• About TWIM

    The Warfare Is Mental (TWIM) reflects the mental warfare of an author, screenwriter, publisher and member of the Writer's Guild of America. Family, friends, health, humor, art, music, science, faith, fun and knowledge are some of the things that are important to me.

    TWIM is the first and only theist blog listed on the Atheist Blogroll, which currently contains over 1,000 blogs. It goes without saying that I don't endorse hardly any of the views of any of them. Contact Mojoey for more information.

    Ironically, TWIM won an award for "Best Atheist / Skeptic Site" from this site. Much obliged.

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    You and your commenters are a feast of thinking — great stuff.

    -C.L. Dyck
    I have no need to engage with racists, so will ignore cl’s further diatribes.

    cl resists following through on a thought even to provide a solid opposing position, and thus stifles many conversations. It’s a shame since it seems like cl has some brain power that could be applied to the topics at hand.

    [faithlessgod and Hermes] fit my definition of trolling. I didn’t take any of those attacks against you seriously, and quickly categorized them as trolls.

    -JS Allen,
    [cl] is, as many have noticed, a master of this warfare. I’ve been following him for quite some time and he’s one of the most effective Christian trolls out there. No one can completely destroy a conversation as effectively as he does, and with such masterful grace and subtly that he rarely gets banned. This isn’t a blunt-force “U R Hitler!” troll, this is the Yoda of trolling.

    This seems to imply that cl is, at least in part, disingenuous in terms of how he responds/what he claims. Is this most likely true, supported by evidence, or merely a subjective claim?

    -al friedlander,
    ...I wanted to get a message to you outside of the context of specific discussions on CSA. You make good, insightful contributions to that site, and since I often agree with you I'm glad there is someone else there defending my positions better than I sometimes can. However I don't think anything of value would be lost if you stopped engaging in personal combat with juvenile snipers.

    Thank you for your wonderful response - so reasoned in the race of [Waldvogel's] blustering.

    -Annie Laurie Gaylor
     Freedom From Religion Foundation
    Thanks for a great Op-Ed.

    -Marianne Ratcliff
     VC Star
    ...as atheists we need to make sure that someone like cl and any Christian readers of [An Apostate's Chapel] don’t come away with the perception that the atheists caved in or were incapable of responding. I’m sure that a lot of Christians who find cl incomprehensible at times and don’t even bother reading him themselves will come away with an assumption that cl is that sort of rare intellectual theist who can prove that gods exist. And that’s how those inane rumors about the feared xian intellectuals start…

     An Apostate's Chapel
    You are in so over your head here, you are embarrassing yourself...
    I am well versed in many aspects of evolution biology, through my academic background, and my professional life. Unless your academic degrees and background match mine, cease and desist. Return to philosophy and rhetoric, or whatever it is you perceive your strengths to be. They are definitely not science, even at the high school level.

    -R.C. Moore
     Evangelical Realism
    You're doing a fine job.

    -Prof. Larry Moran
     Dept. of Biochemistry
     University of Toronto
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    Phyletic change and vicariance (or, drift and selection versus population isolation), as cl points out, are much better ways of describing what are unfortunately more commonly known as micro- and macro- evolution, respectively.

     Biology postdoc
     Univ. of Cyprus
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    cl says, “The minute you call yourself a Christian or an Atheist or whatever the heck else, you automatically get painted by other people’s interpretations of those words, which are almost always different and almost always distorted.” cl’s point couldn’t be more on. As cl points out there is an important reason for not claiming any real religious (or lack thereof) belief. It puts logical constraints on one's arguments due directly to the bias of the individual that is translating the English to mind ideas of what it means to be religious.

    Just who in the bloody hell do you think you are, you Christian piece of garbage, to come here barking out orders? You're an arrogant, condescending piece of shit. You seem to think you're an intellectual of sorts, when all you are is a Christian who's read a few books. John, everyone, this really is the limit. BR, I'm more than a little annoyed that you continue to engage him. I'm out of here. I have better things to do than to waste my time with these cretins.

