## 23 December 2011

### Unequally yoked marriage | A hopeful note

This is a post among an unknown number of posts to come about "unequally yoked" marriage. Googling for "unequally yoked" produces an absurd amount of hits. I've found most to be about what to do before marriage. I'd like to write a bit about what it's like from within marriage.

Here's a link to the index for this series
---

My last post was a pretty sad story. Things were really tough for me. In talking to several people as well as my parents, I think things have eased up a bit. Part of it has to do with my personality. I tend to ignore or literally remain unaware of messes for sometime and then go into full-out-attack mode and clean like a madman until I'm satisfied. Perhaps that's what's happened over the past two years. On and off, I've had glimpses that something isn't right. But I've not really dug in to figure out what it is. Thus, I continue to have recurring bouts of acute negativity toward my situation.

Well, I thought I'd write whilst singing a different tune. I had a bit of a change in mindset driving home from work the other day, and I thought I'd share about it. Before explaining the change, there's some background. I expressed my hesitancy and feelings of emptiness about my social group and marriage to my wife last week. Perhaps not a great move, but it was being honest. That led, as expected, to quite a bit of marital strife and hurt feelings. Perhaps I overreacted. On my behalf, all I can say is that the last two weeks have been extremely difficult. I've had a massive feeling of being drowned in things like:
-- Thinking no one really respects me because I believe differently
-- Extreme intolerance of attitudes that seek to exert belief-based outcomes on others without having justification for said beliefs
-- Feeling like I would experience relief if I just ran away and started over in terms of a new social group
-- Feeling very, very, very alone, not understood or related to, isolated, etc.

That was an ugly situation. I still have those issues and will be seeing a counselor of some sort (either our previous couple's counselor or Marlene Winell) to attempt some resolution. I realize that my instinct is to run away. It feels like if I just left all of my past behind, I'd also leave behind the pain of separation/differences as well. This doesn't take into account future pains, though, such as loneliness, time delay in rebuilding friendships, and frustrations in trial and error in new-best-friend-finding. Anyway, my point is to paint the picture that I felt like I was in a burning building and thus wanted to run, but there wasn't necessarily a lot of thought about which way to head.

The other day, however, I had a shift in perspective. Rather than just focusing on the problem (burning building -> run), perhaps this could be a problem to solve. I love studying and analyzing things. I tried to get this across in my multi-level marketing analysis series. I used google scholar to track down 45 published scientific papers about marital success/failure predictors and factors. Rather than remain hopeless, I can be informed about the factors affecting satisfaction. Specifically, perhaps common interests and/or religion will turn out to be dominated by some other variable(s). If I know those variables, I have some knobs to tweak.

You may be reading this and thinking, "Yeah, right. This is ridiculous!" Maybe so. But for now, using my innate drive to fix problems and research is a good thing. It keeps me able to envision a future self that can share the results of this research to help others, especially if I've helped myself, not to mention an increase in relationship satisfaction if I succeed. I bought a John Gottman book at Half Price books that day as well. I also plan to finish a book recommended by our couples therapist as part of my research. Anyway, it's hard to exactly convey my change in state, but just know that it's far different from where it was, and in a good way. I'm up to the task of trying to invest time and effort into the practical applications of research on romantic relationships.

To testify to a bit of positive fruit that resulted from this change in mindset, I present you with Exhibit A, my Christmas present for my wife that I just gave her as a sign of my investment in our relationship:

We were on a budget this year, so this gift was one that had extremely high value, but not in the monetary sense, exactly. I was inspired to give my wife a bunch of things I probably should have been giving her all along. There were something like 40 coupons in total that she can use in 2012. They were things I knew she's really appreciate, but more importantly, I wanted to convey that I'd be around to redeem them. There was quite a bit of shakiness in our marriage recently; this was my way of trying to recommit and display my investment in making this relationship a success:
-- A fun night out x 6
-- A sweet back rub x 4
-- A rockin' foot rub x 4
-- Breakfast in bed x 4
-- Breakfast/coffee out with a friend x 6
-- A Saturday sleep in x 12
-- A weekend at the Santry Mansion or The Cottage (two local bed and breakfasts)
-- Beginner Lindy swing dancing lessons via Twin City Rebels Swing Dance Club

That's a lot of coupons :) I also tried to summarize my thought in a card. Here's an excerpt:

...

These gifts are my way of recommitting to you. You shouldn't need to be recommitted to; there shouldn't have been an "uncommitting" in the first place. Thus, I'm trying to do something I hope will help.

I had a change of mindset yesterday. While my study in one area has brought about significant issues, perhaps my gift for study could instead be advantageous. My disposition shifted yesterday on the way home from simply seeing a problem to seeing a problem to solve.

I plan to wrap up a couple of my current books and then turn my gaze toward relationships. I spent quite a bit of time hunting for scientific literature on relationships. I have 45 published articles on factors affecting relationships satisfaction. Perhaps if I knew the variables involved, I could improve myself and our relationship.

I think I panicked about us. Two years of on and off awareness of something no being right caught up to me. My instinct was to run -- perhaps "starting over" or just leaving the situation would help, I thought. But perhaps that's not necessary. I just don't want to hurt and to be happy. If that can come about by changing me and/or some variable in our lives, problem solved.

This gift is my way of showing you that I'm still here and still with you. I plan to work very hard on trying to understand my/our hurt and issues to try to make us work. I'm sorry that my issues hurt you so badly.

You shouldn't need coupons for most of this stuff -- a good husband would already having been giving them to you. Nevertheless, maybe I need a bit more push than the average good husband. this is my way of pushing myself for you. Here's to you -- my loving, tender, caring, fantastic wife.

Merry X-mas,
Love,
John

Long journey ahead. Nevertheless, I thought I'd post again with these updates. This is hard stuff. I continue to share as I think more people might benefit from reading the raw data on how this can go, the ups along with the downs. There's a horrid amount of ugly stuff when googling for "unequally yoked marriage." Most of it is hopeless and depressing. I, too, as evidenced by the last post, have my depressed and doubtful moments. But there's also changes in heart that can come about. I'm off next week from work, so I hope to finish my couple of [a]theistic books and get cracking on relationship information.

At the end of the day, I just don't want to be miserable. I want to thrive and be happy. It's helpful to just keep those in mind without any qualifiers. The temptation is to look at my situation, realize that there's some potential sources of unhappiness in it, and just think, "causation." That's not necessarily the case. I don't know why, exactly, I'm unhappy... just that I'm unhappy. If the issues lie in myself, there's nothing to be fixed or upset about with respect to my circumstances! If there are some independent factors coming from the situation itself, I'll have to look at those down the road. To combat my inclination to just run, I need to keep hopeful and optimistic, hence my act of pre-committing myself with coupons. I also am going to apply my desire for knowledge and self-improvement to this, just like I have with god, power tool purchases, and multi-level marketing schemes. I'll stay in touch.

## 19 December 2011

### Letters to a Doubting Thomas | A moral argument

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This is part of a series of posts in response to "Letters to a Doubting Thomas" C. Stephen Layman.
---

Whew. Last post in this series. I'm not going to lie, morality is probably my biggest weakness since deconverting, at least from the standpoint of intellectual defensibility. I completely get the appeals to intuition when it comes to morality. I find it extremely difficult to reject apparent moral laws with a straight face and fear the day when someone pulls the 'ol slap-you-in-the-face routine and then asks why it's wrong for them to slap you if it's all relative. Speaking of this, Layman includes such an anecdote in the book:
Many moral antirealists have held that moral judgments merely express feelings or emotions. Saying "Murder is wrong" is like saying "Murder—boo!" A friend of mine who teaches ethics received a paper defending this thesis from a student. My friend immediately placed an F on the paper and returned it. The student contacted her to protest the grade. The conversation went something like this:

Student: Why did you give me an F? I worked hard on that paper. Was it unclear? Did I leave something out? Was there an error in the logic?

Prof: You write well. You have a clear thesis. The paper is nicely organized. The grammar is fine. I didn't spot any fallacies.

Student: Well, then, the grade is unfair.

Prof: "Unfair." Hmmm. "Unfair" is a moral word, isn't it? But as you point out in your paper, there is no moral truth. People just feel differently about certain things. Well, you and I just feel differently about this paper.

The point, of course, was not to stick the student with a bad grade, but to initiate a serious discussion about the foundations of morality. Verbalizing moral antirealism is one thing, accepting its implications is another thing altogether.

Now, moral anti-realism isn't the only option out there. The beginning of this chapter lays out just what Zach says the "moral order" is, along with evaluating some non-theistic ways to support a moral order. (As is probably obvious, Zach won't buy any of them.)

