Milbank vs Law on God: Blood on the Carpet

January 18, 2016

You can see Theologian Professor John Milbank and I exchanging blows on God here: https://iainews.iai.tv/articles/law-vs-milbank-belief-and-the-gods-part-1-auid-610

We don't pull our punches.Parts 3 and 4 will be put up shortly, but if you cannot wait, here is part 3 (from me) now:

 

Thanks to John Milbank for responding to my opening piece on God and science. I initially suggested many God beliefs are empirically - and even scientifically - refutable in the sense that we might establish beyond reasonable doubt, on the basis of observation, that the belief is false. I gave three examples: belief there's a God that answers petitionary prayer; belief that there's a God who created the world 6,000 years ago; and belief there's a God that's omnipotent and omni-malevolent. I then suggested that, for similar reasons, we can reasonably rule out a god that's omnipotent and omni-benevolent.

 

John rejects that last suggestion and defends the view that his particular omnipotent, omni-benevolent God is indeed off-limits to any sort of empirical or scientific refutation. So what is his counter-argument?

 

First off, John suggests religious believers distinguish religion from mere magic. Belief in magic is belief in extraordinary forces or spiritual powers that can be manipulated to achieve some end. Religious belief, on the other hand, focuses on God: something 'beyond nature' that can be experienced but not manipulated. God's non-manipulability entails 'he cannot be subject to verification or falsification in a ‘scientific’ sense, which is finally concerned with empirically observable items.' This, in turn, is because God is not one more item within the world but is 'everything'. God is being itself, rather than just some an additional (as it were, really big) thing.

 

There are at least a couple of moves that John runs together here which I'll now tease apart.

 

Consider first the claim that God is not manipulatable. I'll just grant that for the sake of argument. Does it follow that God 'can't be subject to verification or falsification in a scientific sense'? No. For consider: distant galaxies aren't causally manipulatable by us either. Nor is the distant past of this planet. Yet both are clearly scientifically investigable.

 

Here's where John goes wrong: God's being scientifically investigable does not require we be able to affect him; it requires only that he be able to affect us. We can't causally affect the past. But, because it affects us, we can scientifically investigate it. If dinosaurs roamed the earth, there are things we should expect to observe now. If we don't observe those things, that's evidence against dinosaurs. Similarly, if there's a God, there are certain things we should expect to observe (e.g. no gratuitous evils). If we don't observe those things, that can similarly be good evidence against God.

 

The third paragraph also points out that God is not a 'thing'. Rather, God is, in a certain sense, 'everything'. Observant readers will have spotted that I anticipated this 'sophisticated' theological suggestion in my original piece. But how does this familiar theological point about God's lack of 'thingyness' help immunise belief in God against empirical refutation?

 

That's not clear. John's God is supposed to be both the omnipotent 'source of everything' and also unsurpassable good - indeed, a God of love. But then how can the problem of explaining hundreds of millions of years of unspeakable horror be dismissed with a wave of the hand and the pronouncement that God's not a 'thing'? After all, an omnipotent omni-malevolent God isn't a 'thing' either. Yet we can still rule out that God on the basis of observed goods. So why can't we rule out a good God on the basis of observed evils? It seems we can. 

 

We then move on to discuss empirical investigation of prayer. John claims mainstream religious believers don't believe prayer is the sort of thing an empirical investigation might establish does or doesn't work. I need to get my facts straight, he says.

 

However, the Roman Catholic Church claims that God does indeed answer petitionary prayers and has a Commission responsible for empirically, and even scientifically, authenticating (though the use of medical records, etc.) that certain prayers for healing have indeed been miraculously answered. So I rest my case that many mainstream believers do indeed believe the efficacy of prayer is open to empirical confirmation/disconfirmation. It seems it's John that has his facts wrong.

 

We then move on to the 'privation' view of evil on which the evils in the world are like the holes in a Swiss cheese. An evil isn't a 'positive' existence in its own right, but a mere absence. For example, on the 'privation' view of evil, the evil of blindness is merely an absence or 'privation' of sight.

 

John claims that on the (actually very contentious) privation view of evil there is no problem of evil. But that's just wrong. For if evil is just the 'holes' in this Swiss cheese God has made - and even if there had to be, for reasons John doesn't explain, at least some holes in this cheese - an omnipotent God could surely have made the 'holes' much smaller: so small, in fact, that they lie be beyond our ability to detect them. Yet we stagger through vast caverns of evil in the cosmic cheese. Unspeakable horror is built into the very fabric of the world we are forced to inhabit. Why? That's a good question for which we have yet been given no adequate answer.

 

Finally, John tries another standard Christian apologetic move: that of insisting that 'evil proves God'. 'It's all very simple', he says: if there's real, objective evil - and not just a 'fantasised projection of our inconvenience or discomfort' - then there must be real, objective good. But in the absence of God, there is no such thing as real good. So if real evil exists, so does God.

 

Well, that 's certainly simple, but it's also widely recognised to be pretty hopeless as a response to the problem of evil.

 

First off, the onus is on John to establish that there is no real, objective good without God. What is the argument for this claim? We get none. And it's a very contentious claim.

 

Second, an atheist like myself can in any case run the argument from evil even while being a moral nihilist who denies the reality of good and evil. Just so long as the theist believes in real good and evil, and believes that entirely pointless agony is an evil, then the argument from evil can be run. For the world appears to contain immense quantities of agony that are pointless from a divine perspective.

 

At the very end it's suggested we should accept there is real good - and thus a real God - because otherwise we're looking at the 'demise of western civilisation and culture'.

 

It's often claimed that unless we believe in God we'll suppose 'everything is permitted' and so end up sliding to moral catastrophe.  Yet, when we look across world’s developed democracies, we find that those that are most religious – including, of course, the United States (where 43% of citizens claim to attend church weekly) – have the highest rates of homicide, sexually transmitted disease (STD), teen pregnancy and abortion. The least religious countries, such as Canada, Japan and Sweden, have the lowest rates.

And as historian Francis Fukuyama points out, China also provides an important counter-example to the view that moral order depends on religion:

The dominant cultural force in traditional Chinese society was, of course, Confucianism, which is not a religion at all but rather a rational, secular ethical doctrine. The history of China is replete with instances of moral decline and moral renewal, but none of these is linked particularly to anything a Westerner would call religion. And it is hard to make the case that levels of ordinary morality are lower in Asia than in parts of the world dominated by transcendental religion.

Indeed, to other cultures widespread Western assumption that people won’t be good without belief in God is baffling. Here's Chinese writer Lin Yu Tang:

To the West, it seems hardly imaginable that the relationship between man and man (morality) could be maintained without reference to a Supreme Being, while to the Chinese it is equally amazing that men should not, or could not, behave toward one another as decent beings without thinking of their indirect relationship through a third party.

Our basic morality appears to be a pretty much universal feature of human societies, religious or not.
Indeed, some recent research suggests that children from religious families actually tend to be less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households. It's possible religion may actually end up making us, not more moral, but less

 

However, all this is really rather beside the point, as whether or not religion is socially useful is not an issue here. The issue is whether or not religion is true. And, as I have pointed out, there's good empirical evidence against the existence of the Judeo-Christian God. Perhaps Christians don't usually infer God's goodness from observation of the world. Many suppose God's goodness is somehow directly and experientially revealed to them. But of course religious folk think they experience all sorts of things, don't they? And we know, because of the contradictory nature of what they supposedly experience - one God, two gods (Manicheaism), no God (on versions of Buddhism), etc.- that in most cases they're simply mistaken. Plus, as I say, there's powerful empirical evidence against the existence of both an all-powerful, all-evil god and also an all-powerful, all-good god. It is that empirical evidence that John has entirely failed to deal with.

 

To summarise: when put into plain English and analysed a bit, much of John's reasoning turns out to involve fairly basic logical errors. He also appears ignorant of some important - and in some cases fairly obvious - facts.

 

Appendix on pseudo-profundity

 

Perhaps, given the sometimes flowery style, you're left with lingering impression that there must be more to John's response than I suppose. What, for example, about some of those more profound-sounding bits in the middle?

 

I suspect you struggled to understand those bits. Why? I suggest the reason you likely struggled is not that those bits are really deep, but that they are opaque, muddled, and occasionally border on pseudo-profundity.

 

Let me finish by pointing up just one of the many warning flags for pseudo-profundity. The warning flag is: playing around with, and revering, contradiction.

 

Usually, when we find a contradiction in a passage, we suppose that establishes the presence of a falsehood. However, in some settings, contradiction may be taken to indicate profundity. Consequently, it's pretty easy to fake profundity just by contradicting yourself. Here are a few examples:

Sanity is a kind of madness
Life can be a form of death
The ordinary is extraordinary


Such sentences are interpretable in all sorts of ways and can easily appear profound. In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, two of the three slogans of the Party have the very same character:

War is peace
Freedom is slavery
Ignorance is strength


The thought that contradiction is a mark of profundity often crops up in a religious context. Non-believers usually suppose a contradiction in a religious doctrine shows it contains a falsehood. But the faithful may well take the same contradiction to indicate real depth. If you are a religious leader, say things like 'God is, and yet he is not; God is good, and yet he is not; God is every-thing, and yet he is no-thing' and watch the faces of the faithful light up.

 

Contradictions have other advantages too. A series of simple, unambiguous claims is easy to refute. Not so a series of such baffling, cryptic remarks.

 

Now, an example of one of John's 'deeper' comments is:

 

God is paradoxically at once 'all' and yet beyond the 'all' considered as a mere sum.'

 

That does sound deep, doesn't it? Yet notice it too is a contradiction: God is all, and yet is not all.

 

I don't claim such seemingly contradictory remarks can never communicate a deep insight: no doubt sometimes they do. It may be that John has such insights to offer. I'm merely pointing how easy it is to fool other people, and even yourself, into thinking you have some deep insight by playing around with contradiction in this way.

 

When you come across such seemingly contradictory remarks, be on your guard. Don't be too easily impressed.

 

For other warning signs of pseudo-profundity, go here.



 

 

 

 

Comments:

#1 cornell (Guest) on Monday January 18, 2016 at 9:16am

He is right


We cannot scientifically falsify God in the same sense that we cannot scientifically falsify whether or not we are hooked up to a Matrix reality in which we are brains in a vat experiencing a reality in which we cannot access anything outside our perceptions.

Science cannot solve the problem of the external world, because the problem cannot be solved empirically without arguing in a circle that entails us to presuppose our perceptions giving us to true empirical beliefs whilst giving evidence for our perceptions giving us true empirical beliefs.  Science just ends up begging the question.

All and all we cannot scientifically refute God in the same way that we couldn’t refute a genius that has us hooked up to the Matrix.

The only way we can falsify Theism is a priori.

#2 cornell (Guest) on Monday January 18, 2016 at 9:18am

This is all my opinion of course, but my point is that I’d argue that God is purely a philosophical question that has nothing to do with science.

#3 Angra Mainyu on Monday January 18, 2016 at 6:35pm

Hi Stephen:

I think you have definitely the upper hand, so just to add a few brief comments:

1. As you point out, some key parts of Milibank’s arguments depend on both the assumption that evil is a privation of good and that if God does not exist, nihilism is true. In my assessment, those unsubstantiated claims are sufficient to make his whole defense fail.

2. He makes a clearly false claim about the meaning of “prayer”:

“It also follows that any good that arrives is necessarily an answer to prayer, since prayer is by definition an openness to the good and the good cannot arrive in the human world without human consent. The doer of good is praying, whether she knows it or not, and inversely the praying person is already bringing about good.”
That’s most certainly not what people ordinarily mean by “prayer”.

Under the usual concept (the one we grasp by watching other people use it, as we usually grasp the meaning of other words), many of us non-theists never pray, but that doesn’t imply we don’t arrive at any good.

This is testable - though it should be obvious that his claim ab out the meaning of “prayer” is false, if he’s talking about the usual meaning of the term -: one may describe different scenarios, and ask subjects to tell whether the people in the scenarios prayed, and whether they did something good.

#4 Angra Mainyu on Monday January 18, 2016 at 7:09pm

Addition:

I realize the wording of the previous post wasn’t fortunate - it may sound arrogant. Sorry about that, I just meant that I agree for the most part with what you say, and don’t have a lot to add.

Just a couple more points:

Milibank: “For the religious person, even the smallest scintilla of good ‘proves’ God because it is of God, even is God, if he is love.”
He claims that all (or most, at least. He doesn’t specify, but at least most) religious people believe that God is love. I would like to see the evidence in support of it (by the way, he keeps making testable claims in his reply).

“One is here so disappointed with the lily-livered character of recent Anglo-Saxon atheists, who will not boldly and bracingly embrace, like the Alpine philosopher, the collapse of all ethics that must follow in the wake of the death of God.”
This looks like an unjustified attack on the character of “recent Anglo-Saxon atheists” (I’m not Anglo-Saxon, and whether I’m an atheist depends on one’s definition, but this attack would apply to me as well, given my assessment of the matter), as if this were a matter of boldness, whereas it’s a matter of not finding his bold claim that if God does not exist, ethics collapses, remotely plausible.

#5 cornell (Guest) on Monday January 18, 2016 at 10:42pm

Hello Angra,

Regarding 1)

The person who puts forth the problem of evil would have the burden of proof since they are making the claim that evil or pointless and God can’t coexist, right?

Wouldn’t that make the atheist who is putting forth an atheological argument responsible for showing that evil ought to be defined as some real thing that is not a privation of good?

I feel that when I argue that good and evil aren’t symettrical that I have to meet this burden, so this is why I am asking.

#6 DougEBarr on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 7:49am

Once again you two have tried and failed as you always will to fill the void with ideas. All you have done is use up a little more of the time you have left. http://thelastwhy.ca/poems/2015/6/25/life-a-reaction-to-the-void

#7 Angra Mainyu on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 12:06pm

Hello cornell,

Granting for the sake of the argument (for now) that those who make a positive claim have a burden (but in what context), regarding 1., I don’t think that’s where the burden lies, for the following reasons:

The theist claims that:

a. God exists.
b. If God didn’t exist, all morality collapses.
c. Evil is a privation of good.

Claims a., b., and c. are positive claims.

