Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Rational Assumptions


How often have you heard the following sort of argument - "Given my assumptions, it's perfectly rational to believe in Xianity (or insert any religion here as YMMV)."

But, is that really true? I mean, using this as a guideline, anything could be considered rational if one uncritically accepts certain assumptions.

I simply have to have the right assumptions, like that unicorns exist, and they are invisible because they are magical creatures and can do things like that. I'll also assume that they don't love us, and would like to see us enslaved. I'll also assume that they have an unhealthy obsession with humping other animals and are big fans of genetic manipulation, yet lack the ability to use test tubes (due to having hooves instead of opposable thumbs) so they have to use eugenics instead of manipulating genes.

Given these assumptions, it's rational to believe that invisible alien unicorns are secretly infiltrating petting zoos all across the nation and having sex with the animals in a secret eugenics-type program in order to breed animals that will rise up and overthrow their tyrannical human overlords and install the unicorns as leaders of this bountiful planet.

The problem, of course, is that uncritically accepting assumptions that are unsupported is not rational. So, the acceptance of irrational assumptions puts the final conclusion also in the irrational category. Therefore, it simply is not rational to believe in god, especially due to the irrational assumptions that are required in order to do so.

9 comments:

mdeltoro said...

Two problems: One, everyone, including you, has assumptions about reality. For example, you (obviously) believe that the laws of logic apply universally, that there is enough continuity between individual human brains that your readers can understand your blog, and that reality as we know it today will be the same tomorrow and the day after (e.g., up will not be down tomorrow, computers will not be toads tomorrow). All these things are assumptions about reality, which cannot really be proven. It is impossible to PROVE that on some unknown planet the laws of logic just do not apply or that anyone truly understands what anyone else is saying (denying this is actually the basis of much postmodern thought) or that things like gravity will continue to work tomorrow the same way they do today. In fact, in a random universe driven by the vagaries of chance, there is actually no reason at all to believe these things, because "chance" can change things at any time. The truth is that on a secular worldview, those foundational assumptions about reality are really unjustified, but from a Christian perspective, with God as the intelligent designing and sustaining force, such assumptions about reality make good sense and make possible things like science, communication, and argumentation.

Second problem: your elaborate unicorn analogy fails because there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for invisible humping unicorns, whereas there are mountains of evidence for the existence of God, the truth of the Bible, and the fact of a crucified and resurrected man named Jesus. One small piece of this evidence: I was just reading some of Isaiah chapter 53, which was indisputably composed before Jesus of Nazareth was even born. Yet, here is a passage of Scripture that describes in incredible detail not only the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth but the fact that His suffering took place to justify sinners, which is at the heart of the Christian faith. Incredible that something like that should be written hundreds of years before being fulfilled precisely! And there are many such fulfilled prophecies, to say nothing of the unbelievably fine-tuned universe that fairly screams "Design!". It is frankly nothing other than spiritual blindness which permits you to deny what the testimony of many witnesses and the testimony of what your own senses and assumptions about reality affirm daily.

GCT said...

mdeltoro,
"Two problems: One, everyone, including you, has assumptions about reality."

OK, so let's so what those assumptions are and if they make sense to assume then.

"For example, you (obviously) believe that the laws of logic apply universally..."

No I don't.

"...that there is enough continuity between individual human brains that your readers can understand your blog..."

This is not an assumption, but a demonstrated reality.

"...and that reality as we know it today will be the same tomorrow and the day after (e.g., up will not be down tomorrow, computers will not be toads tomorrow)."

Which is well supported by empirical evidence.

"The truth is that on a secular worldview, those foundational assumptions about reality are really unjustified, but from a Christian perspective, with God as the intelligent designing and sustaining force, such assumptions about reality make good sense and make possible things like science, communication, and argumentation."

This is simply wrong. Using a secular stance, we make empirical predictions and measurements and come to conclusions that the sun will rise tomorrow and gravity will not simply shut off. Using god and the Bible, you can not do this, because you already believe that god can and does perform miracles (like having the sun stand still in the sky). Injecting god means that a miracle could occur at any time which completely violates the natural order of the universe.

