A Horse of a Different Color

I think much of the confusion that is so readily apparent from many of the comments on this blog have to do with misunderstanding postmodernism.  This is no doubt partly my fault.  As in all philosophical discussions, language and meaning must be as precise as possible; otherwise, two people might think they are conversing when all they are really doing is talking past one another.
So I just want to put some issues to rest here, to bed.  Let’s bury them never to see their ghosts rise again, shall we. 
There are several types of postmodernism.  Originally, it was a term used to talk about changes in art and even architecture.  But for most, it is a philosophical term and speaks to changes that represent or define the conditions present in the time “after” the modern.  This fact, alone, of course is worth a post or series of posts, but I don’t have the time to do that.  There are a gazillion books out there now referencing the modern and postmodern, what it means or may mean, and how it relates to the world today.  Most of the books also lay out a historical genealogy showing how and why we find ourselves in a “post”-modern world.  It is also often referred to as the “Continental” view as opposed to the “Analytical” view.  This relates to postmodernism’s birth in Europe, especially France.
For the purposes of this post however, I just want to point out that there are radical types or understandings of postmodernity and there are types and understandings that fit very well with some traditional understandings of Christianity, especially the ancient forms (Eastern Orthodox) set in place before the rise of modernity.  Guess which type of postmodernist I am?  Correct.  There are some radical types of postmodernism that basically say there is no objective truth to the world, everything is an interpretation.  KarlGiberson has a Ph.D. in physics.  He gives us a good example of this here:
I have never understood the strong form of postmodernity that makes the strange claim that we can know nothing for certain. I once challenged a leading scholar of postmodernity who insisted that all scientific truth was constructed by the social activities of the scientific community rather than discovered, making every scientific claim relative.  “Is the earth round?” I asked her, a professor at one of Boston’s leading universities. She hesitated for a rather long time without answering, and said something irrelevant. “Surely we can know the earth is round?” I persisted. “That claim isn’t constructed, is it?” I said, with growing impatience. “ Isn’t the claim that the earth is round a discovery about the way the world actually is?” I pressed her further, but still she would not admit that we can know that the earth is round. The conversation ended with me storming off in a most un-Christian manner, muttering to myself that I had just had a conversation with the biggest blockhead in New England.
I do not hold to this type of “strong” postmodernism.  And this is the importance of understanding methodological naturalism.  However, like Dr. Giberson also recognizes, when it comes time to theorize, connect dots, summarize, philosophize, and try to make sense of the physical world- we then are forming narratives of meaning, worldviews, faiths.
He goes on:
I understand that we are living in a postmodern age and have to accept a certain modesty in our claims about the way the world is. Modernity, built on the confidence that one could start with the incontestable facts of the world and build systems of explanation and meaning, has passed. It passed largely because the facts of the world weren’t always as incontestable as we had hoped, and because those facts were often so small that they couldn’t support anything worthwhile. That was an important lesson.
The postmodernist position I am speaking of has a critical component of humility.  It knows that it is only an interpretation of the physical world (at the level of meaning); it is not a direct apprehension of everything without remainder.  The conceit of modernity and what has come to be known as “scientism” was that it pretended to be this objective, neutral, and direct (correspondence) apprehension (which is where the control, the mapping, the domination of the physical world—along with any poor ignorant superstitious savages dumb enough to get in our way—came from) of the physical world, while everyone else believed in superstition and fairy tales.  It’s a great view if one’s goal is to basically run the rest of the world over, while throwing in the rape of the physical world while you’re at it.
Well, after looking back at the epitome of the modern age, the 20th Century, and seeing a vast swath of the earth turned literally into a grave yard, people at every level began to doubt that “science” was always some objective and neutral force for only good—a savior.  Especially given the way “science” was used by both the Nazis and the Soviet Union (and the U.S. too).  The postmodern turn was to call the modern out and expose it as just another myth or metanarrative.  And what made modernity so dangerous was this very notion of objectivity and neutrality, which made it arrogant and prideful.  Of course, not everyone got the memo.
The type of postmodernism I hold to is one that stresses the critical role of metanarratives in forming how we interpret existence.  But it presumes as well that “existence” is really out there.  In that sense, I also hold to a form of something called critical realism.
Scientists who think about the nature of knowledge claims—and this includes me—almost all sign on to an idea known as critical realism. We believe there is a real world “out there” to be discovered through careful scientific investigation—not constructed from prejudice, duct tape and fog. We must not claim for our conclusions, however, more certainty than the evidence warrants. And we must not assume that our conclusions about the world are absolutely certain, even though they may be so probable that such an assumption would create no problems.
Clearly he is referencing something I keep noting over and over, which is the value and place of methodological naturalism.  But he is careful not the make the mistake of the empiricist or the holder of scientism, which is to assume that methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism are either the same thing or that one has to lead to the other (whether by default or overtly).  Ontological naturalism is an interpretation of the physical world—it is a view held by faith.  It may be the true and correct belief, but it is not established empirically—it is held by faith as an interpretation of what the physical world means, because even “no meaning” is still a metaphysical/faith-claim.
