Wednesday, February 18, 2015

31 Flavors of Ontology

Ontology is the study of existence, or, to put it in philosophy-speak, it is "the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality..." yada yada yada.  You can go read the wikipedia article if you like.  It can all be summarized in a pithy slogan: existence is not a boolean value.  And because it's not a boolean value, people get themselves wrapped around the axle arguing over whether something (like God or the quantum wave function) exists or does not exist.  It is simply not the case that it must be one or the other.  Existence comes in different flavors, and arguments about existence are often isomorphic to, "Ice cream is good because it tastes like vanilla!  No, ice cream is bad because it tastes like pistachios!"  (Serious philosophers actually wrestle with questions that are essentially the same as, "Does imaginary ice cream taste good?")

It's incredibly easy to sink into semantic quicksand when talking about this stuff.  This is because the universe has played a trick on you by supplying you with a continual stream of overwhelming evidence that the universe is populated by material objects that exist in particular places at particular times, and that have a continuity of identity such that it makes sense to say things like, "The vase on that table exists."  The reason that continuity of identity matters is that it's required to make sense of the phrase, "The vase on that table."  For that phrase to make sense, the vase that is on the table now has to be the same vase that is there a microsecond from now.  If this were not so, then the vase on the table at time T0 might have existed at T0, but at time T0+epsilon it no longer exists.  Instead, it's a different vase that exists at T0+epsilon (and a different one yet again at time T0+2epsilon).

This probably sounds like I'm being pedantic, because it's just obvious that material objects like vases do have continuity of identity.  The evidence for it is just overwhelming.  But despite the overwhelming evidence, it is in fact not true.  And you don't even have to get into quantum mechanics to see that it is not the case.  All you have to do is to try to define what "the same thing" actually means.  When you do this, you run headlong into the "ship of Theseus" problem, which is so-called because of the manner in which it was first described by Plutarch around the time of Christ:

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned [from Crete] had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
Replace the word "planks" with "atoms" and you have a modern version of this puzzle: if you replace every atom in an object with a different but identical atom, do you end up with the same object or a different object?  The collection of atoms you end up with after the replacement process will be completely indistinguishable from the collection you started with, so on what possible basis could you call the new collection "different"?

This is not an academic question.  The atoms in your own body are continually being replaced in exactly this way.  None of the atoms in your body today are the same as the atoms in your body when you were born.  In fact, even the arrangement of atoms in your body changes.  So in what sense can you say that you are "the same person" that you were when you were born?  Or even last year?  Or yesterday?  Or a minute ago?

Or consider this: suppose I take a tree and cut it down.  Is it still a tree?  Suppose I mill it into lumber and build a house out of it.  At what point did it stop being a tree and start being a house?

OK, OK, I hear you saying, the temporal and spatial boundaries of the identities of things referred to by words are fuzzy, but surely that does not cast doubt on the proposition that while a collection of atoms is arranged as a tree or a house or whatever, that that tree or that house actually exists in point of metaphysical fact, does it?  Well, yes, it does.  Why?  Because atoms themselves are just arrangements of sub-atomic "particles".  (And, of course, I put "particles" in scare quotes because sub-atomic particles are not really particles, but I don't want to get lost in the quantum weeds.)

To take an example that is prosaic to the modern mind but would have been every bit as esoteric as quantum mechanics to a person living a mere 100 years ago, consider the question, "Does software exist?"  Surely the answer is "yes".  Surely humanity has not built a multi-billion-dollar industry on a delusions.  Surely there is some salient difference between software and (say) leprechauns.  But if you try to get a handle on what software actually is you will find it to be every bit as elusive as a leprechaun.  What is software made out of?  What is its mass?  What color is it?  (Notice that we can actually give a meaningful answer to that last question for leprechauns: they are green!)

No sane modern person can deny the existence of software.  And yet it is clear that the manner in which software exists is very different from the manner in which trees and houses exist.  They obey very different laws of physics.  Trees and houses are made of atoms which obey conservation laws.  Software is made of bits, which don't obey conservation laws.

But the manner-of-existence of trees and houses shares one very important feature with the manner-of-existence of software: both depend on arrangements.  What determines if a particular collection of atoms is a tree or a house is their arrangement.  What determines whether a particular collection of bits is Microsoft Word or Mozilla Firefox is their arrangement.

Arrangement is everything.  Planet earth has had more or less the same repertoire of atoms since it was formed four billion years ago (modulo the odd asteroid) but an endless variety of different kinds of things that consisted of nothing more than those same old atoms arranging and re-arranging themselves into different patterns.  (And, of course, the atoms themselves are just different arrangements (scientists call them "states") of the quantum wave function.)

However: just because arrangement is everything (or everything is an arrangement) doesn't mean that there aren't useful distinctions to be made between different kinds of arrangements.  Atoms are arrangements (states -- same thing) of the quantum wave function, but the kinds of phenomena that the wave function can directly produce are very limited: a dozen or so fundamental particles that arrange themselves into a hundred or so (depending on how you count) different kinds of atoms.  That's it.  That's all quantum mechanics does on its own.  Not really very interesting.

But once you get to atoms, something fundamentally new happens: you get chemistry.  Atoms interact with each other in ways that are fundamentally different from the way in which the quantum wave function arranges itself to produce atoms.  Of course, the behavior of atoms are still constrained by quantum mechanics.  Nothing magic happens when atoms produce chemistry.  But the level of complexity rises by orders of magnitude.  This is what is meant by the slogan "classical reality emerges from the quantum wave function."

To get to us humans, you have to go through at least two more of these "quantum leaps" (no pun intended): you have to go from chemistry to life, and you have to go from life to brains.  Each of these transitions introduces fundamentally new kinds of behavior which "emerge" each from the level before.  Again, no magic, no suspension of the laws of physics, just ever increasing levels of complexity.

Brains are not the final step in this process, however.  Mice have brains, but they can't do math.  Eventually you get to brains that are big enough that they can emulate Turing machines and do math and other symbolic computations.  Somewhere along that path they invent language as well.  Once they've done that, multiple brains can arrange themselves into villages, city-states, corporations...

Arrangement is everything!

So... do you exist?  Do atoms exist?  Does life exist?  Do corporations exist?  Does music exist?  Do leprechauns exist?  Yes.  All of these things exist.  They all exist as arrangements of something.  Leprechauns exist as ideas, as fiction, as arrangements of thoughts in people's brains.  Brains exist as arrangements of atoms.  Atoms exist as arrangements (states) of the wave function.

Each of these "levels" is an ontological category.  The right question to ask is not, "Does X exist."  The answer is always "yes".  The right question is, "What is the nature of X's existence?" or "To which ontological category does X belong?"

So let us ask the right question: to which ontological category do you, the thing that is reading these words, belong?  Most people think that they belong to the ontological category of material objects, that is, the same ontological category as trees and houses.  But that is wrong.  Your body belongs to that ontological category, but you -- the thing that is reading these words -- do not.  The thing that is reading these words is not your body: if (and please pardon the gruesome imagery) someone amputated all of your limbs and replaced all of your internal organs with artificial equivalents, you would still be you.  But if someone deprived you of oxygen long enough to render you brain-dead, you wouldn't.  (That's why we talk about "kidney failure" but not "kidney death", "brain death" not "brain failure.")  You are a computational process, reified as an arrangement of electrical impulses in a human brain.  Because we do not yet know how to copy software out of brains the way we can out of computers, you (the software process) are tightly bound to your brain.  And because we do not yet know how to replace all other parts of the human body, your brain is tightly bound to your body, and that is why you (the computational process) feel a particular kinship with your body.  But nonetheless, you and your body are not only distinct, they exist in different ontological categories.  Your body is a material object.  You (the thing that is reading these words) aren't.

Some important things to note about ontological categories: once you get beyond the basics (QM -> atoms -> chemistry -> life -> brains) things get very complicated.  It is not clear how many ontological categories there are beyond brains.  Music, fiction, math, law and language are five different OCs that I can come up with just off the top of my head.  There are probably more.  The boundaries between them are not crisp, and they don't form a hierarchy.  All of them fall into the meta-OC of "mental construct".

So, my claim about God is: God belongs in the ontological category of "myth" with is a subset of the ontological category of "fiction" which is a subset of the ontological category of "mental construct".  And if any of that sounds at all like I'm being pejorative or dismissive about God then you have not understood a single word I've said.

This is not to say that you can't disagree with me.  There are two ways you could do this:

1.  You could argue that God belongs in a different ontological category.  In which case you have to tell me which ontological category you think He belongs to.

2.  You could argue that God transcends ontological categories, or that He is the sum total of all ontological categories.  But if you want to take that position, then you will have to explain to me how that statement contains any information, because defined that way "God" seems to be nothing more than a synonym for "everything".  (And so my next question will be: how can the Bible and Jesus -- or anything else for that matter -- possibly have any kind of privileged status with respect to "everything"?)

Let the games begin.

286 comments:

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Don Geddis said...

@Publius: "Yet there is not, nor will be, any scientific evidence of God's existence. You're like Doubting Thomas"

Ah, Thomas! He's my hero. One of the actual 12 original apostles, who knew Jesus personally (unless the whole story is mere mythology). And he certainly demands scientific evidence! He won't even take the words of his close friends, relating immediate first-hand experience, on faith! (Much less some words in a book from thousands of years ago, written decades after the actual events.) Good for Thomas.

If only we could all follow Thomas's lead in skepticism. Now, that's a worthy model to emulate.

P.S. How come, when Thomas demanded actual evidence, he got it, but when Ron or I do, you say it will never happen, now or in the future?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "Surely facts about the instruments are absolutely critical for knowing what you can explore, among other things?"

Except for a few special cases, not really. Most of it comes from the theory of computation, and universal machines (e.g. Turing machines). Once you can emulate any other computation, the actual details of your own fundamental implementation aren't really important any more.

Let's take an easier case: I can learn about long division in math class, and I want to perform that process. I can build a computation inside myself, such that if I follow the rules, the result of putting a couple numbers into the process, will be the same as the mathematical result of dividing the same mathematical numbers.

All that's important is that there exists a computational process to perform long division, and that I can emulate that process inside my head. It doesn't matter so much whether I am heterosexual, or racist, or easily jealous, or harbor grudges for years. Those are "facts about the instruments", but (in general) not especially relevant, for the short time span when I am emulating the long division computation. We can talk about whether I can take 20 and divide by 4, and eventually come up with the answer 5, without being overly concerned about whether I'm hungry right now.

Similarly, science offers a reasoning process that leads to building models and explanations that are closer to the truth of the universe. We can talk about the features of that abstract process, and we can talk about how closely I can emulate that process in my imperfect shell of being an actual human.

But in general, most of the "basic humanity" features of my personhood, aren't especially relevant, to whether science leads closer to truth or not.

Luke said...

@Don:

> P.S. How come, when Thomas demanded actual evidence, he got it, but when Ron or I do, you say it will never happen, now or in the future?

One possibility is that Thomas has very explicit evidence in mind, that if he should get it, he would choose to trust Jesus. What does such 'trust' involve? Well, seeing Jesus as kalos kagathos is a necessary part. Now, according to a model I have of you and Ron, crucial aspects of this 'goodness' lie in the 'ice cream'-subjectivity realm. There is a yawning gap between is (evidence) and ought (goodness). And so†, no evidence could possibly convince you that Jesus is indeed kalos kagathos in all the required aspects. You are, therefore†, different from Thomas in this regard. Sometimes the differences make all the difference: this seems to be one of those times.

Here's a more evangelistic way to get at the matter. Could mere 'evidence' ever convince you that you are a sinner in need of a savior? Or perhaps, a confused finite mind in need of the grace of an infinite mind not just to clear up your confusion, but to help you grow and become more? A poetic way to get at this is at [1]. Or do you believe that whatever the problems we encounter in reality, you and society have all the resources necessary to solve [enough of] them, even if right now, you are actively part of the problem and have self-justified some of those aspects of yourself which are continue to perpetuate the problem? (We all have beliefs about what we did that was justified and what wasn't. How can one's beliefs change on this matter? More at my Si enim fallor, sum.)

† Again, based on my model, which could always be wrong in ways which defeat my argument.

[1] Gravity and Grace, 3

Attitude of supplication: I must necessarily turn to something other than myself since it is a question of being delivered from myself.
    Any attempt to gain this deliverance by means of my own energy would be like the efforts of a cow which pulls at its hobble and so falls onto its knees.
    In making it one liberates a certain amount of energy in oneself by a violence which serves to degrade more energy. Compensation as in thermodynamics; a vicious circle from which one can be delivered only from on high [see irreversible process].
    The source of man's moral energy is outside him, like that of his physical energy (food, air etc.). He generally finds it, and that is why he has the illusion—as on the physical plain—that his being carries the principle of its preservation within itself. Privation alone makes him feel his need. And, in the event of privation, he cannot help turning to anything whatever which is edible.
    There is only one remedy for that: a chlorophyll conferring the faculty of feeding on light.
    Not to judge. All faults are the same. There is only one fault: incapacity to feed upon light, for where capacity to do this has been lost all faults are possible.
    'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.' [John 4:34]
    There is no good apart from this capacity.

Ron said...

> > You do realize that his views are more representative of (what is normally called) Christianity than yours are, right?

> You might think that, but I'm not convinced. If you were right, I would expect more actual obedience to the following:

You need to go back and carefully re-read what I wrote, and pay particular attention to the parenthetical comment. I included it for a reason.

> Well, the discussion of cosmology seems to have petered out; I wonder if it would be better to give it another shot in person.

At this point that is probably wise.

> What if I show you that the very idea of explaining everything that exists with "laws of physics with low Kolmogorov complexity" is philosophically problematic?

What if I show you that what you think is philosophically problematic actually isn't?

> In particular, I am very interested that individual humans and societies are the instruments we use to explore reality.

Don already answered this, but I'll chime in with my own answer: instruments are part of reality. Science (and QIT in particular) provides an account of the whole of reality, including the instruments, whether the instrument is a human or a telescope with a CCD array. In fact, trying to separate the instruments from the thing being measured is exactly the mistake that got (and still gets) people wrapped around the QM axle.

> > Ron: Your question is non-sensical, and indicates that you have not grasped the concept of ontological categories at all.

> Was this extreme hyperbole? Did we switch from "have not grasped the concept... at all" → "a phraseology issue"?

It's a phraseology issue, but it's not a minor one. The way you rephrased it discarded the most important part of the concept, namely, the thing being categorized. The difference between "you switched ontological categories" and "You changed the ontological categorization of X from Y to Z" is like the difference between, "You changed location" and "You changed the location of document X from folder Y to folder Z." This is not a minor change in meaning, and it is in fact *indicative* (again, carefully re-read what I actually wrote) of the possibility that you may have failed to grasp the essence of the concept. Either that or you were being incredibly sloppy. I can't think of any other possibilities. So no, I don't think my reaction was "extreme hyperbole."

Luke said...

@Ron:

> This is not a minor change in meaning, and it is in fact *indicative* (again, carefully re-read what I actually wrote) of the possibility that you may have failed to grasp the essence of the concept.

Do you really want me to up my rigor level, so that we run into this sort of thing with much lower frequency? It will require me to be more verbose than I already am at at times! What I prefer to do is to speak with the assumption that you'll be good at making sense of the elisions and shortcuts I employ, or ask non-accusatory clarifying questions. But instead of trying to make sense, it seems like you end up finding the stupid interpretation—too frequently. Case in point:

> Luke: Here, I think you need my "small ∆v model of free will", which I explicated at the last Dialogos meeting via analogy to the Interplanetary Transport Network. To get a space vehicle to some point (orbit) in the solar system, with finite fuel, requires a lot of careful charting of course, with very strategic burns. You know this. Now, you probably also know about Lagrangian points, and how if you navigate through those properly, it no longer takes a ∆v, but instead a dv, to change course. (A friend of mine has research on making practical use of this dv, if you'd be interested.)

> Ron: Small ∆v only works *after* you have gotten into orbit. To get into orbit in the first place you need a big ∆v.

[...]

> Luke: Technically, a constant dv/dt > g will indeed get you into orbit.

> Ron: I think you may misunderstand the concept of delta-v. It's not the same thing as dv/dt, which is your acceleration. How fast you accelerate doesn't matter. The only thing that matters (as far as getting to orbit is concerned) is your final velocity.

> Luke: Now, ∆v can be defined as (v1 – v0). Or: (v(t1) – v(t0)). And we can say that t1 = t0 + ∆t. From there, we have that dv/dt =

>     lim (v(t0 + ∆t) – v(t0)) / ∆t
>     ∆t → 0

This whole confusion revolved around you switching the conversation from "some point (orbit) in the solar system" → "orbit [around the earth]". I missed this in my response. I was still talking about "some point (orbit) in the solar system", even though I said "orbit". The result was that you criticized me for [probably] not understanding what I was talking about. I'm just frustrated that I always seem to be the one to blame, that none of this confusion could probably have been the other guy. Can you see why this might be frustrating, and why I might just have a case that it's not 100% my fault, and perhaps not even 90% my fault?

I hammer on this point because wrong attribution of blame is wrong attribution of causality and it makes it harder to communicate.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Ron: You do realize that his views are more representative of (what is normally called) Christianity than yours are, right?

> Luke: You might think that, but I'm not convinced. If you were right, I would expect more actual obedience to the following:

> You need to go back and carefully re-read what I wrote, and pay particular attention to the parenthetical comment. I included it for a reason.

So I'm not allowed to call them hypocrites? This response of yours makes no sense to me.

> > What if I show you that the very idea of explaining everything that exists with "laws of physics with low Kolmogorov complexity" is philosophically problematic?

> What if I show you that what you think is philosophically problematic actually isn't?

Then I will have to change how I think about quite a few things. I could probably articulate some of them, especially with the help of The Computational Theory of the Laws of Nature, John D. Barrow's New Theories of Everything, Gregory W. Dawes' Theism and Explanation, Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles, and Rom Harré's Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity.

Now would you please answer my question?

> Don already answered this, [...]

I'm confused. If I can make the instrument work better, have I [likely] discovered truth, or not? You seemed to have the idea that if the Bible's cosmology were scientifically accurate, that would be evidence that God had something to do with it, but if it merely attempts to communicate truths about human nature and humans in society, then it couldn't possibly be evidence that God had something to do with it. Is this a false impression, on my part? Personally, I would think that communicating truths about human nature and humans in society would be very high on God's priority list.

