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First post. Introduction and invitation.
Posted: 13 January 2008 06:08 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Hello to All,

I have been wandering the net for a few years now in search of my intellectual home. Basically; looking for the world’s most unequivocal and hard core group of atheists/rationalists. I’ve had a few hopeful initial contacts with various forums, and am still active on a couple of them, but in general I’ve found even the most ardent of my fellow antitheists to be uncomfortable with the idea of any straight and head-on intellectual confrontation with the theists. [With finally clearly demonstrating to them that their beliefs are false and should be abandoned]. Our pervasive understanding appears to be that (A) if the battle could possibly be won at this level then we would have done so hundreds – if not thousands – of years ago, and (B) that in any case nothing can now be ‘proved’ in any meaningful sense against the backdrop of our intellectually dominant post-structuralism/knowledge-relativism, and (C) that even if it could be, the theists would simply fall back on their ancient and widely accepted ‘faith’ escape clause. Our own faith in the insurmountability of these three problems seems to be strong enough to preclude even our serious consideration of any proposal that might claim to be able to circumvent or overcome them. I wish to offer exactly such a proposal. It can be found at http://www.poppersinversion.blogspot.com . I have, as implied, already been reworking if for the past few years in order to incorporate or address a lot of critical feedback. But the more I receive, the stronger I will be able to make it.

My thanks for your help in this, and best regards to all,

Keith Sewell

[ Edited: 16 December 2011 03:29 AM by Nhoj Morley]
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Posted: 13 January 2008 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Welcome, Keith. Always happy to see another rabid anti-theist.

“Those who know why they believe what they believe can believe it directly upon that basis. Those who don’t must believe on the basis of its being ‘the truth’.”

I happen to think that questions which begin with “why” are already headed in a bad direction. Answering the question “how” is usually much more productive. As a scientist does.

“How do you do?” for example, is much more facilitating than “Why do you do?” For more about this, see the inappropriately-named Hitchhiker Trilogy by Douglas Noel Adams.

But I know what you mean. With the above quibble safely by, I think we can all salute someone who writes:

In final conclusion: ‘Our’ knowledge (rational/scientific/observation-based knowledge, and all of the beautiful and satisfying subjective knowledge that can be seen to flow from this [ref. ‘Consilience’, ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’, ‘The Soul of Science’, ‘The Elegant Universe’, anything by Carl Sagan, and so on]) does not need the illusory reinforcement of being characteristic of the actual state of reality. To circle back at last to my header statement: We know why we believe what we believe. We can defend it elegantly and sufficiently upon that basis. And wherever we cannot - wherever we find some proposal of ours to be opposed by some more reasonable logically exclusive proposal - we can honestly set ours aside in favor of that alternative.

But be careful, Keith, and do not play too many word games with the concept of truth, or go too far in the way of saying that theistic “truth’ is deconstructed only because it is local or temporal, or passages like the following will come back to bite you in the ass:

Basically; that we can see ourselves to be incapable of having any knowledge that we can coherently maintain or propagate as ‘truth’. Perhaps counter-intuitively, my argument will be found to be in fundamental opposition to our now dominant intellectual climate of post-structuralism/knowledge-relativism. In a nutshell; I will be arguing for, rather than against, our common sense idea that at any given time some of our knowledge proposals can be clearly seen to be right, in relation to others that can be just as clearly seen to be wrong. But this will in no sense constitute a sneaking back in of our ‘truth’ concept by the side door. I will demonstrate both analytically; that we can do without this concept, and empirically; that we would be almost infinitely better off without it.

The thing to emphasize is not some Kuhno-Popperian-Feyerabendish focus on the provisionality of scientific knowledge, which is sure to hypnotize you against the fact that scientific methodology leads inevitably to knowing more today than we did yesterday. To paraphrase the immortally concise M is for Malapert, “it converges on knowledge rather than ignorance”. Inevitably.

