Saturday, October 13, 2007

Two Poem Drafts


The whisper of a wind that curls beneath the stars
brushes my cheek; the rain of light is constant
while the galaxies, all rushing, their presence withdraw
as though, from some primeval atom, they burst,
soared into life, and never stopped.
Round and round the stars speed along a crease
some strange black thing has drawn,
a symphony of circles, well mingling with well.
And I, who know no star but home,
sail in the ceaseless black of night,
no light for my path save the singing suns.
I wish no other life, this alone I love,
this alone I cherish as a dream and as a task:
to sail the dark Septentrion amid the quiet stars.

The Long Sedan

The Devil drove up in a long sedan,
its color jet and its windows night,
from which shade no hint of light
could escape, nor any man.
He stepped outside in a cunning style
of jacket, his motion smooth like silk,
and he wore, as do all his ilk,
the gloss of a fashion smile.

He took me up to the Temple-tower,
up to the highest judgment-seat,
and laid the world before my feet,
and promised success in endless shower
if I would but recognize
the gods of this world, and mammon's power,
and earthly wisdom, the mind of the hour,
and see the world through worldly eyes.

"For," said he, "escapist dreams
will not change the simple fact
that matter is needed to ground each act;
your hopes may whisper, your need will scream.
If you follow upon the sign of my way,
great good you'll do, and have great might
and shine in the world a blazing light,
as clear as the sun at bright noon day.
It's easy enough, no special charm
is required, just to sign your name
in a pact that says you will play the game;
there is no pain, nor any harm,
no Walpurgis night to shock the eyes,
no sacrifice, no dirty hands,
just living in full the life of man
as it always is lived beneath the sky."

Then said I, "That may be true,
but well I know that the Devil sells
only one thing, a house in hell,
where what you want is what you rue.
Your voice has enchantment for hte heart,
and it well may be the course of fate
that without your aid no glory waits;
but I will take the petter part.
Even if all is as you say,
and in every thing I must then fail,
and fall from out of every tale,
yet I accept the lesser way."

He stood a monent in the bright full moon,
pensive, but with burning eyes;
and I said, "I know the Devil lies
and makes a bond seem like a boon."

Then he smiled, his teeth like ocean pearls.
"You speak quite bravely and for show,
but in the end we both do know
that I am coiled around the world
and around your heart. For you are not so wise
as never to have served me, nor sought gain,
nor failed the good to avoid its pain;
and while my offer you may despise,
it but makes explicit the present pact,
the understanding we have kept
since you long before in Adam slept,
the convention of your thought and act,
which belies your words and shows the lie
to your height of mind; my rule you fight
when I make it plain; but in the quiet
you accept its terms, and hide it by."

And in my shame I hid my face;
his word was true; in that bright moonlight
I could not hide what was plain to sight.

"Then," said I, "God give me grace."

And with sardonic salute and knowing smile,
he stepped back in and the long sedan
drove on; but he shouted, "So long, O man;
we will meet again in but a little while."

The blood was pounding in my brain,
and a mist came up and obscured the day;
my eye could not see my intended way,
and as I wept, it began to rain.

This Might Easily Happen

On the way my friend openly revealed his thoughts to the philosopher, he confessed how much he had feared that perhaps to-day for the first time a philosopher was about to stand in the way of his philosophising.

The sage laughed. "What? You were afraid a philosopher would prevent your philosophising? This might easily happen: and you have not yet experienced such a thing? Has your university life been free from experience? You surely attend lectures on philosophy?”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Future of Our Educational Institutions, Lecture I.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Linkables

* Something you may not know about me is that I'm a fan of Tarja Turunen. Tarja is best known for her former stint as the soaring soprano voice in the Finnish power metal band Nightwish (heard at its best in the song Nemo).

Tarja, after a falling out with the band, was replaced with Anette Olzon. Amaranth is a song that Anette does very well. There is an astonishing amount of bickering on YouTube over whether Tarja or Anette is better, whether Nightwish is any good without Tarja, whether Tarja is any good without Nightwish. You could see it by searching for "Anette, Tarja" on YouTube, if you felt like it. None of it is actually interesting, because it's all YouTube bickering of the stupidest sort.

