Joey

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An atheist response to properly basic beliefs
« on: September 30, 2007, 08:12:46 pm »
Hi all,

Here is a link to a short exchange (on a forum in Richard Dawkins' official website) that Craig and Wolpert had on radio before their actual debate :-
http://richarddawkins.net/article,684,Lewis-Wolpert-and-William-Lane-Craig-on-Religion,Today-Programme-BBC-Radio-4
Alternatively go to Google and type "craig dawkins mp3 wolpert" and follow the first link.

It is interesting (and at times funny) to see the obviously atheistic responses to this exchange on that forum.  One (more serious) response in particular captured my attention, and it concerns Craig's comments on properly basic beliefs which he has presented in many other debates and talks.  

I recognize this response isn't the most sophisticated one, and it's probably been proposed and dealt with before.  Nonetheless I've quoted it below, and I'd very much like to know what your thoughts are on it.  What sort of counter-response would be good?
Craig claims that you cannot prove the foundations of Realism, therefore scientists  believe in Realism without evidence.  My Christian friends have occasionally pulled this Solipsist argument against Realism on me ("Brain in a Vat", "five-minute hypothesis", "Evil Daemon", "The Matrix").

My response is that both the Realist and the Solipsist still have to make a decision on how they're going to understand their world. Whether I live in a real, material world (the Realist) or I live in a subconscious illusion (the Solipsist), I still have to decide how I will think.

I have to decide if I will base my explanations on the evidence presented to me (by either the reality or the illusion), or on what other people tell me (be they flesh-and-blood or just mere phantoms), or on whatever I dream-up (my dreams reflecting specialized evolved mechanisms or a soul).

So until Morpheus comes to unplug me from the Matrix*, I might as well pick the most productive epistemology - empiricism - to understand my reality/illusion.
* sarcastic tone.


Thanks!
Joey

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Luke Martin

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« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2007, 08:56:04 pm »

Well, there's a lot that could be said here, but for starters, I'll say this.  This atheist is missing the point.  It's not that we choose to believe that other people have minds or that there is a past.  Rather, we know these things.  But how do we know them?  Classical foundationalism notoriously cannot supply the correct account here.  Rather, we believe these things basically and these beliefs are fully warranted.  The theist then comes along and asks why theistic belief cannot also be warrantedly believed in a basic way.  If our theistic beliefs are the results of cognitive faculties functioning properly (or the product of reliable belief-producing mechanisms or...fill in your preferred account here), then theistic belief can be fully warranted without needing in addition some further doxastic grounding.


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james b

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An atheist response to properly basic beliefs
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2007, 02:02:20 am »
Hi Joey.

   

   I don't know what this guy means by 'picking the most epistemologically productive' worldview.  But I can think of a few things he might mean.

   

   He might mean 'the one that most appeals to him'.  But if that's the case, why can't the Christian be justified in picking Christianity on the same basis?  So I doubt he means this.

   

   He might mean 'the one that best explains his experiences'.  But if that's the case, I don't see how he ends up with realism, since both solipsism and realism explain the experiences we have as human beings equally well, and there's no evidence independent of either of these worldviews that favours one over the other.

   

   He might mean 'the one that yields the most knowledge'.  But, if that's the case, I think he's begging the question, since what's at stake here is whether there really is an external world for us to derive knowledge from in the first place!  In other words, you have to presuppose the existence of an external world to arrive at the conclusion that realism yields the most knowledge of it.  And, if this kind of reasoning is valid, why not presuppose the truth of solipsism, and then justify it on the basis that it's the least deceptive of the two worldviews?

   

   The fundamental point I think Craig tries to get across in his exchange with Wolpert isn't, of course, that we should all become solipsists.  Rather, his point is that we all believe things that can't be justified on the basis of evidence.  So, even if it turns out that there isn't any decent evidence for Christianity (which I don't think is the case), the Christian can still be rational in maintaining his beliefs.

   

   Take, for instance, the issue of morality.  Moral judgements clearly lay claim to some kind of knowledge.  But what evidence is there for making these kinds of judgements?  What evidence is there that, say, senseless murder is evil?  In the end, most people would probably end up saying something like 'I just know in my heart that some things are right and other things are wrong'.  Fine.  I wouldn't disagree with them.  But why, then, can't the Christian 'just know in his heart that God exists'?

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Joey

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An atheist response to properly basic beliefs
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2007, 03:45:09 am »
Hi Luke and James_b,

Thanks for your responses.  Craig wasn't really talking about proper basicality of religious beliefs, but that we're warranted in believing many things for which we have no empirical evidence.  

If I understand the atheist correctly, I think his response is to undercut this by saying that we really don't know for sure whether our properly basic beliefs are true, but we nonetheless hold them anyway as they "work" for him and that it's a more "productive" epistemology for him to believe the external world is real (though it mightn't be) and in empiricism (that, presumably, he'll only believe in sense-perceptible things, even though it's possible they're nothing but illusions).  

What are your thoughts to this response?  I guess I can say that if one adopts this attitude, then one can no longer claim that empiricism is actually true; it simply "works best" for you.  If so, then the atheist hasn't really done anything to disprove or even doubt the existence of God, since he's only choosing empiricism as it "works best" for him.  Do you agree with me?