"Second problem: your elaborate unicorn analogy fails because there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for invisible humping unicorns, whereas there are mountains of evidence for the existence of God, the truth of the Bible, and the fact of a crucified and resurrected man named Jesus."

Oh really? Please name some evidence.

"One small piece of this evidence: I was just reading some of Isaiah chapter 53, which was indisputably composed before Jesus of Nazareth was even born. Yet, here is a passage of Scripture that describes in incredible detail not only the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth but the fact that His suffering took place to justify sinners, which is at the heart of the Christian faith."

A fictional character written to fulfill prophecies after the fact is evidence to you? Really? In order to believe that Isaiah is evidence, you have to assume god, Jesus, that what is written in the Bible is an accurate story of Jesus and his life, etc. These are all unsupported assumptions that hinge on other unsupported assumptions.

"...the unbelievably fine-tuned universe that fairly screams "Design!"."

Please provide evidence that the universe is fine tuned and that a fine tuner did it.

"It is frankly nothing other than spiritual blindness which permits you to deny what the testimony of many witnesses and the testimony of what your own senses and assumptions about reality affirm daily."

Please provide a witness that has seen god and can verifiably prove it. Please provide a witness that has seen Jesus and can verify. Please show me how my senses and assumptions affirm daily what I'm supposedly denying.

mdeltoro said...

(Sigh) Is it really necessary to rehearse the history of postmodern skepticism? Well, a little summary will do. You secularists stake everthing on your ability to observe emperical evidence. "Using a secular stance, we make empirical predictions and measurements and come to conclusions that the sun will rise tomorrow and gravity will not simply shut off." But this assumes that the information conveyed to our brains by our senses is an accurate representation of the things "out there" in the world, which our senses are supposed to be observing. This is undemonstrable other than by . . . empirical evidence. So, as the postmodernists see it, we are "cut off" from objective reality (if such a thing exists) by our own subjectivity, trapped in the world mediated by our fallible senses.

"This (that there is enough continuity between individual human brains that readers can understand your blog) is not an assumption but a demonstrated reality." Demonstrated only by empirical observation. You PERCEIVE that I understand your original intent, but how do you know that your perception represents reality? Many a literature professor would disagree with your notion that this is a "demonstrated reality," as attested by the fact that so often the question has become NOT "What did the author mean?" but "What does this mean TO YOU?" Postmodern literary theory (which is widespread in academia) denys what you consider a "demonstrated reality."

Now, I'm not down on trusting our senses, affirming our ability to communicate with one another, or practicing science on the basis of assuming that the laws of nature and science don't randomly change. What I am saying is that, on the basis of your worldview, none of these assumptions can be justified. In a universe moved along by random chance (which secular evolutionists assure us is THE key to explaining how things came to be as they are), it actually makes just as much sense to affirm as to deny that the sun will not rise tomorrow, that our brains may not have sufficient continuity of process that we really understand each other, or that gravity will shut off tomorrow. If randomness and chance produce the order we know (or think we know via empirical evidence) today, randomness and chance can just as easily dismantle it tomorrow. Let us put the question this way: "Why does the fact that things have 'always' operated in a certain way imply that they will continue to operate in the same way?" How can a secularist answer this question? To say, "We know by empirical observation that things have consistently operated this way in the past" is to (1) assume the basic reliability of our senses (unjustified on a secular worldview, we've already noted) and (2) to beg the question.

mdeltoro said...

(Had to split my response into 2posts, since the first had too many letters.)"Using god and the Bible, you can not do this, because you already believe that god can and does perform miracles (like having the sun stand still in the sky). Injecting god means that a miracle could occur at any time which completely violates the natural order of the universe." I know this is a sacred cow of secular science, but it is simply neither historically nor logically demonstrable. Theistic and Christian scientists have made and continue to make valuable scientific discoveries, because they are seeking to discover the universe and the laws which God created. (Secular scientists examine and discover these same laws but cannot demonstrate that they are laws at all, for there is nothing in their random chance universe that will sustain laws of any sort.) From a logical point of view, affirming that God can and has done miracles is not the same as affirming that He does them willy-nilly or does them all the time. If the purpose of Christian scientists is to discover the laws God made that normally govern His universe, no harm is done in affirming that God can and at times has acted outside those laws. In fact, the definition of a miracle is basically just that: an act of God that suspends or violates the NORMAL laws of nature. The fact that there ARE normal laws is a necessary precondition for miracles, and Christian scientists are trying to study the laws, not their exeptions. I am not aware of any theistic scientist who has appealed to miraculous intervention to justify his inability to explain a natural phenomenon. This straw boogeyman does not exist. A theistic worldview is not a threat to science and is, in fact, its basis. When secular scientists base their research on established laws of nature, it is a happy inconsistency.

