The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Tomb of Philip?

This will be cool if it holds up.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Shifting Burden of Proof, example: Atheism

I thought I had archived something like this here before, but when I just went to refer to it for an email exchange, I couldn't find it, so here's a fresh expression.

When someone bears the burden of proof and when they get the benefit of doubt is not related in any essential way with whether the claim is affirmative or negative. First, it’s not perfectly clear there is anything substantive in the distinction between affirmative and negative for two reasons. A. Every (litteral) affirmative is logically equivalent to a double negative. Standard logic texts have all kind of exercises converting statements to and from various positive and negative forms. B. Though *statements* can be affirmative or negative, it’s not clear *propositions* can be. Propositions are the cognitive or conceptal or meaning contents expressed by statements in language. Each proposition corresponds to a state of affairs, to a possible way the world could be. You can express atheism in the language of “There is no God” but it might be (at least roughly) logically equivalent (in context) to say “Everything is finite”. At the very least, this shows that a negative can entail a positive, and every theory is responsible for the verification of all the (relevant) positives it entails, if there is anything substantive to the distinction between positive and negative propositions.

Second, assuming there is any relevant distinction between affirmative and negative claims, even then there is no necessary connection with burden of proof. It’s simply a matter of background evidence, and this is often encoded in society. Epistemology has substantive sociological aspects (See the most recent work of Richard Feldman, for example). Here is an illustration. Consider the following claim.

NP Pluto does not exist.

This statement is ambiguous. “Pluto” can name a planet (dammit!) or it can name the god of the underworld (or a goofy Disney dog). So let’s disambiguate.

NP-P The astronomical object once considered the 9th planet by many and still considered so by the sane does not exist.

NP-U The god of the underworld sometimes referred to as Hades, the brother of Zeus and Poseidon does not exist.

If there is any substantive distinction between positive and negative statements, these are both denials. Yet while NP-U is a default position, NP-P is not. NP-P runs against our background information, so if someone asserted it, they would be in need of defending it. NP-U is the other way around. It would be the *denier* of NP-U that would need to bear the burden of proof.

The above is sufficient to show that the burden of proof bears no essential relation to content (unless, perhaps, you happen to be Adam!). And for reasons similar to those that apply to the disambiguations of NP, it is, if anything, the atheist who bears the burden of proof, since it is the minority position among the relevant experts. When we survey the experts, in fact, it’s not even close. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Pascal, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, (Hegel), and Newton begin the advance. Darwin was also a theist, though he had some doubts at times, Einstein was a kind of theist, maybe a pantheist. They are both interesting cases. But the people who are best trained at the intersections of science and theology or philosophy and theology or all three are almost always theists: Polkinghorne, Stephen Barr, Francis Collins should be in there, though he’s not as heavy a hitter. I am aware of no one on the planet with the combined philosophy-science-theology equipment as Alexander Pruss, Peter van Inwagen, and Richard Swinburne. Adolf Grunbaum has some training in both science and philosophy, but there’s just nothing like that triumvirate. I know and like several contemporary atheists who also know a good bit of science, but, honestly, it’s a pretty lopsided affair. Atheism is, and should be, on the defensive, just as it always has been.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Something Good on "Nothing"

Reply to Stephen Hawking

My text for a spot on NPR's Wordwise (audio to follow)

The word “justification” is interesting, in part, just because of it’s wide range of application. Acts can be justified (or not), beliefs can be justified (or not), and even people can be justified (or not) in a religious sense. In fact the same Greek word behind “justification” is translated “righteousness” in the New Testament.

And though there’s something common to the three notions—it’s hard to say just what—they each have their own criteria of applicability. The justification of a belief depends on one’s evidence, the justification of an act depends on one’s motives and/or consequences, the justification of one’s soul depends on one’s embracing grace.

It can get complicated because these kinds of justification can run counter to one another or can support one another. For example, there are scientific hypotheses such that the only way to get enough evidence to justify them would be morally unjustified. And doing something morally unjustified could endanger the justification of one’s soul.

Yet there can be confusions involved here too. Some people, misguidedly, think that what they need to believe in order four their souls to be justified isn’t evidentially justified, but that, somehow, they’re still justified in believing it. That’s just a confusion. People’s beliefs, even their religious beliefs, tend to have more justification than they realize, because a lot of cognition is subconscious. You’re justified in believing I’m a person and not a talking robot, even though it would be hard to defend it in debate.

Consistent with what I just said, though, would be a need to be able to martial evidence for an *assertion* to be justified. But that’s yet another kind of justification, and I see we’re running out of time.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Prove it!

Very cool site.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Life Akratic: Crank Has Rusty Drive Belt

The particular akrasia today is my inability to resist the opportunity to say "No way!" to the injunction to "Grow up!" by a cranky old fart who probably did his growing up when the space program was throwing rocks at the moon.

I have no idea who this joker is--I have a service that searches for references to me on the web and it trolled up this troll--but I was mightily entertained by his asnide to me.

He apparently likes neither arguments nor footnotes, but hey, I'll do philosophy my way and he can do it his way, I'm all for diversity!

He seems to concede that naturalism doesn't have any answers, which is handy. I'm not sure about the rhetorical strategy of admitting your opponent is right, right in the middle of the post, but then, like I said, I'll blog my way and he can blog his way!

But then (you'd better send the kids into the other room, it gets a bit dirty) he plays his ace in the hole. He says that inferences are no good anyway, their just...(are the little ones in the kitchen yet?)..."magic" [boo's and jeer's, tomatoes fly].

Well, gosh, I have no reply to that, I guess he's got me. Who am I to challenge the inference rule Magic Ponens:

1. If Larry has no good arguments, Larry must use weasel words like "magic".
2. Larry has no good arguments.
3. Thus, Larry must use weasel words like "magic".

I suppose if that's been working for him, he might as well stick to it, it's a well-worn path by his naturalist heros.

Well, that's about enough time wasted, maybe someone will send him a can of WD-40 and his rusted-shut mind will creak open.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

I want to suffer, you want to suffer, we all want to suffer.

"But what if we don't want to suffer?"

Everyone, I think, wants, ultimately, to suffer, because, I think, everyone, ultimately, wants the highest degree of pleasure (and this comes only from virtue).

But, as Augustine said, "Not yet..."

I don't, yet, really want what I really really want.

Blame it on Schleiermacher

It's all his fault. This guy is the worst thing that ever happened to religious thought.

There are some people who seem to think it's always been this way.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Chestertonia: Business as Usual

G.K. Chesterton lived from 1874 to 1936. Somewhere in there he said:

"A businessman is the only man who is forever apologizing for his occupation"

Well, that may have been true then, but it's certainly not true now. In fact, in three of the four colleges I've taught at, in many circles you have to apologize for NOT being a business major. After all, if you're not, what are you contributing to the world?

As a young Philosophy major, I had plenty of apologizing to do. "Really?' "Oh!" "Hmmmm" were among the most frequent responses to my answer concerning what my major was.

Well, a business degree these days doesn't get a person much more by way of material gain than a degree in Philosophy does. And maybe that's as it should be: "business" is far to general a topic to be of any real use. We need entrepreneurs, but none of the good ones I know every had a business degree (in fact most never had any degree).

Chesterton can help us here. For he is an excellent guide in bringing sanctity and wisdom to everyday life no matter what one's "business." Whether informatics technical architect, nuclear engineer, lawyer, or full-time Mom, Chesterton's writings bring joy and light to life.