How to be an Atheist apologist?

Atheism, secularism & freethought etc.

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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#101  Postby Mick » Dec 18, 2011 12:00 am

Calilasseia wrote:Bollocks. What part of "no supernaturalist has ever supported his assertions with anything other than apologetic fabrications" do you not understand once more?


Even if that were true, so what? If he did, as it is broadly possible, then he'd could very well be an theist! You can't allow this. Whatever atheism and theism mean, they cannot be logically consistent positions.


So what? I don't care about "conventional and historical understanding", I care about ensuring that a precise, rigorous and evidentially supportable definition is in place. What part of this elementary concept do you not understand?



You don't care? Heh. Well, without that basis for word meaning, I'm unsure how you determine with it is accurate. Word meaning doesn't drop out of the sky, you know. It at least some essential ties to the conventions of whatever language we're using. You need to consider this.



Oh look, it's ad hominem time again, laced with lots of the usual supernaturalist penchant for strawman Caricature. Yawn, yawn, fucking yawn.




That's not an ad hom attack. I didn't attack you as a person. do you know what humpty dumpytism is?
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#102  Postby andrewk » Dec 18, 2011 1:37 am

Thommo wrote:
JLowder wrote:This simply confuses the distinction between intrinsic probability and what Draper calls "predictive power." No physical evidence is relevant to predictive power, NOT intrinsic probability.

I wonder if you could perhaps be a bit more precise about what you mean by the term "intrinsic probability" here?

BUMP on this question by Thommo. So far as I can see it was never answered. A good part of the discussion about plausibility of god hypotheses vs Russellian teapot hypotheses seems to use this notion, yet it has no apparent definition. Without a coherent definition, an assertion that a god hypothesis has a higher 'intrinsic probability' than a Russellian teapot is devoid of meaning.

The discussion about fine-tuning also appears to make some implicit assumptions about prior probability distributions for fundamental constants, when there is no basis for assuming any distributions.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#103  Postby jlowder » Dec 18, 2011 3:55 am

jlowder wrote:
Paul G wrote:"higher prior probability"

This needs explaining.


Hi Paul -- Let me see if I can something on my hard drive about this which I can copy-and-paste. If not, I can write up a short overview. I'll get back to you.


Hi Paul -- Please let me know if the following explanation helps. Also, for readers who have a background in this sort of thing, keep in mind I am using the epistemic interpretation of probability, not the frequency or logical interpretations.

Regards,

Jeffery Jay Lowder

Given that inductive arguments (like some versions of the FTA) are shot through with appeals to probability, it is useful to introduce Bayes’s Theorem as a way of clarifying the role of probability in inductive arguments for and against God's existence. Let E be the evidence to be explained, H be our explanatory hypothesis for E, and let B represent our relevant background knowledge. B includes all of our information relevant to H other than evidence E. B includes facts that determine the intrinsic probability of rival explanatory theories and facts that partially determine their explanatory power. E includes unusual facts within the context of this background that need to be explained.

We are now in a position to introduce Bayes’s Theorem, a mathematical formula for representing the effect of new information upon our degree of belief in a hypothesis. In one form, Bayes’s Theorem may be expressed as follows:

PR(H | E & B ) = [Pr(E | H & B) x Pr(H | B)] / Pr(E | B),

where Pr(E | B ) = Pr(E | H & B) x Pr(H | B) + Pr(E | ~H & B) x Pr(~H | B)

Pr(H / B) is the prior probability of H with respect to B—a measure of how likely H is to occur at all, whether or not E is true. Pr(E / H & B) is the predictive power of H—the probability of E, given the truth of both B and H. Pr(E / B) is the prior probability of E with respect to B—how likely E is to be true a priori, whether or not H holds. The explanatory power of H is the ratio of Pr(E / H & B) to Pr(E / B). In other words, explanatory power refers to the ability of a hypothesis to explain (i.e., make probable) an item of evidence. Finally, Pr(H / E & B) is the final probability with respect to the total evidence B and E.