[ Edited: 13 January 2008 09:12 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 13 January 2008 09:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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keith - 13 January 2008 11:08 AM

Hello to All,

I have been wandering the net for a few years now in search of my intellectual home. Basically; looking for the world’s most unequivocal and hard core group of atheists/rationalists. I’ve had a few hopeful initial contacts with various forums, and am still active on a couple of them, but in general I’ve found even the most ardent of my fellow antitheists to be uncomfortable with the idea of any straight and head-on intellectual confrontation with the theists. [With finally clearly demonstrating to them that their beliefs are false and should be abandoned]. Our pervasive understanding appears to be that (A) if the battle could possibly be won at this level then we would have done so hundreds – if not thousands – of years ago, and (B) that in any case nothing can now be ‘proved’ in any meaningful sense against the backdrop of our intellectually dominant post-structuralism/knowledge-relativism, and (C) that even if it could be, the theists would simply fall back on their ancient and widely accepted ‘faith’ escape clause. Our own faith in the insurmountability of these three problems seems to be strong enough to preclude even our serious consideration of any proposal that might claim to be able to circumvent or overcome them. I wish to offer exactly such a proposal. It can be found at http://www.poppersinversion.blogspot.com . I have, as implied, already been reworking if for the past few years in order to incorporate or address a lot of critical feedback. But the more I receive, the stronger I will be able to make it.

My thanks for your help in this, and best regards to all,

Keith Sewell

Welcome Keith, I hope you will find a satisfying intellectual exchange here on this forum.

I’ve read trough your blog article and I’m going to read it again later though for any more specific comments.

To touch briefly on the topic of “why” we believe what we believe, I do agree with what Salt Creek mentioned, I prefer to stay away from the word why as often as I can although I sometimes catch myself using it anyway.
Either way, to understand how one believes is indeed the source of the entire situation.

The greatest obstacle to rationality in a very global sense, and the reason superstition of all kinds seem to be so rooted is because people are generally really really bad at understanding their own thinking process.
And when you don’t realize which things do interfere with your reasoning, if you dont know what aspects of your thinking obstructs your objectivity you will inevitably reach faulty conclusions.

Self insight is the very foundation of rationality, and the foundation of the kind of thinking we need to rid the world of nonsense.
The question is how do one teach people to learn how they believe, how they reason.

I’d like to pose an analogy from my own past. I would say that I have learned to improve my self insight, merely by thinking, by reasoning with myself and by a desire to improve my objectivity.

During my early university studies I took the bus every day, on a really horrible bus schedule. The earliest bus that went every day, arrived at the university just a few minutes before my first lecture. Which meant that the slightest delay would result in me being late.
This was a source of a lot of annoyance with me, because I found myself getting increasingly irritated with people getting on the bus for being slow, not having their change ready, not knowing how their bus card worked etc.
Since all these people slowing down the bus did add up to me getting late again. I really tried to calm myself down because I knew intuitively that it was a stupid thing to sit there and be mad about.
However, no counting to ten or any other half witted methods really helped in getting over that feeling.
Until just by a stray thought it occurred to me that the reason of my aggravation was not that these people were slow or even that I would be delayed, it was the frustration over not being able to affect it, not being able to decide when the lecture started, not being able to take an earlier bus and not being able to speed these people up.
Interestingly, just by that sudden realization I completely lost any emotional agony over the situation. Because I knew why I was annoyed, or how my thoughts led me to be annoyed, the emotion was domesticated.
The important thing in disarming the situation was not to know that it was irrational to be annoyed, because I realized that, the key was to understand how that annoyance came about in my mind.

This is just vaguely related to the topic of superstition ofcourse but what I wanted to point at is that self insight really is the most powerful tool for objective thinking.
If there is a good way to teach children to question their own beliefs and reasons, and teach them to understand how they think, that would really be a victory for rationality.
A theist who wakes up and understands how he believes in Christ, will be more instrumental to undermining his faith than any argument from a free thinker could ever be.

[ Edited: 13 January 2008 09:22 AM by Unbeliever]
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Posted: 13 January 2008 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[ Edited: 07 March 2011 03:50 PM by J.C.]
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Posted: 13 January 2008 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Joel Armstrong - 13 January 2008 03:59 PM

You almost seem to be saying that we could make more of a difference by educating people on psychology rather than debating them over theology.  I think you might have a valid point.  I’ve always thought human psychology is a powerful tool in changing people’s minds.  How can we effectively and effeciently use it to change the minds of theists?