     Debunking Christianity
    How old are you CL? I'd guess you have not yet experienced much life. I'd say you were under the age of 21, too young to be here. I don't give a damn what you think of me or my deconversion at all. You're too stupid to realize that regardless of it you must deal with the arguments in the book. They are leading people away from you [sic] faith. I'm seriously considering banning you cl, as I've heard you were banned on other sites. You are much too ignorant for us to have a reasonable discussion.

    -John Loftus
     Debunking Christianity
    I admired the way you handled yourself in the discussion on John's blog. I'm not patient enough to keep my sarcasm in check with some of them blokes, but appreciate those who are.

    -David Marshall
     re: Debunking Christianity
    cl, I have to say, while I fundamentally disagree with you, you are an individual which I highly respect. I think your responses are always well thought out and your insights always well thought out and pertinently derived.
    [Y]ou have made me a stronger atheist in my regards to critical thinking and debating. I really can’t wait to hear more from you. Hell, I’d even buy you a drink, good sir. Cheers!

     Evangelical Realism
    Bottom line? Sometimes I think he's right about certain arguments, and I don't have a problem admitting that. Other times, however, I think he's wrong, and I've called him on that. But I have found he can be pretty reasonable if you (1) don't overstate your case, (2) make concessions when you have, and (3) insist he do the same.

    I like it when [cl] makes me stop, think and question if I am making unfounded assertions or if I am being sloppy. What has been annoying me about cl of late is that he is being excruciatingly anal...

    I really can't thank you enough for catching me on my error in rhetoric. I always love a good debate! And I always enjoy your posts, as well! Keep up the great writing and the excellent eye for detail!

    You make me smarter...

    -Mike G.
    ..thank you, cl. I discovered your blog on a random web search and saw it as an oasis amidst a vast desert of seemingly intractable theist-atheist debate.

    -Sung Jun
    It's good to be able to discuss with people who are open and respectful, and know that disagreement does not mean disrespect... You are to be congratulated, not only for your patience, but also your ability to hold an ever-growing debate together with an impressive degree of structure.

    My tone is derogatory... [cl is] ignorant and credulous and deserves to be mocked... In the time he's been here, he's shown a consistent pattern of antagonizing everyone he comes in contact with, monopolizing threads, derailing discussions with perpetual complaints, quibbles and demands for attention, and generally making arguments that display a lack of good faith and responsiveness... it's become intolerable. I'm not banning him, but I'm putting in place some restrictions on how often he can comment.

     Daylight Atheism
    This is no defense of the annoying cl, but what a self-righteous, prissy atheist you turned out to be, Ebonmuse. I'm disappointed in you, stealing a strategem from the theists.

    -The Exterminator
     to Ebonmuse
    I certainly didn't get any bad impression about cl, and I can't relate his comments with any of the things (Ebonmuse) said above. I actually thought it was quite interesting to have him around.

    -Juan Felipe
     Daylight Atheism
    Please continue to allow
    cl to post his views and make it clear that he is still welcome. And let me be clear, cl is not a lunatic.

     Daylight Atheism
    With one exception, you are the most coherent and intelligent theist I've seen on this site...

    -Steve Bowen
     Daylight Atheism
    I'm rooting for cl. I hope he perpetually manages to skirt the rules enough to do his damage, forcing rule revision after rule revision, ad nauseum. Awesome! Let's watch as Ebon, ever more frustrated, continues to struggle to figure out how to keep his precious private blog neat and tidy as cl keeps messing up his papers while one by one, readers leave due to an every increasing administrative presence. Outstanding! Well I won't go. The thought of this sounds like the most entertaining thing that probably would have ever happened on Daylight Atheism. Hot damn!

