and Its Own,' and that both Marx and Engels fail to address adequately in 'The German Ideology' Stirner's criticisms.)

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  43. DJD,

    With respect to most conceptions of god, what you propose is exactly what is required. So, e.g., the preponderance of evidence makes the existence of the Olympian gods very unlikely. But, again, this turns on the particular conception of god under examination. If the conception entails or includes a contradiction, then we can be certain that that god does not exist, right?

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  44. Paraconsistent
    "But, again, this turns on the particular conception of god under examination. If the conception entails or includes a contradiction, then we can be certain that that god does not exist, right?"
    Par...can you give me an example of a particular conception of god and a contradiction entailed by that conception so that I can better grasp what you are suggesting? Thanks

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  45. DJD,

    Yes, I could (in fact, I have above): If a conception of god entails or includes, e.g., the contradictory set of propositions (1) 'god is boundless' and (2) 'god is separate from his creation,' then we can be sure that that god does not exist. Or take the logical problem of evil, as another example, which faces the Abrahamic conception of god: god is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient, yet there exists evil.

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  46. Very early in the debate between Massimo and William, On the Existence of a Christian God, William referred to an article by Massimo called, "God as a Falsifiable Hypothesis." Anyone know where I can find that article?

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  47. Paraconsistent:

    You admit that Alex's argument is "true" but call it "trivial" (after stating above it that all of his premises are false. Kind of contradictory, no?). The point I was trying to make in the previous thread (where you accused me of committing a genetic fallacy against you) is that it may seem trivial to you, but it is not trivial to everyone. History and culture matter--a lot--and the ways in which culture affects our ideologies are not always as obvious or visible as you seem to imply. The fact that history and culture influence present ideologies (which you admit is true) is a major basis for Marxist thought, so I fail to see how Marxism could be based on a genetic fallacy.

    Further, just because you disagree with Marxian analyses and critiques does not mean they "dismiss" capitalist arguments--quite the contrary, actually! Marxists are always engaged with capitalist discourses, and most of the Marxists I know are quite fond of capitalism, just not pure, unregulated capitalism.

    I am also quite curious how you could consider Marx and Engels to be "naive Marxists." How, exactly, does that work?

    Whether or not some Marxists use (or don't use) genetic fallacies in discussions or debates does not mean the entire base ideology of Marxism is a genetic fallacy. That seems to be quite the overstatement to me, almost a hasty generalization, if you will.

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  48. Para,

    I see now where you are coming from. There are indeed those who claim to be Marxism-inspired and use this angle to dismiss everything from economic arguments to natural sciences as ideology, thus insulating themselves from any contrary evidence whatsoever. That is fairly annoying, not to say stupid.

    But so are self-proclaimed rationalists who think that economics and politics can be treated like an experiment in particle physics, and that, to pick an example at random, everything Marx ever wrote should be dismissed because the Bolshevik experiment of nationalizing family farms and corner shops went bust. It is not as simple as that.

    But that is now really off topic, and I should perhaps have left out the bracketed sentence in my previous comment anyway, as this is not the thread to discuss the merits of historical materialism versus a the perception of history as a series of battles won by the shrewder general or suchlike.

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  49. Will,

    A few things first. If you read what I wrote, you will notice that I said (4) 'the structure of the economy around us and our place in it is a crucial determinant of our personally held ideology' is true in a 'limited' and trivial sense. By 'limited' I meant (4) was true in a much narrower sense than standard Marxists think that it is. By 'trivial' I meant (4), in the limited sense, is uncontroversially true, but holds no great insight- at least, no great insight not previously identified by numerous other thinkers.

    Regarding your intended point in the previous post, besides a pedantic attempt at asking me to clarify what are, for the present venue, clear-enough concepts, you made no effort to address my anti-equalitarian argument and made no attempt to defend your own equalitarian position. What you did do was make facile inferences as to my socio-economic class with the rhetorical purpose of leveling a criticism of my position on the basis of my inferred socio-economic class- i.e., you committed a genetic fallacy. (I should add that I neglected to carry on the discourse with you because of your less-than-civil treatment of the other gentleman with whom you were disagreeing.)