Although it is rarely possible to assign precisely numerical values to each of these components when assessing alleged purported evidence for or against God's existence, Bayes’s Theorem is nevertheless extremely useful because it provides the logical foundation for several of our intuitive beliefs about inductive arguments. Consider, for example, the common-sense principle, “The more implausible the hypothesis, the greater the evidence needed to confirm it.” Bayes’s Theorem captures this principle mathematically by saying that the final probability of H, given E and B, is equal to the product of H’s explanatory power and its prior probability.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#104  Postby jlowder » Dec 18, 2011 3:58 am

andrewk wrote:
Thommo wrote:
JLowder wrote:This simply confuses the distinction between intrinsic probability and what Draper calls "predictive power." No physical evidence is relevant to predictive power, NOT intrinsic probability.

I wonder if you could perhaps be a bit more precise about what you mean by the term "intrinsic probability" here?

BUMP on this question by Thommo. So far as I can see it was never answered. A good part of the discussion about plausibility of god hypotheses vs Russellian teapot hypotheses seems to use this notion, yet it has no apparent definition. Without a coherent definition, an assertion that a god hypothesis has a higher 'intrinsic probability' than a Russellian teapot is devoid of meaning.


See my reply from just a couple of minutes ago to Paul G, where I define the term "prior probability" and which I consider synonymous with "intrinsic probability."

The discussion about fine-tuning also appears to make some implicit assumptions about prior probability distributions for fundamental constants, when there is no basis for assuming any distributions.


This would be a good example of a rebuttal to the FTA which does NOT rely upon the misguided multiverse objection.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#105  Postby jlowder » Dec 18, 2011 4:15 am

Thommo wrote:
jlowder wrote:
Thommo wrote:If you regularly buy lunch at McDonalds 6 days a week (for example), then Pr(E|H) can easily be > 0.5 regardless of any predictions of H.


Not necessarily. I'm using the epistemic interpretation of probability, not the frequency interpretation. If I regularly buy lunch at McDonald's 6 days a week, that could only be relevant IF:

1. We expand the expression Pr(E|H) to Pr(E|H&B), where B represents our background knowledge.
2. We include in B the fact that I regularly buy lunch at McDonald's 6 days a week.

If we do that, then Pr(E|H&B) > 0.5. Of course, H will be explanatorily irrelevant, since it will B, not H, that will make it possible for this value to be > 0.5. In fact, H will be irrelevant precisely because Pr(E|H&B) = Pr(E|B).


Yes indeed, and it's also true if we replace the 0.5 with any 0 < x < 1, which is rather why I was wondering where the 0.5 comes into it!


This is an excellent question. I may be using terminology in a slightly non-standard way here--I'm not sure--but I make a distinction between H's relevance and whether H predicts E. H is relevant to E just in case Pr(E|H&) does not equal Pr(E|B). H predicts E just in case H predicts that E is more likely than not, i.e., Pr(E|H&B) > 0.5. If H is relevant to E but does not predict E, there are other possibilities:

* H mystifies E; that is, H predicts that not-E or ~E is more likely than not i.e., Pr(E|H&B) < 0.5.
* And note that if H1 and H2 are mutually exclusive but NOT exhaustive alternatives, then E can be evidence favoring H1 over H2 even if both H1 and H2 "mystify" E. This would be the case if the ratio of Pr(E|H1) to Pr(E|H2) is greater than one, i.e., [Pr(E|H1) / Pr(E|H2)] > 1. (I have to admit this is subtle and it took me a while to wrap my mind around this one.)

Thommo wrote:Of course, if you don't like the frequentist example, feel free to consider any other method for estimating the probability of your eating lunch at McDonald's.

To put it another way, it seems rather odd to suggest it is a prediction of the theory of heliocentrism (say) that if I toss a coin twice in a row I won't get two heads, though it surely has P > 0.5 on the assumption that heliocentrism is true (again the theory is irrelevant as the probability is independent).


Hmmm... I may have oversimplified in an earlier post. In this example, I would say that the ratio of Pr(2 heads in a row | heliocentrism) to Pr(not 2 heads in a row | heliocentrism) is 1, which is just a fancy way of saying that heliocentrism is irrelevant.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#106  Postby jlowder » Dec 18, 2011 4:42 am

Moonwatcher wrote:I don't disagree with what you're saying except in the sense that when discussing the issue with a theist and that theist is allowed to define me as having a belief (because not believing something without evidence is a belief), he is setting the core of the discussion right there, his beliefs vs. my "beliefs". But it's not. I'm not asserting that "God" or even his specific god doesn't exist or that the events of his religion didn't happen. I'm saying there is no evidence for them unless he produces evidence I don't know about.