Well actually no, not in that sense. We don’t need psychology thats a very specific field. We need personal insight, that is, you should not teach people how they think certain things. You should teach people to ask themselves, how they think. Because how you reason, what will affect your reasoning, how your personality reflects your conclusions is individual. We dont need psychology we merely need conversation, with oneself first of all.
Its difficult at first to learn to argue with yourself, and question your objectivity. But once you get trough the benefits are huge. I’ve done complete 180’s on certain questions since I started to actually call myself on being too subjective.

The goal is to teach children to think critically, and apply that criticism and skepticism to their own reasoning as well. I am no teacher but I imagine you could design many thought problems in classes at various ages to encourage children to not only think deductively but to call themselves on making unfounded assumptions.
Just by having a person notice when they are engaged in wishful thinking, that person has to a large degree shielded themselves from believing things based on wishful thinking. Because they are alert to it.

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Posted: 13 January 2008 12:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Hi Keith. You’re essay is reasonably coherent, but there’s a lot I find to argue with, especially your apparent desire to toss the concept “truth” in the dustbin. You say:

Again: If we have, on balance, sufficient justification for embracing any proposal as knowledge, then why should we not do so upon the direct basis of that justification, and for exactly as long as that justification can be seen to be sustainable? And if we lack such justification, then how/why should we embrace the proposal? Exactly where - in this apparently simple honest and transparent process - is ‘truth’ needed? Or, to look at it from the other side: what additional utility can we imagine our ‘truth’ concept to have been offering us, beyond the ability to maintain as knowledge proposals that we know, at some level, we ought not to be maintaining?

Let’s say Bob has two friends, Alice and Carol. Both friends seem as reasonably honest and reliable as the other. Alice has told Bob that she was born in Chicago. Carol has told Bob that she was born in Detroit. Bob is reasonably justified in believing each of them. However, in fact, they were both born in Chicago.

According to you, there is no qualitative difference between Bob’s beliefs about where Alice and Carol were born. Both are justified…what else is there?

How about accordance with objective reality? And this would be where the concept of truth comes in. You seem to want to equate justification with truth and that just doesn’t work. Sometimes we happen to believe things that are very poorly justified, but true, and vice versa.

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Posted: 13 January 2008 01:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Unbeliever - 13 January 2008 04:36 PM

The goal is to teach children to think critically, and apply that criticism and skepticism to their own reasoning as well. I am no teacher but I imagine you could design many thought problems in classes at various ages to encourage children to not only think deductively but to call themselves on making unfounded assumptions.
Just by having a person notice when they are engaged in wishful thinking, that person has to a large degree shielded themselves from believing things based on wishful thinking. Because they are alert to it.

Your point is interesting. Here are a couple of things from my humble perspective. 1) I think the skeptic approach is essential as far as questioning everything, including self-thought and behavior. This could mean being probative to exhaustion. There’s no such thing as ‘over-analysis’, just indecision. 2) It is important to take the micro/macro perspective in most critical analysis. This actually involves using mental imagery to zoom out (or in), for the widest perspective possible on an issue. Prejudices might dissolve if you see a planet of human beings with no boundaries from space. 3) Self-awareness is essential to overcoming the dehumanizing and manipulative effects of the ‘screen’ (media).

As far as Keith’s proposition, I can’t say that I understood it very well. But in trying to wrap myself around the idea of a rational argument with a Theist, I don’t see it happening. I don’t understand the notion of relinquishing the concept of truth as a basis for argument. I’ll try to grasp it better in listening to discussion. 

PS. I didn’t get a cordial welcome like that from Salt Creek. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t write a highbrow dissertation.

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Posted: 13 January 2008 05:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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goodgraydrab - 13 January 2008 06:58 PM

As far as Keith’s proposition, I can’t say that I understood it very well. But in trying to wrap myself around the idea of a rational argument with a Theist, I don’t see it happening.