    Your visit has been something of a reality check to me. It seems that when you present rational arguments and criticisms, many commenters feel territory slipping and then work up vaporous or leaky responses. I also want to remark that your presence here has considerably moved me to try being a more careful and understanding debater...

     Daylight Atheism
    I do have a lot of respect for you too. You seem to be a very intelligent and thoughtful individual with a knack for getting to the bottom of a problem, cutting through all the bullshit rhetoric on the way down. The fact that many other atheists seem to unreasonably despise you bothers me a lot, because I think that maybe they aren’t acting in good faith.

    -Peter Hurford
    I am not going to waste any more time parsing your comments to decide if they've crossed the line or not... So I banned you.

    -Greta Christina
    Be rude... cl invites rudeness. Would you want an incontinent little puppy coming into your house?

    -(((Billy))) the Atheist
    Note to all my regular readers: Since An Apostate’s Chapel is a free-speech zone, I don’t censor conversations.
    As it appears that cl is a troll, please note that I will not be responding to him any longer. I ask that you refrain from doing so, as well. Please don’t feed the troll!

    -The Chaplain
    …I can’t reconcile being a "freethinker" with banning speech. [cl's] comments are not offensive in the normal understanding of that term, and he poses absolutely no threat except perhaps to some imagined decorum. Why can’t atheists lighten up, for no-Christ’s sake?

    -The Exterminator
    Is it going to distract from my meal when crazy uncle cl starts blathering out nonsense, pick his ears with a carrot or start taking his pants off? No. In fact, it might actually heighten the experience in some amusing way. So no, I don't see cl's work as damage.

    I am beginning to suspect that you are a troll cl. Albeit an evolved troll, but a troll nonetheless. Perhaps we should all stop feeding the troll?

     Evangelical Realism
    [cl is] is either a sophist or an incompetent when it comes to the english language... (sic)

     Evangelical Realism
    I’d say cl is pretty sharp... it may be tempting at times to think that “the other guy” is arguing out of some personal character flaw rather than a sincere desire to acknowledge the truth, I still think it’s better to debate respectfully... It is disrespectful to make unsupported accusations against people, e.g. by suggesting that their views are caused by an intrinsically corrupt and immoral nature.

    -Deacon Duncan, 3-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    [cl] cannot refute my facts, so he needs must find (sic) some scapegoat in order to claim that he has confronted the enemy and proven them wrong... cl, sadly, has proven himself to be the sort of guest who comes into your living room and sneaks behind your couch to take a crap on the floor, just so he can tell all your neighbors how bad your house smells and what an unsanitary housekeeper you are... an interesting case study in the negative effects a Christian worldview has on a reasonably intellectual mind.

    -Deacon Duncan, 6-17-09
     Evangelical Realism
    I strongly discourage discussion of the character, abilities, motives, or personal ancestry of individual commenters, as tempting as such comments may be at times. I discourage the posting of comments that make frequent use of the pronoun “you,” as in “you always…” or “you never…” or “you are just so…”, when directed at a specific individual.

    -Deacon Duncan, 4-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    I won’t be publishing your most recent comment because it’s a return to the same sort of schtick you’ve pulled here before: re-writing other people’s arguments to make yourself look misunderstood and/or unfairly accused, taking “polyvalent” positions so that when people address your points you can claim to have said something else, distorting other people’s arguments, trolling for negative reactions, and so on.

    -Deacon Duncan, 10-8-09
     Evangelical Realism
    [E]gomaniacal troll.
    You win... You’re a disingenuous sophist through and through, cl. And a friggin’ narcissist to boot! Since I’ve thoroughly and purposefully broken the Deacon’s rules of engagement, I shall consider my right to post henceforth annulled, and move on - dramatic pause, lights out.

     Evangelical Realism
    He either thinks in a very weird way or he's quite the con artist.

    I will gladly admit that I have a boner for cl. Maybe some day I’ll even earn a place of honor on cl’s Blog of Infamy.

