bookmark_borderDefending the Hallucination Theory – Part 10: Evaluation of the Group-Hallucination Principle

WHERE WE ARE
In Part 9 of this series I began to examine the core argument of Kreeft’s Objection #1 (Too Many Witnesses) against the Hallucination Theory:

B. IF on multiple occasions more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time, THEN it is extremely unlikely that those experiences on ALL of those occasions were hallucinations.

3a. On multiple occasions more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time.

THEREFORE:

C. It is extremely unlikely that the experiences on ALL of the occasions when more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time were hallucinations.

I pointed out that it is natural for skeptics to raise objections to the historical claim made in premise (3a), but that premise (B), a generalization about group hallucinations, is in need of further clarification, and that I suspected that when the meaning of (B) became clear, it too would turn out to be FALSE or DUBIOUS.  So, I worked on clarifying the meaning of premise (B).  Probably the most important bit of clarification is that the term “hallucination” should be understood in a broad way, such that it includes DREAMS as being examples of hallucinations.  Here is the definition of “hallucination” that I proposed:

An apparent sensory experience S that seems to be of a person or object is a hallucination IF AND ONLY IF
there is no corresponding external object or actual person present during apparent sensory experience S.

Kreeft needs the term “hallucination” to be understood in this broad manner, otherwise, his case for the resurrection of Jesus immediately FAILS, because if “hallucination” is understood more narrowly, in a way the excluded DREAMS, then Kreeft would have no objection against, and thus no refutation of, the skeptical theory that one or more disciples had a DREAM about Jesus that they mistakenly believed to be experiences of a real and embodied risen Jesus, and that these dream experiences became the basis for their belief that Jesus had physically risen from the dead.
 
KREEFT’S ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (B)
Here is the argument that was given in support of premise (B):

1. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective.

THEREFORE:

2a. It is very unlikely that more than two persons could have the same hallucination at the same time.

THEREFORE:

B. IF on multiple occasions more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time, THEN it is extremely unlikely that those experiences on ALL of those occasions were hallucinations.

Neither Josh McDowell nor Peter Kreeft provides a clear argument in support of premise (2a).  However, McDowell mentions the “details” of hallucinations as being a key idea in support of premise (2a) and that suggests a line of reasoning that I will now spell out.
 
THE THINKING BEHIND PREMISE (2a)
Even just a few “details” about a dream or hallucination can imply a huge number of possible alternative DESCRIPTIONS of that experience.  For example, a person might describe a portion of a dream this way:

I watched a full-grown orange tabby cat walk slowly across the foot of my bed.

Each element of this sentence describing the dream could be replaced by some alternative possibility.  Instead of a full-grown cat, one could have dreamed about a kitten.  Instead of an orange cat, one could have dreamed about a black cat.  Instead of a tabby cat, one could have dreamed about a hamster or a puppy dog.  Instead of the cat walking slowly, one could have dreamed that the cat ran quickly.  Instead of the cat walking across the foot of a bed, the dream could have been about a cat walking across the floor or across the top of a table.
For the simple description “a full-grown orange tabby cat slowly walking across the foot of my bed” we can abstract various general categories:

  • AGE (newborn, infant, young, full-grown, old)
  • COLOR (red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, gray, black, brown)
  • TYPE/ANIMAL (tabby cat, Shetland pony, pointer dog, rattle snake, Angus cow, etc.)
  • LOCOMOTION (walking, skipping, hopping, running, tumbling, crawling, etc.)
  • SPEED (very slowly, slowly, moderately, quickly, very quickly, at full speed)
  • LOCATION (the foot of, the middle of, the top of, underneath, along the side)
  • OWNERSHIP (my X, your X, Our X, Sam’s X, Mary’s X, etc.)
  • FURNITURE (bed, couch, dresser, table, easy chair, nightstand, bench, shelf, desk, etc.)

The possible permutations exceed five possibilities for each of eight categories, so the possibilities exceed 5 to the 8th power or 25 to the 4th power or 390,625 different possibilities.  If we identify six different alternatives for each of the eight categories, then the number of different possible scenarios would be 6 to the 8th power or  36 to the 4th power, or 1,679,616 different scenarios.  Therefore, the description “a full-grown orange tabby cat walked slowly across the foot of my bed” suggests well over a million different alternative scenarios, with just a little bit of thought about different possibilities concerning each of the eight categories referenced in that brief description.
This thinking is what I believe is behind McDowell’s reference to “great detail” in the “descriptions of the appearances” in his presentation of his “Very Personal” objection against the Hallucination Theory:

Christ appeared to many people, and descriptions of the appearances involve great detail… (TRF, p.84)

Detailed descriptions of experiences are significant because they suggest millions of possible alternative descriptions, and thus millions of alternative possible experiences/hallucinations/dreams.  Because there are millions of alternative possible dreams/hallucinations relative to a brief detailed description of one such experience, it seems highly unlikely that more than two people would experience the “same dream” or the “same hallucination” at the same time.
 
FACTUAL PROBLEMS WITH THE THINKING BEHIND PREMISE (2a)
It seems, at first thought, that because the following brief description suggests well over a million alternative scenarios, that it would be very unlikely for more than two people to have a hallucination or dream that fits this description:

I watched a full-grown orange tabby cat walk slowly across the foot of my bed.

However,  as I have argued elsewhere, people in fact often do have similar dreams, and it is quite possible for two people to have the “same dream” at the same time:

The above example of two people dreaming about a full-grown orange tabby cat shows not only that it is possible in principle for two people to have “the same dream”, but that there is a SIGNIFICANT CHANCE of this happening.  There might be a full-grown orange tabby cat living in the house with this couple, and that cat may sometimes walk slowly across the foot of their bed.  In fact, the tabby cat might have slowly walked across the foot of their bed just before they went to sleep on the night in question, and thus it would not be a huge coincidence if both of them happen to dream that night about their cat slowly walking across the foot of their bed.  So, it is not merely possible in principle for two people to have “the same dream”, there is also a SIGNIFICANT CHANCE of this actually happening, from time to time.     (from my post on McDowell’s “Very Personal” objection)

Although more than two people having the same dream at about the same time is less likely than just two people having the same dream at about the same time, there is still a significant chance for this to happen (for example, if three people were in bed together and saw the tabby cat walk slowly across the foot of the bed, then it would be quite possible for all three people to dream of this happening that night).
Because dreams are based on our experiences, beliefs, and memories, and because the memories, beliefs, and experiences of groups of people can be similar, the contents of dreams by different people can be similar:

The subjects of the studies by Zadra and Nielsen were STUDENTS.  Note that some of their most common dreams involved common experiences and fears of students:  school, teachers, or studying,  and arriving too late, and failing an examination.  This is a strong indication that the contents of dreams are often related to the sorts of emotions and events that the dreamers have commonly experienced in their waking lives.
It is also important to note that according to one study of dream contents one of the more common types of dreams that people report is “A person now dead being alive”!!

