Friday, January 27, 2012

Baggini, "Subjective Experiences," and Suspicion

Julian Baggini has an article up at CiF Belief responding to some arguments by Mark Vernon. I think the article sums up nicely the extraordinary confusions about psychology that typically plague Baggini's discussions of religion, and they are common enough to be worth pointing out. We see the confusions early on:

Traditional arguments for the existence of God and contemporary attempts to use fine-tuning and cosmology to back up the case for his existence always strike me as kinds of games, since hardly anyone believes on the basis of these arguments at all. Rather, they gain faith some other way and the arguments are post facto defences or rationalisations, attempts to reply to the rationalist atheist on her own terms, when the reality is the rules of engagement have never been accepted as fair. So I much prefer it when people come out and say honestly that their reasons for belief are not the kinds of reasons atheists accept as admissible, and for them to then make the case for why atheists are wrong about this.

It's not difficult to show, however, that this involves an extraordinarily simplistic understanding of the psychology of belief. The most notable thing about it is that this line of thought makes no proper distinction between causal factors leading to belief and causal factors supporting or maintaining belief. Let's take a simple case. Johnny is a physicist; he believes black holes really exist. However, he orginally came to believe that black holes really exist because someone happened to mention them when he was in the sixth grade and he felt at the time that the universe was so awesome that something like black holes had to exist. As he goes on, this same feeling motivates him to study physics; and as he does so he comes into contact with the arguments of actual physicists, based on both observations and mathematical theory, for the existence of black holes. Like any reasonable person interested in black holes, he takes these seriously; they become part of the structure that supports his belief in black holes. At no point does he take black-hole denialists seriously; he does, at times, think their arguments need to be addressed, either because he is worried about how they might mislead the public, or because he thinks they really do raise important issues on their own, and he responds in such cases either by summarizing the scientific arguments for black holes or by coming up with new arguments that are appropriate. Of course, you can replace black holes with any scientific issue you please. Now, we have here a case where belief leads understanding and where, if challenged in rational discussion, the arguments put forward all postdate the origin of the belief. Baggini, if we took his argument here seriously, would be committed to saying that all the appeals to scientific argument are in this case dishonest, because they are post facto defenses or rationalizations. This is clearly nonsense, however. Merely because something wasn't originally a reason for belief doesn't mean it never becomes one. If you want to explain the support for Johnny's belief in say, his later career as a physics professor, it would be a sign of stupidity to explain it by his middle-school feeling of what the universe's awesomeness requires. By that point, while it still may motivate him in his study of black holes, the original feeling that solidified the belief is likely one of the least of the real psychological supports of his belief.

We can take a rather different kind of case. Suppose Lisa one day becomes convinced that her husband Scott is cheating on her. She can't point to anything very definite, or even articulate very well why the things she can point to make her feel so strongly about the matter; there are just a few little things here and there that could be explained in other ways, but she can't shake the feeling that the best explanation is that he's cheating on her, although she can't really give an account of events under which it definitely would be the best explanation. She confides in her mother; and as it happens, her mother thinks it's all in her head, and raises some objections. So Lisa goes out to see if she can collect information that meets her mother's objections -- still no smoking gun, but when she comes back to her mother she has additional evidence, mostly circumstantial about his patterns of behavior, and has arguments that she's pretty sure show that her mother's objections don't apply in this case. Now, if we were to say what supports Lisa's belief at this juncture, it would be nonsense to say that "really" it's just that original sense that he must be cheating on her and that she doesn't believe on the basis of her new information "at all". This is not the way belief works. When we find new supporting information or new supporting arguments, the mere fact of their being new doesn't rule out their being grounds for belief. Quite the contrary; we add new supports for our beliefs all the time.

The problem, again, is that Baggini's argument fails to recognize that there can be any other supports for belief than the original ones. This remains a problem even if you put a great deal of emphasis on the phrase 'post facto defenses and rationalizations'. Most defenses, of course, are post facto; people often find their beliefs faced with objections they had not originally considered, and they naturally defend their beliefs. But even if the arguments in question are purely rationalizations -- we are simply making up an argument to go with our belief, one to which we have no particular prior commitment -- the quality of that argument is itself determined not by its psychological origin but by rational standards. And it can happen -- indeed, it is, I think, a common occurrence -- that what starts out as a rationalization becomes viewed by the rationalizer as a good argument and an important part of the supporting structure for their belief. Trying to say that something is not a real support for a belief because it started out as a rationalization simply shows a failure to understand how reasoning actually interacts with belief.