    Re: “Further, just because you disagree with Marxian analyses and critiques does not mean they "dismiss" capitalist arguments-”

    Of course, but I neither asserted nor implied that because I disagree with Marxian analyses they unthinkingly dismiss opposing arguments. Rather, I asserted that naïve Marxists dismiss opposing arguments on the basis that those from whom opposing arguments come are of certain socio-economic classes.

    Marx is clear that one's beliefs are determined by one's class affiliation and the economic substructure which predominates his social context. Many naïve Marxists (in fact, I would argue, most Marxists until the September Group) infer from this that opposing arguments are invalidated on the basis of one's class affiliation. E.g., when Bohm-Bawerk in 'Karl Marx and the Close of His System' (1896) called Marx out for never showing why economic goods do not exchange proportionately to the value of the labor in them (determined via wages and productive labor hours), Marxists responded with such and similar drivel:


    “As spokesman for the bourgeoisie, it enters the lists only where the bourgeoisie has practical interests to defend. In the economico-political struggles of the day it faithfully reflects the conflict of interests of the dominant cliques, but it shuns the attempt to consider the totality of social relationships, for it rightly feels that any such consideration would be incompatible with its continued existence as bourgeois economics.” - Rudolf Hilferding (Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, “Karl Marx and the Close of His System,” (New York) Kelley: p 121).

    P.S. I never called Marx and Engels 'naïve Marxists.' However, in a different way, I would argue Marx and Engels' understanding of economic phenomena was naïve (cf Marx's horrible analysis of the Corn Laws). But that is for another discussion. Any last words are for you to have.

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  50. "I’m an a-theist in the same sense in which I’m an a-unicornist, because I don’t see any evidence"

    Yes I guess one would require evidence for a unicorn which by (imagined) definition is a material confined in space and time. In most religions, Divinity, is ubiquitous without a space-time zone of absence. Science is incapable of detecting such things because things cancel out when they are on either side of an equation. If there is a God that people "imagine" about, he/she/it will not be directly captured in "evidence"....one would need indirect, logical, philosophical reasoning.

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  51. BNJ,

    granted, except that that sort of god to me is philosophically incoherent. I don't know that anyone can make sense, for instance, of a being that exists outside time and space.

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  52. :) To me He is not!
    Respects....

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  53. You see in your use of words I can fathom the depth of differences in our takes....you referred to "God" (actually I don't particularly like this label) as a "being"....in my understanding something that has come into "being" is not the Creator, but created.

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  54. I am not very sharp...kindly explain

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  55. Ah, that's an old trick. You start out with a concept of god that is so incoherent as to make no sense whatsoever, and when somebody calls you out on this, you remain comfortable in the conviction that this does not mean it does not exist, oh no sir; it means this god is simply too sublime and awesome for us to understand.

    Begging the question, anybody?

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  56. Alex SL....an old trick? Begging the question? But you never gave no counter-argument Sir...and yes reality is not determined by what we understand and what we don't....

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  57. "You start out with a concept of god that is so incoherent as to make no sense whatsoever"....incoherent? Please don't exaggerate the conclusion...and the conclusion is this: it is incoherent to YOU and one who thinks like you.

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  58. Sigh. You cannot just make things up. If you say that "science is incapable of detecting such things" you have really just said "something exists whose existence nobody can demonstrate, including myself", only in more obscure words. Assertion all the way down.

    Logic and philosophy are good for showing that something cannot exist - best known example is the married bachelor - but they cannot show that anything specific does exist. Or let me say if there is a way for pure logic, without recourse to empiricism, to demonstrate the existence of bachelors, uranium, antimatter, the quasi-void between the stars, Darwin's moth, souls, devils, angels or gods, or even just other people apart from yourself, I would certainly be curious to learn of it. But it is more likely to be word plays or fallacious reasoning. It always was so far.