 
Jesus was a religious preacher and teacher.  The word “disciple” basically means student.  So, people who devote their lives to following a particular religious teacher, are people who are likely to have dreams about that person and dreams about being taught by that person.  Furthermore, if their beloved teacher dies, then there is a good chance that some of the students or disciples of that religious teacher will experience dreams about that teacher who was then dead being alive.
So, the chance that some of the disciples of Jesus had dreams about Jesus being alive and about Jesus teaching people is quite good, and thus the possibility of two people having the “same dream” about Jesus at about the same time after Jesus died is much greater than one might initially think.  Although there are billions of different possible descriptions of different dream contents that we can imagine, the dreams people actually have are NOT random combinations of people and events; they are based largely on the past experiences and memories of the dreamers.  If a group of people share many common experiences, beliefs, and memories about a particular person (like Jesus), then the chances that two of these people will have a similar dream or even the “same dream” about that person are significant.
 
EVALUATION OF PREMISE (2a) and PREMISE (B)
I have previously argued that the term “hallucination” must be interpreted broadly so that it includes DREAM experiences, otherwise the cases for the resurrection of Jesus presented by Josh McDowell and by Peter Kreeft will immediately FAIL.   Here is premise (2a):

2a. It is very unlikely that more than two persons could have the same hallucination at the same time.

This premise is TRUE only if the following claim is TRUE:

2b. It is very unlikely that more than two persons could have the same DREAM at the same time.

But we have seen that premise (2b) is initially plausible because we are aware that there are billions of different possible alternative descriptions of dream experiences, and because we are tempted to assume that all of these billions of possible descriptions of the contents of a dream are equally likely to occur in a dream, and that each different dream description has only a very tiny probability of actually occurring in a particular dream.  But we have seen that people do in fact often have similar dreams because dreams are based largely on the experiences, beliefs, and memories of the dreamers and because groups of people can have very similar experiences, beliefs, and memories (e.g. college students or devoted followers of a religious teacher).  Therefore, claim (2b) is FALSE or at least DUBIOUS.
But if claim (2b) is FALSE or DUBIOUS, then premise (2a) is also FALSE or DUBIOUS.  But (2a) is the reason given in support of premise (B) in the argument for Kreeft’s Objection #1 (Too Many Witnesses).  So, the reason given in support of premise (B) is FALSE or DUBIOUS, and thus we have good reason to doubt premise (B), and a good reason to reject the core argument for Objection #1 against the Hallucination Theory.

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part 6: The NO FAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES Objection (TRF4)

WHERE WE ARE
In the previous five posts of this series, I have shown that the best case scenario (for Christian apologetics) is that MOST of Josh McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory in his book The Resurrection Factor (hereafter: TRF) are WORTHLESS CRAP:

One problem that I pointed out with Objection TRF5 (No Expectancy) is that the word “usually” in the revised and improved version of that objection is VAGUE.  My use of the word “MOST” is similarly vague, but I can quantify my point in a fairly precise way.  At least four out of seven of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP, which means that at least 57% of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP.
Furthermore, (***SPOILER ALERT***) after taking a few minutes to read and think about Objection TRF4 (No Favorable Circumstances), I realized that this objection was also a stinking pile of WORTHLESS CRAP.  So, now I am confident that at least five out of seven of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP.  That means that at least 71% of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP!
It is tempting to conclude that ALL of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP.  However, I intentionally saved his best objections for last.  The final two objections raised by McDowell are not as clearly and obviously mistaken as the previous objections, at least in my view.  So, it is still possible that McDowell has one or two solid objections against the Hallucination Theory.  But neither of the remaining two objections strike me as strong or solid objections, so I won’t be surprised if, on closer examination, they also turn out to be WORTHLESS CRAP.
In any case, if I am correct at least 71% of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP,  it appears that he is about as bad at identifying good arguments as are the apologists Peter Kreeft and Norman Geisler.  These three Christian apologists have almost NO ABILITY to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one (or else they simply don’t care about the quality of their arguments).
I suspect that their inability to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one is largely the result of decades of experience preaching to the choir.  White Evangelical Christians are, in general, dumber than a sack of hammers, and have little intellectual ability or objectivity.  The audience that these apologists write for, and speak to, will gladly accept ANY arguments for Christian beliefs, no matter how crappy and pathetic those arguments might be.  Because their audience is without intellectual ability or integrity, these apologists never needed to learn how to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one.  The Evangelicals that they preach to are just as happy with crappy and defective arguments for their beliefs as they are with solid and logical arguments for those beliefs.
 
PROBLEM #1 WITH TRF4 (NO FAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES): VAGUENESS & UNCLARITY
McDowell’s general approach in his attempt to refute the Hallucination Theory is to make use of a psychological principle or an empirical generalization concerning hallucinations and then argue that the circumstances of the “appearances” of the risen Jesus don’t fit the conditions/requirements described by one of those psychological principles:

Why is the hallucination theory so weak? 
First, it contradicts various conditions which most psychiatrists and psychologists agree must  be present to have a hallucination. (TRF, p.84)

Objection TRF4 fits this general strategy adopted by McDowell.  Here is how he describes the psychological principle used in this “No Favorable Circumstances” objection:

Another principle of hallucinations is that they usually are restricted as to when and where they can happen. In the New Testament situations, favorable circumstances are missing. …

…Indeed, the variety of times and places of Christ’s appearances defies the hypothesis that they were mere visions.                                    (TRF, p.85)

This alleged “psychological principle” is so VAGUE and UNCLEAR that McDowell’s claim that it represents “conditions which most psychiatrists and psychologists agree must be present to have a hallucination” is clearly and obviously pure BULLSHIT.
I doubt that any psychological expert on hallucinations would ever publish a scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal or book that contained such a VAGUE and UNCLEAR “psychological principle”, but I’m absolutely certain that such a VAGUE and UNCLEAR statement would never in a million years be accepted by “most psychiatrists and psychologists”.  This alleged “psychological principle” is an idea that only an audience of brain-dead White Evangelical Christians would find reasonable.
There are actually two VAGUE principles asserted by McDowell above:

Restricted Times Principle:  Hallucinations usually are restricted as to when they can happen.

Restricted Places Principle:  Hallucinations usually are restricted as to where they can happen.

As we previously saw with the revised first premise of Objection TRF5 (No Expectancy), the term “usually” is very VAGUE.  Does this mean “more than 50% of hallucinations” or “more than 60% of hallucinations” or “more than 70% of hallucinations” or “more than 80% of hallucinations” or “more than 90% of hallucinations”?  There is  a huge difference between “more than 50% of hallucinations” being restricted to certain times, as compared with “more than 90% of hallucinations” being restricted to certain times.  Furthermore, even if we are talking about 70% or 80% of hallucinations being restricted to certain times, this objection would be weak, because that means that 2 or 3 out of 10 hallucinations could occur outside of those certain times, without there being ANY conflict with this supposed “principle”!
Next, the phrase “restricted as to when they can happen” is itself very VAGUE and UNCLEAR.  Is McDowell talking about time of day? (e.g. morning, afternoon, evening, nighttime) or time of the month? (e.g. early in the month, middle of the month, last week of the month) or time of the year? (e.g. winter, spring, summer, fall)?  Or is he talking about the cycle of daily events? (e.g. while eating breakfast, while taking a shower, while getting dressed,  while driving to work, while at work, while driving home, while eating supper, while getting ready for bed, while going to sleep, etc.)
Although McDowell does not specify this, it seems that he had in mind restrictions as to the time of day (e.g. morning, afternoon, evening, nighttime), because he mentions that there was one “early morning appearance” of the risen Jesus, and that there were a couple of appearances “in broad daylight” (TRF, p.85).  Assuming this is what he had in mind, McDowell doesn’t bother to tell us what the “proper” times are for hallucinations to occur.
Do hallucinations usually happen in the “early morning”?  If so, then why mention the examples of appearances of Jesus in the morning?  Do hallucinations usually happen in the afternoon?  If so, then why mention examples of appearances of Jesus “in broad daylight” (suggesting late morning or afternoon).  Because he FAILS to specify the time of day (or times of day) when hallucinations “usually” happen, his alleged “psychological principle” is WORTHLESS for use in evaluation of the Hallucination Theory.
McDowell’s Restricted Places Principle is also very VAGUE and UNCLEAR, and thus WORTHLESS for use in evaluating the Hallucination Theory:

Restricted Places Principle:  Hallucinations usually are restricted as to where they can happen.