* Awesome in a weird way: Matthew Lickona and his commenters have been working on casting suggestions for The Lord of the Rings, asking what African-American actors would be good in the various parts: Aragorn and Gandalf; Gimli and Legolas; Saruman and Arwen; Boromir and Gollum; Elrond and Denethor; Frodo and Pippin; Merry and Faramir; Galadriel and Sam; the Balrog; Bilbo and Eomer; Eowyn and Grima Wormtongue. Gandalf was a no-brainer, of course, since there's one and only one obvious choice; but Elrond, Denethor, Frodo, and Eowyn were all excellent selections. The choice for Eomer is intriguing, since I think the actor would excel at giving one a sense of Eomer's fitness to be king, which is important; but it's hard to imagine him in the role. I am definitely skeptical of the selections for Galadriel and Sam. Galadriel needs to convey more maturity, and Sam needs to be more everyday and ordinary.

* At "in illo tempore" I discovered that October 12 is the anniversary of the beginning, in 1428, of the Siege of Orléans, which was famously lifted by Joan of Arc's first major victory in the Loire campaign in 1429. The Xenophon Group's Military History Database has a nice page on the military aspects of that Battle.

* This has been going around lately: a magnificent Periodic Table of the Elements.

* A newly rediscovered document from the Templar trials will soon be available; they apparently suggest that Clement V absolved the Templars of blasphemy.

* A Simpsons and Philosophy video.

* The Monty Python sketch, Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion. The Sartre jokes are very funny.


* Also at YouTube: Plato's Republic in 2 minutes; it oversimplifies some things, but it's decent enough given what it's trying to do. A fun representation of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Selections from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Jesse Griffin's, a.k.a. Wilson Dixon's, song Philosophy.

Faith and Evidence III

The Professor at "Evangelical Realism" has responded to my response to the response to my response to the response to Macht's post. It's a much better response, and worth reading, but I am certain it still does not adequately address the issue.

The Professor says:

I am not making an abstract argument about “x is inversely proportional to y, therefore x belongs to a category of things that have a certain property (z), and y is a member of a category of things which do not have property (z).” What values would you fill in for x, y and z in that equation? According to Geisler and Turek, x might be “evidence” and y might be “faith” (or vice versa), but what would z be? It appears that z should be “evidence” also, since Brandon wants to claim that I’m fallaciously concluding that faith is belief without evidence, but that messes up the formula.

The Professor is right that I misstated it; but this doesn't resolve the problem. So I will quote the relevant passage from the Professor again:

Knowledge and faith can exist side-by-side, but even when you have both of those categories existing side-by-side, the knowledge category contains the things supported by verifiable evidence, and the faith category contains the other stuff.

The full context of this is:

Does not the term “knowledge” apply to the part for which you do have evidence, and “faith” apply to the part for which the evidence is lacking? Brandon seems to be building a strawman argument about faith requiring an absolute vacuum — that there cannot be any evidence at all. But that’s not what I’m saying nor is it what Geisler and Turek are saying. Knowledge and faith can exist side-by-side, but even when you have both of those categories existing side-by-side, the knowledge category contains the things supported by verifiable evidence, and the faith category contains the other stuff.

Let's start with the rhetorical question, "Does not the term 'knowledge' apply to the part for which you do have evidence, and 'faith' apply to the part for which the evidence is lacking?", to which the obvious answer is, No, that would be an unreasonable use of terms. It is what is assumed here that presupposes the move in question. It assumes that, because faith and evidence are in inverse ratio, that faith is privation of evidence. But the latter does not follow from the former. The former is the claim:

x and y are in inverse ratio (i.e., the more x, the less y, and vice versa)

Where x can be taken to indicate the property or feature 'being evidentially supported' and y 'involving faith'. The latter is the claim:

No belief in the category of things that have property x is in the category of things that have property y.

But the one does not follow from the other at all. One can have beliefs, for instance, that are in category x (evidentially supported) but that are also in category y (involving faith in Geisler's sense); Geisler occasionally uses (as he does in the passage quoted below) the example of someone getting on an elevator: a person getting on an elevator may believe it will hold his weight, and on good evidence. But their belief may fall short of certainty, because their evidence doesn't support it to the level of perfect knowledge. The inverse ratio claim holds in such a case, but the categorical distinction claim fails. The reverse incidentally can also be true: if 'knowledge' applies to those things that are evidentially supported, and nothing that involves faith is knowledge (as the part I originally quoted says, and as is also required by the rhetorical question), nothing about this implies that faith and evidence are in inverse ratio.

Of course, the claim that everything that is evidentially supported receives the label 'knowledge', where 'knowledge' is understood as something other than 'faith', is not a claim that can be attributed to Geisler. It is a foreign intrusion, and certainly can't be used to interpret Geisler's own claims about faith, since he would not claim that everything evidentially supported is knowledge. Some of it is belief accepted on faith.

