Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Stupid Theist Tricks: Epistemological Denialism

Why is it important to have epistemic justification for the things we believe?  Epistemic justification is reason to believe something.  Belief without justification is what we call blind faith.  It is belief without reason or belief beyond reason.  But Christians insist that their faith is based on reason and evidence.  This seems to be very important to them. 

Alvin Plantinga considers epistemic justification to be essential for theistic belief.  But at the same time, he recognizes that there is a lack of objective evidence to serve as justification for it.  That's why he invented his own epistemology that defines an emotional feeling about the existence or presence of God (that he calls the sensus divinitatus) as being a "properly basic" belief, which gives it the epistemological status of serving as justification for religious beliefs.  Plantinga call this "Reformed Epistemology".  It is circular reasoning on steroids, that makes a mockery of the whole branch of philosophy known as epistemology.

Other theists seem to be confused about their own epistemology.  I have yet to hear one of them admit that they lack evidence for their beliefs, but when asked to state what that evidence is, they will use every trick in the book to avoid answering.  A discussion at Victor's blog makes this abundantly clear.

In response to Victor's assertion that miracles occur, a skeptic says that we should wait for evidence to be produced (before we can believe it).  In the dozens of comments that follow, not one of them directly addresses his objection.  Instead, they evade, avoid, obfuscate, and attempt to paint the skeptic as the one who is unreasonable in his demand.  I will take comments from two different people as examples of this. 

We'll start with Victor himself.  He begins with a rather bold assertion that the laws of nature are basically meaningless, since God can override them any time he chooses.  He presents a very bad analogy, since we know that human laws are not inviolable.
Natural laws only tell you what will happen as long as there is no interference in the system from the outside. Furthermore, those laws can’t tell you if such interference is going to occur.

But consider this analogy. Laws in the State of Arizona are written by the State Legislature and signed by the governor, etc. but their status as law can be overridden by the action of the federal government. Thus, a state may pass a marriage law that says that only opposite-sex couples can be given marriage licenses, but that can be overridden by action by the US Supreme Court.

Let's just ignore the fact that this directly contradicts what Victor recently stated was evidence for his belief in God.  But when asked to show evidence that natural law can be violated, he evades the need to justify that assertion by saying that the skeptic wouldn't accept it anyway.
It's pointless to wait for evidence if you know in advance that evidence for something is conceptually impossible. You start sounding intellectually dishonest if you demand evidence for something you are convinced cannot possibly have evidence for it because you consider it to be incoherent.

He denigrates those (scientists) who use evidence to formulate an understanding of nature:
I must say that a bunch of things in science at least look incoherent, such as the wave-particle theory of light, quantum mechanics, etc. I am very often to suspend my tendency to say "seems incoherent, so it is" when the priests in question are wearing lab coats instead of robes.

And then he tries to fault the skeptic for believing something (that his senses are reliable) without evidence. 
Now wait a minute. You are the one asking for evidence for everything. Now you say there is something that doesn't need evidence. Why?

Of course, this ignores the fact that there is plenty of epistemic justification to believe that we should trust the evidence of our senses, aside from the fact that it is considered to be "properly basic belief".  It is how we survive in our world.  Without using our senses to obtain knowledge of the world around us, we wouldn't live long enough to espouse any philosophical concepts about the value of sensory evidence or the existence of miracles.  It seems to me that this is solid evidence that we have good reason trust our senses, and indeed, that we have no real choice in the matter.

All of these responses are diversions from the basic issue: that theists don't have objective reason to believe their supernatural fairy tales.


Next, we have TheWarfareIsMental (otherwise known as cl), who insists that the skeptic can't even define this "evidence" he is asking for.
Man, these debates never change. Cool, rational "skeptics" always say this, but, press them for a workable definition of "good evidence" and watch what happens. You'll rarely get it, but if you do, and you supply something that matches, watch as they move the goalposts right on to the next sport let alone field.
But when informed that the skeptic is looking for something objective and verifiable, he then asserts that the skeptic doesn't understand what he is asking for, and goes on to conflate objective evidence with a falsifiable scientific hypothesis (which just goes to show that cl doesn't understand the difference between an objective fact and a tentative hypothesis).
Skeptics usually ALWAYS offer that, Carl. What I wonder is whether it's obvious TO THEM what they mean. You seem concerned with falsifiability and that's fine, but surely we can agree that different people pack different things into the terms you offer, right? 
Then, he builds a straw man based on his own misrepresentation of what is being asked for.  Just to be clear, it was just evidence, not rigorous scientific validation of any hypothesis that was asked for.  But cl (perhaps deliberately) fails to see "the problem":
1) Carl demands "good evidence" to accept the claim that the "supernatural" exists;
2) Carl defines "good evidence" as that which passes scientific rigor;
3) Scientific rigor can only successful operate in the "natural" world.
See the problem?
Then, he points out one of his own old posts as an example of why justified belief is not a reliable indicator of truth.  This is worth reading, because it reveals that he doesn't understand what he's talking about, either in the field of science, or in epistemology.  It would have been more appropriate to label this post "How evidence leads to a scientific understanding of nature".  While I don't dispute that a justified belief can be false, and an unjustified belief can be true, I think it's fair to say that all else being equal, the justified belief is more likely to be true than the unjustified belief, but this was not cl's point at all:
beliefs deemed “justified” on account of repeatable experiments has nothing to do with whether those beliefs are in fact true. In fact, I’ll go out on an epistemological limb here, and provisionally argue that there is no objective, undeniable reason to prefer justified beliefs over unjustified ones
No reason to prefer justified beliefs?  This is exactly the kind of blather I expect to hear from someone who can't justify his own beliefs.  And cl doesn't disappoint on that score.

[A side note on cl's post:  He seems to think that it was wrong to call an electron beam a "cathode ray".  This is the "justified false belief" he refers to.  He is ignorant of the fact that the terminology remains in use to this day, and there's nothing wrong with it.  It's just that they didn't know what the cathode ray was composed of for some time.  But this goes to show his ignorance and disdain for science in general.  I have criticized some of his posts on science here and here.]

Finally, cl accuses the skeptic of exactly what he has been doing all along (evading the question), and recommends that his fellow theists continue to do so:
Notice in this thread how every one of Cal's responses to me conveniently dodge the important questions? So let's just try this, instead of giving Cal more power to derail the conversation, let's just keep putting him on blast until he can respond intelligently. If he can do so, we may have a semblance of a productive conversation. If he can't, well... I don't think anybody will really be surprised. Typical atheist, right?
Once again, cl, just like all the rest of the theists in this thread, has evaded, avoided, refused to address the basic issue that was brought up in the first place - namely that we need to see good evidence before we have reason to believe in supernatural phenomena, especially given that if it turns out to be true, it would undermine the best epistemological tool we have: science.

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