Ditto, and I think the reason why is to be found in one of Keith’s footnotes:

[quote author=“Keith”]Or is it finally for the sake of this implication [qualitative superiority of belief such that it even enables the holder(s) to kill other people and take their property], that you wish to maintain ‘truth’? If so then please just tell me that - clearly, honestly, once and for all - and I will not insist on being your Socratic gadfly. I will withdraw to some Walden, or Kozinski cabin [but of course, sans bombs] and live out my life.

[quote author=“goodgraydrab”]I don’t understand the notion of relinquishing the concept of truth as a basis for argument. I’ll try to grasp it better in listening to discussion.

Me either.  I guess we are not among those to whom Keith is appealing.  Unfortunately, the essay is hard to understand so I’m afraid there won’t be that much discussion.

PS. I didn’t get a cordial welcome like that from Salt Creek. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t write a highbrow dissertation.

Maybe you just didn’t introduce yourself.  I didn’t.

[ Edited: 13 January 2008 06:27 PM by M is for Malapert]
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Posted: 13 January 2008 06:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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keith - 13 January 2008 11:08 AM

in any case nothing can now be ‘proved’ in any meaningful sense against the backdrop of our intellectually dominant post-structuralism/knowledge-relativism,

I suppose this is true among some philosophisers, but most people have no idea what “post-structural knowledge relativism” means, and others have a clue but disagree. 

even if it could be, the theists would simply fall back on their ancient and widely accepted ‘faith’ escape clause.

That, and their acceptance of different kinds of knowing—everything from faith to “what the bleep”. 

For instance, you prefer “X is observable” to “X is observably true”, but you are going to come a cropper here (in this forum, I mean) over how “observable” is to be defined.  We have people here who believe that the Bible is evidence; we have others who stoutly defend their own subjective “experiences” as observations. 

Bruce Burleson, for instance, has had an “experience” which I don’t think he has ever described, but which convinced him that Jesus walks and talks with him (apparently).  And your request that he take you to where you, too can have the same observation will be dismissed.  Maybe you can get through to him to explain why he shouldn’t do that, but none of the rest of us can.

I mean, you say:

But what about the rest? Is any of it observably more firmly grounded than science? Can we see ourselves to have some competitive and superior basis for any of it?

You’d get a hearty Yes from the theists here.

Basically, that we should abandon our traditional attack in terms of ‘our truths’ v ‘their truths’ (post-structuralism being right in that no resolution is possible at this level) in favor of the simpler and deeper attack of informing them that their proposals cannot be understood to qualify as knowledge upon any basis that can be understood to be capable of yielding knowledge*; with expression of our willingness to demonstrate this to them through direct physical observation.

While I agree with a lot of what you have to say, I think you’ll find that some of us already don’t argue “our truths vs. your truths”; we don’t think much about post-structuralism; we’re already telling them that “their proposals cannot be understood to qualify as knowledge”, and somehow that doesn’t dramatically reclarify the debate at all. 

Just informing these folks that their proposals are not knowledge (already leaving “truth” out of it) makes little impression, because they’re ignorant, they’re convinced, and they don’t have the respect for science that you do.  At all. 

You say okay, not at this level maybe, but at a higher one.  And hope it filters down? 

Aren’t Sam and the rest already doing this? 

I have, as implied, already been reworking if for the past few years in order to incorporate or address a lot of critical feedback.

It was very hard for me to understand what you were getting at.  Can you come up with a simpler version? 

Also, I’m afraid that your footnote…

Or is it finally for the sake of this implication, that you wish to maintain ‘truth’? If so then please just tell me that - clearly, honestly, once and for all - and I will not insist on being your Socratic gadfly. I will withdraw to some Walden, or Kozinski cabin [but of course, sans bombs] and live out my life.

...probably hits pretty close to the truth.  (Ooops, sorry.)