I find this extremely interesting and I understand what you mean. I wonder, however, if there is another way to look at it. I'm inclined to think that a more likely explanation is that we have a situation where two people who speak English and use the same words (belief, God, atheism, etc.) are effectively speaking two different languages. You and the theist may even think you have a disagreement because superficially it seems you are speaking the same language, but you're not. Because you're not speaking the same language, we must distinguish the labels we assign to various positions from the positions themselves.

(snip)

Imagine the following conversation:

Moonwatcher: I'm an atheist.
Theist: Oh, so you believe that God does not exist. What's your evidence for the nonexistence of God?
Moonwatcher: No, I lack the belief that God exists. The lack of belief that God exists does not require any justification unless we first are given some reason to hold that belief.
Theist: No, you're re-defining words. Atheism is the belief God does not exist.

Rather than continue beating a dead horse, you then try this approach:

Moonwatcher: We're using the same words in different ways. Based on how YOU define the word atheist, then I'm not an atheist; I'm an agnostic. Based on how *I* define the word atheist, however, I am an atheist. If we're going to have real dialogue rather than just the illusion of communication, we're going to have to agree on a set of terminology for the discussion.
Theist: [at this point the theist will either insist on his terminology or be willing to adopt yours; either way, the difference in terminology will be explicitly acknowledged by both sides and real communication will be possible.]
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#107  Postby purplerat » Dec 18, 2011 5:15 am

jlowder wrote:

Imagine the following conversation:

Moonwatcher: I'm an atheist.
Theist: Oh, so you believe that God does not exist. What's your evidence for the nonexistence of God?
Moonwatcher: No, I lack the belief that God exists. The lack of belief that God exists does not require any justification unless we first are given some reason to hold that belief.
Theist: No, you're re-defining words. Atheism is the belief God does not exist.

Rather than continue beating a dead horse, you then try this approach:

Moonwatcher: We're using the same words in different ways. Based on how YOU define the word atheist, then I'm not an atheist; I'm an agnostic. Based on how *I* define the word atheist, however, I am an atheist. If we're going to have real dialogue rather than just the illusion of communication, we're going to have to agree on a set of terminology for the discussion.
Theist: [at this point the theist will either insist on his terminology or be willing to adopt yours; either way, the difference in terminology will be explicitly acknowledged by both sides and real communication will be possible.]

Based on how the theist in your conversation is defining atheist, anybody who doesn't believe in the specific, singular God they believe in would be an atheist. i.e. if Theist is a Christian then any non-Christian would be an atheist; what an utterly fucking useless re-definition. IMO, anybody who completely mangles definitions like that to fit their world view is probably not somebody worth even debating with. Either they are just plain too dumb to understand the terms they are mangling or are intentionally changing terminology to make sure they can't lose an argument. Either way trying to debate with such a person is useless. It's certainly not "atheist apologetics" to realize this or point it out.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#108  Postby andrewk » Dec 18, 2011 5:48 am

I think the point jlowder is making is that there's rarely any point in debating definitions, but there is a way to get around a disagreement over a definition and into a meaningful discussion of the concepts of interest. One such way is to accept your opponent's definitions - insisting only that they must be made absolutely coherent and unambiguous, but not worrying about whether it is a definition you would personally give to the word in question. Then you state your position in terms of word meanings your opponent accepts. In this case, the atheist (as defined by the dictionary) says to the theist "I'm not an atheist [as you, the theist, understand the term], but I am an agnostic [as you, the theist, understand the term]". By so doing, communication is achieved, and further the burden of proof remains with the theist.

This is no different to learning a new language, or even a local dialect, and then using it rather than your own native dialect, to aid communication between yourself and a speaker of that dialect.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#109  Postby purplerat » Dec 18, 2011 6:02 am

andrewk wrote:I think the point jlowder is making is that there's rarely any point in debating definitions, but there is a way to get around a disagreement over a definition and into a meaningful discussion of the concepts of interest. One such way is to accept your opponent's definitions - insisting only that they must be made absolutely coherent and unambiguous, but not worrying about whether it is a definition you would personally give to the word in question. Then you state your position in terms of word meanings your opponent accepts. In this case, the atheist (as defined by the dictionary) says to the theist "I'm not an atheist [as you, the theist, understand the term], but I am an agnostic [as you, the theist, understand the term]". By so doing, communication is achieved, and further the burden of proof remains with the theist.