     Evangelical Realism
    Long time reader first time poster... I like reading what you
    have to say over at Daylight Atheism so I figured I'd pop in here.

    He's just a jerk
    that likes to argue.

     Daylight Atheism
    You’re not a reasonable thinker in my book. You’re simply an arguer, for better or worse. I’m Michael Palin, you’re John Cleese. You’re just a disputation-ist, bringing everything into question...

     Reason vs. Apologetics
    Motherfucker, this is an interesting blog... Quite the group of commenters.

    -John Evo
    You are very articulate, and I can only assume that it's a result of high intelligence; an intelligence that's interested in, and can understand, healthy debate. However, at every turn, that's not what I or others seem to get.

    -ex machina
     Daylight Atheism
    You are a troll, a liar, and a useless sack of shit. Not only that, but you're still wrong even after moving the goal posts and trying to re-write history. So, you can stop cyber stalking me now and trying to provoke me. I know what you are doing, and you are doing it so that you can whine about how I'm being irrational and mean to you and stroke your pathetic martyr complex. You're a pathetic attention whore and I've already given you too much attention. So, back the fuck off, stop following me around the intarwebs and trying to provoke me, and fuck off.

     Daylight Atheism
    I would just like to say that, OMGF, having read the debate as a neutral observer, some of the things cl says about your style of argument are true, IMO. It is quite hasty, which means you occasionally haven't got the central point cl is trying to make...

    -John D.
     Daylight Atheism
    ...this is a difficult question that deserves more than a kneejerk reaction, not to imply that you're kneejerking. You're the least kneejerking person I've met.

    If you’re here playing devil’s advocate, then, hey, you do a great job at it, it’s a service, keep us sharp... You’re a smart guy, but those are exactly the ones who give the worst headaches!

     An Apostate's Chapel
    You are a waste of time, cl. A big fat black hole of bullshit sucking in everyone who comes into contact with you.

    -Spanish Inquisitor
    As for all that harsh invective that's come your way, umm... I gotta say, I've seen some of the invective, but I haven't seen the behavior on your part that called for it. Maybe I've just not seen enough? I don't know... from what I've read, I can tell that you're a smart person, and whether you deserved any of that treatment or not is quite frankly immaterial to me; I just want to deal with the smart person at the eye of that storm.

     She Who Chatters
    I now think that you’re an atheist, just having fun at other atheists’ expense. If that’s the case, kudos.

    -The Exterminator
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Asteroids, Cathode Rays & Requisite Knowledge, II

Image source: tutornext.com

Yesterday we talked about asteroids, and the fact that “there’s no evidence for X” type claims are often made amidst the very evidence being denied. We also discussed the interesting truth that an unjustified claim is not necessarily untrue. Today, let’s continue with another example from science’s history to discuss what counts for evidence, when our beliefs are justified, and the extent to which we can lean on either as an epistemological security blanket. Let’s discuss cathode rays!

It’s en vogue to associate 1859 with Darwin, but I like to remember that year for physicist Julius Plücker, who noticed that a strange, green phosphorescence gathered around the negative electrode (cathode) of his tubed apparatus whenever he applied current to the positive electrode (anode). Based on his observations, Plücker reasoned that something was being emitted by the cathode, and a decade later his student—Johan Wilhelm Hittorf—demonstrated that objects placed between the cathode and an interior wall cast shadows. This led to the more specific conclusion that whatever was being emitted by the cathode traveled in straight lines.