I was surprised that Layman (Zach) wasn't a supporter of Divine Command Theory (DCT). He lays out two versions of DCT and them suggests why he thinks them to be on precarious ground. One has to do with the Euthyphro Dilemma, though he doesn't call it by name. In essence, though, Zach brings up the point that there could be necessary moral truths that can't be wrong under any conceivable circumstances:
First, we can offer examples of moral statements which, if true, are plausibly necessary, e.g., "It is wrong to torture people for fun" and "Unjustified killing is wrong." It's hard to see how these statements could be false under any possible circumstances; hence, it is plausible to suppose that they are necessary truths.

...

The inference from "God is almighty" to "God has control over what is good and evil, right and wrong" is invalid. God does not control necessary truths; they cannot be false under any circumstances whatsoever.

In other words, such a "necessary moral law" wouldn't be wrong due to god's commands; it would be wrong independent of god, and thus god couldn't be a moral lawgiver via DCT.

Zach and Thomas dabble a bit in the ontological argument and then come to the heart of Zach's argument. He lays out what he calls the "moral order:"
The Moral Order: (a) The strongest reasons always favor doing what is morally required, and (b) the correct moral code is traditional in content.

When I speak of a traditional moral code, I mean one that says killing, stealing, lying, adultery, and so on are wrong, except perhaps in certain special cases, e.g., killing in self-defense.

In our discussion of the Imperfect-Deity hypothesis, I mentioned that most moral theorists hold or presuppose that the strongest or overriding reasons always favor doing one's moral duty. I know of no way to prove that this principle is true, but I think most people believe it or at least find it plausible once they've considered it.

Next, Zach lays out some naturalistic explanations for the moral order:
-- Being moral always promotes self-interest
-- Doing one's duty is the only way to have peace of mind
-- Having virtue is it's own reward

For various reasons, Zach rejects all of these. He uses examples to illustrate when being moral might not be in one's self-interest, when peace of mind does not follow from being moral, or when being virtuous might lead to, say, unjust imprisonment and thus not be its own reward.

Thomas briefly suggests abandoning the idea that the strongest reasons always lead to the moral choice. To this, Zach lays out the humdinger:
Being moral always pays in the long run, where "the long run" includes life after death.

There's two key parts to Zach's argument I want to highlight. The first is his use of the term "traditional moral code" above. The second is his introduction of the afterlife. Essentially, he's suggested that the "moral order" is that which humans universally think is right. One issue with this is that these are kind of the no-brainers. Zach doesn't bring up any writings about evolutionary reasons that such beliefs/practices might be advantageous. Not killing fellow species-members and adherence to particular sexual rules would be favorable in terms of our genetic and evolutionary heritage. There are other theories concerning our pestering drive to tell the truth (which I'll group with not-stealing). So, I think this chapter would have benefited from a more fair dealing with naturalism.

Secondly, Zach essentially makes his initial definition fit by bringing in a hypothetical, unproven, speculatory meta-location, heaven, to make being moral the thing supported by the strongest reason. In other words, be moral during this life or burn forever; this now allows morality to be supported by the strongest reasons. I find this unsatisfactory. This is akin to parents inventing a new story about The Elf on the Shelf so that their kids will behave. Fear of losing out on those nice Christmas presents because of disappointing a hawk-eyed stuffed animal is now the driving factor to be good (i.e. the "strongest reason").

As I opened up with, I don't have any breathtaking alternative answers to morality. I just don't think that because we feel really, really moral and haven't figured out what it is or where that comes from that this indicates a god exists who wrote things on my heart. I actually think this argument opens the bag on a number of other fascinating questions that don't fare so well for theism. For example, we've seen a free will argument from Zach previously. If free will and morally significant action is important to god, but I have an overwhelming desire imprinted on my soul not to kill or rape, where is the line between free will and coercion? I realize that I can force myself to override these instincts, but why not create other instincts/drives like these moral ones? After a two-year agonizing journey of deconversion and study, I would love to have evidence in the form of belief in the Christian god akin to these moral drives. What if every human felt the same compulsion to love Jesus Christ as they do not to murder!? Now that would be a reason to torture someone forever if they turned away. At least we would be universally cognizant of the god we were rejecting! Anyway, that play on free will/coercion and how it relates with morality and belief has often intrigued me.

I'll close with some naturalistic work on morality I've run across.

So, there's a very small bit of naturalistic morality stuff I'm aware of, just to plant some seeds for thought. Again, I certainly don't have this figured out. Be good, do good stuff, blah blah. I haven't changed much about my moral stances, but getting a coherent argument together for why I do what I do and believe what I do is definitely on my todo list!

## 17 December 2011

### Letters to a Doubting Thomas | The problem of evil

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This is part of a series of posts in response to "Letters to a Doubting Thomas" C. Stephen Layman.
---

Chapters seven and eight focus on the problem of evil. This is probably one of the most discussed objections to theism ever. Zach and Thomas begin by discussion the differences between natural (the result of inanimate causes/events) and moral (the result of some human willed event) suffering as well as definitions for suffering:
--Suffering is a very unpleasant conscious state.
-- Suffering comes in both mental and physical forms. For example, intense anxiety is a form of mental suffering; and the long-lasting pain common in diseases such as cancer is a form of physical suffering.
-- Because suffering is a conscious state, many types of entities cannot suffer. For example, I assume that rocks and plants cannot suffer because they lack the sort of conscious awareness suffering involves.
-- Suffering comes in degrees. For example, suffering can be trying, intense, unbearable, etc.

So far, so good. Next, Zach launches into the free will defense. In essence, god created us wholly free in order to grant us morally significant actions. It isn't saying much to choose to live for god if choosing to sin isn't even attractive. Thomas objects that god essentially put is in a room full of candy and then complained because we ate candy, and brought in the parent/child analogy for god. This came up in the last post on free will. Zach responds:
Parents are procreators, not creators, and there's a big difference. A Creator must determine the basic structure of the created realm, including the fundamental sorts of options to make available to free creatures. No one else is in a position to do that. Human parents lack the requisite power and knowledge. The God-parent analogy is useful, but it is misused if it is taken to mean that God has precisely the same responsibilities a human parent has.

This is an interesting response. I believe what Layman is getting at is that god set up a universe with good/evil options in order to grant us free will. Parents only enter the game as it already exists and make choices within it. Unfortunately, I see this as conflicting with the idea of miracles. While Zach/Layman never brings this up in the book, it is a widely used apologetic argument, especially in favor of Christianity. If god can intervene against the rules of the game he created, it becomes precarious to explain why god doesn't intervene most of the time. This, again, brings in the assumption that we know that a mega-human type being invented the rules of the free willed universe and that it's responsibilities aren't anything like those of a parent. In fact, god is somewhat of the ultimate parent -- responsible for our existence in the first place, supposedly! If that doesn't merit some care and looking after of inferior, sin-prone creatures... I don't know what does!

The other issue with this is assuming that significance only matters when compared to negative integers along the number line. Why can't we view saintliness in comparison to lukewarmness? Can being a good husband only be compared to adultery or murder? How about couch-potato, apathetic husband vs. science-museum/anniversary-remembering/dinner cooking super-dad? Thus, I can conceive of a world in which evils don't exist like they do (or are't attractive) and in which there is still a spectrum of responses to god.

Zach puts the free will defense forth very succinctly here:
Second, the suggestion that we could have as much meaning or significance in our lives as we actually do without certain types of wickedness, such as genocide, is problematic. If there were no genocide, no doubt we would be discussing some other example of wickedness, such as murder or rape. And if murder and rape were beyond human capability, I suspect we would be discussing still other forms of wickedness. Some humans would probably be satisfied with a situation in which the consequences of our acts would be trivial; but such a world would pale in significance to the world we find ourselves in—a world full of drama, in which acts have enormous significance—significance that is partly a function of their consequences.

A world with less significance has its attractions, because such a world contains fewer risks. But I believe it remains unsurprising that we find ourselves in a situation in which acts have enormous significance—assuming that God exists. Such a world has many risks, but it is also replete with meaning. What we do—and do not do—really counts for something.

This is quite difficult for me to swallow. In essence, the more massively harmful humans can be, the more reason we have to suspect that god really, really, really created something special when he formed humans. That just rubs me the wrong way. Why not make the world even more morally significant. Make a world in which it's massively easy to kill someone and not get caught. Or give everyone a world annihilation button to tempt them whenever they get really angry at humanity. Or give us psychic powers to harm others whenever we think bad thoughts (how's that for some thought crime?). In reality, we have no predictive power either way. We only have the world we have and thus can't say whether things could be different one way or the other, or what that would imply about the world. Viewing these types of things from the comfort of our homes can be quite sterile. Perhaps we should ask those who are the victims of moral evils if they would prefer to have slightly less morally significant choices and to have been spared some harm. If the world were 1/100th less morally significant and heaven were still the reward... would you choose such a world?