Ron said...

The confusion about orbit vs escape velocity (or earth orbit vs solar orbit) is on me. I apologize for that. But when it comes to ontology (which is supposed to be the matter at hand) yes, I think it would be helpful if you would be more precise. In particular, I think it would be helpful for you to either use the rhetorical framing I suggested at the end of the OP, or explain why you think that framing is inappropriate.

> So I'm not allowed to call them hypocrites?

Of course you are. But that's not what you said. You said, "You might think that [his views are more representative of (what is normally called) Christianity than yours] but I'm not convinced." The fact of the matter is that more people follow wrf3's theology than follow your theology. That is what it means to be "more representative." The people who follow wrf3's theology may well be hypocrites, but that is a completely orthogonal issue.

> Now would you please answer my question?

It depends on the nature of the problem. You just stop being cagey about it and just tell me what it is.

> You seemed to have the idea that if the Bible's cosmology were scientifically accurate, that would be evidence that God had something to do with it, but if it merely attempts to communicate truths about human nature and humans in society, then it couldn't possibly be evidence that God had something to do with it.

That's right. I think that humans are capable of figuring out truths about human nature and humans in society without God's help, so the fact that they managed to do it is not evidence (to me) of God's existence. By way of contrast, we now know quite a bit about what it takes to produce an accurate cosmology. In particular, it requires a certain level of technological and mathematical sophistication, one that (as far as we know) was well beyond the capabilities of the people who wrote the Bible. So if they exhibited some cosmological knowledge that could not have been acquired using the technology and math that they had at their disposal, that would be evidence that the knowledge came from somewhere else, with God being one possibility.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> But when it comes to ontology (which is supposed to be the matter at hand) yes, I think it would be helpful if you would be more precise. In particular, I think it would be helpful for you to either use the rhetorical framing I suggested at the end of the OP, or explain why you think that framing is inappropriate.

I'm still trying to better understand thinking in the way you do, and you know what? I'm going to make some mistakes in so doing. Punishing me (and yeah, it does seem like that's the effect, regardless of your intent) for them will draw out the process, not accelerate it.

> > So I'm not allowed to call them hypocrites?

> Of course you are. But that's not what you said. You said, "You might think that [his views are more representative of (what is normally called) Christianity than yours] but I'm not convinced."

Apologies; when I hear people say that they believe something, I hope that they mean that these beliefs result in the appropriate resultant behavior. I assume that professed-beliefs ≈ action-beliefs. When I said "I'm not convinced", I meant to assert a significant disparity between professed-beliefs and action-beliefs. Make sense? I try to take people at their words, and try to construe what they're saying to be making a valid point in the discussion at hand.

> The fact of the matter is that more people follow wrf3's theology than follow your theology.

In my vocabulary, 'believe' ⇏ 'follow'. This is because there are two kinds of 'believe': profess-believe and action-believe. They can match up arbitrarily well, but they can also deviate arbitrarily much. I think it's important to be constantly aware of when words match up with behavior or don't.

> It depends on the nature of the problem. You just stop being cagey about it and just tell me what it is.

I don't have a well-articulated conception on "the nature of the problem". Instead, much lies in my unarticulated background, and is bolstered by the various things I've stated (e.g. Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down).

> I think that humans are capable of figuring out truths about human nature and humans in society without God's help, so the fact that they managed to do it is not evidence (to me) of God's existence. By way of contrast, we now know quite a bit about what it takes to produce an accurate cosmology.

What would falsify this? See, from my research into the human sciences, they're actually in a pretty piss-poor state compared to the hard sciences. So the evidence I see appears to be directly opposite to your claim here. However, this does depend on one's expectations of where the hard and human sciences ought to be, all things considered. And so, I'd like to know how you formed your expectations on this matter. I could share mine, as well.

Ron said...

> What would falsify this?

I presume you mean: what would falsify the claim that humans can figure out truths about human nature and society without God's help. And the answer is: evidence that non-religious societies aren't able to figure out any of these truths. But this is not what we see. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence (not proof, mind you, but evidence) that secular societies are *better* at figuring out human and societal truths than religious ones. Secular societies are generally better off than religious ones by many measures: they tend to have lower levels of violent crime, lower infant mortality, greater equality, etc. etc. This doesn't prove that secularism *causes* these improved outcomes, but it certainly proves that God's help isn't required.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I presume you mean: what would falsify the claim that humans can figure out truths about human nature and society without God's help.

Apologies, I wanted to know why you think that it is harder to do hard science than it is to do human science. After all, you weighted "produc[ing] an accurate cosmology" as harder than "finding out truths about human nature and humans in society". I want to know why you think this "harder" obtains, and what would falsify your apparently strong belief that we understand "human nature and humans in society" pretty well. I've posted this before, from Douglas and Ney's Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences:

>>     There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like begin told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (10)

I've also asked you to read the preface of Donald E. Polkinghorne's Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences. I can give you other shocking failures of the human sciences. And so, I contest your implied claim of how much we do in fact know about "human nature and humans in society". But I first need to know how you are doing the comparison, between the hardness of the following:

     (1) "produc[ing] an accurate cosmology"
     (2) "finding out truths about human nature and humans in society"

What would convince you that we actually suck pretty hard at (2) in comparison to (1)?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "I wanted to know why you think that it is harder to do hard science than it is to do human science."

I think you read into Ron's words, a claim he didn't make. Ron never said that cosmology was more difficult than social science. Instead, it's that we know human civilization 2000 years ago, didn't yet have the tools (telescopes, calculus), to gather the necessary evidence, in order to create an accurate (by modern day standards) cosmological theory. So if the bible had happened to already contain such a theory, that we could only verify ourselves thousands of years later, that would be strong evidence that the words of the bible could not have been written by ordinary humans.

Social science is not "easier". But the "truths about human nature" found in the bible, are not especially sophisticated. Nor do they seem beyond the reach of ordinary humans a few thousand years ago. For example, none of those "truths" require any measurement devices of fellow humans, beyond the ordinary observation using our regular built-in senses. E.g. the bible contains no truths about human nature, where the only evidence requires MRI brain scans.

If you're asking for modern social science results that could have been (but weren't) found in the bible, which shouldn't have been accessible to ordinary humans of that time, I'm sure we could brainstorm some. Nash equilibrium? Coase theorem? Comparative advantage? That's all economics. How about Diamond's Guns Germs & Steel (aka geographic determinism), for a political insight?

None of that implies that social science is "easier" than hard science. Just that the "truths of human nature" that are actually found in the bible, are not especially beyond the reasonable ability of ordinary human observation and insight, at that time.

Ron said...

Yeah, what Don said.

Luke said...

@Don:

> I think you read into Ron's words, a claim he didn't make. Ron never said that cosmology was more difficult than social science.

Let's examine the record:

> Luke: You seemed to have the idea that if the Bible's cosmology were scientifically accurate, that would be evidence that God had something to do with it, but if it merely attempts to communicate truths about human nature and humans in society, then it couldn't possibly be evidence that God had something to do with it.

> Ron: That's right.

How is this not a claim that "cosmology is harder than social science"? I mean, Ron did say you are correct, but I am confused. I don't see why he would say "That's right.", to the very restricted thing I said. It would seem that there were hidden presuppositions which I never included in what I said, but that Ron (and you) snuck in there. That's fine, but let's be clear that they were hidden.

> Instead, it's that we know human civilization 2000 years ago, didn't yet have the tools (telescopes, calculus), to gather the necessary evidence, in order to create an accurate (by modern day standards) cosmological theory. So if the bible had happened to already contain such a theory, that we could only verify ourselves thousands of years later, that would be strong evidence that the words of the bible could not have been written by ordinary humans.

Why is "not... written by ordinary humans" at all relevant? God doesn't want belief that he exists; Even the demons believe—and shudder! God wants pistis, which means trust in his goodness. Advanced tech existing 4000 years ago has zero connection to goodness. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

> But the "truths about human nature" found in the bible, are not especially sophisticated.

What would be needed to falsify this? Could I say that, for example, taking Deut 5 and 1 Sam 8 more seriously would have led to better predictions at Milgram experiment § Results, which if extrapolated back from 1961 → 1941, might have resulted in us being more willing to believe the rumors of atrocities committed by Enlightened Man in Germany? I mean, the results of the Milgram experiment aren't "especially sophisticated", but they were really fucking important. Millions of people may have avoidably died because had our heads up our asses on the matter. So I need to know more about this "especially sophisticated" of yours.

Something tells me God is actually a lot more practical than he would have to be, to pass your standards. But why are your standards good ones? Why would God have to causally interact with reality your way, in order to be detectable?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "How is this not a claim that "cosmology is harder than social science"?"

It's because the tools to investigate cosmology require more technology, than the tools to investigate human behavior. The cosmology tools were not available to humans 2000 years ago, but the human behavior tools already were. So, at that time, one subject was available for (possibly) correct learning, while the other could not have feasibly led to deep truth given the current technology at the time.

And I already gave you the key for why it isn't the fields themselves: if we work hard, we can probably find a modern human behavior insight where the only evidence also requires sophisticated technology. That would have worked as well.

"God doesn't want belief that he exists"

Well, so you claim, but that's certainly convenient for a theory that is trying desperately not to be falsified. In any case, you're the one who asked for "evidence that God had something to do with it". So, you're getting answers that would result in the conclusion that God had something to do with it.

If God is deliberately refusing to provide such evidence, then we're not going to find any, are we? You now seem to be demanding a contradiction: "what evidence could you discover, that would lead you to believe God was directly involved, keeping in mind that God refuses to allow any direct evidence?"

Uh, I guess the answer is: in your scenario, it looks like there won't ever be such evidence.

"taking Deut 5 and 1 Sam 8 more seriously would have led to better predictions at Milgram experiment"

No, you don't get that. Hindsight is far, far too easy. You need a clear statement with the unexpected predictions ahead of time.

In cosmology, for example, it would have been cool if Genesis had talked about, not just stars in the night sky, but that some of them are in fact huge galaxies full of their own stars ... even though, to the naked eye, the real stars are indistinguishable from the galaxies up there. Oh, and it would have been cool if we had learned from the bible that everything in space is rushing away from us, and in fact the farther away it is, the faster it is rushing away. Oh, and maybe about how far away stars (and galaxies) are. All those things were shocking, and only understood in the last century.

"Millions of people may have avoidably died"

Nope, you don't get credit for a hindsight pattern matching, that wasn't a prediction made when it was relevant. The bible was around for 2000 years. If it's 1930, following advice like "study the bible more -- all the answers are in there!" does not lead you to predict Milgram or the Nazis.

"Why would God have to causally interact with reality your way, in order to be detectable?"

We're giving you examples where we're forced to consider the God hypothesis, because we are unable to construct an alternative explanation. But for the simple examples, we already have a complete explanation for what we observe, without needing God at all. God becomes a superfluous hypothesis, adding nothing to the theory and explanation about how things work.

You don't get it both ways. Either God plays and important role, in which case he is detectable (because of that influence), or else his role is superfluous, in which case of course he's not "detectable", because he isn't even needed.

Luke said...

@Don:

> > Why is "not... written by ordinary humans" at all relevant? God doesn't want belief that he exists; Even the demons believe—and shudder! God wants pistis, which means trust in his goodness. Advanced tech existing 4000 years ago has zero connection to goodness. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

> Well, so you claim, but that's certainly convenient for a theory that is trying desperately not to be falsified. In any case, you're the one who asked for "evidence that God had something to do with it". So, you're getting answers that would result in the conclusion that God had something to do with it.

> If God is deliberately refusing to provide such evidence, then we're not going to find any, are we? You now seem to be demanding a contradiction: "what evidence could you discover, that would lead you to believe God was directly involved, keeping in mind that God refuses to allow any direct evidence?"

Did I really need to say "God doesn't want mere belief that he exists"? After all, I don't see how you could trust God, if he didn't exist. It is merely the case that "believing that God exists" ⇏ "trusting in God's goodness". Surely you accept this logic? Can you make absolute zero sense out of the quote of Ja 2:19? You're not giving me a whole lot to work with, here!

> > taking Deut 5 and 1 Sam 8 more seriously would have led to better predictions at Milgram experiment

> No, you don't get that. Hindsight is far, far too easy. You need a clear statement with the unexpected predictions ahead of time.

Hold on a second. You claimed: "But the "truths about human nature" found in the bible, are not especially sophisticated." Do you get to make this statement without any evidence-gathering, without any predictions, without any of that? What gives you the epistemic right to make this statement, while I have to carry out experiments and such? This seems asymmetrical. For example, see this sociological analysis:

>> The Dutch historian Jan Romein coined the phrase "the common human pattern" to denote some features of society and culture that can be found throughout history. The modern West deviates sharply from this common pattern, not least in the character and degree of individuation. This is the sound empirical foundation for the claim that Western individualism is an aberration; the common pattern has the individual tightly bonded within his community. (A Far Glory, 101)

So it strikes me that perhaps we need to find a cause of this "aberration". Have you ever looked for that cause? If not, then it seems that you simply do not have the authority to say, "But the "truths about human nature" found in the bible, are not especially sophisticated." It seems that your belief should be at the unknown value. True, or false?

Luke said...

@Don, cont.:

> > taking Deut 5 and 1 Sam 8 more seriously would have led to better predictions at Milgram experiment

> No, you don't get that. Hindsight is far, far too easy. You need a clear statement with the unexpected predictions ahead of time.

I have sorta-kinda done this, with relational sin. I've run actual experiments, and so have others. It works. But in a sense this is a "small" thing. While it has made some people's lives radically better, something tells me that it would mean relatively little to you.

Now, I do want to do more research. I want to push forward the frontiers of knowledge, especially in the human sciences. There's a lot of misery in the world and it seems like we need more knowledge of human nature and humans in society. More science just isn't going to cut it. Have you seen Peter Buffett's 2013 The Charitable–Industrial Complex?

What would I have to do, in order to make "unexpected predictions" which would cause you to reject the thesis that some people 2000–3500 years ago merely figured some things out? After all, we're talking about evidence that God is causally involved. I'm struggling to actually see what would show this. There always seems to be some other explanation, waiting to jump in.

> > Millions of people may have avoidably died

> Nope, you don't get credit for a hindsight pattern matching, that wasn't a prediction made when it was relevant.

So do you claim that in none of our arguments whatsoever, do you do anything that could reasonably be called "hindsight pattern matching"? My intuition is that you're in danger of doing precisely that, when you make claims about history. Indeed, you seem to have counterfactuals in mind in some of your claims: "Had God been around, then history would look different than it does." If this is a sufficiently good model, I must ask what your justification is for asserting such counterfactuals.

> We're giving you examples where we're forced to consider the God hypothesis, because we are unable to construct an alternative explanation.

Hold on a second. Did we just enter god-of-the-gaps territory?

> You don't get it both ways. Either God plays and important role, in which case he is detectable (because of that influence), or else his role is superfluous, in which case of course he's not "detectable", because he isn't even needed.

Oh, I need God to be causally involved with us; otherwise I don't see how the word 'God' refers in the way I claim it is. If God is not causally involved, then I'm talking nonsense and need to stop. Hence, I look for what it would necessarily mean for God to be causally involved. This is why I read books like Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles and Gregory W. Dawes' Theism and Explanation. It's slow going. There are a lot of bad ideas out there that have to be carefully analyzed and debunked.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "Did I really need to say "God doesn't want mere belief that he exists"?"

You mean, he wants to be thought of as "good", also? I guess you did need to say it. But in any case, surely convincing folks that he actually exists, is a required step along the way? We were talking about what kind of observational evidence would be strongly suggestive that he exists. We don't see that evidence. Sure, that wouldn't be enough to say that he's good, also. But as you say, if he doesn't even exist, then it's kind of irrelevant whether he's good.

"Can you make absolute zero sense out of the quote of Ja 2:19?"

Apparently. That seems to mean a lot to you, less so to me. It means something like: just believing in God isn't enough, you have to act right too? But we're not even at that state; we haven't gotten to the "believe in God" part.

"Do you get to make this statement without any evidence"

I'm giving you my current tentative conclusions, given the (little) that I know about the subject. I'm open to having my opinions changed, via someone offering new (to me) evidence.

"More science just isn't going to cut it."

I disagree.

"Have you seen Peter Buffett's 2013 The Charitable–Industrial Complex?"

Yes, and I hate it. I think he's completely wrong. He's a privileged trust-fund baby with liberal guilt, who never had to live the kind of lives that he likes to criticize.

"What would I have to do, in order to make "unexpected predictions" which would cause you to reject the thesis that some people 2000–3500 years ago merely figured some things out?"

Haven't I offered you lots and lots of examples? Galaxies vs. stars. Economic theory. Political theory. How about math? Would have loved the bible to mention the ten digits of pi starting from the trillioneth decimal place.

But no. You demand something in the domain of how to have a strong marriage, or how to get along with your neighbors? I don't know everything about every branch of science! Maybe something in positive psychology? Only, that's a pretty new field, and I'm not sure there are many deep, counterintuitive, insights yet.

I have to admit, I'm not super impressed by the ten commandments. Maybe half of them are good, but the other half wouldn't make my top 1000 things to worry about (esp. in the modern era).

"Did we just enter god-of-the-gaps territory?"

On the contrary, if there were direct evidence for God, then it would be a subject for study by ordinary science. Saying "we have direct evidence that some advanced intelligent entity must have impacted this" is very different from "we don't yet understand dark matter -- hey, maybe God did it!"

Luke said...

@Don:

> You mean, he wants to be thought of as "good", also? I guess you did need to say it. But in any case, surely convincing folks that he actually exists, is a required step along the way?

God has to exist for you to consider him 'good'? So you are 100% unable to consider whether the character Hamlet, for example, is 'good'? I'm actually suspicious of this idea that you first need to be convinced that God exists before believing that he could be good. What this sounds like, to me, is a game of bluff: you don't believe that I can ever show you that God probably exists, and thus you don't ever have to commit to considering whether or not he is good, if you must first be convinced that he exists.

Recall Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness: you aren't necessarily even conscious of a pattern in your perceptual neurons, unless a sufficiently close pattern exists in longer-term neurons. Perhaps you are only consciously aware of seeing what you have the conceptual building blocks to see. What would you say to this possibility?