Now, since you are intent on borrowing from the Christian worldview by demanding evidence, I'll say that volumes have been written by people more expert than I on the empirical evidence for Design, the fine-tuning of the universe (ever heard of the Anthropic Principle?), and the reliability of the Old and New Testaments. I refer you to one book which helpfully gathers much of this evidence: The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, Pub: Thomas Nelson, 1999. Since you, again borrowing from a Christian perspective, demand witnesses, I'll go ahead and cite one example. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, the apostle Paul grounds his teaching about Jesus and the gospel in eyewitness testimony. In fact, he leaves himself open to challenge when he reports that the resurrected Christ "appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep." (verse 6, New American Standard Bible) Paul was saying that some 500 people had seen the resurrected Christ and that MOST OF THEM STILL REMAINED ALIVE AT THE TIME OF WRITING, SHOULD THE READER WISH TO VERIFY THE CLAIM. This simply leaves no room for your version of Jesus: "[a]fictional character written to fulfill prophecies after the fact." Five hundred eyewitnesses affirm otherwise. The apostles, who witnessed not only Jesus' resurrection but His life and death, testify otherwise, and most of them were willing to die for the veracity of their testimony. Since you have taken the role of advocate for the opposition, I ask you to present your witnesses to testify to the contrary, that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus did not occur in the way affirmed by eyewitnesses to the events.

GCT said...

mdeltoro,
There is too much to properly address in a blog comment, so I will work up a post to answer most of your concerns. Whatever I don't get to, I'll continue to address here.

GCT said...

mdeltoro,
"Now, since you are intent on borrowing from the Christian worldview by demanding evidence..."

How is demanding evidence somehow "borrowing from the Xian worldview?" Xianity does not demand evidence, especially because it can't produce any.

"...I'll say that volumes have been written by people more expert than I on the empirical evidence for Design, the fine-tuning of the universe (ever heard of the Anthropic Principle?), and the reliability of the Old and New Testaments."

ID is routinely debunked and simply re-hashed and warmed over creationism - arguments that have been defeated constantly. The anthropic principle doesn't lend you any support. Fine tuning requires you to beg the question. And, the reliability of the testaments is highly in question.

"Since you, again borrowing from a Christian perspective, demand witnesses, I'll go ahead and cite one example."

If I gave the impression that I value witness testimony, I apologize. It's well known that witness testimony is fraught with difficulty and potential for error.

"In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, the apostle Paul grounds his teaching about Jesus and the gospel in eyewitness testimony. In fact, he leaves himself open to challenge when he reports that the resurrected Christ "appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.""

Was he there? He's reporting hearsay, nothing more. Hell, 500 people saw me defy gravity yesterday and fly. I guess you have to believe me because there were 500 people who saw it.

"Five hundred eyewitnesses affirm otherwise."

Actually, you don't have a single one. You have zero testimonies to base this on. Where are the words of these 500 people to verify?

"The apostles, who witnessed not only Jesus' resurrection but His life and death, testify otherwise, and most of them were willing to die for the veracity of their testimony."

We don't have their testimonies either, nor do we know what happened to most of them, if they even existed.

"Since you have taken the role of advocate for the opposition, I ask you to present your witnesses to testify to the contrary, that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus did not occur in the way affirmed by eyewitnesses to the events."

If you wish to put forth the idea that Jesus was real and did all these things, then the burden of proof is on you to present evidence to convince me, not the other way around.