I also find it interesting that Baggini brings out the old trope that hardly anyone on this topic believes on the basis of the arguments. This is in fact true for most topics; the overwhelming majority of people who believe black holes exist do not do so because they have rigorously thought through the physics. Most probably have no better reason than that they heard it somewhere. We cannot tell from this, however, how significant the number of people believing precisely on the basis of rigorous physical argument may be. It could be almost nonexistent, or it could be that it's a sizable minority. People certainly are on occasion persuaded by arguments. There are plenty of testimonies of people claiming that they became theists because of this or that argument, or claiming that they became atheists when they came to the conclusion that this or that argument failed. Perhaps such people are lying or deluded, but that would have to be proven. And we simply cannot assume that they are best described as "hardly anyone". Nor can we assume, if "hardly anyone" does fit, that the arguments have no important role at all.

The muddled psychologizing continues in Baggini's later discussion:

I'm afraid it's all too common for defenders of faith to start off by piling up a whole load of interesting scientific findings, only to follow up with a plethora of non sequiturs.

The question rightly asked, however, is how reliable are the various cognitive mechanisms we use for establishing different kinds of truth? And there seems to be no escaping the simple fact that subjective experience, in all its forms, is a very unreliable detector of objective reality. Despite the comfort Vernon draws from recent research, there is no escaping the fact that the vast bulk of it points in exactly the opposite direction, undermining any confidence we might feel that our intuitive judgments are effective truth-trackers.

I find it rather amusing that he castigates believers for doing something he then goes on immediately to do. But there is a more immediate problem. The question he raises, "How reliable are the various cognitive mechanisms we use for establishing different kinds of truth?" is in fact not "rightly asked" for the reason that it is not directly relevant. Reliability is a statistical measure; it has to do with probability distribution in a population of cases. But reliability, although it can be important for assessing how strong certain kinds of inferences are, is not directly relevant here, because even if the statistical performance of a "cognitive mechanism" is very poor, if it ever, even in only one in a million cases, gives a true positive, that suffices. We would certainly want to know that it is unreliable, since it would help us to determine what we would also have to do to rule out, to a reasonable degree, that it is yielding its usual false positive, but that is all. A veridical experience is a veridical experience however rarely that kind of experience is veridical. (As a side note, it may be worth pointing out that recognition of this truth was one of the major insights that made possible the foundation of probability theory. A lot of early probability theorists originally began thinking of probability in terms of the proportion between how often, in an ideal series of cases, a given inference would turn out to be right and the total series of cases. A lot of refinements and improvements beyond this needed to be discovered, but it's not a minor point.)

Possibly what's tripping Baggini up is that we use the word 'unreliable' in an equivocal way. Sometimes when we call something unreliable we mean the normative claim that it should never be trusted because it is so rarely right that using it defeats our ends. At other times we mean it is never right. At yet other times we mean it is only occasionally right. There are sense of reliability corresponding to each of these. But it is only in this third sense, the primary sense, that it can be used in Baggini's question: the scientific evidence Baggini points to does not establish the first sense, and the second sense would make the rest of his argument question-begging at best.

Let me put the point again: drawing conclusions about veridicality from reliability alone is not itself very reliable, as a general matter. And this is for the clearest of reasons, namely, that one has to do with the properties of the population and the other has to do with the properties of individual cases. There are cases and conclusions, for instance, in which one only has to establish that something is at least sometimes veridical, however unreliably so. Likewise, one may have good reason to think something veridical in a given case even if this is often illusory; mirages may happen often in the desert, but you may still have good reason to think that you aren't seeing one despite being in the desert. The two issues are simply not the same. Reliability is important for assessing the further course of inquiry; and where we have already established very high reliability or very low reliability this can be useful for determining whether we should proceed on the assumption that any given case is veridical, where other evidence is lacking. But very general considerations of reliability -- which is all we get here -- tell us almost nothing.