> I'm giving you my current tentative conclusions, given the (little) that I know about the subject. I'm open to having my opinions changed, via someone offering new (to me) evidence.

But on what evidence are your conclusions based? Have you applied what you consider the proper amount of skepticism to them? I'd like to have you work some of that out, because I'm suspicious that you should be taking the "unknown" position.

> > More science just isn't going to cut it.

> I disagree.

Sigh; again you threaten to take the stupid interpretation and run with it. Let me expand: "Merely making advances in science, without making advances in understanding of human nature and humans in society, just isn't going to cut it." (Must I always use said expanded forms? I will be quite a bit more verbose.)

> > Have you seen Peter Buffett's 2013 The Charitable–Industrial Complex?

> Yes, and I hate it. I think he's completely wrong. He's a privileged trust-fund baby with liberal guilt, who never had to live the kind of lives that he likes to criticize.

Fascinating; do you have evidence? This is an issue which may well be important to me.

> Haven't I offered you lots and lots of examples? Galaxies vs. stars. Economic theory. Political theory. How about math? Would have loved the bible to mention the ten digits of pi starting from the trillioneth decimal place.

But why would God care to provide any of these to you? What purpose of his would that possibly serve?

> On the contrary, if there were direct evidence for God, then it would be a subject for study by ordinary science.

Science doesn't do teleology. How could it possibly study [the personal aspects of] God, without reversing itself on that principle?

Luke said...

@Don:

> I have to admit, I'm not super impressed by the ten commandments. Maybe half of them are good, but the other half wouldn't make my top 1000 things to worry about (esp. in the modern era).

I wonder what you would make of Thomas Eriksen's Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age, as well as U. Wash David Levy's Google Tech Talk No Time to Think (pdf, my notes). It might be curious to compare these, to the original intent of the command to keep the Sabbath holy.

> Saying "we have direct evidence that some advanced intelligent entity must have impacted this" is very different from "we don't yet understand dark matter -- hey, maybe God did it!"

Isn't this Intelligent Design? I thought there were strong scientific/​philosophical reasons to call it "bad". I thought we generally believe that if we have to rely on "some... intelligent entity", then we declare that we haven't understood the entity well enough, and after quite a bit of investigation, we'll reduce it all to the basic laws of physics, maybe with some emergence. Doesn't the intelligence finally get eliminated from the explanation?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "God has to exist for you to consider him 'good'?"

I suppose not. Sure, we can debate whether Hamlet or Harry Potter or the Empire is good or evil. Might be an amusing hobby, for a short time. But if you never get past the, "this is fictional", it isn't really a very important debate.

"Merely making advances in science, without making advances in understanding of human nature and humans in society"

That's not at all an expected expansion. The proper domain of science includes human nature and society. Why would you use the word "science" in a way that seems to exclude those two fields?

"[Peter Buffett's 2013 The Charitable–Industrial Complex] Fascinating; do you have evidence?"

Well, he is the son of Warren Buffett, a man worth tens of billions of dollars. And his career includes musician and philanthropy. But let's ignore my distracting ad hominem attack. Just on the ideas, I strongly disagree with almost everything in his essay.

"But why would God care to provide any of these to you?"

It would provide very strong counterevidence to the current best explanation for the bible's origin (namely, a group of ordinary humans, 2000 years ago). It would make it much more plausible for a modern, rational person to seriously consider the God hypothesis. It would provide a gateway for current well-intentioned atheists to lower their skepticism.

"Science doesn't do teleology."

It would, if it first came across evidence that this is a successful route to truth.

"[Ten Commandments]"

Consider, for example, one secular alternative. I don't immediately see that the bible's version somehow shows better insight into the human condition.

"Doesn't the intelligence finally get eliminated from the explanation?"

Only once you find a better explanation. The best evidence for God, until recently, was the presence of complex life forms. The old argument is right: if you have a tornado pass through a junkyard, and afterwards see a fully assembled 747 aircraft, you have to conclude: that couldn't have happened by just random chance. Similarly, large mammals are too complex for "random chance" to be a plausible explanation. Until you come up with something better, "God did it" is the best explanation.

There was, it turns out, a "force" behind complex life. It was indeed a kind of god. Unfortunately for religion, the god of evolution winds up being a non-intelligent, non-sentient, non-caring non-being. More like Cthulhu than the benevolent Christian god. But the intuition was right: there was something directing the emergence of complex life. It just happened to be random mutation + natural selection. Oh well.

Publius said...

blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed

@Don
>P.S. How come, when Thomas demanded actual evidence, he got it, but when Ron or I do, you say it will never happen, now or in the future?

Thomas was an Apostle and therefore already far down the path to know Jesus.

The evidence available is sufficient - but you have to start down the path.

Publius said...

Moving the Pea

@Ron:
But let me ask you a different question: do words exist? What are they made of? Do they have mass? What is the mass of the word "snark"?


Ah, so it is harder for you to actually change your beliefs when confronted with EE&R than it is for you to say you will change your beliefs with new EE&R. [This is not unexpected.]

Let's review some items that have been giving you cognitive dissonace recently:
1) Software has mass. [which would mean it is subject to certain conservation laws, like many other things]
2) Property Dualism - which you have stopped defending
3) Scientists often only have "R" to put things into the ontological category of "materially exists" - examples are the Oort cloud and the Universe beyond the Observable Universe. You might say that Scientists accept certain things on . . ..
4) Some things can be "true" but unprovable (e.g., "Ron likes chocolate").
5) Recommending the "path of discovery" method to others, while refusing the method for yourself.
6) There are some things than even an All Powerful being cannot do.

I am at a loss to see what point the two of you are trying to make here.

We are trying to grab onto you and run over an edge of a cliff. We are taking a fire-hose to the sand foundation you have built your house upon [and you must admit, Luke has a really impressive hose].

Publius said...

@Don
.. . . All that's important is that there exists a computational process to perform long division, and that I can emulate that process inside my head. It doesn't matter so much whether I am heterosexual, or racist, or easily jealous, or harbor grudges for years. Those are "facts about the instruments", but (in general) not especially relevant, for the short time span when I am emulating the long division computation. We can talk about whether I can take 20 and divide by 4, and eventually come up with the answer 5, without being overly concerned about whether I'm hungry right now.

All aspects of cortical function are being influenced by hormones and the limbic system. It was Descartes Error to model "reason" as being separate from "emotion".

Similarly, science offers a reasoning process that leads to building models and explanations that are closer to the truth of the universe. We can talk about the features of that abstract process, and we can talk about how closely I can emulate that process in my imperfect shell of being an actual human.

Indeed, can one build accurate models using inaccurate tools. [Human brains are really bad symbolic computers (they are better suited to playing frisbee)] Hard sciences and math do it pretty well. The softer sciences have more issues.

Scientific methods aren't applicable to all problems of truth, however. "Historical truth" and "experiencial truth" aren't particularly determined via scientific methods.

Science is also not separate from culture. Due to the influence of culture on Science, we have:
1. Forbidden Research Some reserach is properly not conducted due to ethics. In addition, if ethically prohibited research was conducted in the past, it may be prohibited to use the data from it.
2. Forbidden Knowledge Some reserach is not conducted because scientists don't want the knowledge.

But in general, most of the "basic humanity" features of my personhood, aren't especially relevant, to whether science leads closer to truth or not.

Dualism: it may be a bad model.

Luke said...

@Don:

I'm detecting some possible asymmetry, here. For example:

> Don: I'm giving you my current tentative conclusions, given the (little) that I know about the subject. I'm open to having my opinions changed, via someone offering new (to me) evidence.

What's "the (little) that [you] know about the subject"? If you're ok with Ron's terminology, what EE&R have you gotten/​done? See when I gave you a "current tentative conclusion":

> Don: But the "truths about human nature" found in the bible, are not especially sophisticated.

> Luke: What would be needed to falsify this? Could I say that, for example, taking Deut 5 and 1 Sam 8 more seriously would have led to better predictions at Milgram experiment § Results, which if extrapolated back from 1961 → 1941, might have resulted in us being more willing to believe the rumors of atrocities committed by Enlightened Man in Germany?

> Don: No, you don't get that. Hindsight is far, far too easy. You need a clear statement with the unexpected predictions ahead of time.

Are your "tentative conclusions" based on "a clear statement with the unexpected predictions ahead of time"? From where I sit different standards are currently applying to you and me, right now. But perhaps I'm missing something. Thoughts?

Another matter I find disturbing is that the only things which will falsify your "tentative conclusion" seem to be crazy things, things we never see:

> Don: Haven't I offered you lots and lots of examples? Galaxies vs. stars. Economic theory. Political theory. How about math? Would have loved the bible to mention the ten digits of pi starting from the trillioneth decimal place.

From what I can tell, this is not the proper way to do falsification. Your theory isn't a very good one if it can account for just about anything but the most crazy of possibilities. See, if that's what your theory is like, it doesn't actually rule out a whole lot. It's very general. But this vagueness is actually a liability. And yet, you seem to have no problem with this. That confuses me. It seems very anti-Popperian. As a contrast, the thing that would falsify QM is the slightest nonlinearity in the evolution of quantum state. Not angels appearing, not levitation, not telepath. The slightest nonlinearity in the evolution in quantum state. Do you see how far you are from this standard?

Luke said...

@Don:

> Don: We're giving you examples where we're forced to consider the God hypothesis, because we are unable to construct an alternative explanation. But for the simple examples, we already have a complete explanation for what we observe, without needing God at all. God becomes a superfluous hypothesis, adding nothing to the theory and explanation about how things work.

What are some examples of said "complete explanation"? Are you, perhaps, referring to Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood? Lately I've been reading Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down, and it seems like he might disagree vigorously with Carroll. Ceteris paribus, I will tend to agree with a Nobel laureate over someone who isn't even a faculty member at a research institution. (Laughlin got his prize for developing the theory for the fractional quantum Hall effect.)

> Don: The bible was around for 2000 years. If it's 1930, following advice like "study the bible more -- all the answers are in there!" does not lead you to predict Milgram or the Nazis.

On what basis (EE&R) do you state this? Having read some history, I wonder if the same could have been said to scientists before Galileo, and perhaps Galileo himself. "People have been exploring nature all this time, and we're still wiping our butts with leaves; how are you going to do better?" I even have the following from historian Stephen Toulmin:

>> In 1590, skeptics still doubted whether humans can find universal regularities in nature; by 1640, nature was in irremediable decay: but, by 1700, the changeover to the "law-governed" picture of a stable cosmos was complete. (Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, 110)

Perhaps you can help me out with something. Take a glance at relational sin, and tell me how many Christians actually obey those passages. I'll put shorter versions with less commentary here:

>> Then if you offer your gift on the altar, and remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then coming, offer your gift. (Mt 5:23–24)

>> But if your brother may sin against you, go and reprove him between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not hear, take one or two more with you, "so that on the mouth of two" or "three witnesses every word may stand". (Mt 8:15–16)

Tell me, how many people do those things, instead of gossiping or keeping it inside? I've stated that I think one can empirically demonstrate the goodness of these. And yet, I personally find that they are rarely obeyed, by theist or atheist. And so, I suspect we're in the 1590s and you're one of those skeptics. Tell me why this is implausible. I claim the "relational sin" passages are absolutely foundational to Christianity; they're like the scientific method is for science.

Luke said...

Argh, that should be "Mt 18:15–16".

Ron said...

Don wrote:

> But as you [Luke] say, if he doesn't even exist, then it's kind of irrelevant whether he's good.

I actually disagree with this. I believe that God is fiction, but I think it's a serious mistake to write Him off as *mere* fiction. The whole point of the OP (remember that?) was that it's a mistake to categorize things as "existing" or "not existing". Fictional characters exist, they just don't exist in the same way that (say) rocks exist. You can model your life after a fictional character, in which case it matters a great deal whether that fictional character is good or not.

But, @Luke, the problem with trying extract morality from the Bible is, as I've tried to point out many times, that you either have to take the Bible as the standard of morality, in which case you have to take Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 18:22, 20:9-16, yada yada yada along with the Ten Commandments, or you need some extra-Biblical standard to separate the good bits from the bad bits.

And, BTW, even the parts that are considered the good bits aren't really all that good. ISIS is destroying 2500-year-old artifacts because they really take the second Commandment seriously. Even Jesus made some pretty bad mistakes. Capitalism and free trade are two of the most powerful forces for good in the world, and Jesus spoke unambiguously against them. That held back progress in the western world for centuries. He failed to condemn slavery. He explicitly spoke out against planning for the future (Mat 6:34) because he thought there was no future (Mat 16:28). That is now one of the bases for climate-change denialism.

The fact that people *do* apply filters to holy texts to separate the wheat from the chaff is evidence that humans are capable of figuring out what is good and what is bad without God's help. In fact, the Bible even says explicitly that humans have this ability, but that God didn't want us to have it (Ge2:17, 3:4-7.)

Luke said...

@Ron:

> But, @Luke, the problem with trying extract morality from the Bible is, as I've tried to point out many times, that you either have to take the Bible as the standard of morality, in which case you have to take Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 18:22, 20:9-16, yada yada yada along with the Ten Commandments, or you need some extra-Biblical standard to separate the good bits from the bad bits.

You don't think it's possible to discern a "moral trajectory" in the Bible, just like one can see a trajectory in the advance of science? Something tells me that you've come down with "timeless truth" syndrome, and may need some therapy for it.

> And, BTW, even the parts that are considered the good bits aren't really all that good. ISIS is destroying 2500-year-old artifacts because they really take the second Commandment seriously.

Are we back at "One Interpretation to Rule them All" syndrome, with its dual being "The Infinite Interpretations Hypothesis" syndrome? Let me suggest that Hamlet is most definitely not about a boy who went to school, found a talking dog, and lived happily ever after. This, despite the fact that there are multiple vying interpretations of just what Hamlet is about, and just how to apply that knowledge and wisdom to life today.

> Even Jesus made some pretty bad mistakes. Capitalism and free trade are two of the most powerful forces for good in the world, and Jesus spoke unambiguously against them.

This statement is meaningless when one attempts to transport it to the social, economic, and cultural conditions during which Jesus lived. Go back to that "timeless truth" syndrome.

> That held back progress in the western world for centuries.

This is an empirical claim, and asserts the truth of counterfactuals. Please present the EE&R you employed in order to conclude that this statement is sufficiently likely to be true.

> He failed to condemn slavery.

Do you deny, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus took critical steps to undermine the very reasons which are required for slavery to be considered legitimate? If we look at the history of early Christianity, are you certain that we won't see that actually, slavery was greatly undermined? Again, you're making empirical claims, and entailing counterfactuals. I want to see the EE&R. Furthermore, I will note that racism is alive and well: Race and the Drug War is something I looked up on a whim. Suppose, just for hypothetical purposes, that following Jesus' commands and Paul's commands would undermine the discrimination that shows up in the higher arrest and incarceration rates of blacks for illegal drug possession, despite no substantial difference in illegal drug consumption between whites and blacks. Would you see this as an interesting fact, or would you insist on standing resolutely behind your "He failed to condemn slavery."?

> In fact, the Bible even says explicitly that humans have this ability, but that God didn't want us to have it (Ge2:17, 3:4-7.)

Please demonstrate that (a) you have examined the different major interpretations of these verses, and (b) why the one you chose is a good one. This would be like a person saying why he/she prefers MWI over other interpretations of QM. You can't just have a preference; it has to be defended. Well, otherwise your preference is an uneducated opinion, and those aren't worth a whole lot in discussions like this, right?

Ron said...

> You don't think it's possible to discern a "moral trajectory" in the Bible, just like one can see a trajectory in the advance of science?

Of course it is. But it's ironic that you should see the similarity between the trajectories of science and the Bible but not realize that they exist for the same reason: both science and the Bible are the work of fallible humans improving over time.

> Something tells me that you've come down with "timeless truth" syndrome, and may need some therapy for it.

Since when did considering the truth to be timeless become a "syndrome"? Human understanding of the truth certainly improves over time, but surely you agree that the actual truth itself -- God's truth -- is timeless?

> >. ISIS is destroying 2500-year-old artifacts because they really take the second Commandment seriously.

> Are we back at "One Interpretation to Rule them All" syndrome

What's with all the "syndromes" today?

> Hamlet is most definitely not about a boy who went to school, found a talking dog, and lived happily ever after.

That's true. But the second commandment is definitely about graven images and likeness of that which is in the heavens above and the earth below and in the waters beneath the earth. So ISIS's position seems quite a bit more defensible to me than your analysis of Hamlet.

> Do you deny, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus took critical steps to undermine the very reasons which are required for slavery to be considered legitimate?

The steps he took weren't very effective. Slavery continued to be practiced by his followers for nearly 2000 years.

BTW, since Jesus was YHWH, I think it would have been more effective if He'd said, "Thou shalt not keep slaves" instead of "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's slaves" back when he was laying down the Ten Commandments. Seem to me he blew a golden opportunity to be unambiguous about it.

> Please demonstrate that (a) you have examined the different major interpretations of these verses, and (b) why the one you chose is a good one.

I don't know if my interpretation is a good one, but it's certainly defensible. The meanings of the words are quite plain and unambiguous. I'm a native Hebrew speaker so I can personally vouch for the standard English translations.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Of course it is. But it's ironic that you should see the similarity between the trajectories of science and the Bible but not realize that they exist for the same reason: both science and the Bible are the work of fallible humans improving over time.

Well, when you make falsification of "fallible humans improving over time" very hard—so hard, it approaches conspiracy-theory level—then of course you're going to see this irony. See, when it comes to QM equations, the slightest nonlinearity means falsification. But when it comes to "fallible humans improving over time", only something crazy would falsify it. That, I think, ought to be a red flag to you.

> What's with all the "syndromes" today?

Fun and games. But I actually do think it is a syndrome; I see many atheists espouse it. Just 9 hours ago, I critiqued a closely related syndrome. Oh, and Paul Feyerabend's Against Method is also relevant; he was ostracized for writing this, but eventually it was accepted. He also wrote The Tyranny of Science, which could be seen as a rant against "methodological dogmatism".

> But the second commandment is definitely about graven images and likeness of that which is in the heavens above and the earth below and in the waters beneath the earth.

Try reading it in the context: Ex 20:3–5. Furthermore, read up on what idolatry is, and what it is not. A great discussion of iconoclasm can be found in Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church. As it is, you sound like a layperson who thinks he/she knows a lot more about quantum physics than he/she actually does.