On the other hand:

d. The nontheist doesn’t need to claim that the existence of God and evil are metaphysically incompatible. They can just make an evidential argument from the amount of evil, suffering, etc., and say it’s very probable that God doesn’t exist. (of course, you can say that if God doesn’t exist, he necessarily doesn’t exist, but the nontheist needn’t even argue for that).
e. I’m not sure what “gratuitous” evil means; under some definitions, it’s clearly analytical that it’s incompatible with God’s existence, but in any case, the nontheist needn’t introduce that term, but just make an evidential argument from evil instead. That seems to be what Stephen in part 1. Granted, in part 3, he talks about gratuitous evils. But he also offers that as observations that count against God’s existence, not as an argument for metaphysical incompatibility.
f. The nontheist doesn’t even need to take a stance on whether c. is true (on its own, c. or even c. plus the denial of an error theory doesn’t imply that God (in Milibank’s sense) exists).
Stephen actually addresses this point when he brings up the cheese analogy - the nontheist is only arguing here against an all-powerful being (or ground of being, or whatever) who is also morally perfect, not about less powerful beings, persons, etc.
The nontheist can (but doesn’t have to) further point out that even if evil were a privation of good, that on its own doesn’t even imply that there is a morally perfect person (power aside), even assuming that there are some good people, things, etc.

Now, it might be suggested that claiming the observation of [certain sorts of and/or amount of] suffering counts as evidence against God is a positive claim. But if even that counts as a positive claim, I’d be inclined to stop granting for the sake of the argument that those who make a positive claim have a burden.

For example, let’s say that I claim God wouldn’t torture people for eternity just for pleasure. Would that be a positive claim too? I can say it’s intuitively obvious. But what if someone rejects my intuitions, or claims that I haven’t shown that there is any knowledge of morality?

Another example: Let’s say that A claims the Earth is about 4.55 billion years old. B denies that, and posits that for all we know, Omphalism might be true. If A denies Omphalism, does A have the burden too?
If A has that burden, it’s hard to see what can establish the claim. A can say that on a proper epistemic probabilistic assessment, the prior of Omphalism is almost zero, and further observations do not increase its probability. But if that works, then the non-theist can also say on a proper intuitive probabilistic assessment, the probability of God is lowered by the observations of suffering (why not?).
Granted, there aren’t many Omphalists. But there are Young Earth Creationists who interpret the evidence differently (and wrongly, but for that, I need intuitive probabilistic assessments).

#8 Angra Mainyu on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 1:02pm

Hi cornell,

With regard to your Matrix analogy, why do you think the God hypothesis is relevantly similar?
For example, science can be used to establish that, say, the Earth is older than 10000 years old, or that a defendant is guilty of murder, rape, etc.
That’s in spite of the fact that there are infinitely many alternative hypotheses (e.g., involving aliens framing him, Matrix-like scenarios, etc.) compatible with all observations. When we use science to establish something, we are doing so by making observations on the basis of which the probability of a hypothesis becomes very high; some other hypothesis are in conflict with observations, and others are ruled out due to their already extremely low priors - which aren’t raised enough.
But we always need intuitive probabilistic assessments to rule out alternative hypotheses compatible with observations. Scientists also do that all the time.

The Matrix scenario you came up with is not one in which we can make predictions involving observations.

But suppose someone posits an omnipotent, omniscient, being D who necessarily values the non-existence of predators above all else: our empirical observations that there are predators count against the existence of D, even if one consistently hold that D exists and is hiding by giving us false observations, but theory is always underdetermined by observations - just as our observations count against the hypothesis that the Earth is less than 10000 years old, even though one may consistenly hold that it’s younger, but Lucifer or Yahweh planted the fossils, etc.

While the case of God is not as straighforward as D with regard to observations, God is - under usual definitions - morally perfect, omnipotent, and omniscient. Why wouldn’t our observation of horrific instances of suffering, moral evil, etc. count against God’s existence?
After all, it seems to me we have a moral sense that allows us to make assessments about what a morally good being would be inclined to do or not to do, at least in many cases.

#9 Cornell (Guest) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 5:28pm

Angra

“The theist claims that:

a. God exists.
b. If God didn’t exist, all morality collapses.
c. Evil is a privation of good.”

I certainly wouldn’t claim that

For one I don’t even accept b. and I am skeptical of b. because of Platonic forms.

“On the other hand:

d. The nontheist doesn’t need to claim that the existence of God and evil are metaphysically incompatible. They can just make an evidential argument from the amount of evil, suffering, etc., and say it’s very probable that God doesn’t exist. (of course, you can say that if God doesn’t exist, he necessarily doesn’t exist, but the nontheist needn’t even argue for that). “

This seems like special pleading,

Why can an atheist claim that the amount of evil, suffering somehow goes against God’s existence, but yet not give any reasoning on why?

It looks the atheist first needs to show that evil and suffering are not something that boils down to their preference and are in fact objective otherwise they end up making a subjective argument against God which doesn’t speak about how reality really is.

The problem with this is that it is quite difficult to for some atheists to bite the bullet and hold to moral realism when there are decent arguments for moral subjectivism and relativism being true, so if someone is a moral subjectivist how could they know that suffering is an evil that ultimately doesn’t come down to the eye of the beholder?

This, like I said would be a problem for some or even most atheists.

All and all I don’t see how the Theist has the burden of proof here, because the atheist using the problem of evidential evil must show that evil is objective and that they have knowledge of what entails objective evils and therefore these objective evils are incompatible with a Good God.

And keep in mind this would just go against a Good God and not Theism, because a Theist doesn’t need to believe in a Good God in order to be a Theist.

“e. I’m not sure what “gratuitous” evil means; under some definitions, it’s clearly analytical that it’s incompatible with God’s existence, but in any case, the nontheist needn’t introduce that term, but just make an evidential argument from evil instead. That seems to be what Stephen in part 1. Granted, in part 3, he talks about gratuitous evils. But he also offers that as observations that count against God’s existence, not as an argument for metaphysical incompatibility. “

If you aren’t sure what it means then how could you be sure that it is incompatible with God’s existence?  This doesn’t make much sense.

“f. The nontheist doesn’t even need to take a stance on whether c. is true (on its own, c. or even c. plus the denial of an error theory doesn’t imply that God (in Milibank’s sense) exists).
Stephen actually addresses this point when he brings up the cheese analogy - the nontheist is only arguing here against an all-powerful being (or ground of being, or whatever) who is also morally perfect, not about less powerful beings, persons, etc.
The nontheist can (but doesn’t have to) further point out that even if evil were a privation of good, that on its own doesn’t even imply that there is a morally perfect person (power aside), even assuming that there are some good people, things, etc. “

HOw does he know what it means to be morally perfect? Is Stephen Law morally perfect himself?

“For example, let’s say that I claim God wouldn’t torture people for eternity just for pleasure. Would that be a positive claim too? I can say it’s intuitively obvious. But what if someone rejects my intuitions, or claims that I haven’t shown that there is any knowledge of morality? “

Intuitons are fine, and I would agree with you here.

But I don’t think a Good God tortures people just for pleasure.

“Another example: Let’s say that A claims the Earth is about 4.55 billion years old. B denies that, and posits that for all we know, Omphalism might be true. If A denies Omphalism, does A have the burden too?
If A has that burden, it’s hard to see what can establish the claim. A can say that on a proper epistemic probabilistic assessment, the prior of Omphalism is almost zero, and further observations do not increase its probability. But if that works, then the non-theist can also say on a proper intuitive probabilistic assessment, the probability of God is lowered by the observations of suffering (why not?).
Granted, there aren’t many Omphalists. But there are Young Earth Creationists who interpret the evidence differently (and wrongly, but for that, I need intuitive probabilistic assessments). “

I think that the burden of proof should be on whoever is making the claim and it really depends on WHO INITIATES the argument.  It is tough to meet someone with the same exact epistemology, so I think that whoever initiates the argument should defend whatever the person they are engaging actually disagrees with.

Do you agree?

Thanks for the cordial response, it was decent, but I am still not convinced.

#10 Cornell (Guest) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 5:37pm

“Hi cornell,

With regard to your Matrix analogy, why do you think the God hypothesis is relevantly similar?
For example, science can be used to establish that, say, the Earth is older than 10000 years old, or that a defendant is guilty of murder, rape, etc.
That’s in spite of the fact that there are infinitely many alternative hypotheses (e.g., involving aliens framing him, Matrix-like scenarios, etc.) compatible with all observations. When we use science to establish something, we are doing so by making observations on the basis of which the probability of a hypothesis becomes very high; some other hypothesis are in conflict with observations, and others are ruled out due to their already extremely low priors - which aren’t raised enough.
But we always need intuitive probabilistic assessments to rule out alternative hypotheses compatible with observations. Scientists also do that all the time. “

IF we observe something in the Matrix world we don’t know if our observations are reflecting the real thing itself.

Our observations in a matrix world are already under an illusion, and we have no way of accessing whether or not the thing we are perceiving is the nature of the thing itself.

This is the problem with relying so heavily on observation to begin with, and if God existed then this God could just be that programmer of the simulated world that is just like the Matrix.

This is only if the God wants to be hidden that is, so I guess this is why I am leaving it as a possibility

However suppose I see something such as God who came down to me and showed me its power

Well how would I know that I am not hallucinating?

This is why I think that all arguments for and against God need to be a priori or at least have a strong commitment to a priori justification which lets in moderate empiricists.

Think of what people say to advocates of Intelligent Design when they ask how do we distinguish design from non-design.  It is similar to that.

#11 Angra Mainyu on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 9:57pm

cornell

“I certainly wouldn’t claim that”
Sorry if that was unclear, I was talking about the theist defending Milibank’s claims.

“This seems like special pleading,

Why can an atheist claim that the amount of evil, suffering somehow goes
against God’s existence, but yet not give any reasoning on why?”

My claim was not that the nontheist didn’t need to give any reasoning as to why, but that they may just make an evidential argument, rather than argue for incompatibility.
That said, I actually don’t think they need to give any reasoning as to why, and that’s not special pleading - usually, there is no need to give any reasoning to back up intuitive moral assessments.

But still, it’s not so difficult to make a case. Very briefly, let’s say that Jack sees a woman in front of him, asking for help as a rapist rapes her. Jack is armed, trained in martial arts, and much stronger than the rapist. He could easily stop the rapist, but he chooses not to do so. That would be evidence against a claim that Jack is a morally good person, let alone morally perfect. But now let’s further assume that Jack is more powerful than Thor (comics), and more powerful than any bad person. Then, his failure to act is even stronger evidence that he’s not a good person. And so on.

It gets even worse as he’s supposed to be the creator.

“It looks the atheist first needs to show that evil and suffering are not something that boils down to their preference and are in fact objective
otherwise they end up making a subjective argument against God which doesn’t speak about how reality really is.”
There is no good reason to suspect the nontheist would have to show that, just as we don’t need to show that evil isn’t subjective (in the relevant sense) when it comes to making moral assessments, such as the ones I just made above. That’s part of our regular human way of assessing matters.
As for suffering, there is an objective fact of the matter as to whether a person is suffering.

“The problem with this is that it is quite difficult to for some atheists to bite the bullet and hold to moral realism when there are decent arguments
for moral subjectivism and relativism being true, so if someone is a moral subjectivist how could they know that suffering is an evil that ultimately
doesn’t come down to the eye of the beholder?”
We can tell based on the behavior of people whether they are bad or good people, whether they’re behaving immorally, within certain limits. This is something generally accepted, not something that one needs to show.

“All and all I don’t see how the Theist has the burden of proof here, because the atheist using the problem of evidential evil must show that evil
is objective and that they have knowledge of what entails objective evils and therefore these objective evils are incompatible with a Good God.”
No, the nontheist is just making an argument like we would normally make it. If we see that in a comic book, there is a character, say Z-man, who goes around torturing and killing people for fun, we can tell he’s a villain. If he doesn’t do that, but he behaves like Jack (see above), we can tell that he’s still not a hero, and in fact a bad person.
If we see the same in real life, we can also tell that, and so on.
The nontheist is making moral assessments, which is a reasonable and accepted way of arguing. The theist is making the claim that somehow the nontheist has a problem, without giving good reasons as to why.

“And keep in mind this would just go against a Good God and not Theism, because a Theist doesn’t need to believe in a Good God in order to be a Theist.”
They do in the sense of theism in the context of the debate we’re addressing. Sure, there are different definitions of “God”, “theism”, etc., but the argument from evil doesn’t apply to those definitions that don’t imply an omnipotent, omniscient person who is morally perfect (or powerful enough to rule the world at will).

“If you aren’t sure what it means then how could you be sure that it is incompatible with God’s existence? This doesn’t make much sense.”
Under some definitions, it’s clearly incompatible. But I don’t know which definition Stephen is using, so I don’t know what it means in this context.

“HOw does he know what it means to be morally perfect? Is Stephen Law morally perfect himself?”

No, but that he isn’t morally perfect is beside the point.
One does not need to be morally perfect to make assessments as to what a morally perfect being would or wouldn’t do, of course. See for example the examples I’ve been given. Jack, Z-man, etc., are not morally perfect. I’m not morally perfect, but I can easily tell that they aren’t.

“Intuitons are fine, and I would agree with you here.

But I don’t think a Good God tortures people just for pleasure.”
I know you don’t believe that. My point was about your claim about “positive claims”.

“I think that the burden of proof should be on whoever is making the claim and it really depends on WHO INITIATES the argument. It is tough to meet
someone with the same exact epistemology, so I think that whoever initiates the argument should defend whatever the person they are engaging actually
disagrees with.

Do you agree?”
I tend to think not, as in many cases, one aims at persuading readers, not one’s opponent - or one is just defending one’s own arguments, reputation, or whatever -, and probably there is no way of convincing one’s opponent, since in the end they will stick to opposing intuitions - that’s what happens in nearly all debates between theists and nontheists. 

“Thanks for the cordial response, it was decent, but I am still not convinced.”
You’re welcome.

#12 Angra Mainyu on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 9:59pm

cornell,

“Well how would I know that I am not hallucinating?”
How do you know you’re not hallucinating now?
The point is one needs to make intuitive probabilistic assessments on the matter (i.e., what’s more probable, that you’re hallucinating or that a powerful being is really showing you its power?), but there is no good reason to suspect hallucinations when we are assessing, say, whether a person is suffering, or whether an animal is a predator, etc.