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  59. A counterargument for what? What exactly are you asserting? That science is incapable of detecting objects outside of space-time? That's fine, but says nothing on the likelihood of the existence of God. Or do you mean to propose that God exists outside of space-time? If so, bring your 'indirect, logical, philosophical reasoning' for its existence.

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  60. Alex SL,

    Logic can be used to prove (weakly) that the external world exists. There is no way to empirically prove that you are not dreaming right now, so you have to resort to logic and pragmatism.

    There is no way to empirically prove that other people are conscious like you are, so you use logic and pragmatism.

    And so on...

    The idea that science is the only way to gain knowledge is called positivism, and this was essentially refuted over 50 years ago.

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  61. Natebag: "Or do you mean to propose that God exists outside of space-time?"

    Please have a careful re-read...by popular definition, God is not absent anywhere in time and space.

    Alex SL: "something exists whose existence nobody can demonstrate, including myself"

    For me, God is not a "thing". For me, it is non-sensical to even demand empiric evidence for GOD who "might" be omnipresent.

    We have learnt a lot since caveman...but there is almost no difference between him and us in terms of knowledge and skills if you could see from the perspective of all that could be known. Don't be too rash with what little you know and make absolute conclusions that only perfect knowledge can reach.

    If you are an empiricist that is unwilling to entertain anything else...even God may not be able to help you :)

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  62. Martin,

    Re: "The idea that science is the only way to gain knowledge is called positivism, and this was essentially refuted over 50 years ago."

    Now, that's not true at all. While logical positivism was problematic in important ways (the verifiability criterion of meaning, e.g.), it was not 'refuted' in the sense in which you use the term. The LPs' commitment to a scientific conception of the world, I would argue, remains dominant amongst formal epistemologists and philosophers of science. In a nut, with the LPs, many hold today that all our attempts at knowledge are subject to those standards of evidence and justification which are most explicitly displayed, and most successfully implemented, in the sciences.

    In fact, the individual who did the most to criticize LP, WVO Quine, maintained that the LPs did not go far enough in their empiricism, ergo his 'Two Dogmas' paper. Following Quine, I understand scientific methodology- broadly and properly construed- to be commensurate with, though a more rigorous application of, common empirical means and contend “… that it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described” (‘Theories and Things’ p 21). So, to draw a definitive and hard distinction between science and common ways of forming beliefs is artificial. As I said above, I think that in many respects most philosophers of science would concur with me on this point.

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  63. I think Dawkins response was an excellent way of making the point that nobody thinks their own delusions are delusions-- that the atheist has no more reason to take the 3-in-1 Jesus god seriously than the believer in such a god takes the claims of a Scientologist or equally fervent believer in some conflicting supernatural belief.

    Craig's fault-finding, tangential point, and obfuscations don't change the very salient point Dawkin's made with this comment. The origins of these beliefs are not what makes them wrong-- it's the fact that there is no evidence for any supernatural beliefs and, thus, no way to tell which if any are right and which are delusions. The most parsimonious explanation is that the believer in the audience is just as deluded about his own supernatural beliefs as he thinks those with conflicting beliefs are.

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  64. @BNJ
    If your version of god is not completely knowable by human minds than how can you be sure that what you think you know about this entity is true?

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  65. Martin,

    reading comprehension. I never claimed that science is the only way to gain knowledge. I claimed that math, logic etc. do not help you to demonstrate that something specific exists, and I stand by that. There is no way to use logic alone to do that, because it can simply show that certain conclusions follow, well, logically from certain premises. But to get the premises right, you have to look around you, and that is empiricism.