This is one of the two major errors involved in the Professor's interpretation: an inverse ratio claim is read as an exclusion claim. This is not a move that can be attributed to Geisler, and is in general fallacious. The other major error is that beliefs are chopped up into evidence-parts and faith-parts, which is not a view that can be attributed to Geisler, either.

We see this when the post goes on to say:

So for 100% of the conclusion, we have 95% evidence, and (wait, let me get a calculator), 5% faith. The amount of faith is small because the evidence is large, as per Geisler and Turek. Notice I used the word “conclusion” instead of belief here. Brandon’s error is an equivocation error: he’s equivocating between what faith contributes to the conclusion, and the conclusion itself. The conclusion is based on 95% evidence and 5% faith; the faith part of that sum is the 5% for which there is no evidence. Brandon, however, is using the term “faith” to also refer to the conclusion, and hence his indignation that anyone would dare suggest that faith is belief minus evidence.

This simply assumes the move noted above. For Geisler, what is actually being divided up, so to speak, is a belief, not a conclusion (the point is not semantics, because by changing the term to 'conclusion' the Professor has simply changed the subject entirely); but it is not divided up into parts (so that one part is evidentially supported and the other is not). The division is relative, not qualitative. For a belief to be 95% evidentially supported, recall, is to be a belief of the sort that it approximates knowledge to 95%; faith is just the same belief insofar as it is accepted despite that 5% uncertainty (although, as I noted before, often Geisler and Turek mean instead the disposition to accept what is claimed despite that 5% uncertainty; which they have in mind at any given point has to be determined by context). Thus we cannot conclude from this that an interpretation of belief along these lines commits anyone to the conclusion that faith is belief without evidence. If we take it in its occurrent sense, faith is a belief, but it is not without evidence. If we take it in its dispositional sense, faith is not even a belief but a disposition to accept a claim -- something that may be exercised by belief or not. Either way, the conclusion doesn't follow. And either way, the equivocation is the Professor's, namely, the conflating of division according to relations (in the way that someone may be distinguished according to his relation as brother and according to his relation as son) with division into parts.

The basic points still remain:

(1) From a claim of inverse ratio (such as Geisler and Turek make) can we necessarily conclude a corresponding claim of exclusion (such as the Professor has explicitly stated)?

No. There are many claims of inverse ratio that not only do not require such a conclusion, but exclude such a conclusion entirely.

From this it follows that the G&T inverse ratio claim can't be used to saddle them with the view that faith is belief - evidence.

(2) Does Geisler elsewhere say things that rule out the notion that faith is belief without evidence?

Yes, and in many places. To use an easily accessible example, in his paper, What Is Apologetics? (PDF), Geisler says:

People rightly refuse to believe without evidence. Since God created humans as rational beings, he expects them to live rationally, to look before they leap. This does not mean there is no room for faith. But God wants us to take a step of faith in the light of evidence, rather than to leap in the dark. Evidence of truth should precede faith. No rational person steps in an elevator without some reason to believe it will hold him up. No reasonable person gets on an airplane that is missing part of one wing and smells of smoke in the cabin. People deal in two dimensions of belief: belief that and belief in. Belief that gives the evidence and rational basis for confidence needed to establish belief in. Once belief that is established, one can place faith in it.

Other passages could be adduced.

Thus there is excellent reason to think that the attribution of 'faith is belief without evidence' to Geisler and Turek has more to do with the Professor's confusions than with Geisler's or Turek's.

I should say, with regard to the opening bit of my original post, that it was not my intention for it to sound like poisoning the wells; and I apologize if it came across that way. The point, as the next part of the sentence goes on to say, is that I have a very different interest in the matter than the Professor. I do not approve of philosophical busybodies going around making trouble without good reason, since people have to be given a bit of leeway for their errors due to all the things we don't know about them, and due to the fact that the busybodies themselves are not immune from error. But people also deserve, as fellow rational animals, to be warned when error's about; and likewise, errors are excellent occasions for noting salutary points about various subjects. So on the one hand, the error needs to be corrected; but on the other, and just as importantly, the people who made it deserve not to be shut down or bullied if they try to respond. I therefore try to make sure that people I criticize have the opportunity to have the last word when I've said all that I needed to say about the matter, particularly when I was blunt originally, which I sometimes am and in this case certainly was. That way I'm not trying to force the issue, like a bully, but can instead leave it up to readers to draw their own conclusions about the matter. My difficulty with my previous post was that I wasn't sure at all whether I had said all that I needed to say about the matter. I had some more things I could say, of course, but that's always the case, and why some arguments are interminable; but I had pointed out the fallacy and a few things I thought were telling against the whole line of reasoning. Was this enough? The difference in interest particularly had to be taken into account, because for me the interest was certainly abstract (not impersonal), the abstract interest in collecting and displaying what was wrong with a particular form of argument. Geisler's view is not mine, nor is Macht's, although I think they get some important things right, and certainly more than anyone who thinks of faith as belief without evidence; so I am not in any way under examination here. The interest on the Professor's part, though, was personal (not in the colloquial sense of taking things personally, but in the straightforward sense that it was the Professor who was being held up as the person in error, which is a personal interest if there ever was one). I'm certainly risking very little; at worst I have simply misunderstood the Professor's argument and read as fallacious an argument that is not. That's easy for anyone to do on occasion. But if it's not true that I've misunderstood, the Professor not only misunderstood Geisler & Turek but also in doing so has personally made some rather serious, and rather basic mistakes. As I said, it's not really even; due to the circumstances of the discussion I have an advantage that can bias evaluation, and must be taken into account. My worry was whether I was doing so adequately.