He speaks again to the fact that we must always go beyond the surface level of empirical information:
The world as we are coming to understand it is far too complex to be understood by simply collecting facts, drawing conclusions and weaving the conclusions into an all-encompassing tapestry of illumination. Careful thought demands, of course, that we pay attention to the reasoning process and watch out for errors. But as we work our way from simple experiences to deep conclusions about the way the world is, we constantly find ourselves forced to go beyond mere generalizations from facts.
And it is here where the worldview/narrative/faith we bring to the collection of facts reveals how we “see” and understand the world.  And let me just say this again as well: Worldview/narrative/faith encompasses reason, logic, and all the tools of reflection that anyone cares to name.  At no point do any of us step outside our worldview and stand on a neutral objective pedestal or levitate off the ground and this includes our reasoning process.  As long as we know this, it is the very thing that will keep us from just assuming we are right and everyone else wrong. And if anyone thinks he does levitate, then that is part of the problem.  All of us “go beyond” at this point and we begin to tell a story of how all this fits together into a comprehensive matrix that tries to make sense of our world and our place in that world.  Eric Reitan recently pointed this out in a post:
Even those who resist speculation beyond “what science tells us” have a hard time resisting their own version of such holistic storytelling, which is why “scientism” so often emerges among those who are doggedly committed not to believe in anything beyond what science tells us. Scientism is what happens, we might say, when those who consciously refuse to tell a holistic story end up telling one subconsciously: They weave together a narrative picture of the whole premised on the idea that there is nothing beyond what science gives to us, and hence postulating that the picture of “the whole” cannot include any postulates beyond the very delimited ones that arise in the scientist’s specialized form of storytelling.
And I think this is exactly what Burk does.  In his attempt to tell us he is not telling a “holistic” story, he ends of doing it naively, which is what makes it so impervious to really “hearing” what the other is saying.  Clearly however, it is something too easy for all of us to do.
Getting back to Dr. Giberson, he elaborates further:
Critical realists believe that the world is known through a spiraling discovery process where we continually circle the phenomena we are trying to understand, getting closer and closer as we understand it better, but never reaching absolute certainty. A gap always exists between the thing we want to understand and our very best theory of how that thing works. The gap can be small or large, but it never entirely vanishes.
Being postmodern (and a critical realist) is recognizing the importance of that “gap.”  That “gap” is why our holistic summing up of the “facts” and the empirical evidence is always an interpretation.  This is what should keep us humble and why doubt should always be the companion of our worldview no matter how much we think we are on the right track.  It is also why it is ridiculous to say something like, “There is no evidence for God’s existence or that there is clear evidence for God’s existence.”  Both statements beg the question.  It is also why it is of no help to say something like, “I only go as far as the evidence and reason take me.”  It too begs the question.  We are all viewing and philosophizing about the same evidence.  It is not that one person has the evidence and the other doesn’t or that only some of us go as far as the evidence takes us.  It is that all of us are interpreting the evidence (which includes how far it can “take” us) through a worldview/narrative (the postmodern emphasis) all the while acknowledging that we are interpreting a world that is really objectively “out there” (critical realism).
And, again, Dr. Giberson is not speaking against every type of postmodernism, but a very specific type and such is not the type I hold, period.  When he says that he’s never met a postmodern scientist, he is referring to this “hard” radical type of postmodernism.  Please take note of this critical and significant difference.
So let’s just put some things to rest here, shall we.  I do not claim that an assertion like “the earth is round” to be a matter of interpretation.  I do not claim that all narratives are equal or all true.  When I use the term “postmodern” I do not mean “nothing is true.”   But it is clearly evident that many have read my posts with the erroneous assumption that I am the sort of postmodernist described by Dr. Giberson.  I am not.
And to be charitable, I want Bernard to know that I do understand there are varieties of empiricism and that he does not fall into all of them especially the more extreme versions.  Unfortunately, such ultimately does not take away from my critique.  Still, it will help us both if we keep in mind the type, whether empiricism or postmodernism, the other is speaking of when they invoke it on their own behalf. 
And before anyone jumps to the question (I can hear it coming), “Then how do you differentiate between worldviews?” –at least let what I’m saying soak in a little.  Slow down.  Because it is also possible that the rush to such a question is an indicator that the person’s greater desire is to know who is “right” and who is “wrong” and it maybe it should give the person pause and cause them to ponder their own worldview, one that clearly sort of partitions the world into such clear oppositions.  One just might want to hold up there a little and ponder.
Finally, I am not going to waste any more time responding to the charges that I am saying something to the effect of what the hard postmodernist is saying.  I am not.  And if that is not clear by now, anyone making the charge isn’t really interested in conversation.  And I don’t have time for that.
I do plan to post more in the future about evaluating worldviews/narratives, but for now, something to think about is: How have I been evaluating your own worldview?  Because whether you agree I understand you very well or not, or even if you think I’ve evaluated it horribly, you still may be able to answer your own question to an extent.
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34 Responses to A Horse of a Different Color