Even if we set this aside, though, there is no "simple fact that subjective experience, in all its forms, is a very unreliable detector of objective reality." For one thing, this claim is radically hyperbolic. Take, for instance, your subjective experience of there being a world external to you, or your subjective experience that your wife or children are real people. We know for a fact that there are such subjective experiences because there are psychological conditions in which people don't have them. We also can be quite certain that almost everyone believes that there is an external world, or that their wives or children are real people, almost entirely on the basis of these subjective experiences. One of the most important factors leading almost any one of us to believe that there is an external world or that the humaniforms we meet are real people is that these things feel right. You will search in vain, of course, for any cognitive science research that shows that your feeling of the reality of the world around you is "very unreliable" or that you are usually wrong when you think, on the basis of your subjective experience of them, that your family members are real people. And these are hardly the only things we believe on the basis of subjective experience that either have never been shown to be unreliable or that, if unreliable at all, have never been studied adequately. The whole category is just too big to make such an irresponsible claim as Baggini is making here.

What we actually find in cognitive science research is more limited. A lot of external factors that we hardly notice can affect our judgment -- smells, for instance, or words we happened to have heard. Quite a few kinds of things that we might call 'intuitive judgments' have at least a sharply restricted range of reliability. Things that we might think closely connected -- for instance, our intuitive judgments about what is probable and probability theory -- turn out to come apart a lot. Given psychological complexity, experiments have to be very sharply defined and very precisely oriented, and so any general conclusions require interpreting a whole battery of tests -- no crucial experiments in cognition research, only experiments more or less valuable for clarification. No cognitive scientist will claim that they have rigorously studied the reliability of the whole field of intuitions, cognitive mechanisms, or subjective experiences, both in precise tests and in the wild, so as to be able to determine whether they are reliable as actually used or, with any precision, how reliable. And what we really get in the research is what you'd expect: some of these things are very reliable under some conditions and very unreliable under other conditions, and in some cases the conditions for reliability are fairly narrow. I can't avoid making an analogy here. It's rather like testing animal performance at cognitive tasks. Some animals, like border collies or dolphins are whiz-bang at all sorts of cognitive tasks. Others, like zebras, come across as utter morons at most of them. Zebras, unless there's been new research I'm not aware of, perform badly at most cognitive tasks. It's hard to say how much this indicates stupidity, since zebras are notoriously obstinate and bad-tempered. But give zebras a cognitive task requiring them to distinguish elaborate patterns of black and white stripes and it's suddenly like they're geniuses, massively outperforming animals that do better at almost everything else. And so here; a "cognitive mechanism" that doesn't track truth generally may do so extraordinarily well if certain other conditions are met. Precise specification of contextual conditions is extremely important; something may be very good at "truth-tracking" here and very poor at it there. And, indeed, if we are considering the full scope of possible situations, it is very, very dangerous to talk about truth-tracking. For the same reason, whether something is "truth-tracking" in a particular domain has to be established, not extrapolated.

Baggini ends:

The modern sceptic is indeed suspicious of subjective convictions, which is not to say they dismiss them completely. The modern believer is not suspicious enough, which is perhaps why when they try to construct arguments in their defence, the convictions are left doing all the work and reason, debilitated by neglect, weakly fails to prop them up.

I don't think, however, that modern skepticism can be put so vaguely. Most skeptics I know don't have general suspicions about "subjective convictions" even if they are suspicious of large classes of them. This is, again, the point about there being too many kinds of things that fall under such a label. Moreover, it is at least as irrational to be suspicious of something for no good reason as it is to accept it for no good reason; and at least in principle they want their suspicions as well as their beliefs to be well-grounded. And the only skeptic I've ever come across who appealed to such a ridiculously broad consideration as Baggini has here is Julian Baggini. And suspicion is as much a subjective experience as anything else: it's one of the kinds of ways we feel that something might not be right.

But if we were to use the word 'suspicious' somewhat sloppily to mean 'engaging in critical examination', instead, I fully agree that most modern believers should engage in more critical examination this way. I also think that most modern skeptics should, too. Except for where genuine practical limitations (time, resources, etc.) say otherwise, you can never have too much.

9 comments:

  1. alqpr5:20 AM

    Ok here I go "jumping right in" again (I guess its "what I do" too):

    Yes, there are different kinds of belief. And yes, it is possible for a belief that arises without rational support to later become rationally supported as well (though I suspect that in the case of black holes anyone capable of understanding the mathematical and physical evidence would be unlikely to have professed "belief" in them before seeing it - or at least having seen its existence asserted by someone whose credibility on such matters had previously been successfully tested). But wouldn't you be suspicious of an argument which only convinced people who already believed in its conclusion?

    If, as Baggini seems to suggest, theological arguments for God only serve to butress belief rather than induce it, then I would have to agree with him that they are useless. Actually in my view they are then worse than useless because they increase confidence where it should more properly be reduced. If this is wrong (eg perhaps because feeling good about having increased strength of belief has some inherent value that I am unaware of) then that is an error of value judgement not of psychology.