This is no different to learning a new language, or even a local dialect, and then using it rather than your own native dialect, to aid communication between yourself and a speaker of that dialect.

But how does arguing for a more appropriate or useful defenition of a term equate to apologetics? Or should we just accept it is apologetics because thats how jlowder defines apologetics and we should just accept that as if its a new language. If thats the case whats the point of ever debating or arguing anything because everybody can adjust the meaning of anything you or they say such that they or always right.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#110  Postby Thommo » Dec 18, 2011 6:12 am

jlowder wrote:Hmmm... I may have oversimplified in an earlier post. In this example, I would say that the ratio of Pr(2 heads in a row | heliocentrism) to Pr(not 2 heads in a row | heliocentrism) is 1, which is just a fancy way of saying that heliocentrism is irrelevant.


Assuming that this is a typo (or not a typo, but a miswriting or whatever the technical word is) for

Pr(2 heads in a row | heliocentrism) to Pr(2 heads in a row | ¬heliocentrism) is 1

then I surely agree with that. My problem remains though, that according to this definition your class of "predictions" overlaps with your class of "irrelevancies" which to me seems like the definition of prediction doesn't capture what we would intend it to.

"H predicts E just in case H predicts that E is more likely than not, i.e., Pr(E|H&B) > 0.5."

It would seem more natural to define it in terms more like those you use at the end here, i.e. in terms of the ratio of the probability of the evidence given the hypothesis divided by the probability of the evidence given the falsity of the hypothesis, or informally that:

(1) E is evidence for H
is equivalent to
(2) H predicts E
is equivalent to
(3) Pr(E|H)/Pr(E) > 1

Although there may be the odd issue here with the non-finite sample space cases.

Edit: Removed a mis-pasted text fragment. :oops:
Last edited by Thommo on Dec 18, 2011 6:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#111  Postby Thommo » Dec 18, 2011 6:13 am

purplerat wrote:If thats the case whats the point of ever debating or arguing anything because everybody can adjust the meaning of anything you or they say such that they or always right.


Isn't that pretty much exactly what does happen? :P
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#112  Postby Calilasseia » Dec 18, 2011 6:27 am

Mick wrote:
Calilasseia wrote:Bollocks. What part of "no supernaturalist has ever supported his assertions with anything other than apologetic fabrications" do you not understand once more?


Even if that were true, so what?


It cuts to the very heart of supernaturalism and its claims. Namely, the claims erected by the various species thereof, that magic entities purportedly exist, and are purportedly real. Which has only ever been asserted to be the case. It's precisely because of this, and because of the duplicitous apologetics supernaturalists erect routinely, in order to misrepresent atheism, that I constructed my definition. Which is sound, because the evidence supports it. Namely, atheists don't accept uncritically unsupported supernaturalist assertions. This is a feature that they have common. Penny dropping here yet?

Plus, if you want to erect the assertion, that supernaturalists have somehow provided something other than blind assertions and apologetic fabrications to prop up their presuppositions, in order to construct yet another apologetic fabrication to the effect that my definition somehow makes them 'atheists', then you'd better deliver on that assertion before erecting the apologetics, because without supporting that assertion with proper evidence, your apologetics are null and void.

Mick wrote:If he did, as it is broadly possible, then he'd could very well be an theist!


Ahem, you appear once again to have missed the point totally. Namely, that if the day ever arrives, when a supernaturalist provides real evidence for his pet magic entities, then the whole game is over. Because once those entities are supported with real evidence, and whoever has provided this has picked up his Nobel Prize, then we won't be dealing with assertions any more, we'll be dealing with something no supernaturalist has ever had before, namely evidentially supported postulates. It's precisely because no supernaturalist has done this, that the definition I erected is sound. If the day ever arrives when a supernaturalist provides real evidence for his magic entities, that definition will become superfluous to requirements and irrelevant. Though given the track record of supernaturalists to date, I don't think that day is going to arrive any time soon.

Once again, when are you going to learn the elementary lesson, that it's because supernaturalists have only ever had blind assertions for their magic entities, that atheists don't regard said assertions as constituting established fact? If supernaturalists want us to treat their assertions as constituting established fact, the way they've been boring us shitless with for millennia, it's about time they got off their arses and did something other than feed us made up shit. What part of "made up shit does not equal fact" do you not understand here?