Two mutually-exclusive hypotheses soon emerged and physicists found themselves divided. The first camp supported the hypothesis that cathode rays were atoms or gas molecules inside the tube that had become negatively charged. The second camp supported the hypothesis that cathode rays were not particles at all, but waves that moved through ether. In 1883, physicist Heinrich Hertz produced cathode rays inside an apparatus containing an electrometer, which did not register any charge. Of that experiment, Hertz said,

As far as the accuracy of the experiment allows, we can conclude with certainty that no electrostatic effect due to the cathode rays can be perceived.
-Heinrich Hertz

Now, I appreciate the way Hertz worded that: it sounds like what we’d expect from any responsible scientist. Notice that unlike my high school biology teacher, he’s not taken facts and twisted them into agenda, dogma or premature conclusion. Rather, he simply stated nothing more and nothing less than what the results of the experiment allowed: as far as the accuracy of the experiment permits—IOW, proceeding on faith that the results were in fact accurate—scientists were able to justifiedly conclude the absence of an electrostatic effect.

The history of physics testifies to how wrong they were, regardless of whatever methodological certainty they felt justified their beliefs! There was an electrostatic effect being generated, even in Hertz’ experiment; it’s just that the electrometer Hertz used could not detect that effect. Regardless of however responsibly stated Hertz’ conclusion was, the body of requisite knowledge was insufficient, this time in the form of insufficient technology, which led to a false negative result.

Another decade or so passed, and British physicist J.J. Thomson repeated Hertz’ experiment in 1897. He initially obtained the same results. However, in that short decade, knowledge and technology had evolved such that Thomson could lower the air pressure inside the apparatus more than Hertz was able to do in 1883. Sure enough, Thomson detected what Hertz was literally unable to detect: the strange “cathode rays” showed clear lines of deviation towards the anode, which Thomson concluded as proof not only that they were charged particles, but negatively charged particles.

Today, it’s common knowledge that what Plücker and Hittorf and Hertz and Thomson referred to as “cathode rays” are not rays at all, but negatively charged subatomic particles more commonly referred to as electrons. Yet, during the time they were thought of as cathode rays, that belief—untrue as it was—was a justified belief, backed by repeatable experiments according to every principle of induction and falsification that scientists use today.

So, what’s the lesson to learn here, and what is the larger analogy in discussions of (a)theism?

There exists a certain subset of atheists and skeptics who lean with great confidence on the impression that each and every stepping stone of their philosophies constitute justified beliefs, but as the case of cathode rays demonstrates, 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: justified beliefs often prove false (as did belief in cathode rays), and unjustified beliefs often prove true (as did belief in asteroids). Court-of-law arguments would be a notable exception.

So, besides the obvious psychological self-soothing, what do we really gain to say that our beliefs are justified, if the quality of being justified is no reliable indicator of truth?


11 Responses

  1. You touch on the Gettier problem here.

    So, besides the obvious psychological self-soothing, what do we really gain to say that our beliefs are justified, if the quality of being justified is no reliable indicator of truth?

    Pragmatism teaches us that justified beliefs are more reliable than unjustified beliefs. Thus the requirement for ID cards, credit ratings and courtroom evidence.

  2. Pragmatism teaches us that justified beliefs are more reliable than unjustified beliefs.

    Yet, justified beliefs often turn out to be false, while unjustified beliefs often turn out to be true. So, what’s the basis for the claim that “justified beliefs are more reliable,” and can you precisely quantify “more reliable” for me?
    People pass fraudulent claims with ID cards, credit ratings and courtroom evidence rather frequently, and it’s often our faith in what we call “justified belief” that precludes further investigation, which leads to error. How many people have ceded their rights and/or property to phony police officers, precisely because a badge was presented?