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    ” Ontological naturalism is an interpretation of the physical world—it is a view held by faith. It may be the true and correct belief, but it is not established empirically—it is held by faith as an interpretation of what the physical world means, because even “no meaning” is still a metaphysical/faith-claim.”

    The assumption that there is “nothing more” than what is empirically evident is what defines ontological naturalism, and it also forms the basis of methodological naturalism. So they are kissing cousins, though ON makes the more universal, definitive, claim, which as you say is a matter of speculation.

    Whether one has “faith” in it or not is definitely not an issue, since there is nothing to pray to, nothing to hope about in this view.. it just is, to the best of our collective ability to figure out rigorously what is out there. Faith is irrelevant.

    The contrasting case, where one believes in supernaturalism, and prays to the supernatural deities, and hopes for a supernatural life after death, etc.. those all not only make a speculation, but base one's faith on it, and on specific, though unknowable, claims about its detailed contents, etc.. It is indeed a horse of a different color.

    From your quote of Reitan: “They weave together a narrative picture of the whole premised on the idea that there is nothing beyond what science gives to us, and hence postulating that the picture of “the whole” cannot include any postulates beyond the very delimited ones that arise in the scientist's specialized form of storytelling.”

    What a way to twist humility into some nefarious scheme of anti-woo bigotry! The point is that there are no reliable, consistent, observations about this “beyond”, and there is a significant pile of evidence about its being a product of psychological projection and related proclivities. The only reasonable approach is to not believe in unreliable, historically biassed, perennially protean, psychotropic models of the “beyond”. That is the essence of intellectual humility.

    None of this is to say we know everything. Those terrible scientism-ists are the first in line to do more research and find out all we can about those many things we do not know about. Mysteries abound. But the point is to believe in things after you have figured them out, not beforehand. Eric seems to have that one backward. He wants “hope”. Well, that is a psychotherapeutic concept, not a philosophical one.

    “We are all viewing and philosophizing about the same evidence. It is not that one person has the evidence and the other doesn't or that only some of us go as far as the evidence takes us. It is that all of us are interpreting the evidence (which includes how far it can “take” us) through a worldview/narrative (the postmodern emphasis) all the while acknowledging that we are interpreting a world that is really objectively “out there” (critical realism).”

    Precisely- just how far can we take it? Given that we have a real world out there to check our thoughts against, one would think that doing so would be the highest priority, and we would not “believe” in, for lack of a better word, fairy tales that express our world-relationship (or inner state) rather than analyzing theories on their own supposed terms- their relationship to reality.

    For all that, thank you for strongly bounding your view of postmodernism.. it seems little more that a caution for intellectual humility, which is, really, the essence of agnosticism and secularism.

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  2. Hi Darrell

    Thanks for the outline, which is very clear. I don't think there are any surprises in it for anybody's who's read your posts. Certainly you've been very clear that all along that your approach encompasses a style of critical realism. You accept there exists a commonly held canon of knowledge that we might call facts: the product of certain key assumptions, of shared observation, and of reasonable inference.

    And you also show that to interact with the world in a meaningful way requires not just this type of knowledge, but also what you call interpretation. And we interpret via a world view, which is perhaps akin to a lens, or an intellectual superstructure, through which we organise and make sense of our common knowledge. Is that a fair summary?

    If it is, then it highlights again how very much we agree upon, because I would endorse all of this. Where we differ, as you know, is regarding the truth status we then give to our interpretations. Once we acknowledge they are indeed a function of world view, what are we to make of them? You and I answer that question in slightly different ways, I think. Although I perhaps should clarify one thing here, lest I am paying inadequate attention.

    Some post modernists, having accepted your style of critical realism, would then say, well then, if world views are a way of making sense of our experience, then each such interpretation can properly be thought of as a valid way of seeing reality. So, while we are not precluded from stating the world is round, we must accept that statements like 'there is a God' or 'there is no God', being themselves the product of incommensurate world views, are both equally valid ways of viewing the same reality. It is a misunderstanding to say one is true and one is not, because they are not that sort of statement. Both can simultaneously be true, insomuch as both afford valid perspectives on reality.

    I'm not clear whether you are such a postmodernist, or whether, when it comes to matters such as the existence of the Christian God, your faith requires you to believe that the atheist's view, while equally reasonable, is indeed wrong. In other words, do you permit the style of contradiction some post modernists endorse, or at this point do you veer more towards true and false world views?

    Bernard

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  3. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    Thank you for those comments. No, I’m not quite that type of postmodernist either. I really believe there is a God, therefore how could I accept as equally true the assertion to the contrary? I think Burk feels the same way. We both think the other believes something false.

    When we hear something like this, “…both are equally valid ways of viewing the same reality,” I think what most people mean is that two reasonable people can surmise all the evidence, read, talk, discuss, educate themselves on the subject, reflect, reason, think, and still come to very different conclusions. And in that sense, both atheism and belief are indeed equally valid. That is why it is pointless to attack the other on those grounds (that the other hasn't done any of that), which is the hallmark of both secular and religious fundamentalism.

    The problem is that “valid” for each of us doesn't necessarily equate to “truth.” What I've been suggesting is that my worldview/narrative/faith could be wrong. Not just wrong for me, but wrong if anyone accepted it. And I could be right. I think the confusion comes in when we set up a barrier where we implicitly accept the idea that unless a disagreement can be adjudicated empirically/scientifically, then it must be put in the subjective/personal preference/psychological category. And of course once in that category then it is not that anyone is “right” or “wrong” it is just a personal, private, subjective difference.

    That is basically what the types of postmodernists you are speaking of here are doing. Ironically, doing so makes them very modern.