And it's still there. I do think that at this point I've said all I really have to say on the subject. If the Professor decides to say something in response that seems to take things in a new and interesting direction, I might respond, but regardless, for the reasons I've given, I think the Professor should get the privilege of the last word.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Augustine on Teaching

Do teachers hold that it is their thoughts that are perceived and grasped rather than the very disciplines they take themselves to pass on by speaking? After all, who is so foolishly curious as to send his son to school to learn what the teacher thinks? When the teachers have explained by means of words all the disciplines they profess to teach, even the disciplines of virtue and of wisdom, then those who are called 'students' consider within thimselves whether truths have been stated. They do so by looking upon the inner Truth, according to their abilities. That is therefore the point at which they learn.

Augustine, The Teacher. Peter King, tr. Hackett (Indianapolis: 1995) p. 145.

Faith and Evidence: Further Comments

The author of the Evangelical Realism blog has another post up, this time responding to my response to the previous rather confused and muddled post responding to Macht.

I hesitated in posting this, because the discussion is not really even; for 'The Professor' it is a personal point, defending reasoning actually made. For me it is not; it's rather more abstract, an interesting case, 'in the wild', of an interesting form of fallacious reasoning, namely, the inference from a claim of inverse ratio ("The more x, the less y, and vice versa") to a claim of exclusion or categorical distinction ("x and y are distinct categories of things, where x is the category of things that have a given property, and y is the category of things that don't have it"). I considered simply leaving the Evangelical Realist's post alone, conceding the discussion but not the point; my point stands on its own, and the responding post simply reiterates the mistake in an even more obvious form. In the end I decided to post it for three reasons: because I think it needs to be made very clear that this is indeed a fallacy, and apparently I did not make it clear enough before; because I've begun to wonder whether the fallacy might be more common than I had originally thought, in which case attention needs to be drawn to it so that it will stop masquerading as good reasoning, wherever it is found; and because 'The Professor' is clearly not stupid, so I should do him or her the courtesy of pointing out a flaw that, if uncorrected, might reflect badly on all the reasoning that goes on at the Evangelical Realism blog. Feel free to let me know if you think this was a mistake on my part, since occasions like this are likely to arise in the future. (I should also say that, unlike The Professor, I don't think the inverse ratio claim is intended by G & T to be anything more than a rhetorical device, one elaborating the deliberately ironic title of the book. If that's so, it is not a rigorous account of faith as G & T see it, and particularly as Geisler sees it, but merely something to give the 'gist' or general idea. But I fully understand that views may differ on this, and in what follows I simply assume that the inverse ratio claim is a strict and precise account of faith for G & T.)

The whole first part of the post is not relevant to my point; the complaint is that one might think from what I said that the author was arguing "against the idea that faith and evidence can co-exist." But, after talking about the way his or her position allows for a form of faith compatible with evidence, the author goes on to say, "However, that’s what I say, not what Geisler and Turek are saying," and then to distinguish entirely the notion of faith G&T use from the one the author uses. Exactly. My post was on the curious tendency to attribute to certain religious believers a view of faith in spite of the actual evidence about what they believe; this was done with Macht and it was done again with Geisler. The post I was responding to explicitly attributes the 'faith is belief without evidence' to Geisler, despite the fact that Geisler is clear, on many occasions, that his view is that (1) faith is compatible with evidence, and in fact requires it; (2) that it is a form of belief that occurs where the evidence is incomplete; and (3) the quality of faith increases with an increase in the evidence. It is this, in fact, that is the whole argument of the book the post mentions, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, namely, that Christianity is a higher quality and more rational form of faith than atheism is because it is a form of faith that has more evidential support.