Zach also brings forth a hinting at the soul-building defense:
The significance of intense suffering must be transformed by the role it plays in one's life as a whole, as an ugly splotch of color in an impressionist painting may add to the beauty of the whole painting.

I won't really address this as it can be countered with gratuitous evils in which no apparent soul building results (infants killed during birth, young children raped and murdered, animal suffering, etc.). That quote is immediately followed by what I'll call the "catch all:"
Let me make a suggestion and get your response. I assume that an almighty being is able to raise creatures from the dead; thus, life after death is possible, from the standpoint of Theism. Indeed, life after death is probable, from the standpoint of Theism, at least in part because divine love will not give wickedness the last word. A loving God seeks the fulfillment of his creatures. And from the standpoint of Theism, the only thing that can prevent the fulfillment of an individual creature in the long run, I take it, is the individual's free rejection of divine love.

...

[The afterlife] provides an assurance that those whose lives are wrecked by wickedness in this earthly life will have opportunities to reclaim the fulfillment denied them. Beyond this, [the afterlife] provides for the possibility that God may have some purposes for each person that are not (or cannot) be fulfilled prior to death, in which case all persons would have a life after death.

We now postulate a hypothetical realm in which the dead can live again to cover for any apparent injustices during earthly life. I admit that this is possible, but I see no reason to think it's probable. It just seems convenient and thus it's used to sweep the problem under the carpet. In any case, the two move on to discuss natural evil. Zach brings forth that natural evils are a reasonably large cause for the formation of human societies at all and thus their absence would reduce the moral capacity of humans. Furthermore, he lists a number of professions as existing only in response to natural evils. Thus, they serve a benefit. Let's imagine risk of famine or shortage of other natural resources wasn't an issue. Couldn't people flourish via hobbies or art? Heck, if food wasn't scarce at all (as in, plentiful everywhere) or you didn't need shelter from storms and the environment... why would you need to work at all? My house and eating are the two reasons I have to work. I'm a bit aghast that Layman would take this approach:
So far I have emphasized the connection between significance, work, and natural evil. I am not suggesting that our lives would be insignificant without natural evil. But I am pointing out that we humans often find great significance in the work we do, and the work we do is usually linked to some natural evil, so the work would not be needed if the natural evil (or threat thereof) were absent. And I suggest that the kind of significance humans achieve in their working lives is a very good thing.

This, again, strikes me as sterile talk. We're talking about natural evils as simply those things our jobs seek to remedy: food shortages, cures for diseases, how to tap into natural resources. We're forgetting things like tsunamis, earthquakes, and hurricanes. You know, unpredictable, massive killers of human beings. Is the satisfaction we take in our jobs in trying to solve things like world hunger or AIDS worth killing off that many unsuspecting people at once?

Zach and Thomas move on to animal suffering. Zach essentially posits the same two responses: animals are granted the ability to take part in the "drama of nature," and there might be an afterlife for animals. Forgive me if I'm not really impressed by these answers.

Chapter eight moves on to discuss naturalism and evil. I felt a bit cheated by this chapter; the following quote illustrates why:
Recall that hurricanes, viruses, earthquakes, etc., do not count as natural evils; it's the suffering (and loss) these natural events bring about for sentient beings that counts as natural evil. But does Basic Naturalism lead us to expect the presence of sentient beings? No. As we saw in our discussion of the Cosmological Argument, Basic Naturalism does not even lead us to expect the presence of contingent beings, let alone a life-supporting universe and conscious living things. And if Basic Naturalism does not lead us to expect conscious living things, then it does not lead us to expect any suffering (or loss) at all. Hence, Basic Naturalism does not lead us to expect any natural evil.

In other words, Zach has piggybacked on an earlier chapter and now suggests that since we don't have any reason to expect that humans (contingent beings) would even exist at all, naturalism doesn't predict any evils whatsoever. While I get the point, forgive me if I think it's a tad more reasonable to start with the knowledge that humans clearly do exist, and then ask whether we should be surprised that nature appears to be completely ignorant of such beings' existence. From here, the two, in my opinion, digress heavily into the moral argument even though it will be dealt with in the next chapter. Zach attempts another piggyback move, claiming that moral evil is also not explained by naturalism because morality presupposes the existence of moral capacities, which are only existent with free will, which is only predicted by theism. Thus, again, we have a reused argument that Zach uses to suggest that naturalism also can't explain the existence of moral evil because there's no non-theistic moral standard to judge it by and without free will, humans aren't really moral.

I think this would have benefited by examining apparent evils in light of humans evolved primates. Would our tendencies to commit evil that surround hoarding of goods, reproduction, and territory claims be explained better by our existence as an animal vs. an en-souled part human/part divine creature? In any case, hopefully you understand why I thought this chapter was cheating a bit. It's also another return to a flaw I pointed out in the book earlier. It evaluates everything in light of Zach's picture of naturalism rather than simply looking at whether theism paints a coherent explanation or not. The problem of evil is obviously a big one, otherwise it would have gone away by now. While I realize there are explanations like the free will defense and soul building theodicies, in the end, I think most humans would find these unsatisfactory. Do we really think this is the absolutely best possible world? Not one act of evil could have been prevented while still maintaining morally significant action/free will? One less instance of rape or torture would have led to an overall decrease in world quality?

We just can't know this, and thus I find these types of theodicies insufficient. They presuppose that god knows best, only to assert that this really is the best world we could have expected. Rather than pick on naturalism because it can't explain the origin of the universe (yet) or what free will is (yet) and thus can't explain sentient life (natural evil) or morally significant choices (moral evil) seems cheap. Just compare theism's picture of god allowing moral evils so that choosing him means more on one hand and humans as evolved animals with desires that sometimes harm others on the other. Or natural evils as benefiting society or providing satisfying jobs on one hand and an uncaring deterministic universe filled with horrible weather on the other.

Lastly, there's also my argument from the impossibility of evil. I think god could have created a world in which evil was possible, but more like a math problem to be solved. Actually, this dovetails well with Zach's claim that many significant jobs arise from trying to combat natural evils. Flip that and think of committing evil as the problem to be solved. Imagine conceiving of killing Johnny but not being able to figure out how. You can will it, but not do it. We still consider ourselves free despite not being able to jump over buildings. Why doesn't this bother us? Presumably, we can be satisfied with our freedoms within our borders of limitation. Simply shrink that border to include many currently doable evils. Would the world really be worse off?

### Letters to a Doubting Thomas | Argument from free will

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This is part of a series of posts in response to "Letters to a Doubting Thomas" C. Stephen Layman.
---

This chapter features an incredibly long discussion about the nature of free-will between Zach and Thomas, prior to Zach giving him the heart of the argument:
Premise 1. Theism has a significantly higher prior probability than MUH Naturalism.

Premise 2. Theism does a better job of leading us to expect the presence of free will (in the incompatibilist sense) than MUH Naturalism does.

Conclusion: Theism explains the presence of human free will better than MUH Naturalism does; hence, the phenomenon of free will provides evidence in favor of Theism over MUH Naturalism.

Premise 1 might need some explanation. The original formulation of naturalism was found in the first post. Since then, Zach and Thomas have shifted to a new formulation, "multi-universe naturalism (MUH):"
MUH Naturalism: (1) There is a self-organizing physical reality, (2) some part of physical reality exists of necessity, (3) the necessary part of physical reality randomly generates additional parts of physical reality that are distinct universes, and (4) the number of universes generated is vast— perhaps even infinite. (5) Leaving aside possible special cases (e.g., sets or numbers), all entities are physical entities.

They made this adjustment during Chapter 5 on the Design Argument to account for the fact that apparent fine-tuning exists. Thus, by postulating a massive number of universes, it becomes more plausible that the fine-tuned one in which we live, exists. I covered this in a separate post. Regardless of this, the obvious key premise is the second, which implies both:
• We have free-will in an incompatabalist sense
• Theism predicts the existence of free-will

The second half may very well be true, depending on one's understanding of "free will." Even so, the heart of the second half hinges on this bit from Zach:
By contrast, the presence of free agents is not surprising, on the assumption that Theism is true. A morally perfect Deity would have good reason to give persons the opportunity to live significant lives. And, other things being equal, a life involving important choices is more significant than a life involving no choices. So God would have reason to give us the power to make important choices, such as the choice to help or harm ourselves and others.

This goes back to previous bits in the chapter where Zach makes the familiar argument that free will implies no significant action, no real moral capacities, and so on. Mustering as much as we can to adhere to the Litany of Gendlin (or see my blog tagline above), what would the reaction be if we really didn't have free will? Would everyone go on a rampage of suicide, crime, and complete despair? If you knew that the laws of physics determined the life you would life, would you want to not experience it? I return back to a discussion of free will I had with a friend, who posed it this way:
• If I could prove conclusively that you had free will, how would you behave differently?
• If I could prove conclusively that you did not have free will, how would you behave differently?