So, in the case of D (see my post above), we have empirical evidence consisting in our observations that there are predators.
Why would we not be able to do the same in the case of God?
After all, we can make moral assessments, and we’re not hallucinating when we assess that there are bad people, innocents who suffer, etc.

So, I don’t see any relevant similarity with the matrix case, because the empirical observations we’re factoring in are far more probably true than a hallucination.

#13 Philip Rand (Guest) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 10:17pm

Hello Cornell…

You do have a point when you write:

“It looks the atheist first needs to show that evil and suffering are not something that boils down to their preference and are in fact objective otherwise they end up making a subjective argument against God which doesn’t speak about how reality really is.”

The point is not that it is subjective…the point is that it is arbitrary…

Look at Dr Law’s Swiss cheese analogy of good & evil…good is the cheese and evil the holes, i.e. privation of cheese… effectively reifying holes…

It is like this… say Milbank is a farmer… he says that a pig-pen is a boundary that encloses a group of pigs; within this boundary exists a privation of pigs, i.e. the spaces between each pig…without this privation of pigs you would not be able to pick out each pig… good & evil similarly relate like this…

But, what Dr Law does with argument is this… Your example of the privation of pigs is non-sense Milbank…

Because, everybody knows that a pig-pen is something you write with!

#14 Cornell (Guest) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 10:41pm

“My claim was not that the nontheist didn’t need to give any reasoning as to why, but that they may just make an evidential argument, rather than argue for incompatibility.
That said, I actually don’t think they need to give any reasoning as to why, and that’s not special pleading - usually, there is no need to give any reasoning to back up intuitive moral assessments.”

Intuitions can definitely be supported by other a priori insight, and if someone is going to make an evidential argument then they need to do more than say they disagree otherwise how is the Theist supposed to take that person seriously when they didn’t provide any substance to the disagreement?

“But still, it’s not so difficult to make a case. Very briefly, let’s say that Jack sees a woman in front of him, asking for help as a rapist rapes her. Jack is armed, trained in martial arts, and much stronger than the rapist. He could easily stop the rapist, but he chooses not to do so. That would be evidence against a claim that Jack is a morally good person, let alone morally perfect. But now let’s further assume that Jack is more powerful than Thor (comics), and more powerful than any bad person. Then, his failure to act is even stronger evidence that he’s not a good person. And so on.

It gets even worse as he’s supposed to be the creator.”

This is only a problem for the creator if the creator is obligated to step in.

A good person doesn’t have to hold someone else’ hand through their life.  If God has to step in and stop the rapist then why stop there?  Why not just step in anytime there is a discomfort in any human and make it so humans can live in a hedonistic paradise in which they never experience any type of discomfort whatsoever?  This just leads to arbitrary preference and the atheist can never get past that.

There are so many other factors involved that I never see atheists consider and they take such a course of tunnel vision when they speak of why God doesn’t stop a rapist.

Maybe God wants a risk of real evil to be possible only because it actually makes good deeds worth something.  If God constantly steps in all the time then there is no risk of evil and good becomes meaningless.

“There is no good reason to suspect the nontheist would have to show that, just as we don’t need to show that evil isn’t subjective (in the relevant sense) when it comes to making moral assessments, such as the ones I just made above. That’s part of our regular human way of assessing matters.
As for suffering, there is an objective fact of the matter as to whether a person is suffering. “

If morality is subjective then the problem of evil is pointless.  I could just say that God is evil because my dad didn’t buy me candy today, and I love candy so how could God let this happen.  This is just absurd and why moral subjectivists should never use the problem of evil, because it undermines itself.

As far as suffering being an objective fact well why does suffering is a bad thing?  I suffer when I go to the gym.  I suffer when I go to the dentist as it is annoying as heck.  I don’t find suffering to be an evil and all this amounts to is a bare assertion.

“We can tell based on the behavior of people whether they are bad or good people, whether they’re behaving immorally, within certain limits. This is something generally accepted, not something that one needs to show. “

General acceptance does not equal a moral truth.  Everyone in the world could be a Muslim, but that wouldn’t make Islamic morality true.

“No, the nontheist is just making an argument like we would normally make it. If we see that in a comic book, there is a character, say Z-man, who goes around torturing and killing people for fun, we can tell he’s a villain. If he doesn’t do that, but he behaves like Jack (see above), we can tell that he’s still not a hero, and in fact a bad person.
If we see the same in real life, we can also tell that, and so on.
The nontheist is making moral assessments, which is a reasonable and accepted way of arguing. The theist is making the claim that somehow the nontheist has a problem, without giving good reasons as to why. “

Sometimes you can’t tell who the villain is or the hero, because of the art of deception, so I wouldn’t always agree with that.  Someone can appear to be a villain, but is just under the control of a more powerful villain to the point where you wouldn’t be able to see if the controlled person was trying to get out of the control.

Anyways, I can give good reasons why and it brings me to foundations.  If the nontheist is making a moral assessment and in the same breath believe that they are cosmic accidents with no cosmic significance and just amount to matter in motion stuck to a mindless evolutionary process then the Theistis exposing a problem, because the nontheist seems to be making up a purpose as they go through life and don’t really have a basis for moral duties other than ‘what feels good to them’.

For all they know they could just be passing the time in this pointless existence with no end goal in sight since the universe doesn’t care about whether or not humanity survives.

I find it amusing that most nontheists pretend that they defeated moral nihilism and existentialism, and somehow I must listen to them when they make moral judgments when ironically all they amount to is chemical reactions fizzing one way rather than another. 

“They do in the sense of theism in the context of the debate we’re addressing. Sure, there are different definitions of “God”, “theism”, etc., but the argument from evil doesn’t apply to those definitions that don’t imply an omnipotent, omniscient person who is morally perfect (or powerful enough to rule the world at will). “

But Theists have different definitions on what it means to be ‘omnipotent’ ‘omniscient’ and ‘morally perfect’ so I think the problem of evil is becoming primitive and a bit passé.

“Under some definitions, it’s clearly incompatible. But I don’t know which definition Stephen is using, so I don’t know what it means in this context “

So how could he have the upper hand as you said in your very first comment here, when you don’t even know what he means?  This doesn’t make much sense at all.

“No, but that he isn’t morally perfect is beside the point.
One does not need to be morally perfect to make assessments as to what a morally perfect being would or wouldn’t do, of course. See for example the examples I’ve been given. Jack, Z-man, etc., are not morally perfect. I’m not morally perfect, but I can easily tell that they aren’t. “

What are you using as your basis to tell that they aren’t?  Jack wasn’t the one raping the person and you assume that Jack is obligated to help just because he is stronger, but for all you know Jack could have helped and made things worse.  You cannot see the moral outcomes of what would have happened.

And this leads me to my next point.

Do you judge moral actions on the actual outcome or the possible outcomes?

“I know you don’t believe that. My point was about your claim about “positive claims”. “

Intuitions can be argued against. One can point out factors such as coherence, simplicity, less adhocness, explanatory power, explanatory scope and consistency to strengthen their a prior claims.

“I tend to think not, as in many cases, one aims at persuading readers, not one’s opponent - or one is just defending one’s own arguments, reputation, or whatever -, and probably there is no way of convincing one’s opponent, since in the end they will stick to opposing intuitions - that’s what happens in nearly all debates between theists and nontheists”

Well in this case it is a one on one debate.  Law vs. Milbank

#15 Cornell (Guest) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 10:51pm

“How do you know you’re not hallucinating now?
The point is one needs to make intuitive probabilistic assessments on the matter (i.e., what’s more probable, that you’re hallucinating or that a powerful being is really showing you its power?), but there is no good reason to suspect hallucinations when we are assessing, say, whether a person is suffering, or whether an animal is a predator, etc. “

I don’t think that intuitions are involved with probability, in fact I’d argue that they can only be justified in the realm of certainty, split decision and absolutes.

There is actually just as much reason to believe that I’d be hallucinating than I would be seeing things as they are, because I cannot check the reliability of my sense perception by using my sense perceptions as that would make me end up in a vicious circle.

Either my senses are reliable or they aren’t and there is absolutely no observation I can make that shows otherwise.  So there are no good reasons to think I am hallucinating, but there are no good reasons to think that I am not hallucinating either.

“So, in the case of D (see my post above), we have empirical evidence consisting in our observations that there are predators.
Why would we not be able to do the same in the case of God?
After all, we can make moral assessments, and we’re not hallucinating when we assess that there are bad people, innocents who suffer, etc.

So, I don’t see any relevant similarity with the matrix case, because the empirical observations we’re factoring in are far more probably true than a hallucination. “

That empirical evidence is nothing more than a blind faith presupposition that your empirical beliefs are coming from a reliable source and showing you true representations of how reality really is, and not just what you minds perceives it to be.  So you are taking it by blind faith that your observations are showing us the true nature of how things are and then using that faith to ground your argument, but the problem is the fact that you haven’t escaped the fact that everything that you come to believe via observation is grounded in a faith that your observations are coming from a reliable source. So faith is your foundation

ANother vicious circle that never gets to the problem.  In essence all you have is faith in your sense perception and you can never justify whether or not you are in the matrix by empirical means.  You’d have to take this to an a priori argument.

#16 Cornell (Guest) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 10:54pm

*edit*

I guess if you consider 50% to be a probability then this is the only % I can give as an intuitive probability, as I don’t know how someone can get to %‘s such as 78% intuitive probability and so on.

#17 Cornell (Guest) on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 11:00pm

Philip

“Look at Dr Law’s Swiss cheese analogy of good & evil…good is the cheese and evil the holes, i.e. privation of cheese… effectively reifying holes…”

I do not like that analogy at all for this main reason.

Cheese is a concrete object and Good is abstract.  So the make up is different.

Cheese is physical and can change while Good is immaterial and it cannot change.

I don’t think we can use material or concrete objects to act as a filler for what is ‘good’ when we are trying to make an analogy that involves a privation of good.

I can’t tell if the privation of cheese is an abstract immaterial nothingness or just something concrete and physical which has a relation to the cheese.

#18 Angra Mainyu on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 11:50pm

cornell

“Intuitions can definitely be supported by other a priori insight, and if someone is going to make an evidential argument then they need to do more
than say they disagree otherwise how is the Theist supposed to take that person seriously when they didn’t provide any substance to the disagreement?”

The theist opponent should be able to make their own assessment, but the fact is that they won’t be persuaded.

“This is only a problem for the creator if the creator is obligated to step in.”
This is a problem because it is - or should be - intuitively clear that a good person would intervene (and yes, they would be obligated to step in, but even that aside).

Of course, the theist will deny that moral assessment, and disagreement will persist.

“A good person doesn’t have to hold someone else’ hand through their life. If God has to step in and stop the rapist then why stop there? Why not just
step in anytime there is a discomfort in any human and make it so humans can live in a hedonistic paradise in which they never experience any type of
discomfort whatsoever? This just leads to arbitrary preference and the atheist can never get past that.”

Actually, I would say that God would simply not create a world remotely like ours.
But the nontheist needn’t make that point, so let’s let that pass.
Even then, the reply fails, since:

1. We don’t need to know the answer to the question of “when may the creator stop?” to make the clear intuitive assessment that the creator should intervene, just as we don’t need to answer the question of at what point may Jack stop helping to know that in the scenario I raised, his failure to act is immoral. It’s even more so for an almighty creator.

2. Suppose that Jack sees a woman in front of him, asking for help as a rapist rapes her. Jack is armed, trained in martial arts, and much stronger than
the rapist. He could easily stop the rapist, but he chooses not to do so.
So, his behavior is unethical.
But now let’s add that Jack has Thor-like powers. His behavior remains unethical, and in fact his obligations to intervene on behalf of others become greater. An omnipotent being would have a much greater responsibility, no less responsibility.
The objection you’re raising is pretty much “with great power comes great responsibility”, or “with great power only comes great responsibility to a point…beyond which, from great power comes great irresponsibility”.

3. Being the creator is of no help, but in fact, he’s even more responsible if he created them. Imagine now that Jack is the father of the victim. His behavior (leaving her to be raped the rapist) is even more immoral than it would be if he were a stranger.

4. Suppose that scientists genetically engineer an intelligent species different from humans in a variety of ways, but with similar intelligence, and prone to develop cancer. But the scientists have a means of curing them, without any risks to themselves or others. Sarah is one of those people, and is suffering horribly due to cancer, and asks them for help. Of course, the scientists have a moral obligation to help her out.
An almighty creator would have that obligation as well.

“There are so many other factors involved that I never see atheists consider and they take such a course of tunnel vision when they speak of why God doesn’t stop a rapist.”
It’s the opposite way around. God would never create rapists in the first place, but assuming an omnipotent omniscient person exists, of course he should step in. We can tell that even regular humans should step in, and also imaginary superpowered people. And we can (and should) be able to tell that greater power doesn’t diminish but increases the obligations to intervene.

“Maybe God wants a risk of real evil to be possible only because it actually makes good deeds worth something. If God constantly steps in all the time then there is no risk of evil and good becomes meaningless.”

It wouldn’t be meaningless. If people don’t suffer horribly, then things would of course be better.
But to illustrate this better, let’s say Jack allows the victim - say, Juana - to be raped so as to increase the risks of real evil. Clearly, his failure to act would be evil. Now, if Jack were more powerful - say, Thor-like -, then surely his failure to save Juana from the rapist would remain immoral. In fact, if he were capable of easily preventing all rapes but chose not to prevent any (or just a small number) so that there is a real risk of rape, his actions would be appalling.
Yet, your objection holds that when his power is absolute, then his responsibility to intervene goes down to zero or at least to less than what normal humans have.

“If morality is subjective then the problem of evil is pointless. I could just say that God is evil because my dad didn’t buy me candy today, and I
love candy so how could God let this happen. This is just absurd and why moral subjectivists should never use the problem of evil, because it undermines itself. “
The nontheist doesn’t need to issue of whether morality is subjective. Just as we can argue that Jack behaved immorally, had an obligation to intervene, etc., normally, without having to address metaethical claim, we can make an assessment in the case of an omnipotent omniscient creator.