    BNJ,

    Nice for you if you have a god that is not demonstrable in any way, because then you have a god that does not matter in any way to anything we do or think. But that is not what you want to claim, is it? You want to remove your god from the realm of rational inquiry by making it incomprehensible while still using a word that is loaded with comprehensible attributes like "personal", "benevolent", "responsive", "creative", etc. That is called equivocation. If you protest that you don't, well then why do you call your non-thing god? Why not call it "Hruxblarf", to make clear that it has nothing to do with the traditional concept of gods? That would be much more honest.

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  66. "that it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described"

    For me this can be both true and false...depends on what you mean by "science". If you think science is synonymous with empiricism, then I'd disagree. It does not really matter what "most" people think....we are not doing a vote counting here. It is wisdom that should hold supreme even when only one person holds it.

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  67. Alex SL,

    "reading comprehension. "

    Indeed. I gave two counterexamples to your claim, and all you did was focus on my comment on positivism and restate your (incorrect) original claim.

    The ONLY way to prove the external world exists is via logic. Moore's "here is a hand" argument. Same goes for other minds. Empiricism can't touch these.

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  68. Martin,

    we may be talking past each other. Are you claiming that if you came into existence as a perfect logician but under complete and utter sensory deprivation, so that no empirical evidence is available to you, you could still validly conclude that there must be something apart from yourself? I find that rather hard to believe.

    I certainly accept the existence of the world around me due to inductive reasoning based on empirical evidence, which is the domain of science.

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  69. Massimo,
    Your post got me thinking about exactly what rational thinkers like yourself mean when you say evidence. It seems to me that, in general, there are certain topics that you feel warrant no investigation, because, according to you, there is no evidence that would call for such an investigation. These include unicorns, hauntings, God, prayer, and UFOs. I only want to speak to the UFO issue since you and others here have made it clear that you believe that the phenomena is not evidence based and in fact, all UFO sightings either have been explained as natural occurring phenomena or soon will be.

    In Nonsense on Stilts, you say that "people believe in ... UFOs .... for reasons that go well beyond their poor grasp of science and difficulty employing the tools of critical thinking". So, according to you, if one believes in an unidentified flying object then that person is unable to grasp the science involved in such things as basic astronomy, weather anomalies, swamp gas, etc. Furthermore, those that believe there are unidentified objects in our atmosphere, in our skies and even sometimes on our earth, are really people who can't or won't use logic and critical thinking as their guide when researching or investigating said phenomena.

    That position is completely untenable in light of the "evidence". The list of physicists, astronauts, military officers, and government officials, who maintain the phenomena is real, is quite long. Even a former head of the CIA said in a 1960 New York Times article that the Air Force was soberly concerned about the UFO issue and that there should be Congressional hearings, but that the public has been ridiculed into silence. (http://www.wanttoknow.info/600228nytimes).

    There are over 4,000 trace evidence cases from landing sites, thousands of pictures and video, many made before Photoshop. Hundreds of government documents that verify that the phenomena is not only real, but that these craft exhibit behaviors well beyond our current technology and understanding of physics,

    There’s radar imaging that have tracked these objects making right angle turns at speeds that would turn a human into jello. NASA's own videos show several instances of objects that our best scientists cannot explain. You can claim a fallacious "appeal to authority” as these people mentioned are not experts concerning UFOs, but they ARE experts in the fields of space flight, national security, defense, aviation, as well as observation and identification of unknown aircraft. There are currently and have been craft of unknown origin in our skies; that fact has been verified already at the highest levels of our Government. The evidence has led many in our military to believe that at least some of these craft pose a threat to our national security. The evidence that you claim is not there, is actually, utterly and completely overwhelming.