I had to admit that neither scenario would alter my behavior. I may be an exception; free will have never struck me as impossible, horrid, scary, or depressing. That there could be knowable causes for every single action I conduct is quite feasible in my mind. We could be biological machines of immense complexity that go about behaving in pre-determined ways that yet remain unpredictable even by a perfect prediction machine.

The real key to this idea of free will is simply whether we could, in principle, reduce every action to a previous condition described by physics, or if the furthest back we could go was, "Because I chose it." I don't know that there is a ready answer to this question. Zach makes the case that the best we could get to is something like, "Inputs like wants, desires, history, past actions, and current brain state S1 lead to the expectation of a 90% chance of brain state S2 occurring and a 10% chance of brain state S3 occurring." I'm unsure if I think this is accurate or if we could know something more, say about the exact location of all quarks, that would reduce this to a single answer. Then again, measuring something interferes with it, and thus we may never know. Is this not knowing because we really have free will or because of how physics works?

Furthermore, I've wondered if either the mind isn't simply what the brain does, or if free will isn't entirely dependent on brain states, why injuries to the brain have such predictable side effects. Ebon Musings has an already massively cited section on all kinds of these phenomenon in Ghost in the Machine. There's just something odd about admitting that our hardware dependent minds/actions are also being affected by something unknowable, detectable, traceable, or predictable. And again, would not knowing be due to a free will component in the theistic sense, or because of something more like Heisenberg uncertainty? And if that is what free will is, then do electrons have it? Layman actually used radioactive decay as evidence that not everything is predictable:
For example, take a quantity of radium 226 over a period of 3,240 years; each atom of the radium has a .75 probability of decaying and a .25 probability of not decaying (within that period of time).

But if this is what we're talking about with respect to free will... the conclusions drawn seem to lose some significant loftiness.

The chapter concludes with a discussion of whether or not god's omniscience conflicts with the idea of free will. Zach defends the idea along the lines of "God knows everything that can be known." Thus, since free will implies that future actions cannot be known until they occur, the best god knows is a range of possibilities and not a definite action. This avoids things like god believing I will lie, and then I freely tell the truth and thus make one of god's beliefs false. Instead, god believes that I might do either action. Once I do it, god knows which I chose. They discuss solutions to the same problem from timelessness and middle knowledge which I don't particularly care to get into.

This post is probably somewhat of a disappointment. I don't have the free will answer. I am reading through LessWrong's solution (think about it yourself before reading!), and think that Thou Art Physics makes a hell of a lot of sense (it was an incredible "Aha!" moment for me upon seeing the second drawing). Are theologians satisfied with this? Probably not. For me, the above argument contains a lot of issues that the argument from cosmology had. Namely, we're postulating a perfectly moral being and then speculating about what that being would and wouldn't do with creation. Such a being would obviously want us to have moral capacities, right (even at or own eternal peril)? This type of anthropomorphism has never gotten very far with me. We're looking at ourselves and then trying to imagine what kind of super-version of ourselves would have created us. If my daughter walks toward a busy street, I frankly don't give a damn about her free will at the moment. I protect her from danger. If god's thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are above our ways, why should we expect that he cares so much about morally significant action? Why not give us mostly free will (like a child) but intervene when things get really messy? Eliezer Yudkowsky puts things well in his post, Beyond the Reach of God.

In any case, I don't have the solution, but Layman's chapter isn't striking me as it, either.

### Letters to a Doubting Thomas | Cosmological argument

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This is part of a series of posts in response to "Letters to a Doubting Thomas" C. Stephen Layman.
---

This chapter opens up with quite a long discussion of logic, necessary and contingent truths, the difference between logically and metaphysically possible. I'm going to bypass all of this and skip to the main argument. It's a little tricky to figure out exactly where it is, as this occurs in the context of a dialog, but I'd say this is the "meat" that Zach brings forward to our doubting Thomas:
Theism postulates a necessary being who is almighty and so has the power to bring the contingent beings of our acquaintance into existence. Also, Theism postulates an almighty person and hence an entity who can make choices. The choices or volitions of God can thus explain the presence of contingent beings in the world, assuming God has reason to create anything at all. Any being God freely chooses to create, he might also freely choose not to create, and hence any being God freely chooses to create is a contingent being.

But does God have reason to create anything at all? Yes. A perfectly morally good being would be a loving being, hence generous. A loving and generous being would have reason to create entities with which to share good things. So God would have reason to create conscious beings who can enjoy good things as well as reason to create the good things for conscious beings to enjoy. It seems especially clear that God would have reason to create intelligent conscious creatures along with things for them to enjoy, such as beauty, interesting activities, pleasures, and satisfying personal relationships.

...

Premise 1. The prior probability of Theism is lower than that of Naturalism (due to Naturalism's greater simplicity) but high enough to make the theistic hypothesis well worth considering.

Premise 2. Theism leads us to expect the phenomenon, namely, the presence of contingent beings, but Naturalism does not. (Note: As we've seen, God would have good reason to create contingent beings. Naturalists who think that all of physical reality is contingent do not give us a hypothesis that leads us to expect contingent beings; rather, these Naturalists simply postulate the presence of contingent beings as a brute fact. And if Naturalists state merely that some part of physical reality is necessary—without explaining how the necessary part accounts for the presence of contingent beings, then the presence of contingent beings is still left as a brute fact.)

Conclusion: Theism explains the presence of contingent beings better than Naturalism does—hence, this phenomenon is evidence in favor of Theism over Naturalism. (p. 95-96)

Wow, there's a lot there. My issue with all forms of the cosmological argument has to do with an objection I made in an earlier post in this series:
The reason to lay out both hypotheses is that Layman states that one can only compare apples to apples. One can't simply compare theism to ~theism; one needs to compare theism, a positive argument for how the world is, to another competing set of positive claims for how the world is. This is the first mistake in the book, in my opinion. One doesn't need a comprehensive explanation for all the various items Layman is going to attempt to explain with theism in order to evaluate whether or not theism does a good job. It isn't intrinsically about theism or naturalism; it's about theism vs. ~theism.

What the cosmological argument attempts to do is to bring about some admittedly serious issues with understanding why we're here, how the universe came about, how to make sense of what might have been "before" or exists "outside" the universe, and the postulate some sort of mega-immaterial-human as the answer. Since humans know humans, this seems to resonate as not completely ridiculous, and we're prone to giving the idea some credit. "Sure, a loving being would want to create little miniatures to enjoy in sunrises and flowers and such!" All along we forget that the whole reason we're postulating this being is that we have no flipping idea where we came from or why we're here!

Because theism appears to hold together by making up a mega-human powerful enough to create a universe, it's quite easy for Layman to compare it to naturalism and plow it over. This is where the rest of this chapter heads. Zach and Thomas go back and forth about what "tweaks" would have to be made to the original definition of naturalism (see the first post in the series), such as postulating that there is something necessary in the universe that leads to contingent beings existing. Thus, Zach sets up the dilemma that either:
• Naturalism needs to complicate itself further by postulating a new kind of thing, a necessary one, which is what made theism more complicated a priori to begin with
• Ignoring the issue of why contingent beings exist, and thus losing something in terms of explanatory power to theism

I think this dilemma is a false one. One can not know what in the world caused this chain of apparent inexplicable contingency and still evaluate theism's proposed explanation. Should someone back in the day have been forced to accept a circular theory of planetary orbits despite such a theory's flaws just because he or she didn't have an alternative? Or should circular orbits have been evaluated in comparison to geocentricism simply because that was another possible theory? I don't think so. My take is that a theory stands on its own two feet and either advances our understanding of an explanation to the problem or doesn't.

The cosmological argument is one where I don't really see the advance. Because we can imagine a necessary being doesn't mean that such a being explains anything. I agree that we know we're here and thus something brought about the universe... this does't give us any reason to suggest a mind disconnected from a body, a thing that loves like us or thinks like us or enjoys sunsets like us, or that can sonic boom universes into existence.

An interesting topic that comes up in the book several times has to do with this snippet from Zach's preface above, which I'll requote here:
But does God have reason to create anything at all? Yes. A perfectly morally good being would be a loving being, hence generous. A loving and generous being would have reason to create entities with which to share good things. So God would have reason to create conscious beings who can enjoy good things as well as reason to create the good things for conscious beings to enjoy.

Thomas challenges this, asking why god would have to be perfectly good. Zach's issue with the idea of alternative gods is that we would have no reason to trust our senses. He puts it like so:
1. The mostly evil Deity would, as we've seen previously, lead to serious doubts about the reliability of our cognitive faculties. Such a Deity might very well want us to be systematically mistaken about most of the things that matter to us most...