“As far as suffering being an objective fact well why does suffering is a bad thing? I suffer when I go to the gym. I suffer when I go to the dentist as it is annoying as heck. I don’t find suffering to be an evil and all this
amounts to is a bare assertion.”
No, that’s not the point.
Assuming that there is an sufficiently powerful creator, there is no need to claim that he should intervene when you go to the gym. The claim is that he should intervene when Juana is being raped and asking for help (like Jack should), or when Bob is suffering horribly from cancer and asks for help, he should intervene (like the scientists should in the case of Sarah), and so on.


“General acceptance does not equal a moral truth. Everyone in the world could be a Muslim, but that wouldn’t make Islamic morality true.”
But I said we can actually do it (i.e., it’s true), and it’s also generally accepted; I meant to point out that is common knowledge. But okay, I should have been more clear. The point remains, though.
We can tell based on the behavior of people whether they are bad or good people, whether they’re behaving immorally, within certain limits. This is common knowledge.  We use our capability for making moral assessments all the time, without people asking us to address metaethical arguments.

“Sometimes you can’t tell who the villain is or the hero, because of the art of deception, so I wouldn’t always agree with that. Someone can appear to
be a villain, but is just under the control of a more powerful villain to the point where you wouldn’t be able to see if the controlled person was trying to get out of the control.”
Actually, I said Z-man goes around torturing people for fun.
Granted, there are cases in which a good person is controlled, etc., in which case our preliminary assessment that he wasn’t a hero may be mistaken. However, to make the parallel, we can stipulate that no one has the power to control him.

“Anyways, I can give good reasons why and it brings me to foundations. If the nontheist is making a moral assessment and in the same breath believe that
they are cosmic accidents with no cosmic significance and just amount to matter in motion stuck to a mindless evolutionary process then the Theistis
exposing a problem, because the nontheist seems to be making up a purpose as they go through life and don’t really have a basis for moral duties other than ‘what feels good to them’.”
No, the nontheist is normally making moral assessments, not making claims about “just” matter in motion (the “just” term is derogatory, and gives the wrong impression by the way).
The nontheist is not arguing against souls, either, and need not defend materialism (whatever “matter”) means.
Nor is there a claim of purpose - only moral goodness, moral evillness, etc., and the purposes of the agents that behave in different ways.

“For all they know they could just be passing the time in this pointless existence with no end goal in sight since the universe doesn’t care about whether or not humanity survives.”
Actually, we do have goals, and some of those goals may be final goals, not means to ends. The universe doesn’t care, but that doesn’t take away our goals.

“I find it amusing that most nontheists pretend that they defeated moral nihilism and existentialism, and somehow I must listen to them when they make moral judgments when ironically all they amount to is chemical reactions fizzing one way rather than another.”
A. Most nontheists make no claims whatsoever about nihilism or existentialism. Most nontheists never heard of that.
B. As I’ve been arguing, the nontheist needn’t address nihilism, etc., in order to make an argument from suffering or moral evil.
C. The derogatory language gives the impression that somehow this “chemical reactions” make their suffering, happiness, etc., any less real, or any less morally important. Of course, if there are no souls, it remains the case that we hope, suffer, feel pain, etc..

“But Theists have different definitions on what it means to be ‘omnipotent’ ‘omniscient’ and ‘morally perfect’ so I think the problem of evil is becoming primitive and a bit passé. “
No, it works against claims of a sufficiently powerful being (i.e., who can control the world at will), who knows everything that’s happening and is vastly intelligent, and is morally perfect (that is not defined, as moral terms aren’t).

“So how could he have the upper hand as you said in your very first comment here, when you don’t even know what he means? This doesn’t make much sense at all.”
It makes perfect sense. I don’t need to know what he meant in every sentence, or even agree with all of his points, to realize that he has the upper hand. He’s made more than enough strong points for me to say that, whereas his opponent is not gaining any traction.

“What are you using as your basis to tell that they aren’t? Jack wasn’t the one raping the person and you assume that Jack is obligated to help just because he is stronger, but for all you know Jack could have helped and made
things worse. You cannot see the moral outcomes of what would have happened.”
Let me make the point again. Jack sees that George is raping Juana. Jack reckons that he can easily stop George at no risk to himself, because he’s both armed and much stronger - and well trained. There are no other people involved. Juana is asking Jack to help her. But Jack chooses to do nothing.
That’s clearly evidence against Jack’s being a good person. In fact, it’s decisive in any realistic scenario, barring some other piece of evidence precluding it.
If we later learned that Jack refrained from helping to respect George’s free will and/or so that there is a higher risk of real evils like rape, then surely that is only more evidence that Jack is not at all a good person.

Now, if Jack has Thor-like powers, that does not help his case at all. In fact, his responsibility to intervene also in other cases becomes greater. It’s even worse of Jack is omnipotent.
From another perspective, it’s also worse if Jack is Juana’s father.

“Do you judge moral actions on the actual outcome or the possible outcomes?”
I judge them intuitively, so that would be speculative.
But when it comes to judging a person’s character (i.e., whether someone is a good or a bad person), in my assessment the actual outcome does not count. What does count is what the agent knew or should have known, and their intentions.


“Intuitions can be argued against. One can point out factors such as coherence, simplicity, less adhocness, explanatory power, explanatory scope and consistency to strengthen their a prior claims.”
Sure, but I’m not sure what your point is in this context. In the end, of course you can only argue against an intuition from the perspective of other intuitions. You can’t just avoid all.


“Well in this case it is a one on one debate. Law vs. Milbank”
But I doubt either of them thinks there is a remote chance of persuading the other, so probably their objective is different.

#19 Angra Mainyu on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at 11:58pm

cornell

“I don’t think that intuitions are involved with probability, in fact I’d argue that they can only be justified in the realm of certainty, split decision and absolutes.”
You need to make intuitive probabilistic assessments all the time (I’m talking epistemic probability).

“There is actually just as much reason to believe that I’d be hallucinating than I would be seeing things as they are, because I cannot check the reliability of my sense perception by using my sense perceptions as that would make me end up in a vicious circle.

Either my senses are reliable or they aren’t and there is absolutely no observation I can make that shows otherwise.  So there are no good reasons to think I am hallucinating, but there are no good reasons to think that I am not hallucinating either.”

That’s not a proper assessment.
Imagine this. A defense attorney says: “Members of the jury, each one of you, you don’t know whether my client is guilty. You have no good reason to think that the evidence you may think you saw was really there. Maybe whatever it is you believe, it was a hallucination. So, you can’t tell beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty”.

Clearly, she’s wrong. Else, there would never be beyond a reasonable doubt evidence for any conviction.

“That empirical evidence is nothing more than a blind faith presupposition that your empirical beliefs are coming from a reliable source and showing you true representations of how reality really is, and not just what you minds perceives it to be.  So you are taking it by blind faith that your observations are showing us the true nature of how things are and then using that faith to ground your argument, but the problem is the fact that you haven’t escaped the fact that everything that you come to believe via observation is grounded in a faith that your observations are coming from a reliable source. So faith is your foundation”

No, that’s not the case. We have conclusive evidence against the existence of D. Just as we have conclusive evidence that, say, Pol Pot was guilty of many murders. But of course, anyone can say: “how do you know you weren’t hallucinating when you saw that so-called evidence against Pol Pot?”
That they can say it does not mean they have a good point. They don’t.

#20 Philip Rand (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 12:34am

Angra… Cornell has a very good point concerning empirical evidence…

Because, what Cornell is saying is that empirical evidence is not delimited…i.e. it is incomplete (as J.S. Mill concluded).

The list of conditions that comprise “false-evidence” will be infinite… just like the list of “true-evidence” will also be infinite…

You are being misled Angra when you suggest:

“Empirical evidence makes an occurrence of an event probable”.

Because to say that an event will occur under these conditions is to say nothing except that “these conditions” come up to a particular standard of “good grounds” but the standard itself (i.e. these “empirical” conditions) has no ground!

This is why you can say “Pol Pot is an empirical hallucination”.

The reason you can say it in epistemic terms is that the epistemic is knowledge bound, i.e. there is possibility of error in epistemic positions.

No, there are no reasons that Pol Pot is an hallucination… there cannot be because you are certain without any possibility of error that Pol Pot exists… and if you are “certain” this is the case, then this is not an epistemic position…

It is as Cornell states an objective hinge that you ground your epistemic theory…i.e. this objective hinge is external to your epistemological theory.

#21 Angra Mainyu on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 12:53am

Philip:

“Angra… Cornell has a very good point concerning empirical evidence…

Because, what Cornell is saying is that empirical evidence is not delimited…i.e. it is incomplete (as J.S. Mill concluded).”
I disagree. Cornell is saying many things, and I’ve replied to most of them. I already said in a reply to Cornell that theory is always underdetermined by observations. I’m making that point myself, and it’s not the basis for my disagreements with Cornell.

“You are being misled Angra when you suggest:

“Empirical evidence makes an occurrence of an event probable”.

I didn’t say “Empirical evidence makes an occurrence of an event probable”.
But it’s true that on the basis of observations, we generally should (epistemic “should”) increase or decrease our probabilistic assignments of different events.


“Because to say that an event will occur under these conditions is to say nothing except that “these conditions” come up to a particular standard of “good grounds” but the standard itself (i.e. these “empirical” conditions) has no ground!”
I don’t know what that means, but I’m making normal and proper probabilistic assessments.


“This is why you can say “Pol Pot is an empirical hallucination”.

The reason you can say it in epistemic terms is that the epistemic is knowledge bound, i.e. there is possibility of error in epistemic positions.

No, there are no reasons that Pol Pot is an hallucination… there cannot be because you are certain without any possibility of error that Pol Pot exists… and if you are “certain” this is the case, then this is not an epistemic position…”
It’s beyond a reasonable doubt that Pol Pot existed. That entails the one should assign an extremely low probability to the hypothesis that he didn’t. Cornell’s challenges, if they were successful, would lead to global skepticism about our knowledge of the concrete world around us.


“It is as Cornell states an objective hinge that you ground your epistemic theory…i.e. this objective hinge is external to your epistemological theory.”
I don’t know what that means, but again, I know Pol Pot existed. It’s beyond a reasonable doubt. If we were unable to make such assessments, then we would similarly not be able to establish anyone’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, because what if they are real, but the evidence we think we saw was not really there, but those were hallucinations?

#22 Philip Rand (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 1:07am

Angra…

Why don’t you offer some reasons why the Pol Pot evidence is not an hallucination…

An objective hinge is something like:

1+1=2

Can you “reasonably doubt” that 1+1/= 2?

Or is it more a case that:

Can you “doubt” that 1+1/=2?

The distinction is quite subtle… I mean, what “reasons” could you give that 1+1/=2?

And would you believe them?

Don’t worry… this can be easily formalised…

#23 Angra Mainyu on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 1:18am

Philip,

When we assess evidence, we need to use (and we do use) our epistemic intuitions.
If you reject those intuitions to the point of radical skepticism, I don’t have anything else to argue.
So, I can’t give further reasons: I point out that we have plenty of evidence of Pol Pot’s guilt. Someone might say that perhaps he was real, but the evidence against him resulted from hallucinations. Yet, that’s not a reasonable doubt - of course, I need to make an intuitive epistemic assessment here.
But let me point out that the sort of objection you’re raising here - and also Cornell, though he doesn’t seem to realize that - is the epistemic nuclear option. 
In real life, you wouldn’t do that. For example, if your “hallucination” objection (or Cornell’s) were successful, it would be wrong to send people to prison for rape or murder, because it would always be reasonable to doubt whether they’re guilty - perhaps, there is no empirical evidence against them; maybe, it’s all a hallucination.
But it goes even further. Maybe your friends aren’t your friends after all. Maybe you hallucinated that they were kind to you - and so on.

#24 Philip Rand (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 2:04am

Angra…

You are mistaken it is NOT an epistemic nuclear option…

The reason is that if an epistemic intuition is seen to be sound, then there exists a proof to the statement “epistemic intuition is consistent” (in the sense of an epistemic sense of “proof”).

But, if the prior statement “epistemic intuition is consistent” is a proof (in the epistemic sense), then so are other “epistemic intuitions”.

Now, since “epistemic intuition” is assumed in every epistemic situation that has a proof in “epistemic intuition”, it follows that if it can be seen that “hallucinations” can be unsound, then “hallucinations” must be a theorem of “epistemic intuitions”.

But, that means that “epistemic intuition” must be inconsistent, contradicting that “epistemic intuitions” is sound.

So, you see… no epistemic nuclear option card has not been played… rather, it explains what an epistemic intuition system is…

This is why you can’t give me reasons countering hallucinations… because such a system is NOT contained in the system of “epistemic intuition”...it rather forms the ground of epistemic intuitions, i.e. it is external to the system.

#25 Angra Mainyu on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 2:20am

Philip,

Actually, there are ways of telling whether one has a hallucination, since - say - a visual hallucination doesn’t seem to be accompanied by corresponding auditive ones, the whole thing just doesn’t feel normal, etc.

But if you’re talking about the kind of hallucination that is being posited here, that is a nuclear option.

“The reason is that if an epistemic intuition is seen to be sound, then there exists a proof to the statement “epistemic intuition is consistent” (in the sense of an epistemic sense of “proof”).”
I don’t know what that - and the rest - means.
But if “epistemic intuition” is the problem (I really have no idea how you’re using that expression), I need not use it. My point is that we make proper intuitive probabilistic assessments about different scenarios, and some scenarios (e.g., that a defendant is guilty) sometimes end up with a very high probability - almost 1 -, after considering empirical evidence, and in spite of the fact that there are infinitely many alternative hypotheses compatible with the evidence.
The hypotheses deem to improbable include Matrix-like scenarios, but also include other scenarios, such as - say - advanced aliens planting DNA evidence, altering cameras, and so on.


“This is why you can’t give me reasons countering hallucinations… because such a system is NOT contained in the system of “epistemic intuition”...it rather forms the ground of epistemic intuitions, i.e. it is external to the system.”
I don’t know what that means, but in order to illustrate my points, I can point out that (hallucinations aside) the “aliens from another planet set him up” scenario, or the “demons set him up” scenario are properly given extremely low probability, and so are scenarios like “the Moon Landing is an ellaborate hoax, with millions of people in on the conspiracy”, and so on.