  3. cl, I’m all the way with you up until you ask what the lesson is. Even on the faith part, with “faith” here meaning “trust” rather than “hope” or “belief firmly held beyond reason.” (Brief aside: though many individuals may in fact have firmly held the belief beyond reason, only the trust is necessary to arrive at the conclusion. The rational person will form a conditional belief based on some level of confidence in that trust, and eschew such firmly held beliefs beyond the bounds of reason as superfluous.) Also, the key word in the phrase “proceeding on faith that the results were in fact accurate” is “results.”
    You state in your reply to John that “justified beliefs often turn out to be false, while unjustified beliefs often turn out to be true.” My agreement hinges on what exactly you mean by the word “often.” If we get properly philosophical with Hertz’s conclusion, it ought to have been phrased in terms of “in light of these results, given the conditions, the most likely explanation we can come up with is [blah blah blah].” That was true. It’s still true, given the facts of their time (as we understand them, so far, etc.). The conclusion itself happened to be false, but it will always be true that it was the best available explanation given the body of facts as accumulated at that point.
    I’m not after “truth.” I’d need second order knowledge to know I’ve got it, which I can’t get, so I’m not interested. I’m after increasingly likely explanations. Again, I don’t just want answers, I want understanding. I want to build a model of reality, and if you’re saying that God is real, then you’re saying that my model of reality is incomplete without him. I’m open to that idea, but please show me where God fits in the explanation of “all of reality,” and how you propose to know that it’s God, and what I can do to check your ideas for myself to see if they bear any relationship at all to reality.
    Otherwise, again, all you’ve got is a nice coherent story that lacks demonstrable correspondence. I make no claims to infallibility, I’m just saying that I try to form my beliefs after demonstrable correspondence has been integrated into a coherent story. The great part is that all you need to do is show me how I can see for myself that your beliefs do in fact correspond to reality, and then I can go about making sure that this demonstration coheres with the rest of my beliefs (revising as needed). Both coherence and correspondence are needed, otherwise you’ve got mere nice stories, or floating abstractions.

  4. Oh! Also! (Dammit, I need an “edit” button!)
    If you think your methods of belief formation are better than mine (if they do in fact differ, I don’t know), then please outline what they are and why you think they’re better. I’m also interested in that.

  5. You guys really have some great dialogue going here & in some of the previous posts.
    D, I’m interested in how you demonstrate the correspondence of your principle: “Both coherence and correspondence are needed, otherwise you’ve got mere nice stories, or floating abstractions.”

  6. So, what’s the basis for the claim that “justified beliefs are more reliable,” and can you precisely quantify “more reliable” for me?

    You seem to want me to, um, justify this belief to you.
    Why would you want that, other that you too consider justified beliefs more reliable?

  7. MS Quixote,
    I’m sorry, I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. It sounds like you’re asking me to “demonstrate the truth” of “a definition of truth.” That’s rather like asking me to “solve” the problem of induction, to use reasoning processes to show why we should buy into reasoning processes. You’re asking me to beg my own question, and, uhh… not gonna fall for it.
    See, “truth” is a word that humans made up. I’m just offering a definition of what I mean by that word. Definitions are stipulative, not demonstrative. Here is where I first laid this out in my dialogue with cl:

    So yeah, finally, on truth: there are two prevailing theories of truth in philosophical circles, the correspondence theory of truth and the coherence theory of truth. To steal Scotlyn’s turn of phrase and boil a whole lot of argy-bargy down to one sentence, “correspondence” means “is the case in reality,” and “coherence” means “is consistent with the greater body of true propositions.” I couldn’t tell you why this is a serious debate if you put a gun to my head, because both are important to me: true things ought to correspond to reality, I think, and true things also ought to cohere with one another. I think if either one of those is lacking, then you don’t have truth; and if you can only get one but not both, then any claims to truth are suspect. So when I check to see if something is or is not the case, I’m satisfying the correspondence quotient; when I integrate that bit of knowledge with the rest of my knowledge, I’m roughly checking for coherence. They both matter.

    cl seems to agree, and he also pointed out the difficulty in sussing this stuff out. That’s what we’re trying to do here: we’re going through the whole song and dance of argumentation. But my theory of truth is something that he agreed to, and so we’re just saying, “Great,” and moving on to things where we disagree. If you have a better definition of truth, I’d love to hear it!