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Posted: 14 January 2008 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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To Salt Creek, and all others who answered: First, thanks. Second, I think that it may take me while to learn the technical ropes of this forum. I was looking for a ‘reply’ option to Salt Creek’s message; to be able to insert my replies into his text. Couldn’t manage that, so I will have to copy and paste. I’ve done so for now ‘off line’, and will send - after some more work on it - in the morning. I am also, and for the next couple of weeks, stuck on an Indonesian island. [Working, unfortunately]. The island’s tourist literature claims that it has good broadband internet linkage to the rest of the world. This is a lie. Note: I don’t ‘do’ proof or truth, but calling lies lies is something that definitely can be done from the Poppers Inversion position.

My best to you all for now. And more substantial meat soon.

Keith

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Posted: 14 January 2008 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Keith, I would like to know where in your thought the concept of mathematical truth fits in.  It seems obvious from your first assumption that you would reject mathematical Platonism, but that doesn’t get around the fact that mathematicians of all persuasions other than radical social constructivism accept that mathematical truths are… true.

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Posted: 14 January 2008 12:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Keith,

I suggest you view Salt Creek’s post ‘P. W. Atkins at Beyond Belief, under Science topic, and view the video. Cursorily, your proposal sounds like it could be an unknown replacement factor which Atkins suggests. But I posed the question whether it is possible to truly divorce science from philosophy given that both processes are rational endeavors of the human mind.

In your essay, I find underpinnings of eastern philosophys’ concept of enlightenment (watch all hell break loose). That is, the notion of the art of experience. The idea that the process of naming things and referring to them with words or numbers leads us to mistake them for the object themselves. We tend to believe that when we label, name or explain something, then we know it and understand it. When in fact, the name or label serves as a ‘substitute’ for experience or the external reality. Consequently, how do we define pure ‘truth’? If knowledge from science requires labeling, wisdom from insight is said to be wordless, and puts you into the realm of pure experience. “Insight transcends the twin poles of the intellect and the imagination. It is neither the restricted logic of deduction nor the broad vision of inspiration, but a direct reality no matter how brief. Insight is the eye of truth. It is a state of non-thinking, a moment of no thought. It is a brief seeing, a fleeting and momentary enlightenment.” (Ozaniec).

I may be way off track here. Undoubtedly, Unbeliever’s suggestion of skepticism is essential for arriving at truth. But now what, we can’t know truth? Perhaps truth is neither this nor that. In any case, my opinion is that one will never be able to reason with a Theist, there are too many built-in outs. They won’t relinquish their truth, even if we give up ours. They still must seek it for themselves.

Keith,

After reading your post #12, I get a better understanding of your premise and admit I seem to be off base. Also, I’ve been called on a couple of things. If I thought I was right, I would stick to my guns. This is to save you reading another post. Have you checked your private messages Under Profile or Control Panel?

[ Edited: 15 January 2008 06:46 PM by goodgraydrab]
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Posted: 15 January 2008 05:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Continuation from yesterday’s post. Answers here to Salt Creek, with more to follow ASAP, and in the order as received.


I happen to think that questions which begin with “why” are already headed in a bad direction. K: In general, I’d agree. My header statement could have been framed as a ‘how’ question (“Those who understand how they know the things that they know ..... etc.”). I will certainly give it some consideration. Answering the question “how” is usually much more productive. As a scientist does.

“How do you do?” for example, is much more facilitating than “Why do you do?” For more about this, see the inappropriately-named Hitchhiker Trilogy by Douglas Noel Adams. K: A favorite of mine too.

But I know what you mean. With the above quibble safely by, I think we can all salute someone who writes:

In final conclusion: ‘Our’ knowledge (rational/scientific/observation-based knowledge, and all of the beautiful and satisfying subjective knowledge that can be seen to flow from this [ref. ‘Consilience’, ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’, ‘The Soul of Science’, ‘The Elegant Universe’, anything by Carl Sagan, and so on]) does not need the illusory reinforcement of being characteristic of the actual state of reality. To circle back at last to my header statement: We know why we believe what we believe. We can defend it elegantly and sufficiently upon that basis. And wherever we cannot - wherever we find some proposal of ours to be opposed by some more reasonable logically exclusive proposal - we can honestly set ours aside in favor of that alternative.