At any rate, let me give you the example I gave Cornell:

“But suppose someone posits an omnipotent, omniscient, being D who necessarily values the non-existence of predators above all else: our empirical observations that there are predators count against the existence of D, even if one consistently hold that D exists and is hiding by giving us false observations, but theory is always underdetermined by observations - just as our observations count against the hypothesis that the Earth is less than 10000 years old, even though one may consistenly hold that it’s younger, but Lucifer or Yahweh planted the fossils, etc.

While the case of God is not as straighforward as D with regard to observations, God is - under usual definitions - morally perfect, omnipotent, and omniscient. Why wouldn’t our observation of horrific instances of suffering, moral evil, etc. count against God’s existence?
After all, it seems to me we have a moral sense that allows us to make assessments about what a morally good being would be inclined to do or not to do, at least in many cases. ”

#26 Philip Rand (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 2:34am

Angra… “epistemic intuitions” are your words not mine, i.e. you wrote:

“When we assess evidence, we need to use (and we do use) our epistemic intuitions.”

I just pointed out what the ramifications are with this statement of yours.

I mean, it is an “inductive system” isn’t it?

#27 Philip Rand (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 5:56am

You see Angra… you state the inductive argument:

“When we assess evidence, we need to use (and we do use) our epistemic intuitions.”

This is your formal system of inductive logic of the world, (S)

Which really means:

“We are justified to degree “r” to believe “P” given empirical evidence (E).

This means that if your “entire” intuitive notion of justification is captured by your system “S”, then the justificatory argument:

(S)= We assess empirical evidence using epistemic intuitions.

Must also be justified by empirical evidence.

Which means that(S) MUST itself be able to be formalised within (S)...but it can’t.

Can you see the problem now?

Dr Law will never see it…

#28 Stephen Law (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 6:23am

Yes it appears Phillip and Cornell are going nuclear, as Angra suggests:

#29 Stephen Law on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 6:24am

Yes it appears Phillip and Cornell are Going Nuclear, as Angra suggests: tp://stephenlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/going-nuclear.html

#30 Philip Rand (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 6:58am

Ah, but Dr Law you must demonstrate the nuclear option (which for many reasons is valid anyway)...

How exactly is pointing out to Angra the problem with his:

“When we assess evidence, we need to use (and we do use) our epistemic intuitions.”

Which means:

“We are justified to degree “r” to believe “P” given empirical evidence (E).

And then inserting his system into the above:

“We are justified to degree “r” to believe (that we assess empirical evidence using epistemic intuitions) given empirical evidence (E).

Where exactly is the nuclear option?

The problem is easy to see..

#31 Stephen Law on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 7:09am

Srelb Boc again?

#32 Philip Rand (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 8:10am

“A little character assassination can enhance the effectiveness of Moving the Semantic Goalposts”

Dr Stephen Law, “The Tapescrew Letters”

#33 Angra Mainyu on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 12:47pm

Philip,

“Angra… “epistemic intuitions” are your words not mine, i.e. you wrote:”
Yes, but it seems you understand that expression very differently, and I don’t know how you understand that. So, I’m trying to clarify by picking other words.

“I just pointed out what the ramifications are with this statement of yours.

I mean, it is an “inductive system” isn’t it?”
That depends on what you mean by “inductive system”, but if an “inductive system” has the ramifications you say, then that’s not what I meant at all.

But still, this shouldn’t be a problem. Consider, for example, the case of D. Do you agree that we have empirical evidence against the existence of D?
If not, why not?
If so, then why could we not have empirical evidence against the existence of God?

As for Matrix-like scenarios, let’s consider the movie “the Matrix”. Some people get out of the Matrix, and they do get empirical evidence that their previous experiences were false - that they had been up to then inside the Matrix.
So, empirical evidence that one was in the past in the Matrix is possible, and it’s then also possible to make proper probabilistic assessments as to whether one is in the Matrix - so, one can use one’s epistemic intuitions after all.

If you’re trying to make some sort of self-referential statement, or something akin to one of Godel’s proofs, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to work against any of my statements. But still, if you think it will work, then I’ll ask you to formalize it, or post a link to the relevant proof.

“This is your formal system of inductive logic of the world, (S)”
No, it’s not a formal system. It’s an intuitive system. It gets upgraded as time goes by.

“We are justified to degree “r” to believe “P” given empirical evidence (E).”
Not quite. As I mentioned, what I means is that we make justified probabilistic assessments, given not only empirical evidence, but all evidence (including empirical observations, reason, etc.).

“This means that if your “entire” intuitive notion of justification is captured by your system “S”, then the justificatory argument:

(S)= We assess empirical evidence using epistemic intuitions.

Must also be justified by empirical evidence.”
That does not follow.
First, we make justified intuitive probabilistic assessments using not only empirical evidence, but all evidence.
Second, we make justified intuitive assessments of non-empirical matters too.
Third, in fact, we cannot empirically justify all of the system - obviously.

“Which means that(S) MUST itself be able to be formalised within (S)...but it can’t.

Can you see the problem now?”
No, you’re attributing to me a position I don’t have. There is no such problem for me. In fact, even if I posited that everything is justified by empirical evidence only (which I never did; I consider all evidence, including intuitive moral assessments, and of course our intuitive epistemic assessments), that wouldn’t follow, because it’s not a formal system in the first place (and it’s probably too vague to be formalizable with the degree of precision that you seem to require), and moreover, it changes over time (as our brains do).

Moreover, it is possible to empirically challenge parts of the system, since different parts of the brain can be used to make assessments about other such parts.

If you still insist that there is something wrong with what I said (not what you attributed to me), I will take you up on your previous offer; you said “Don’t worry… this can be easily formalised…” - okay, I’d like to see the formalization, leading to some contradiction or whatever (from my actual statements).

At any rate, one of the scenarios I raised show that we can actually properly consider empirical evidence in some potential Matrix cases (the scenario is the original “Matrix” movie) - and so, in particular, that we can make probabilistic assessments in at least some such cases.

In addition to that - and more relevant to this particular debate -, there is the scenario of D - the omnipotent, omniscient, being D who necessarily values the non-existence of predators above all else: our empirical observations that there are predators count against the existence of D, even if one consistently hold that D exists and is hiding by giving us false observations, but theory is always underdetermined by observations - just as our observations count against the hypothesis that the Earth is less than 10000 years old, even though one may consistently hold that it’s younger, but Lucifer or Yahweh planted the fossils, etc.

Do you have any good counterargument - any way of showing that we do not have empirical evidence against the existence of D?

#34 Angra Mainyu on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 1:02pm

Philip:

“Where exactly is the nuclear option?”
The nuclear option is that if you raise the claim that we don’t know we’re not hallucinating now, then we don’t know that a defendant is guilty. We can’t establish anything beyond a reasonable doubt, because there would always be a (allegedly) reasonable doubt that he didn’t do it but was framed by aliens, etc. 
I already made that clear. If you didn’t mean to raise that option, then it looked like that because Cornell raised that option, and you were defending his position - or so you said. Maybe you misunderstood him as well, but I already explained in detail in my replies to him how his rejection of probabilistic assessments goes wrong. But I’ll give more details (see below).

#35 Angra Mainyu on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 1:03pm

Cornell:

“ANother vicious circle that never gets to the problem.  In essence all you have is faith in your sense perception and you can never justify whether or not you are in the matrix by empirical means.  You’d have to take this to an a priori argument.”
Obviously, we can’t get out of our epistemic intuitions to justify all of them. But that attributes to me a position I do not have. Of course, as I’ve been saying all along, we do need to use our epistemic intuitions, make intuitive probabilistic assessments, and so on. I never said empirical means alone are enough. I’m talking about epistemic justification, not making the claim somehow that all epistemic justification is empirical. I never said or suggested that.
On the contrary, I said earlier that theory is underdetermined by observations, so empirical observations alone - without epistemic intuitions - will not settle anything.

But that does not mean empirical observations cannot count for or against different hypotheses. Obviously, they do, and one should update one’s probabilistic assessments in response to them.
In fact, even there are possible observations that would show (on a proper probabilistic assessment) that some of our experiences were Matrix-like (e.g., the people in the movie get such empirical info).

Granted, no empirical observation would show that all observations one has made are a hallucination. Of course not, but that’s part of what I’m saying, so no need to convince me. But that fact does not do anything to challenge the contention that one can get empirical evidence against God, or against the existence of D.

Again, as I said, in the case of D (see my post above), we have empirical evidence consisting in our observations that there are predators.
Why would we not be able to do the same in the case of God?
After all, we can make moral assessments, and we’re not hallucinating when we assess that there are bad people, innocents who suffer, etc.

So, I don’t see any relevant similarity with the matrix case, because the empirical observations we’re factoring in are far more probably true than a hallucination.

You reply that “That empirical evidence is nothing more than a blind faith presupposition that your empirical beliefs are coming from a reliable source and showing you true representations of how reality really is, and not just what you minds perceives it to be.”

No, it’s not “blind faith”. That’s a false accusation that should be obviously false to you. It’s the obvious empirical observation that there are predators. I’m just making normal proper probabilistic assessments based on observations, and your denial of them is special pleading.

How is it that our observations can provide evidence of an old Earth, but not evidence against the existence of D?

#36 Angra Mainyu on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 1:12pm

Philip and Cornell (and interested readers):

Let me try again:

Suppose someone posits an omnipotent, omniscient, being D who necessarily values the non-existence of predators above all else: our empirical observations that there are predators count against the existence of D, even if one consistently hold that D exists and is hiding by giving us false observations, but theory is always underdetermined by observations - just as our observations count against the hypothesis that the Earth is less than 10000 years old (“young Earth”), even though one may consistenly hold that it’s younger, but Lucifer or Yahweh planted the fossils, etc.

If you say that our empirical observations do not count against the existence of D, and only a priori arguments count, then similarly, one might say that our empirical observations do not count against a young Earth, and only a priori arguments count. That’s false, and should be obviously so in both cases. The fact that empirical observations are compatible with each of infinitely many mutually incompatible theories (so, theory is underdetermined by observations, as I keep saying) does not change the fact that our observations do count for or against different hypotheses - from a young Earth hypothesis, to the existence of D.

Of course, we’re not using empirical observations alone. I never said or suggested otherwise. In fact, I keep saying that theory is underdetermined by evidence, so we’re not using empirical info only. But we are making proper probabilistic assessments on the basis of - among other factors - our empirical observations. And that’s the issue at hand: many empirical observations count against a young Earth. Many empirical observations count against the existence of D.

If you claim otherwise, let me ask you: why would empirical observations count against a young Earth, but not against the existence of D?

#37 Angra Mainyu on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 1:32pm

Given the repeated misrepresentation of my position here - despite my repeated clarification -, I will try once more, for interested readers.

Consider the hypothesis of a young Earth (i.e., that the Earth is less than 10000 years old), YE. We do have empirical evidence against it. Based on our observations, we should reduce the probability assigned to that hypothesis. But that does not mean that the observations are logically incompatible with YE. It’s consistent to say that YE is true, and the fossils were planted by some powerful being, the light from the stars was planted, etc. Of course, we should believe such auxiliary hypotheses are false. In fact, we should conclude that the YE hypothesis is false.
We reach that conclusion to a considerable extent on the basis of empirical observations, even though - as always -, we need our epistemic intuitions to interpret those observations, ruling out YE (even if it’s logically compatible with observations).

Of course, it’s not the case that only a priori arguments work against YE.

Now, suppose someone posits an omnipotent, omniscient, being D who necessarily values the non-existence of predators above all else: our empirical observations that there are predators count against the existence of D, even if one consistently hold that D exists and is hiding by giving us false observations, but theory is always underdetermined by observations - just as our observations count against the hypothesis that the Earth is less than 10000 years old (“young Earth”), even though one may consistenly hold that it’s younger, but Lucifer or Yahweh planted the fossils, etc.

As in the case of YE, we also need our epistemic intuitions. But that does not imply that only a priory arguments count against D’s existence. That’s clearly not true.

In the case of God, also we can use empirical observations against his existence, as Stephen explains in his argument, and also as I illustrated with the examples of Jack, Juana, etc.: just as our observations of predators count against the existence of D, our observation of, say, children being tortured, murdered or raped as they ask for help without getting any help, count against the existence of God - and so do a zillion other observations.

Now, theists might offer a theodicy - I’ve been arguing that that fails -, but that’s very different from an objection to using empirical evidence against God in the first place. What a theodicy tries to do is to explain the observations in a way that allegedly makes God’s existence not improbable. But it doesn’t reject in principle the use of observations. Such rejection - like skeptical theism - would be very misguided (well, so are theodicies, but for a very different reason: theodicies get their key moral assessments wrong), as it would be very misguided to reject the use of empirical evidence against D’s existence, or against YE.

#38 Cornell (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 10:01pm

Angra

“The theist opponent should be able to make their own assessment, but the fact is that they won’t be persuaded.”

I have persuaded people into ditching Atheism and becoming Theists, so my advice is not to be so overly confident.

People do change their beliefs and it can be done by arguing with another person….even if it takes years


“This is a problem because it is - or should be - intuitively clear that a good person would intervene (and yes, they would be obligated to step in, but even that aside).

Of course, the theist will deny that moral assessment, and disagreement will persist.”

It does not seem intuitively obvious to me, because if God steps in then he takes away our free will, takes away our chance to do something right after witnessing a wrong, takes away from helping the situation, takes away from making sure that situations like this do not happen in the future and takes away every significance that we have.

If God is to step in, then God should have just made us robots who were programmed to do as God wants just for God’s entertainment.

What I am arguing is a theodicy that concedes the possibility of evil existing, just because the risk of evil existing is the only way that good actions can actually mean something.

I don’t know if many Theists agree with me on this, but I think humanity could fail, only because the risk of failure is what makes good significant.

C.S Lewis said it best

” A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line”

I think this is the best stand alone theodicy, however I argue that theodicies can go hand and hand with other theodicy’s.

Swinburne makes another great point and I will go into this below.

