Monday, June 13, 2011

Who's an Apologist?

Am I one? My first book, Is God a Delusion?, was called a work of Christian apologetics often enough—but I think the assumption that it was such a work lies behind many of the more uncharitable misreadings of it.

I certainly don’t think of myself as an apologist. Nor do I want that label for myself. Most of my work in Christian philosophical theology has involved adopting a critical stance towards such traditional Christian teachings as the just war tradition, the doctrine of hell, the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration, and the categorical condemnation of homosexual intimacy.

But this critical stance has also been an internal one. That is, I have criticized Christian teachings from within. And when I first started reading the New Atheists, I found myself in the odd position of strongly disagreeing with their overall perspective towards theistic religion while, in fact, agreeing with many if not most of their most explicit criticisms. New Atheists like Richard Dawkins struck me as a bit like a tone-deaf person in the 1940’s who has never experienced the joys of opera but who is well schooled in human health issues—and who proceeds to scathingly denounces opera because the singers are on average too fat.

In my recent interview for the [ad hoc] Christianity podcast, the topic of apologetics came up, and I had the chance to try to formulate my thoughts on the topic. I suggested that apologists such as William Lane Craig operate like defense attorneys in a courtroom. Their goal is not to find the truth, but to vigorously defend their client. While such vigorous defense of a position can have a place in intellectual life—and while people such as Craig have much to say that is worth listening to—I would much rather be an explorer than a defense attorney.

That is, I have always seen myself as on an intellectual journey of discovery. This doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to vigorously defend a position (“This seems like a much more promising path if we want to find the lake, since it tracks the stream’s course, and there’s reason to think the stream is emptying into the lake”; “That strikes me as far too dangerous a road to travel; just look at the recent signs of rockslides, not to mention the bear prints!”). But it does mean that I don’t see myself as primary in the business of “defending the faith.” Living the faith, yes—but living it in the sense of living in it—in a rich landscape full of treasures as well as traps, wonderful vistas as well as bear caves.

This analogy is imperfect, since living the faith is, in another sense, a matter of seeing the same landscape that others live in through a distinctive set of glasses—and since what I want to explore is not merely the landscape, or the landscape as seen through this set of lenses, but the issue of “fit.” How well does this "prescription" help me to navigate on my journey? How well does it help me to see and appreciate the scenic overviews? What do others profess to see that I don’t, and what do I see that they don’t? How might these lenses be refined in the light of these insights? I don’t see how I can pursue these questions if I don’t put on the glasses. Nor, however, do I see how I can pursue these questions if all I care about is defending the glasses against all challenges to their adequacy.

But insofar as I am that kind of explorer, I do feel compelled to defend the validity of the kind of exploration I am doing when it is challenged. Do I then become an apologist?

I have a feeling that the glasses analogy is about to reach the end of its usefulness, so let me leave analogies behind for now and address explicitly what sparked this reflection. In response to my [ad hoc] Christianity interview, a regular commenter on this blog, Burk, posted here the following challenge:

I appreciated your consideration of William Lane Craig, for putting his cart before his horse. But then you also state your aim at the outset of your own polemical exercises, which is to show that religion can be intellectually respectable. Statements to this effect pepper your book and blog.

What if it isn't intellectually respectable? What if you are presuming what you seek to show, for reasons that are palpably emotional and inchoate? Sure, you may wish for intellectual respectibility, but have you gotten there? The whole idea of god is very much in question and remains to be shown in any "intellectual" sense. Thus the various projects of going beyond this towards "him" keeping "his" hand out to all sinners, saving them from "hell" and taking them to "heaven".. it is all risible- very much beneath intellectual respectibility.
Let me try to restate this challenge by first explicating what I take to be two characteristic features of apologists: first, they take the truth of a traditional body of doctrines as a given and then direct their intellectual resources to the task of defending that body of doctrine against challenges; second, their aim is to show not merely that their belief system is reasonable, but that—at least when it comes to its most central pillars—their system offers the most reasonable position, or perhaps the only reasonable one. Those who deny these pillars are therefore defective in their rationality. Put another way, the apologist is engaged in a kind of zero-sum contest of the sort one sees in sporting competitions and courtrooms, and is attempting to come out the winner.

Let me say a few things about these two features. The first seems to me a necessary condition for being an apologist: You have to be playing the intellectual game of defending your belief system against challenges—as opposed, for example, to critically examining those challenges to decide whether they have merit, and if so what changes in one’s belief system are called for. This feature may also, I think, be a sufficient condition for being an apologist—that is, even if the second feature doesn’t obtain, you might still be classified as an apologist. That said, the second feature is certainly very typical of apologists even if not strictly necessary. My own inclination is to treat it as characteristic but not necessary, and thus to distinguish between two kinds of apologists: the more common “adversarial apologist,” and what we might call the “friendly apologist.”

But even if we regard the second feature as necessary, it is clearly not sufficient. Every one of us views some positions we hold as not only reasonable, but as more reasonable than the alternatives. For example, I think the earth is roughly spherical, and I think any Flat-Earthers out there are being unreasonable in denying this. Am I therefore an apologist for the ball-shaped character of our planet? Not necessarily. First off, I might not feel inclined to defend my view about the earth's shape against Flat Earth challenges.

But even if I did defend my position, I wouldn't necessarily be an apologist for it. After all, I might consider the weight of the Flat Earth objections, decide after a fair and balanced reflection on them that that they are uncompelling, and then explain why. While I end up defending Round-Earthism, I'm not operating as a defense attorney for it, since I first considered the arguments against it fairly before deciding that they didn't work--and might have decided the other way.

But what if I roll my eyes dismissively, never taking the Flat-Earther argument seriously as I demolish it. Am I an apologist then? Not necessarily. Suppose (as I think is true) my commitment to the roundness of the Earth—and my belief about the selective irrationality of Flat-Earthers—is based on exposure to an enormous body of intellectually compelling evidence. There was a time, perhaps, when the Flat-Earth position was credible in the light of the available evidence. But as our body of evidence grew there were debates and discussions about the significance of that evidence. The Round-Earth theory grew in strength and plausibility, and the objections to it from the Flat-Earth camp proved themselves to be based on unsound thinking or incomplete knowledge.

And today, if the objections coming from the Flat-Earth camp are the same old ones that have already been thoroughly discredited, I'm not being an apologist even if I start out the debate convinced that the objection to my view is empty. My attitude is not “This objection *must* be vapid, since it conflicts with my belief; the task at hand is to figure out how and why it is vapid.” My attitude is, instead, “This objection has been shown to be vapid eight hundred times already, and there’s no reason to think it will suddenly become a credible objection this time, given that the Flat-Earthers putting it forward are offering nothing new.”