> The steps he took weren't very effective.

EE&R, please. You're asserting a counterfactual, of what would be more effective. That's an empirical claim.

> Slavery continued to be practiced by his followers for nearly 2000 years.

Are you aware of the sexual slavery going on in the US? Let's be very careful in how we measure "progress", shall we? Otherwise, you risk ending up affirming The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas as one step away from victory.

> BTW, since Jesus was YHWH, I think it would have been more effective if He'd said, "Thou shalt not keep slaves" instead of "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's slaves" back when he was laying down the Ten Commandments. Seem to me he blew a golden opportunity to be unambiguous about it.

Your trust in law as able to shape human behavior is likely falsely placed. Have you ever done a study of how effective law is? The Bible has some very harsh things to say about it; in 2 Cor 3 Paul says "the letter kills". How much do you know about this matter? How much EE&R have you applied to jurisprudence?

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> I don't know if my interpretation is a good one, but it's certainly defensible. The meanings of the words are quite plain and unambiguous. I'm a native Hebrew speaker so I can personally vouch for the standard English translations.

Do you have any concept of what is involved in translating between cultures, especially between cultures 2000–3500 years ago and today? C'mon, now.

> Since when did considering the truth to be timeless become a "syndrome"? Human understanding of the truth certainly improves over time, but surely you agree that the actual truth itself -- God's truth -- is timeless?

That, as it turns out, depends on your philosophy of time. The two major contenders are the A–theory and B-theory: are all truths 'tensed', or 'untensed'? It's kind of heady stuff, but it would appear that theoretical physicists are converging on the B-theory. I suspect that both are wrong: that some truths are necessarily timeless, and somet truths are necessarily time-dependent. This is entailed by the growing block universe, something I've mentioned multiple times before on your blog. From Michael Tooley's Time, Tense, and Causation (he's a proponent of the growing block universe):

>>     To sum up, then, the difference between a static conception of the world and a dynamic one comes to this. According to a static conception, what states of affairs there are does not depend upon what time it is. Change, consequently, cannot be a matter of a change, over time, in what states of affairs exist. It must be a matter simply of the possession, by an object or by the world as a whole, of different intrinsic properties at different times.
>>     According to a dynamic conception of the world, by contrast, what states of affairs exist does depend upon what time it is. As a consequence, the totality of monadic states of affairs which exist as of one time, and which involve a given object, may differ from the totality that exists as of some other time, and it is precisely such a difference that constitutes change in an object, rather than merely the possession by an object of different properties at different times. Similarly, change in the world as a whole is a matter of a difference in the totality of states of affairs that exist as of different times, and not merely a matter of the possession of different properties by different temporal slices of the world. (16)

One way I try to think of this—I'm not 100% sure it's correct—is that the number of bits which define reality is going up, and that human action is involved in that increase. Perhaps this sheds a bit more light on why I'm so interested in causation (I've mentioend this multiple times on your blog as well).

Curiously enough, two theologians I follow have recently weighted in on this matter: Roger Olson's 2015-02-19 An Example of Unwarranted Theological Speculation: Divine Timelessness and Randal Rauser's 2015-02-27 62. Paul Helm on God, Time, and Eternity.

Ron said...

> Well, when you make falsification of "fallible humans improving over time" very hard—so hard, it approaches conspiracy-theory level

I don't think you understand the concept of falsification. It doesn't mean that I have to actually concede that it's false, it just means that I have to be able to propose an experiment whose outcome, if it turns out a certain way, would prove my hypothesis false. And I have described several such experiments in this thread. For example, being able to reliably cause amputated limbs to grow back by praying to Jesus (John 14:14) would do it.

How would you falsify your position?

> But when it comes to "fallible humans improving over time", only something crazy would falsify it.

That depends on what you consider crazy. Humans are capable of extraordinary things, so to prove that a work of literature was not written by humans would be quite a remarkable achievement.

> > The steps he took weren't very effective.

> EE&R, please.

OK, now you're starting to sound like a troll. Because I provided evidence in the very next sentence, which you even quoted:

> > Slavery continued to be practiced by his followers for nearly 2000 years.

> Are you aware of the sexual slavery going on in the US?

I am. So? It is a criminal activity, and making it a criminal activity is completely non-controversial. That is significant progress over 150 years ago when a significant fraction of the population of the U.S. was willing to fight and die to maintain slavery as a legal institution, and used the Bible to justify their position -- http://www.ushistory.org/us/27f.asp:

"Defenders of slavery noted that in the Bible, Abraham had slaves. They point to the Ten Commandments, noting that "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, ... nor his manservant, nor his maidservant." In the New Testament, Paul returned a runaway slave, Philemon, to his master, and, although slavery was widespread throughout the Roman world, Jesus never spoke out against it."

And even that was significant progress over 150 years before that, when the legality of slavery was completely non-controversial.

> Your trust in law as able to shape human behavior is likely falsely placed. Have you ever done a study of how effective law is?

No, but Steven Pinker has. A quite extensive one:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Better-Angels-Our-Nature/dp/1491518243

> The Bible has some very harsh things to say about it; in 2 Cor 3 Paul says "the letter kills". How much do you know about this matter? How much EE&R have you applied to jurisprudence?

More evidence that the Bible is not the work of an omniscient god, because this is completely wrong. By any measure, the rule of law produces better results than any alternative that has ever been tried.

> Do you have any concept of what is involved in translating between cultures, especially between cultures 2000–3500 years ago and today?

Of course. Again: that the Bible seems to be so much a product of its time is evidence that it is the work of man, not an omniscient god.

> That, as it turns out, depends on your philosophy of time.

No, you are making this way more complicated than it needs to be. F=ma is and always will be a pretty good approximation to the truth, and it was even before Newton.

> One way I try to think of this—I'm not 100% sure it's correct—is that the number of bits which define reality is going up,

That true, because the number of entanglements goes up with time (that's actually what defines the arrow time). But truth is still timeless. "The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776" will always be true. And, modulo some vagaries of the English language, it was true before 1776 too.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I don't think you understand the concept of falsification.

Really? Shall I start quoting from Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery? It's actually you who seems to not really embrace it; there is a necessary tension between easy falsification—because you're so particular in what you say happens in reality—and conspiracy theory-land—if it would take a ton to falsify your position. You seem to exist very much close to "conspiracy theory-land", in terms of what kinds of radical things would be needed to get you to even start questioning your understanding of reality.

Incidentally, this is a good reason for divine hiddenness. If you won't accept evidence God has put out there that he exists and wants a relationship with you, then what God can do is retract his presence from reality and let it try to get on without him. Does this make sense? Oh:

> That depends on what you consider crazy. Humans are capable of extraordinary things, so to prove that a work of literature was not written by humans would be quite a remarkable achievement.

The worse you evaluate this, the worse God would have to let things get before people cry out to him for salvation. You know this is a pattern in the Bible, right? Furthermore, it's not people like you and me who will probably be crying out for salvation. It's those much less fortunate, those whose lives are allegedly getting better, because hey, the chosen numbers we Westerners choose to value are going up, and that's all that matters, right? (In contrast to this, see Peter Buffett's The Charitable–Industrial Complex, Douglas and Ney's Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, and Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy.)

> How would you falsify your position?

Christianity failing Thagard's #1 and #2 for long enough. Christianity is much more constructive than descriptive. It treats human beings as those who are going out into reality and bringing more love, beauty, truth, and excellence into it. Contrast this to those who model truth as merely "correspondence with reality".

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> OK, now you're starting to sound like a troll. Because I provided evidence in the very next sentence, which you even quoted:

What precise evidence supports this claim? 'Cause I'm aware of history research which indicates huge drops in slavery, which would appear to falsify your model. The fact that slavery became a big thing again in the New World is possibly a very separate phenomenon from the immediate impact Jesus had. So yeah, what you said is nowhere near detailed enough, unless you accept some sort of myth of monotonic progress.

> > Are you aware of the sexual slavery going on in the US?

> I am. So?

Ok, now go to slaveryfootprint.org, and tell me how many slaves work for you, to provide you the nice things you have. After you do that, tell me if you are going to change your lifestyle so that not a single slave works for you, no matter how indirectly again. (Yes, that's slight exaggeration: the real question is what you're going to do to make that number trend to zero, and how quickly you're going to make it trend to zero.)

>> "Defenders of slavery noted that in the Bible, Abraham had slaves. They point to the Ten Commandments, noting that "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, ... nor his manservant, nor his maidservant." In the New Testament, Paul returned a runaway slave, Philemon, to his master, and, although slavery was widespread throughout the Roman world, Jesus never spoke out against it."

Why didn't non-Jewish Christian slaveholders release their converted-to-Christianity slaves every 7th year, as Torah demands, with the modification that per the Apostle Paul, if you're a Christian you're a Jew? You have just advanced the position that Christians were using the Bible as a normative legal force, instead of as a sacred book from which to quote-mine. Now I require you to analyze this position in detail, to see if it holds up or whether it's closer to Enlightenment-style mythology.

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> > Your trust in law as able to shape human behavior is likely falsely placed. Have you ever done a study of how effective law is?

> No, but Steven Pinker has. A quite extensive one:

> http://www.amazon.com/The-Better-Angels-Our-Nature/dp/1491518243

I'm curious; can Pinker account for the decline in American trusting each other in the US, from 56% in 1968 → 33% in 2014? Anyhow, I will have to make a study of Pinker's Better Angels. In my experience, he has some brilliant things to say and some stupid things to say.

> More evidence that the Bible is not the work of an omniscient god, because this is completely wrong. By any measure, the rule of law produces better results than any alternative that has ever been tried.

How bad would the modern world have to fail (in the future), to falsify this claim of yours? After all, the fact that there was a lot of slavery 1600 years after Jesus' death was apparently evidence that he did virtually nothing to undermine slavery. Right? (You seem to have a lot of confidence in very little solid knowledge of history—unless you are really good at hiding this knowledge.)

As it turns out, the Honor Code at Caltech is in decline. But not just that: it's declining across the US; see the NYT's 2014-04-11 The Fading Honor Code. What's really fun is that people at Caltech think you just need more rules and people will automagically obey them. Oh, and I have it from very reputable sources that a previous Dean of Undergraduate Students claimed that he was not bound by the Honor Code of Caltech, which states: "No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of another member of the Caltech community." But hey, more rules = better, right?

P.S. I am aware of Lex, Rex. I just think one needs letter of the law and spirit of the law. Eviscerate the spirit and you get crumbling. But amidst the crumbling, you will get a proliferation of laws, and they might even stall the descent to madness, for a time.

> No, you are making this way more complicated than it needs to be. F=ma is and always will be a pretty good approximation to the truth, and it was even before Newton.

So because this one instance of truth appears to be timeless, all truths are timeless? What?

> But truth is still timeless. "The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776" will always be true. And, modulo some vagaries of the English language, it was true before 1776 too.

Thanks for just ignoring the live possibility that we live in a growing block universe. I do like it when what I present gets stamped out of existence without a word.

Ron said...

> You seem to exist very much close to "conspiracy theory-land", in terms of what kinds of radical things would be needed to get you to even start questioning your understanding of reality.

That may be, but I'm not alone here. The entire scientific community is with me on this. And there is one important difference between us and typical tin-foil hatters: we would actually *love* for someone to provide the radical evidence that shows our worldview to be wrong, because that is how progress gets made. In fact, the LHC was built at the cost of billions of euros in the (so far vain) hope that it would provide evidence that the standard model of physics is wrong.

> If you won't accept evidence God has put out there that he exists

What evidence? Publius has specifically said that there is no evidence, and his view is mainstream: there is no evidence because God wants *faith*, which is to say, belief without evidence.

The only evidence I've seen you put forth is the supposed prescience of the Bible on social issues, but 1) I don't see the Bible being particularly prescience, it looks very much like a product of its time to me (and again, I am not alone in this) and 2) mere prescience is not evidence of God. For any idea that currently exists, someone had to have it first. To be considered evidence of divine inspiration it has to be a level of prescience that is significantly higher than the "background level" of "prescience" that occurs naturally has humans come up with more ideas as part of the normal state of affairs.

> Christianity failing Thagard's #1 and #2 for long enough.

How long is "long enough"? The crusades, the inquisition, witch burning, slavery, homophobia, climate-change-denialism, young-earth creationism... how many more failures do you require?

> It treats human beings as those who are going out into reality and bringing more love, beauty, truth, and excellence into it.

To be clear: I am all for going out into reality and bringing more love, beauty, truth, and excellence into it. And I certainly recognize that many Christians do this. And I even recognize that many Christians (including you) do this *because they are Christians*. But *Christianity* looks to me across the great sweep of history like epic fail.

> > > Are you aware of the sexual slavery going on in the US?

> > I am. So?

> Ok, now go to slaveryfootprint.org, and tell me how many slaves work for you,

How many sex slaves work for me? Zero. (Compare this with the Catholic Church, which was actively engaged in sex slavery and covering it up for decades, perhaps centuries.)

It's true that there is industrial slavery still going on in the world. But today it is in the shadows whereas a century and a half ago it was practiced proudly and openly. That's progress, notwithstanding that there is still a lot of work to be done.

> Why didn't non-Jewish Christian slaveholders release their converted-to-Christianity slaves every 7th year

I have no idea. You'll have to ask them. (You think releasing slaves every 7th year makes it OK?)

Ron said...

> I'm curious; can Pinker account for the decline in American trusting each other in the US, from 56% in 1968 → 33% in 2014?

I don't know, I haven't finished the book yet. But between 1968 and 2014 there has been a transformation of American society from a democracy to an oligarchy, and a corresponding decline in the rule of law, so it's not too surprising that some things are now getting worse. (And, BTW, the Christian fundamentalist community is helping to bring about this transition through their unwavering support of the TEA party.)

> How bad would the modern world have to fail (in the future), to falsify this claim of yours?

The mere fact of the modern world failing (it isn't, by the way, we just have collective amnesia about how bad things used to be) is not enough to falsify the theory. To falsify the theory you'd have to show societies that operate according to the rule of law do badly compared to those that operate according to some other system.

> the Honor Code at Caltech is in decline

So? As I've already pointed out, the U.S. is transitioning from democracy to oligarchy, so it's not surprising that things are getting worse.

> Thanks for just ignoring the live possibility that we live in a growing block universe.

You really need to pay closer attention. Not only did I not ignore this possibility, I specifically said it was in fact true:

> > One way I try to think of this—I'm not 100% sure it's correct—is that the number of bits which define reality is going up,

> That's true, because the number of entanglements goes up with time

I don't know how I could possibly have been any clearer.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> That may be, but I'm not alone here. The entire scientific community is with me on this.

I'm not sure they are. I have pointed out, again and again, how the human sciences are in pretty terrible shape in comparison to the hard sciences. It's not just that they're harder, it's that they pretend to be objective when subjectivity is an essential part of being a human being. Do we attribute failure of more progress in the human sciences due to them merely being hard, or perhaps is this failure due to huge philosophical errors? I claim the latter is the case. I do intend to prove this, but I also want to collect 'promises', for lack of a better term, from those who claim that radical improvement in the human sciences couldn't possibly happen merely through a radical shift in interpretation. I want people to make solid predictions that I can falsify. I want the predictions to be true, Popperian predictions, designed for falsifiability, not conspiracy theory falsifiability.

> What evidence? Publius has specifically said that there is no evidence, and his view is mainstream: there is no evidence because God wants *faith*, which is to say, belief without evidence.

I'm not sure you have accurately captured Publius' model. It could be the case that under certain interpretations of reality, one doesn't have the epistemic resources to ever conclude that God exists, loves us, and wants a relationship with us. In that case, no amount of evidence would ever change your mind. One strong reason this could be the case is that if you don't want God questioning your self-identified telos.

> The only evidence I've seen you put forth is the supposed prescience of the Bible on social issues [...]

I'm still largely in the research-gathering phase, looking for the weakest phenomena which would just start to make atheists question their view of reality. See, my model of God is that he wishes to largely work through human beings, via cooperation. This means that radical demonstrations of power or knowledge aren't his preferred method. Under the presumption of something like Theosis, this makes perfect sense. However, it seems like you are epistemically unable to ever admit the presence of such a deity. Is that the case? Do you require any deity to be flashy, in order to admit his/her/its presence? Can't you see how this is perhaps problematic?

> How long is "long enough"? The crusades, the inquisition, witch burning, slavery, homophobia, climate-change-denialism, young-earth creationism... how many more failures do you require?

My, you like focusing on failures. Shall I enumerate failures of science? I'll ignore all the successes, and only enumerate the failures. Would that be a fruitful thing to do?

> But *Christianity* looks to me across the great sweep of history like epic fail.

Based on what evidence? I want you to be very clear in how well you've actually examined the historical record, because from the way you speak, it seems like you rely on a lot of Enlightenment mythology. It strikes me that perhaps you ought to read David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> > Ok, now go to slaveryfootprint.org, and tell me how many slaves work for you,

> How many sex slaves work for me?

True, but what about striking the 'sex'? Do any slaves work for you, allowing for the amount of indirection that industrialization and modernity produce?

> > Why didn't non-Jewish Christian slaveholders release their converted-to-Christianity slaves every 7th year

> I have no idea. You'll have to ask them. (You think releasing slaves every 7th year makes it OK?)

Nope, my point is that we should seriously question whether the slaveholders in the South were using the Bible as a normative document, vs. using it to justify what they wanted to do via proof-texting. Surely you recognize the difference between these approaches?

> But between 1968 and 2014 there has been a transformation of American society from a democracy to an oligarchy, and a corresponding decline in the rule of law, so it's not too surprising that some things are now getting worse.

That's curious; I thought somewhere you said that there is no more justice than there ever was before? As to the switch from 'democracy' → 'oligarchy', perhaps now you can see why I harp on passages like Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20, phrases like "the democratization of power", and the idea of power in general. You know that empirical evidence shows that the greater the power disparity, the less the rationality and the more the rationalization, right? (see Bent Flyvbjerg's Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice)

> (And, BTW, the Christian fundamentalist community is helping to bring about this transition through their unwavering support of the TEA party.)

Sure. I've told you aplenty that there is not one natural kind of 'Christian'. One can cluster them such that much more can be said about a given cluster, than about all people who self-apply the label 'Christian'. This is how one clusters in science, as well.