Joey

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Luke Martin

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« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2007, 09:29:39 am »
Well, Joey, if your interpretation is correct, then I agree with you.  But is this guy really claiming that we don't know there are other people or a past?  That's crazy.  If the price of denying that Christian beliefs are warranted is claiming we don't know there's a past, then this atheist has provided the reductio of his own position.
I don't know what it means to say that acceptance of empiricism "works."  Could you elaborate on what you think he means by this?  Empiricism notoriously has a difficult time accounting for our knowledge of mathematics, logic, and other metaphysically necessary truths.  Empiricism doesn't seem to work at all, so I'm at a loss to understand what this atheist is saying.

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Joey

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« Reply #5 on: October 01, 2007, 03:26:19 pm »
Hi Luke,

Thanks for replying.  Assuming my interpretation is correct, I agree that the atheist seems a bit desperate in denying we're at all warranted in holding our properly basic beliefs based on the possibility they could be false.  Do you think my interpretation of that quotation is incorrect?

I suppose what he thinks by a "more productive" epistemology is that it coheres best with his experience of (and interaction with) the external world (whether real or illusory).  As he interacts with the external world, it really does seem to be the case that it's real.  Also, I guess he's tacitly admitting that he does have properly basic beliefs in the external world and he may as well live as if they're true, though he'd honestly admit he doesn't really know if they're true.

In any case, you're right that belief in the external world is but one part of our set of properly basic beliefs and it'd be even harder to deny we really know certain mathematical or metaphysical truths as we seem to hold them incorrigibly.

I guess I may also ask the atheist why he picks the epistemology that works best for him.  It cannot be because he thinks it's true (as he doesn't know it is).  He could reply that it's just a basic fact that we generally pick worldviews that work best for us.  I guess I could say that if this "basic fact" is no longer grounded in truth, what is it grounded in and why we should follow it?  Also, on what grounds can the atheist actually criticize people who pick other epistemologies that  "work best" for them (or pick them anyway, even if they don't  "work best" for them)?  His choice seems to lapse into subjectivism.

Does anyone agree that this is another good sort of counter-response that I can use?  Is there more that can be said (assuming my interpretation is correct)?  Or have I misunderstood what the atheist was saying?

Thanks again for the discussion,
Joey

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james b

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« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2007, 04:51:08 pm »
Hi Joey.

   

   I think you'll have to get some more comments from your atheist friend to know whether you've understood him correctly.

   

   I think your response is basically OK (for whatever that's worth!).  But, to be honest, I don't think there's much to respond to.  Your friend hasn't argued that belief in God can't be held as a properly basic belief.  Nor has he proven that his own belief in the external world is anything other than properly basic.  So, as you say earlier, there's nothing in his statement to refute Craig's assertions in the Wolpert debate or belief in God more generally.

   

   You say of your atheist friend that:

   

   
I suppose what he thinks by a 'more productive' epistemology is that it coheres best with his experience of (and interaction with) the external world (whether real or illusory)

   

   But I'd disagree here.  His experience of (and interaction with) the external world is identical to what it would be if, for instance , a mad scientist was stimulating his brain.  He could argue that his experience was more uniform than he'd otherwise expect.  But why think that being in some kind of matrix wouldn't be uniform?

   

   James.

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Joey

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« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2007, 07:30:52 pm »
Hi James,

Thanks for the response.  It would be possible for the atheist to say he'd rather believe the external world was real as it's a simpler hypothesis than the brain in the vat one, though his experience would be identical?  

Joey


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james b

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« Reply #8 on: October 01, 2007, 07:46:37 pm »
Joey,

   

   Likewise, thanks for the response.

   

   But why would positing the reality of the external world be a simpler explanation than the 'brain in a vat' explanation?  There's another thread going somewhere on what constitutes simplicity.  And the general consensus seems to be that it's a difficult thing to quantify.

   

   But if simplicity is judged by, say, the number of posited entities (which seems as good a starting point as any), then the brain in the vat hypothesis is a far simpler explanation than the reality of the external world; since rather than positing billions of souls in the real world, it posits one mad scientist and you're done.

   

   Moreover, what about solipsism?  Surely, this is the ultimate in simplicity.  The only thing it posits is my own existence, which is undeniable.  In terms of simplicity, it doesn't get any better than solipsism.  So I don't think the atheist can justify realism by appealing to simplicity.

   

   James

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Joey

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« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2007, 09:47:59 am »
That's a truly wonderful reply James_b.  I daresay that this atheistic response has been soundly rebutted ... unless someone else would like to be the devil's advocate for this atheist

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Daniel Pech

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« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2007, 02:38:14 pm »
Luke wrote:

It's not that we choose to believe that other people have minds or that there is a past.  Rather, we know these things.  But how do we know them?  Classical foundationalism notoriously cannot supply the correct account here.  Rather, we believe these things basically and these beliefs are fully warranted.