What sort of restriction does McDowell have in mind here?  He does not say.  Does he think hallucinations usually occur in California but not in Florida or Texas?  That is absurd and obviously false. Does he think that hallucinations usually occur in grocery stores and restaurants but not in department stores or gas stations?  That is equally ridiculous.  Does he think hallucinations usually occur in dining rooms and living rooms but not in kitchens or bathrooms?  Does he think that hallucinations usually occur on land but not at sea and not on lakes or rivers?  Does he think that hallucinations usually occur in valleys but not on hills or mountains?  What the HELL are the “restrictions” on the location where hallucinations occur?  Why would hallucinations be impacted by location or geography anyway?  This “psychological principle” is so VAGUE and UNCLEAR that it is WORTHLESS for use in evaluating the Hallucination Theory. 
So, both of the “psychological principles” that are the foundation of Objection TRF4 are WORTHLESS for use in evaluating the Hallucination Theory, and therefore this objection FAILS.
 
PROBLEM #2 WITH TRF4 (NO FAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES): ZERO EVIDENCE
The extreme VAGUENESS and UNCLARITY of McDowell’s two “psychological principles” upon which Objection TRF4 are based, strongly indicates that his claim that these principles describe “conditions which most psychiatrists and psychologists agree must be present to have a hallucination” is pure BULLSHIT.
In order to provide actual EVIDENCE that these two alleged “psychological principles” are widely accepted by psychological experts (or that these principles are true), McDowell would need to provide several quotations from peer-reviewed scientific articles and/or books written by various psychological experts who have specific knowledge about hallucinations and the causes of hallucinations.

  • How many psychological experts does McDowell quote in support of these two “psychological principles” in The Resurrection Factor ZERO! 
  • How many psychological experts does McDowell quote in support of these two “psychological principles” in Evidence that Demands a Verdict? ZERO!
  • How many psychological experts does McDowell quote in support of these two “psychological principles” in Evidence for the Resurrection? ZERO!
  • How many psychological experts does McDowell quote in support of these two “psychological principles” in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict? ZERO!

In short, McDowell makes no effort whatsoever to provide any actual EVIDENCE to support these two key factual claims upon which Objection TRF4 is based. Given that these claims are so VAGUE and UNCLEAR that it is practically certain that they do NOT describe “conditions which most psychiatrists and psychologists agree must be present to have a hallucination”, the complete and total lack of relevant EVIDENCE is more than enough reason to seriously doubt and reject the two alleged “psychological principles” behind Objection TRF4, and therefore this objection FAILS.
 
PROBLEM #3 WITH TRF4 (NO FAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES):  CLARIFICATION RESULTS IN FAILURE
McDowell did not originate Objection TRF4.  He learned this objection from another Christian apologist named J.N.D. Anderson.  In Evidence that Demands a Verdict, when McDowell presents Objection TRF4, he cites a long essay written by Anderson called The Evidence for the Resurrection, which was first published in 1950, more than twenty years prior to publication of Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and more than thirty years prior to publication of The Resurrection Factor.
In fact, five out of the seven objections that McDowell raises against the Hallucination Theory came from Anderson’s long essay (TRF1, TRF2, TRF4, TRF5, and TRF6).  The contents of the objections by Anderson not only closely parallel the objections as stated by McDowell in TRF, but they occur in nearly same order in Anderson’s essay on the resurrection as in McDowell’s The Resurrection Factor. (NOTE: the same five objections are also found in Know Why You Believe by Paul Little and they also occur in nearly the same order as in Anderson’s essay, but Know Why You Believe was first published in 1967, so Anderson’s essay was probably the original source of these objections for both McDowell and Little.)
I read Anderson’s presentation of Objection TRF4 (No Favorable Circumstances) to see if it shed any light on the VAGUE and UNCLEAR “psychological principles” that this objection is based upon.  Anderson’s discussion and use of the Restricted Times Principle is quite revealing:

In this context, the phrase “psychic experiences” refers to hallucinations.  Unlike McDowell, Anderson actually SPECIFIES EXAMPLES of times when hallucinations “usually occur”: (a) evening, (b) night, and (c) early morning.  The problem here is that these periods of time account for a significant portion of the hours in a day.  What is left out is late morning and early afternoon.  But Anderson FAILS to explicitly state that it is unusual for hallucinations to occur in late morning or in the early afternoon.  He only provides us with some examples of periods of time when hallucinations (allegedly) “usually occur”.  But what we really need to know is the times of day when hallucinations usually DO NOT occur!
Furthermore, most of the examples of appearances of Jesus that Anderson provides as evidence against the Hallucination Theory are appearances that occurred during the very times of day that Anderson tells us are when hallucinations “usually occur”!  He mentions an appearance of the risen Jesus in “an upper room at evening”, but evening is one of the times of day when Anderson says hallucinations “usually occur”.  He mentions an appearance of the risen Jesus at “the tomb in the early morning”, but early morning is one of the times of day when he says hallucinations “usually occur”.  He mentions an appearance of the risen Jesus during “a morning’s fishing on the lake”, but he says that early morning is one of the times of day when hallucinations “usually occur”.  Anderson mentions only ONE appearance of the risen Jesus that does not occur during one of the times of day that he stated as being when hallucinations “usually occur”: an appearance that happened during “an afternoon’s walk in the country”.  Anderson does NOT state that it is unusual or uncommon for hallucinations to occur in the afternoon.
But even if Anderson intended to claim that MOST hallucinations occur in the evening, night, or early morning, and that it is uncommon for hallucinations to occur in the afternoon, the examples of appearances of the risen Jesus that are given by Anderson FIT THAT PROFILE!  Most of his examples are appearances that occurred in the evening, night, or early morning. Only one example that he gives is an appearance that took place in the afternoon.  So, the examples that Anderson provides UNDERMINE his own objection; the examples of alleged appearances of the risen Jesus conform to the Restricted Times Principle  that Anderson uses in his presentation of Objection TRF4.
So, we can either stick with McDowell’s version of the Restricted Times Principle and  conclude that  Objection TRF4 FAILS because it is so VAGUE and UNCLEAR that it is WORTHLESS for use in evaluating the Hallucination Theory, or else we can go back to the original presentation of Objection TRF4 in Anderson’s essay (The Evidence for the Resurrection), which presents a clearer and somewhat more useful version of the Restricted Times Principle, and then reasonably conclude that the Hallucination Theory is NOT contrary to this principle, and thus that Objection TRF4 FAILS.  Either way, the objection FAILS.
 