    Ridicule, disparagement, and ad hominem attack are the munitions of the UFO debunkers. I expect nothing less here, but I hope for a bit more. More because you and those that visit your site are smart enough to realize that if there is any truth to what I am saying, it would have a dramatic impact upon our society when officially disclosed. If you agree that it would be of major importance to our planet, then tell me why, in the face of even WEAK evidence, you and others in science and academia wouldn't be shouting for Congressional investigation? Perhaps some of your open minded followers may actually read the research, study the documents and case files, maybe watch the disclosure press conference, then come back with an honest, unbiased, opinion as to the veracity, quality, and quantity of the evidence. The issue is way too important to throw on the trash heap along with witchcraft and unicorns. Neither of those will affect my children, even if true. The UFO phenomena certainly could. That alone it is worth putting aside sarcasm and ridicule long enough to look at the evidence.
    James Clary

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  70. Alex SL,

    "I certainly accept the existence of the world around me due to inductive reasoning based on empirical evidence, which is the domain of science."

    But see, that's just the point. You can't prove the external world with empiricism, because any empirical evidence you can do could just be part of the Matrix, or your dream, or reality. You have no way of knowing. Thus, you have to use logic (and pragmatism) to "prove" that the external world is really there. It cannot be done with science. And there are a ton of assumptions like this that you probably take for granted.

    Thus logic can and does prove the existence of things.

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  71. James, sorry, I stand by what I wrote in Nonsense on Stilts. Miracles, UFOs, ghosts, telepathy and the like *have* been investigated, over and over. There are no sufficiently credible reports or physical evidence in any of these cases. And since these are all extraordinary claims, the quality of the evidence ought to be extraordinary as well, per Hume. It's not even close.

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  72. Martin
    The scientific method, or empirical method is not intended or expected to "prove" anything. If you are using the word "prove" in the same way you would in order to describe using a logical argument to "prove" something, you are expecting too much from the scientific method. That type of "prove" is merely tautological. You cannot get any conclusion that is not already contained in the premise. The conclusion is merely true by being identical with the premise. If you are going to use logic to prove your existence without empiricism, you will be forced to arbitrarily choose a premise....then the conclusion will be identical to your premise.

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  73. Martin,

    ah, I see what you are doing here. You think that logic and pragmatism are not part of science (how could it ever work, then?), while my argument is that, conversely, empirical evidence is not part of logic. You can do logic without knowing anything about the world, but you cannot do science without using all the other tools of rational inquiry in some way.

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  74. Excellent post Massimo.

    My only quibble would be to clarify that there is indeed evidence for God (Christian or otherwise) in much the same way that there is evidence of unicorns and dragons and the tooth fairy. The problem for Craig and other believers is that its just not any good. Nevertheless, as a point of accuracy and intellectual honesty, I think its important to recognize that testimony and written records are a kind of evidence all the same. Strictly speaking, worthless (which I consider to be the extreme version of inconclusive) evidence is still evidence. Although I will concede that it may be whether or not we want to recognize this point as such is a question of tactics.

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  75. "If your version of god is not completely knowable by human minds than how can you be sure that what you think you know about this entity is true?"

    I hold on to no version and no thoughts. I don't know what that entity is....what I know is what it is not. For me it is a potentiality with a will and thoughts that have the ability to manifest...though no manifestation is actually it. I know I CAN be sure, though, I must confess, I am not.

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  76. Alex SL

    "Nice for you if you have a god that is not demonstrable in any way, because then you have a god that does not matter in any way to anything we do or think."

    I don't see how you can draw that conclusion. A few hundred years ago, people couldn't demonstrate that microorganisms exist...but those microbes did affect them in many ways.


    But that is not what you want to claim, is it? You want to remove your god from the realm of rational inquiry by making it incomprehensible while still using a word that is loaded with comprehensible attributes like "personal", "benevolent", "responsive", "creative", etc. That is called equivocation.

    Brother these terms don't mean much to me...let me tell you one thing for sure...he never asked me how he wants to be revealed. In our world all true information comes with much labor, perseverance, seeking and open mind....the ultimate source of it all (if so) surely would be most challenging....on what authority do you close the door on it? Empiricism? Then you've just created a god of your own...too prematurely and too quickly.