The point about the analogy is also not particularly relevant to the basic point of my argument, since the analogy was just as a clarificatory example for the logical point about how claims of inverse ratio often do not allow us to conclude with claims of exclusion (e.g., that faith is belief without evidence); Geisler makes an explicit claim of inverse ratio, and this is evidence that he would reject the claim of exclusion. The analogy I gave is sufficient to illustrate the point. But it is an interesting question what However, the alternative analogy proposed is certainly not a better analogy:

Debt corresponds to the gap between the bills you owe and the bills you’ve paid. As the percentages of paid bills goes up, the percentage of unpaid bills goes down, and vice versa.

So the idea is that unpaid bills are to faith as paid bills are to evidence. This is indeed a claim of inverse ratio; it's a necessary one, in fact. But then the Evangelical Realist ruins it by saying, yet again, that this claim of inverse ratio is a claim of exclusion. Yet again we find the elementary mistake of treating a claim of inverse ratio as a claim of exclusion.

We can see this point by clarifying the analogy somewhat. An unpaid bill is a debt; that is one way in which we use the term 'debt'. But the sort of debt the author has in mind appears to be 'debt' in the sense of your financial state. Consider: while it is true that as your bills are paid your debts (in the first sense) decrease, this is simply a trivial truth, that paid bills are no longer unpaid. But this also has no connection to "the gap between the bills you owe and the bills you've paid"; your debts in this sense are simply the bills you owe, nothing else, and to determine your debts in this sense you don't look at bills you've paid at all. The bills you've paid are irrelevant to the question of how many bills you still owe. Thus, although paid bills and unpaid bills are in inverse ratio, they are independent. The reason for this is that they have different causes: bills are paid because you pay them, but bills are unpaid simply because creditors require them and they aren't paid. This is clearly not analogous to Geisler's claims about faith, in which faith is not the difference between what your evidence supports and what you believe, i.e., an epistemic debt, but instead the difference between the degree to which your evidence supports the conclusion and that degree of evidential support which undergirds any sort of conclusion with certainty. This allows Geisler and Turek to say that the less evidence you have (i.e., the less evidential support you have), the more faith you have (i.e., the less closely your belief approximates knowledge), and vice versa.

Now it does not follow from this that faith is belief without evidence, and clearly so. To determine on this formula how much faith someone has, we look to see both how much evidential support and how this compares to a case of knowledge. So suppose that someone believes some belief B (it doesn't matter much what it is), and the available evidence supports that with 95% certainty. The quantity of faith is determined by taking this degree of evidential support and comparing it with the 100% case; and we find that they are not all that different. It doesn't need much faith, and it's almost knowledge; but we do believe it with a bit of faith. Now it is clear when we do something like this that faith, understood in this way, is not belief minus the evidence; it's the belief we have on our evidence, given that our evidence does not give us 100% certainty. You cannot even determine how much faith a person has until you've determined how much evidence they have. That is what the inverse ratio claim requires; and because of it we cannot say that faith is belief without evidence.

Now, there are certainly problems with this view of the matter; I would argue, for instance, that it is based on a false (albeit common) view of evidence, and an equally false (but even more common) view of belief. But it is absurd to insist on reading Geisler as saying that faith is belief with evidence, when Geisler's obvious view is that faith is belief with evidence that does not yield certainty, to the extent it does not yield certainty. The Evangelical Realist tries to wriggle out of this by saying:

Knowledge and faith can exist side-by-side, but even when you have both of those categories existing side-by-side, the knowledge category contains the things supported by verifiable evidence, and the faith category contains the other stuff.

But (1) this is manifestly not what Geisler and Turek are saying, and it highlights even more clearly the elementary mistake being made. (1) They do not ever equate faith with absence of evidence, so that faith is the category of things not supported by evidence, but with the difference between the degree of evidential support for your position and the degree involved in cases of knowledge. This is entirely different. For Geisler and Turek, faith is not 'the other stuff', the things not supported by verifiable evidence; faith is a fact about the things supported by verifiable evidence, namely, the difference between the support they have and the support a case of knowledge has. (2) One might as well say that cold and hot, because they are in inverse ratio, are two categories of temperature existing side by side, a hot category where there's mean molecular motion and a cold category where there's none. That's clearly a confused account of the inverse ratio involved. What puts hot temperatures and cold temperatures in inverse ratio (so that the hotter it gets, the less cold it gets, and vice versa) is not that they are two categories of things, but that they are a single scale looked at from two directions. So it is with this. There is a reference point: evidential support at 100%. For anything less than that we can characterize our state in two different ways: we can say how much the evidence goes beyond complete lack of evidence; and we can say how much the evidential support for our belief falls short of certainty, i.e., fullest evidence. In other words, we can regard the degree of evidence itself or the degree of faith. The two vary inversely, but they are not different categories of things, but different descriptions of the same thing: one by how much it exceeds zero evidence and the other by how much it falls short of 100% evidence. Faith on this view is not the beliefs that don't fall into the category of "supported by verifiable evidence".

