Monday, 19 September 2016

How Many People Actually Know What They're Talking About?

The Internet is full of brazen keyboard warriors who are only too quick to make bold pronouncement on a whole slew of different topics. Of course, as the Kruger-Dunning has shown, the tendency of stupid people to severely overestimate their own intellectual capabilities essentially means that the stupider someone is, the more confident they are in their abilities. Thinking of the good 'ol 'religion'/theism-atheism debate in general, and the Christianity-atheism debate in particular, you get plenty of self-described 'experts' making all sorts of bare assertions which they have clearly never researched.

"Some readers who agree with my first point about eyewitness miracle claims, with which I think disagreement will be difficult, may well demur from the second point that some of these claims are best explained by supernatural causation. I recognise at the outset that some traditional scholars (and perhaps some reviewers) will dismiss the latter claim even without reading or considering the evidence I offer. I believe that such a dismissal might actually illustrate the point that an inherited approach, originally appealing to the alleged lack of evidence that could support a contrary approach, is often used to dismiss uncritically and without examination any evidence subsequently offered." - Craig Keener, Miracles, Baker Academic, (2011), Introduction
"Nevertheless, some modern approaches appear to continue equating critical thinking with dismissing what is essentially other societies' worldviews. They dismiss these views in favour of many Enlightenment traditions without even evaluating the bases for the different approach. Some critics may thus immediately dismiss out of hand challenges to examine their worldview (hence may dismiss also the secondary argument of this book), but I suspect that many of these critics do so on the basis of historically conditioned a prioris that they have never seriously examined and that some hold inflexibly. If those who move exclusively in circles where purportedly supernatural experiences are unknown or even ridiculed charge with bias those who take such claims seriously, those in whose circles or cultures such occurrences are believed to occur will be no less apt to return the charge. Such an impasse of dogmatic assumptions and mutual disrespect (and sometimes unarticulated division) undercuts any basis for cross-cultural and cross-philosophic dialogue." - Craig Keener, Miracles, Baker Academic, (2011), Chapter Four 
It is the sign of an educated mind to be capable of entertaining a thought without accepting it. In my previous blog post, we looked at explanatory power; how epistemically probable the evidence is under a certain hypothesis. The problem is that the majority of people have no idea what terms such as explanatory power and plausibility really mean. Indeed, for most sceptics, plausibility is used as a synonym for what they find personal credulous/incredulous. Part of this, I think, has to do with a profound and monumental philosophical illiteracy amongst so-called sceptics. Craig Keener has delivered numerous lectures based on the findings of his research that went into his book, Miracles. In these, he highlights the best examples of miracle claims from reliable witnesses, and/or with medical documentation. Some of the examples were those of individuals with broken bones who were instantaneously healed, and had before and after X-Rays. Despite the evidence, some individual in the comments section claimed that it was merely a misdiagnosis, and argued that the x-rays only showed fractures that were 'likely' caused by nerves or blood vessels. The problem with this is that this hypothesis was totally incongruent with what the x-ray evidence actually showed. Indeed, one person had large sections of some of their bones completely missing, and yet later x-rays showed complete regeneration. Some instances, of course, are even harder to dismiss. For instance, people with incurable lifelong ailments suddenly being found miraculously well after prayer. One individual suffered from an eye-condition that made them ultra-sensitive to light to such a degree that it gave them migraines, and they required special glasses. Their condition also made it so that they were not permitted to obtain a driver's license. After prayer, this condition left them instantly, and they were able to get a doctor to certify that they no longer had the condition (they required said certification to be able to get their driver's license).

Of course, even when it comes to matters that are relatively non-controversial, it is not hard to find a multitude of so-called and self-described 'free-thinkers' who will obstinately refuse to accept the most accepted of facts if it contradicts their delusional fantasies. Perhaps the most common myth accepted wholeheartedly, and without the slightest shred of question or critical analysis, is the conspiracy theory that Jesus never existed, and was based on pagan myth. I like to describe it as the Young Earth Creationism of atheism. For this belief is to the discipline of history as Young Earth Creationism is to the discipline of science. For in order to seriously entertain the idea that Jesus never existed and was based on paganism, you have to ignore virtually the entire written record, the rules of historical investigation, and the rules of logic themselves. Indeed, atheists and sceptics seem to be totally intoxicated in a whole array of myths. They falsely believe that there was such a period in history called 'the Dark Ages' and that Christianity caused such a thing, even though Christianity preserved learning throughout the early Medieval period and beyond. They falsely believe that most conflicts are religious ones, even though religion only accounts for 6.98% of all conflicts in human history, and that atheist regimes have been the most bloodthirsty in history. I've seen atheists that try and deny aspects of the standard big bang model, such as the expansion of space, because it implied things that undercut their beliefs (the beginning of the universe).