 

“Actually, I would say that God would simply not create a world remotely like ours.
But the nontheist needn’t make that point, so let’s let that pass.
Even then, the reply fails, since:

1. We don’t need to know the answer to the question of “when may the creator stop?” to make the clear intuitive assessment that the creator should intervene, just as we don’t need to answer the question of at what point may Jack stop helping to know that in the scenario I raised, his failure to act is immoral. It’s even more so for an almighty creator.”

Yes you do, because you are assuming that God made us just so God can fix our problems when they occur and this seems absolutely absurd to the point where I must why God needs to make us robots who live in a hedonistic paradise when we didn’t earn it.

Your idea of an almighty creator sounds like a fairy tale that makes God into a big fluffy bunny who in way looks like a pushover to his creation.  This God of yours is weak and absolutely useless.

“2. Suppose that Jack sees a woman in front of him, asking for help as a rapist rapes her. Jack is armed, trained in martial arts, and much stronger than
the rapist. He could easily stop the rapist, but he chooses not to do so.
So, his behavior is unethical.”

No it isn’t, because you never told me why Jack has an obligation to do anything, let alone if he is just a cosmic accident with no purpose to his existence other than being a chemical reaction to an evolutionary process that doesn’t care whether or not he lives or dies.

This is just something unethical ACCORDING TO YOUR PREFERENCE.

“But now let’s add that Jack has Thor-like powers. His behavior remains unethical, and in fact his obligations to intervene on behalf of others become greater. An omnipotent being would have a much greater responsibility, no less responsibility.
The objection you’re raising is pretty much “with great power comes great responsibility”, or “with great power only comes great responsibility to a point…beyond which, from great power comes great irresponsibility”. “

I disagree, the responsibility all depends on what the plan of omnipotent being actually is and not how the creation feels about what the omnipotent being ought to do.

great power does not mean I should hold your hand, because holding someone’s hand stops another from growing and becoming tough on their own.

You are making it as humans should no identity and that God needs to control their lives to the point where God babies them throughout their whole existence.

What you are arguing now can be answered by the soul-making theodicy, the free will theodicy and theodicy I am using which makes evil a risk, so we can appreciate good.

“3. Being the creator is of no help, but in fact, he’s even more responsible if he created them. Imagine now that Jack is the father of the victim. His behavior (leaving her to be raped the rapist) is even more immoral than it would be if he were a stranger.”

Not at all, the rapist is the one who gets most of the blame since the rapist is the one committing the act and not feeling bad about it, and the society gets part of the blame as well since this society failed to teach the rapist how take care of his people. 

God gets no blame, because God owes the creation nothing.  It is better this way since we now have moral responsibility and are significant beings that are given moral duties in which they ought to fulfill.

The more God intervenes the less free will we have and without free will we are then no longer morally responsible for our moral actions.  This means that any good that came out of the situation is not something to be praised since it was God who bailed us out.

This is why God acts the way God does in this world.

“4. Suppose that scientists genetically engineer an intelligent species different from humans in a variety of ways, but with similar intelligence, and prone to develop cancer. But the scientists have a means of curing them, without any risks to themselves or others. Sarah is one of those people, and is suffering horribly due to cancer, and asks them for help. Of course, the scientists have a moral obligation to help her out.
An almighty creator would have that obligation as well. “

False analogy, an almighty creator makes beings that have an identity, have free will, have moral responsibility, and have a cosmic significance.

The scientists are making robots in flesh that lack an identity, are subject to having no cosmic significance, debatable on free will which means for all they know there is no moral responsibility and most of all these genetic engineered species is artificial and not natural.  There is no reason to be committing to having a moral obligation for them just as there is no moral obligation to protect computers.  Your species is nothing but meat robots with thoughts and that is all.


“It’s the opposite way around. God would never create rapists in the first place, but assuming an omnipotent omniscient person exists, of course he should step in. We can tell that even regular humans should step in, and also imaginary superpowered people. And we can (and should) be able to tell that greater power doesn’t diminish but increases the obligations to intervene.”

God doesn’t create rapists in their rapist form.  The rapist builds their personality themselves along with the society they live in and the rapist becomes the person they are because that is their choice.  God doesn’t snap God’s fingers and out comes a rapist. 


“It wouldn’t be meaningless. If people don’t suffer horribly, then things would of course be better.”

Horribly is a subjective term.  What is horrible to you, might not be horrible to me, so you have already impaled yourself into arbitrariness.  Unless you can show me some objective standard of ‘horribleness’ and explain to me how it exists and how we can come to know it, I’m afraid you have nothing here but arbitrary preference.


“But to illustrate this better, let’s say Jack allows the victim - say, Juana - to be raped so as to increase the risks of real evil. Clearly, his failure to act would be evil. Now, if Jack were more powerful - say, Thor-like -, then surely his failure to save Juana from the rapist would remain immoral. In fact, if he were capable of easily preventing all rapes but chose not to prevent any (or just a small number) so that there is a real risk of rape, his actions would be appalling.”

Here is your paradox, if Jack steps in as a Thor like figure then there is no good act taking place since there was no real risk of evil to begin with, therefore there is no reason to praise Jack for what Jack did since Jack commited to a moral action which involved no risk.

You cannot have a risk, unless the evil action is possible to happen.  This is why the more God intervenes the more pointless the term ‘Good’ becomes, because God saving us is easy and involves no risk whatsoever.


“Yet, your objection holds that when his power is absolute, then his responsibility to intervene goes down to zero or at least to less than what normal humans have.”

Yes, God owes us nothing and if we don’t have moral responsibility then our lives our pointless in this reality as every moral decision we make has no risk involved. 


“The nontheist doesn’t need to issue of whether morality is subjective. Just as we can argue that Jack behaved immorally, had an obligation to intervene, etc., normally, without having to address metaethical claim, we can make an assessment in the case of an omnipotent omniscient creator. “

False, because how can a moral subjectivist come to know a moral truth about how reality really is, if they think that moral truths are not objective?

That just refutes itself

I think this is where the atheist just wants to believe anything to justify their atheism, no matter how contradicting it is, as they just don’t want a God to exist so they will commit to self-refuting arguments.


“No, that’s not the point.
Assuming that there is an sufficiently powerful creator, there is no need to claim that he should intervene when you go to the gym.”

Why not? 

I am suffering, so if it’s all about suffering then there should be no exceptions.  And if you want to bring in exceptions then explain to me why there are exceptions and how do you come to know them?

This is where you start going into arbitrary territory.

” The claim is that he should intervene when Juana is being raped and asking for help (like Jack should), or when Bob is suffering horribly from cancer and asks for help, he should intervene (like the scientists should in the case of Sarah), and so on.”

Ok let’s say God intervenes and now no problems ever exist in this reality.  Now I can never be good since there is no risk of evil, so all of my moral actions are pointless, because God is always going to bail us out.

I cannot praise you or anyone else for doing anything good, because God will just jump in when things get tough and therefore nothing will ever be tough to the point where we can be good.  We are now just pets in a universe with no significance or identity at all and are just passing the time.

 

“But I said we can actually do it (i.e., it’s true), and it’s also generally accepted; I meant to point out that is common knowledge. But okay, I should have been more clear. The point remains, though.”

No it’s not common knowledge for me, and even if it was well since common knowledge has been wrong so many times in the past you should understand my skepticism.


“We can tell based on the behavior of people whether they are bad or good people, whether they’re behaving immorally, within certain limits. This is common knowledge.  We use our capability for making moral assessments all the time, without people asking us to address metaethical arguments.”

If moral objectivism was true and WE KNEW how to come to moral truths, and knew every single moral truth that existed then I would agree. 

This would go beyond common knowledge as these truths wouldn’t depend on our knowledge as they would be independent of our existence.


“Actually, I said Z-man goes around torturing people for fun.”

Well if Z-man was under some spell and couldn’t help it because a tougher mutant was controlling Z-man then I wouldn’t really put the blame on Z-man since Z-man was unable to control the actions.


“Granted, there are cases in which a good person is controlled, etc., in which case our preliminary assessment that he wasn’t a hero may be mistaken. However, to make the parallel, we can stipulate that no one has the power to control him.”

Ok, I understand your point then, however I don’t see how it helps the problem of evil.

“No, the nontheist is normally making moral assessments, not making claims about “just” matter in motion (the “just” term is derogatory, and gives the wrong impression by the way).”

Well then what are we?  Special matter with a cosmic purpose created by a mindless universe?


“The nontheist is not arguing against souls, either, and need not defend materialism (whatever “matter”) means.
Nor is there a claim of purpose - only moral goodness, moral evillness, etc., and the purposes of the agents that behave in different ways.”

Ahhh, well I’d argue that if no purpose exists then all talks of morality are pointless.

Without a purpose there is no goal, and without a goal we have no moral duties, and without moral duties we have no moral actions in which we ‘ought’ to fulfill.

This is probably where we have the biggest disagreement, and perhaps this is why we look at our concepts of what God should be if a God existed so differently.


“Actually, we do have goals, and some of those goals may be final goals, not means to ends. The universe doesn’t care, but that doesn’t take away our goals.”

Can you give me an example of a final goal which doesn’t boil down to emoting and chemical reactions basing their decisions on preference?


“A. Most nontheists make no claims whatsoever about nihilism or existentialism. Most nontheists never heard of that.”

Well that’s bad for them then, because it is an option that cannot be overlooked, and if one is overlooking this option then they are being a bit lazy.
“B. As I’ve been arguing, the nontheist needn’t address nihilism, etc., in order to make an argument from suffering or moral evil.”

Well, I think we might have went off topic there and weren’t really talking about the problem of evil at that point.  I believe you were speaking about how atheists can make moral assessments.  Why couldn’t I take the position of moral skepticism? 
“C. The derogatory language gives the impression that somehow this “chemical reactions” make their suffering, happiness, etc., any less real, or any less morally important. Of course, if there are no souls, it remains the case that we hope, suffer, feel pain, etc.. “

Yes, because all ‘suffering, happiness, etc’ would amount to is human constructs with no real objective existence that goes beyond our minds.  All those words are just that…words, that describe brain states and nothing more.


“No, it works against claims of a sufficiently powerful being (i.e., who can control the world at will), who knows everything that’s happening and is vastly intelligent, and is morally perfect (that is not defined, as moral terms aren’t).”

It looks like you just made my point for me.  How could you make a claim of knowledge against some attribute that isn’t defined?


“It makes perfect sense. I don’t need to know what he meant in every sentence, or even agree with all of his points, to realize that he has the upper hand. He’s made more than enough strong points for me to say that, whereas his opponent is not gaining any traction.”

This still makes no sense,

If you don’t know what he means then for all you know he could be speaking gibberish that amounts to incoherence, and I can’t see how incoherence can give someone the upper hand.

This just smells a bit like bias.


“Let me make the point again. Jack sees that George is raping Juana. Jack reckons that he can easily stop George at no risk to himself, because he’s both armed and much stronger - and well trained. There are no other people involved. Juana is asking Jack to help her. But Jack chooses to do nothing.
That’s clearly evidence against Jack’s being a good person. In fact, it’s decisive in any realistic scenario, barring some other piece of evidence precluding it. “

BUt Jack could still mess up, and George could be armed as well.  Jack could be more armed, but that doesn’t mean that George isn’t armed.  So it is still possible that Jack could help and make things worse by getting killed himself and angering George to the point where he ends up killing Juana.

My point is, you just don’t know what is going to happen.

“If we later learned that Jack refrained from helping to respect George’s free will and/or so that there is a higher risk of real evils like rape, then surely that is only more evidence that Jack is not at all a good person.”

Two can play this game

If we later learned that security in the area got beefed up and started preventing more rapes in the future than it would have if Jack stepped in then jack did the right thing.

This is why it is important to distinguish what we are after.

Are you more concerned with the total outcome, or just possible outcomes?

 

“Now, if Jack has Thor-like powers, that does not help his case at all. In fact, his responsibility to intervene also in other cases becomes greater. It’s even worse of Jack is omnipotent.
From another perspective, it’s also worse if Jack is Juana’s father.”

If Thor-like powers means that this being always has to intervene when something goes wrong then Jack, Juana and George are all meaningless conglomerates of matter that no point to their existence since they can never make any moral decisions which have significance.  They are just passing the time and living in a reality in which nothing they do ultimately matters since they now lack moral obligations to do anything. 


“I judge them intuitively, so that would be speculative.”

Can your intuitions be wrong to the point where it leads you into regretting your decision?  Or do you think that your intutions are infallible?


“But when it comes to judging a person’s character (i.e., whether someone is a good or a bad person), in my assessment the actual outcome does not count. What does count is what the agent knew or should have known, and their intentions.”

So you’d rather experience a person with a good intention to bake a cake for the needy, but yet end up burning down a building by accident and kill hundreds of dozens rather than experience a bad person try and shoot a cop for sport, but end up missing and hitting one of his own men?

 

“Sure, but I’m not sure what your point is in this context. In the end, of course you can only argue against an intuition from the perspective of other intuitions. You can’t just avoid all.”

Ok fair point.

 

“But I doubt either of them thinks there is a remote chance of persuading the other, so probably their objective is different.”

I see, it’s a shame because I feel as if I can persuade you and Stephen someone down the road, and with that I leave myself open to the point where if you or Stephen make a good enough point then I will be persuaded as well.

So at least you know where I stand.

#39 Cornell (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 10:11pm

“You need to make intuitive probabilistic assessments all the time (I’m talking epistemic probability). “

I disagree,

I think every epistemic probability somewhere down the line rests upon on some certainty.

“That’s not a proper assessment.
Imagine this. A defense attorney says: “Members of the jury, each one of you, you don’t know whether my client is guilty. You have no good reason to think that the evidence you may think you saw was really there. Maybe whatever it is you believe, it was a hallucination. So, you can’t tell beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty”.

Clearly, she’s wrong. Else, there would never be beyond a reasonable doubt evidence for any conviction.”

I think this is a strawman

I never said that people can’t just assume that this world is the way it seems for pragmatic reasons.

What I am talking about is knowledge to the point of absolutely knowing how reality really is.