    "If you protest that you don't, well then why do you call your non-thing god? Why not call it "Hruxblarf", to make clear that it has nothing to do with the traditional concept of gods? That would be much more honest"

    I shall reserve my response to this for a later opportune time....

    Respects

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  77. BNJ
    Alex had said: "Nice for you if you have a god that is not demonstrable in any way, because then you have a god that does not matter in any way to anything we do or think."
    You disagreed with his statement. Does it make any difference to you whether god does exist or not? If so, what difference would it make to you if god in fact existed. What significance would it have to to you if god existed.....as opposed to any significance or importance to you if god did not exist? What difference does god's existence or non existence make to you? Why do you care,one way or the other? Does it really matter to you? Why? How would things be different if god did not exist? Or, conversely, If god did exist?

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  78. Massimo,
    Al least you didn't disappoint me! And I suppose the evidence for human activity related global warming is convincing to you? Lol, you don't need to answer, I'm pretty sure I know.
    But hey, let me know if you want Stan on your podcast, I'll set it up. You could then "wipe the floor with HIS ass". What the heck was that, anyway? The comment I mean. Was that the philosophical debater version of a Blake Griffith dunk followed by a "I made you look like your sister" comment? Just seemed so out of character from your public persona. I like it!

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  79. James,

    glad I didn't disappoint you. I suppose you don't believe in human driven climate change? LOVVL (VV=very, very)

    As for my public persona, if you pay attention those kinds of comments do emerge from time to time. Part of the fun of writing for a general (as opposed to academic) audience...

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  80. DJD,

    You asked several questions. But you know these questions only follow once you've answered the primary question whether God exists. If you conclude he does not, then these are unnecessary questions. If you are not sure, then still the primary question needs your focus. I suspect just when you are answering the main question, you'll be almost answering the rest of them.

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  81. I believe whatever mainstream science and PhDs from Universities tell me to believe. That's what my MD Father and PhD Mother taught me. The make believe Lord forbid I should have an original thought not carved out for my by stale reductionist, outmoded thinking.
    Here's a thought Massimio and I'm DEAD serious;
    You and Julia should do an overnight, live podcast alone from a haunted location (NOT chosen by you, but a local Paranormal team) in New York. Until you experience something yourself, whether it be paranormal, religious, or of the UFO nature, you will never change your mind. Many skeptics, however, have had a change of heart (and sometimes drawers) after having had a personal experience. I count myself as one of those both from the paranormal and spiritual side. Now THAT podcast would truly be good theater!

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  82. "During the second (on the existence of the Christian god) I wiped the floor with Craig’s ass, repeatedly."
    I had a listen to this debate during my walk today. I don't know how anyone can praise someone so dishonest as a debater - the man is so dishonest. For example, where he said that Massimo concedes his first three arguments when it was clear that they were dismissed as irrelevant to the topic at hand. And claiming every instance of bad moral prescription in the bible as "out of context" just as "there were no comparable myths"? Is he so wrapped up in winning the debate that he's willing to lie (or at the very least give a very distorted account) in order to keep that going?

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  83. Kel,

    This is because Craig gives a cumulative case. People seem to keep missing this. His first three arguments argue for a generic God, which then gives him the ability to use Generic God as one of the hypotheses about the resurrection, thus identifying Generic God as the God of the Bible. It made NO sense for Massimo to dismiss these as irrelevant, as they are a CUMULATIVE case. So when Massimo dismissed them, Craig took it as a concession. I would have as well.

    To beat Craig, one needs to attack one premise from his first three arguments, and then the Jesus argument falls as automatically because it rests on the first three. I took notes on Massimo's rebuttal, and he did not attack any of the premises of Craig's arguments except the moral one. So, I really have no idea what he is talking about when he supposedly "kicked his ass."

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  84. "So when Massimo dismissed them, Craig took it as a concession. I would have as well."
    You would? Seriously?