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  4. RonH says:

    What do we mean by “valid” way of seeing?

    In logic, an argument is valid if (iff) the truth of its premises entails the truth of its conclusion. For example:

    P1) All turtles speak Greek.
    P2) Socrates was a turtle.
    C) Therefore, Socrates spoke Greek.

    This is a valid argument. And the conclusion is even one that all of us would affirm is true. But while the argument is valid, I wouldn't consider it sound because I have significant doubts about P1. Well, and P2 for that matter.

    So I'm perfectly content to say that Bernard, Burk, and Darrell all have “valid ways of seeing”, in that I'm not seeing where significant conclusions don't follow from premises.

    It's the premises themselves I'm not necessarily in agreement with.

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  5. Burk Braun says:

    Good question, Bernard…

    Darrell-

    “I think the confusion comes in when we set up a barrier where we implicitly accept the idea that unless a disagreement can be adjudicated empirically/scientifically, then it must be put in the subjective/personal preference/psychological category.”

    But what other options are there? The third way would be to accept assertions of faith and mystical knowledge as not only “valid”, (which seems to function here as a lower bar to discourse for claims that are superficially plausible, but not proven and not “true”), but as “true” … without any mechanism to demonstrate that truth or logically compel it. William James saw and described the dilemma, (of “faith” and related mystical convictions), and ultimately judged that this sort of “truth” is one that applies to a population of one- the experiencer, and no one else. In my book, that is subjective, not whatever the opposite of subjective is for you.

    You would revert to the holistic criterion of whatever seems right to me in my life experience. Well, as noted, that merely reproduces the intuition that led you into this belief in the first place. And intuition is not by itself an acceptable philosophical criterion for truth. So what else do you have to offer?

    My beef is with your interpretation. Somewhere, between all the evidence that you claim to know all about and the conclusions you draw, is a leap of faith, which is not philosophically valid, rather being a logically uncompelled belief, evidently compelled by some other factor, which I am busily trying to identify and clarify.

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  6. Hi Ron

    Yes, the word valid might be a fuzzy one, referring either to the reasoning process, or the claim to truth, both with rather different implications.

    When a disagreement occurs, might we say it could occur for one of three reasons? Either one or more parties are making an error with their reasoning, or the terms being used are not sufficiently well defined, creating a pseudo problem, or there are different baseline beliefs, or premises. Does that seem a reasonable summary of options?

    If so, then how are we to tell which is the case? I'd suggest it takes some patient digging away. If we can identify the premise in question, and how it leads to the disagreement, then we're there, but this isn't always easy (so while Darrell and I clearly have some differences in bottom line beliefs, it's not clear to me how those differences flow through into our dispute about the necessity of belief for interpretation).

    If we can identify a flaw in reasoning then again we're there, but we should expect that to be tricky, these topics are difficult enough to have kept the best philosophers busy.

    Pseudo problems might be the easiest to identify, if we can get to the bottom of definitions, but this is simple only by comparison. Darrell here seems to suggest he doesn't allow contradictory beliefs to both be true, which as far as I can see puts us both pretty close to a shared definition, at least for the purposes of our dispute.

    What is it that makes you think these disputes are premise based? If you've identified the premises in question and how they lead to these disputes, that would be most helpful.

    Bernard

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  7. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    Please forgive me for being pedantic here, but a difference in definition is a difference in premise, sine a definition is just a compressed part of a premise. A difference may cease to exist once both parties unpack their premises more fully. But it's also possible for two parties to have a difference in premise without realizing it until they unpack it.

    Why do I think these disputes are premise based? Well, I've been in discussions like this pretty much since I started to develop critical thinking skills. What I've observed is that anyone who wants to play the game at a certain level will have a fair command of logic. If they're self-reflective at all, it generally won't take them long before they'll have worked out most of the inconsistencies in their own reasoning. Of course, that will be with respect to their own assumptions… and there's where the magic happens. Finding an error in reasoning is child's play if you have clearly identified all the assumptions. It's just computation. A computer can do it. Lighting up all the assumptions is what is hard, because people often operate with them subconsciously. One man's “self-evident” truth isn't always self-evident to everyone else… including the very fact that it is not self-evident. What's more, I've seen people construct assumptions on the fly. In other words, they hold a conclusion, I challenge a point of logic which demonstrates that their conclusion doesn't hold, and they deftly re-arrange or postulate new assumptions such that the conclusion can hold again. I've done that myself, and suspect it's a pretty common human experience. Sometimes our conclusions are more important to us than our assumptions.
    …cont'd…

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  8. RonH says:

    …cont'd…

    So while I've observed that between intelligent, self-reflective people, disagreements tend to arise mostly at the level of assumptions, it is very common for disagreeing parties to claim the problem is a deficiency of reason (generally on the part of the other). If you don't take assumptions into account, problems of logic appear easy to spot. What's more, there's a strong human desire to say “Aha, I've got you, you are compelled by my impeccable reasoning to abandon your position and agree with me.” (Why this is is a whole 'nuther interesting question.) A huge percentage of internet discussions are stuck on this point.

    But here's the thing: how can you know the problem is one of reasoning? You can't, until you've either discovered a logical flaw or clearly identified all assumptions in play and examined the logic relative to them. You simply cannot properly evaluate a logical argument without knowing all the premises. And identifying all the premises is a very tricky task.