The former attitude is what is most definitive of the apologist: conviction that an objection to the apologist’s view that hasn’t yet been rationally refuted has simply got to be misguided precisely because it calls into question the apologist’s view. The apologist starts from this conviction and proceeds to look for the refutation that must be there.

I’m speaking of attitudes here because I want to stress that what is important for defining someone as an apologist is the subjective approach of the individual. If Joe sincerely believes, based on his exposure to the evidence and the history of dispute about the evidence, that a certain objection to his Flat-Earth position has been decisively refuted and for this reason dismisses it, he may be a dummy or an ignoramus or a dupe, but he isn’t an apologist for the Flat-Earth position. That label is reserved for those who assume the objection must be misguided simply because it challenges Flat-Earth-ism—and then set out to make that case (rather than being convinced, however mistakenly, that the case has been effectively made).

There are, however, some fine lines here. Suppose I am presented with novel evidence against the Round-Earth view, evidence that is legitimately hard to fit with the thesis that the earth is ball-shaped (no idea what such evidence would look like, but let’s pretend). I might approach this objection with extreme skepticism, pretty sure there must be something seriously wrong with it—because the case for the Round-Earth view is so overwhelmingly strong that rejecting that view on the basis of this new bit of evidence would require me to throw out a view with massive explanatory power. Thus supported by the strength of the Round-Earth view, I look for the problem with the objection to it, sure it must be there.

Am I an apologist?

My inclination here is to say that since “apologist” is a term of art it doesn’t much matter what answer one gives, so long as one makes the right sorts of distinctions. We could say that, in this case, I am being an apologist—but a very different sort of apologist than the ones who are convinced the objection to their view must be wrong out of pride or group loyalty or wishful thinking or something else along these lines. We might distinguish, then, between apologists who base their apologetic stance on the (perceived) weight of the evidence (call them “evidentially motivated apologists”), and those who base their stance on emotions or desires or other more affective motives (call them “affectively motivated apologists”). Or we might decide that the former isn’t an apologist at all, and reserve that term exclusively for the latter.

Either way, not all people of faith who have come to the intellectual defense of religion should be characterized as apologists. For example, I am a Christian theist who has defended the intellectual respectability of theistic religion—but with respect to the first and most significant feature of apologists, I don’t see myself as a good fit, since I am more than prepared to question very traditional Christian doctrines when my experience or exposure to critical challenges strikes me as warranting it.

This is not to say that I find every objection to Christian teachings to be credible. And some strike me as the same old unsound objections that have been decisively discredited before. But even then I try to take the time to explain why I think the objection doesn’t work…in part because my conversation partner may not have heard the reasons before even if they’re old hat to me, and in part because I want to make sure the reasons for setting aside the objection really are as convincing as I think.

With respect to the second characteristic feature of apologists, while I want to argue that theistic religion can be “reasonable” or intellectually respectable (although it needn’t be), I do not strive to show that intellectual respectability is limited to the theistic position. I know thoughtful, decent people from a range of religious standpoints: atheist, agnostic, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, etc. That theism can be intellectually respectable does not, on my view, entail that atheism cannot be. This is not a zero-sum contest where the reasonableness of my position depends on the unreasonableness of its alternatives. If I’m an apologist at all, then, I’d be a “friendly” apologist. (Not that I think of myself as an apologist at all, since I’d rather be an explorer than a defense attorney).

But here is where Burk’s challenge comes in. Burk argues, in effect, that I am presuming that religion can be intellectually respectable and then directing all my intellectual energies to the task of defending this position. But all the while I am unwittingly demonstrating the intellectual risibility of religion by making pronouncements for which there is no evidence (about such things as the universal benevolence of God)—a paradigmatically irrational thing to do that is utterly characteristic of religion in all its forms, even the one that I am trying to defend. In this sense, then, I am revealing myself as an apologist—so fixated on defending a position rather than investigating its merits that I fail to see what is plain to anyone looking at the position objectively.

If this is right, I embody the first and most central feature of an apologist—not with respect to traditional Christian doctrine, but with respect to the idea that theistic religion in a broad sense can be intellectually respectable. And when this idea is at issue, I might not even qualify as a friendly apologist. Burk doesn’t address this, but there’s certainly a case for saying that I embody the second characteristic feature of apologists when it comes to the question of whether religion can be intellectually respectable. After all, I think that those who challenge the intellectual respectability of religion in all its forms are not only mistaken but are making indefensibly sweeping generalizations. I have accused them of attacking religion from the outside, and hence from a stance defined by their own starting points which are not themselves being criticized but which are employed as the basis for condemning religion. I have said that this is the wrong way to make intellectual progress. In short, I am accusing those who regard all religion as irrational of being irrational.

In short, it might be argued that I am an adversarial apologist after all—not for the truth of traditional Christian doctrine, but for the view that religion in general, and theistic religion in particular (including Christianity) can be intellectually respectable (even if it isn’t always so).

In fact, I don’t think the argument for this conclusion works--primarily because I don't think Burk's case for attributing to me the central feature of an apologist works. But since this post has gotten plenty long already, I won’t tell you why (at least not here). Instead, I’ll ask you what you think (about these classifications, about where various people fall within them, and—if you like—about what you suspect I’d say in response to the argument pinning me as an adversarial apologist).


  1. Hi Eric

    It seems impossible to not to mebrace at least some aspects og apologist behaviour in developing a view. It's not possible to have every assumption open for negotiation all the time. At some point we have to behave as if certain starting points are justifiable, in order to construct , critique and develop an argument.

    It is an interesting question whether, in order to live, we have to go further and actually close off some of our assumptions to scrutiny, simply because there is clearly more to life than sitting around asking how to live, and at some point we do have to commit to a particular intellectual support structure and get on with it.

    And from this follows a further question. When, for pragmatic purposes, we make our leap, are we justified in arguing that those who have made a different leap are themselves being unreasonable? I tend to answer no to this final question, and I'm uncertain whether either an atheist or theist can consistently provide the same answer. The satement 'I believe this is true, but it is reasonable to believe it isn't' seems to me to disciount what we mean by true at this point.