CONCLUSION
Objection TRF4  (No Favorable Circumstances) is the fourth objection against the Hallucination Theory presented by Josh McDowell in The Resurrection Factor, and it is the fifth objection from McDowell that I have examined so far.  I have given three good reasons showing that this objection FAILS.
First, the alleged “psychological principles” upon which this objection is based are very VAGUE and UNCLEAR, making those principles WORTHLESS for an evaluation of the Hallucination Theory.  Second, McDowell provides ZERO evidence in support of his two key “psychological principles”.  Third, this objection originated (for McDowell) with the 1950 essay The Evidence for the Resurrection by J.N.D. Anderson, and that essay provides a somewhat clearer and more useful version of one of McDowell’s “psychological principles” (i.e. the Restricted Times Principle).  But Anderson’s application of that clarified principle reveals (contrary to what Anderson believed) that the alleged appearances of the risen Jesus are NOT contrary to, or in conflict with, that supposed psychological principle.  So, if we clarify that key psychological principle according to how this objection was originally presented by Anderson, then the objection still FAILS.
I conclude that Objection TRF4  (No Favorable Circumstances) FAILS.  In Part 1 through Part 6 of this series, I have now shown that five out of seven (or at least 71%) of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory FAIL:

That leaves us with only Objection TRF2 and Objection TRF7.  Although there is still a chance that one or both of those objections is a good and solid objection to the Hallucination Theory, the fact that five out of seven of McDowell’s objections have FAILED is a clear indication that McDowell has little or no ability to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one (or else that he just doesn’t give a damn about the quality of his arguments).
Also, given that no other Christian apologists who present similar objections against the Hallucination Theory provide any relevant EVIDENCE to support the alleged “psychological principles” upon which these objections are based, we can also reasonably conclude that many (most?) Christian apologists either lack the ability to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one or else they just don’t give a damn about the quality of their arguments.

bookmark_borderWhy I Reject the Resurrection – Part 4: Skepticism about the Supernatural

SKEPTICAL CLAIMS ABOUT SUPERNATURAL BELIEFS
Two points from my List of Key Points about the resurrection relate directly to skepticism about the supernatural:

1. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural beings exist.

2. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural events occur.

There are two more related points that should be added to the above two points:

21. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural powers exist.

22. Nobody KNOWS that supernatural forces exist.

One form of skepticism about (1) and (2) concerns the question of the TRUTH of supernatural claims:

10. It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural being exists.

11. It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural events occur.

So, we can add two more improbability claims in relation to the two added skeptical claims:

23. It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural powers exist.

24.  It is IMPROBABLE that any supernatural forces exist.

In my previous comments about skepticism (see Skepticism about the Resurrection), I point out two different forms of qualified skepticism:

  • Denial that beliefs or claims in area X are JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED.
  • Denial that beliefs or claims in area X are TRUE.

So, in addition to the four improbability claims above, (10), (11), (23), and (24), we can add four skeptical claims about the lack of justification/warrant for supernatural claims:

25. Nobody has a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED belief that supernatural beings exist.

26. Nobody has a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED belief that supernatural events occur.

27. Nobody has a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED belief that supernatural powers exist.

28. Nobody has a JUSTIFIED/WARRANTED belief that supernatural forces exist.

 
REASONS FOR SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE SUPERNATURAL
My main reasons for skepticism about the supernatural may be summarized this way:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Skepticism about the supernatural may be based on a combination of science and cynicism, and cynicism itself is supported by science.
I’m not claiming that all skeptics think this way.  Rather, this is a representation of my own thinking, of why I am a skeptic. This is a summary or overview of how I would defend skepticism, especially skepticism about the supernatural.
 
CYNICISM
By “cynicism” I mean a collection of negative beliefs about human thinking and behavior that provide reasonable grounds for suspicion and doubt about the rationality and truthfulness and reliability of human beings in general, such as:

30. Many people are stupid.

31. Many people are ignorant.

32. Many people are uncritical  or sophistic thinkers.

33. Many people are influenced by egocentric and sociocentric biases.

34. Many people form important beliefs based on indoctrination, propaganda, or group think.

35. Many people are dishonest or deceptive.

36. Many people have false beliefs based on unreliable memories. 

37. Many people have false beliefs based on unreliable eyewitness testimony.

38. Many people have false beliefs based on cognitive biases.

39. Many people are mentally handicapped or are mentally ill or are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Here is one simple fact that strongly supports cynicism:  nearly half of Americans who voted in the last presidential election (46% of voters) voted for Donald Trump.  Here is a related fact that is almost as depressing: 72% of Republicans say that Donald Trump is a good role model for children, and only 22% of Republicans say that he is NOT a good role model for children.
 
SCIENCE SUPPORTS CYNICISM
Psychology, Sociology, and other human sciences provide empirical data and empirically confirmed theories and generalizations about human thinking and human behavior that generally support a cynical view about human thinking and human behavior.  Thus, scientific investigation supports cynicism, in the sense that I have explained above.
 
SCIENCE CASTS DOUBT ON SUPERNATURAL BELIEFS
Many ancient supernatural beliefs have been cast into doubt by scientific investigation into the relevant phenomena.  Many contemporary supernatural beliefs have also been cast into doubt by scientific investigation into the relevant phenomena.  Whenever careful objective scientific investigation is conducted into alleged supernatural phenomena, it turns out that either the phenomena doesn’t actually exist, or it exists but is the product of deception and/or that the phenomena has a natural explanation and can be reproduced by natural means.  As the years go by, more and more phenomena can be given plausible natural scientific explanations, and fewer and fewer phenomena remain as potential candidates for having a supernatural cause or explanation.

40. Science casts doubt on belief in supernatural agents.

41. Science casts doubt on belief in supernatural events.

42. Science casts doubt on belief in supernatural powers.

43. Science casts doubt on belief in supernatural forces.

bookmark_borderIs Pure Consciousness Possible?