Mick wrote:You can't allow this. Whatever atheism and theism mean, they cannot be logically consistent positions.


Well first of all, the definition I erected for the rigorous formulation of atheism doesn't adopt a "position" per se, it merely consists of a refusal to treat blind assertions about magic entities as fact. Which is a logically consistent position regardless of the status of supernaturalist assertions, because it consists of the application of the rules of proper discourse to the assertions in question. Once again, all you've done here is inject more fail bosons into the particle accelerator of discourse.

Mick wrote:
So what? I don't care about "conventional and historical understanding", I care about ensuring that a precise, rigorous and evidentially supportable definition is in place. What part of this elementary concept do you not understand?


You don't care? Heh. Well, without that basis for word meaning, I'm unsure how you determine with it is accurate.


On the basis of supporting evidence. See above. Why do supernaturalists always need the fucking baby steps?

Mick wrote:Word meaning doesn't drop out of the sky, you know. It at least some essential ties to the conventions of whatever language we're using. You need to consider this.


Actually, rigorous definitions have ties to evidence from the real world, or ties to precise axioms of formal systems. I don't care about lay usage in this respect, because lay usage is all too frequently non-rigorous. This is why scientists and mathematicians have precise definitions for the terms that they use. For example, in the world of mathematics, the word 'group' has a precise definition. If you want to tell me that group theory is invalid because mathematicians erected a precise definition for the term 'group', without caring about lay usage, then allow me to point and laugh.

Mick wrote:
Oh look, it's ad hominem time again, laced with lots of the usual supernaturalist penchant for strawman Caricature. Yawn, yawn, fucking yawn.


That's not an ad hom attack. I didn't attack you as a person. do you know what humpty dumpytism is?


Ahem, you're asserting that I'm somehow "stubbornly refusing" to change my position, as though my refusal to accept made up shit as fact constitutes some sort of "dogma". Which is a blatant misrepresentation of my position, and nothing more than the usual supernaturalist attempt to smear someone who doesn't treat made up shit as fact.

Now, do you have something other than made up shit to support the assertions of your pet mythology, or not? If not, don't expect me to treat those assertions as purportedly constituting established fact, because this approach is roundly rejected in every rigorous discipline.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#113  Postby Calilasseia » Dec 18, 2011 6:53 am

Indeed, following on from the above, the whole point here, is that the moment we have evidence to support the postulate that various magic entities exist, both 'atheism' and 'theism' become redundant terms. 'Atheism' as I have defined it becomes redundant because of the existence of that evidence, and for that matter so does 'theism', as currently constructed, which means belief in the existence of god-type entities. 'Theism' becomes a redundant term in such a discoursive environment, because, wait for it, when you have evidence to support a postulate, then belief becomes superfluous to requirements and irrelevant.

Which brings me on to rather neatly, to the fact that the supposed poster child for Christian apologetics, William Lane Craig, erects a vast oxymoron with his use of the phrase "reasonable faith". First, because 'belief' and 'faith' are all too often synonymous in the world of supernaturalism, and simply consist of uncritical acceptance of unsupported mythological assertions, and the treatment of those assertions as purportedly constituting established fact, which is not a 'reasonable' position in any arena of proper discourse. Second, because the moment you have genuine evidence for the relevant existence postulates, evidence whose veracity can be determined independently by anyone who applies the relevant diligent effort, regardless of whatever position they may hold, then 'belief' and 'faith' are superfluous to requirements.

The moment you are in a position to say "postulate X is a verifiable fact about the real world, because of independently verifiable evidential support from A, B and C", for example, then no one has to believe that postulate any more. They simply accept that postulate as valid, because A, B and C provide the rigorous support needed. Craig has nothing of this sort, all he has is blind assertions to the effect that the contents of the television inside his head somehow carry more weight than hard empirical evidence, which is frankly laughable.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#114  Postby jlowder » Dec 18, 2011 6:55 am

andrewk wrote:I think the point jlowder is making is that there's rarely any point in debating definitions, but there is a way to get around a disagreement over a definition and into a meaningful discussion of the concepts of interest. One such way is to accept your opponent's definitions - insisting only that they must be made absolutely coherent and unambiguous, but not worrying about whether it is a definition you would personally give to the word in question. Then you state your position in terms of word meanings your opponent accepts. In this case, the atheist (as defined by the dictionary) says to the theist "I'm not an atheist [as you, the theist, understand the term], but I am an agnostic [as you, the theist, understand the term]". By so doing, communication is achieved, and further the burden of proof remains with the theist.