I'm not ashamed to admit that I once held to some similarly indefensible views. I once thought that evolution was false and that there was a conspiracy within the scientific community to ignore data that contradicted evolution. Of course, I was about 14 years old. Of course, this was mostly cemented by interactions I had with atheists who largely didn't know much if anything at all about evolution and/or those who simply preferred to scoff in lieu of argument. It wasn't until I encountered more reasonable atheists, as well as Christians who understood evolution too, until my questions were answered and I was able to see that evolution was not some anti-religious conspiracy. I should also add that I still held to a rather wooden interpretation of the creation account of Genesis too. I just accepted that evolution was compatible with the creation account because it did not specify whether God 'poofed' things into being out of nothing, or used the matter He had created to make things within the universe. I later changed my interpretation of the creation account of Genesis afterwards, not because I now accepted evolutionary theory, but because I was presented with evidence that suggested that the interpretation I held to was not the 'literal' one, and that correct interpretation was somewhat different. I similarly modified my view of the flood of Noah, again later, and again through the presentation of evidence. I also used to be sceptical of the big bang theory and the scientific estimates of the age of the earth and universe. Now I have no problem with either. However, not only have I not abandoned my religious beliefs, they are stronger than ever. Why? Because I have made a conscious effort to seek out evidence and understand it. This involves self-directed study as well as speaking with others, particularly those who are well-versed in their subject matter.

Regarding my political beliefs, I went from being a left-leaning statist who viewed socialism/communism sympathetically to a libertarian who views anarchism sympathetically (when I say anarchism, I mean voluntarism/anarcho-capitalism, not logically incoherent leftist ideologies who have appropriated the term.) Why? Because I have studied the evidence and sought to understand it. Of course, despite having my mind fairly concretely made up, and despite being almost entirely sure that I am right, I do not just assume that I am right. I am open to the possibility of being wrong. The problem is that, in debates, atheists and sceptics in particular tend to just assume their position and not make coherent arguments. It's not just atheists and sceptics, though. When it comes to theological debates, Christians and plenty guilty of this too. I think Calvinists have been among the most obstinate of people I have tried to have discussions with. It depends on the person. Most people just seem to be singularly incapable of civil discussion and rational debate. Most people also largely seem to have no idea what they are talking about, since they just assume their own position without considering alternative positions. For instance, I have seen avowed Calvinists arguing against Middle Knowledge for no other reason than because it part of Molinist theology, even though middle knowledge is potentially compatible with Calvinism. Indeed, there are even Calvinists who deny human freedom entirely.

Of course, ridiculous arguments aren't limited to the regular joes you find in the wild whilst browsing the Internet. Unfortunately, too often you will find academics who should really know better engaging in similar nincompoopery. I've even seen individuals willfully misrepresent facts from their own discipline. Perhaps the most common one is when you hear scientists claim that science has shown that something can come from 'nothing'. Except when they say 'nothing', they really mean, 'the quantum vacuum'. Which is not nothing, but a fluctuating sea of energy that pervades all of space. Another hilarious example was when Lawrence Krauss actually tried to argue in a debate against William Lane Craig that 2+2 can equal 5 if we used 'very large quantities of two'. The problem is that when you say 'very large quantity of two', you're not referring to just two anymore. You're changing the amounts in the sum but trying to use the labels for the previous quantities fallacious. Two and a half does not magically become two just because we refer to it by the label 'two'. Of course, as bad as being hideously misinformed is, it's even worse when the misinformed refuse correction, and refuse to even check out sources you recommend. For instance, some fellow kept demanding I summarise a 44 minute YouTube video on the subject of philosophy on Twitter, a platform with a 140 character limit. I recently watched a YouTube video by William Lane Craig dissecting a hilarious conversation between Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne where they criticise a slew of groups whilst managing to commit every single fault they find in others themselves. For instance, complaining about religion on the grounds that 'only science can tell us anything about reality' whilst simultaneously making non-scientific claims about reality, such as moral claims, metaphysical claims about the nature of reality, and epistemological claims about reality, etc.

Harris and Coyne betrayed fundamental ignorance about almost every subject they discussed, as Craig noted, yet frequently made references to their view as the 'right' or 'correct' view that 'smart people' should believe. Well, unfortunately, their views are hopelessly mistaken, and rest on total, fundamental ignorance. They repeatedly promulgated logically inconsistent and incoherent statements that unwittingly undermined prior statements and the entirety of their worldview. For instance, denying the freedom of the will, a belief that cannot be rationally inferred since it undercuts the rationality of belief in determinism. If a belief is determined and not dependent upon our reasoning, then it follows logically and inescapably that said belief cannot be affirmed rationally. However, this would therefore apply to belief in determinism. Much like, in the same way, belief in naturalism undercuts the rationality of belief in naturalism, since it entails that beliefs aren't the result of mental deliberation (since naturalism denies that mental deliberation is even real). Moreover, their belief in determinism and naturalism undermines their belief in moral realism. Yet they act as if they are rational whilst relying on incredibly vacuous arguments that are often fallacious and ignore arguments against their own positions. Coyne himself in the conversation Craig is commenting on in his video literally says he thinks that human beings are robots without moral responsibilities despite earlier saying he felt that 'enlightenment' values should be adopted over religions values (ignoring the fact that the enlightenment borrowed its values almost entirely from Christianity). Atheists often condemn people like myself and William Lane Craig for being stupid, etc. yet whilst we seem to do our best to understand opposing viewpoints and deal with them seriously, the same simply cannot be said for the vast majority of people in general, and atheists in particular.

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