There are simple, every-day, empirically indisputed things that may be analogous to these more philosophically deep problems. For example, humans know how to walk without also being able---then and there---to construct and program a proficient, autonomous bipedal robot. After decades of effort by many engineers, the best bipedal robots that anyone has come up with are technically pushovers: "Push 'em and they fall over".
Believing it to be the most profound game, a man blindly thinks he pits himself against Mother Nature at Checkers, only to find, too late, that She has been playing him at Chess.

Mothers don't go on strike:  http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1631277/posts

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Joe Hinman

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« Reply #11 on: June 10, 2008, 04:45:33 pm »
Joey wrote: Hi all,

Here is a link to a short exchange (on a forum in Richard Dawkins' official website) that Craig and Wolpert had on radio before their actual debate :-
http://richarddawkins.net/article,684,Lewis-Wolpert-and-William-Lane-Craig-on-Religion,Today-Programme-BBC-Radio-4
Alternatively go to Google and type "craig dawkins mp3 wolpert" and follow the first link.

It is interesting (and at times funny) to see the obviously atheistic responses to this exchange on that forum.  One (more serious) response in particular captured my attention, and it concerns Craig's comments on properly basic beliefs which he has presented in many other debates and talks.  

I recognize this response isn't the most sophisticated one, and it's probably been proposed and dealt with before.  Nonetheless I've quoted it below, and I'd very much like to know what your thoughts are on it.  What sort of counter-response would be good?
Craig claims that you cannot prove the foundations of Realism, therefore scientists  believe in Realism without evidence.  My Christian friends have occasionally pulled this Solipsist argument against Realism on me ("Brain in a Vat", "five-minute hypothesis", "Evil Daemon", "The Matrix").

My response is that both the Realist and the Solipsist still have to make a decision on how they're going to understand their world. Whether I live in a real, material world (the Realist) or I live in a subconscious illusion (the Solipsist), I still have to decide how I will think.

I have to decide if I will base my explanations on the evidence presented to me (by either the reality or the illusion), or on what other people tell me (be they flesh-and-blood or just mere phantoms), or on whatever I dream-up (my dreams reflecting specialized evolved mechanisms or a soul).

So until Morpheus comes to unplug me from the Matrix*, I might as well pick the most productive epistemology - empiricism - to understand my reality/illusion.
* sarcastic tone.


Thanks!
Joey



I think the point is there is no objective indisputable basis for knowledge that is guaranteed just because the word "science" is attached. The atheist logic sort of presumes that since one kind of knowledge can be demonstrated "objectively" and the other cant' be (at least not always) then the one that can must be right. Of course that would be the one the atheists feel justifies their lack of belief. But his argument is saying that it just depends upon the set of assumptions one is willing to make as to the justification of knowledge. There is objective grounding that proves it beyond dispute.
Metacrock

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brent arnesen

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« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2009, 05:12:01 pm »
james b wrote: Take, for instance, the issue of morality.  Moral judgements clearly lay claim to some kind of knowledge.  But what evidence is there for making these kinds of judgements?  What evidence is there that, say, senseless murder is evil?  In the end, most people would probably end up saying something like 'I just know in my heart that some things are right and other things are wrong'.  Fine.  I wouldn't disagree with them.  But why, then, can't the Christian 'just know in his heart that God exists'?


I don't think using an example about morality is a very good idea when discussing properly basic beliefs.

Your last question is a non sequitur, especially in the light of your example.

There reason senseless murder is evil is because that is what we define it to be.  Evil is a subjective term used to describe, for better lack of a definition, "bad" acts done by moral agents.  (Further defined, "bad" is subjective, but might be defined as something that has a negative impact with relation to that Being which is considering the action- and further down into the rabbit hole of trying to define morality).

Anyhow, anyone who says "I know in my heart" isn't giving a rational reason. It's an emotional one.  I'm sure Jeffery Dalmer didn't think his murdering was senseless or evil.  i bet, though, that he felt his own murder was evil, while his killer thought it good.

it is interesting, btw, that it isn't enough to say that "murder is evil" but that you must add the "senseless" to it.  It shows how language doesn't completely capture the complexities of morality.

So, you say "But why, then, can't the Christian 'just know in his heart that God exists'?".  Because of many reasons. Reason being one of them.  First, you don't know anything in your heart, its in your brain.  Second, you don't "know" things through Reason and knowing God exists - just because - doesn't fulfill basic requirements for knowledge.
God is not maximally powerful if he lacks the ability to provide the proper evidence of His existence to me.  If I, a mere mortal, can overcome His desire to know me, then He is not God. God the Father? He's not apparent to me!

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icepick

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« Reply #13 on: May 29, 2009, 10:54:37 pm »
the real question is this: how does one argue that theism is properly basic? if it were, why isnt it universally accepted? i dont understand that?

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Zach Blaesi

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« Reply #14 on: May 29, 2009, 11:53:14 pm »
icepick wrote: the real question is this: how does one argue that theism is properly basic? if it were, why isnt it universally accepted? i dont understand that?


Properly basic beliefs don't have to be universally accepted to be properly basic. Belief in other minds is properly basic, but look at solipists!

Also, there are way more theists than non-theists.