    I could understand if WLC said something like this: "While those first 3 arguments don't point to the Christian God in particular, they are arguments in favour of their being a god, and thus need to be addressed" instead of taking Massimo as saying the arguments are sound. That's where I think it was being dishonest, because it completely misrepresented what Massimo was saying.

    "To beat Craig, one needs to attack one premise from his first three arguments, and then the Jesus argument falls as automatically because it rests on the first three."
    Why doesn't the problem of miracles hold whether the first three are valid arguments or not? Consider someone who claims to have a revelation, if those three facts are true does it help in determining whether or not that person had a revelation? What about someone else who had a different revelation? How do those first three arguments help the claim in any meaningful way? Which one of the two people have a genuine revelation? Could you tell if either did? If you made the case that the universe had a beginning, was finely-tuned and morality has to come somewhere, it still doesn't help with any of the specific claims of revelation. All those could point to a god yet the claims would still be baseless.

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  85. "That's where I think it was being dishonest, because it completely misrepresented what Massimo was saying."

    I suppose because it is just obvious how Craig's case is structured, at least to me. In kalam he argues for a supernatural cause of the universe. In fine-tuning he argues for a powerful intelligence behind the universe. In the moral argument he argues for God as the objective ground of moral goodness.

    So those three arguments together argue for Generic God.

    He then presents his historical case for the experience of the resurrection, and then uses the previously argued for Generic God as the best explanation of that historical case.

    Jesus doesn't need to be touched. Take down the first three for Generic God and Craig can no longer use "God" as the best explanation of the resurrection. No need to touch the Jesus argument at all.

    "Why doesn't the problem of miracles hold whether the first three are valid arguments or not?"

    Because if Generic God is established, then there is a being who is capable of breaking the laws of nature.

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  86. "Because if Generic God is established, then there is a being who is capable of breaking the laws of nature."
    The problem of miracles argument still applies, as I highlighted above with the revelation. Even if you argue that such a generic god could be capable of causing revelation, or impregnating a virgin to give birth to himself so that he could perform miracles, then conquer death to atone for sin (or something - how "sophisticated" do you take the Adam & Eve story?), that still doesn't make the case against the problem of miracles.

    To go back to the revelation case, let's say that God exists and God has the capacity to communicate with people. Now is every claim of revelation true even if we grant that God? If not, how do we determine which claims (if any) are true? Because even if we grant that Generic God is plausible (again, Massimo didn't do that - rather stated that the arguments weren't arguments in favour of the Christian God as they could apply to many different conceptions) it doesn't help make the case that the alleged events in the bible took place as described.

    In other words, if we argue that psychic powers exist, it doesn't mean that Uri Geller was using them to bend spoons. It's an unjustifiable step.

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  87. One last example to explain my case...

    Imagine tomorrow an alien craft crash landed on our planet, giving us unequivocal proof that there's intelligent life not only out there in the universe, but that it is capable of visiting this world. Now, if such a craft were found, would that mean that claims regarding UFO sightings and / or alien abductions should now be believed based upon this new discovery? While many out there bellieve already, and some have really compelling accounts that in some cases don't have a good naturalistic account, does that mean we should really believe such cases as being factual? Even with an established fact that aliens are out there and capable of visiting us (which is much much much more than is established with Craig's 3 arguments for Generic God), it doesn't mean that aliens were involed in every (or any) unexplained case. And given Generic God is so abstract to be compatible with pretty much every count of the miraculous, why Christianity over all other claims of the miraculous in different faith traditions - or even that Christianity is not explained by natural events to begin with?

    You can't avoid the problem of miracles with metaphysical handwaving.

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  88. Kel,

    Take your UFO example. Let's say in a debate the person first establishes, or at least argues for, the plausibility of the existence of aliens visiting the Earth. They then take one particular abduction case, and present the facts of the case. They then argue that, since they have established the plausibility of aliens, they can use that as one of they hypotheses that best explains the evidence.