    Now, I'm not ruling out the possibility that this is just a difference of reasoning. But in my experience, these types of discussions almost never end with “Ah. I see your point. I've just been in error all this time.” They either end up with loud shouting followed by skulking away or (in the case of the more mature) saying “Well, we'll just have to agree to disagree on this”. Both of those latter tend to be indications that one has reached a point of differing (and unreconcilable) assumptions.

    My hypothesis — based on observation — is that your dispute with Darrell is at the level of premises, not logic. I will be proven wrong if we hear “Ah. I see your point. I've just been in error all this time.” (or words to that effect). My hypothesis cannot be proven correct until we have examined all assumptions in play. But I suggest that as long as this discussion goes 'round and 'round, the likelihood that I am right increases.

    Once again, I claim that — based on previous iterations of this discussion — you guys won't make any progress until you agree on definitions for “belief” and “taste”. And probably “faith”. If you cannot agree on the definitions, then any premise you form with the words “belief” or “taste” or “faith” in them will be contested between you. Darrell has already posted about how you do not use these words the way he does, or the way they are used commonly. That would suggest to me contested assumptions.

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  9. Darrell says:

    I would just add to what Ron has said, in that I have written post after post talking about what I mean by the word “faith”, “belief” and so on. It is encapsulated entirely in what I've talking about for months now regarding worldview/narrative/faith. And on the contrary, hardly anyone else has done so. In other words, my cards have certainly been placed on the table.

    Part of the problem Bernard is that in the past you will often say you agree with almost all of what I'm saying, but then comment or write something that seems to indicate you either do not really understand what I'm saying or that, in fact, you do not agree with those premises.

    I really think that is where the problem lies. For instance in Burk's last comment where he is sure I'm making a “leap” at some point, all this tells us is that he doesn't agree with the worldview idea, or at least not the one I posit.

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  10. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    ” For instance in Burk's last comment where he is sure I'm making a “leap” at some point, all this tells us is that he doesn't agree with the worldview idea, or at least not the one I posit.”

    That would be correct. I believe the worldview concept is a way to hide or defend or legitimize precisely those assumptions that Ron (and the rest of us) are looking for so energetically in order to evaluate. In contrast, they need to be looked at critically, and dropped if they are not reasonable in a philosophical / rational sense.

    That we have world views is not in question. Whether they are individually and in detail reasonable is the question. For instance, the whole supernatural concept is unreasonable in my analysis. It is specifically hedged to not be percievable or defensible in empirical terms, (when investigated on any detailed, rigorous way), but then is wheeled in to explain all sorts of empirical phenomena, like minds, evolution, and cosmic origins …. not valid.

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  11. Hi Ron

    Well, what we might have here is a cultural difference. In my experience the phrase 'yeah, good point' very often marks the end of a disagreement, and all depart a little the wiser. And so I remain optimistic.

    But I agree with you, reason and definition are intimately tied, which is why reasoning in human discourse is almost never of the simple computational type. And that's why I enjoy it so.

    You seem confident the problem here is related to the definition of belief. If you could shed some light on this by explaining why, that would help. Darrell and I both seem to think that to believe is to choose one description of reality as better representing the truth than its contradiction, and that's all I need for my premise, I think. So, fell free to jump in here if you can spot the definitional difference.

    Bernard

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  12. Hi Darrell

    Let's see if we can hunt down Ron's definitional difference then.

    By belief, I mean to hold that a particular statement represents reality better than it's contradiction (so is more true). For example, to believe the sun is hot is to hold that a hot sun is a better description of reality than a cold one. Belief of this type does not imply certainty. Belief can thus be expressed in the terms 'I believe A' where A is some proposition about reality.

    Is there anything in this definition that you would dispute?

    Bernard

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  13. RonH says:

    Hi, Burk…

    [Assumptions] need to be looked at critically, and dropped if they are not reasonable in a philosophical / rational sense.

    This is where we run into trouble. You can only evaluate how reasonable an assumption is within the context of other assumptions. If an assumption proves to be unreasonable relative to your other assumptions, then you shouldn't hold it. But this brings up two questions: 1) how do you know whether or not your other assumptions are “reasonable”? 2) why would you expect someone else with a different assumption set to also find the assumption unreasonable?

    I understand why you don't think God exists. Given your assumptions, it's a reasonable conclusion. It's not a reasonable conclusion for Darrell, given his assumptions. So to keep shouting “But you're being unreasonable!!” is irrationality on your own part: until you can convince Darrell to share your assumptions (or convince him that he already does without knowing it), it will be impossible to demonstrate to him that he is unreasonable. You're like the tourist who doesn't know any of the local language but somehow thinks he can still communicate BY SPEAKING ENGLISH MORE LOUDLY.

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  14. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    I think I've made it clear my commitment to methodological naturalism, right? Wouldn't that answer this question? If we were talking about the sun, then your formula works as long as we remember what Dr. Giberson said about the “gap.” However, if we are talking about God, then it breaks down because God is not an object like the sun. The greater question, and more pertinent, would be-how do we address different types of questions.