  8. “You’re asking me to beg my own question, and, uhh… not gonna fall for it.”
    Come on D, give me a bit more credit than that, as I am to you. I’m already assuming we’re both two steps further along on this discussion. The rules of inference will for the most part qualify as self-evident propositions, whereas your definition of truth does not. I’m certain you have good reasons to believe in its utility as a governing thought principle or as a pragmatic tool of discovery; however, I was mainly interested as to whether you believed your principle had any genuine correspondence in reality, or not, from either demonstrable or ideologic lines. I think your reply has confirmed in the negative on that score.
    “See, “truth” is a word that humans made up.”
    Literally correct, in its restricted sense, but if you attempt to develop it into what I think you mean by it, you would require the same correspondence you’re demanding on other counts to be consistent, don’t you think?
    “I’m just offering a definition of what I mean by that word. Definitions are stipulative, not demonstrative.”
    OK, but certainly you’d agree I can offer definitions of truth to which you’d demand correspondence, right? (and coherence for that matter, given your earlier statements) What do you consider the guideline for when and when not correspondence is required?
    “That’s what we’re trying to do here: we’re going through the whole song and dance of argumentation.”
    Yes, I’m following quite well and down with the philosophy involved. I don’t need to butt in; I just wanted to know how you would respond to that particular question. No worries and no parlor tricks from this end–you’re way up there on the Quixote respect scale, FWIW…but this principle is a belief of yours and you did say “I’m just saying that I try to form my beliefs after demonstrable correspondence has been integrated into a coherent story…”

  9. @ MS Quixote: I think maybe we ought to start over. cl and I did, and it took a while to hash out our starting points, and I think we’ve become very good friends because of it. So let me briefly come out of the closet to you.
    I’m a capital-S Skeptic, one of those weirdos who doubts everything, including my own ability to apprehend reality. However, because of the fact that my Skepticism precludes me from endorsing solipsism, I trust that other people are intelligent agents in their own right, and I seek to learn what I can from them. Pro tip: this includes you! So, when you say:

    I’m already assuming we’re both two steps further along on this discussion.

    Maybe, maybe not. Even if we are – which steps, precisely? Maybe this is old hat to you, and if so, then please indulge me – but while I agree that the rules of inference are self-evident, I’m curious as to why you think they are. For my part, if I did not accept them, then I would be paralyzed by doubt. I’m not willing to be paralyzed by my own mind, so I simply go and do and be and so forth; I walk in doubt. I also accept that I might be wrong at any step of the way, but inferences seem like they work, and other people seem to think so as well (and so those folks are worth talking to because we have a starting point from which to argue), and so I take inference for granted. How about you?
    So, I hope you can understand, I’m a bit confused as to why you think I ought to demonstrate the truth of my definition of a made-up word. That’s just what I think “truth” means, in light of my philosophical studes. When you get right down to it, that’s the conclusion I was more or less forced to accept. If you have a different definition, or a different theory of truth, then I’m interested in what you think. We can hash it out from there. But I don’t believe in a vacuum – nobody does. I acknowledge the fact that who I am is shaped by my environment, and that includes other persons, such as cl and yourself.

    …I can offer definitions of truth to which you’d demand correspondence, right?

    Now that you mention it – I don’t know! And I’m interested as to what you’ve got. What’s your theory of truth? I do have a guideline for when correspondence is required: it’s for when you want to say that it’s reasonable/rational/etc. to believe in this-or-that thing. If you’ve got some answers, I’d love to hear them – just know that all I’ve got is questions.
    Full Disclosure: Socrates is my hero, and I’m a total slut for the Socratic method of questioning. The difference is that while “mere” sophists use it only to weaken the position of their opponents, I’m actually interested in wrapping my head around answers – I just have no respect for the answers themselves, I only respect what understanding those answers may confer in relation to the questions that never stop being asked.
    Anyway, the upshot of all this is: let’s dance! I hope you’re having a great one!