Some practitioners of meditative disciplines or people who have had mystical experiences claim to attain a state of “pure consciousness” (PC). PC is supposed to be a state where one is conscious, but is not conscious of anything. That is, it is completely objectless, or if it has any object at all, the object is nothing but consciousness itself.
I see two problems with the idea of PC. The first is that I have doubts that such a thing is possible, and the second is that if it were possible, it would be useless.
picture in picture in picture
Is PC possible?
(1) Degrees of consciousness. Affirmation of PC appears to treat consciousness as all or nothing. But we have very good reasons to reject this characterization. Consciousness appears to be something that can fade in and out. It is possible to occupy the boundary of consciousness, as one emerges from or drifts into sleep, or as anesthetic takes effect or wears off.
Suppose a meditator enters a state of PC and is then given an anesthetic. What would happen? Would one gradually become less and less purely conscious until one would reach a point where one would not be conscious at all? What would degrees of PC be like? What would be the fact that would distinguish a state of PC from a state without any consciousness at all?
(2) Some descriptions of PC locate it on a continuum with states of consciousness containing objects. The objects within consciousness fade away leaving only the PC. But why should there be such a fading away? Why isn’t there simply an instantaneous transition to and from PC? After all, if PC is possible, then there must come some point during the fading in and out process where objects don’t continue to fade in or out, but appear or disappear altogether. There must be some binary point of transition. Why and how would a gradual attenuation of object-consciousness culminate in an object-less consciousness rather than in an absence of consciousness?
(3) One of the main theories of consciousness in the philosophy of mind is the Higher-Order Thought (HOT) theory. According to the HOT theory, consciousness by its very nature involves a relation between a lower-order and a higher-order thought. But it seems that such a thing is not possible in pure-consciousness, unless it is somehow possible for the higher-order and lower-order thought to be identical (that is, PC would consist in a conscious thought C where the lower-order thought that C is about is C, itself). In fact, it seems to me this would have to be what PC would be if it were possible. The alternative would be that one would be conscious without even being conscious of being conscious, which seems to me to be incoherent.  Certainly one could not know that one was or had been conscious unless one could say what that was like, and this would be impossible if consciousness was completely objectless. A problem here is that if C is the sole object of C, then if one were to stop thinking about C, it seems one would thereby either necessarily either have to be conscious of some thought other than C, or lose consciousness altogether. Yet it seems that those who defend the possibility of PC never claim that the latter happens. Loss of focus in PC does not result in unconsciousness, but rather in falling back into object-consciousness.
It is premature to claim that the HOT theory is certainly correct, of course. But it does appear to have some favoring empirical evidence: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21737339
(4) There seems to be no way to verify any claim to have experienced PC. Suppose I claim to have experienced PC. Couldn’t I be mistaken? We have all had the experience of driving somewhere and then being struck by having no memory of the trip. But this is clearly not a basis for claiming an absence of all conscious experiences en route. So if I can arrive at the end of a highway exit ramp without any memory of having been conscious at the beginning of the exit ramp, it seems I could also find myself at the end of a meditation session without any memory of having been conscious during the meditation session.
What good is PC?
Suppose that PC is possible. The bigger problem with PC, as I see it, it that even if it turns out to be possible, no useful conclusions about consciousness can be drawn apart from the fact that it is possible to be objectlessly-conscious, or conscious of consciousness alone as an object.
(5) No conclusions can be drawn about whether consciousness has a material or immaterial basis, whether or not it is possible or impossible to be conscious without a brain, whether God exists or doesn’t exist, or whether aardvarks are smarter than armadillos. Since there is no object in PC, nothing can be learned about anything by means of it.
(6) It is beyond controversy that much of human thought is unconscious. So even if someone is in a state of PC, it is entirely possible – in fact, certain – that there is still unconscious thinking going on. If there were no unconscious thought or perception occurring during PC, it would be impossible to rouse anyone from it by poking or talking to them. It may be that any thought that can be held consciously can also be held unconsciously. I initially thought that PC would have to be an exception, but on further reflection, it now seems to be that if it is possible to think consciously of nothing but consciousness, then it is also possible to think unconsciously of nothing but consciousness.
I conclude that pure consciousness is either impossible, or useless.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 5: The Meaning of “Faith”