  2. Eric-

    This is a fine discussion. I didn't bring up the issue of being an apologist, though I suppose you are right in some ways. I was just trying to open a central premise for examination. As mentioned in prior comments, intellectual respectability ends pretty much at hypothesizing deism as a cosmic origin. Beyond that, all the psycho-narratives of theism have zero intellectual content, at least as far as being supported in any evidentiary, rational way. You certainly do not go as far down that road as many others, with Levitical injunctions, divinity of Jesus, virginity of Mary, divinity of Mary, of saints, of relics, angels, raptures, etc. and so forth.

    Yet the distance you do go covers extremely significant scientific hypotheses: god implants souls, apparently after humans have sex, souls are the seat of consciousness, souls are eternal, and get sent to hell or heaven, god is good, but permits evil, god creates objective morality but doesn't take terribly active measures to encode it/enforce it, etc... All are, from any standpoint of knowledge and reason, intellectually empty. They are far from respectable philosophy, despite their long and fervent pedigree.

    The typical justifications for these positions are likewise far from respectable, with such formulations as hope justifying whatever story we might make up or get handed down from our traditions. Or the idea that mystical feelings do anything but lead us philosophically astray (on the philosophy of truth/correspondence, not of that of moral sentiments). Or the idea that, as one can not disprove the supernatural, (it not being provable, or indeed demonstrable), it is intellectually respectable to keep believing in it. Or the idea that our pragmatically lived life can validate what are clearly scientific hypotheses about reality, especially biology and cosmology.

    While often caveating these and other beliefs, and expending some eloquence on counter-arguments, there is clearly an unshakeable commitment in your writings to the basic bedrock of universalism and of liberal Christianity- a piety, indeed- even though critical philosophy and/or science has dismissed each of its tenets as either unfounded or false. Just because the narrative is positive in tone and not entirely dismissive of reality (compared with fundamentalist narratives which are certainly worse) doesn't make it intellectually proper. We know at this point that our being and origin as humans and as life forms doesn't involve anything outside naturalism- not anything known to our intellects at any rate, which is where intellectual respectability arises from. We have to go much, much farther back to come up against true mysteries, if it is mysteries we wish to hang our hats on.

    To Bernard, I think there are leaps and there are leaps. We all spend at least a little time ruminating on the quality of our base assumptions. It just seems that in this case, the deficiencies are so glaring, and the status of philosophy so important and presumptively prestigious, that one can't get away with the excuse that ... well, I had to make some kind of leap to get on with my life, so I went with the one closest at hand, or the one that felt right, etc. Higher standards are called for.

  3. Hi Eric,

    You make “apologist” sound like a dirty word! Personally, I don't mind an honest apologist explaining with passion how interesting and sublime is, say, some kind of music I didn't know about. The problems arise when this is done while at the same time disparaging an alternative viewpoint or by misrepresenting the facts and playing loose with logic.

    But isn't the whole theistic program an apologist for a specific world view? Isn't it more like a Quest to get at a specific goal than a research project? Of course there are variations but the target seems pretty well defined in advance, at least in its broad lines.

    One example is the response to the problem of evil. Even assuming some creator god, there are many possibilities: 1) god is good in some objective sense but our intuitive sense of good is faulty and what we see as evil is in fact desirable; 2) god is neither good nor evil, these concepts having no meaning for him; 4) we are so insignificant that an infinite being could not care about us, the same way we don't mind hurting all these water molecules when we swim; 4) and so on...

    So, here we have one piece of evidence relevant to theism and, by and large, theists are busy trying to explain it away. I know volumes have been written about this and long arguments claim to prove that a good God is not incompatible with evil. But it does not seem to achieve anything more than keeping the option alive: none of the above, I think, is logically impossible. So, how do we choose?

    I raise this question because I am genuinely puzzled by how theists acknowledge this evidence. It seems to me the first order of business should be to go through the list of possibilities and figure out which are more credible (or reasonable). What theism appears to do, instead, is to pick what is at first sight the most unlikely option and try to salvage it by intricate arguments – which is what apologetics is about, I think.

  4. Hi JP: It seems to me your use of the phrase "explain [the problem of evil] away" is a little loaded. The atheist cites the existence of evil as evidence against the existence of a deity with the customary omni-properties. The existence of evil either is LOGICALLY inconsistent with a God with those properties, or it isn't (often the atheist presents the case as if evil logically contradicts theism). As a matter of logic, if a person (theist or atheist) can pose a logically possible scenario where both God and evil exist, then the logical argument against God from evil fails. Your post seems to me to question the motives of the theist who rebuts the logical argument; I suppose a theist could question the motives of the atheist who didn't bother to think through all the logical possibilities.

    But even if the logical argument fails, perhaps the existence of evil is strong EVIDENCE against the existence of the usual God. If the theist has to resort to a possible "excuse" for God, if the excuse is implausible then maybe the theist is still on shaky ground. The problem with this is that a person's judgment about how plausible a theistic "excuse' is depends on his reasons for believing in God in the first place. If a person is strongly convinced that God exists and that evil exists, then in his judgment there MUST be a reason that evil exists, a reason that is consistent with the omni-properties he believes God has. Your judgment about God differs from his, and so does your judgment about the plausibility of the "excuse". But why should the theist assume YOUR judgment on the matter is better than his? It's perfectly appropriate for a person to stick with what seems true to him (considering all the stuff he knows) when the objection to his belief is pretty weak. That's not intellectual desperation or anything. It seems to me that THIS is what the theist is doing wrt the argument from evil.

  5. Hi Burk

    I do want to agree with your point here, very much. You write that we can't claim intellectual respectability if our stance is to fall back on 'I went with the one closest at hand, or the one that felt right'.

    The reason I struggle to jump on board is that, if I think about my own reasoning, there are times I fall back on exactly this, and I'm not sure what the choice is. So, to use everybody's favourite example, it seems we can construct no rational case, nor collect any pertinent evidence, in favour of the proposition that the rules of the world tomorrow will resemble those of today. And yet, with no evidence or argument available, I fall back on exactly that assumption, as everybody I know does.

    Sometimes I tell myself I don't really believe it, I'm just using it as a make-do I the absence of alternatives, but I fell I'm being dishonest at this point. I really do believe in continuing regularity, to the point that I would intervene to safeguard somebody who didn't.

    So yes, I do want to believe that some leaps are more respectable than others, but I don't know how to fashion this demarcation without appealing to my own intuitions and prejudices. You may be able to help.


  6. Hi Keith,

    Thanks for your comments.

    You are right, of course, in the matter of logic. I'm pretty sure there is no logical contradiction between the existence of evil and, say, the Christian God. As the other options don't lead to contradictions either, this only means that logic has limited usefulness here.