    It is also possible that Baggini is wrong about the persuasive power of these arguments, and so I would be interested to hear of cases where non-believers have been converted to belief by any of them (without any additional impetus from some kind of strongly emotional experience).

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  2. alqpr5:21 AM

    Ok here I go "jumping right in" again (I guess its "what I do" too):

    Yes, there are different kinds of belief. And yes, it is possible for a belief that arises without rational support to later become rationally supported as well (though I suspect that in the case of black holes anyone capable of understanding the mathematical and physical evidence would be unlikely to have professed "belief" in them before seeing it - or at least having seen its existence asserted by someone whose credibility on such matters had previously been successfully tested). But wouldn't you be suspicious of an argument which only convinced people who already believed in its conclusion?

    If, as Baggini seems to suggest, theological arguments for God only serve to butress belief rather than induce it, then I would have to agree with him that they are useless. Actually in my view they are then worse than useless because they increase confidence where it should more properly be reduced. If this is wrong (eg perhaps because feeling good about having increased strength of belief has some inherent value that I am unaware of) then that is an error of value judgement not of psychology.

    It is also possible that Baggini is wrong about the persuasive power of these arguments, and so I would be interested to hear of cases where non-believers have been converted to belief by any of them (without any additional impetus from some kind of strongly emotional experience).

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  3. branemrys6:59 AM

    Certainly nothing wrong with jumping in! You raise a number of points, so this will be a pretty staccato reply.

    Children in middle school are generally not able to understand the mathematical and physical evidence, if it is even presented to them in coherent fashion at all; suggesting that no physicists whatsoever who later came to understand the evidence and arguments ever originally believed as children that black holes existed because they were told is simply bizarre. But any other scientific topic will do; and it is both common for children to be informed of things to whose rationale and underlying reasons they are never properly introduced and for children to believe things of which they are informed; and there is no irrationality if, going on to discover the rationales, those children take them as genuine supports for their belief.

    If we were dealing with arguments that only convinced people who already believed in its conclusion, I would, like every genuinely reasonable person, want to know the reason why. It could be because they are high-commitment arguments that are not easily understood and thus only ever understood by people who are willing to devote an immense amount of time to them. It could be because the arguments were not psychologically useful for discovery despite being rationally demonstrative. It could be that there are external causes. But in any case, as pointed out, this is not the case here -- there are plenty of people who claim at least to have originally been convinced by the arguments or, in the reverse direction, to have become atheists by coming to the conclusion that the arguments were inadequate.

    Your suggestion about buttressing I don't quite grasp; it would suggest that there is no context for justification, only for discovery, which I can hardly think that you mean.

    I find your qualification on the cases you'll allow somewhat amusing, since it's a useful weasel phrase -- no matter what a person claims, no matter how things seem to be on the outside, one can never rule out that there was "some kind of strongly emotional experience" except in one's own case, and, given that people are not always the best judges of their emotional state, perhaps not even then. It's a handy escape clause, albeit one that could be inserted into kind of argument in any direction. But as it happens we can bypass the issue in two ways:

    (1) As implied in the post, we don't have to look at cases where non-believers have been converted by arguments; if there are cases where non-believers went through a period, before becoming non-believers, of only being believers because of the arguments, then this shows that arguments are doing work just as much as the other direction does. And this is just intermediating deism in the process from full theism to bare deism to agnosticism or atheism. It's not difficult to find atheists who at least claim that this was true in their case -- that they became atheists only when they came to the conclusion that they didn't need God to account for the universe, or morality, or what have you. And that's not possible unless the arguments do real work.