2. A half-good and half-evil Deity seems to me to lead to the same problem. Such a Deity would be highly untrustworthy and might very well not care enough about us to give us reliable cognitive faculties. (Put yourself back in the locked room, receiving info you can't check up on. If you know the source of the info is half good and half evil, would you expect the info to be for the most part true? I don't think we can plausibly answer yes.)

3. A mostly good (but imperfect) Deity would presumably be somewhat generous (or perhaps intermittently generous), so it would have good reasons to bring intelligent conscious creatures into existence and to share good things with them. Thus, a "mostly good" Deity hypothesis would lead us to expect the presence of contingent beings. Also, assuming that having the truth is generally in our best interest, a "mostly good" Deity would probably try to ensure that our cognitive faculties are reliable; hence this hypothesis does not seem to be self-defeating.

Note the mention of a "locked room" in number two. Zach has used this before, asking Thomas if he were in a locked room and receiving notes from an unknown informant if he would trust the information received if he had prior information that the informant was evil. Since most people would probably say, "No," Zach applies the analogy to god, stating that if god is partially or fully evil, we would have no reason to trust that anything we sense or think is valid.

I object to this because we're explicitly not in a locked room. The locked room is horribly flawed in that the notes need to be taken completely on faith. In the world, if I sense a tree or see a car, I can validate it. I can let myself get hit by it, or notice that other people get hit by cars they see at the last minute. Or ask others if they see a tree, etc. Zach has handled the impossibility of really validating sensory input before; I wrote about it in another post. Thus, I see two options:
• Sense experience really is an illusion and there is a mass conspiracy to keep me from finding out
• Sense experience is actually correct, and the validation options surrounding me are, indeed, confirming my experience

In either case, I don't see an option to act any differently. If we're brains in a vat, subject to the puppeteering of an evil demon, or everyone else is conspiring against me to dupe me... there is no ability to determine which is occurring. Thus, I choose to live on like I have been.

In the same sense, as long as sense experiences continue being coherent, why would I distrust them? To conclude, then, I see the moral character of a being as separate from the issue of whether that being would have created beings with reliable senses. Some humans are immoral in the sense that they killed someone, but it doesn't imply that they lied about it to others, themselves, or the victim. In the end, just like cosmological arguments, the idea that we have a basis for speculating what a universe creator would and wouldn't do in terms of creating beings (through evolution) with reliable or unreliable senses seems intractable.

I wonder if we'll ever understand where the universe came from. I distantly follow ideas concerning new developments in physics, and it's an area I hope to pursue in much greater detail when I abandon full investment in apologetics and theology. I'm also open to the idea where because this line of argument seems improbable, I'm not following the philosophical conclusions to where they lead. For now, it seems like an expanded and complicated form of "We don't know, therefore we know."

## 15 December 2011

### Letters to a Doubting Thomas | Religious experience

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This is part of a series of posts in response to "Letters to a Doubting Thomas" C. Stephen Layman.
---

I was highly surprised by the next chapters. Layman focuses in on religious experiences (like, people feeling like they've heard/seen/sensed the divine) in order to offer this (spoiler alert) conclusion at the end of chapter three:
I suggest that the testimony of the Theistic mystics makes up for at least one of the ways in which Theism is more complex than Naturalism. If the testimony of the mystics doesn't count for at least this much, it seems to me that we've relegated it to insignificance. And I think that would be a mistake. Indeed, I'm inclined to think that the testimony of the mystics largely makes up for Theism's greater complexity in regard to both of the first two facets of simplicity. (p. 36)

In chapter four, Layman will offer the cosmological argument, and the thinks that these together (religious expeirence and the cosmological argument) make up for theism's initial disadvantage:
A consideration of religious experience and the Cosmological Argument leave Theism and Naturalism on a par. (p. 248)

So, this sets up Layman's task. He provides twelve descriptions of religious experiences, taken primarily from William James' book, Varieties of Religious Experience. There's one each from Beardsworth's A Sense of Presence and Weil's Waiting for God. After presenting the twelve quotes, Zach summarizes them like so:
What we have here, it seems to me, is not a mere outpouring of emotion, but fairly clear descriptions of a direct awareness of a divine presence. Let's call this sort of experience Theistic mystical experience, to distinguish it from other kinds of religious experience, such as a feeling of oneness with the universe or an intense reeling of peace and joy or a religious vision that involves sensory imagery (e.g., a deity sitting on a throne). (p. 42)

The two next go back and forth concerning what we can and cannot accept as valid evidence concerning experience and testimony. Zach proposes the principle of credulity, which essentially suggests that "it is rational to accept what experience indicates unless special reasons apply." From here, the two debate whether this principle should be applied to both sense experience as well as religious experience. Zach makes the case that sense experience is, at its core, unprovable. We all trust that what we think is real really is. The only verification we have is to rely on other senses (which are also possessed by us), or to ask for verification from others, which assumes that, in Zach's example of seeing a tree, "a) that you exist, (b) whether you state (or otherwise indicate) that you see a tree, and (c) whether you are sincere" (p. 44). Thus, since Zach argues that we can't prove sense experience, there's no reason to apply the principle of credulity to the senses while not accepting it with respect to religious experience:
To return to my main point: Yes, I think the Principle of Credulity should be applied to religious experience. If we refuse to apply it and demand some sort of proof for the reliability of religious experience, then I think we are arbitrarily demanding that religious experience should meet a standard that even sense experience cannot meet. (p. 46)

Here is where Zach/Layman and I diverge. I've long pondered this sort of argument and got into a massively lengthy debate with a blogger once about whether "the experience of the Holy Spirit" should be considered "properly basic," according to Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology or Foundationalism. The issue I have is that while Layman might be correct that to justify sense experience only brings in other assumptions (the existence of others, their reliability and trustworthiness), at the end of the day, we do have more of a "coherentist" picture with sense experience that we just plain don't with religious experience. To deny that seems ludicrous.

In other words, even if we take to complicating hypotheses and risking circularity with attempted verification and do so with both sense and religious experience, one emerges the clear winner. Let's grant Layman's assertion that sense validation gives rise to many more assumptions and circularity. This doesn't change anything about how the world works. If I'm wrong and no one else really exists and the entire 6.99 billion of earth's inhabitants are involved in a massive conspiracy to falsely verify my experience... so what? There will be no predictive difference between that world and one in which my senses really are functioning. Since no new data is accounted for by the highly conspiratory and mind-in-a-vat world, we should prefer the simpler explanation that things are as they seem. Thus, the experience that I see a tree, can verify it by touching it, interact with it (say, bash my head against it and hurt myself), take a sample and test it, and have others verify that they see it, etc. is pretty darn reliable.

What about for religious experience? On Christian theism, there is a being whose primary aim is to get everyone to heaven with him. This entire world exists for the sole purpose of forming enough virtue and holiness in humans such that they can pass the test and enter the pearly gates. Presumably, this is why god grants profound experiences to humans -- it inspires them, encourages them, strengthens their religious beliefs, etc. But if we're trying to suggest that religious and sense experiences are on par... why can't one validate religious experiences via others? While sense experience might open the door to circularity, religious experience can't even risk that much because most people don't have such profound experiences, and those who do will attribute the experience to their specific, pre-believed in deity. If one god rules them all, so to speak, why do those who have experiences of god have experiences of the god they already believed in? Statistically, most religions are false. We should see religious experiences bringing about a convergence of belief. Muslims should sense Jesus or the Saints and convert; or Christians should experience Allah and convert. Instead, Christians sense the presence of the Christian god and so goes it with other religions.

To be fair, I think there's some priming that can take place with sense experience. If I tell you shots really, really hurt and you've never had one, your first injection might be more painful than had I told you it was nothing to worry about. On the other hand, I've had people rave about movies and then I didn't particularly like it when I saw it. I had a prior belief/expectation and was converted by my actual experience.

Layman points out that the pure experience itself doesn't say anything about the interpreted significance. In other words, the points above are primarily about how humans interpret their experiences and don't imply that the experiences weren't valid. If we ignore interpretation, it's still not clear to my why a god wouldn't want everyone to directly experience him/her/it if the experience is so beneficial, inspiring, etc. In previous debates, this has been typically met with, "You will have such an experience if you're really open, and god's time isn't our time." You an imagine how comforting that is to hear.

But what of interpretation? How far up the chain do we stop and assume we have the base experience? If we're to assume the principle of credulity for religious experiences, they why does attributing the experience to a specific divine being cause the warning flag to wave? What good reason does one have to doubt this? Or if Layman wants specific religious being attribution to not count, why does attributing the experience to a "divine presence" meet his criteria? Why not stop at, "I felt a really, really good and exhilarating feeling the other day. Pure joy. I was just really happy about my life"?

