Can one infallibly detect self-evident truths?

There’s been an interesting conversation at UD over self-evident truths lately. I think I’ve run up against the Uncommon Descent policy on dissent (don’t dissent), and the whole thing has devolved into “we are right” and “they are liars and also dumb.” But the underlying conversation was interesting, and I’d like to get some outside opinions on it. Especially KN, or anyone else with actual training in philosophy. I’m going to number positions for the sake of convenience, so that people with an opinion can react to any that interest them without feeling the need to engage them all. I’d love to hear where I’m wrong.

So as to my position:

  1. I make mistakes. I know this as certainly as I know anything—certainly enough not to doubt it in practice. This shows that I do not have the ability to perfectly perceive error in my own thinking.
  2. I cannot therefore be logically, absolutely certain of anything—not even that A=A. Because the faculties I would use to be perfectly, logically certain of that are the same ones that are not perfect.
  3. I think the trickiest question here is whether I can be certain that “I think, therefore I am.” But even there, is the fact that I cannot imagine any counter-example because it’s perfectly true, or because I have an imperfect and limited mind? I can’t know without a perfect, limitless mind, so I have to say even here, it’s not logically absolutely certain. (But obviously practically certain, and I don’t doubt it in practice.)

Does that make sense?


Now as to StephenB and Barry Arrington’s position.

  1. I think one major motivator of the “you’re a liar!” style of debate they’ve adopted is community identification. I’ve been thinking of this as building a wall. The point of the conversation is largely, not entirely, to show that “we think like this:” and “they think like that:”, or more pointedly, “look how stupid and ugly they are.” It makes it very easy to avoid questioning beliefs, because we cling particularly to those notions that separate us from them. It identifies and strengthens the community of us by redefining it in opposition to the ugliness and stupidity of them. And once that wall is built, it’s extremely hard to dismantle. Why on earth would you stop and seriously consider something a stupid and dishonest person says? And what would it say about you if you agreed with them? The wall exists to separate.
    1. This is not to say their positions are dishonest—I think they’re very upfront with their beliefs, and mean what they say.
    2. I think this is demonstrated particularly by BA’s habit of bailing out of a conversation and posting a new thread that very explicitly says look at how stupid and ugly those people are!
    3. I think I’m doing the same thing right now. I think that wall-building is wrong, but I don’t know how not to do it—especially as observing that someone else is building a wall is as good as laying a brick in your own.
    4. I can try to fight back against that by observing that walls exist to keep people in as well as out; the point is largely to have a bulwark against having to reconsider one’s beliefs and identity. So it’s important to ask, “Am I wrong?” Which I’m doing here, and attempting with some success to do in my own head.

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Miracles are a Glaring Problem for Evolution, and Here’s Why

The movement against miracles was, not surprisingly, influential in the natural sciences. Simply put, if we’re not to appeal to miracles, then the world must have arisen naturalistically. This had a profound effect on the critical thinking, or lack thereof, of the time. Speculative hypotheses, with little basis in fact, enjoyed serious consideration and triumphant acceptance.

The bar was placed exceedingly low for such theories as pure conjecture became acceptable and celebrated science. Monumental scientific problems with the notion of spontaneous origins went ignored and evolutionary theories (from cosmological to biological) soon became “fact.”

Today strictly naturalistic, evolutionary, theories are a given. They simply are accepted as true, or as true as anything in science can be. And it also is a given that miracles are false. But what evolutionists prefer to overlook is that there is a causal relationship here. The latter made way for, and mandated, the former.

I don’t want to mischaracterize Intelligent Design, but…

The Varieties of Religious Language

Kantian Naturalist and I have been hopscotching from thread to thread, discussing the nature of religious language. The main point of contention is the assertoric/disclosive distinction:  When is religious language assertoric — that is, when does it make claims about reality — and when is it merely disclosive, revealing attitude and affect without making actual claims?

I’ve created this thread as a permanent home for this otherwise nomadic discussion.

It may also be a good place for an ongoing discussion of another form of religious language — scripture.  For believers who take scripture to be divinely inspired, the question is when it should be taken literally, when it should be taken figuratively or metaphorically, and whether there are consistent and justifiable criteria for drawing that distinction.

Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science

We conducted replications of 100 experimental and correlational studies published in three psychology journals using high-powered designs and original materials when available.

Ninety-seven percent of original studies had significant results (P < .05). Thirty-six percent of replications had significant results;

No single indicator sufficiently describes replication success, and the five indicators examined here are not the only ways to evaluate reproducibility. Nonetheless, collectively these results offer a clear conclusion: A large portion of replications produced weaker evidence for the original findings despite using materials provided by the original authors, review in advance for methodological fidelity, and high statistical power to detect the original effect sizes. Moreover, correlational evidence is consistent with the conclusion that variation in the strength of initial evidence (such as original P value) was more predictive of replication success than variation in the characteristics of the teams conducting the research (such as experience and expertise).

Consciousness isn’t all about you, you know

In an interesting article by Peter Halligan and David Oakley in NewScientist it is suggested that even if

consciousness occurs too late [in the process of a human action] to affect the outcomes of the mental processes apparently linked to it…it provides an evolutionary advantage that developed for the benefit of the social group, not the individual.

I’m curious to get the thoughts of those here on this suggestion.

Some things are not so simple

I have been distracted for months but I thought I would look in on UD to see if anything had changed.  All is much the same but I was struck by this OP from Barry. The thrust of the post is that Barry is a plain-speaking chap stating obvious ethical truths and anyone denying it is using sophistry and is evil.  The particular “obvious truth” that Barry is discussing is:

Anyone who cannot unambiguously condemn the practice of chopping little boys and girls up and selling the pieces like so much meat shares in the evil of those who do so.

I would argue that this gives the appearance of simplicity but hides considerable complexity and subtlety. It also illustrates how Barry, like everyone else, is actually a subjectivist in practice, whatever he might say in theory.

There is one obvious way in which this is statement is too simple.  It leaves out whether the little boys and girls are alive or dead. Most people find it morally acceptable to reuse organs from people (including babies and infants) who have recently died.

But also the statement is packed with emotional use of language. (Throughout this I assume Barry is referring to the practice of using parts of aborted foetuses for research and/or treatment and charging for providing those parts).

1) “Meat” suggests flesh that is to be eaten. I don’t think anyone is selling foetuses to go into meat pies.

2) “Chopping up”. Body parts from foetuses presumably have to be extracted very carefully under controlled conditions to be useful. To describe this as chopping up is technically accurate but again has connotations of a butcher.

3) “Little boys and girls”. By describing a foetus as a little boy or girl,  Barry appeals to our emotional response to little boys and girls that we meet, embrace and talk to.

4) “selling” suggests a product which is being produced, stocked and sold with the objective of creating a profit. It would indeed be shocking if organisations were deliberately getting mothers to abort so they could make a profit from selling the body parts. If you describe the same activity as covering the cost of extracting and preserving body parts of reuse it sounds quite different (the cost has to be recovered somehow or it would never happen).

What interests me is how Barry has chosen words for their emotional impact to make an ethical argument. If it had been described as:

Reusing parts of aborted foetuses for research and/or treatment and charging for providing those parts.

then it sounds a lot more morally acceptable than

chopping little boys and girls up and selling the pieces like so much meat

If morality were objective then it shouldn’t matter how you describe it.  It is just a matter of observation and/or deduction – like working out the temperature on the surface of Mars. But ethics is actually a matter of our emotional responses so Barry has to use emotional language to make his point.