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  4. branemrys6:59 AM

    (2) The mere fact of whether there were actually any strongly emotional experiences involved doesn't seem to be relevant one way or another. People are always emotional, and one of the things the cognitive research Baggini points to really has discovered is that our emotions continually enter into all sorts of arguments. Whenever we judge that an argument is plausible, that's an emotional response; whenever we, on hearing an argument, say "No, that can't possibly be right," that's an emotional response; whenever we, on hearing an argument, are suspicious or cautiously impressed or even just plain interested, that's an emotional response. This is such an important part of psychological life that Hume thought all belief whatsoever required a strong emotional impetus. Thus we can only reasonably count emotional experience, even strongly emotional experience, as problematic if we know, or at least have good reason to believe, that it is found in certain causal roles inappropriate to the context. And this is especially true if we're talking about the persuasiveness of the arguments, rather than the rational strength of their support. If it is the arguments themselves that cause the strong emotional state that converts, the arguments would ipso facto be persuading; if the strong emotional state merely serves to increase the likelihood that people will find the arguments persuasive, but the arguments themselves are what actually tip the balance, then they are still persuading; etc. The only way they wouldn't would be if they were utterly incidental to the matter. But there are people like Flew who at least think they are persuaded by the arguments, so this is improbable. And this is how we determine whether arguments are persuasive in every other kind of argument: by looking at whether they seem to have any role in persuasion, not at the mood of the people persuaded. Even at the extreme, if you have an argument that only persuades people who are extraordinarily happy, or morbidly depressed, it's still the case that the arguments are persuasive to such people, and that trying to oppose the emotional experience and the persuasiveness of the argument seems confused.

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  5. branemrys6:59 AM

    (2) The mere fact of whether there were actually any strongly emotional experiences involved doesn't seem to be relevant one way or another. People are always emotional, and one of the things the cognitive research Baggini points to really has discovered is that our emotions continually enter into all sorts of arguments. Whenever we judge that an argument is plausible, that's an emotional response; whenever we, on hearing an argument, say "No, that can't possibly be right," that's an emotional response; whenever we, on hearing an argument, are suspicious or cautiously impressed or even just plain interested, that's an emotional response. This is such an important part of psychological life that Hume thought all belief whatsoever required a strong emotional impetus. Thus we can only reasonably count emotional experience, even strongly emotional experience, as problematic if we know, or at least have good reason to believe, that it is found in certain causal roles inappropriate to the context. And this is especially true if we're talking about the persuasiveness of the arguments, rather than the rational strength of their support. If it is the arguments themselves that cause the strong emotional state that converts, the arguments would ipso facto be persuading; if the strong emotional state merely serves to increase the likelihood that people will find the arguments persuasive, but the arguments themselves are what actually tip the balance, then they are still persuading; etc. The only way they wouldn't would be if they were utterly incidental to the matter. But there are people like Flew who at least think they are persuaded by the arguments, so this is improbable. And this is how we determine whether arguments are persuasive in every other kind of argument: by looking at whether they seem to have any role in persuasion, not at the mood of the people persuaded. Even at the extreme, if you have an argument that only persuades people who are extraordinarily happy, or morbidly depressed, it's still the case that the arguments are persuasive to such people, and that trying to oppose the emotional experience and the persuasiveness of the argument seems confused.

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  6. My Site (click to edit)10:32 AM

    <span> </span><span>You mention Flew as being persuaded by argument.  Who else born in the 20th.C was so persuaded?  </span>

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  7. branemrys11:15 AM

    Since most people are persuaded by argument about some things, I take it you mean "persuaded by theistic arguments" in particular. But there are still clarifications that are needed. After all, do you think they all call me up? Or that you would know the names of all theists of my acquaintance who are converts who claim that some theistic argument or other played a big role in their conversion? I take it you aren't asking about this friend I know that you probably don't.

    To put it in other words: What is the profile of the kind of case are you actually asking for? Are you asking about well-known atheists who converted at least in part due to their study of theistic arguments? Or about theists who claim that at some point a theistic argument was a big turning point? Or about deists who are deists because they think there's something to the fine-tuning argument? Are you counting people who, Iris Murdoch-like, accept the ontological argument but consider themselves atheists? Are you counting theists who have always been theists but are the particular kind of theist they are because of theistic arguments (e.g., they converted from one kind of theism to another because they thought it conformed better to that sort of argument). Are you including philosophical theists whose actual theism consists of nothing but a theistic argument and its ramifications, like some process theists, regardless of their intellectual history? Are you considering theists who simply are convinced that certain theistic arguments are right, and stake their reputations in public on it? Will you, for instance, count atheists who claim once to have been persuaded by the arguments, or are you, for some unidentified reason, only interested in persuasion that converts to theism? Or is it only a particular kind of conversion that counts as persuasion in the sense you intend?

    If you are going to ask questions for vague purposes you should at least make the questions specific that people don't have to guess at what you mean. I really don't have time to go chasing down possible candidates for answers to questions that are vaguely formulated, particularly since you haven't done the courtesy of saying why you want a list, or why it's worth my time to do your research for you.