As I said, I think this is not the right sort of account of evidence and faith. But it is very important to be clear that the move that the Evangelical Realist makes is a clear and definite error of reasoning, one in which claims that X and Y are in inverse ratio are taken as necessarily saying that X and Y are two categories, each including only things that lack the other. What is more, it is an elementary mistake. Taking it seriously would lead to utterly absurd results all across the board.

Multicultural Counseling

The unfortunate incident at Columbia University, in which a noose was placed on Dr. Madonna Constantine's office door made me curious about what Dr. Constantine does, and it's actually very interesting. She's apparently one of the nation's foremost authorities on the issues involved with multicultural counseling -- i.e., the problems of counseling and counseling psychology when the people served are very diverse. It's important work, because very few counseling psychology programs in the U.S. are presently able to assess how well they train counselors to handle diversity, despite the fact that this is an increasingly common scenario counselors must face. Some of Constantine's work that can be found free online (some pop-ups, unfortunately):

Factors influencing the educational and vocational transitions of Black and Latino high school students

Religious participation, spirituality, and coping among African American college students

Cultural congruity, womanist identity attitudes, and life satisfaction among African American college women attending historically black and predominantly white institutions

Collective self-esteem and perceived social support as predictors of cultual congruity among Black and Latino college students

Emotional intelligence and empathy: their relation to multicultural counseling knowledge and awareness - Statistical Data Included

Universal-diverse orientation and general expectations about counseling: Their relation to college students' multicultural counseling expectations

School counselors' universal-diverse orientation and aspects of their multicultural counseling competence

Examining multicultural counseling competence and race-related attitudes among white marital and family therapists

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Some More Links

* There is a great interview with Anthony Kenny, on his new four-volume work on the history of philosophy, at "Philosophy Bites".

* The 54th edition of the Philosophers' Carnival is up at "The Uncredible Hallq".

* Kenny puzzles over the Dionysian author.

* Adam Potthast muses about the best design for an intro philosophy course. It's interesting that my taste in intro is for hybrids. And I think there are ways to do both. I'm teaching Plato's Gorgias (my favorite Platonic dialogue), and it's quite easy to make it both a historical and a problematic unit. I think that one of the supposed cons of the historical approach -- that it makes the philosopher Plato or Kant rather than the person in the front of the room -- is a bit more mixed, though. After all, Plato, for instance, arguably wouldn't consider the person in the front of the room a philosopher; philosophy faculty today share much more with the Sophists than with Socrates (they're paid for teaching, for instance, and they deal with words rather than with making people actually good, and teach by lecture rather than by example and one-on-one discussion), and I suspect that if Plato were to come into that classroom precisely what he'd do is shove the example of Socrates in our faces again. One of the things a good philosophy course should raise questions about is whether people who get the label 'philosopher' (including the teacher of the course) are really doing anything that deserves that label. And such self-examination has been the origin of much philosophical thought. But the other points need to be taken seriously.

* And a note to myself not to forget to read Gonzalo Reyes's A topos-theoretic approach to reference and modality, because it keeps coming up as a reference in my recent reading.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Faith and Evidence

I was amused by this objection to Macht's post criticizing the trope that faith is belief without evidence. The author says:

Hot on the heels of our most recent XFiles Friday, I stumble across this objection to the idea that faith is belief without evidence. But this blogger isn’t mad at Christian apologists like Geisler and Turek. Like so many other things, this “offense” gets blamed on atheists.

Since Harris, whom Macht is discussing, does explicitly make arguments assuming that faith is belief without evidence, if using it as a presupposition is an offense it follows that atheists like Harris do in fact commit it. What's amusing though is that throughout the post the author talks as if Geisler went around saying that faith is belief without evidence. Since Geisler's form of apologetics is evidentialist that would be quite a feat, and Geisler on a number of occasions argues that faith is not belief without evidence (for one example that happens to be online, see here). In fact, it's easy enough to see that the author has made a fairly elementary mistake in reasoning in attributing the position that faith is belief without evidence. He takes passages like this from Geisler and Turek:

You may be thinking, "The atheist has to muster a lot more faith than the Christian! What possibly could Geisler and Turek mean by that?" We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge.