    I made my remarks in the context of Eric's post on apologetics (which the dictionary on my computer defines as reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine) and my point is that the theist reaction to the problem of evil seems to match this definition. The process is more like a quest for a specific result than an exploration of various possibilities.

    To be sure, I don't want to imply that this is less (or more) valuable than another approach. As I mentioned, I don't mind an apologist. In fact, we may learn much from an enthusiastic but honest defence of a viewpoint and it may lead to a deeper understanding of the reasons others adopt it – this is all for the good.

    But, as of the process, I think it is clear that it's the evidence that must be explained while preserving the desired outcome, however difficult and intricate this may be. Or the evidence simply dismissed by saying “God has his reasons” – end of discussion. Now, without judging the value of this approach, isn’t it, in its form, primarily a defence of a doctrine in the face of contrary evidence? That’s all I am saying and I would think this should be uncontroversial.

  7. Hi, Bernard-

    That is an excellent example. We rely on probabilistic induction to get along from day to day. But if we are intellectually sound, we don't "believe" in it, but rather take it for what it is worth- a probabilistic construct.

    An earthquake is deeply shocking to our presumption of earth's stability. If we had "believed" in that stability, then our entire worldview might break down. We may have to move one set of personal gods off the stage, and bring on a new set- gods that are perhaps a little more dynamic. But if we use our intellects instead of our narrative imaginations, we do the geology, track the rate of quakes worldwide, and re-adjust our probabilistic expectations of earth's stability to new, more realistic values.

    Likewise for induction more generally. Most of our logical parameters and basic physics have never changed, so we have no data that indicates any need to give up on the general practice of induction. But if one has a fairly sophisticated appreciation for what our minds do- that they model the world as best they can with the tools and data at hand, then whatever we come up with must remain provisional- an intellectual exercise that goes as far as the data and logic allow, but no farther.

    The key for me is maintaining the connection between intellectual conclusions (so-called "beliefs") and their supporting data. If the data is no more than a fanciful narrative, as is the case for heaven, hell, the "love" of god, and all the other desiderata of theism, then it can be called many things, but not intellectually respectable. The hypothesis of deism remains as the only decent thing to be salvaged from the whole mess- a possible cause, out of many other possibilities, for the prime mystery of existence.

    So I guess my answer would be that where we have no certainty and must nevertheless forge ahead for practical reasons, the respectable position is to know exactly the (Bayesian) probabilistic nature of the choice being made, and not dress it up with "beliefs" and certainties it doesn't deserve.

    And even more importantly, to resist the temptation to forge ahead into blind beliefs and narratives where there wasn't a practical need to do so in the first place. Pascal's wager is the classic example of this, assuming its own momentous importance based on pure fabulism, and posing the most false psychological pressure ever brought to bear on simple-minded souls.

  8. Hi Burk

    Is there still the remaining problem of how to make sense of probability without first assuming induction? It seems that first we must assume future regularity, and this assumption, although unwarranted, is both pragmatically and psychologically compelling. Do we then admit pragmatic and psychological compulsion into the category of reasonable grounds for belief, or do we seek to make a special case for induction?

    Not sure.


  9. Hi, Bernard-

    As noted, I think the word "belief" is rather freighted. It carries the implication that we are throwing ourselves into a commitment more or less unfounded, with some inability to back out.

    As adults of the species, we already have quite a bit of experience under our belts, and the ability to gather much more from helpful colleagues. So the priors we are working from in the case of general induction are substantial- the customary assumption of fundamental future regularity in specific domains (gravity, physical constants, etc.) is made on that basis and extends, logically, with a roughly symmetrical character as far into the future as we have knowledge of regularity from the past. Species will change faster, and wildfires will change faster still. A black hole may pass through our solar system and cause gravitional havok.

    So I am not sure what your question with regard to pragmatic and psychological grounds of belief really amounts to. The above sort of assumptions are totally admissible as a matter of pragmatism as well as the best possible intellectual modelling of reality. The two are really the same thing when done well. It sounds as though you are asking whether it might not be proper for us to entertain some kinds of counter-factual beliefs, perhaps that the ground is always stable for us, no matter what the history of past earthquakes might be.

    Or perhaps you are asking about completely unprecedented situations, where we might believe in, say the end of the world, as per the recent Harold Camping episode. Unprecedented things are likely to happen, since complexity reigns in the world. We can only hope to predict unprecedented things if we have an overarching intellectual model of that complexity that is also accurate. The collision of comets with the planet Jupiter comes to mind.

    At any rate, I am a little at sea here, so I hope you can clarify if needed.

  10. Hi Burk

    This may seem hopelessly abstract, but the problem, as best I understand it, goes like this:

    In order to build models of our world, we examine the evidence and look for those models that provide the best fit. Reasoning probablistically, we assume those models which best match our current evidence are also our best bet when making predictions for the future. We apply this principle from the mundane (the sun will still rise in the east tomorrow) to the surprising (relativity and all its stimulating implications).

    The wrinkle is just that evidence from the past has nothing to say about the state of the future unless we assume the regularity we observe in the world will extend into the future. Without this assumption, probability doesn't even seem to make much sense. And a world where everything is about to change tomorrow, making our models hopeless, would present the same evidence to date as one where regularity will continue.

    In seems the height of common sense to assume regularity will continue. It is psychologically compelling (surely because of the fact that evolution itself is a responsive force) and pragmatically compelling too. Without assuming regularity, we are left with infinite choices and no sense of how to choose between them.

    But, this seems to admit psychological and pragmatic compulsion into the field of reasonable motivations. Some religious folk may argue that exactly these two drivers are what lead them to their religious conviction.

    The question becomes, how to ring fence induction, so as to claim the high ground of reason without permitting any belief that feels right? Much as I want to dismiss this as an inconsequential trick, I'm not sure how one would counter it.


  11. Eric,

    The analogy between new atheism and the tone-deaf person is excellent and very funny too.

    But I must say I find the analogy between Craig’s work and a defense attorney’s to be quite unfair. The defense attorney must defend her client to the best of the ability even if she believes that her client is guilty. That is clearly not the case with Craig. As it happens I recently met him and had the opportunity to speak privately with him. (I discussed what I believe is the worse error in Christian dogma, namely the denial of universal salvation.) I would like to say that in my mind Craig is a very good and very honest person who deeply, deeply, believes in the truth of what he is saying.