Tito Tinajero said...

You actually, without meaning to, discovered the problem with the claims of rationality. The assumption is that be rational is finding the truth. Unfortunately they are not. Lets take you example, and if fact you assume the unicorn beliefs. If you are found killing animals in petting zoos, you are acting in a rational matter. Wittgenstein showed that same problem with logic almost hundred years ago. Take the scientific method, it has to assume the verifiable principle, only claims that can be verified by evidence can accepted. Nice rule except it fails when applied to itself. Hence, the whole of science rests on an unprovable assumption. A>B>C
B>C>D : A>D is an operation on claims independent of the values assigned to A,B,C,D. These problems in Logic, also in Math, (See Godel) and physics gave rise to postmodernism. "The problem, of course, is that uncritically accepting assumptions that are unsupported is not rational." But we humans have to, whether you like it or not the tunnel always leads to accepting an assumption uncritically. Welcome to life.

GCT said...

"You actually, without meaning to, discovered the problem with the claims of rationality. The assumption is that be rational is finding the truth. Unfortunately they are not."

I'm not sure what you meant to say here. What is "be rational is finding the truth?"

"Lets take you example, and if fact you assume the unicorn beliefs. If you are found killing animals in petting zoos, you are acting in a rational matter."

Just one more absurdity that can come from irrational thinking.

"Wittgenstein showed that same problem with logic almost hundred years ago. Take the scientific method, it has to assume the verifiable principle, only claims that can be verified by evidence can accepted."

Apart from the overly simplistic characterization you've made, that's not an assumption. That's a result of empirical study. If we willy-nilly accept any claim, then we will necessarily end up holding false claims (and contradictory too).

"Nice rule except it fails when applied to itself."

How does it fail?

"Hence, the whole of science rests on an unprovable assumption."

On one you simply made up that isn't representative of science you mean?

"A>B>C B>C>D : A>D is an operation on claims independent of the values assigned to A,B,C,D. These problems in Logic, also in Math, (See Godel) and physics gave rise to postmodernism."

Do tell how you got to postmodernism from that...on second thought, don't unless you can keep it brief.

"But we humans have to, whether you like it or not the tunnel always leads to accepting an assumption uncritically. Welcome to life."

Yet I'm still waiting for anyone to tell me what assumptions I'm accepting uncritically. I keep hearing about how atheists have all these assumptions, but no one seems to want to actually tell me what they are.

Modusoperandi said...

mdeltoro "I was just reading some of Isaiah chapter 53, which was indisputably composed before Jesus of Nazareth was even born."
It's nice how you can "read in" things that aren't there, isn't it?

"In fact, he leaves himself open to challenge when he reports that the resurrected Christ "appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep." (verse 6, New American Standard Bible) Paul was saying that some 500 people had seen the resurrected Christ and that MOST OF THEM STILL REMAINED ALIVE AT THE TIME OF WRITING, SHOULD THE READER WISH TO VERIFY THE CLAIM."
Find out how many people were at Woodstock. Now, and this'll take awhile, ask everybody of the right age if they were there. You'll find that the latter total greatly exceeds the former.
Heck, it's pretty easy to have visions (try here). I've heard the jingle bell recently of a cat whose been dead for quite a while, in a place where he, living or dead, wouldn't be.
Also, ask a guy now if he's seen a miracle. If he says "yes", what does that tell you? Find someone who has seen Baba's miracles, or any of the many other miracles that you don't accept as miraculous. Now go to Jerusalem circa 40AD. Ask a guy if he saw the risen Jesus. If he says "yes", what does that tell you, really? 500 merely means 500 that believe they did, much like 500 Woodstock attendees means that 500 of them believe they did. If someone didn't see the risen Jesus, are they really going to raise a stink about not seeing him? Not seeing him just makes them not one of the 500! It's even easier for Paul, since he doesn't bother to name any of them "Excuse me, sir. Did you see the risen Jesus? No? Oh, you must not be one of the 500 then."
It's tougher for the author/s/ of Matthew, as no one apparently noticed the dead getting up and wandering around Jerusalem (and the earthquake and the sun-darkening).