And concludes from it that they are saying that faith is belief without evidence. But this is logically excluded from what they actually say here; if the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need, it follows that you can have faith with evidence. If someone were to say, "The less money you have, the more you need to budget it in order to keep it," the natural conclusion is that you can have money and a need for a budget, not that you only need a budget when you have no money. But the two cases are logically analogous: we cannot in general reading statements of inverse ratio as if they were statements of mutual exclusivity. Statements of inverse ration naturally suggest that the two things in ratio are not mutually exclusive. And this can obviously be seen in the fact that they insist that the Christian has more evidence than the atheist, but clearly don't think that this means that the Christian has no faith.

It's clear enough what Geisler and Turek are doing; they are claiming that all reasoning on the basis of evidence in which the evidence does not yield the conclusion with perfect certainty involves faith. This is the way the Pauline phrase, "walking by faith and not by sight" is usually interpreted, in fact. Luther, Calvin, and Aquinas, to take just a few major names, all deny that faith is belief without evidence; Luther suggests that it is trust based on good report, Calvin that it is having confidence on the basis of promises that can be deemed trustworthy, and Aquinas that it is belief on the evidence of testimony rather than that of direct acquaintance or causal demonstration. And yet some people are so certain of the claim that Christians in general hold that faith is belief without evidence that they will assert it without serious evidence. Certainly such a claim requires good evidence, because if there are lots of Christians who don't believe that, then the claim is false, regardless of who says it, and arguments based on it are therefore unsound. Thus the amusing attempt to psychoanalyze Macht on the basis of his merely saying that Harris thinks that faith is belief without evidence isn't particularly relevant to anything. A false claim is a false claim; and it would remain a false claim even if atheists had taken it uncritically and without adequate rational examination from some Christians here and there.

In any case, it seems a bit silly to say something like "And though he protests at length that this is what faith doesn’t mean, he never quite defines for us what he thinks faith does mean," given that this is the blogosphere; you can simply search Macht's blog for discussions of faith and evidence, and you can find out more about his view of faith from posts like this one:

New atheists generally deny that "atheists have faith, too." This isn't surprising, since no matter how many times you try to beat it into their skulls they always come back to the belief that faith is belief without or in spite of evidence. You can grab their ears, look them straight in the eyes, say "no it isn't," have them repeat it back to you and then two seconds later they'll turn around and tell somebody "faith is belief without or in spite of evidence." It happens every time. You can tell them that faith is a trust in your worldview, your "vision of the good," your philosophy of life, etc. But this makes absolutely no sense within their acultural view of modernity. Atheism isn't any of these things, they say, so there is no need for trust. Atheism is just the rational nature you have left over when you, with all your cultural baggage, are shoved into the chicken nugget factory or when your burka is stripped off. And so what else can faith be other than part of that baggage?

The only way to answer this question is to help the new atheists realize that their "vision of the good" is indeed a "vision of the good." It's a worldview. It's a story about where we have been, what's gone wrong, how to fix it, and where we should be going. And that story is something you have faith in. It's something you trust, it's something you commit to. Now all we have to do is figure out how to convince them of this.

Kant and the Analytic/Synthetic Distinction

Glach has a nice post on Kant's analytic/synthetic distinction. In the comments I say that the distinction is Wolffian; but this is a little misleading, because Wolff himself doesn't make the distinction. Rather, what Kant does is show that the Wolffian notion of analyticity makes it absolutely necessary for us to recognize a form of judgment distinct from analytic judgments, namely, synthetic judgments.

Looking at the relevant SEP article, by Georges Rey, I find myself a bit puzzled. The idea seems to be that the 'containment' criterion and the 'principle of contradiction' criterion for analyticity (which are both carried over from Wolff) are different. OK, but the example given is this:

(A) Bachelors are unmarried or the moon is blue.

And, says, Rey, "'Bachelors are unmarried or the moon is blue' is a logical consequence of 'Bachelors are unmarried' — its denial readily contradicts the latter — but clearly nothing about the color of the moon is remotely “contained in” the concept bachelor."

But this appears muddled to me. (A) is indeed a logical consequence of 'Bachelors are unmarried', but it does not follow from 'Bachelors are unmarried' by the principle of noncontradiction, but by the (obviously synthetic) principle of disjunction addition. To say that X follows from Y by logical consequence simply means that X follows from Y by some sort of necessity; but, of course, we have to distinguish between two ways necessity could be involved: the analytic and the synthetic. As Kant notes, "Analytic judgments (affirmative) are therefore those in which the connection of the predicate with the subject is thought through identity; those in which this connection is thought without identity should be entitled synthetic." But disjunction addition does not introduce an identity; it introduces new information, namely, the alternative, which may or may not be true. Kant's appeal to the principle of noncontradiction, in fact, is Wolffian; on a Wolffian scheme the criterion of possibility is the principle of noncontradiction, and what we do in analysis is draw out what is contained in the coherent concept by using only the principle of noncontradiction; when we have done so we have described a possible object, since every concept which does not violate the principle of noncontradiction has, on Wolff's view, a corresponding possible object. So if I'm analyzing a concept, e.g.,

Bachelor = ?