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> To falsify the theory you'd have to show societies that operate according to the rule of law do badly compared to those that operate according to some other system.

I'm not contrasting law vs. no-law. I'm contrasting spirit + law to law-only.

> So? As I've already pointed out, the U.S. is transitioning from democracy to oligarchy, so it's not surprising that things are getting worse.

Would your position change if you found out that Europe isn't all that much better at honor codes? (I haven't looked, but you piqued my interest.)

> You really need to pay closer attention. Not only did I not ignore this possibility, I specifically said it was in fact true:

By arguing that there are timeless truths, you actually argued against the growing block universe. Shall I get Michael Tooley's Time, Tense, and Causation back out from the library (or just buy it) and make the philosophical argument, or can you maybe start trusting that I might know some things? I mean, I wouldn't particularly mind making a more rigorous argument here, but we do have a lot of conversations going already. It's just a bit tedious how you fight me on absolutely everything—or so it seems! (Terms such as "absolutely everything" are typically hyperbole, but not always useless hyperbole.)

> > That's true, because the number of entanglements goes up with time

> I don't know how I could possibly have been any clearer.

I'm a bit confused here; does the actual information content of reality go up over time? What I'm thinking of is the holographic principle, and how it allows you to think of physical state as bits. Under a block universe, the number of bits stays constant, and all that happens is that the state evolves according to deterministic laws. Whether or not there is some "tape of randomness" which gets fed into those laws as time passes seems irrelevant. Furthermore, Sean Carroll would appear to deny that quantum fluctuations happen (see his fascinating 2014 "Fluctuations in de Sitter Space" FQXi talk), and your model of QM seems sufficiently similar, what with you saying that ultimate reality is the wavefunction (something Carroll says somewhere in the video).

Publius said...

check out:
Simultaneous observation of the quantization and the interference pattern of a plasmonic near-field by L Piazza, T.T.A. Lummen, et al, Nature Communications 6, Article Number 6407

Publius said...

@Ron
But between 1968 and 2014 there has been a transformation of American society from a democracy to an oligarchy, and a corresponding decline in the rule of law, so it's not too surprising that some things are now getting worse.

What happened in 1968?

Publius said...

@Ron
>The entire scientific community is with me on this. And there is one important difference between us and typical tin-foil hatters: we would actually *love* for someone to provide the radical evidence that shows our worldview to be wrong, because that is how progress gets made.

That's not what happened to Alfred Wegener and his theory of continental drift.

David Attenborough, who attended university in the second half of the 1940s, recounted an incident illustrating its lack of acceptance then: "I once asked one of my lecturers why he was not talking to us about continental drift and I was told, sneeringly, that if I could I prove there was a force that could move continents, then he might think about it. The idea was moonshine, I was informed."

Barry Marshall and Robin Warren didn't get any love with their discovery that peptic ulcer disease (PUD) was primarily caused by Helicobactor pylori.

1983
January: Two letters authored by Warren and Marshall, respectively, are sent to The Lancet describing their results.[38]
February: Gastroenterological Society of Australia rejects Marshall's abstract to present his research at their yearly conference. They deem it in the bottom 10% of papers submitted.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Ron: But between 1968 and 2014 there has been a transformation of American society from a democracy to an oligarchy, and a corresponding decline in the rule of law, so it's not too surprising that some things are now getting worse.

Hmmmm, I recall this exchange:

> Luke: For example, how do you know if one system of justice is "more just" than another?

> Ron: [...] We're making pretty good progress in this regard. In the U.S. for example we don't have violent uprisings, and we don't have people trying to flee. To the contrary, we have people taking enormous risks to get in. That's a good indication that the system we have here is better than what they have in, say, Syria.

In that comment, there was no indication that perhaps things are going downhill. Might you talk more about this regression you are observing? Furthermore, there is this exchange:

> Luke: Your trust in law as able to shape human behavior is likely falsely placed. Have you ever done a study of how effective law is? The Bible has some very harsh things to say about it; in 2 Cor 3 Paul says "the letter kills". How much do you know about this matter? How much EE&R have you applied to jurisprudence?

> Ron: [Better Angels +] More evidence that the Bible is not the work of an omniscient god, because this is completely wrong. By any measure, the rule of law produces better results than any alternative that has ever been tried.

Now, there are no contradictions in what you said above, but something fishy is going on. I talk about the increase in justice, and the US is perhaps actively getting worse. I talk about the letter of the law not being good enough (you need the spirit of the law as well), and you criticize this. And yet, in the US, apparently the letter of the law is not good enough!

What gives?

P.S. I wonder if you can make more sense of my (1)–(3), given your oligarchy remark. We could also talk about the attack on mediating structures from many quarters, how mediating structures are probably crucial to long-term national health. As it turns out, Judaism and Christianity have a few things to say on these matters.

Ron said...

@Publius:

> Simultaneous observation of the quantization and the interference pattern of a plasmonic near-field

It's an intriguing title, but it doesn't falsify quantum complementarity (if that's what you thought). They are looking at something called a "Surface plasmon polariton", which is a pseudo-particle, like a phonon. Psuedo-particles can do things that "real" particles can't.

> What happened in 1968?

A presidential election, among other things. Google is your friend.

> That's not what happened to Alfred Wegener and his theory of continental drift.

> Barry Marshall and Robin Warren didn't get any love with their discovery that peptic ulcer disease (PUD) was primarily caused by Helicobactor pylori.

Not initially. Scientists are fallible humans and they often get things wrong in the short run. But the process is self-correcting: Wegener, Marshall and Warren were able to provide *evidence* that their claims were correct, so now both continental drift and h. pilori are accepted and celebrated results.

@Luke:

> something fishy is going on. I talk about the increase in justice, and the US is perhaps actively getting worse

Different time scales. Over the course of the 200+ year history of the U.S. the trend has been generally positive. But after the passage of the 1968 civil rights act, the political landscape realigned, with federal power shifting from liberals to conservatives (with overtly Christian conservatives being a significant component of that power bloc), and thence away from the government and to the oligarchs. This process has been accelerated by the Citizens United supreme court decision in 2010, but we are still very much at the beginning of the transformation. Democracy could still be saved, but it's getting harder.

> Judaism and Christianity have a few things to say on these matters.

Of course they do. Unfortunately, much of what they have to say is wrong.

Judaism does get one thing very right, though, and that is its tradition of skepticism, intellectual inquiry, and putting the law ahead of God.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > something fishy is going on. I talk about the increase in justice, and the US is perhaps actively getting worse

> Different time scales.

Surely if something doesn't last, then saying it was good in the beginning is tendentious? After all, I've read history that said slavery did precipitously drop among Christians, but you apparently don't care, since it arose again sometime between 1400 and 1600. This logic absolutely invalidates what Jesus did, because it didn't last. By this logic, don't we also have to criticize any goodness over the last 200+ years if it looks like it won't last, as well? Or perhaps you want to retract what you said about Jesus' impact on slavery?

> > Judaism and Christianity have a few things to say on these matters.

> Of course they do. Unfortunately, much of what they have to say is wrong.

How do you know that you just didn't pick bad interpretations? I've already pointed out how you are asking all the wrong questions when it comes to the Bible's cosmology. That you have a probably very-bad understanding of the Galileo–RCC interaction and surrounding history is further evidence that your understanding of history may not be sufficiently sound, for you to make such claims.

So, how about you explicate your claim, based on EE&R? I've been doing a lot of research on this matter as of late, and want to see how your results compare with mine. At first I was inclined to think like you do, but the more I looked, the more I found that Enlightenment mythology is everywhere. For example, something like 70% of 19–23-year-olds in America think that (i) the conflict thesis is true; (ii) science is more about facts, religion more about feelings. And yet, the conflict thesis is false. Mythology, anyone? What Paul said is true:

>> For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Tim 4:3–4)

Indeed.

P.S. Let me remind you that a "bad interpretation" threatened the very birth of modern science:

>> In 1590, skeptics still doubted whether humans can find universal regularities in nature; by 1640, nature was in irremediable decay: but, by 1700, the changeover to the "law-governed" picture of a stable cosmos was complete. (Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, 110)

Ron said...

> This logic absolutely invalidates what Jesus did, because it didn't last.

No. What makes Christianity's position with respect to slavery weak is not that it didn't last, it's that Jesus never spoke against slavery. To the contrary, he explicitly endorsed the Old Testament law (Mat 5:18), leaving a state of affairs where endorsing slavery in His name was (and still is) a defensible position. Jesus could have made an unambiguous statement condemning slavery but he didn't.

> How do you know that you just didn't pick bad interpretations?

How am I supposed to be able to tell?

> 70% of 19–23-year-olds in America think that (i) the conflict thesis is true; (ii) science is more about facts, religion more about feelings.

Yay! Progress! ;-)

> And yet, the conflict thesis is false.

I happen to be one of those who believes it's (mostly) true. If you want to persuade me otherwise you'll have to present an actual argument.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> No. What makes Christianity's position with respect to slavery weak is not that it didn't last, it's that Jesus never spoke against slavery.

What would it take to convince you that Jesus undermined the very heart-attitudes which legitimize institutions like slavery? After all, surely you believe that there are undergirding rationalizations which allow people to justify to themselves, the owning of other persons?

> Jesus could have made an unambiguous statement condemning slavery but he didn't.

Surely this implies a counterfactual empirical claim: that if Jesus had made said "unambiguous statement", then history would have looked better. What can you do, in terms of EE&R, to support this claim? Incidentally, from Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395):

>> Gregory was also one of the first Christian voices to say that slavery as an institution was inherently sinful.[61] He believed that slavery violated mankind's inherent worth, and the nature of humanity to be free. In Homilies on Ecclesiastes, he wrote: "'I got me slave-girls and slaves.' For what price, tell me? What did you find in existence worth as much as this human nature? What price did you put on rationality? How many obols did you reckon the equivalent of the likeness of God? How many staters did you get for selling that being shaped by God? God said, Let us make man in our own image and likeness. If he is in the likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell me? Who is his seller? To God alone belongs this power; or, rather, not even to God himself. For his gracious gifts, it says, are irrevocable. God would not therefore reduce the human race to slavery, since he himself, when we had been enslaved to sin, spontaneously recalled us to freedom. But if God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God's?"[62]

Could it possibly be the case that Gregory was inspired by Jesus? Furthermore, you've said that you cannot just force yourself to believe that things are true. Ok, I accept that rejection of Doxastic Voluntarism. But given this, what EE↦R convinces you that:

1. "slavery violate[s] mankind's inherent worth"
2. "the nature of humanity [is] to be free"

? Surely you have some, surely you aren't just operating off of cultural inertia, or worse, Emotivism?

> How am I supposed to be able to tell?

I'm working on this with you; surely you recognize this? There's even a comment at the end of that blog post from me you have yet to respond to. (I know you're busy, I'm just saying that we can work on answering your question more, if you want to allocate more time to it.)

> I happen to be one of those who believes it's (mostly) true. If you want to persuade me otherwise you'll have to present an actual argument.

Wait, I thought the burden of proof is on you? Where's your EE&R?

Ron said...

> Surely this implies a counterfactual empirical claim: that if Jesus had made said "unambiguous statement", then history would have looked better.

I think that's probably true, but it's beside the point. The salient counterfactual is: if Jesus has made an unambiguous statement, then defending slavery in his name would not have been (and continue to be) a defensible position. What the practical impact of that might have been we will, of course, never know for sure.

> Could it possibly be the case that Gregory was inspired by Jesus?

Of course it's possible. People have been inspired by Jesus to do good things, and people have been inspired by Jesus to do bad things.

BTW, just because Jesus (or whoever invented him) didn't get it 100% right doesn't mean he wasn't a net positive influence on the world.

> what EE↦R convinces you that:
>
> 1. "slavery violate[s] mankind's inherent worth"
> 2. "the nature of humanity [is] to be free"

You are putting words in my mouth. I never claimed that mankind has any "inherent worth." To the contrary, I reject that as a premise. My premise is that *ideas* (memes) have inherent worth, and the value of humans is derived from that because our brains are habitat for memes. Slavery is bad because coercing people by physical force to do things against their own volition impairs their ability to think.

> > I happen to be one of those who believes it's (mostly) true. If you want to persuade me otherwise you'll have to present an actual argument.

> Wait, I thought the burden of proof is on you? Where's your EE&R?

Well, for starters, there's the fact that you and I are perpetually at loggerheads about it. We are just a few entries away from breaking the record for the longest comment thread ever on this blog. I think you and I are both people of good will and intellectual honesty, with very similar root goals and cultural backgrounds, but we can't come to an agreement. That seems to me to be a pretty strong indication that the conflict thesis is in fact correct.

BTW, I actually have to get some work done today so I may be slow in responding for a while.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > Surely this implies a counterfactual empirical claim: that if Jesus had made said "unambiguous statement", then history would have looked better.

> I think that's probably true, but it's beside the point.

I entirely disagree. In implying that counterfactual, you are implying claims about (i) how human minds work; (ii) how human society works; (iii) how jurisprudence works. If you didn't have beliefs in those realms, you couldn't make implications as to whether things would be better had your counterfactual obtained.

> The salient counterfactual is: if Jesus has made an unambiguous statement, then defending slavery in his name would not have been (and continue to be) a defensible position.

What does it mean for something to be "a defensible position"? We already found out that the Bible saying to do something doesn't guarantee it will motivate people:

> Luke: Why didn't non-Jewish Christian slaveholders release their converted-to-Christianity slaves every 7th year, as Torah demands, with the modification that per the Apostle Paul, if you're a Christian you're a Jew? You have just advanced the position that Christians were using the Bible as a normative legal force, instead of as a sacred book from which to quote-mine. Now I require you to analyze this position in detail, to see if it holds up or whether it's closer to Enlightenment-style mythology.

This, in and of itself, makes it clear that the Southerners were cherry-picking from the Bible, to support their predetermined positions and prejudices. If Torah law really had a cohesive normative force, then the American Southern slaveholders would have obeyed the law I describe. They did not. You really need to grapple with this, because it absolutely falsifies something in your (i)–(iii). Or, it makes out "a defensible position" to be an irrelevant concept. See, I'm interested in that which has causal power to make the world suck less.

> > Could it possibly be the case that Gregory was inspired by Jesus?

> Of course it's possible. People have been inspired by Jesus to do good things, and people have been inspired by Jesus to do bad things.

> BTW, just because Jesus (or whoever invented him) didn't get it 100% right doesn't mean he wasn't a net positive influence on the world.

Is it possible that if Jesus had come out directly against slavery, that a fourth Servile War would have been sparked?

Have you looked into how anti-slavery early Christians were? One way would be to look at how many freed their own slaves and how many bought slaves and freed them. These are both good indicators that Jesus successfully undermined the institution, I would think. Do you disagree? Do you care more about "a defensible position" in a legalistic sense, or "that which has causal power to make the world suck less"? I remind you that you said the following:

> Ron: But between 1968 and 2014 there has been a transformation of American society from a democracy to an oligarchy, and a corresponding decline in the rule of law, so it's not too surprising that some things are now getting worse.

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> You are putting words in my mouth. I never claimed that mankind has any "inherent worth." To the contrary, I reject that as a premise. My premise is that *ideas* (memes) have inherent worth, and the value of humans is derived from that because our brains are habitat for memes. Slavery is bad because coercing people by physical force to do things against their own volition impairs their ability to think.

Apologies. What is it that makes your idea-ism premise true? As you said, you cannot force yourself to believe arbitrary things. What is it that gives ideas "inherent worth"? How is this not arbitrary?

Furthermore, it's not even clear that all slavery goes against idea-ism. Could Aristotle and Plato have done the idea-generation they did, without slaves?

Now, you are in a convenient place: with an ill-defined concept of "idea-ism", you can basically assert what you want and deny what you want, with great freedom. Many ethical and legal theories only run into serious trouble when they have to be made rigorous. Precisely this happened with Logical Positivism, in fact. As long as things are inchoate, such problems can be avoided. It's even a bit unfair that you can use your idea-ism as an alternative to much better-developed ethical theories. It's a lot easier to critique something than to build your own alternative!

> Well, for starters, there's the fact that you and I are perpetually at loggerheads about it.

Wait, you cannot seriously be saying that because we are at loggerheads, you about your conception of science, and me about my conception of Christianity, constitute evidence that contra the scholars cited at WP: Conflict thesis, the conflict thesis is true? Surely you have more evidence than this? I hope you aren't relying on the Galileo affair, given:

> Luke: I'm concerned that the stories you have about the Galileo affair are pretty bad.

> Ron: Does it really matter?

So yeah, I still want to see your EE&R, Ron. You praise it; now let's see it in solid action.

> That seems to me to be a pretty strong indication that the conflict thesis is in fact correct.

Do you think a single scholar of history would consider this "a pretty strong indication"? C'mon.

Ron said...

> Southerners were cherry-picking from the Bible, to support their predetermined positions and prejudices

Of course they were. Everyone cherry-picks from the Bible.

> Is it possible that if Jesus had come out directly against slavery, that a fourth Servile War would have been sparked?

Of course it's possible. So? Haven't you read Mat 10:34?

> Have you looked into how anti-slavery early Christians were?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_slavery

"In the early years of Christianity, slavery was a normal feature of the economy and society in the Roman Empire, and this persisted in different forms and with regional differences well into the Middle Ages.[1] Most Christian figures in that early period such as Saint Augustine, accepted slavery as an inevitability..."

Why does the fact that Jesus didn't speak out against slavery cause you so much cognitive dissonance? Are you perhaps trying to put your own moral intuitions ahead of God's word? Maybe lust, divorce, and swearing really are the most serious sins (Mat 5:something-or-other). Maybe the Fox News folks are right, and this idea that slavery is bad is just another liberal plot to steer good God-fearing people away from Jesus.

Heh, I just found this little gem:

"Mat5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly..."

Guess you'd better stop arguing with me if you want to follow Jesus :-)

> What is it that makes your idea-ism premise true? ... What is it that gives ideas "inherent worth"?

Because life is the replication of information, and ideas are replicating information, and so ideas are life. I think life is a good thing, but that's a prejudice resulting from the fact that I'm a living thing. I freely admit to being a life bigot.

Also, I think any self-respecting standard for morality ought to be able to stand up to an encounter with an intelligent alien, and both the Bible and humanism fail that test.