“No, that’s not the case. We have conclusive evidence against the existence of D. Just as we have conclusive evidence that, say, Pol Pot was guilty of many murders. But of course, anyone can say: “how do you know you weren’t hallucinating when you saw that so-called evidence against Pol Pot?”
That they can say it does not mean they have a good point. They don’t. “

I am talking about the sum of reality that we perceive itself, not just one event that appears in reality.

You are attacking a strawman here.

What I am saying is that if we just rely only on empirical means and nothing else then we can never justify whether or not the reality we are experiencing is just computer simulation with images fed to us because our brains hooked up to a vat, or whether it is what it seems.

I obviously don’t just rely on empirical means, and this is because I think we can know things a priori.

#40 Cornell (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 10:18pm

“Yes it appears Phillip and Cornell are going nuclear, as Angra suggests”

Stephen this is sophomoric and a disrespectful way to engage someone critical of your work.  I am just making my case for a modest foundationalism and a moderate rationalism.  I think academia is still suffering from a logical positivist hangover and empiricism gets too much respect.

Anyways, where did Angra suggest that I was going nuclear?

#41 Cornell (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 10:56pm

edit*

I said

“Well, I think we might have went off topic there and weren’t really talking about the problem of evil at that point.  I believe you were speaking about how atheists can make moral assessments.  Why couldn’t I take the position of moral skepticism?  “

I meant to say:

Well, I think we might have went off topic there and weren’t really talking about the problem of evil at that point.  I believe you were speaking about how atheists can make moral assessments.  Assuming Theism is false why couldn’t I take the position of moral skepticism?

#42 Philip Rand (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 11:20pm

Cornell…

We haven’t really gone “off-topic”...

It is just that Angra and Dr Law do not understand that the ontological and the epistemological are intertwined, i.e. reference and facts respectively.

Dr Law’s “solution” to the Hereclitus “stepping in the same river once or twice” is an example.

The interesting thing is that if I asked them the question:

“Why does the winner of a sprint race always cross the finishing line first?”

Using Dr Law’s and Angra’s use of of “nuclear option” they would respond with:

“That question is an example of the epistemic nuclear option.”

Because they both agree that the statement (which in structure is the same as the above “sprint” example):

“We are justified to degree “r” to believe (that we assess empirical evidence using epistemic intuitions) given empirical evidence (E).”

is an example of the nuclear option…

Here, they are both confused… what they perceive as the “nuclear-option” is really simply an “internal-relation”.

#43 Philip Rand (Guest) on Wednesday January 20, 2016 at 11:46pm

Cornell…

I would say you are being too hard on logical positivism…with a slight tweak to the logical positivist position one can easily unify both Milbank’s and Law’s view of the world…

One just has to consider that the “empirical” is an initiation of a “measurement” that “creates” a probability law from which the data is sampled…

That is, it locally creates the physics of the observed phenomenon.

Now, logical positivism holds that all statements other than those describing or predicting observations are meaningless.

However, if observation creates the laws then it follows that observations (the empirical) are, themselves meaningless… except insofar as they “create local physics”...

So, in this context both Milbank and Law should be satisfied…

The empirical (Laws position) and the creation of the laws of the empirical (Milbank’s position) are unified in a single system, i.e. reality

#44 Angra Mainyu on Thursday January 21, 2016 at 12:09am

Cornell:

You say: “I have persuaded people into ditching Atheism and becoming Theists, so my advice is not to be so overly confident.”
Personally, I’ve never seen a (philosophically informed) theist opponent in a debate being persuaded that theism is not true. It might happen, but it’s extremely improbable for any randomly picked debate.
I’m not saying that philosophically informed theists are never persuaded that theism is false. But they rarely are, and when they do, it’s almost certainly not when debating a nontheist, particularly not in the context of a public debate.

Cornell: “People do change their beliefs and it can be done by arguing with another person….even if it takes years”
Sometimes people change their beliefs, sure. But a public debate is too adversarial to be conducive to that. Some people still do change, but if they’re philosophically informed and still theists (nearly always Christians), at least I’ve not seen a case of a change to nontheism. They might change (though it’s very rare) on their own, but in a debate, again I’ve not seen it - it’s possible, but extremely improbable.

Cornell:“It does not seem intuitively obvious to me, because if God steps in then he takes away our free will, takes away our chance to do something right after witnessing a wrong, takes away from helping the situation, takes away from
making sure that situations like this do not happen in the future and takes away every significance that we have. If God is to step in, then God should have just made us robots who were programmed to do as God wants just for God’s entertainment.”

Let’s say that Saddam is raping Juana, who asks Jack for help. Jack is stronger, better trained, etc., and can easily defeat Saddam. But he chooses not to intervene so that other people can do something right after witnessing a wrong. Surely, that’s immoral on Jack’s part.
If we further stipulate that Jack is as powerful as Thor, and more powerful than any other people who might intervene, then that does not make his behavior any less immoral. And so on.
But theists deny this in the case of God.


Cornell: “What I am arguing is a theodicy that concedes the possibility of evil existing, just because the risk of evil existing is the only way that good actions can actually mean something.”
But what I’m arguing is that, while that seems very improbable, in the context of the argument from evil a nontheist doesn’t need to argue for the impossibility of existence of evil if there were an omnimax (i.e., omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being). It’s enough to say that regardless of whether some evil might exist, situations like the one in which Saddam is raping Juana, etc., would not exist, as the omnimax being would intervene - just as Jack should intervene, if he can without risk to himself or others, etc. (that claim that they wouldn’t exist can be put in probabilistic terms too: the probability that they could exist if God existed is astronomically slim.).

Moreover, one can also argue on the basis of suffering not involving human evildoers, for example people with cancer, or born with genetic illnesses that cause horrific suffering, and so on.

Cornell: “I don’t know if many Theists agree with me on this, but I think humanity could fail, only because the risk of failure is what makes good significant.”
First, that seems clearly false. But as usual, the matter ends in a clash of intuitions. This is so obviously not true that I don’t know how else to go on.
Second, if the risk of failure is what makes good significant, then all of the good God does is insignificant, because he cannot fail.
Third, as I mentioned, that would still not block the argument from evil, since one can still make the case with scenarios like those of Juana, Jack, etc., or the cancer scenarios, etc.

“A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straigh line”


Angra Mainyu: “2. Suppose that Jack sees a woman in front of him, asking for help as a rapist rapes her. Jack is armed, trained in martial arts, and much stronger
than the rapist. He could easily stop the rapist, but he chooses not to do so. So, his behavior is unethical.”

Cornell: “No it isn’t, because you never told me why Jack has an obligation to do anything, let alone if he is just a cosmic accident with no purpose to his
existence other than being a chemical reaction to an evolutionary process that doesn’t care whether or not he lives or dies.

This is just something unethical ACCORDING TO YOUR PREFERENCE. “
It’s intuitively obvious that his behavior is unethical - well, it should be intuitively obvious.
But if you fail to realize that Jack’s behavior is immoral, then that is just more evidence that you are well beyond my capability for persuasion.
The “preference”, “chemical reaction”, etc., is very derogatory, but is backed by no argument so far.

Cornell: “It looks like you just made my point for me. How could you make a claim of knowledge against some attribute that isn’t defined?”
I don’t need to be able to explain the how, given that that’s how humans normally and properly do things.
We don’t need to define “morally good” in order to know that Jihadi John was not a morally good person. If a defintion were needed for knowledge always, then nearly everyone would not be able to tell that. But even those who propose a definition wouldn’t be able to have knowledge, because suppose “morally good” is defined in terms of X, Y, Z. Then, in order to have knowledged of X, Y, Z, - by the very demand you make against me -, it would be required to define X, Y, Z. But if a definition is given, then a definition of the terms in that definition is demanded, and so on. No one has infinitely many definitions at hand.

In short, your demand is improper. You’re asking me to explain how I could make a claim of knowledge if I can’t define an attribute. But for that matter, I can properly claim knowledge of many things, and in most cases, I can’t give a definition matching usage - and when I can, then I can’t give an infinite chain of definitions. It always stops at knowledge without definitions.


Angra Mainyu: ““It makes perfect sense. I don’t need to know what he meant in every sentence, or even agree with all of his points, to realize that he has the
upper hand. He’s made more than enough strong points for me to say that, whereas his opponent is not gaining any traction.”

Cornell: “This still makes no sense,
If you don’t know what he means then for all you know he could be speaking gibberish that amounts to incoherence, and I can’t see how incoherence can give someone the upper hand.

This just smells a bit like bias.”
No, it smells like you’re misrepresenting my words.
Again, I don’t need to know what he meant in every sentence, or even agree with all of his points, to realize that he has the
upper hand. He’s made more than enough strong points for me to say that, whereas his opponent is not gaining any traction.
I reckon that if the very few words I don’t understand were truly gibberish, Stephen would still have the upper hand on the basis of the rest of his points, and that still makes perfect sense.


Angra Mainyu: “Let me make the point again. Jack sees that George is raping Juana. Jack reckons that he can easily stop George at no risk to himself, because he’s
both armed and much stronger - and well trained. There are no other people involved. Juana is asking Jack to help her. But Jack chooses to do nothing.
That’s clearly evidence against Jack’s being a good person. In fact, it’s decisive in any realistic scenario, barring some other piece of evidence precluding it. “

Cornell: ” BUt Jack could still mess up, and George could be armed as well. Jack could be more armed, but that doesn’t mean that George isn’t armed. So it is
still possible that Jack could help and make things worse by getting killed himself and angering George to the point where he ends up killing Juana.”

But Jack reckons he can easily stop George, so he’s not considering that. You’re changing the scenario.

But let me give more details, if you insist.

Jack sees that George is raping Juana. Jack reckons that he can easily stop George at no risk to himself, because he’s
much stronger - and well trained. He’s a martial arts expert, younger, and much bigger than George. He also knows that George is not armed - George is naked, and his clothes are on the ground, no weapons -, and knows also that George is not in good physical shape at all - Jack can easily see that, given that George is naked and his poor physical condition is obvious, though he’s still much stronger than Juana. There are no other people involved. Juana is asking Jack to help her. But Jack chooses to do nothing. That’s clearly evidence against Jack’s being a good person. In fact, it’s decisive in any realistic scenario, barring some other piece of evidence precluding it.


Cornell: “My point is, you just don’t know what is going to happen.”
My point is, on the basis of such evidence, one should reckon that it’s extremely probable that Jack is not a morally good person.


Angra Mainyu: “If we later learned that Jack refrained from helping to respect George’s free will and/or so that there is a higher risk of real evils like rape, then surely that is only more evidence that Jack is not at all a
good person.”

Cornell: “Two can play this game

If we later learned that security in the area got beefed up and started preventing more rapes in the future than it would have if Jack stepped in then jack did the right thing.”
No, he didn’t. He refrained from helping Juana so that there would be a higher risk of real evils like rape. If some other people managed to make things better in the future, that does not make Jack’s actions any less appalling.


Cornell: “This is why it is important to distinguish what we are after.

Are you more concerned with the total outcome, or just possible outcomes?”
As I said, I’m making clear intuitive moral assessments. Whether that counts the total outcome, possible outcomes, etc., is speculation, and not as strong as the direct assessments.

But as I said, when it comes to judging a person’s character (i.e., whether someone is a good or a bad person), in my assessment the actual outcome does
not count. What does count is what the agent knew or should have known, and their intentions.

Now, again, that’s speculative. The strenght of the moral points based on the scenarios does not depend on whether my assessment about outcomes is correct.

Angra Mainyu: “Now, if Jack has Thor-like powers, that does not help his case at all. In fact, his responsibility to intervene also in other cases becomes greater.
It’s even worse of Jack is omnipotent.  From another perspective, it’s also worse if Jack is Juana’s father.”

Cornell: “If Thor-like powers means that this being always has to intervene when something goes wrong then Jack, Juana and George are all meaningless
conglomerates of matter that no point to their existence since they can never make any moral decisions which have significance. They are just passing the time and living in a reality in which nothing they do ultimately
matters since they now lack moral obligations to do anything.”
No, Thor-like powers means the ability to fly with a hammer, summon thunder, toss cars around, etc.

Let’s say Thor sees that George is raping Juana. Thor reckons that he can easily stop George at no risk to himself, because he’s
much stronger and powerful - he has all those fancy superpowers. Thor also knows that George is not armed - George is naked, and his clothes are on the ground, no weapons -, and knows also that George is not in good physical shape at all - Jack can easily see that, given that George is naked and his poor physical condition is obvious, though he’s still much stronger than Juana. Thor also knows that George has no superpowers. There are no other people involved. Juana is asking Thor to help her. But Thor chooses to do nothing. That’s clearly evidence against Thor’s being a good person.

Cornell: “Can your intuitions be wrong to the point where it leads you into regretting your decision? Or do you think that your intutions are infallible?”
That’s a false dichotomy.
For example, my intuitive assessment is that it’s immoral for a man to torture another man purely for pleasure.
Is it metaphysically possible that my assessment be mistaken?
No, since it’s metaphysically necessary that immoral for a man to torture another man purely for pleasure.
Is it epistemically possible that my assessment be mistaken?
Almost everything is epistemically possible, so sure - but it’s extremely improbable; i.e., it’s beyond a reasonable doubt that it would be immoral.

In other cases, the probability of error might be higher or lower (as always, this is epistemic probability), but that is not a problem for making moral assessments. In fact, there is no way to make proper moral assessments without using one’s moral intuitions at some point.

Angra Mainyu: “But when it comes to judging a person’s character (i.e., whether someone is a good or a bad person), in my assessment the actual outcome does
not count. What does count is what the agent knew or should have known, and their intentions.”

Cornell: “So you’d rather experience a person with a good intention to bake a cake for the needy, but yet end up burning down a building by accident and kill
hundreds of dozens rather than experience a bad person try and shoot a cop for sport, but end up missing and hitting one of his own men?”

No, that’s a gross misrepresentation of what I said. Again, I said that when it comes judging a person’s character (i.e., whether someone is a good or a bad person), in my assessment the actual outcome does
not count. What does count is what the agent knew or should have known, and their intentions.
I never said that I prefer to experience the outcome of good behavior.
Let’s consider the case at hand:

a. Alice bakes a cake for the needy, but burns down a building by accident - not her fault; there was some faulty wiring and she didn’t know, despite being reasonably careful - and kills “hundreds of dozens”.
b. Al tries to shoot a cop for sport, but misses and hits one of his own men.