    The problem I have is not so much with Craig’s beliefs but with Craig’s epistemology. He holds that the main, or perhaps more reliable, source of truth is the Bible. Or, in other words, that God has chosen scripture as the main vehicle for transmitting religious knowledge. Many Christians, perhaps most, similarly hold that something tangible (be it the Church or tradition or monastic orders) are the most reliable vehicle. Thus I would say Craig epitomizes the conservative epistemological position. The liberal/progressive position on the other hand is based on the idea that the main source of truth is the image of God in which we are made and the quiet presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Why it is that conservative Christians rely more on the other sources is for me kind of a mystery. I judge the idea of Bible-centric Christianity to be a contradiction in terms, the view that the Bible is the Word of God strikes me as idololatrous (for Christ is the Word of God), and I think that the problem with conservative Christians is a lack of faith. But especially after meeting Craig I realize that my interpretation of conservative Christianity is grossly uncharitable. Craig is no fool, and he certainly realizes that by binding himself to dogma he must argue with one arm tied behind his back. Why does he do that? What is the power in conservative Christianity? After all Christ in the gospels was the antithesis of a conservative; He explicitly and repeatedly and gravely contradicted and even disparaged scripture. His saying that He came to fulfill scripture (if He really said that) is another way to saying that scripture itself is incomplete, and even though He asks us to do many things not once did He ask us to study the Bible or to learn from it. Nor did He find it relevant to put something down in writing Himself. Not to mention He was hunted down by the learned conservative scripture-bound religious authorities of His time. The idea that His persecution was all about politics does not hold water, because conservative Jews even today argue that Christ’s theological talk is an abomination. So I fail to understand the conservative Christian mind. Perhaps, Eric, you could use your powers of analysis and some time in the future explain what you think.

  12. Hi, Bernard-

    There is something important about common sense! In this case, it points us in the right direction in assuming that the future will resemble the past in the many respects that physics shows are time-invariant. Entropy is another matter.

    I think it is simple logic to say that, after having been on the earth for 40+ years, and knowing about the principles of evolution and physics that tell us that regularity has been observed for millennia and billennia prior to that, that most things will run on as they have before. That is simple empiricism.

    Hume was certainly correct in a purely stringent, logical sense that induction doesn't give us any guarantees. But it does give us huge predictive power, based on the odds. That is quite enough for all practical purposes, and many theoretical ones as well.

    Is this a psychological compulsion? Only in the sense that we desire to keep on living, and thus need to plan ahead for our needs, and thus need to model the world into the future. I wouldn't put the compulsion to come up with hopeful imaginary narratives in the same category.

    Is this a pragmatic compulsion? I guess so. Induction is a logical operation just like saying 2+2=4. We have no intrinsic need for arithmetic, either, but use it for all sorts of pragmatic and recreational purposes. It is a tool, as is induction. The problem is that the imaginary narrative is also a tool, but for quite different purposes than telling us how the world actually, really and accurately works. It tells us about our social setting, values, inner conflicts.. all sorts of interesting things, but not accurate models of non-psychological reality.

  13. Hi Bernard,

    I have been thinking about this induction business and, for what it's worth, here's a few thoughts.

    First, the value induction is, in a sense, irrelevant to a given scientific model. It may be used to figure out what the model should be, it makes an obvious difference in its usefulness, but it's not part of the theory itself.

    Now, there is the question of what is reasonable and what isn't. But here, I think we must be careful not to fall into the absolutist trap by using “reasonable” without saying what it means, assuming the term makes sense without a context. It's one of these terms that we use without problem in our daily life but that is very difficult to define with precision when it is needed.

    Perhaps the way to look at this is first to determine what we desire, or ask of a given model and then go on comparing our options.

    If we want a model that makes accurate predictions, then we can test different models and see how they fare – this does not require induction (no more than testing your students guarantees that they would test the same in the future). With respect with this goal (predictions), religious “models” are useless. If we want a model that provides detailed explanations of a phenomenon (e.g. consciousness), then the theist model (“God made it so”) also fails. If, however, we want a model that makes us feel comfortable about the universe, putting a human face on its mysteries, then religion will fare better.

    As to being “reasonable”, I am not sure how to go about this. Suppose someone does not care about accurate predictions, has no interest in detailed explanations and willingly ignores contradictions with established science. Is this then “reasonable” for such a person to believe fairies inhabit his garden? I'm not sure why not.

  14. Let me caveat what I said above, after listening to a fascinating podcast on imagination, at philosophy bites.

    Imaginary narratives are a powerful tool for training the mind in counterfactuals. In this podcast, children are deemed the "research and development wing" of humanity, while adults are deemed the advertising and production department. Developing counterfactual ideas (i.e. imagination) allows us to create realities that have never before been seen, tease out consequences from rare or future events, and infer hidden causes for known phenomena. Imagination per se is highly important to humanity.

    But ... and this is a big but ... there is a time when the rubber hits the road, and we ask for "truth". If the truth-maker (i.e. the test) is reality, then evidence and logic need to make the proposed model cohere. Supernaturalism is, to date, a blatant denial of that standard of reasoning.

  15. Hi Burk: You said one thing I'd like to ask you to justify. You said that induction gives us huge predictive power based on the odds. I would ask you to demonstrate that an inductive derived prediction will PROBABLY turn out to be true. In fact, I'd ask you to demonstrate that it is even 1% likely to turn out to be true. And since you would be trying to SHOW induction to be accurate, it would seem to me you couldn't ASSUME induction as part of your demonstration.

  16. Hi, Keith-

    Induction is a tool, so I will use induction, not assume induction. After living for a few years, I see that the sun rises every day. By inductive logic, I predict the sun will rise tomorrow. And then it does.

    I see on the wiki site that induction is now more refined than just generalization from examples, though they have a hard time clarifying that distinction, only providing some examples of induction from very small samples, which are then incorrect. -- I have seen only white swans, thus all swans are white.-- Even if all swans are not white, the proper induced conclusion, that most if not all swans are white, and that I am unlikely to run across a non-white swan, is quite correct and another example of correct prediction by induction.

    Perhaps you could explain how this assumes something that shouldn't be assumed. I guess in the case of the sun coming up, I am observating a series of events and developing an abstract mental model of their cyclicity (though long before, evolution developed embodied molecular and behavioral models of the circadian rhythm, in sleep and other cycles to match the experienced cycle.) Then I cast this model forward in time, which assumes that time itself will keep going, along with all the other phenomena of reality, as they all have in the past. Is that somehow invalid?