Zach moves on to address some of Thomas' objections. To the point that not many people have religious experiences, Zach points out that a rare experience does not mean it's not real. He brings up a superb tracker who can see things others cannot, or a musician who can hear subtle harmonies others miss. He ends with a catchall quote from the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God," and asks how many have that kind of preparation? These fall short with me. The first two are examples of natural skills or genetic giftings. Experience of god isn't dependent on your physical abilities or training. The last is just silly. Most people, plain and simple, don't make the cut for sainthood. Yet many people have these experiences. Are we to conclude that they alone are the spiritually prepared among us? Does Tim Tebow make the cut?

The next objection is that we can test sense experience but not religious experience (as I alluded to above). Zach brings up a good point that because sense experience allows for valuable predictions doesn't mean that all experiences need to meet such a criteria. He uses a great example of introspection -- can I verify that I feel sad? I'd agree with him on this one, though often our introspection still matches up with something that is verifiable. I feel sad because so-and-so said X to me. Or if I feel nebulously said and can't trace it to anything even after thinking about it for a while, my personal conclusion is to try to just shake it. It's a false signal that doesn't provide any benefit. Zach does bring out his criteria for theistic mystical experience at this point, which is helpful:
Nevertheless, there is a kind of test for Theistic mystical experience. In fact, mystical writers and spiritual directors have shown a lot of interest in distinguishing genuine experiences of God from illusory ones. The basic idea is that if the subject has experienced God's presence, certain results will follow. These include interior peace, trust in God, patience with trials, sincerity, self-forgetful charity, and not being concerned with useless matters. Criteria for identifying false or illusory religious experiences include anxiety, presumption or despair, impatience with trials, duplicity, and being concerned with useless matters. (p. 58)

One of the absolutely coolest aspects of deconverting is the fact that the same types of "Huh?!?" moments I had as a believer still happen now. Crazy coincidences, experiences of feeling very small/in awe, reinvigorating thoughts and ponderings, etc. When I first started questioning, I had a "spiritual experience" while sitting on the crapper reading Dawkins' God Delusion. It was my first time reading about how very, very small we are. I had a profound sense of smallness, imagining myself, on the crapper, whirling around in this massively empty black space that is 100 billion galaxies with 100 billion stars each. Nuts. I've also been thinking about getting together with another deconvert and had him contact me that day. Spoooooky! Or experiences of a sort of self-revelation about my shortcomings, which bring about things Layman suggests above: peace, increased patience, charity, etc. It still happens to me, despite not believing.

This concludes my thoughts on chapters two and three. I don't exactly know what to make of religious experience. I think the chapters would have been fairer had they included some testimonies of non-believers who have also had powerful experiences that produced the same kind of "fruit" that Layman presented as his criteria for "valid" theistic experiences. In the sense that he wants theistic experience to be predictive or explanatory, such benefits shouldn't be had by those who don't experience theistic experiences. If they do, I see the thought that these examples increase the prior probability that a being is causing them to occur as being reduced. At the very least, for the reasons I gave above, I really do see these in a different class than sense experience. It comes down to predictive power and replicability to me. These are the cornerstones of the scientific method. The predictive aspects Layman brings into play are actually retrospective: if the experiences produce good fruit, they were real. If people don't have them, perhaps it's because they aren't perfected in Beatitude. But there's no expectation provided that will allow us to predict who will and who won't have or how to replicate the experience by setting up controlled conditions (X years of living with Y types of virtue).

In all honestly, I think Layman is tipping the scales in his favor. He's allowing generic experience to count while omitting the fact that religious persons interpret them as validating their religion. He only wants the experience to count and not the fact that believers are primed to thinking it's their personal conception of god who did it. Given that theism is the belief that a personal god intervenes in human affairs, a god who reveals himself but won't show his face (as in, identify himself) isn't a god to care much about. After all, with that kind of god, you can't find out about his/her wants, desires, properties, and allowed sexual practices.

While it doesn't come up in the book, perhaps Layman would advocate for being a theist first and then studying the material of revelation in order to determine which theistic formulation is correct. If revelation supports a particular god, though, it should allow us to feed this belief back into the system and look at religious experiences. Thus, if Layman thinks one religion is true, he's omitting such a belief selectively to get these chapters to fly. The more intellectually honest approach would be to state it straight up right now. I'm wondering if he doesn't because the fact that he advocates for Christianity as true brings about the puzzling fact that the Christian god is bolstering the beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, Scientologists, and Mormons alike. Which again gets us back to the problem of predictive power -- if the existence of a god doesn't bring about a change in expectation with respect to a particular group's holiness, experiences, answered prayers, etc... then the belief isn't paying rent.

## 14 December 2011

### On "unequally yoked" marriage | Part 4 of ?

This is a post among an unknown number of posts to come about "unequally yoked" marriage. Googling for "unequally yoked" produces an absurd amount of hits. I've found most to be about what to do before marriage. I'd like to write a bit about what it's like from within marriage.

Here's a link to the index for this series
---

I thought it time to write another post on marriage. Things are improved yet the same. I wish I could say more than that. We had a fantastic peak in the July-September time frame. We wrapped up our marriage counseling and I think that there were some significant breakthroughs. For some time, I think I was operating under a mindset of victimhood:
-- Why are things like this?
-- Why couldn't have I deconverted sooner?
-- Why am I trapped?
-- I didn't ask for this

Things like that. Essentially unhelpful, self-pitying phrases. These are still attractive at times, and there's some truth to each of them. In the end, things are what they are. I didn't know to question my faith until I was already bound up in a lifelong relationship centered on said faith and with one child and one on the way. That's that.

In any case, we hosted my brother and his fiance during early July, and something about their relationship made me first miserable and then brought about a profound change in mindset. The misery was brought about by how happy they were. I kept thinking that if I had "found myself" earlier, I could have found someone that aligned with all that I now find exciting and interesting. On the other hand, I witnessed my brother and his fiance's relationship as very intentional and chosen. I live my life, I thought. Simple as that, and things were much different. I am the one who plays the part of me. Despite having just written the same thing twice, I still find it hard to convey both the simplicity and profundity of how I experienced that awareness. I could choose to live a romantic and fun life with my wife. It didn't have to flounder around on the brink of awfulness. I could build it as something else. And so we did for some time, and things were excellent!

I'm not sure what exactly happened. I'm thinking we didn't discuss religion during that time, for when little exchanges started popping up recently here and there, things really got worse again. I find myself becoming more and more distanced from the Christian mindset. It's become hard to imagine how others can believe some of the things I hear via my wife about sermons or talks she attends. The [what I take to be] self-centered attitude concerning "weird little things" that happen (singing a praise and worship song and then seeing the lyrics as the readings for the day) and thinking that it's god blessing one's life miraculously are just plain irritating to me now. My tolerance for things Christian is quite low.

Worst of all is the constant reminder that of my very best friends and wife, no one thinks there's anything to what I've spent two years researching, thinking about, and studying. Once revered as the geeky, nerdy researchy guy, this area is different. There's just no way I have anything worth considering. That's been really hard to live with.

Additionally, what really kills me is to know that others know they don't have reasons for belief... and for that not to bother them. As soon as I realized I had never researched Christianity on my way in, I was off to the races. I literally couldn't believe that I'd missed that part of the process. I wanted reasons for everything. I researched purchases and decisions all the time, partly because I felt like it was more intellectually honest, and partly because letting my impulses get the better of me before had burned me. I'd bought some things on a whim that weren't worth it or that I shouldn't have bought given my financial state. Those ate at me and that eating away at myself taught me to be more cautious in the future.

Interacting with people who are aware of a lack of intellectual foundation and yet still think that because they believe what their parents taught them and because they really, really, really like their beliefs, this gives them the right to make decisions which impact themselves and those around me... is like dealing with another species. I keep expecting that someone will admit that they've been pulling my leg. "John, I didn't really think that just liking my faith gave me the right to evangelize or lobby for religiously-inspired political decisions... I was just messing with you." Or raise my kids with some set of beliefs or give away a certain amount of my income to religious causes.

This is probably sounding grim. It feels grim. It has been quite the roller coaster to travel from feeling renewed and revived to feeling like I'm interacting with aliens. It sinks in more and more that the common ground that has been lost really is hugely significant. There was a time when I thought rebuilding around hobbies, interests, activities, and the like would be the way forward. I'm not always as confident anymore. There's something more defining that seems to come to play. It's not the same doing external things with others when you know that internally you have such radically different views about how the world works, what counts as knowledge, and what intellectual justification implies with respect to taking actions that have effects on others.