> Furthermore, it's not even clear that all slavery goes against idea-ism.

I think it's pretty clear, but if you want to mount an argument to the contrary I'm certainly willing to consider it.

> Now, you are in a convenient place: with an ill-defined concept of "idea-ism", you can basically assert what you want and deny what you want, with great freedom.

I think "idea-ism" is at least as well defined as "infinite, harmonious growth in complexity and awesomeness." In fact, they might even turn out to be the same concept.

> Surely you have more evidence than this?

Well, yeah: our situation is not exactly an outlier. You yourself have said you've spent thousands of hours arguing with atheists.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Of course they were. Everyone cherry-picks from the Bible.

Everyone? Did EE&R tell you this? Do you disallow for the possibility of forward error correction in the Bible? The use of "cherry-picks" indicates arbitrariness, which indicates that you have EE&R to show that there exist no non-arbitrary interpretations of the Bible. Do you really want to make a claim this strong?

> Of course it's possible. So? Haven't you read Mat 10:34?

I have read Mt 10:34. The imagery of 'sword' is also used in Heb 4:12–13. Furthermore, the words coming out of Jesus' mouth in Revelation and 2 Thess 2:1–12 are spoken of as swords, which perhaps would be accurate if you were to look at Jesus speaking in the IR spectrum. The question, though, is whether it is a war of flesh, or a war of ideas and prejudices, to use a term well-explicated by Richard M. Weaver's 1957 Life without Prejudice. See 2 Cor 10:3–6 and Eph 6:10–20.

One reason I am intrigued by your idea-ism is that I think war happens on the meme level. I think Jesus knew that one must fight at that level. Although, I would add intentionality to memes, object to atomism and reductionism, etc. But perhaps we have enough common ground ont he basic idea.

Note that if Jesus had meant physical fighting by Mt 10:34, we would expect to see (i) Jesus himself fighting; (ii) his disciples fighting. And yet, does the historical record record this? Not to my knowledge! Instead, you have Paul adjuring people to "be at peace with all men" left and right. How is Paul "violent"? With his words, of course.

> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_slavery

So Wikipedia is all you've got, and you base strong opinions on that? C'mon.

> Why does the fact that Jesus didn't speak out against slavery cause you so much cognitive dissonance?

From my point of view, it causes me none. Slavery can only exist because of legitimizing beliefs that person A is worth more than person B, and that person A deserves to dominate person B. Jesus' entire person and life is completely against both of these. This cannot be made more clear than in Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20. Jesus' person and work delegitimizes slavery from the roots up. I see that as much more effective than merely uttering laws.

> Maybe lust, divorce, and swearing really are the most serious sins [...]

Most serious? What?

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> Heh, I just found this little gem:

> "Mat5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly..."

> Guess you'd better stop arguing with me if you want to follow Jesus :-)

How are you not acting like a creationist who just found moon dust, or some dude who found Deepak Chopra and is now telling you he knows more about QM than you do?

> I freely admit to being a life bigot.

Clever, but useless without your idea-ism actually showing how to adjudicate the kind of moral disputes humans actually have, whereby they sometimes end up killing each other. Everyone values life; the question is what happens when it's one life vs. the next.

> Also, I think any self-respecting standard for morality ought to be able to stand up to an encounter with an intelligent alien, and both the Bible and humanism fail that test.

If you reject there being a moral trajectory in the Bible, perhaps. I know less about humanism—I've never seen it have much of any bite, but I probably haven't seen the best it has to offer.

> I think it's pretty clear, but if you want to mount an argument to the contrary I'm certainly willing to consider it.

What about when resources are scarce? Perhaps oppressing the many so that the few can have a good chunk of leisure time optimizes global idea-production?

> I think "idea-ism" is at least as well defined as "infinite, harmonious growth in complexity and awesomeness." In fact, they might even turn out to be the same concept.

I can get more articulate than that. (e.g. relational sin and judgment) Do you want to get more articulate about your idea-ism? Generally, you seem to have had other priorities.

> Well, yeah: our situation is not exactly an outlier. You yourself have said you've spent thousands of hours arguing with atheists.

But you have to show that on average, my way of acting is worse at discovering truths about reality. Otherwise, what's the difference between 'science' and 'religion'? You would have concocted this thing called 'science', pretended that it's better at discovering things about reality, only to find that something else equals it. So it seems like you must have some sort of pragmatic test, right? Otherwise it's just one dogma vs. other?

Publius said...

> Simultaneous observation of the quantization and the interference pattern of a plasmonic near-field

It's an intriguing title, but it doesn't falsify quantum complementarity (if that's what you thought). They are looking at something called a "Surface plasmon polariton", which is a pseudo-particle, like a phonon. Psuedo-particles can do things that "real" particles can't.

Ha, I became aware of it from a posting on slashdot claiming "wave and particle nature photographed ...". The actual article didn't live up to that, but it had some interesting pictures nonetheless.

I wish I could find an old article from Science that had a picture of atoms dropping in a vacuum chamber - which showed the quantization of gravity. Couldn't turn it up with Google Scholar.

it's that Jesus never spoke against slavery. To the contrary, he explicitly endorsed the Old Testament law (Mat 5:18)

hey hey hey - Mat 5:17 is essential for the understanding of Mat 5:18


My premise is that *ideas* (memes) have inherent worth, and the value of humans is derived from that because our brains are habitat for memes.

I don't think I like just being a vessel for memes.

Luke said...

@Publius

> I don't think I like just being a vessel for memes.

You might almost say that you are the slave of memes, but no, that couldn't possibly be true, because we know that (i) slavery is bad; (ii) idea-ism is good. :-p

Ron said...

@Publius

> I don't think I like just being a vessel for memes.

You aren't *just* a vessel for memes, you are also a vessel for genes.

But why don't you like it? Memes are incredibly cool things. (God is a meme.) What's wrong with being a vessel for them?

This is a serious question. I really want to know what it is about this idea that makes you queasy.

@Luke:

I'm going to respond to your comments too, but that will take much longer and I have meetings all day.

BTW, this is now the longest comment thread in the 12-year history of this blog. And we didn't even mention Hitler! Well done, gentlemen.

Luke said...

@Ron:

Bahaha, I love breaking records. Meetings, not so much. I hope they're productive instead of draining!

BTW, I think I'm finally making some serious progress on where we might differ. All that reading, including the philosophy (e.g. Colin McGinn's The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thoughts), may well be of help after all! (I do agree that a lot of the stuff out there is nonsense, but isn't most stuff out everywhere nonsense?) The article I emailed you, Steven D. Smith's 1989 Law Without Mind, really helped, as did Richard M. Weaver's 1957 Life without Prejudice. Finally, there's Christian Smith's Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture, in which he talks about how morality is built into us by society, not so that we're completely socially constructed, but that most of us is. This makes much talk of "subjective morality" probably factually inaccurate†.

† I say "factually inaccurate" if 'subjective' is used to mean 'ice cream'-subjectivity, instead of "needs a mind". After all, if God exists as a mind, he can spin up various levels of ontology and interact with each one of them. He could be the standard of goodness, and be causally accessible via minds. Then convergence in morality could happen, and that convergence would be evidence that something external to the minds converging is causing that convergence. The philosophy of Transcendentalism (Thoreau, Emerson, Muir, Fuller, Alcott) may be of interest, here. I'd love to know if they would have found my infinite concept idea intelligible.

Ron said...

[Posting between meetings]

> BTW, I think I'm finally making some serious progress on where we might differ.

Splendid! I eagerly await the executive summary.

> I say "factually inaccurate" if 'subjective' is used to mean 'ice cream'-subjectivity, instead of "needs a mind".

I use the term "mental construct" to mean "needs a mind" precisely to distinguish it from "subjective" which means "matter of opinion." Words, for example, are mental constructs but they are not subjective. The meaning of the word "ice-cream" is not a matter of opinion.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Splendid! I eagerly await the executive summary.

I might need more from you before that. In particular, I need your take on Steven D. Smith's 1989 Law Without Mind. I might also need you to read the first and last chapters of Bent Flyvbjerg's Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice; I can take photos when my copy of the book arrives.

I think the matter reduces to the interplay between law and power. Flyvbjerg argues that Enlightenment thinking is too obsessed with 'Reason', which is on the law side of things:

>> My second objective has been to carry out the study drawing upon an intellectual tradition largely ignored by the Enlightenment, a tradition that starts with Thucydides and continues with Machiavelli and Nietzsche to Michael Foucault. (1)

>> Much of modern politics, administration, and planning—and many theories about these phenomena—emphasize the ideals of modernity but do not examine modernity as it is actually experienced. Modernity's elevation of rationality as an ideal seems to result in, or at least to coexist with, an ignorance of the real rationalities at work one everyday politics, administration, and planning. (2)

Christianity pays a ton of attention to the power side of things, as well as the law side. I have no idea how well you understand the power aspect. That is critical, for misunderstandings there, or simply lack of understanding there, will greatly thwart productive discussion of what Christianity is—or I should say, what my natural kind of 'Christianity' is and how it operates.

As a preview, the question is whether successive iterations of the state of law are converging on anything. In science, this is believed by the realists and disbelieved by the antirealists (in-depth comparison). Smith's Law Without Mind explores this idea a bit with respect to civil law. As a Christian, I claim that is and ought are actually deeply intertwined, and thus true convergence will include both, and not just one. This will grate on your Enlightenment intuitions, but it does have solid philosophical foundation, recently sketched out by Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy. In that book he's actually interested in economic matters, but finds that terrible philosophy thwarts the doing of good economics.

So, just like you have required me to read David Deutsch, I'm going to require a bit of reading by you, as well. But no more than a few chapters' worth, in total. If you want to achieve true, deep understanding, an "executive summary" isn't always an option.

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> I use the term "mental construct" to mean "needs a mind" precisely to distinguish it from "subjective" which means "matter of opinion." Words, for example, are mental constructs but they are not subjective. The meaning of the word "ice-cream" is not a matter of opinion.

I think hammering out this out and developing some nice terminology would be intensely helpful. Perhaps we could work with the idea of "invariance with respect to observer":

>> For example, it is apparent from the works of Niels Bohr, as we have seen, that for this author a statement is objective as soon as it is valid for any observer. Thus, for such scientists, a statement or a definition that makes reference, even in an essential way, to the concept of the human observer can very well be objective: it suffices that it be invariant with respect to a change of observers. Let me call objectivity defined this way weak objectivity. It differs from subjectivity fundamentally through this invariance. It could also be called "intersubjectivity." Even a die-hard realist could not deny that weak objectivity is sufficient for the development of science, at least so long as it refrains from any claim of describing what lies beyond human experience. (In Search of Reality, 58)

Incidentally, this shows up in a passage you poo-pooed:

>>     Finally then, should we call "mere appearances" appearances—causal ones included—that are the same for all those who are able to perceive them (including, perhaps, animals)? As we know, idealists answer this question negatively, and on this particular point it seems difficult to call them wrong. In fact our judgment on this matter depends very much on the meaning we impart to words. It goes without saying that referring to things conceived as being independent of us greatly facilitates everyday life. From this it follows that we have a natural tendency toward reifying. Concerning objects, this is an approach that, with regard to practical points, is entirely legitimate. It may quite well be accepted also in philosophy, but only provided we keep in mind that, by making use of this objectivist language, we, in fact, merely refer to our communicable experience. With this reservation, empirical reality, the reality that is ours, within which we are born, life, and die, does really qualify for being called "reality." In the sense just defined it would not only be incorrect but also inconsistent to claim it is merely an "appearance." But at the same time we must remember that in view of contemporary physics such a reifying proves unwarranted when we, naively, take it strictly literally. To repeat, we have to keep in mind the fact that it finally is but a means of stating in a convenient manner some possible observational predictions (and therefore of predicting and planning possible actions). And finally, within the framework of such a conception, while the distinction between (empirical) reality and "appearances in a trivial sense" of course remains essential, the one between (empirical) reality and "appearances that are the same, at all times, for everybody" clearly ceases to be valid. (On Physics and Philosophy, 411)

Note the first sentence: "that are the same for all those who are able to perceive them".

P.S. I do like the fact that we've started circling back on things I've mentioned a long time ago.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> > Of course they were. Everyone cherry-picks from the Bible.

> Everyone? Did EE&R tell you this?

Yep. Mostly Evidence, in the form of lots and lots and lots of discussions with Christians and reading Christian literature and history. Case in point:

> I have read Mt 10:34. ... The question, though, is whether it is a war of flesh, or a war of ideas and prejudices,

Wars of ideas and prejudices are not fought with swords. Wars of flesh are fought with swords.

The Bible does occasionally use the word "sword" metaphorically, but it does so explicitly, e.g. Rev2:16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

> Do you disallow for the possibility of forward error correction in the Bible?

Of course not, but I see no evidence of it. (I also note in passing that forward error correction is only necessary in the face of errors. Does the Bible contain errors?)

> One reason I am intrigued by your idea-ism is that I think war happens on the meme level.

It certainly can. Memes are living things, so they have to compete for resources just like all other living things.

> Note that if Jesus had meant physical fighting by Mt 10:34, we would expect to see (i) Jesus himself fighting; (ii) his disciples fighting.

The way I have heard this explained is that the verse is a "reluctant prophecy", a prediction of what will happen, not necessarily what Jesus wants to have happen. Don't forget the next verse: "For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law." Surely this is not a description of the *desired* state of affairs.

In any case, the twelve disciples may not have fought with swords, but Jesus's followers have certainly taken up the sword on many occasions since then.

But even on its face your counter-argument is very weak. Sure, if Jesus has spoken against slavery, the result might have been a war. So? God seems to have no compunctions about fomenting war when its suits His purpose (c.f. the entire book of Joshua).

Ron said...

@Luke (cont'd):

> So Wikipedia is all you've got, and you base strong opinions on that? C'mon.

Criticizing someone for citing wikipedia as a source in a blog comment thread is sort of an inverse argument-from-authority fallacy. Wikipedia is far from perfect, but not everything it says is false. It's actually not a bad first-order approximation to the truth in many cases.

> > Maybe lust, divorce, and swearing really are the most serious sins [...]

> Most serious? What?

Those are the sins Jesus specifically spoke out against. It's a plausible theory that the reason he spoke out against lust, divorce and swearing and not slavery is that he considered lust, divorce and swearing to be more serious than slavery.

> How are you not acting like a creationist

Oh, come on, that was a joke. Did you not see the smiley?

> useless without your idea-ism actually showing how to adjudicate the kind of moral disputes humans actually have

I have given many such examples. Search for the phrase "because it destroys habitat for memes."

> > Also, I think any self-respecting standard for morality ought to be able to stand up to an encounter with an intelligent alien, and both the Bible and humanism fail that test.

> If you reject there being a moral trajectory in the Bible, perhaps.

I do not reject it. There clearly *is* a moral trajectory in the Bible. This is evidence that the Bible is the work of man rather than an omniscient deity.

> What about when resources are scarce? Perhaps oppressing the many so that the few can have a good chunk of leisure time optimizes global idea-production?

A fair question. Will need its own post to answer.

> But you have to show that on average, my way of acting is worse at discovering truths about reality.

Not if I want to support the conflict hypothesis. To do that, all I have to show is that it's not compatible with science.

> Otherwise, what's the difference between 'science' and 'religion'?

Religion generally involves faith, i.e. believing things without evidence. But your theology is pretty unique so maybe you don't require faith. Maybe you'd like to take another crack and explaining exactly what it is you do believe? The last time you did it I didn't understand it.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Yep. Mostly Evidence, in the form of lots and lots and lots of discussions with Christians and reading Christian literature and history.

Wait a second, you said "everyone". Are you fallaciously reasoning from 'some' ⇒ 'all', or have you done the kind of extensive, scholarly research that allows you to say that you have representatively sampled the space? For example, can you show how Thomas Aquinas cherry-picked? (He is one of the more systematic interpreters of scripture.)

> Case in point:

> > I have read Mt 10:34. ... The question, though, is whether it is a war of flesh, or a war of ideas and prejudices,

> Wars of ideas and prejudices are not fought with swords. Wars of flesh are fought with swords.

> The Bible does occasionally use the word "sword" metaphorically, but it does so explicitly, e.g. Rev2:16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

What would make you consider that actually, Mt 10:34 is a metaphorical use of 'sword'? More precisely, we can explore what kind of 'Christianity' you get when you interpret it metaphorically, and what kind of 'Christianity' you get when you interpret it literally. So for example, we can examine the Garden of Gethsemane arrest scene, where Jesus is anti-physical-sword, Jesus' "It is enough" in Lk 22:35–38, the use of "sword" in Heb 4:12–13, the commands to obey the government and its most definitely physical sword in Rom 13:1–7 and 1 Pe 2:13–17.

Are you up for considering that there are multiple natural kinds of 'Christianity'? This is a way to avoid "No True Christian" nonsense, while still allowing that there can be fundamental differences in belief which manifest in very different ways. What this means is that one has to be very careful when one attempts to generalize off of single words, such as 'Christian'.

> Of course not, but I see no evidence of it. (I also note in passing that forward error correction is only necessary in the face of errors. Does the Bible contain errors?)

What would constitute evidence of forward error correction? As to your question, I see no reason why the Bible couldn't contain errors; it would be very bad at helping us with reality if it were perfect, because reality isn't perfect. Expecting the Bible to be perfect seems like believing that Jesus never got dirt under his fingernails. It makes no sense to me. Well, unless you accept epistemological foundationalism, which started with Descartes and has finally been pretty thoroughly undermined. Do you hold that foundationalism is a good theory of truth? If so, we have some discussing to do. Inerrancy is much less important if one throws out foundationalism.

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> But even on its face your counter-argument is very weak. Sure, if Jesus has spoken against slavery, the result might have been a war. So? God seems to have no compunctions about fomenting war when its suits His purpose (c.f. the entire book of Joshua).

So if God did things one way, he must always do them the same way? That makes God a machine, not a person. (So I hope you aren't actually arguing this.) Perhaps the book of Joshua was in part a demonstration that war doesn't work. Surely you know that sometimes, people absolutely must try a bad course of action, in order to be convinced that it was bad? Surely you know that Jesus presented a radically different way for God to interact in the world? Forgiveness and grace don't come from nowhere, unless you want to discard conservation laws. In the West we frequently forget this, because the costs of injustice can be either ignored or sufficiently amortized.