  10. “@ MS Quixote: I think maybe we ought to start over.”
    No problem, D, but this is not to suggest that there is any hard feelings from which we would need to reset that I’m aware of. My first question for you would be to ask why you’re writing your novel in present tense :) I’ve read nearly the entire thing; did I miss the reason for the tense? Is it germane to the theme or something?
    “I’m a capital-S Skeptic, one of those weirdos who doubts everything, including my own ability to apprehend reality.”
    Yes, I gathered that from your blog. Sans theism, I am as well, being drawn by the lure of continental philosophy and its continual questioning of just how, and if, we apprehend and process phenomena with any degree of accuracy. I think we have some common ground there, which is quite rare with atheists, and I suppose theists as well, who these days tend to be extremely analytic in their approach to atheism. I don’t understand this because their case is much stronger outside of analytic philosophy, IMO. My guess is threefold: one, they’re honestly persuaded by it; two, they want to retain some of the better parts of theism that an analytic approach engenders; and three, non-quantum science is such an uncomfortable bedfellow with continental philosophy. Just guesses, though…
    “Even if we are – which steps, precisely?”
    That was just to say that I recognize that you seem fluent in the concepts involved, so in reaction to your original comment I didn’t want you thinking I was attempting to make you “fall” for something or another. I really asked for my own reasons, similar to what you’re getting at in your Pro tip.
    “but while I agree that the rules of inference are self-evident, I’m curious as to why you think they are.”
    Self-evident means self-evident, right? A self-evident truth is true in all possible worlds, regardless of what I think about it. It can be no other way. So when you say:
    “For my part, if I did not accept them, then I would be paralyzed by doubt. I’m not willing to be paralyzed by my own mind, so I simply go and do and be and so forth; I walk in doubt.”
    I disagree. I don’t think you can doubt without them. Your doubts are formed or engaged by rules of inference, and in that manner they undergird your doubt. Perhaps we could say they’re more fundamental than doubt. So, yes, I take most inference for granted, but also as a necessary condition for thought and for how whatever is must be.
    “So, I hope you can understand, I’m a bit confused as to why you think I ought to demonstrate the truth of my definition of a made-up word.”
    Don’t you find a huge assumption in the phrase “made up word?” And, no, I don’t think you’re confused at all…I think you know exactly what you are claiming :)
    But, yeah, if you have a governing principle aimed at detecting or identifying truth–whatever that word may mean to you–I think it’s important that the system itself abide by its own principle. It seems a bit too loose to me otherwise. Take classic foundationalism, for instance. It’s not self evident, incorrigible, or readily apparent to the senses; hence, it’s not properly basic. Thus, by its own standard it would require a framework of justification built upon one or more of those basic beliefs to quality as rational/justified/warranted under its own standard.
    Otherwise, we’re into the netherworld of deconstructionism that you and I both want to avoid so we can actually have this conversation.
    “Now that you mention it – I don’t know!”
    Well, yeah, if I defined truth as a relation to God, you’d probably ask for a demonstration of correspondence, I’m guessing.
    “What’s your theory of truth?”
    Correspondence, but in reading your last couple of comments, I think you’ve brought something very wise forward: that if a truth corresponds, it should most likely cohere as well. Thanks for that one.
    “I do have a guideline for when correspondence is required: it’s for when you want to say that it’s reasonable/rational/etc.”
    That’s what I figured, and I was just applying some skepticism to the claim. You should be OK with that, right? :)
    “The difference is that while “mere” sophists use it only to weaken the position of their opponents,”
    I really have a lot of respect for this particular sentence, D, and for your comment in general. While we’re opponents I suppose in the worldview sense, there’s no reason we have to argue at all times. Again, I didn’t draw you into this to argue, I just wanted to know how you would answer that first question, and we can leave it at that. It is nice to be able to have reasonable atheists/skeptics/agnostics/naturalists to dialogue with, without having to argue, call names, etc.
    FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a Calvinist.
    I do really like my featherless biped friend Plato, though. Does that help?

  11. ‘No problem, D, but this is not to suggest that there is any hard feelings”
    Substitute “are” please.

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