I still have loads of fun. I can go to parties and enjoy myself. I can talk about work, science, math, and life's events with great hilarity. Something still strikes me as "off," though. I tend to feel most alive with others who have deconverted. I find more "zest" at atheist meetup groups with those who find excitement, now, in discovering how the world works according to science, or learning how and why humans think how we do. It seems a bit troubling to find the most life in the events and people that play an extreme minority role in terms of time and frequency. It's hard to escape that it feels a bit empty being me in my situation. My hope is on a turbulent ride as of late.

Any thoughts?

### Letters to a Doubting Thomas | Theism & Naturalism

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This is part of a series of posts in response to "Letters to a Doubting Thomas" C. Stephen Layman.
---

For the first post, I'd like to lay out Layman's groundwork first chapter. In the book, Zach (the philosopher theist) receives a letter from his long lost college friend, Thomas (the agnostic). In the first chapter, Layman presents some recurring themes that will come back up throughout the book. For example, here is his definition of theism:
Theism: (1) There is exactly one entity that is (2) perfectly morally good and (3) almighty and that (4) exists of necessity.

Conversely, he defines naturalism thusly:
Naturalism: (1) There is a self-organizing physical reality (i.e., there is a physical reality whose nature is not imposed by a god or by any other force or agent), (2) physical reality exists either necessarily, eternally, or by chance, and (3) leaving aside possible special cases (see later), all entities are physical entities.

The reason to lay out both hypotheses is that Layman states that one can only compare apples to apples. One can't simply compare theism to ~theism; one needs to compare theism, a positive argument for how the world is, to another competing set of positive claims for how the world is. This is the first mistake in the book, in my opinion. One doesn't need a comprehensive explanation for all the various items Layman is going to attempt to explain with theism in order to evaluate whether or not theism does a good job. It isn't intrinsically about theism or naturalism; it's about theism vs. ~theism.

Zach also lays out some criteria for background knowledge (logic, common sense, etc.) as well as the "principle of simplicity" for Thomas as terms for establishing the advantage of one explanation over another for the future discussion. The criteria for simplicity are (my mini-explanations in parentheses):
1. The number of things postulated (less is better)
2. The number of kinds of things postulated (less is better)
3. The simplicity of the terms (this is to avoid hiding complexity in words; the definition of the words and resultant complexity derived from the definition must also be taken into consideration)
4. The number of statements within a hypothesis that receive little or no probabilistic support from other statements contained in the hypothesis (the more terms contained in an explanation, the more likely it is to be false)

Thomas accepts the terms and immediately recognizes that theism seems, a priori more complex than naturalism due to positing more things (not only a univers, but another entity), more kinds of things (natural and spiritual things), more complicated terms (like omniscience and omnipotence), and more claims in general (he points to Zach's definitions as containing 4 terms under theism and only 3 under naturalism). Zach, somewhat surprisingly, accepts Thomas' observations:
I end where I began, agreeing with your claim that Naturalism is a significantly simpler hypothesis than Theism.

The chapter ends with a discussion about how naturalism might be self-defeating. Layman refers to the work of Plantinga on this:
Plantinga's basic idea is that, from the standpoint of Naturalism, the origin of our cognitive faculties gives us a reason to doubt their reliability. Given Naturalism, our cognitive faculties evolved without God (or anyone else) overseeing their development. Only the "blind" forces of nature were at work, e.g., random genetic mutation and natural selection...

From an evolutionary standpoint, the human brain and nervous system enable us to behave in ways that promote survival and reproduction. In other words, from the standpoint of evolution, it is behavior that matters, not beliefs. So it seems possible that humans might be successful at survival while having mostly false beliefs (and, hence, unreliable cognitive faculties).

Here's the question we have to ask: How likely is it that our human cognitive faculties are reliable, assuming that Naturalism is true (and that our cognitive faculties evolved without guidance from any intelligent being)? Plantinga argues that the probability is low or beyond knowing; and either way, Naturalism leads us to doubt the reliability of our cognitive faculties. But, as noted earlier, Naturalists themselves believe that our human cognitive faculties are reliable. Thus, Naturalism is self-defeating.

Thomas is a bit skeptical of how we might have evolved with false beliefs, and Zach responds with some more material from Plantinga, who states that ancient man could have believed a tiger was cuddly but thought the best way to run toward it was actually running away, or that he wanted to go to the tiger but also wanted to lose weight and so ran away at top speed, or runs away because he doesn't think the tiger will see him despite him wanting to be eaten. The point is that someone could believe wrongly while still surviving.

While these are somewhat "cute" examples, they seem to complicate the matter. This sword is actually going to cut two ways. Layman wants the function of "belief" to seem "too good to be true," and thus point to an intelligent creator who gave us such a faculty. The first cut of the sword is that it's not self-evident that it would be evolutionarily advantageous or equivalent to have things not turn out like they did. Could these examples above really have provided equivalent survival mechanisms? These are just snapshots of one way a belief could have been different. But beliefs are more like a web or heuristic in these cases than a rolodex of individually targeted cause/effect notecards. Thus, the above examples seem fairly ad hoc to me. It over-complicates things to come up with a system of beliefs that might have been false while still surviving.

On that note, however, we have the other side of the sword. Let's grant that an omnipotent, omniscient being provided us with "true belief" faculties that let us exercise this fantastic ability and "believe rightly." Cognitive science shows us that we don't. The faculty isn't nearly as great as we'd like to believe. Man is not rational and believes wrongly all the time. We're filled with biases and false arguments. Thus, even giving Layman what he wants, an admission that belief is just too accurate about reality to have happened by chance, does't fit his purposes of pointing to god has having implanted it. Instead, we have something more fitting of evolutionary biology. We really do have a hybrid -- beliefs that track well enough for survival, but ones that aren't tracking as we get better and better at improving our maps of the territory around us.

In any case, this example doesn't carry very far in the book. The chapter primarily sets about to establish some definitions and the principle of simplicity. The next chapter examines why Zach things theism is still worth looking at.

### The Agnostic Inquirer | CUE facts favoring theism

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This is part of a series of posts in response to "The Agnostic Inquirer" by Menssen & Sullivan.
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Another "meaty" section of Menssen and Sullivan's book includes a discussion of "CUE facts," that is facts that are true "conditional upon explanation." They list a slew of them that they imply favor theism:
• humans have a special place in the universe
• the beatitudes are original
• the Judaeo-Christian doctrine of omniscience is resilient
• the Judaeo-Christian doctrine of omniscience, as well as the Christian doctrine of incarnation, are fertile
• consciousness has a function
• humans have libertarian freedom

Now, recall that Menssen and Sullivan aim only to show that revelatory claims deserve studying prior to dismissing theism as implausible outright. They hold that if it's not altogether infeasible that an all-good creator exists, then one cannot walk away from revelations prior to investigation, or as having no merit whatsoever. I'll bite, though I'm a bit skeptical concerning the magnitude or implications of the argument, as I think many agnostics are taking into account potential revelatory content (e.g. the Bible's claims). So, here are some brief responses to some of these CUE facts.

Humans have a special place in the universe
This seems like a no-win approach to anyone. Non-believers can't really say we don't because a believer can always come up with explanations for why things are they way they are. For example, while we may be in a very unique situation with respect to our location in the galaxy, why be so wasteful as to create a universe with almost unanimously hostile-to-life conditions everywhere else? The believer can simply say that this is the only type of universe that can support life -- one that has mostly non-life and a small proportion of life. Perhaps. I just don't see how one can know one way or the other. There's too much uncertainty with respect to what exists "outside" or exited "before" our universe. How can we know that our specialness is something to look into? Moreso, how can we know that our specialness is the result of the most powerful human-like non-physical mind that's ever existed?

The beatitudes are original
I don't really have any issues with this. Jesus could have been real and an insightful man. The Tao Te Ching is also original. We can rejoice at the message in Jesus' teachings without considering that he was speaking via a channel with god. I'd also add that recent additions like Mormonism, Scientology, and the Course in Miracles are also original and have gained many followers. The uniqueness of a thing and it's attractiveness obviously do not signify truth content.

The doctrine of omniscience is resilient
All Menssen and Sullivan do here is suppose that a hypothetical world creator may not know things like we know them, and thus our concept of omniscience as simply "knowing everything" obviously falls short. Unfortunately, they haven't laid out what, exactly, omniscience is. They simply point out that because it is radically different ("For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord," they quote), omniscience is resilient to scrutiny. Sure, it's possible. I've heard other explanations such as "God knows that which can be known," which is an effort to get around the oddities created by omniscience and free will/the future. This, again, falls into my bucket of "Who knows?" and "So what?"

Omniscience and the incarnation are fertile doctrines
This means that omniscience and the idea that Jesus was both all god and all man gives us a lot to think about. I'm not sure how to respond to this section. I suppose they have a point -- no one else in the theism game thought to unify god and man in an ineffable 100%+100% = 100% combo pack.