I can only introduce such information on the right hand side as must not be denied of the concept on the left hand side on pain of violating the principle of noncontradiction, e.g.,

Bachelor = Unmarried Man

(since it would be a contradiction to deny the predicate "unmarried man" of the subject, "bachelor"). But you can't even predicate "unmarried man or the moon is blue" of "bachelor" because "unmarried man or the moon is blue" is a nonsense predicate. "The moon is blue" is an alternative proposition, not part of what we are predicating of "bachelor". Thus we can't affirm or deny it of "bachelor", and the principle of noncontradiction, understood as the claim that we cannot affirm and deny the same thing of the same subject in the same respect, is not enough to get (A).

Incidentally, this is all connected with Kant's famous argument that existence is not a predicate. One might be tempted to say that existing dollar is a species of the genus possible dollar. But this would make every existence judgment either necessarily true or necessarily false. So existence judgments must be synthetic, if existence is predicated of subjects. Existence is thus a determination or 'mode' of possibility; "existence" functions as a determining predicate. What Kant points out is that this won't do, and his argument for it is a clever one. If "existence" is a determining predicate, it must add to the concept of the subject and enlarge it. But if we take "existence" to be a concept that is added to the concept of a possible object, the existing object is not the same as the possible object. Suppose I have a question about whether a treasure mentioned by my friend is real. I have a concept of the relevant treasure qua possible, and I am asking whether that very thing actually exists. Now suppose that the treasure at first does not exist, but then is later put together. In the earlier stage, we say of the possible object, treasure, that it does not exist; in the later stage we say of the very same possible object that it does. Even to make sense of the change we must be using the same concept. If existence were a determining predicate for possible being, though, the concept of existing treasure would never be the same concept of a possible object as the concept of possible treasure, because it has a determination, or additional feature, that distinguishes it from the concept of possible treasure. We could not, then, talk of a possible treasure becoming actual, any more than we can talk about a possible treasure becoming a possible cow. Possible objects don't change into different possible objects; they merely stay possible or begin to exist. As Kant says, "The real contains no more than the merely possible." It makes no difference to the concept of money in my bank account whether that possible money exists or not. Thus "existence" cannot be a feature added to the merely possible object to make it a different possible object; it must be that very possible object. It's just that this possible object may or may not be thought to exist.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dawkins and the "Jewish Lobby"

I haven't said anything about the recent Dawkins fiasco in which he said, in a Guardian interview:

When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told - religious Jews anyway - than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.

He makes a similar argument in his advocacy of the OUT Campaign:

Atheists are more numerous than religious Jews, yet they wield a tiny fraction of the political power, apparently because they have never got their act together in the way the Jewish lobby so brilliantly has: the famous 'herding cats' problem again.

Partly it's because I think Orac is quite right: it is more probable that Dawkins is simply ignorant of the political situation in the United States, and is being sloppy (as he often in fact is) with distinctions, than that he is deliberately making an antisemitic swipe. There is precious little in the way of a "Jewish lobby" in the United States -- a few organizations like the American Jewish Committee, and little more, which don't have much pull in the halls of power; there is a very strong 'Israel lobby' (such as is represented by organizations like AIPAC), of course, which is strong precisely because it is heavily, even if not exclusively, evangelical Christian, and therefore has close connections with a Zionist voting demographic that massively dwarfs the Jewish population (which is very diverse in its opinions on the issues supported by the 'Israel lobby').

I keep wanting to read the "as far as many people can see" as a crucial qualifier here, but it's difficult to do so. I think one can say that it qualifies the 'monopolises', thus suggesting that Dawkins wouldn't go so far as to commit himself to the claim of monopoly. But his argument requires that the example be a real-life instance of what he's talking about, and that's the problem. There is certainly no basis for suggesting, as Dawkins seems to in the interview, that U.S. foreign policy is profoundly influenced by religious Jews. But it needs to be said the fact that as a claim it is very similar to antisemitic calumnies about Jewish cabals is likely an unfortunate coincidence.

(There is no such excuse for some of the comments that have gone up in response to Orac's post, which are in some cases simply appalling.)