This is no different to learning a new language, or even a local dialect, and then using it rather than your own native dialect, to aid communication between yourself and a speaker of that dialect.


I couldn't have said (or written) it better myself, andrewk!
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#115  Postby jlowder » Dec 18, 2011 7:09 am

Thommo wrote:
jlowder wrote:Hmmm... I may have oversimplified in an earlier post. In this example, I would say that the ratio of Pr(2 heads in a row | heliocentrism) to Pr(not 2 heads in a row | heliocentrism) is 1, which is just a fancy way of saying that heliocentrism is irrelevant.


Assuming that this is a typo (or not a typo, but a miswriting or whatever the technical word is) for

Pr(2 heads in a row | heliocentrism) to Pr(2 heads in a row | ¬heliocentrism) is 1

then I surely agree with that. My problem remains though, that according to this definition your class of "predictions" overlaps with your class of "irrelevancies" which to me seems like the definition of prediction doesn't capture what we would intend it to.

"H predicts E just in case H predicts that E is more likely than not, i.e., Pr(E|H&B) > 0.5."

It would seem more natural to define it in terms more like those you use at the end here, i.e. in terms of the ratio of the probability of the evidence given the hypothesis divided by the probability of the evidence given the falsity of the hypothesis, or informally that:

(1) E is evidence for H
is equivalent to
(2) H predicts E
is equivalent to
(3) Pr(E|H)/Pr(E) > 1

Although there may be the odd issue here with the non-finite sample space cases.

Edit: Removed a mis-pasted text fragment. :oops:


Hi Thommo -- Thanks for that well-written reply. You are correct; my original post contains the exact typo you identified. Further, I agree with the way you fixed it.

I see your point regarding the symmetry between (1), (2), and (3). I don't have much to say at this point, other than to say that at this time and in my "language," I am willing to allow E to be "evidence" for H even if H does not "predict" E (as I have defined those terms). I'm not locked into this position and may change it as I read more philosophy of science and confirmation theory. In fact, now that I think about it, I can think of at least one philosopher of science who argued at length that even Pr(E|H)>0.5 is too weak of a condition for E to count as evidence. So, on his scheme, my standards for "evidence" is unacceptably weak. I'm still digesting his arguments, so I consider my current terminology a work in progress and subject to change. But, to return to your comments, your suggestion is very reasonable and respectable.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#116  Postby jlowder » Dec 18, 2011 7:33 am

purplerat wrote:
andrewk wrote:I think the point jlowder is making is that there's rarely any point in debating definitions, but there is a way to get around a disagreement over a definition and into a meaningful discussion of the concepts of interest. One such way is to accept your opponent's definitions - insisting only that they must be made absolutely coherent and unambiguous, but not worrying about whether it is a definition you would personally give to the word in question. Then you state your position in terms of word meanings your opponent accepts. In this case, the atheist (as defined by the dictionary) says to the theist "I'm not an atheist [as you, the theist, understand the term], but I am an agnostic [as you, the theist, understand the term]". By so doing, communication is achieved, and further the burden of proof remains with the theist.

This is no different to learning a new language, or even a local dialect, and then using it rather than your own native dialect, to aid communication between yourself and a speaker of that dialect.


But how does arguing for a more appropriate or useful defenition of a term equate to apologetics? Or should we just accept it is apologetics because thats how jlowder defines apologetics and we should just accept that as if its a new language. If thats the case whats the point of ever debating or arguing anything because everybody can adjust the meaning of anything you or they say such that they or always right.


Hi purplerat -- Perhaps I am just being dense or even brain dead :what: , but I don't understand the first two sentences of your reply to andrewk. If you are suggesting that I think "arguing for a more appropriate or useful definition of a term equate to apologetics," then I want to make it clear that is NOT my view. In #8 of my list "How to be an Atheist Apologist," I did mention defining the approach some people take which is to define atheism as the lack of belief in God. But, for reasons I've stated earlier in this thread, I think that is a very USELESS thing to do, not a useful thing to do. Please see my post where I refer to "strategy" and "resource management."

