Monday, April 02, 2007

Maybe it would help if we shared the basic premises?

Some times you read something that make you realize that you don't share some basic premises with some other people. That there is some fundamental difference in your understanding of the world and how logic works.

A good example of such a case for me, is this paper:

Divine Hiddenness and the Nature of Belief (.pdf) by Ted Poston & Trent Dougherty

Abstract: In this paper we argue that attention to the intricacies relating to belief illustrate crucial difficulties with Schellenberg’s hiddenness argument. This issue has been only tangentially discussed in the literature to date. Yet we judge this aspect of Shellenberg’s argument deeply significant. We claim that focus on the nature of belief manifests a central flaw in the hiddenness argument. Additionally, attention to doxastic subtleties provides important lessons about the nature of faith.


Schellenberg’s hiddenness argument is basicly that a loving God would give people willing to believe enough evidence to believe, and since there are people who are willing to believe that doesn't believe, there can be no loving God. In other words, it's an argument for atheism.

The argument is a bit silly, though somewhat logically sound.
The reason atheism makes sense, is that there is absolutely no evidence of a divine God (or any other pantheons for that matter), which makes lack of belief in such quite rational. If people believes otherwise, that's quite fine with me, but there is no evidence for such belief (which is why it's called belief, or faith).

Now, this paper wants to show that the logic behind Schellengerg's argument doesn't hold, and goes on at great length, yet the authors seems to fail to grasp the basic concept of lack of evidence - hence the "belief" in a God.

I'm going to quote a few passages of the paper, to show what I mean.

A second distinction is between categorical belief and degrees of belief. Degrees of belief are common enough. We believe that 2+2=4 more firmly than we believe that Juneau is the capital of Alaska. It is safe to say that we’d be more willing to bet the farm on the truth of the former than the truth of the latter.


What does knowing 2+2=4 has to do with belief? There is no belief there - it's a fundamental definition in the math system that we use, and it doesn't require any belief, just understanding.
About Juneau as the capital of Alaska - again it has nothing to do with belief, but instead it's has everything to do with knowledge. I don't know if it's true or not, but if I cared about the question, I could look it up, thus aquiring knowledge about the subject.

It's funny, but facts don't require belief. They require knowledge or understanding. Something quite different from belief.

We do not think, however, that very high credence that God exists is required for a personal relationship with God. Consider the following case involving a personal relationship between two people. Suppose that Jones—an unfortunate fellow—is locked in solitary confinement in a dark prison cell. Jones hears faint taps coming from the other side of his prison wall. The taps resemble the presence of another person willing to communicate, but it is not certain that there is another person in the other cell. Yet, Jones begins to tap back. Suppose this activity continues over a long period, and Jones can—with some effort—make sense of the taps as another person attempting to communicate with him. Suppose Jones’s credence (his degree of belief, rational confidence, or what have you) on the claim “there is another person in the cell beside me” is .5. He seems to be discerning messages, but he realizes that it could just be in his head since the signs are ambiguous. Yet, given that the two persons are tapping back and forth to each other, it seems that they are in a personal relationship, one which in time could take on great significance (again, this latter part is of great importance). The interaction could be so meaningful and hope-inducing that it keeps Jones from going insane or perhaps even keeps him from dying or killing himself. Suppose also that in fact the tapping is coming from Smith who, many years later, meets up with Jones and they discover what was going on. We submit that this part of their relationship will take on newfound significance in their new relationship, something to look back on and cherish, and a surprisingly good foundation for deepening their relationship now that Jones’s credence has been raised to moral certainty by actually meeting Smith.25 We refer to this as the “tapping case.”


This passage just screams out to me for a couple of reasons. One minor and one major.

First the minor reason. I think that to have a personal relationship to "God" you have to give the existence of him a high credence, otherwise your relationship is to the institute of religion, and probably not very personal in nature.

As for the major reason, having a personal relationship with someone tapping on the other side of the wall is something completely different from having a personal relationship with God.
Why, you might ask?
Well, simply because the wall tapping is a measurable result of the relationship with the person on the other side - a measurable response to the first persons tapping. There is no such measurable response with God.
For example, it has been shown that prayers have no effect on the healing process.

The paper continues with similar examples of personal relationships that all differ from a personal relationship with God by having direct measurable effects (e.g. money donated to you account), and somehow think they can be used as examples of why a personal relationship with God doesn't require a high credence towards his existence. Again, they miss the basic premise that a personal relationship with God is solely based upon belief, while these other examples have other (measurable) factors involved.

All, in all, the paper is a sophism, based upon a flawed understanding of what "belief" is. However, since I am presumably not the core audience for the paper, I guess my objections to it, won't give the authors sleepless nights.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Tom Gilson said...

Facts don't require belief? Knowledge doesn't require belief? Can you know something without believing it? Have you ever read the most common accounting of what knowledge actually is, from Plato, and down through history since then?

April 18, 2007 4:02 AM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

No, facts don't require belief - they just are.

It can be argued that knowledge require belief, at least when we talk knowledge in the epistemological sense. But it's an entirely different form of belief that religion and faith requires, since knowledge is based upon facts (or truth in epistemology).

Our understanding of knowledge has changed a lot since the days of Plato. There is an entire field of knowledge management, which certainly isn't based upon the premise that knowledge require belief.

I should also point out that the wikipedia article is somewhat simplistic (as such overview articles tend to be).

April 18, 2007 9:22 AM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Either your English skills or your reasoning skills are sorely wanting (or both). Your lack of training in philosophy in general and logic in particular (especially probability logic and epistemic logic) is manifest in every third sentence. Arrogance should at least be preceded by education. At least then it's "only" arrogance, not ignorant arrogance. Take class or something, geez...

May 26, 2007 7:10 AM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Do you have any real critique, or do you just want to insult me?

If you think that I am wrong, that's fine, but explain how I'm wrong. Don't just say that I need to take a class.

Are you also claiming that facts require belief? Are you claiming that Poston & Dougherty's stance makes sense?

Come on, educate us stupid atheists. Just be warned, future contentless insulting comments like this one will be deleted at sight. I have little patience with that sort of things.

May 26, 2007 8:51 AM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Ah, I didn't notice the overlap in the commenter's name and the name of the author of the paper.

I guess that Dougherty does think that he and Poston makes sense.

Ok, Dougherty, explain to me how I am wrong about what I write about your paper. For all your education, it didn't impress me much - as I said, it was based upon a flawed premise of what belief is. In epistemology, we talk about 'truth' as destinct from 'knowledge', yet you seem to ignore this entirely.

May 26, 2007 8:56 AM  

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