    There is also another crucial aspect you are missing here. Beliefs don’t have to be asserted or reveal themselves only in the way you suggest here, which is overtly and in a straight propositional form. Beliefs can also be revealed in the boundaries/restrictions we erect. That was the purpose of my thought-experiment to Burk, where I mimicked the reasons you have given for your agnosticism but just turned it around to a restriction to a transcendental view.

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  15. Burk Braun says:

    Ron-

    My argument is that all assumptions can be tracked down and evaluated. You seem to believe that this is not possible, so people should be allowed to operate with unexamined assumptions, or unprovable ones, which then allow divergent, indeed contradictory, views to be valid, reasonable, and even “true”. This is the function of the “world view”, which serves as an excuse to not look any further within.

    The tourist analogy is odd, in that the difficulties a tourist faces are not ones of logic, or even of fundamental assumption, but ones of taste and convention. These are just the differences you and Darrell regard as trivial and not the issue in these worldview disputes.

    So … my conclusions, given my assumptions, Darrell's conclusions, given his assumptions. But I do not give Darrell's assumptions- not at all. I think they are fundamentally unreasonable and unsound (per my discussion of supernaturalism, for instance). Mine, in contrast, are reasonable, founded, and indeed humble, in that they assume nothing about reality that has not been made explicit and publicly understood as a regular part of reality.

    You and Darrell seem to think yourselves humble in that you subject yourselves to a religious tradition founded on guilt, expiation, and obedience. And make the necessary assumptions to believe that it is true. But I think you can see that however socially humble it may be, (which varies with the setting, as we know historically), it is not intellectually humble, which is the point Bernard is trying to make through agnosticism.

    Unfortunately, many of the assumptions being made are of a psychological nature, which it is clearly uncomfortable to discuss, as they touch on sensitive issues of free will, indoctrination, rationality, etc. So to really delve into this, we need to unlock some of the code words for psychogenic assumptions, of which “world view” and “faith” are examples.

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  16. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    I’m curious. Here you write: “On agnosticism, I have, I think mentioned that agnosticism is the only fool-proof position, as it were (!). Additionally, I do bet on atheism, since my reading of the evidence, psychological and cosmic, pursuades me strongly that atheism is very likely true. But that is both an add-on on top of basic agnosticism, and is speculative. It is not a 100% “truth”.”

    And then you write: “My beef is with your interpretation. Somewhere, between all the evidence that you claim to know all about and the conclusions you draw, is a leap of faith, which is not philosophically valid, rather being a logically uncompelled belief, evidently compelled by some other factor, which I am busily trying to identify and clarify.”

    So is your atheism the “leap” you make? Also, what is the “logically uncompelled belief” you invoke because we’ve been trying to identify and clarify what that is.

    I’m joking of course. I just wanted everyone to see what Ron meant by SHOUTING LOUDER IN ENGLISH.

    By the way, I don’t claim to know about “all” the evidence. My claim is that the differences we have lay with different interpretations of the evidence and that we all have access to the same evidence.

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  17. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “My argument is that all assumptions can be tracked down and evaluated.” And so is Ron’s. And that is what he’s been doing with your assumptions. In no way is he saying that, “people should be allowed to operate with unexamined assumptions, or unprovable ones…” And throwing in “unprovable” ones kind of begs the question, right? His very point is that the key dispute is about these assumptions or premises. So where are you getting any of that?

    Here you are doing exactly what Eric Reitan was pointing out. You are telling a story about how you are not telling a story. But since you think worldview to be an “excuse” how could you ever be aware you were doing it.

    Bernard, you have said over and over that you agree with the worldview thesis. Do you agree with Burk here that it’s a dodge or do you agree with his qualifications of it?

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  18. Hi Darrell

    Thank you, this is helpful because it moves us closer to a shared understanding. Let me clarify further.

    Does your belief in God also adhere to a propositional form? In other words, do you mean, by your belief in God, that you accept the proposition 'there is a God' and reject the proposition 'there is no God?'

    Now, for the notion that beliefs reveal themselves through boundaries, are these beliefs of a propositional/contradiction denying form? If so, can you show the sort of proposition you have in mind?

    If they're not, then we do indeed have a pseudo disagreement, as I'm arguing only that I have no propositional beliefs of the type that by their definition reject a reasonably held alternative.

    Bernard

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  19. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    You should note that I qualified my experience about how discussions of this type rarely end in agreement. I'm often in discussions where disagreements are resolved and end with “Yeah, good point.” But not typically discussions about God or other issues so sharply tied to worldview. If you participate in forums where topics like this are covered, sharply disagreed on, then ultimately resolved to everyone's satisfaction, then I'd love to peek in. The best I can typically hope for is “well, we just disagree about that”.

    As for the definitions… You seem to think that “Bernard's Challenge” (as I've come to think of it) is highly relevant to the disagreement at hand, specifically Darrell's failure to meet it. Darrell has in the past proposed candidates for beliefs that would meet your challenge. You have typically claimed they were not beliefs you held but were tastes. Darrell remains unconvinced, and has written about what he believes is your idiosyncratic deployment of the term “taste”. Hence the peculiar state of affairs in which you seem convinced Darrell has failed to meet your Challenge, whereas he is convinced he has. If your Challenge is significant, you must both at least agree on whether or not it has been met. In order to do that, you'll have to clarify your respective understandings of “belief” and “taste” (and, most likely, the relationship between the two). I'll go further to suggest there's disagreement about the meaning of “faith” as well, but let's take baby-steps first.