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  8. My Site (click to edit)3:09 PM

    #toc, .toc, .mw-warning { border: 1px solid rgb(170, 170, 170); background-color: rgb(249, 249, 249); padding: 5px; font-size: 95%; }#toc h2, .toc h2 { display: inline; border: medium none; padding: 0pt; font-size: 100%; font-weight: bold; }#toc #toctitle, .toc #toctitle, #toc .toctitle, .toc .toctitle { text-align: center; }#toc ul, .toc ul { list-style-type: none; list-style-image: none; margin-left: 0pt; padding-left: 0pt; text-align: left; }#toc ul ul, .toc ul ul { margin: 0pt 0pt 0pt 2em; }#toc .toctoggle, .toc .toctoggle { font-size: 94%; }body { font-family: 'Times New Roman'; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); widows: 2; font-style: normal; text-indent: 0in; font-variant: normal; font-size: 12pt; text-decoration: none; font-weight: normal; text-align: left; }table { }td { border-collapse: collapse; text-align: left; vertical-align: top; }p, h1, h2, h3, li { color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: 'Times New Roman'; font-size: 12pt; text-align: left; }

    Brandon wrote:
    <p>"There are plenty of testimonies of people claiming that they became theists because of this or that argument..."
    </p><p> 
    </p><p>Flew is one such person and I was wondering if there were others that had testified (which implies a public asseveration) re their transition to theism via rational arguments.  Given the multitude of folk who have converted to various religions through an infusion of grace and have told us about it, it would not be surprising if there were others who had gone the rational route.  It is this that interested me.  You came up with Feser and Wright.  Feser is a cradle Catholic, confirmed I think and therefore not quite within the purely atheistic sector.   Wright might be.  Still that's hardly plenty.  
    </p><p> 
    </p><p>Now that I have, I hope, clarified, maybe you could supply a ampler list.   
    </p><p> 
    </p><p> 
    </p><p> 
    </p><p> 
    </p>

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  9. branemrys5:38 PM

     I take it from your mention of 'transition to theism' that you want only people who once were atheists, so we're not actually, contrary to the unrestricted form of your original question, talking the persuasiveness of arguments at all; rather you are asking for examples that the arguments are persuasive in a very particular way: namely, as being causal factors in a conversion from atheism to theism. That would be fine. This would fit with your mention of what I had said previously, in which I noted that there are plenty of people who have been atheists who trace their belief to theistic arguments.

    But your objection to Feser, who converted to theism from atheism, suggests that even this is not what you're asking; if having been raised in a theistic household, somehow for some reason you fail to clarify, disqualifies people for the list, even when they are actually atheists -- as Feser was, since he became an atheist as a teenager -- I again have no clue what, precisely, you are asking for. It certainly has nothing to do with what Baggini was talking about (since he was talking about theists), and deals with a far, far narrower group than either I or, as far as I can tell, alqpr were talking about (since we were talking about the atheist population in general). Even Flew fails the test, despite having spent decades as one of the world's most vocal philosophical opponents of theistic arguments; he grew up in a Methodist family. But I freely admit that I might not be able to come up with many names. Since you've not only ruled out all theists, but all atheists raised in theistic families, and all atheists who aren't very public about their atheism (since otherwise you would have no way of verifying), and all atheists whose background can't be verified (since otherwise we can't rule out that they are 'pure' enough), we're dealing with a question of whether there are specific examples of the theistic arguments being persuasive to, what, maybe one one-ten-thousandth of a percent of the world's entire population? And actually it's even narrower than that, since it would really have to be public atheists with verifiable histories who have never been theists and were not raised in a theistic household who have studied theistic arguments so as to know them well enough to be candidates for being converted by them, and who on doing so have converted. It's clear at this point that what you're asking from me is to give you a list fitting a description so narrow that anything could only fit it by freak accident. I don't see the point; not only is it not relevant to my much weaker claim, it's not relevant to Baggini's argument, and it's not relevant to alqpr's original argument, and it's not relevant to my argument in general. Is it just curiosity? Because it seems a little random, like showing up in a list that notes that there have been plenty of people who have learned about Shakespeare in school and demanding to see the list of people who can be proven by random people on the internet never even to have heard of Shakespeare or any of his plays except from a schoolteacher. We aren't talking about persuasiveness of arguments anymore, since no conclusions about persuasiveness can be drawn from such a small sample; I'm not sure what we're talking about.

    Unless you mean something else, in which case I have to say again that I can't answer vague questions with all sorts of secret qualifications you don't bother to tell me.

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