    Let's say, for example, that temporal lobe epilepsy would explain the abduction experience, but not the UFO landing marks on the ground. Let's say that a hoax would explain the UFO landing marks, but not the abduction experience. And let's say that this person argues that the alien hypothesis would explain both.

    They have made their case. Their only goal was to make their case more plausibly true than plausibly false. It is not up to their opponent to show what's wrong with it.

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  89. Martin,

    "Let's say, for example, that temporal lobe epilepsy would explain the abduction experience, but not the UFO landing marks on the ground. Let's say that a hoax would explain the UFO landing marks, but not the abduction experience. And let's say that this person argues that the alien hypothesis would explain both."
    Of course people have been claiming landing marks, alien abduction experience, UFO sightings, etc. for decades, yet finding a real alien craft doesn't show a causal link. Again this is the problem of miracles, it's not claiming a bottom-up cumulative case, but claiming the miracle in the absence of a good bottom-up explanation.

    "Their only goal was to make their case more plausibly true than plausibly false."
    That's got to be the goal. Whether it is done, however, is another matter. The interesting thing about the UFO example was that it showed how we load our own cultural and cognitive expectations into the evidence. A UFO is found, so instead of seeing what causal relations we can draw from the evidence, we've automatically assumed that if aliens come they would abduct or that they would be lights in the sky, or that we could detect particular landing marks of the craft. Yet all we've established evidentially is the plausibility that alien life exists and has the capacity to reach earth. Our plausibility is based on our own cultural and cognitive expectations, not that's inferred from the evidence.

    Having proof that aliens can and have visited earth doesn't mean that if we can't explain every possible aspect of an abduction story that we should prefer aliens because they can? It doesn't overcome the problem of miracles - we haven't explained the events - just validated our cultural narrative in the absence of a good understanding. One of the problems of miracles, is, people really want to believe in them.

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  90. Anyway, this discussion is getting away from my original point (about the tactics WLC used in the debate that were downright dishonest) and onto the topis covered in the debate itself. Whether or not the problem of miracles is overcome with the claims of the New Testament and the historical events surrounding Christianity, or that such claims are made more probable by arguments concerning origin, fine-tuning, and morality (I'd argue not, but again this isn't the place), but that what he said was really dishonest...

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  91. I'm sorry, but I don't buy that Dawkins isn't engaging in a genetic fallacy here. In the video, Dawkins had made the claim that religious belief is delusional in nature. An audience member, in response to that claim, asserts that his own belief is not delusional. Dawkins responds to that directly by pointing out that the audience member's belief would likely be different if he were born in a different environment. That does absolutely nothing whatsoever to show that the audience member's belief is, in fact, delusional. Dawkins' specific intent in delivering his response is to refute the audience member's assertion and support his own.

    Yes, there are situations where invoking something's past is pertinent and not fallacious. And, in such situations, what may appear as a genetic fallacy at first glance is actually not. But, I don't believe this is one of those situations. By the fact that different beliefs can be shown to have different origins, it does not logically follow that any given one of them must therefore be false.

    If child A is born into and raised in an illiterate family, and grows up believing 2+2=5, Child B is also born into an illiterate family and grows up believing 2+2=6, and child C is born into an educated family and grows up believing 2+2=4, would it not be fallacious to point out that child C would likely hold a different belief had he or she been born into one of the other families? What bearing would that have on anything? Would it make my reasoning in pointing that out any more sound if I was just doing it to point out the arbitrariness of the different levels of mathematical education based on cultural factors? And, arguing that child C's belief is actually true because other data supports that belief doesn't make the reasoning any less logically fallacious. The fact that a conclusion is true doesn't grant license to utilize any illogical reasoning you can dream up to support it.

    I have to respectfully disagree with Professor Pigliucci -- If there's a way to get Dawkins out of the genetic fallacy here, I'm afraid I just don't see it.

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