But be careful, Keith, and do not play too many word games with the concept of truth, or go too far in the way of saying that theistic “truth’ is deconstructed only because it is local or temporal, or passages like the following will come back to bite you in the ass:

Basically; that we can see ourselves to be incapable of having any knowledge that we can coherently maintain or propagate as ‘truth’. Perhaps counter-intuitively, my argument will be found to be in fundamental opposition to our now dominant intellectual climate of post-structuralism/knowledge-relativism. In a nutshell; I will be arguing for, rather than against, our common sense idea that at any given time some of our knowledge proposals can be clearly seen to be right, in relation to others that can be just as clearly seen to be wrong. But this will in no sense constitute a sneaking back in of our ‘truth’ concept by the side door. I will demonstrate both analytically; that we can do without this concept, and empirically; that we would be almost infinitely better off without it. 

K: SC, I really did, and do, mean this. I gave up ‘truth’ - in both senses as referred to in my essay - about 12 years ago. I decided for some of the reasons covered in the essay to try simply proposing to others the things that believe on the basis of my actual and specific reasons for believing them. For this we clearly and simply don’t need the ‘truth’ concept. And it hasn’t bitten me in any sense that I can detect. If anything, I’d say the opposite, in that my thought processes seem to me to have become clearer.
The thing to emphasize is not some Kuhno-Popperian-Feyerabendish [K: Popperian, YES! But Kuhn and Feyerabend are no friends of mine. Especially Kuhn; whose misunderstanding of Popper is profound, and apparently the basis for a hell of a lot of other people’s misunderstandings.] focus on the provisionality of scientific knowledge, which is sure to hypnotize you against the fact that scientific methodology leads inevitably to knowing more today than we did yesterday [K: There is no rational requirement for it to have this effect. And I can tell you honestly that it doesn’t.] . To paraphrase the immortally concise M is for Malapert, “it converges on knowledge rather than ignorance”. Inevitably.
K: No argument with you or M on the matter of scientific methodology being our most efficient and effective way of increasing knowledge. I’d even hazard that the three of us would agree on its being our only coherent methodology for doing this. But I’m less sure of the platform from which you are able to say “Inevitably”. To drag forth a few of the old, and new, chestnuts: Is it really your elevator moving, rather than the rest of the universe? Can you tell me how you can be sure that you are not a Putnam-esque ‘brain in a vat’? Can any of your knowledge be, against the backdrop of my essay’s Point #1, representative of the actual state of reality? The high level theists – who, like it or not have intellectual credibility with the public – can keep trotting out stuff like this for as long as you like. My point in doing so, both here and in my essay, is that we can’t go back. Hume showed what he showed, and none of the brilliant attempts that have been made since to controvert or circumvent it have succeeded. The Enlightenment failed. Post-structuralism, as an intellectual zeitgeist, is what we’ve got. But we can go forward. If we finish the job that Popper started then there will no longer be two potentially opposable bases from which knowledge proposals can be propagated and maintained. We know how one basis – the one on which we can see all of our own knowledge to be justifiable – works. The theists believe themselves to have another basis. This belief, as I tried to show in my essay, is the only thing that they can coherently mean from the way that they can be seen to be using their ‘truth’ concept. What I’m after, and need my own community’s help for, is a final public calling of their bluff. There is nothing highbrow or complicated about this, and it’s pretty simple to set up in a debating format. We just explain to them – politely of course – that we’ve grown weary of the thousands of years of sterile debate in which our two sides have merely been talking past each other. We invite the most intellectually credible representatives of any of their groups (let’s say for this illustration the Christians, as they are the one with which most of us are most familiar) to sit down at the table with us and agree (A) a mutually acceptable basis or procedure through which only some proposals (as opposed to all proposals) can be selected as knowledge; then (B) to clearly and unequivocally propose the defining characteristics of the Supernatural Being whose existence they would like us to embrace as knowledge; and then finally (C), again mutually, to apply the (A) test to the (B) proposals. I would be entirely happy to offer to the Christians the prospect of my public recantatation. Full acquiescence to their proposals, groveling and kissing of the pope’s ring. Whatever. If they would be willing to extend the same level of commitment from their side. But please note: I would not be offering them a fixed fight. I would not presuppose reason as our most powerful determinant for Step (A). It would be up to me/us to establish that, or to them to establish some other (any other) knowledge basis that we could all see to be functional [very simply, and starkly, to be capable of selecting only some proposals from the much larger set of all conceivable proposals]. Please note also that we could make their public refusal to engage us at this level rather costly. “You’ve been telling us for thousands of years that you have some basis for your theistic proposals, from which we too should accept them. Now, when we finally offer you a clear opportunity to demonstrate this, and explicitly state our willingness to embrace your proposals if you can do so, you turn away?” A similarly powerful prod of intellectual shaming could be used against their standard obfustication tactic at the level of Step B. “You want us to embrace as knowledge the existence of a Supernatural Being who has certain characteristics (we assume at least, in this instance, those which would distinguish your SB from that of the Muslims). But you seem to want to play coy, and keep your options open, as to exactly what these characteristics are.” None if us, to my knowledge, has ever debated (Step C) a high level theist with steps A and B having been thoroughly and properly attended to. I think that the contest would be a little like that between a 747 engine and the bird getting sucked into it.
[ Edited: 13 January 2008 10:12 AM by Salt Creek]
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Of course God is infinite. God is the infinite amount of nonsense one can know about nothing. In case you haven’t found God yet, He’s right there in the dictionary. Hallelujah! All’s right with the world!