  17. Hi Burk and JP

    Maybe I'm misusing the term induction, what I have in mind is Hume's challenge to causality. An example:

    I have an inbuilt, and quite sensible, fear of heights. If I am near the edge of a large drop I step back. This evolution-grounded instinct is supplemented by both experience, I've seen things fall, and some notion of more formal models regarding gravity, mass, air resistance etc. I use this understanding to make predictions, which appear to be extremely accurate, and base my decisions about them. I regard this not just as private, relevant-to-me knowledge; if a child gets too near the edge, I'll pull them back too.

    But, all of this assumes regularity in the world moving into the future. It may be that tomorrow all the rules of physics will collapse in such a way that stepping back from the edge will be the far more dangerous option. I don't believe that's true, and would regard somebody who did to be intellectually suspect, but the question arises, on what is my certainty based?

    I can not answer evidence, because a world where the rules change tomorrow would yield exactly the same experience/evidence up until this point. I can not answer reason, because any such reasoning is itself built upon the assumption that our current models will hold into the future. I can answer psychological and pragmatic compulsion, but in doing so I seem to be yielding a certain amount of ground to those who would adapt any belief at all, based upon the same two criteria.

    So, in order to call evidence-based reasoning more reasonable, I need to somehow make a special case of this regularity assumption. Perhaps I do this by including inductive principles in my definition of what it is to be reasonable, (I think that's what Bertrand Russell suggests) but that has a whiff of sleight of hand about it. Another alternative is to retreat further into agnosticism and say I don't really believe regularity holds into the future, and we just have to wait and see, but that too has its drawbacks.


  18. Hi, Bernard-

    If we use our imagination tools for a moment, we can suppose that each day over the last month, we made the same proposal.. that regularity might cease the next day. By now the track record indicates this is a losing bet, thus we are best off assuming the best for tomorrow as well.

    This just resolves to another instance of accumulating empirical data/experience and applying it forward. I understand that there is something particularly odd about time, unlike, say, the regularity we assume that physics in New Zealand works like it does elsewhere (translation in space). Time is a dimension where we are not free to translate around- we can't peek ahead, and we can only go back in abstract memory.

    Incidentally, we can also approach time invariance through Noether's theorem, which makes conservation of mass/energy another side of the same coin of time invariance.

    This is where probabilistic thinking is most powerful, giving us some capacity to look ahead. So I have to say that the problem of induction still eludes me. It can definitely lead us astray- suppose I grew up near a pond of black swans? So as Hume says, there are no guarantees, and induction does not lead to "truth". But that is OK. Probability is a very strong method of improving our ability to deal with reality, even in the absence of certainty.

    Over at the Stanford encyclopedia, the problem is encapsulated... "That the principle of uniformity of nature cannot be proved deductively or inductively shows that it is not the principle that drives our causal reasoning only if our causal reasoning is sound and leads to true conclusions as a “natural effect” of belief in true premises. This is what licenses the capsule description of the argument as showing that induction cannot be justified or licensed either deductively or inductively; not deductively because (non-trivial) inductions do not express logically necessary connections, not inductively because that would be circular."

    Again, I'll accept that proof is not possible, (and nor can induction justify itself logically), but neither are really needed. Better to work from some data, (induction from experience, per Bayes methods or pragmatism, also noted on the Stanford site), than from none, (intuition and supernaturalism).

    Eric would surely reply that intuition is data too, and philosophy would have little to do were it not for intuition. Indeed, but again, it all depends on the data at hand, the truth-makers one is relying on and the place one is trying to get to.

    One could even make an evolutionary argument on behalf of intuition- why would we have these strong feelings and superstitions if they weren't useful in dealing with reality? The evolutionary answer is that we are over-tuned to intuit hidden causes / agents and unseen dangers because it costs less to avoid danger and theorize superfluous deities than it does to under-theorize and be eaten. Chickens have been documented to be superstitious as well.

  19. Hi Burk: I claim that you ARE assuming induction when you talk about how the fact that the sun has risen every day for the last zillion days, then betting AGAINST it rising tomorrow is a bad bet. You are assuming that what induction delivers is probably accurate. the specific kind of induction I am talking about can be described the way Dr. Phil describes it: "the best guide to future behavior is past behavior". When he says that, he is ASSERTING the accuracy of induction. If a skeptic demanded that Dr. Phil provide evidence to support his claim, the only evidence he could provide would be TIMES IN THE PAST when induction-derived predictions of an event were followed by the event. The skeptic says "so what, that was the past, I'm talking about the future!". To use past events to predict the future IS induction, it can't be used to SHOW inductively derived predictions are probably going to come true.

  20. Hi, Keith-

    But I had just laid out that the future is just another instance of a long series that we had retrospectively encountered, sort of like groundhog day. Pattern recognition is valid in all sorts of places, like filling in the series "A, B, C, D, ? "- not just in cases of time and future prediction.

    That is to say, it is valid as a probabilistically powerful technique, not as proof of anything. So I fail to grasp your distinction between showing something probabilistically via induction, and showing something is probable, or showing that induction is useful.

    Induction describes this method of pattern recognition, or of accounting for prior knowledge in judging posterior probabilities in more esoteric Bayesian terms. Just as one can make incorrect deductions, one can do induction wrongly. I am not trying to show that induction is necessarily one thing or the other, or always true, etc. How about we don't call it induction, but call it pattern recognition.. would that help?

    The only way to SHOW that inductively derived predictions are right or not is to wait for the event to happen, which is a style of truth-testing that has a great deal to recommend it!

    Anyhow, isn't Dr. Phil out of his element here? Isn't he a pop psychologist?

  21. Hi Burk

    I entirely agree with you that recognising patterns and applying these to the future in order to estimate the probability of outcomes is the way to go when it comes to choosing how best to model/understand out world.

    However, I also agree with the point Keith is making here. Our ability to attribute probabilities to currently unknown data (be it in the future, or just an undiscovered part of the pattern) relies entirely upon the assumption that some sort of regularity holds. Long run averages, for instance, are only useful guides to the future if underlying conditions remain stable. The challenge to induction seems to ask, on what grounds do we assume such stability? (Acknowledging that the answer 'because we have observed stability so far' is circular).

    The best answer, I suspect, is the one you suggest, because it is our nature to do so. In the past stability appears to have held, and this is precisely the condition required for evolution to do its design work and produce pattern sensitive creatures such as ourselves.