What you're operating under, once again, is the assumption that there are timeless moral truths which we can sufficiently directly access. You are allowing virtually no space for there being an actual "moral trajectory", from violence to peace. See, peace requires pretty rigorous law-abiding, and that doesn't come naturally to humans. Do you think the Roman Empire loved being so brutal? I'm not so convinced. I think they had to be, in order to fight back barbarians and the like. Bringing order to chaos is not a pretty business! (For more, see Introduction: the age of discussion, where the work of Walter Bagehot is discussed.)

Once again, we touch on jurisprudence, human psychology, and humans in society. You certainly have ideas in this realm. How well have you empirically tested them, or at least found scholars and scientists who have empirically tested them? I really want to hear of some good, representative examples.

> Criticizing someone for citing wikipedia as a source in a blog comment thread is sort of an inverse argument-from-authority fallacy. Wikipedia is far from perfect, but not everything it says is false. It's actually not a bad first-order approximation to the truth in many cases.

Fine; do you have any good sources other than Wikipedia? If I need to tear that article to shreds, I might just do it. It will, however, take quite a lot of work on my part. I want to know if it'll be worth it. How strongly tied are you to the views at WP: Christian views on slavery? If I were to strongly question them, would you largely just shrug, or would your attitude toward Christianity appreciably change? I have many ways to spend my time, and I want to know if this one is sufficiently valuable.

Luke said...

@Ron, cont.:

> Those are the sins Jesus specifically spoke out against. It's a plausible theory that the reason he spoke out against lust, divorce and swearing and not slavery is that he considered lust, divorce and swearing to be more serious than slavery.

Jesus spoke very harshly in Mt 23. Why do you believe that "lust, divorce, and swearing" are more important, or even equally as important, as the invectives Jesus threw at the Pharisees? Let's test this "plausible theory" of yours, shall we? (Why am I being a bit snarky? Because you seem to be putting a lot of trust into views that I suspect aren't very critically examined. And yet, you don't seem to make clear in your comments which views are critically examined, and which are closer to suppositions or "cultural knowledge" which could be quite wrong.)

> Oh, come on, that was a joke. Did you not see the smiley?

I'm sorry, I'm pretty bad at catching jokes when I perceive the other person implying that I'm an idiot. Given that I believe I [largely] am the collection of my ideas, when you strike them down in ways I see as more dogmatic than critical, I feel attacked. That makes it hard to suddenly see humor.

> I have given many such examples. Search for the phrase "because it destroys habitat for memes."

But you have to solve utilitarian questions, of whether you, Ron Garret, are a better meme-creator than 5 uneducated illegal immigrants. You haven't done this, to my knowledge. If you had, you'd probably also have an answer for the standard challenge of "Kill this patient to save five others.", and my recollection is that you don't have a well-explicated answer to this.

> I do not reject it. There clearly *is* a moral trajectory in the Bible. This is evidence that the Bible is the work of man rather than an omniscient deity.

Again, you seem to assume that if God were to act, then it would not be via "moral trajectory". Is this true? If not, then I have a hard time understanding your reasoning, here.

> > But you have to show that on average, my way of acting is worse at discovering truths about reality.

> Not if I want to support the conflict hypothesis. To do that, all I have to show is that it's not compatible with science.

Wait, is science defined by some rational framework, or by its [continuing] pragmatic success? If the former, why ought I accept your definition? Most of the world would seem to care more about pragmatic success than that the practice of "exploring reality" follows Ron Garret's Rules.

> Religion generally involves faith, i.e. believing things without evidence.

What evidence is this based on? For example, do you know that the word 'religion' didn't even mean what you mean by it, 500 years ago? I can quote from William T. Cavanaugh's The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict, if you'd like. (some quotations here)

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Ron: Religion generally involves faith, i.e. believing things without evidence. But your theology is pretty unique so maybe you don't require faith. Maybe you'd like to take another crack and explaining exactly what it is you do believe? The last time you did it I didn't understand it.

I need help from you to do this. I might also need an in-depth response to this comment. Remember: you told me to read David Deutsch to understand your point of view. Surely it's fair for me to ask you do some work to understand my point of view?

Ron said...

> I might also need an in-depth response to this comment. Remember: you told me to read David Deutsch to understand your point of view. Surely it's fair for me to ask you do some work to understand my point of view?

Fair enough. It's time to reboot this thread anyway. Might be a few days before I can get around to it.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Fair enough. It's time to reboot this thread anyway. Might be a few days before I can get around to it.

Sounds perfectly reasonable. More retardation has gone down with the situation at the institution I mentioned to you, but I really should get off my butt and grind through some coding regardless. As it turns out, I'm helping a medical resident friend cope with a break-up and potential career change. Pre-med students have a 5x higher suicide rate than average; I don't know about medical residents. Our way of training doctors is just plain abusive. Sigh.

Why's the world so messed up, yo?

I say a huge chunk is abuse of power and denial of moral responsibility. I think I have EE&R to support this hypothesis. :-p

Publius said...

It's still undetermined what will happen to the blogger platform if the comments roll over from 999 to 1000 ...

Luke said...

@Don:

> Luke: If you really believe this, then let's dive deeply into The Correspondence Theory of Truth and Foundationalism, but using my own words. Are you up for this?

> Don: Go for it!

I've done some more reading since you posted this. I think I'm ready to take a whack at the Correspondence Theory of Truth (CTT) aspect.

1. In the CTT, the relation between observer and observed is frequently left quite nebulous. Michael Lynch digs into this in What ever happened to the correspondence theory of truth?.

2. The word "reality" in formulations of the CTT is restrained by the instruments used to explore reality: humans and their tools. And yet, there is frequently equivocation on 'reality', between mind-dependent and mind-independent. The very notion of a mind-independent reality is a reality that is not constrained by what the human instrument is allowed to discover. Can we even know if such a reality exists?

3. The CTT struggles with whether intentionality is an actual aspect of 'reality' or whether it is merely a way that reality is helpfully modeled (see teleonomy, as well as Daniel Dennett's intentional Stance). Although I'm not sure how much of a struggle it actually is; my impression is that fundamental reality is generally assumed to be mind-independent. That is, mind is exclusively derivative.

I want to focus in on the rejection of ontic intentionality/​teleology in 3.; by 'ontic' I mean existing at the most fundamental ontological category. The instruments we use to explore reality are inescapably intentional, because ultimately those instruments are human beings and humans in society. But we want to say that ultimate reality, the most fundamental ontological category, does not exhibit intentionality. So if the instrument detects intentionality here, it is operating incorrectly, and merely projecting something of itself onto reality—an example of the mind projection fallacy.

There is a problem with that last bit of reasoning: how do we know which things we think are true of ultimate reality are merely projections of foibles or emergent phenomena in the instruments, and which are are instances of the instruments operating properly? In particular, I wish to put into question the criterion of repeatability, because making that a principle of proper function commits one to the presupposition that reality is, at its most fundamental level "repeatable". That is a deeply anti-personal model of fundamental reality. In contrast to this "repeatable", mind is alive, and doesn't merely repeat. There is certainly order, but that order is of a different kind than the order of a mechanical universe. And so, I am suspicious that the CTT has a hidden presupposition which says that ultimate reality is non-mind. I am suspicious that this is a presupposition or a consequence of presuppositions, and that the CTT could not in principle discover that ultimate reality is otherwise.

Thoughts?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: Thanks for the followup.

Most of your objections (to me) don't seem especially relevant to a simple theory describing "truth" as a correspondence between a mental model, and external reality. But I'll take a shot anyway.

We start first with being born, and Descartes's "I think therefore I am". And it's hard to get much farther past solipsism, with just logic. But you continue to receive all this sensory input, as a baby, and eventually you develop a theory that the universe consists of at least two things, "self" and "other". (Although a few, like your hands and arms and legs, start out in "other" but eventually move over into the "self" category.)

Separately, we can have any two computations, and talk about what correspondences they might have. Say, the lattice vs. traditional method of multiplying multi-digit numbers. They're not identical processes, but you can observe that whenever you put two numbers into either process, the same numbers come out of each computation.

OK, so back to external reality. You ask "Can we even know if such a reality exists?" The answer is of course no, not in the sense of logical truth. I could be a brain in a vat, and this might all be simulated. But even then, we're only really asking the question of "well, what are the rules of the simulation?" Although I suppose you can imagine that even all of history is simulated, and I actually only exist at this one very second, and all my memories have been faked.

But leaving out "it's all fake!" (is that interesting for you to explore?), we're left with: there's a pretty obvious distinction between self and other. There sure does seem to be overwhelming evidence that there's some external reality out there, very different from the ideas inside my mind.

[...continued...]

Don Geddis said...

@Luke [...continued...]

"Can we even know if such a reality exists?" Yes, because it's a vastly more successful theory to posit that reality is already there, independent of human thought. Read again (or for the first time?) the example of how can you prove two particles are identical?. Prior to the evidence that forced the development of quantum mechanics, human philosophers never even imagined that the universe could possibly be such, that two particles are proven to be exactly identical. In fact, it appears (at first) that there are ironclad philosophical arguments that you could never be in an epistemic state, to make such a conclusion.

Yet external reality was stranger than any human imagined, and the evidence actually did lead to that conclusion, despite the beliefs of the philosophers. That is a concrete example that external reality is not mind-dependent.

You mention intentionality, although I think it is a red herring. (If you care, I agree with Dennett.) CTT doesn't assume anything about the nature of external reality. All it assumes is that there is something out there different from the internal mind, and that you make internal models, and that you check about how close the evolution of your internal model is, to the observed evolution of the external phenomena. In fact, when you talk about modelling humans, your internal models generally do contain intentionality. ("Why did the car turn right?" "Because the driver needs milk, and that's the direction to the grocery store.")

There may be a conclusion that "fundamental reality" is "mind-independent". But this isn't a requirement of CTT, and it certainly doesn't apply to all of reality (even if true of "fundamental" reality).

Finally, repeatability. Again, this isn't at all about CTT, but just about science. But you can do science on humans. "Doesn't merely repeat" is a poor criticism. A model of human behavior (such as psychology, or economics) predicts statistical trends, not specific individual actions. But so does quantum mechanics for particles, or meteorology for weather. You say "there is certainly order", but that's all that CTT or science is asking for.

"that order is of a different kind than the order of a mechanical universe" I would suggest that you completely misunderstand "a mechanical universe". And possibly computer science. To be specific: the fact that something is deterministic, doesn't mean you can predict what it is going to do. It's easy to make small computer programs, that no one can compute their output short of just running the things and seeing what happens.

The universe is the same way. Your conflict between "a mechanical universe" and "repeatability" vs. "alive" and "order", is just a misunderstanding, not a real conflict.

Luke said...

@Don:

> OK, so back to external reality. You ask "Can we even know if such a reality exists?"

No, I am attempting to distinguish between:

     A. mind-dependent reality
     B. mind-independent reality

The real question in my mind is whether reality is, at its most fundamental ontological category, mind-like or not-mind-like. All that is required for what you observe (e.g. "other" vs. "self") is for there to be multiple minds interacting. They can have contrary desires, and thus result in the clash of wills such that sometimes, you want X to happen but it does not happen.

The way we would detect God in reality is if we encountered mind-like operations which cannot be attributed to anyone but God. Now, I argue that you won't necessarily run against aspects of reality that don't match with your conception of reality. Indeed, per Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness, you may not even become conscious of patterns in reality which don't sufficiently well-match patterns already in your non-perceptual neurons. Stated differently, all observation is theory-laden. If you don't have the right theories, there are certain phenomena you may never be able to observe, at least as a cohesive whole.

A scientific instrument can only detect what it is capable of detecting. What I wonder is whether you are capable of detecting a God-like mind operating in reality. Sometimes I wonder that about myself, as well. I would like to establish what would need to be in sufficiently proper working order, for detection to happen. If we have sufficiently bad conceptions of how God would act, I think I'm on firm ground in claiming that (i) we might see nothing along the lines of those bad conceptions; (ii) we might never see what God is actually doing. Note that unlike most scientific instruments, we can alter what (or who!) we are capable of detecting.

Perhaps you are aware of the phenomenon whereby you have such a bad conception of how a person thinks that you, or someone else, have a tremendously hard time finding that person's actions intelligible. They seem downright irrational! But then, you find that you had a really bad conception, a bad model. Upon correction, you not only see that these actions are intelligible, but that other actions also slot into the model, actions you had never connected. This swap in interpretation is not necessarily forced by a single new piece of evidence; instead, it is founded in the search for the best explanation, the best model.

Can you see how one's conception of God could be so bad that one wouldn't even be able to connect disparate events as all performed by him? Can you see how one's conception of reality could become so fragmented that there is simply not enough connectivity and intelligibility to see enough events as carried out by a single mind? And so, failure to see God would not necessarily be an evidential problem; it could be an interpretational problem. I claim that all observations are theory-laden, and a bad theory can blind you to seeing things which are objectively there.

As far as I can tell, the correspondence theory of truth, as traditionally interpreted, blinds one to the above aspects of reality. It neglects the relation between mind and reality, and fails to make utterly clear that the 'reality' which is explored is utterly and entirely dependent on the instrument used to explore it. If the instrument is sufficiently broken or limited, there are aspects of reality which it can never detect.

Am I making any sense?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: " I am attempting to distinguish between: A. mind-dependent reality B. mind-independent reality"

And I already gave you an example, quantum mechanics, that does not seem to have even been imagined before it was discovered. If you want more, we have lots of evidence (astronomical, geological, biological) of tremendous activity for billions of years in the universe, long before there ever existed anything like human beings.

So, at the very least, reality is almost certainly not dependent on human minds.

"The way we would detect God in reality is if we encountered mind-like operations which cannot be attributed to anyone but God."

Fair enough. It's not out of the question to consider God as a hypothesis. And, prior to the conceptualization of the theory of evolution, God was really the only reasonable explanation for the existence of complex life.

"all observation is theory-laden. If you don't have the right theories, there are certain phenomena you may never be able to observe, at least as a cohesive whole."

Sure, but it's not as though "God" is a concept that we're unfamiliar with. It's easy enough to be open to observing such evidence.

"What I wonder is whether you are capable of detecting a God-like mind operating in reality."

Depends what it does, I suppose. A God-like mind like Ron's "Loki the trickster", could easily use omnipotence to deliberately mislead any possible scientific inquiry.

"you have such a bad conception of how a person thinks that you ... have a tremendously hard time finding that person's actions intelligible"

There's a big (huge!) difference, between understanding why someone acts the way they do, vs. just observing that there was some action done. To see God in nature, we only need to observe things that have no simpler explanation. We don't need to understand why God acts the way he does.

"Can you see how one's conception of reality could become so fragmented that there is simply not enough connectivity and intelligibility to see enough events as carried out by a single mind?"

Not really. I mean, sure, there's obviously space in our lack of perfect prediction, for a trickster God to manipulate the details of the weather, or the actual outcome of some "random" QM events, such that apparently unlikely things happen. But even then, it would be possible to observe the large scale human-level consequences. Like, the Jews always surviving, or Christians dominating Muslims.

But nothing we actually observe, requires an explanatory theory that includes a real god.

"If the instrument is sufficiently broken or limited, there are aspects of reality which it can never detect."

You greatly oversell this theoretical concern. There is nothing about scientific inquiry which necessarily assumes a mind-independent reality. (As demonstrated by the stupid yet compelling Copenhagen interpretation, a real scientific theory that offered a prominent place in nature for consciousness.)

Reality being mind-independent is a conclusion derived from the actual evidence observed, not something forced by the limitation of the instruments.

Luke said...

@Don:

> And I already gave you an example, quantum mechanics, that does not seem to have even been imagined before it was discovered.

That's possibly irrelevant, if there are more than human minds around. Which you anticipated. :-)

> It's not out of the question to consider God as a hypothesis.

Heh, I just went through this with someone else. 'Science' is not a hypothesis. It is not clear that 'God' is a hypothesis, either. If God is an infinite being, then he is bigger than 'science', not smaller. And yet, 'science' works by being, or becoming, bigger than whatever phenomenon it is explaining. So there seems to be a pretty big mismatch, here.

Furthermore, I claim we don't posit some sort of essence behind a person to better explain them. Instead, we expect that person to be capable of becoming more. At least, that's what I hope for in my marriage and in my friendships. And you know what? Holding out the expectation that a person can become more and better, if you do it right, actually facilitates that person becoming more and better. Now in the case of God, it's actually me becoming "more and better", with the result being that I as an instrument become more capable, and thus have the resources to understand more about God.

> Sure, but it's not as though "God" is a concept that we're unfamiliar with.

Given that people think that Pastafarianism is close to classical theism, I'm not at all convinced of this. As another example, I've been trying to convince Ron that there is a model of preferring non-coercive power over coercive power, which is well-evidenced in Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20, among other passages. In my experience, people are actually quite bad at imagining God working according to a "≤ X" model of coercion, whereby he always treats people who exert X amount of coercion, with ≤ X coercion. In so many cases, I see people as imagining that God just gets what he wants, by fiat. Kind of how they would, if they had "all of the powers". And so, I'm not at all convinced of what you claim.

> Depends what it does, I suppose. A God-like mind like Ron's "Loki the trickster", could easily use omnipotence to deliberately mislead any possible scientific inquiry.

Of course. There are many notions of God. All but one are wrong.

> There's a big (huge!) difference, between understanding why someone acts the way they do, vs. just observing that there was some action done. To see God in nature, we only need to observe things that have no simpler explanation. We don't need to understand why God acts the way he does.

I believe almost completely to the contrary; I cite Kenneth Pearce's A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles, as well as Gregory W. Dawes' Theism and Explanation. I can, of course, elaborate.

> But nothing we actually observe, requires an explanatory theory that includes a real god.

Ummmm... Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness. :-p

> Reality being mind-independent is a conclusion derived from the actual evidence observed, not something forced by the limitation of the instruments.

I am not convinced this is true. I have science to back up my reasons.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "'Science' is not a hypothesis. It is not clear that 'God' is a hypothesis, either. If God is an infinite being, then he is bigger than 'science', not smaller."

Science is a process, for building models and explanations that correspond ever more closely to objective reality. "God" is a hypothesized entity to possibly explain some observations of reality. (God may or may not also exist in reality; God is at least a hypothesis, possibly something more.)