Regarding your third sentence, I disagree that taking a pragmatic approach to definitions makes debate pointless. Granting, for the sake of discussion, that "atheism is the belief that God does not exist" does NOT equate to granting that the other person is always right. Think of a native English speaker and a native Spanish speaker, both of whom speak English and Spanish, debating what is the 'correct' way to greet someone ("hello" vs. "hola"). If the Spanish speaker agrees to speak English in a given conversation, does that mean the Spanish speaker is agreeing that "English" is always "correct." No! Nonsense! It just means the Spanish speaker is being pragmatic so the two people can communicate. In fact, if you think about it, if the word 'correct' means anything in this context at all, it is only in a relativistic sense. In other words, to borrow terminology from ethics and apply it to linguistics, I'm suggesting we should drop the pretense of 'linguistic objectivism' and instead be 'linguistic relativists': we should recognize that linguistics are relative to different cultures and different times.

Indeed, to press the analogy all the way, what you (and others who are so adamant about the atheism as the lack of belief definition) are doing is equivalent to going deep into Mexico to a city that is not a tourist town, and then being hellbent on the fact that the Mexican locals MUST speak English, despite the fact that you are, quite literally, on their turf. The point is that, everything else held equal, it seems odd, if not presumptuous, for a group representing a minority linguistic tradition or culture, to insist that the majority linguistic tradition or culture submit to the minority group's linguistic norms. (Here I am assuming that "atheism," regardless of how it is defined, is the minority position.)
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#117  Postby Thommo » Dec 18, 2011 7:56 am

jlowder wrote:I see your point regarding the symmetry between (1), (2), and (3). I don't have much to say at this point, other than to say that at this time and in my "language," I am willing to allow E to be "evidence" for H even if H does not "predict" E (as I have defined those terms). I'm not locked into this position and may change it as I read more philosophy of science and confirmation theory. In fact, now that I think about it, I can think of at least one philosopher of science who argued at length that even Pr(E|H)>0.5 is too weak of a condition for E to count as evidence.


Indeed, that would be of concern, but as I suggested, I think the fact that it can classify irrelevant hypotheses, such as in the heliocentrism/coin toss example, as "evidenced by E" (or even worse hypotheses where updating the prior probability with the evidence actually makes the hypothesis less likely!) is more critical. The exact threshold of increase can be easily amended in the suggestion* by inserting a constant in the equation:-

(3) Pr(E|H)/Pr(E) > c, c∈ℝ, c≥1

or by amending it to comparing the proportional increase in probability of that which could be made by the ideal evidence and that which has been made, i.e.

(3) (Pr(E|H)-Pr(E))/(1-Pr(E)) > c (0 < c < 1)

But I'm probably just repeating myself now. Thanks for your replies and clarifications! :cheers:

*as taken as an off the top of ones head example - I'm not especially convinced of it myself, especially outside of the finite case - it's worth mentioning there is some obvious potential for fun with "divide by 0" errors when we go countable and beyond, as in the general case P(x) = 0 is not the same thing as "x is impossible".

ETA: One final clarification, my earlier comments all apply only to theory, obviously in reality it's necessary for a prediction to chronologically precede it's effect, something I jovially overlooked here as unimportant, but human bias and the need to obey the laws of causality can affect what can be practically considered a prediction once we move off of the "chalk board".
jamest wrote:Taken as a whole, I've talked quite a lot of bollocks.
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#118  Postby Ihavenofingerprints » Dec 18, 2011 8:50 am

jlowder wrote:
andrewk wrote:I think the point jlowder is making is that there's rarely any point in debating definitions, but there is a way to get around a disagreement over a definition and into a meaningful discussion of the concepts of interest. One such way is to accept your opponent's definitions - insisting only that they must be made absolutely coherent and unambiguous, but not worrying about whether it is a definition you would personally give to the word in question. Then you state your position in terms of word meanings your opponent accepts. In this case, the atheist (as defined by the dictionary) says to the theist "I'm not an atheist [as you, the theist, understand the term], but I am an agnostic [as you, the theist, understand the term]". By so doing, communication is achieved, and further the burden of proof remains with the theist.

This is no different to learning a new language, or even a local dialect, and then using it rather than your own native dialect, to aid communication between yourself and a speaker of that dialect.