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  20. Hi Ron

    One way to show an assumption is reasonable is to show it is a forced move, which is to say there are no viable alternatives in the table (e.g induction) So, the agnostic claim is that theirs is a world view built only upon such assumptions, and if this is the case then your contested assumption case doesn't necessarily hold.

    Bernard

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  21. RonH says:

    Hi, Burk…

    My argument is that all assumptions can be tracked down and evaluated. You seem to believe that this is not possible…

    …followed by a lot of irresponsible straw men. You're putting words in my mouth. Of course assumptions can be tracked down and evaluated. But evaluated against what? Other assumptions (often not held in common), using reason. That's all we have.

    I think they are fundamentally unreasonable and unsound (per my discussion of supernaturalism, for instance). Mine, in contrast, are reasonable, founded, and indeed humble, in that they assume nothing about reality that has not been made explicit and publicly understood as a regular part of reality.

    …”Reality being defined exclusively as that which is consistent with the preceeding perspective.” This is what my old roommate used to call Proof by Blatant Assertion. Darrell's assumptions are unreasonable and unsound relative to your own assumptions, the reasonableness of which can only be established… how? “Well, because they're true, that's how!” Gotcha, Burk. I behold your certainty, and am impressed.

    Lesse… then you make unfounded assumptions about my Christian beliefs… skipping… ah, yes. My psychological issues as origin of my beliefs. Because your beliefs have no origin in psychology…

    I forget. Why is it rational for you to argue with someone as clueless, irrational, and mentally deficient as I am?

    You have nothing but contempt for my perspective, Burk. I get it. In the future, you can merely respond with “I have nothing but contempt for your perspective, Ron”. It means the same, and saves time all the way 'round.

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  22. Hi Ron

    This disagreement may well not be of this type. It's not a disagreement about God, on which I have no opinions. It's a disagreement over whether having no opinions necessitates a belief that contradicts those held by others. That, it strikes me, is the sort of topic ripe for careful analysis and, if we persevere, consensus. It strikes me as being at least worth a try.

    Let's clarify then. My claim is specifically that I do not hold beliefs that contradict those held by others. Darrell has not, as yet, produced any such a belief. nor have you. The taste issue is simply a case of me pointing out that the nominated belief does not contradict some other belief, and that's not trickery, it's keeping us focussed on the central case Darrell is making, that such contradiction is necessarily part of my world view.

    Now, because the disagreement at hand is whether or not agnostics hold beliefs that contradict those held by others, this challenge is, of course, relevant.

    There may be other types of belief, if we broaden the definition, such that holding them does not imply that those holding contradictory beliefs are wrong, but as I have no problem with the idea that I might hold those types of belief, I doubt that's where the definitional problem arises.

    So where is the definitional problem here? Can you find one?

    Bernard

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  23. Burk Braun says:

    Ron-

    Well parried! So how would you show that supernaturalism is a reasonable, well-founded part of anyone's worldview?

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  24. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    That is correct. I don’t think a restriction/boundary need contain an asserted “I believe A to be true…” to meet the belief category. I gave you an example from the world of racial prejudice. If I erect a boundary that basically keeps people of color out, but I never say anything negative about them or even address them (I’m agnostic), I am still acting prejudicial- it is just by default. So if you are looking for me to produce or identify your “I believe A to be true…” statement- that is never going to happen because it is entirely irrelevant and not necessary for me to do so.

    Your restriction is simply empiricism by default. Even Burk recognized this. The fact that you say nothing overtly about what may or may not exist beyond your boundary is irrelevant and also what we would expect, given your restriction. Even you agreed your “approach” would be identified as empirical, and such an approach whether done overtly or by default entails a choice to invoke the restriction and one not demanded by any sort of induction or logic. It is a faith choice to limit one’s view, just like it is a faith choice to “see” God or not.

    I think your position can compared to two stories, one of which I've already shared. The first one is that you appear to be like the person who killed both parents, but then demanded mercy from the court because he was an orphan. You create a restriction (a fence), and then tell us you would like to know what lies on the other side, but, you see, there is this fence here in the way—so I just have no opinion about what might be on the other side.

    The second is the story about the man looking for his keys. Late one evening a police officer walking his beat noticed a man directly under the street light, on hands and knees, desperately looking for something. The officer walked over and asked, “Lose something?” The man, without looking up, said “Yeah, my house and car keys!” The officer helped him for quite a while but to no avail. Finally, the officer asks, “Are you sure you lost them right here?” And the man, pointing, says, “No, I lost them way over them in the dark but the light is so much better here.”

    You are the one who has invoked an arbitrary faith-based restriction that will not allow you to look in other places.

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  25. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    One way to show an assumption is reasonable is to show it is a forced move.

    But then it's more of a conclusion, isn't it? Regardless, for it to be a forced move, there have to be other assumptions that underlie the reasoning leading to the forced position. A “forced move” is a proposition necessarily derived. From what? Other assumptions. They can't all be necessarily derived… There's an infinite regress problem, if so. Inductive logic still requires some propositions somewhere. You can't say “All propositions I hold are inductive.” That's logically impossible. Not to mention, not an inductive proposition.