"God is bigger than science" doesn't really mean anything. I know you're trying to emotionally glorify your conception of God, but there isn't any actual metric along which science is a 7, and God is a 10, therefore God is "bigger". They aren't the same kinds of things.

"'science' works by being, or becoming, bigger than whatever phenomenon it is explaining."

I would say that this claim, also, is meaningless. "Science is bigger" is similar to "colorless green ideas sleep furiously". The words don't fit together in any meaningful way.

"we expect that person to be capable of becoming more."

You're using the language of motivational speech, but again, I don't believe you're saying anything actually meaningful.

"A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles"

This seems to be a version of: God set up the initial state of the universe, with omniscience about where it would evolve to. Any local observation will see only regular scientific nature, but the end state -- not predictable by science -- is exactly as God intended.

This claim isn't disprovable, but it isn't especially useful either. Anything can happen, and whatever does happen, you can retroactively claim that it was "intended". Adding this kind of "God" to science doesn't allow you to predict anything better, to understand or explain anything. It has no effect at all on our understanding of the universe. It's just a post hoc addition: whatever we observe, it's "surely" the intended result of some plan that we also don't understand.

"I can, of course, elaborate."

You probably should.

"I have science to back up my reasons."

Please share.

P.S. We seem to be talking about science again. But recall that the task you were intending to go criticize in your own words, was the Correspondence Theory of Truth. You kept posting links (that I explored, but didn't believe) that CTT is "wrong" or "broken". You said you were going to defend that claim yourself, instead of just via links. But you haven't done so; you've instead quickly gotten distracted into the usual questions of science and god and religion. What happened to CTT?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: I need to tell you, this part actually made me angry. I wrote: "But nothing we actually observe, requires an explanatory theory that includes a real god."

You responded: "Ummmm... Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness. :-p"

I was on the border of refusing to engage with you further. I'm trying to calm down, and assume that you had good intentions, so let me try to help you be a more productive discussion partner (for me).

You've been told before, that responding to a direct claim with a mere link is rude. (Or, at least, I receive it as such.) You've said that you don't intend that reaction.

I say that observations don't require a god to explain them. You respond "ummm...", which means "no". Intriguing! Please explain.

But you provide no explanation of your own. Just a link. Which I follow, and waste more of my time on. But I see nothing about god being a necessary explanation there. It's all an f'n waste of my time, and your writing is so arrogant that if I can't make the connection, "obviously" it's because I didn't study and understand your link well enough.

No. Your style makes you an a-hole. If that's not what you mean, then you should instead write more like this: You need to first explain your position, and then defend it, IN YOUR OWN WORDS. If you're stealing from someone else, it's perfectly fine to give credit, e.g. "I choose to adopt the intentional stance towards other humans, following [Dennett]". You can also offer links, for those interested in diving deeper: "If you want to know more, consider [McCarthy] or [Minksy]."

But your text MUST stand on its own, and be intelligible, WITHOUT following the links. They can ONLY be supplementary.

What you do instead, is object to something I wrote, but then not explain yourself, and then provide only what seems to be a mostly irrelevant -- but very long and complex -- link, and then act as though you had somehow thus "proven" your point.

You haven't done jack s--t. What you've done, is ignore the hard work of coming up with a valid argument, and attempt to "win" a debate via volume of text, surely realizing that nobody can take the time to go through all your references line by line, and then just assuming that "if only" they had understood your links, "of course" they would then agree with your position.

Of course, I HAVE sometimes followed and deconstructed some of your links, and they rarely show what you pretend they do. But when I call you on it, you just back off to "oh, maybe I meant these other links instead" or "I hadn't fully finished reading that one" or some other excuse. But you don't apologize for your tone in the original argument where you act as though you've actually demonstrated something, just by posting a link.

Another problem: if I say "the ball is black", and you say "I think the ball is white, and here's a link to someone else who also says that", that isn't so compelling either. Your main problem is that your links don't support the points you pretend they do. But even if they did, all that means is that someone wrote a post or article or book making the same claims as you, so all that means is there are now two wrong people, instead of just one. Publishing an argument doesn't make it valid.

So PLEASE, I'm begging you: write comments that can be understood without following your links. Use links ONLY as supplementary material. At this point I'm going to basically ignore anything you refer to. "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice..."

I've had it with spending effort following your links, and trying to make sense of the material there in the context of our discussions.

Luke said...

@Don:

> I was on the border of refusing to engage with you further. I'm trying to calm down, and assume that you had good intentions, so let me try to help you be a more productive discussion partner (for me).
>
> You've been told before, that responding to a direct claim with a mere link is rude. (Or, at least, I receive it as such.) You've said that you don't intend that reaction.

The core idea behind Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness is this. You have patterns on your perceptual neurons, and patterns in your slower-to-change-synaptic-weight neurons, which Grossberg somewhat oddly calls "long term memory" (LTM). The key is that the weights of some synapses change quickly (your perceptual neurons), while the weights of other synapses change slowly. One must have differences in 'plasticity' of neurons in order for learning to happen. (Need I defend this claim?)

Grossberg argues that you only become conscious of percepts when the patterns in your perceptual neurons sufficiently closely match patterns in your LTM. This means that 'confirmation bias' may well be a key aspect to consciousness, and the 'bias' part of it is either unavoidable, or it is merely the functioning of a system in failure mode. They key to this observation is that what you are conscious of is not all of reality, but instead those aspects of reality that match patterns in your LTM. It is a way to filter how much "shows up" in conscious thought. You can probably see how this limitation would be incredibly important.

However, there are consequences to this model of consciousness. You will be blind to those things which do not sufficiently closely match patterns in your LTM. So, the idea that you have some sort of direct, unmediated connection to reality is horribly, horribly wrong. The nature of the relation between your mind and reality has very specific structure which needs to be explored and characterized. It is distinctly possible that this relation greatly limits how much you can observe of reality, and therefore requires epistemic humility on what you say does and does not exist.

A friend of mine, who is partly responsible for the existence of the graphics card chips we have nowadays, said that in his computer graphics research, he focused on being able to generate sophisticated structures. One of the things he learned to generate were realistic-looking trees. After doing this for a while, he found that he could notice more detail in real trees than he had before. By training his brain to recognize more patterns, he became conscious of deeper aspects of reality.

I always like the scene in the first Bourne movie, where Jason Bourne is in a diner and tells the person he is with that he is hyper-aware of everything of strategic importance that was going on in his visual field. He didn't know why he was so aware, but he was. I posit that this is very realistic, and is the result of careful training whereby the right patterns were burned into his memory, so that he could be conscious of them without having to [consciously] think much.

My point to you is that if you don't have a good enough pattern in your LTM for what God is actually like, you may never be conscious of his operations in reality. You may see the particular phenomena which are the result of his actions, but you will never group them together as a cohesive whole. To convince you that there is perhaps a cohesive whole, more evidence won't help. I have to get you to change how you interpret. But you seem to think that this couldn't possibly be the case.

Luke said...

@Don:

> No. Your style makes you an a-hole.

By saying this, you declare yourself righteous and me a sinner. The problem couldn't possibly exist in you, so surely it must exist in me. Now, I recognize that I'm not perfect. However, what you've done here is fail to admit any sort of fault on your own. This insinuates, quite strongly, that you are the righteous one, doing everything that is expected of you, while I am the horrible, heinous sinner, who has been repeatedly corrected and just won't get the message.

Now, the above could be possibly true. You could be so righteous in comparison to me that the extreme of you being 100% righteous and me being 100% sinner is a sufficiently good model. What I'd like to see is whether you've actually tried to falsify this model, and whether you've done it competently enough to know that it is a good model. So far, I haven't seen anything like that.

> Of course, I HAVE sometimes followed and deconstructed some of your links, and they rarely show what you pretend they do.

This is not helpful to me without enough data points where I can start seeing the pattern. You clearly have a pattern in your mind; my question is whether it is supported by enough data points to establish your "rarely" with confidence. This could certainly be the case. But I am not aware of the pattern, myself. You cannot just say "there exists a pattern, and here is the definition", and then have me magically be able to find all the relevant data points. See, I am an extremely self-critical person, and constantly try not to do precisely what you claim (your "rarely"). So for every data point you mention, I have tried to have the point be valid with sufficiently high probability that overall, you could never say "rarely" of the aggregate of data points.

> But when I call you on it, you just back off to "oh, maybe I meant these other links instead" or "I hadn't fully finished reading that one" or some other excuse.

How many data points undergird this analysis? You speak as if it's 5–10, but it sounds like it may be closer to 2–3. As it turns out, very frequently I get accusations of approximately your tone and type, which turn out to be backed by somewhere between one and three instances. Now, I am very used to getting punished by people for erring only one time. That is really a shitty way to live. See, when you are offered merely a singular instance, and told the alleged pattern it fits into, it's not always easy to see what a second item in that class would be. And so, it's easy to screw up again.

> Another problem: if I say "the ball is black", and you say "I think the ball is white, and here's a link to someone else who also says that", that isn't so compelling either.

Where have I done this? How may times have I done this?

> So PLEASE, I'm begging you: write comments that can be understood without following your links. Use links ONLY as supplementary material.

With you, I will do this. But this will run against the problem Randal Rauser indicates in Apologetics and the cult of concision or, not every conversation can be had in under four minutes. That title almost completely captures the thought, but I will add: not every argument can be fully articulated in one set of > 4096 characters, or even in three. If I can never use a link for MORE than "supplementary material", it will limit what I can usefully talk about. But if you wish that restriction, I will abide by it when interacting with you, in particular. Do not expect me to abide by it when interacting with others.

Luke said...

@Don:

> Science is a process, for building models and explanations that correspond ever more closely to objective reality. "God" is a hypothesized entity to possibly explain some observations of reality. (God may or may not also exist in reality; God is at least a hypothesis, possibly something more.)
>
> "God is bigger than science" doesn't really mean anything. I know you're trying to emotionally glorify your conception of God, but there isn't any actual metric along which science is a 7, and God is a 10, therefore God is "bigger". They aren't the same kinds of things.

Actually, I am not attempting to "emotionally glorify [my] conception of God". Instead, I am claiming that all the bits of information in our universe are insufficient to perfectly model who God is. Notice that I am violating the ontological form of Ockham's razor here, but I claim that the ontological form needs justification I have never seen.

If you get to know me, you will find that I am one of the least emotional people you know, per traditional meanings of the word 'emotional'. (Contrast that to the 'drivenness' of Nobel laureates, which involves 'emotions'.) I have experienced endless attempts of others to emotionally manipulate me, both in real life and online. It's really quite disgusting how frequently allegedly Enlightened people attempt emotional manipulation. Please don't do that, yourself.

> I would say that this claim, also, is meaningless. "Science is bigger" is similar to "colorless green ideas sleep furiously". The words don't fit together in any meaningful way.

I cannot talk about size via Kolmogorov complexity? The Kolmogorov complexity of the total apparatus (everything which is needed, mental and physical) used to examine a phenomenon is always bigger than the Kolmogorov complexity of the specific model of that phenomenon. If K is the measure of Kolmogorov complexity, then I can say:

     A. K(phenomenon) < K(science)
     B. K(God) > K(science)

Therefore, I claim to say that "God is a hypothesis" is simply wrong. No, the enterprise of science itself is not "a hypothesis". It simply isn't.

> > we expect that person to be capable of becoming more.

> You're using the language of motivational speech, but again, I don't believe you're saying anything actually meaningful.

We can probably talk about 'more' in terms of Kolmogorov complexity and get somewhere, even if that concept doesn't completely capture what is being discussed.

Luke said...

@Don:

> P.S. We seem to be talking about science again. But recall that the task you were intending to go criticize in your own words, was the Correspondence Theory of Truth. You kept posting links (that I explored, but didn't believe) that CTT is "wrong" or "broken". You said you were going to defend that claim yourself, instead of just via links. But you haven't done so; you've instead quickly gotten distracted into the usual questions of science and god and religion. What happened to CTT?

I am analyzing the instrument used to explore reality. The biggest weakness of the CTT is probably a failure to focus enough attention on the relation between mind and reality. And so, I am putting a good deal of focus on precisely that relation. Your general assumption seems to be that the instrument used—homo sapiens—is up to the task, and doesn't need the kind of analysis I am attempting to provide. Critically, you appear to hold the belief that if anything like the Judeo-Christian God is in causal connection with reality, you as an instrument would be in sufficient working order to detect the effects of that causal connection. I am simply not convinced this is true.

> > I have science to back up my reasons.

> Please share.

Grossberg's paper, which I have no articulated, is one example. Another would be some articulation of how children acquire and hone concepts, from Paul E. Griffiths' What Emotions Really Are: The Problem of Psychological Categories. For example:

>> Children do not create concepts simply by grouping particulars on the basis of overall similarity. Instead, they create causal explanatory theories of particular domains and cluster instances according to their possession of theoretically significant properties in the these schemes of explanation (Keil 1989). (6)

This militates against some conceptions of how learning happens, where one has a "swirl of uninterpreted data" which the brain then assembles into coherent wholes. This simply does not happen. Instead, there is a lot of pre-programming, such that one has innate patterns to "try against" what is observed. One can observe this in machine learning: one does not merely give a computer a set of images and instruct it, "Find some patterns!" Instead, one picks out what is important and what is not, thereby giving a predetermined structure to which the evidence must fit. In other words, what Charles Taylor says below is 100% correct:

>> Plainly we couldn't have experience of the world at all if we had to start with a swirl of uninterpreted data. Indeed, there would be no "data," because even this minimal description depends on our distinguishing what is given by some objective source from what we merely supply ourselves.[17] (Philosophical Arguments, 11)

Our instruments matter. We can't hand-wave, saying that even if the human instrument is somewhat malfunctioning, it is "good enough" to do science and say what ultimate reality is like. No! All observations are theory-laden, and if we pick the wrong theories, we may forever close ourselves off to phenomena and facts about ultimate reality.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: Thanks for explaining your interpretation of Grossberg 1999. The actual work is perfectly fine, but I think you grossly overestimate its significance.

Yes, of course, human senses can't directly perceive lots of reality. A full model of "what you would observe" in different experiments, needs to include the limitations and bugs of human senses. We have two basic ways of solving this problem: (1) scientific tools; and (2) reasoning (esp. via repeated trials or multiple perspectives).

So we examine small things with microscopes, or faint far things with telescopes. We film bullets or water drops in high speed, and then play back in slow motion. And even at regular human scales, we are easily fooled by optical illusions.

But none of the limitations of human senses, prevents us from fully investigating the nature of external reality. And, more importantly for this conversation, none of it specifically excludes any particular trace that God might leave.

You keep voicing a theoretical, abstract, objection, that "if you don't have a good enough pattern in your LTM for what God is actually like, you may never be conscious of his operations in reality". You're going to have to do better than that. What specific God pattern do you have in mind, that you think science is missing, and why are we unable to build tools or use reasoning to investigate that pattern?

The closest I've heard you claim, is something like "what if there was a purpose behind how things turned out?" Go ahead, propose a specific theory, and we'll consider it. But in any case, that concern has hardly anything to do with whether the perceptual abilities of ordinary humans can be fooled by optical illusions. (Which is why your link was irrelevant to my claim that science hasn't observed any evidence of God.)

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "I am claiming that all the bits of information in our universe are insufficient to perfectly model who God is."

That's fine. You claim, not that you have a huge theory of God, but that if there were a precise theory of God, it would be "larger" than the physical size of the universe. You kind of have a meta-theory of God.

But that's got nothing to do with God somehow being "bigger" than science (which I think is non-sensical).

Yes, it is certainly possible that there exist things in the multiverse which have a precise form that is larger than the physical size of the universe. You wish to propose God as one of these things. So far, all you've got is an imaginative theory, with no evidence.

"The Kolmogorov complexity of the total apparatus (everything which is needed, mental and physical) used to examine a phenomenon is always bigger than the Kolmogorov complexity of the specific model of that phenomenon."

I don't think this says what you think it says. For sure, a scientific process that builds a model of some part of reality, is "larger" or "more complex" than just the model itself. But the model is generally a highly simplified form of the actual reality, so you can't jump from there to saying that the phenomenon is less complex than science.

Science can easily investigate (parts of) things that are more complex than science itself.

"you appear to hold the belief that if anything like the Judeo-Christian God is in causal connection with reality, you as an instrument would be in sufficient working order to detect the effects of that causal connection. I am simply not convinced this is true."

Fair enough, but again you can't just have an abstract objection. You're the one proposing the Judeo-Christian theory. So you're the one that ought to come up with some concrete thing that you think I couldn't detect.

"there is a lot of pre-programming"

Yes, I know well that human brains come built with predispositions for certain kinds of learning. Which can even change during the life cycle! (Language acquisition seems to be more efficient in early childhood, for example.)

And yes, I know all about machine learning.

"We can't hand-wave, saying that even if the human instrument is somewhat malfunctioning, it is "good enough" to do science and say what ultimate reality is like."

Sure we can! The development of the scientific process, can be seen as an attempt to enumerate all the various and complex ways that human beings can come to hold strong beliefs, which do not correspond with reality. As you add up all the many ways we've discovered that we can fool ourselves, you then demand in the future that proper scientific experimentation "wall off" those tricky paths to non-truth.

"All observations are theory-laden, and if we pick the wrong theories, we may forever close ourselves off to phenomena and facts about ultimate reality."

And yet, there's always reality to give you actual data that break with your current theories. The speed of light seems constant in every direction. Quantum particles act as though they are interfering waves ... even if they only come one particle at a time!

So: go for it. Point me to some data that you think is significant, that is being currently overlooked. Don't just talk about how the tool "might" be theory-laden, and how it "might" therefore not detect the critical data. Tell me what specific critical data you think is being ignored, and let's see if we can examine it.

Nick Morse said...

God is the author of everything and everything exists because of God. Scripture tells us that MAN will know there is a God by evidence clearly seen all around him. It is not that he doesn't really grasp the idea there is obviously a Creator, it is because that man hates God. However, the Creator made these things clearly evident so that on judgement day you will be left without excuse and therefor cannot fall into an "I didn't know" category. God is the creator of EVERYTHING :D

Nick Morse said...

And yet there is proof all around us. Epigenetics is proof, archeologically there is proof, historical accounts demonstrate proof.................It is not the quality of the proof at play here. It is the one who contemplates the proof sufficient or not. :D

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