I couldn't have said (or written) it better myself, andrewk!


Agreed, I'll try this next time. Usually I insist I use my definitions (or similar) because using the theist's, I am an agnostic, even though I disagree with most people who would label themselves "agnostic". And I'd have to call myself agnostic about santa to be consistent.

But this just results in an argument that goes nowhere. Also, it's an argument they can't lose (and many people consider not losing = winning)
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#119  Postby jlowder » Dec 18, 2011 9:28 am

purplerat wrote:
jlowder wrote:
To summarize, my position is:

1. Not all supernatural hypotheses have equal intrinsic or prior probability.
2. Classical theism has a higher prior probability than other supernatural alternatives such as deism, Santa Claus, leprechauns, pastafarianism (flying spaghetti monster), invisible pink unicorns, etc., based on scope and simplicity.
3. Metaphysical naturalism, which entails a denial of supernaturalism, has an even higher prior probability than theism.
4. There are several interpretations of probability. I am a pluralist about those, but unless otherwise specified, assume that I am using the epistemic interpretation of probability.

I'm just going to simplify this a whole lot and request that you please explain #2. How is a supernatural FSM less plausible than supernatural "classical theism"?


I think I forgot to respond to this request; sorry for the delay. I'm going to respond as if we don't already know that the FSM 'hypothesis' is satire and not a sincerely held belief.

According to the original letter which introduced the FSM, the FSM "built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is." This entails that FSM hypothesis asserts more than classical theism and thus hence has greater scope than classical theism. Pastafarianism is very specific--as Paul Draper asks, "why spaghetti instead of linguine or rigatoni or lasagna or macaroni?" Because the FSM hypothesis has greater scope than classical theism, everything else held equal, it has a lower intrinsic or prior probability.

Here is an quotation of philosopher Paul Draper on this issue:

"So-called 'new atheists' or 'brights' like Richard Dawkins like to compare believing in God to believing in flying spaghetti monsters or invisible pink unicorns But I reject these comparisons. Pastafarianism and unicornism are not even forms of supernaturalism and more generally do no important metaphysical work at all. Not to mention that pastafarianism is very specific and thus very immodest--why spaghetti instead of linguine or rigatoni or lasagna or macaroni? And unicornism is maximally incoherent--even ignoring the fact that there is significant tension between being pink and being invisible, unicorns are by definition imaginary creatures and so no existing thing could count as a unicorn. The intrinsic probability of unicornism, not to mention fairyism and leprechaunism, is zero."


I also claimed that classical theism has a higher intrinsic probability than deism. Why? Classical theism usually entails the implicit belief that the mental, as opposed to the material, is ontologically fundamental. Again, quoting Draper:

"Since multiplicity requires variety, it is more coherent (and hence more plausible) to suppose that a single mind is involved than multiple minds, and it is also more coherent to suppose that this mind will exhibit uniformity in its powers and capacities than to suppose it will exhibit variety. Thus, it is more probable intrinsically that it has no non-logical limits to its power and knowledge, and only rational desires, than that it can create some creatable things and not others, or that it knows the truth value of some knowable propositions but not others, or that it has non-rational desires that could influence it to act in a way that it knows to be bad."
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Re: How to be an Atheist apologist?

#120  Postby Calilasseia » Dec 18, 2011 9:38 am

Except that Draper misses the point. Which consists of demonstrating that anyone can make shit up and pretend that reality conforms thereto, and that there is no essential difference between shit made up recently to provide a demonstration of this, and shit made up 3,000 years ago by people who thought that their magic man actually existed. At least, no one has been able to provide substantive demonstrations that their pet mythologies are anything other than assertion-laden made up shit. Trying to claim, for example, that 3,000 year old mythological made up shit is somehow "more valid" than recent made up shit, because the recent made up shit was deliberately constructed to expose the made-up-shitness of supernaturalism full stop, whilst the 3,000 year old made up shit was concocted by people who actually believed it, misses the target by light years.

Likewise, trying to erect some bizarre taxonomy of made up shit, on the basis of some probabilistic calculus, is a wasted exercise. At bottom, made up shit is precisely that, and once it has been determined that a given set of assertions is basically made up shit, and therefore contains no substantive knowledge about the real world, do we really need to engage in navel gazing with respect to the taxonomic position of one brand of made up shit against another?
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