Consciousness has a function
Consciousness is a weird one. I admit that I don't know much about this. Can it all be just running "software running on hardware"? I really don't know. Here's another great example of where Messen and Sullivan appeal to common sense:
Could one of the most important things in our universe just have happened? The commonsense answer is "no," and that is the answer most scientists give as well.

I get this attitude, I just don't think it's correct. Yes, one of the things in our universe we think is most important (because we're the ones how have it), might have just happened. We really don't know. I'd be interested in how much "consciousness" other creatures have as well. Are we so sure they don't have anything like it? Again, is the fact that we can meta-think (be aware of what someone else might be thinking about someone else who's thinking about us?), think "outside" ourselves, discuss, and seek greatness a sign that a conscious, bodiless being with the perfection of what a mind is implanted such capabilities within ourselves? What always gets fascinating to me is how one supposes this came about. Coming from a Catholic background, the Catholic Church supports evolution. Is this is the one time god intervened and did something radical? Or was consciousness evolved? If it evolved, then yes, it just happened -- a mutation like everything else. If it didn't, Christians are in the position of needing to say why they need to posit an intervention of some kind, just this once in this history of biological evolution.

Humans have libertarian free-will
Again, this is another reliance on what we feel.
Looking within, it surely seems to us that we can do or refrain from doing; and there is little by way of direct evidence to show that it is an illusion, to predict human behavior in a great variety of circumstances, and human behavior is notoriously difficult to predict.

This is another one that I completely get. It's really weird to think that my sense that I can do something else isn't real. Again, though, this doesn't mean that my sense of it is accurate. This is going to take a really long time to figure out. There are some interesting writings on the subject. How would we know if we were truly free or if we were really determined? I'm not really sure. Also, as a friend of mine pointed out...
• If I could definitvely prove that we had no free will, how would you act differently?
• If I could definitely prove that we had free will, how would you act differently?
I think those are great questions. My first inclination was to point to a classic xkcd cartoon; how would we know who was wrong?? As I kept thinking about the questions, however, I realized the point. I wouldn't do anything differently. However the world works... that's how I'm actually living it, so I shouldn't worry about which version is real.

I will admit that the hypothesis, "We do what we do because we will it" seems a little non-predictive. Libertarian free-will simply injects mystery into the concept of action. We trace back the "why" of action only to find a "because he/she did." On determinism, we have a complex network of inputs that while not understood completely, would have produced the same result every time. This, in actuality, seems to make more sense to me than pure acausal free-will.

Summary
I don't have all the answers. I simply wanted to walk through some of the reasons Menssen and Sullivan think that religion has some things going for it. In the end, it doesn't seem that one could establish any of these claims. If one could, there would be no debates. Especially if one could establish specifically Christian variants/twists on these claims with objective facts and data... it would seem that other religions would fail to flourish in today's world. The fact that other religious not only flourish, but have done so for hundreds of years in the face of competition tells me that non can yet prove any of the others wrong.

## 03 December 2011

### The Agnostic Inquirer | Bayes/Inference to the Best Explanation

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This is part of a series of posts in response to "The Agnostic Inquirer" by Menssen & Sullivan.
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One objection Menssen and Sullivan bring to the table is that perhaps revelatory claims cannot be evaluated because no good method is suitable for doing so. They resist the use of Bayes' theorem and put forward what they call the "Inference to the Best Explanation." I was quite perplexed by this, being an ardent follower of LessWrong, a site devoted to improving human rationality using a number of methods including, to an extremely high degree, Bayes' Theorem. Thus, I'm aware of a highly devoted community of thinkers who do believe that Bayes' Theorem is the way to go.

In any case, one of the objections was that since we need to establish the probability of an infinite number of possible worlds, no matter how small of a probability we assign to each, the individual probabilities will sum to infinity, which is intractable. But it's generally accepted that infinities don't exist in real life anyway. Thus, it would make no sense to apply Bayes' Theorem to an infinite number of infinite universes, anyway, since the only place the concept of an infinite number of universes can exist is in one's mind (and not even there, except as the simple words, "infinite number of universes").

They also object that the principle of parsimony is a valid one for examining theistic hypotheses:
When Swinburne sets up his Bayesian argument for theism, he takes the prior probability of h to be the intrinsic probability of h, and he vigorously defends the thesis that the intrinsic probability of a hypothesis is a function of its simplicity, which h takes to be an a priori matter... Yet, on close examination, the history of science might reveal that the simplest hypotheses have not proved in the main to be true.

It doesn't seem like the authors are familiar with the concept of parsimony. The best explanation is always the simplest one that accounts for all the evidence. Thus, it's not a matter of literal simplicity such as a theory about circular orbits of the planets. Sure, this has not proved to be true, despite being simpler (r2 = x2 + y2 is simpler than 1 = x2/a2 + y2/b2) precisely because such a theory failed to account for all of the evidence. But now imagine a much more complicated formula that also happens to draw the path of a particular ellipse (one escapes me). The standard elliptical formula would still hold, as it explains all evidence and is simpler. This is what is being referred to by simplicity... not just simplicity for simplicity's sake. Adding extra terms necessarily lowers prior probability, for A is always more probable than (A&B).

Next they bring up the often touted point that the numbers used are arbitrary.
The artificiality of trying to calculate the values required to apply the Bayesian approach in some areas can be illustrated by reflecting on the following question: Were the five books of the Pentateuch written by a single author, Moses?

I get the point of this question. The authors are trying to pick a complex issue filled with input from sociology, history, literary criticism, etc. to try and show how Bayes' Theorem fails to work. The problem is that it still holds. We can take all of that input and make our best estimates for probabilities and still come out with an answer. I think a great example of this is how Richard Carrier uses Bayes' Theorem to discuss the probability of the resurrection in Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story. He doesn't state that he knows exactly the values to use. He simply pulls facts together to support using values we could say are at the low or high end of the spectrum, and thus executes his calculations with all involved terms being "on the safe side." The same is possible for Moses and authorship of the Torah.

As their alternative, Menssen and Sullivan propose Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) as follows:
1) If a hypothesis sufficiently approximates an ideal explanation of an adequate range of data, then the hypothesis is probably or approximately true.
2) h1 sufficiently approximates an ideal explanation of d, an adequate range of data.
3) So, h1 is probably or approximately true.

As you can imagine, they go one to discuss what they mean by an "ideal" explanation: valid logical form, true premises, the explanation uses a causal property in virtue of which the effect is observed, the explanation bottoms on fundamental substances and properties (unclear on this), and each of the above is satisfied to a high degree (they even state, for example, that something "may not only be true; [it] must be known to be true.").

Now, I had a quite difficult time discerning what, intrinsically, was different between this and Bayes' Theorem except that this confuses things with words and definitions rather than relying on the math. The above seem fairly obvious to me with respect to an explanation. If it's not logically valid, it's not really an explanation. If the premises aren't even true... then it clearly has issues.

And Bayes' Theorem appears to be doing exactly what Bayes Theorem is trying to do.

$$P(A|B)=\frac{P(B|A)P(A)}{P(B)}$$

This says, we want to know the probability of A (some hypothesis) given the evidence, B. This is equal to the probability that the evidence, B, would be present given the hypothesis, A, multiplied by the probability that A would hold true in general, all divided by the probability that B would occur in general. The "ideal" explanation is one in which P(A|B) ends up being very high! That's it, folks.

The formula is intended to make sure we take into account the IBE term, "an adequate range of data." If the evidence has a low probability of occurring even if we grant that the hypothesis were true (P(B|A)), this will lower the value of the numerator. If the hypothesis if far fetched on it's own... this lowers the numerator. If the evidence has a high probability of occurring on it's own, with or without the support of the hypothesis, A, (P(B)), then the denominator increases, thus decreasing the final probability that B says anything at all about A's validity.

It's unclear what issue Menssen and Sullivan have with Bayes' theorem other than their objection that number assignments are arbitrary. But if that holds... then how aren't our thought experiments and armchair ponderings arbitrary when it comes to figuring out if h1 sufficiently approximates an ideal explanation? One might as well take a stab at some min/max values for the various probability assignments in Bayes' Theorem to determine best/worst case results. This, again, is why I linked to Carrier's article above. If Carrier can appeal to theists to grant his various values for low/high estimates for various possibilities (surviving a crucifixion, a body being stolen, etc.) and Bayes' Theorem still comes up pretty bad even with a worst case analysis favoring theism, then we've learned something.

I inquired with LessWrongers on whether Menssen and Sullivan had anything with their IBE, and the result wasn't very favorable. I get that they are already predisposed to favor Bayes, but the comments I received at least contain some food for thought.