    This however requires a different tack to be taken in dismissing religious belief as unreasonable. At this point I get a little lazy I suppose, and say, well I can't work out how to dismiss it as unreasonable per se, so I just won't.

    This still leaves plenty of room for challenging theists to demonstrate consistency in their thinking, for example with regard to when they do and don't embrace the findings of science. So, when it comes to the usual suspects; free will, consciousness, objective morality, I still feel that unreasonable tricks are often being pulled to elevate intuitions to a more lofty position than merely personal narratives.


  22. Hi, Bernard, Keith-

    Thanks for explaining this issue- I think I get it at last.

    But still, what is the problem with an assumption that is not really an assumption, but rather the fruit of prior observation? There is a hidden property being inferred here from the past series of data, which is that a particular aspect of the world is stable. This is like inferring gods as being behind irregular events, prehaps like thunder..

    But this comparison should point out their enormous differences. In the sun case, the hidden property is not further characterized, (it is, indeed implicit, until gravitation and other such things are elaborated explicitly), but restricted simply to its stability.. that whatever is responsible for X seems stable, and is likely to continue being so, based on the data of experience.

    On the other hand, theism typically infers a hidden property behind, say, thunder, and continues on a long fantasy ride of personality, human-projected intentions, relatives responsible for other phenomena, homes built in the clouds, etc and so on. The narrative is all very entertaining, but far, far beyond the needs of the case, which were just to infer a hidden process that relates clouds, rain, lightning, and thunder.

    So the problem is not using probability, or even inferring hidden variables. It is inferring far beyond what is necessary or warranted, which is why I question the reasonableness of going beyond hypothetical deism.

  23. Hi Bernard,

    The problem you describe, I think, is how can we take the liberty to assume (for example) nature’s stability without at the same time having to say that anything goes – without opening Pandora’s old box and letting all the crazies out.

    My sense is that this conundrum arises from a false equivalence. Consider the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow (A) and, say, the belief that fairies manage your backyard (B). While it is true that both beliefs have uncertain origins (be it intuition or whatever), they are still not the same at all. Independently of their origins, beliefs have different characteristics and can be judged accordingly. Not that there is an objective way to do so – the situation is similar to the question of objective moral values – but we can try to point out our personal requirements and see which beliefs satisfy them.

    The belief that the sun will rise tomorrow satisfies a number of requirements that B doesn’t. We have historical evidence that it was true in the past, it can be tested simply by waiting a few hours, it is predicted by a model of reality that offers myriads of testable predictions. And so on… Not that any of these prove A. They are simply attributes of the belief.

    Now, as for B. These fairies cannot be seen (this is because they are shy and hide in the presence of human, them being small and very fast), there is no evidence they exist, historical or other (but they make perfect sense to fairy-ists, who have a very strong intuition that they exist and, moreover, how do you explain that these yellow dandelions can turn overnight into these mysterious puffy white balls?) but they perhaps make the backyard a much more meaningful place, at least to fairy-ists.

    Maybe the best we can do is to point out these different attributes (testability, evidence, explanatory power, meaningfulness). Then, it may be up to each of us to decide whether they are important or not. I don’t see how we can all agree on what is and isn’t. But we can probably agree on what characterize different beliefs.

    The problem you point out remains only when we have two beliefs with roughly the same attributes, only one of which we want to adopt. Unless we throw consistency out the window, of course.

  24. We all hold some beliefs just because they strike us as true. These are called “basic” beliefs. Examples are the principle of induction, the veridicality of the senses and of memory (I perceive X therefore X exists, or I remember Y therefore Y was the case), the existence of the external world, the existence of time, the belief that time flows forwards, A=A, abductive logic, that to help a child is better than to torture it, and so on. Of course, sometimes intuitive knowledge is proven wrong. So the reasonable thing to do is to believe in whatever strikes one as obviously true unless one finds good reason *against* it, i.e. one finds a “defeater”. Indeed the safe thing is to actively look for defeaters for all of one’s beliefs, whether basic or not.

    I claim that the above describes well the epistemology which rational people use every day in their lives. I think the reason that so many people find it problematic in some way and try to do better, is that in the back of their heads they hold on to one of the worse philosophical ideas ever put forward, namely “evidentialism”. This is the idea that one can only rationally hold a belief if one has evidence for it. But it is obvious that evidentialism cannot be true because the regression of evidence must start somewhere without evidence. In fact, in relation to our most important beliefs rationality works the other way around: We don’t look for evidence for these beliefs (for there is none), but for evidence *against* them. We don’t look for reason for believing them (for there is none), but for reason for *not* believing them.

    I suppose a naturalist has another reason for feeling troubled by the fact that we hold so many beliefs in the basic way, i.e. without evidence. It’s not so much that it opens space for theists to claim that belief in God is basic too (a view I happen to disagree with), but that the naturalist has really no reason to believe that her intuitions are trustworthy. On naturalism it is possible, indeed probable, that the blind evolutionary processes which produced our brain would produce unreliable cognitive faculties in us, i.e. hardwire in our brain false intuitive beliefs which for some reason or other were adaptive. Indeed many naturalists suspect that our beliefs in free will and in the nature of ethical knowledge – are examples of such hardwired false intuitive beliefs. So, on naturalism, it may well be the case that our intuition that the principle of induction holds is false too. The theist, on the other hand, has good reason to believe that her cognitive faculties are basically reliable, namely that God has created us in His/Her image and thus has given us truth tracking cognitive faculties, which are certainly sufficiently good to accord with God’s purpose of creation. It seems that in the very important case of epistemology too it turns out that theism works better than naturalism. On the other hand, theism’s ontology implies that the theist has less access to mysterianism than the naturalist, and thus the theist carries a greater burden to explain reality. An agnostic should be more suspicious of a theist claiming that some things are simply incomprehensible than of naturalist claiming the same.

  25. hi JP: If you agree that the accuracy of inductiion cannot be "verified" except by assuming the principle of induxction is accurate & if you accept that induction is accurate, then you are accepting that SOMETIMES a belief can be properly accepted even thought it cannot be verified. The verification you have for the idea that the sun will rise tomorrow IS DEPENDENT on the induction that you seemed to me to be agreeing cannot be verified to be true (except by ASSUMING it to be accurate enough to use, which is not allowed logically).