    My claim is specifically that I do not hold beliefs that contradict those held by others. Darrell has not, as yet, produced any such a belief. nor have you.

    For some definition of belief. Darrell and I both believe we have.

    To clarify, I am not saying your use of taste is “trickery”. Rather, I think your worldview contains understandings of “belief”, “taste”, and possibly “faith” that allow you to maintain logical consistency. Which I'm happy to concede that you have.

    Now, because the disagreement at hand is whether or not agnostics hold beliefs that contradict those held by others, this challenge is, of course, relevant.

    Actually, my disagreement is over whether or not it is possible to use reason to convince a human being who prefers to consider himself an agnostic (because alternatives are distasteful) that he isn't. My answer is: I don't think it is, but I can't prove it. You seem to think it is, but you can't prove that either. Thus, as a means of adjudicating between positions, the challenge is impotent.

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  26. Hi Ron

    If you do think you've shown the contradiction, then I apologise for having missed it. Here's your opportunity to be crystal clear. What is the belief I hold, and what is the belief it contradicts?

    Bernard

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  27. Hi Darrell

    Well it may well be that we agree after all. Are you saying the beliefs you have identified me holding are not of the form “I believe A to be true”? If so, then I have no argument with you.

    One of the things I like about agnosticism is that it need not rely upon these types of beliefs specifically, as they by necessity involve contradicting other reasonably held beliefs, and that's all I'm attempting to maintain.

    Bernard

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  28. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    We've been round this before, and I think you know that. See the previous comment threads.

    And I quote myself from my last comment:
    Actually, my disagreement is over whether or not it is possible to use reason to convince a human being who prefers to consider himself an agnostic (because alternatives are distasteful) that he isn't. My answer is: I don't think it is, but I can't prove it. You seem to think it is, but you can't prove that either. Thus, as a means of adjudicating between positions, the challenge is impotent.

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  29. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Yes, I agree that they do not take the strict propositional form you give us here. However, such is irrelevant to this discussion even though it may bring you some sort of personal comfort. At the end of the day, as even Burk noted, you are an empiricist if even by default. Yes, I know, a very qualified empiricist. Duly noted.

    And, as you know, one chooses to be an empiricist. One isn't forced by pure logic or deduction to be one. It is a faith choice to view the world that way. And to view the world that way clearly does lead to a contested view of the world, thus this discussion.

    So tell me again, what was it that you accomplished?

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  30. Hi Darrell

    What it's achieved, if we are indeed agreeing here, is just that, we agree. Isn't that sort of wonderful, given all it's taken to get here?

    My beliefs, as you would call them, do not take a propositional form. There is no 'Bernard believes A…' such that the contradiction of A is taken to be incorrect. And, as this is one of the reasons I like agnosticism, I'm happy to see it stand.

    Bernard

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  31. Hi Ron

    Well, I'm not at all sure we are disagreeing over this point. And if we were, it seems to me we would be arguing over an empirical matter, rather than any baseline belief.

    Is it true that people never change from agnosticism to some other stance as a result of being shown an error of reasoning in their approach? I don't know the answer to this. My guess is that occasionally people do, but it's only a guess, I don't have an example in mind (but one would need only one example to defeat your notion of impossibility).

    If your case is more that very often people's preferences, while putatively based upon reasons, are in fact so emotionally important that reason will never budge them, then you and I would absolutely be in agreement on this. We see this all the time.

    Bernard

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  32. Darrell says:

    Yes Bernard, I'm glad we agree. And, I reiterate everything I said in my last response.

    Your agnosticism is a choice. Burk's atheism is a choice. My belief is a choice.

    There is the common ground. If we will have it. We all, ultimately, live by faith.

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  33. Excellent Darrell, thank you for sticking with this so long.

    Best

    Bernard

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  34. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    Agreement is nice every now and again.

    I suppose it's quite possible for someone to be reasoned out of agnosticism, or any other worldview for that matter. I've run across firsthand accounts of, say, atheists who claimed that they studied the claims of Christianity more closely and became Christians as a result of perceived evidence of the resurrection or something. I'm fascinated by conversion stories in all directions. I often wonder how many times these conversions were due to bad reasoning underlying the original position. For example, I was reasoned out of young earth creationism; but since I held the belief that if young earth creationism weren't true, the Bible could not be trusted and all the rest of Christianity's claims must be bogus, I was effectively being reasoned out of Christianity altogether. I became something of a half-hearted atheist for a very brief time (days, maybe weeks). But while my reasons for abandoning YEC were sound, my conclusion that Christianity was therefore bogus was a complete non sequitur (something even an atheist can agree with).

    It seems to me that through the many, many conversations I've had of this sort over the years, reason alone doesn't always play nearly as prominent a part in our most core assumptions as we might want to think, or as we present to others. I think this is demonstrated in those “Saul of Tarsus” conversions where a strident, vocal critic of a position converts, then becomes every bit as strident and vocal a critic of the position he just left. Same person, same reasoning skills. But suddenly became incredibly smarter overnight? Hmmmmm.

    I don't think there are only the two options: a position founded in reason vs. an emotional one impervious to reason. Sure, there may be people who fall into those ditches. But in my own experience as well as that of many others I've interacted with, the reality is much more complex.

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