Based on that information:

1. Who is a better person, Alice or Al?
2. Which outcome would I rather experience?

1. It’s almost certain that Alice is a better person than Al.
2. It’d rather experience the second outcome.

My point, again, was that when it comes judging a person’s character (i.e., whether someone is a good or a bad person) (not “when it comes to assessing whatever comes out of it”), in my assessment the actual outcome does
not count. What does count is what the agent knew or should have known, and their intentions.
But even that is not required to make the argument from evil I’m advancing. The intuitive assessments in the given hypothetical scenarios suffice.

“I see, it’s a shame because I feel as if I can persuade you and Stephen someone down the road, and with that I leave myself open to the point where
if you or Stephen make a good enough point then I will be persuaded as well.

So at least you know where I stand.”

Okay, thanks for letting me know. But -here’s a couple of probabilistic assessments, based on the information available to me - and so that you know where I stand.

P1: The chances someone will persuade me that theism is true (barring, in the future, brain damage or something like that) are for all intents and purposes zero (i.e., it’s way beyond the level required for “beyond a reasonable doubt”).
P2: The chances that you will succeed are even lower.
P3: The chances that someone will persuade Stephen that theism is true are extremely low.
P4: The chaces that you will succeed are, for all intents and purposes, zero.

Cornell: “I disagree,

I think every epistemic probability somewhere down the line rests upon on
some certainty.”
I don’t think so, but that would still not challenge my point that you need to make intuitive probabilistic assessments all the time (I’m
talking epistemic probability). We all do, regardless of what those assessments rest upon.

Cornell: “I think this is a strawman

I never said that people can’t just assume that this world is the way it
seems for pragmatic reasons.

What I am talking about is knowledge to the point of absolutely knowing how reality really is.”

No, the “absolutely” knowing is the strawman.
Of course, if the members of the jury were not in a position to properly assign an extremely low probability to the hypothesis that the defendant is not guilty (on the basis of the evidence presented to them, according to some rules), they generally shouldn’t convict him. It has to be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s guilty. But of course, that means each juror has to be able to properly rule out as extremely improbable scenarios like “aliens framed him, using advanced tech”, or “the witnesses didn’t say anything; I was hallucinating”, and so on.

The juror needs to know that. There is no claim that she needs to “absolutely” know that - that’s a strawman.

Also, this is not like making assumptions for pragmatic reasons. For that matter, a juror might for pragmatic reasons (pragmatic reason: to get a nice bribe) assume that the defendant was framed by aliens. But that’s not really the point; the juror would still know that that’s not the case.

Cornell: “I am talking about the sum of reality that we perceive itself, not just one event that appears in reality.

You are attacking a strawman here.”
No, I’m not attacking a strawman. I just didn’t realize you were attacking a strawman, so I posted a reply interpreting your reply in the context of my previous posts. But now I see you’re attacking a strawman (see below).


Cornell: “What I am saying is that if we just rely only on empirical means and nothing else then we can never justify whether or not the reality we are
experiencing is just computer simulation with images fed to us because our brains hooked up to a vat, or whether it is what it seems.”

And that’s the strawman you’re (unintentionally) building and attacking. The strawman is the “only” on empirical means. I never said or suggested that. In fact, I made it very, very clear - I explicitly said so - that theory is underdetermined by observations. One needs to use one’s own epistemic intuitions and rule out some hypotheses as too improbable. And those intuitions as a whole can’t be assessed empirically (even if some intuitions can at some times be assessed on the basis of other intuitions plus empirical evidence).

Stephen was also very clear in his OP, when he said “As a philosopher, you won’t be surprised to hear me say I acknowledge that there are questions that empirical science can’t answer, at least not by itself.”

Let me again illustrate the point about D:

Suppose someone posits an omnipotent, omniscient, being D who necessarily values the non-existence of predators above all else: our empirical observations that there are predators count against the existence of D, even if one consistently hold that D exists and is hiding by giving us false observations, but theory is always underdetermined by observations.

This isn’t to say that all we have against D is empirical observations. In fact, I hold even if we don’t find any predators, we should assign a very low probability to D’s existence. But this isn’t to say that the question of D’s existence is impervious to empirical investigation. In fact, depending on one’s observations, we might be in a position in which we should either increase or decrease the probability we assign to D’s existence. And in the case of D, the observation of actual predators counts against his existence, so we should lower the probabilistic assignment significantly (even if it was already very low).

My take on God is similar: while I think that, after reflection at least, one should always assign a very low probability to God’s existence, there are possible (and actual) observations that would count for or against his existence. Scenarios in which a child dies slowly and very painfully from cancer, or is raped and murdered, etc., when they really happen and we come to know they happened, count as empirical evidence against God.

Again, this is not to say that only arguments based on empirical observations count - I never suggested that, and neither did Stephen. That’s the strawman.

Cornell: “I obviously don’t just rely on empirical means, and this is because I think we can know things a priori.”
You obviously don’t just rely on empirical means, but that’s not because you think we can know things a priori. If you thought that we cannot know things a priori, and you tried to just rely on empirical means, you wouldn’t be successful, since it’s not humanly possible to do so.

None of us can rely only on empirical means. In fact, given that theory is underdetermined by observations, it would be impossible without epistemic intuitions to decide among infinitely many hypotheses (or at least the many but finitely many one comes up with).

But the problem with your line of argumentation in this particular part of the exchange is that it’s a strawman: neither Stephen nor I ever suggested using only empirical means, and in fact both of us denied that.

On the other hand, you are the one claiming that only non empirical means might work.

In fact, you claimed in the first post in this thread that: “The only way we can falsify Theism is a priori.”

Now you seem to be arguing as if Stephen or I had claimed that the only way to falsify theism is a posteriori. But neither of us made such claims. Rather, what we both claimed is that the claim that God exists can be properly challenge on arguments based at least partially on empirical observations. I claimed also that some observations in particular (some instances of suffering and moral evil) count against God’s existence, just as (even if less strongly) the existence of predators counts against D’s existence.

Cornell: “Anyways, where did Angra suggest that I was going nuclear?”
When I addressed one of Philip’s replies, I said you were deploying an epistemic nuclear option (see my jury scenario as an example). 
Your objections to my points surely looked like the nuclear option - if you meant something else, you weren’t replying to any of my actual points, but to a misconstruction of them not based on anything I said.

Even now, your suggestion that the member of the jury is only “assuming” for pragmatic reasons looks like a nuclear-lite option, but on the other hand, your claim just after that about “absolutely” knowing is just a strawman, so it’s unclear now how far you intended to go.

If you think that “epistemic nuclear option” is disrespectful, I don’t agree it is so in this context: That wasn’t the intention or the tone,  and it was based on the content of your reply and the kind of objections you appeared to be raising - and in terms of tone, it wasn’t as strong as something like “I find it amusing that most nontheists pretend that they defeated moral nihilism and existentialism, and somehow I must listen to them when they make moral judgments when ironically all they amount to is chemical reactions fizzing one way rather than another.” (for example), so I think in context the tone was rather mild.

#45 Stephen Law on Thursday January 21, 2016 at 1:16am

Cornell - why is it ‘sophomoric and disrespectful’ to concur you’ve both Gone Nuclear? Angra suggested it at 34, I believe.

#46 Mark Jones (Guest) on Thursday January 21, 2016 at 5:16am

Excellent responses, Angra Mainyu.

#47 Philip Rand (Guest) on Thursday January 21, 2016 at 5:48am

Perhaps Cornell means that the charge brought against him is dishonest or at the very least aspect-blind?

Let’s look at the opening line of post #34…it reads:

“The nuclear option is that if you raise the claim that we don’t know we’re not hallucinating now, then we don’t know that a defendant is guilty.”

This is the statement Angra “perceives” (and you it would seem also) that was tabled.

However, this is incorrect if my statements are read correctly… If Angra had “perceived” my tabled statements correctly he would have understood that the claim:

“you raise the claim that we don’t know we’re not hallucinating now”

Clearly the proposition:

“I don’t know I am hallucinating” is neither true or false, it is confused.

What I did table was:

“I am certain without any possibility of error that I am not hallucinating now.”

There is no resemblance whatsoever from my tabled statement and Angra’s perception of my position.

Note, however the word “know” has not been used in my proposition; therefore the certainty of not hallucinating is not epistemological, i.e. no knowledge is required.

Cornell tabled a similar point.

You must remember good logic only occurs if the underlying perceptions are appropriate…

Here, Angra’s and your perceptions, Dr Law are wrong… and because they were wrong; the charge of “going nuclear” was made.

But, you are charging “going nuclear” to your own statements… NOT Cornell’s or mine.

Further, Angra in a latter post even admits to my interpretation of his “intuitive episteme”.

Wouldn’t this admission undervalue the charge of going nuclear?

Which is a charge concerning procedure not of an argument.

At it’s most basic level (at least in philosophy) the charge of “going nuclear” is simply an imperative for a respondent to “explain himself”.

I get the impression Dr Law that you believe the charge of “going nuclear” has a “magical” quality to it… in so far as once this charge is made, a respondents argument is dissolved… as if by magic…

#48 Angra Mainyu on Thursday January 21, 2016 at 1:28pm

Philip,

You say: “Clearly the proposition:

“I don’t know I am hallucinating” is neither true or false, it is confused.”

I contend that that one is false, at least in the case of most of us. I know I’m not hallucinating.

Philip: “What I did table was:

“I am certain without any possibility of error that I am not hallucinating now.”

There is no resemblance whatsoever from my tabled statement and Angra’s perception of my position.”

Actually, you did not say “I am certain without any possibility of error that I am not hallucinating now”.

I interpreted your words in the context of Cornell’s reply, and his reply in the context of mine. It turns out he was just attacking a strawman and misconstruing my view (see my latest reply to him), and it’s not entirely clear now whether he was also using the nuclear option. But I didn’t know he was attacking a strawman.

If you had said “I am certain without any possibility of error that I am not hallucinating now”, I would have said this (but see below):

If that’s epistemic possibility, sure it’s epistemically possible that you’re mistaken. Well, not really, since I’m here, and I know I’m real. But it’s epistemically possible that I am mistaken, and from your perspective, it’s epistemically possible that you are mistaken.
In fact, “epistemically possible” is cheap. For that matter, it’s also epistemically possible that the Axiom of Choice (AC) and the Well-Ordering Principle (WO) are not equivalent on the basis of the ZF axioms - there is the possibility that my memories of having studied the proof are fake, and that there is no such proof.

However, bringing up epistemically possible alternatives is a strawman; it’s completely unrelated to what either Stephen or I said. Of course, it’s also completely unrelated to the question of whether there are empirical observations that count against the existence of God.

Yes, it’s epistemically possible that we got it wrong and God exists. It’s also epistemically possible that we got it wrong and YE is true. But that doesn’t imply that no empirical observations count against YE. It’s also epistemically possible that the defendant found guilty was in fact not so, in any criminal case. But of course, that does not imply that no empirical observations count for the guilt of the defendant.

So, both you (see my previous reply to you, when you made claims such as “I just pointed out what the ramifications are with this statement of yours.”) and Cornell misconstrued what I said, attributed to me positions I don’t have, etc.
It turns out that I didn’t realize in one instance that Cornell was engaging in one such misconstruction and attacking a strawman.
As a result, it appeared to me that he was exercising the epistemic nuclear option - and I pointed that out.
That’s not disrespectful, but a reasonable assessment based on his words - keep in mind I didn’t know he was in that particular instance misconstruing my words and attacking a strawman.

On the basis of his latest replies, I conclude that he was misconstruing my words and attacking a strawman (similar to your “without any possibility of error” claim), and he may or may not have also been exercising the nuclear option.

Assume he wasn’t. Then I was mistaken about that, and my mistake came from my not knowing that he was attacking a strawman at a certain point in the exchange, instead of my own position. But that’s not disrespectful on my part.

“Note, however the word “know” has not been used in my proposition; therefore the certainty of not hallucinating is not epistemological, i.e. no knowledge is required.”
And that changes things again.
Since there is no knowledge involved, that looks like a psychological claim about you. You feel certain, but you have no knowledge.
To that I would say this:

1. The psychological claim is no challenge to anything I said. If that’s what Cornell was saying, that was another strawman.
2. Now, you seem to be deploying the nuclear option again, even if inadvertently, as you don’t even know you’re not hallucinating.
One might similarly say that a juror doesn’t even know she wasn’t hallucinating when she assessed the empirical evidence, etc., so she doesn’t even know the defendant is guilty.
3. Maybe you’re not deploying the nuclear option, and only saying that you don’t know absolutely, in terms of epistemic certainty that you’re not hallucinating. In that case, you’re just attacking a strawman, since neither Stephen nor I made any claims whatsoever of epistemic certainty.

“Further, Angra in a latter post even admits to my interpretation of his “intuitive episteme”.”
I don’t know what you mean by that. What’s “intuitive episteme”?
In any case, what I said should be clear from my posts.

“At it’s most basic level (at least in philosophy) the charge of “going nuclear” is simply an imperative for a respondent to “explain himself”.”
No, when I said you were using the epistemic nuclear option, I was arguing that the sort of objection you were raising (or appeared to be raising) was not consistent with the way you normally make epistemic assessments in other contexts.
But there is nothing disrespectful in making that argument.
If it turns out that all of this was just another strawman (it’s still unclear), well I got that wrong: you were just attacking a strawman - without realizing it -, apparently built by Cornell - even if without realizing it.

“I get the impression Dr Law that you believe the charge of “going nuclear” has a “magical” quality to it… in so far as once this charge is made, a respondents argument is dissolved… as if by magic… “
That is an unfounded accussation against Stephen.

#49 Angra Mainyu on Thursday January 21, 2016 at 1:30pm

Stephen:

Maybe you already noticed, but the link from Milbank’s reply to your post isn’t working; instead, it points back to Milbank’s reply.

Maybe they can fix it?

#50 Stephen Law on Thursday January 21, 2016 at 1:34pm

Hi Angra - you have the patience of a saint.

Re the link: Yes that puzzled me but it turns out it is until they get Milbank’s reply to my reply, at which point them will post them both up at the same time. I put my reply up here in the meantime.

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