K: His existence can also be mathematically proved; by dividing any number by zero and thus ‘deriving’ the infinite. This characterizes the intellectual level of all God-existence-proofs, explicitly including that from ‘irreductable complexity’.

I’m going to go ahead and send this, to get at least someting out on the table. More answers to follow ASAP, particularly to the important fundamental epistemological challenge (re. Chicago) the details of which I can’t figure out how to review again from here. Give its importance I’ll address that next; and then go for ‘as recieved’ order.

Regards to you all,

Keith

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Posted: 15 January 2008 06:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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keith - 14 January 2008 01:23 PM

I was looking for a ‘reply’ option to Salt Creek’s message; to be able to insert my replies into his text.

Select “quote” at the bottom of the post you want to respond to.  You’ll get the entire text with author attribution at the top and a close-quote tag at the end.

If you want to respond point by point, you’ll have to use the “quote” function at the top of the response page repeatedly, and even do some HTML if you want to attribute quotes, but it’s easy to see how to do it (just copy {quote author=“so’n'so”} and forget about the date part).

Except use the lower-case close brackets.  When I used them it cut my sentence off.

[ Edited: 16 January 2008 12:59 PM by M is for Malapert]
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Posted: 15 January 2008 06:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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keith - 15 January 2008 10:40 PM

My point in doing so, both here and in my essay, is that we can’t go back. Hume showed what he showed, and none of the brilliant attempts that have been made since to controvert or circumvent it have succeeded. The Enlightenment failed. Post-structuralism, as an intellectual zeitgeist, is what we’ve got.

Oh, hon.  This is so not true, such a misunderstanding, almost on the level of What the Bleep.

We had a thread a while back where a theist triumphantly brought up inductive skepticism as if it proved something.  David Wolpe does the same thing in his “debate” with (aka sermon to) Sam Harris, which you can see here: http://www.jewishtvnetwork.com/?bcpid=533363107&bctid=1329234778

What they have in common is this braying that Hume destroyed any basis for knowledge; that all we can do is have faith in any given observation—after all, unless we toss every ball in every universe unto infinity, we can’t know for sure that one of them won’t float upwards!

But this is making a fundamental mistake about science: that we’re assuming success (“truth”, if you will) demands a particular criterion, something like “this method (theory, etc.) will stop in some finite time with every possible source of knowledge in every possible world giving the correct answer.”

But this isn’t the criterion.  Think back to your calculus: success is available at the limit (which we don’t reach, but come closer and closer to, and would arrive at in infinite time).