The Beating Heart of Unapologetic
The heart of the book Unapologetic is Chapter 5:  “Why Philosophy of Religion Must End”, and the heart of Chapter 5 is the Ten Reasons that Loftus gives for this conclusion (in the subsection of Chapter 5  titled “Why Philosophy of Relgion Must End,” on pages 131-135), and the heart of the Ten Reasons is in Reason #9 (on page 135).  And at the heart of the argument given as Reason #9 is this premise:
…faith-based reasoning must end.  (Unapologetic, p.135)
It is not an overstatement to say that Mr. Loftus is a crusader against faith, and that this book is a part of his crusade against faith.  This is made clear from the start of the book, beginning with the Introduction:
Philosophy of religion must end because there is no truth to religion.  Religion must end because it isn’t based on evidence, but rather on faith.  Faith must end because it is the antithesis of an intellectual virtue.  Faith has no objective method and solves no problems.  Faith-based belief processes are unreliable.  Faith cannot tell us anything about matters of fact like the nature of nature, its workings, or even its origins.  If faith is trust then there is no reason to trust faith.  (Unapologetic, p.13, emphasis added)
The dividing line is between atheist philosophers who think faith has some epistemic warrant and those who don’t.  I don’t.  Faith has no method, solves no problems, and is an utterly unreliable guide for knowing anything objective about the nature of nature.  (Unapologetic, p.14-15, emphasis added)
There is further confirmation in Chapter 1 (“My Intellectual Journey”) that the dragon Mr. Loftus wants to slay is “faith”.  In Chapter 1 we learn that Loftus did not invent this crusade himself, but joined in an already existing crusade against faith led by Peter Boghossian:
Boghossian first got my attention a year before I read his provocatively titled book, A Manual for Creating Atheists.  I first heard of him when a talk he gave titled “Faith Based Belief Processes are Unreliable” hit the web in April 2012.  He began by critically examining several paranormal beliefs where faith was shown to be unreliable for gaining knowledge. …he said, “We are forced to conclude that a tremendous number of people are delusional.  There is no other conclusion that one can draw.”  …[and] he said, “The most charitable thing we can say about faith is that it’s likely to be false.”  He had a way of putting things that resonated with me.  Faith itself is the problem.  (Unapologetic, p.32, emphasis added)
Before I, or any person who is a critical thinker (i.e. who “sits at the adult table”) chooses to join Loftus in his crusade against “faith”, we need to have a very clear understanding of what Loftus means by the word “faith”.
Rush Limbaugh’s Crusade Against “Liberalism” 
Rush Limbaugh is undeniably on a crusade against “liberalism”.  But before I, or any person who is a critical thinker (i.e. who “sits at the adult table”) chooses to join Limbaugh in this crusade, we need to understand what Limbaugh means by “liberalism”.
I think that Limbaugh has no clue what the word “liberalism” means.  This word is just an unclear insult that Limbaugh casts upon any person or any law or any policy or any program that Rush Limbaugh happens to dislike.
If Limbaugh dislikes X this week, then X becomes a “liberal” policy or program or person.  If Limbaugh changes his mind, and decides that he likes X next week, then X will cease to be a “liberal” policy or program or person, and it will magically and instananeously become a “conservative” policy or program or person.  So, one ought NOT to join Limbaugh in his crusade against “liberalism” because that would simply mean joining a crusade against whatever it is that Limbaugh happens to dislike this week.
One ought NOT to join a crusade against “liberalism” unless and until one has a reasonable and clear idea of what the word “liberalism” actually means.  Similarly, one ought NOT to join a crusade against “faith” unless and until one has a reasonable and clear idea of what the word “faith” means.  Otherwise, we might well end up on a crusade against whatever it is that Loftus or Boghossian happen to dislike this week.
There is nothing wrong or unreasonable about joining a crusade against something, but there is something highly unreasonable about joining a crusade against “X” when we have no clear idea of what “X” means.  Those of us who “sit at the adult table” do NOT join crusades without first being very clear about the purpose of the crusade.
I Was Wrong
In Part 4 of this series I admitted that I was wrong in making the following criticism (in Part 3 of this series) of Loftus’ book Unapologetic:
His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
This statement is incorrect and unfair to Loftus, especially in relation to the meaning of the key word “faith”.  On closer examination, Loftus makes several statements in Unapologetic which appear to be brief definitions of the word “faith”, and some, though not all, of those definitions are fairly clear.
I have now read the Introduction, and Chapters 1 though 8 of Unapologetic.  I don’t plan on reading Chapter 9, because the title of that Chapter (“On Justifying Ridicule, Mockery, and Satire”) indicates that it is not relevant to the main question at issue (and that it assumes one has accepted Loftus’ point of view about faith and is willing to join his anti-faith crusade).
I have found statements that appear to be brief definitions of “faith” in each of the eight chapters that I read, except for Chapter 3.  There is some redundance and overlap between these statements, so the seven definition-like statements do not represent seven different definitions.  My view is that there are two main definitions of “faith” in Unapologetic that are worthy of serious consideration, and these two defintions are both stated more than once in the book.
Loftus NEVER says “Here is my definition of ‘faith’…” or “Here is how I define ‘faith’…” or “This is a good definition of ‘faith’…” or anything that clearly identifies a statement about faith as being a definition of faith.  The closest he ever comes to being clear about the nature of these statements is in Chapter 4, where he begins a statement about faith with these words:
 I consider faith to be…  (Unapologetic, p.92).
So, Loftus has given himself a degree of “plausible deniability” by failing to label any of his statements about faith as recommended definitions of “faith”.
But because it is so obviously idiotic to lead a crusade against “faith” without providing a clear definition of what the word “faith” means (that would be something that an idiot like Rush Limbaugh would do), I think it is fair to assume that the definition-like statements that Loftus makes about “faith” in his book Unapologetic are in fact recommended defintions of the word.  I am going to assume (for now at least) that Loftus belongs “at the adult table” with the rest of us critical thinkers, and thus that he did in fact provide at least one or two recommended defintions of “faith” in his book Unapologetic.
Definitions of “faith” in Unapologetic
Below are the seven passages that appear to contain brief definitions of the word “faith”.  The statements in red font are what I take to be the primary defintions, the definitions worthy of serious consideration.  The phrase “cognitive bias” appears in blue font to show how often it appears in (or near) these apparent definitions:
Chapter 1:  
Faith adds nothing to the probabilities.  It has no method and solves no problems.  If faith is trust we should not trust faith.  It’s a cognitive bias keeping believers away from objectively understanding the truth.  (Unapologetic, p.37, emphasis added)
Chapter 2:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (Unapologetic, p. 55, emphasis added)
Chapter 4:
…faith is always about that which lacks sufficient evidence or even no evidence at all.  I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all… (Unapologetic, p. 92, emphasis added)
Chapter 5:
Just consider what’s wrong with Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses….  Faith.  The adherents of these religions do not believe based on sufficient evidence, because faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.  If they thought exclusively in terms of the probabilities by proportioning their belief to the evidence (per David Hume), they would not believe at all.  (Unapologetic, p.125, emphasis added)
Chapter 6:
Faith should one day be labeled a cognitive bias.  It keeps one’s cognitive faculties from functioning properly.  Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.152, emphasis added)
Chapter 7:
 Because faith requires special pleading and so many other informal fallacies, I can say faith itself is a fallacy.  It’s certainly a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate the probabilities on behalf of faith. (Unapologetic, p.169, emphasis added)
Chapter 8:
 I take David Hume’s principle as axiomatic, that the wise person should proportion his or her conclusions to the available evidence.  Going beyond the probabilities of the evidence is unreasonable.  That’s what faith does when we embrace it.  Faith takes believers beyond the probabilities.  Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.194, emphasis added)
The definition of “faith” from Chapter 1 is defective because it is a genus/species defintion, that is incomplete, because it fails to spell out the species part of the definition.  The genus of “faith” is “a cognitive bias”, according to this definition, while the species portion of this defintion states that this particular cognitive bias keeps people “away from objectively understanding the truth”.  Both parts of the definition are fairly clear, but the species part is redundant and adds nothing to the definition.
ALL cognitive biases keep people “away from objectively understanding the truth”–that is simply an implication of what it means to be a “cognitive bias”.  The second part of the definition is true or correct, but uninformative; it fails to specify a particular TYPE of cognitive bias, because it states something that is true of any and every cognitive bias.  So, this definition is not worthy of any further serious consideration.
The defintion of “faith” given in Chapter 2 is also a genus/species defintion, and both genus and species parts of the definition appear to be fairly clear.  Furthermore, the species part of the definition properly distinguishes one TYPE of cognitive bias from other cognitive biases.  So, this definition, unlike the one in Chapter 1, is worthy of further serious consideration.  Furthermore, although Loftus does not repeat this definition verbatum, he does provide a definition in Chapter 7 that is very similar:
It’s certainly a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate the probabilities on behalf of faith. (Unapologetic, p.169)
This partial repitition of the definition in Chapter 2 indicates that this is an important definition to Loftus.  The definition in Chapter 7, however, is not as good as the one in Chapter 2, because the defintion in Chapter two  (a) is more specific about HOW “the probabilities” get overestimated, and (b) does not use the word “faith” as part of the definition of the word “faith” (which is a violation of a basic principle of Critical Thinking, and is thus unworthy of consideration by those who are sitting at the adult table).  So, I will focus my attention on the definition in Chapter 2, and ignore the similar definition given in Chapter 7.
The definition in Chapter 4 reinforces the idea that the genus of faith is, for Loftus, a “cognitive bias”, but the rest of this defintion is problematic:
…that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true…
The phrase “giving permission” is metaphorical, and is thus a problematic expression to use in a definition statement, and the whole idea of “pretending what they believe is true” is unclear and problematic.  It might well be the case that people sometimes  “pretend what they believe is true”  but this is, in most cases, a difficult sort of thing to identify and verify, so this seems like a bad criterion to use in a definition of a key concept.  Other definitions provided by Loftus do not involve such tricky and difficult to identify and verify characteristics.  So, I’m going to ignore this definition in Chapter 4.
The definition in Chapter 5 is also problematic because it makes use of metaphorical language: “leap over the probabilities”.  Also, the definition in Chapter 7 already links “faith” to “probabilities” in a clearer way.
Since the definition in Chapter 7 is very similar to the definition in Chapter 2, I can borrow the concept of “overestimates the probabilities” from the definition in Chapter 7, and use it to modify the definition in Chapter 2, so that one definition that I seriously examine will explicitly relate “faith” to estimation of “probabilities”:
Modified Chapter 2 Definition:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence, which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claim in question.
This modified version of the Chapter 2  definition of “faith” combines key elements of that definition with a key element of the definition in Chapter 7, and it also gets at the intention behind the definition of “faith” in Chapter 5, while avoiding the unclear and problematic language used in the Chapter 5 definition.
The definition in Chapter 6 seems to be a significant departure from the definition in Chapter 2, and it seems to be a fairly clear defintion which does not make use of metaphorical or problematic language.  Furthermore,  Loftus repeats this definition verbatim in Chapter 8, so it is clearly an important defintion to Loftus.  For these reasons, I plan to give some serious consideration to the definition of “faith” from Chapter 6:
Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.152)
I have already indicated some problems with the defintion of “faith” given in Chapter 7, and I have already incorporated a key idea from the definition in Chapter 7 into the definition given in Chapter 2, so I will not be giving separate consideration to the definition of “faith” found in Chapter 7.
The brief one-sentence definition of “faith” given in Chapter 8 is identical to the definition given in Chapter 6, so I will only use the passage containing this definition in Chapter 8 for background or context, in order to further clarify the definition of “faith” found in Chapter 6, if there is a need to clarify that definition further.
The Modified Definition of “faith” from Chapter 2
The definition of “faith” in Chapter 2 is fairly clear, as is my modified verion of this definition, which borrows a key element from the definition of “faith” found in Chapter 7.  There are no metaphorical expressions in the Chapter 2 definition, nor in the modified version of that definition:
Modified Chapter 2 Definition:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence, which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claims in question.
Metaphorical language is NOT appropriate for definitions of key words and phrases that are used in philosophical arguments.  Metaphorical language is fine if one is writing a poem, or a song, or a novel, or a speech, but metaphorical language tends to be “rich” and thus vague and/or ambiguous, so one should avoid using metaphorical expressions in definitions of key words and phrases whenever possible. Those of us who sit at the adult table try to avoid using metaphorical expressions when we define key words and phrases that are used in philosophical arguments.
I understand that Loftus did not write Unapologetic only for professional philosophers, so the use of metaphorical expressions here and there can be justified as useful for purposes of persuasion and style, but the use of metaphorical expressions in definitions of key words also provides a good reason for rejecting those defintions, or at least a good reason for preferring other defintions that avoid the use of metaphorical expressions.
The definition of “faith” in Chapter 2 and the modified version of that definition are, in a way, too clear.  I say that because, they are clear enough to make it easy to identify these as being definitions of ANOTHER concept, a very important concept in the theory of critical thinking and in the field of informal logic, namely:  CONFIRMATION BIAS.
CONFIRMATION BIAS is a cognitive bias that causes PEOPLE to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence [for claims that they believe], which in turn results in PEOPLE overestimating the probability of the claims in question.
If we take Loftus definition of “faith” in Chapter 2 seriously (and assume that he belongs at the adult table), or if we take the modified version of that definition (which incorporates a key element from the defintion in Chapter 7) seriously, then a very imporant implication follows:
FAITH simply IS the same thing as CONFIRMATION BIAS
This implication has both positive and negative aspects, from Loftus’ point of view.  Here are some of the positive aspects of this implication:

  • The definition of “faith” proposed in Chapter 2 is not only clear, but it can be made even clearer in view of the scientific study of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
  • I and many other atheists and skeptics would gladly join a crusade to fight against the evil of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
  • There is a good deal of existing scientific data, research, and theory that already exists about CONFIRMATION BIAS, so our understanding of this evil can be significantly enhanced by lots of empirical data, scientific studies, and scientific theories.

But from Loftus’ point of view, this implication also has some negative aspects:

  • How is it that a word that has been used for many centuries (i.e. “faith”)* happens to have the very same meaning as a term that was invented by a modern scientific psychologist in the second half of the 20th century  (in about 1960)? This casts doubt on the correctness of Loftus’ definition of “faith” in Chapter 2):  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Cathcart_Wason#Early_studies
  • Given that the dragon that Loftus wants to slay is CONFIRMATION BIAS, isn’t it foolish to drag the unclear and controversial word “faith” into the fray?  The use of the word “faith” as the target of attack creates all kinds of political and social and psychological resistance and backlash, which is completely unnecessary if what we are fighting against is simply CONFIRMATION BIAS.
  • CONFIRMATION BIAS is a universal human problem;  it is not a problem isolated to Christians, nor to religious believers.  Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, secular humanists, marxists, communists, and your run-of-the-mill “nones” (non-religious people who may not identify themselves as atheists or agnostics or skeptics) ALL suffer from this cognitive bias.  If all of the religious people in the world vanished into thin air tonight at midnight, then tomorrow morning the world would still be populated by people who have serious intellectual deficiencies due to CONFIRMATION BIAS.  Religion is (at most) a symptom of the evil of CONFIRMATION BIAS,  not the primary cause of it.  The problem of CONFIRMATION BIAS is a universal human problem.

To be continued…
===========================================
* The word “faith” (spelled as “feith”) appears in the first English translation of the New Testament, which was a hand-written manuscript created by John Wycliffe in about 1378, more than six centuries ago…
1378 Wycliffe New Testament: First Printed Edition (1731) Facsimile Reproduction
“The very first translation of the scriptures into the English Language was done in the 1380’s by John Wycliffe, who is called “The Morning Star of the Reformation”. Because he lived nearly a century before the 1455 invention of the printing press, his New Testaments and Bibles were of course, hand-written manuscripts. Wycliffe is also credited with being the inventor of bifocal eyeglasses (necessity being the mother of invention), though history tends to more frequently credit Ben Franklin with improving upon Wycliffe’s invention of bifocals.”
“Wycliffe’s hand-written manuscripts of the English scriptures are very challenging to read, but being the very first English scripture translation (albeit a translation from the Latin, and not the original Biblical languages), the Wycliffe translation is extremely historically important. For this reason, in the 1731, a reprint of Wycliffe’s circa 1378 manuscript was produced in modern easier-to-read type. It preserves the original Middle-English spellings and wordings 100% faithfully, but it simply makes the text easier to read by rendering the text as typeface, rather than being hand-written.”
http://greatsite.com/facsimile-reproductions/wycliffe-1731.html
Here is the Wycliffe’s translation of  the opening verses of 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, which includes the word “feith” in verse 9 (click on image below for a clearer view of the text):
The word FAITH in 1 Cor 12
 
 
 
 
 