    Does this mean "anything goes". Not exactly. But it seems to me that Dianelos has it right: for any individual, he ought to go with whatever seems obviously true to him, unless he finds a reason to think otherwise. This doesn't preclude an insaniac from being totally deluded, but from the POV of the insaniac, why SHOULD he think that the voices in his head aren't real, until he finds a reason to think so? In these kinds of discussions there's an implied assumption that we can look at things from some the outside, as if anyone is an objectve observer. But in the end, everyone of us are looking at the world from our own particular vantage point, and we do the best we can.

  26. Hi JP

    Yes, I agree. When we speak of a belief being reasonable,we do so withi the context of our assumptions, and the best we can do is test the limits and implications of these assumptions. This is very close to a form of pragmatism, I think. So, while we are entirely free to choose any old assumptions we like, there is a certain integrity to be found in owning these. So, for example, I am happy to preface my naturalistic beliefs with 'given the world exhibits regularity, as I believe it does...' Happily, when it comes to our interactions with the physical world, almost everybody seems to share this assumption, for whatever reason, and so for the most part this it can go unstated.


  27. Hi Dianelos

    I agree with broad thrust of your point here.

    Experience suggests that our strongest intuitions can be trumped not just by evidence, but also by lines of reaosning.

    So, for example, I might have a strong intuition that something is true, but upon closer exmaination see this implies something that else I strongly intuit must be false. So, intuition is only a starting point for investigation, as you suggest. In both the cases of objective ethical knowledge, and the existence of free will, I find these intuitions come into direct conflict with other, even more strongly held intuitions.

    Another important clue to the fallibility of our own intuitions is the existence in other people of contrasting intuitions. This presents, at the very least, a case to be cautious about our own convictions. When two intuitions contradict, they can't both be right. Agnosticism stems, to a large part, from this type of caution. I have no strong intuition that there are objective moral values. So, either you or I are being misled by our intuitions here (and we can see quite clearly a correlation between this intuition and cultural influences, which should give us pause). In the absence of evidence, is their something unreasonable about one of us just assuming the other's intuition is misfiring?

    Finally, some of the intuitions you refer to are, I think, supported by evidence. When we believe in other minds, we have a wealth of good data on the correlation between mental states and brain function. Inferring other minds on the evidence of other brains is not an entirely unsupported hunch.


  28. Hi Keith,

    This is not quite what I am trying to say.

    First, as to whether the regularity of nature will continue or not, I don't know. Of course, in my daily life, I assume it will, as we all do. We are no doubt wired to believe this, as a matter of survival – without this belief, for instance, memory would be pointless (the value of memory is of course that the past is a predictor of the future). But do I really believe that the laws of nature will stay the same, no matter what? I certainly expect they will, but I would not raise that to the level of certainty.

    Now, what I say concerning verification does not assume induction. I am saying that different beliefs offer different kinds of verification procedures – not that the verification will succeed. Belief (A) in my comment (that the sun will rise tomorrow) can be tested simply by waiting a few hours. Belief (B) (the existence of unobservable fairies) cannot be tested in this way, because they astutely hide from humans.

    So, there is a difference in the attributes of these beliefs. As a matter of personal choice, one can value testable beliefs (like A) more than untestable ones (like B) – whatever intuition might say. That this difference exists is just a fact. Induction is completely irrelevant to this observation.

  29. Hi Bernard: You seem to be saying that differeing intuitions about some subject is evidence against the accuracy of any person's intuitions related to that subject. But in matters of philosopy (such as the epistemological principle about differing intuitions that you defended) intuitions about basic prmises differ quite notably. So it seems that IF your principle were correct you shouldn't trust the intuition that grounds your belief in it because the principle implies that such intuitions are probably unreliable. Trusting the principle implies not trusting it. It seems to me that any epistemological principle that requires you to refrain from trusting it it a troublesome principle.

  30. Hi Keith

    I'm not arguing that two people having strongly different intuitions on a subject serves as evidence they are both wrong. Rather, I am arguing that it serves as evidence that both intuitions can't both be right.

    At the point where we then choose to believe our intuition is more true than another person's, I like to have some evidence or line of reasoning available to support that. Otherwise I am constructing a narrative that says I have some privileged intuitive access to truth, and that is a narrative I find to be personally most unhelpful.

    Now, I don't think there's anything in the above that's self defeating, because I don't think I've employed any intuitions that are controversial. There's a fallback position available if I have. Can you see one?


  31. Hi Bernard: you and I share the intuition that conflicting intuitions cannot both be correct. I do wonder if there are any people who believe (or think they believe) that contradictory things CAN be correct, maybe that truth is totally person-relative or something. But you and I aren't them, and they scare me:-) so let's not get sidetracked.

    Still I think my point still stands. There are a LOT of people who don't agree with you about the appropriate response to conflicting intuitions. Myabe, anyway. For me, if I have an intuition (like my intuition that conscious awareness is something that cannot be reduce to biology) and somebody has a differing intuition, I recognize that one of us is wrong, and i recignize it could be me, and I'd LIKE someone more to help decide between the two views. but if there ISN'T anything, I don't feel compelled to disbelieve my intuition, not if I still have the intuition when I think about it. Does this commit me to thinking I have a privileged vantage point wrt the question? I dunno, but if it does then lucky me:-) If I were looking at the black swan Burk mentioned awhile ago, and somebody told me that all sawns were white and that THEY had never seen any black swans, I suppose I'd have to say "lucky me" then too. The thing is, it seems to me I have no choice in the matter. if I know people disagree with me do consider the possibility I am wrong (a strong posssibility indeed, even if all of us agree on something even). But in the end I can't worry to much about prvileged points of view. All I have is my own point of view, the same as everyone else. If it is the case that you react to differering intutions by no longer believing your own, then that's what you do (although it seems to me that your intuition that this is the espistemically proper response IS controversial, and consequently self-defeating). On the other hand, maybe I'm misunderstanding your point. It definitely wouldn't be the first time I've missed the point:-)

  32. Hi Keith

    I suppose there's a difference of degree between disbelief and doubt. I think I would say, in the face of strongly conflicting intuitions, that it would give me cause to doubt my own. And from this doubt flow twin urges. One, to actively seek further evidence in support, and two, to see in the meantime if that particular intuition can be removed from my store of what Dianelos refers to as basic beliefs.

    To that end, many of the beliefs Dianelos cites as basic I don't share at all,(is time a real thing or an abstract framework for thought? I don't know) and indeed wonder if there isn't the opportunity to reduce one's assumptions purely to regularity of the physical world (which we all seem to share - at least if anybody doesn't I'd like to meet them and place the odd wager!)

    I don't know I'd claim this project of assumption minimisation is epistemically proper, more just one that suits my temperament.