I’m quoting myself there; and I followed by making the observation Salt Creek likes: “All along, glancing at this thread, I’ve thought about elementary calculus and wondered what the fuss is about. Science only converges on the truth in finite time (space, whatever).  Absolutely right.  Not a problem.  It does not converge on ignorance.  That’s all we need to know.”

This is why post-structuralism and the Zeitgeist and What the Bleep are all beside the point.  Sure, you have have philosophers debating “reality” and Fritjof Capra explaining that quantum physics proves we could walk though walls if we really set our minds to it, and so forth.  This is irrelevant.  It may be attractive to suggestible and ignorant minds, but I doubt that abdicating to their ignorance is going to do anything but give up an inch of territory, allowing them to grab a mile in terms of what you’ve conceded.

We know how one basis – the one on which we can see all of our own knowledge to be justifiable – works. The theists believe themselves to have another basis. This belief, as I tried to show in my essay, is the only thing that they can coherently mean from the way that they can be seen to be using their ‘truth’ concept. What I’m after, and need my own community’s help for, is a final public calling of their bluff. There is nothing highbrow or complicated about this, and it’s pretty simple to set up in a debating format. We just explain to them – politely of course – that we’ve grown weary of the thousands of years of sterile debate in which our two sides have merely been talking past each other.

This is pretty much what happened in the Wolpe/Harris exchange.

We invite the most intellectually credible representatives of any of their groups (let’s say for this illustration the Christians, as they are the one with which most of us are most familiar) to sit down at the table with us and agree (A) a mutually acceptable basis or procedure through which only some proposals (as opposed to all proposals) can be selected as knowledge; then (B) to clearly and unequivocally propose the defining characteristics of the Supernatural Being whose existence they would like us to embrace as knowledge; and then finally (C), again mutually, to apply the (A) test to the (B) proposals.

Again, check out the Wolpe lecture.  He is scarcely among the most intellectually credible representatives of Judaism, but I’m afraid you would get the same result: “your kind of knowing [science] simply has no place when it comes to answering my questions.”

I would not be offering them a fixed fight. I would not presuppose reason as our most powerful determinant for Step (A). It would be up to me/us to establish that, or to them to establish some other (any other) knowledge basis that we could all see to be functional [very simply, and starkly, to be capable of selecting only some proposals from the much larger set of all conceivable proposals].

Sam told Wolpe that there is no question which used to be answered by science which is now better answered by religion, whereas there are innumerable questions of which the opposite can be said—and Wolpe argued with that.

Against such stupidity, the gods struggle in vain.

Please note also that we could make their public refusal to engage us at this level rather costly.

How I wish, but they are shameless.  I watched the Harris/Wolpe exchange last night and was struck by the almost carnivalesque, flim-flam aspects of the snake oil Wolpe was selling.  He’s a showman, an orator—he’s used to being in the pulpit and getting a respectful hearing.  You could no more pin him down than P.T. Barnum.

But you say you want high intellectual credibility.  Unfortunately, theism seems to be incompatible with that (when it comes to the subject in question).  I mean, Francis Collins may still have some scientific abilities, but his brain has clearly been washed when it comes to religion.

Okay, that was a bad example.  Have you thought of anyone with whom this exchange could take place?  And checked to see if Sam hasn’t already tried it?

[ Edited: 16 January 2008 12:56 PM by M is for Malapert]
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Posted: 16 January 2008 06:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Thank you, M. That is so elegant and concise.

People can be haunted by all sorts of spirits. We have on the one hand, people haunted by the Holy Spirit, and those on the other hand haunted by the “spirit of the times” (Zeitgeist). People want to be haunted. We know how that happens. In the end, all it turns out to be is laziness.

Atkins said it best. Theology obfuscates. It may be that post-structuralism is theology’s new best friend. The only way either of them can proceed is by not ruling anything out.

Obviously, if theology was able to rule anything out, there would only be one world religion. The first thing that post-structuralism fails miserably to question in its questioning of knowledge is itself.

It is worth noting in passing that there is only one scientific method. Burt Voorhees, for one, is sometimes frustrated by this, but he, too, is a bit haunted by the ghost of Aristotle.

[ Edited: 16 January 2008 06:35 AM by Traces Elk]
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