bookmark_borderPhilosophy as Astrology

A comment by hisXmark on one of my recent posts challenged the value of philosophy:
The nature of knowledge is not to be found in philosophy, it is to be found in neuroscience and psychology. All that remains of philosophy is myth and fairy tale. Like its stepchild, theology, philosophy is fantasy that has lost its function.
Unfortunately, hisXmark could not reason his/her way out of a wet paper bag, so that conversation went nowhere. I demanded a reason or argument in support of these strong claims, but got nothing of any value in response from hisXmark.
Perhaps someone might think I was being unfair in demanding an ARGUMENT to support this viewpoint.  Isn’t reasoning and argument a philosophy game?  If philosophy is just “myth and fairy tale” and if neuroscience and psychology have all the answers we need concerning the nature of knowledge, then shouldn’t I have asked for an EXPERIMENT or some SCIENTIFIC OBSERVATIONS instead of an ARGUMENT?  Was I biasing the outcome by demanding that we play the game of philosophy instead of the game of science?
I don’t think it was unfair to demand an argument in support of these strong claims.  First of all, scientists don’t just perform experiments and observations; they formulate REASONS and ARGUMENTS for conclusions that are based upon their experiments and observations.  In other words, an experiment is an event, and an observation is an event, and events are not self-interpreting.  Someone has to interpret these events; someone has to present REASONS and ARGUMENTS for conclusions that are based on or drawn from these events.
It would, I suppose, beg the question to insist that an anti-philosophy point of view be defended or supported by a PHILOSOPHICAL argument.  But I did not demand a philosophical argument, I just asked for a reason or argument of some sort, and the argument given to me looked a lot like a philosophical argument; thus, hisXmark immediately undermined his/her own anti-philosophical position by giving me a PHILOSOPHICAL argument, insisting that the argument was a GOOD argument, and concluding that philosophy was completely useless and without any merit.
Although hisXmark was unable to provide any intelligent defense of the anti-philosophical viewpoint, I know that there are more reasonable and intelligent defenders of this viewpoint.   The position of hisXmark is simply an extreme version of NATURALIZED EPISTEMOLOGY, which has been advocated by Quine and Rorty.  I’m not familiar with the debate on this topic, but I do have some thoughts on the subject.
If any readers are familiar with the debate over NATURALIZED EPISTEMOLOGY, please help me out and provide some feedback on my thoughts here.
1.  Conceptual Analysis
How in the heck can science perform the task of conceptual analysis?
What experiment will answer this question:
Is knowledge the same thing as justified true belief?
What empirical observations will answer these conceptual questions:
What is a belief?
What is a proposition?
What is the relationship between beliefs and propositions?
2.  Normative Epistemological Questions
What experiments or observations will resolve these normative epistemological questions:
What makes some beliefs justified beliefs?
What makes some beliefs true beliefs?
What makes some beliefs rational beliefs?
Do human beings have any justified beliefs?
Do human beings have any true beliefs?
Do human beings have any justified true beliefs?
Do human beings have any knowledge?
Do human beings have any rational beliefs?
3. Theoretical Questions of Epistemology
What experiments or observations will resolve these theoretical questions:
Is internalism true?
Is externalism true?
Is foundationalism true?
Is relativism true?
Are some beliefs properly basic beliefs?
Does naturalism imply that our belief formation is unreliable?
=========================
It seems to me that no experiment or observation could ever answer any of these questions.  An experiment will not help us to analyze the concept of knowledge.  An experiment will not establish any normative principles of epistemology.  An experiment is not going to answer the sort of theoretical questions that philosophers have about knowledge.
Perhaps I am myopic and stuck in my ways.  Let’s suppose that there are scientific experiments and observations that could answer or resolve some of these questions.  It seems to me, however, that as in the case of other ordinary scientific experiments and observations, what we get are some facts and descriptions of events, and that it is up to some scientist to draw the meaning out of those facts and events.  Some scientist will need to not only think up an experiment, and conduct the experiment, and describe the experiment, but he or she will also need to present REASONS and ARGUMENTS for some conclusion that is based upon the observations and experiments that were made.
In presenting REASONS and ARGUMENTS based upon some experiment or observations, that scientist will be interpreting certain facts and events in a way that makes those facts and events relevant to some PHILOSOPHICAL issue or claim.  I understand that this does not ENTAIL that the reasons and arguments given would be PHILOSOPHICAL reasons and arguments.
However, I find it extremely difficult to imagine how the gap between ordinary scientific experiments and observations on the one hand, and conceptual analysis conclusions about ‘knowledge’ or ‘belief’ or ‘justification’ could be bridged without engaging in something that will look, smell, feel, and sound like a PHILOSOPHICAL argument.  I find it extremely difficult to imagine how the gap between ordinary scientific experiments and observations on the one hand, and normative epistemological principles could be bridged without engaging in something that will be indistinguishable from PHILOSOPHICAL reasoning.  I find it extremely difficult to imagine how the gap between ordinary scientific experiments and observations on the one hand, and answers to theoretical questions of epistemology could be bridged apart from making statements and inferences that will look and sound just like those made in PHILOSOPHICAL discussions about those issues.
Am I missing something here?  If so, please enlighten me.
 
 
 

bookmark_borderEvan Fales: Deepak Chopra’s $1M Prize is a Publicity Stunt

(This is a guest post by Evan Fales about Deepak Chopra’s recent challenge to the new atheists.)
This is a publicity stunt.  He’s smart enough to have picked what may be the biggest unsolved puzzle for naturalism.  At the same time, his challenge is seriously vague in its wording.  What exactly does he mean by ‘biological basis’?  Would an invariant neurological correlate of a mental event-type do?  A neurological cause?  Does he need identity?  Supervenience?  What counts as a “valid” scientific explanation?  True?  Serious contender?  He’s got goal-posts he can move backwards, sideways, up-side down.
I actually have a possible solution for the qualia problem.  But it depends upon a solution to what I think is really the most fundamental (and hard) problem of consciousness:  the problem of (original) intentionality.  (Computers have imputed, or derived intentionality:  their operations “mean” what they do because we assign a semantics – and interpretation – to their syntactic operations.  But our mental states intend what content they have originally – not because it’s assigned to our minds by some other mind.)  I have no idea how to understand this physicalistically.  On the other hand, I have no idea how to understand it theistically either.  God could make a brain (I suppose), and impute semantic content to its operations (just as we can do for a computer), but how would he insert original intentionality into the thing?  I’m sure Chopra has no better explanation of that than I do.

bookmark_borderRichard Swinburne’s newest book: Mind, Brain, and Free Will

This book will be published May 15, 2013. Here is the book’s description on Amazon:

Mind, Brain, and Free Will presents a powerful new case for substance dualism (the idea that humans consist of two parts–body and soul) and for libertarian free will (that humans have some freedom to choose between alternatives, independently of the causes which influence them). Richard Swinburne argues that answers to questions about mind, body, and free will depend crucially on the answers to more general philosophical questions. He begins by analyzing the criteria for one event being the same as another, one substance being the same as another, and a state of affairs being metaphysically possible; and then goes on to analyze the criteria for a belief about these issues being justified. Pure mental events (including conscious events) are distinct from physical events and interact with them. Swinburne claims that no result from neuroscience or any other science could show that interaction does not take place; and illustrates this claim by showing that recent scientific work (such as Libet’s experiments) has no tendency whatever to show that our intentions do not cause brain events. He goes on to argue for agent causation, and claims that–to speak precisely–it is we, and not our intentions, that cause our brain events. It is metaphysically possible that each of us could acquire a new brain or continue to exist without a brain; and so we are essentially souls. Brain events and conscious events are so different from each other that it would not be possible to establish a scientific theory which would predict what each of us would do in situations of moral conflict. Hence given a crucial epistemological principle (the Principle of Credulity) we should believe that things are as they seem to be: that we make choices independently of the causes which influence us. According to Swinburne’s lucid and ambitious account, it follows that we are morally responsible for our actions.

LINK to Amazon

bookmark_borderIf There Is No God, Then Why Do So Many People Believe in God?

A reader recently asked me this question.

I was raised Catholic and even as a child I just couldn’t believe that if there was a God who created the universe and, by extension, us, that He wouldn’t expect us to use our brain to reason and learn was was real and unreal.  My major concern, I guess, is that so very many educated, intelligent, and respected people claim to believe.  Why do they believe when I don’t?? What am I missing?  Or perhaps, what are they missing?  I’m reasonable intelligent but I just cannot reach the same conclusions as believers seem to reach.

I think this is a great question. Atheists throughout history have tried to explain religious belief by appealing to wish fulfillment, the influence of family and culture, the (alleged) irrationality or ignorance of theists, and so forth.

In my opinion, the best explanation comes from the cognitive science of religion: humans evolved a Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device (HADD). Most humans seem to be hard-wired to believe that agents explain various facts; this tendency seems to include all sorts of invisible agents, including God, gods, ghosts, and so forth. The advance of science has systematically reduced the need to invoke invisible agents, by providing naturalistic explanations for things previously explained by invisible agents.

ETA: Fixed a typo in an earlier version that referred to a “Hyperactive,” as opposed to a “Hypersensitive,” Agency Detection Device.