Up@dawn 2.0

Friday, January 20, 2012


We have one more class devoted to Goldstein's God arguments, or anyone else's any of you wish to discuss. I'm especially interested in the Argument from Pragmatism (#32), which is probably at best an argument for the right to believe (and not for the existence of God).

If you've already posted something about the argument(s) your group delegated to you, take a look at them all and pick one or two that especially compel your attention, admiration, or derision. Are any of them better than the Babel Fish?

On Thursday we begin Baggini.

BTW: check out the new text blocks in the right margin: FAITH IS ABSURD. SO? and QUIXOTIC FIDEISM and REASONABLE ATHEISM. The last is from a new book of the same name my Vandy friends Aikin & Talisse have just published. Might be something we'd want to consider reading as a class. Or maybe Eric Weiner's Man Seeks God. Or Martin Gardner's "Why I Am Not an Atheist." Or de Botton's Religion for Atheists. Or A.C. Grayling's Good Book. Or...

P.S. Thanks to Dean for noting this amusing "bathroom" book, probably not a candidate for April but still possibly worth a look: 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know: Religion. Might strain the claim that "the life of religion as a whole is our most important function."


  1. The Fine Tuning of Physical Constants:
    I am a big fan of science, but I would make a terrible physicist. I have a hard time understanding basic math. Because I am a human of limited intelligence this argument gets my attention because it seems like if I can’t explain it then no one can. Then I remember that there a lot of people understand the symphony of physics. I like to take their word for it when they explain them rather than an ancient book.

  2. That's my orientation too: big fan of science, with limited understanding. The challenge to people of our persuasion is to see how we can defer appropriately to the expertise of authorities in physics (etc.) without appealing to their putative authority fallaciously. Appeals to authority are bad, recognition of authorities' insight, when evident, is good. Is there a reliable criterion of evidence we can all invoke?

  3. Generally isn't consensus considered the criterion of evidence? Though I guess you could argue that is a fallacious appeal to popularity, it does seem on questions of cutting-edge scientific knowledge where there are few experts and new discoveries everyday... well it seems you could at least say if a bulk of scientists agree on an issue than that position is more likely than others to be true, given what we know at the moment.

  4. Consensus can be a guide to truth, but that is all it is. It is always possible for one person to be right when everyone else is wrong. Generally speaking, though, consensus in a given field among experts in that field should carry some weight.

  5. @Dr. Oliver

    "Appeals to authority are bad, recognition of authorities' insight, when evident, is good. Is there a reliable criterion of evidence we can all invoke?"

    If by 'reliable' you mean steadfast expectations based on past experiences, then empirical science has been proven to be the most reliable criterion for event prediction. I don't think this has to exclude other means of discovery, but we all rely on empirical science every day whether we like it or not. One would be hard pressed to find a theist willing to be blindfolded and rely on divine guidance to traverse a busy intersection.

    I've been working on develop an argument against James's Pragmatism, simply hoping to give you something worthwhile to push back against in the spirit of further understanding on my part. This is not it but your previous post sparked a completely new neuron.

    "Appeals to authority are bad, recognition of authorities' insight, when evident, is good.”

    If we both accept this statement as true and by 'authorities' insight' you mean insight based on scientific theories that are repeatable, falsifiable and backed up empirical data, then, in light of verifiable evidence, 'authority,' in this sense, is simply the genesis or author of the theory, which has no bearing on the veracity of the facts.

    Goldstein suggested in The Argument from Pragmatism (specifically in Flaw #2) that ‘pragmatism implies an extreme relativism regarding the truth, because the effects of the believer differ for different believers.’

    Let's not take this criticism in the broad sense--an argument for the existence of an institutionalized, monotheistic god-- but more in the Jamesian view of the personally divine as a source of truth or fact, and the overall validity of those experiences contrasted against the chance of probability, reliability, facts and evidence. Keeping with this line of thought, Goldstein further renounces pragmatism: "If one allows pragmatic consequences to determine truth, then truth becomes relative to the believer, which is incoherent."

    So, on light of Goldstein's insistence that pragmatic evidence is 'incoherent,' compared to empirical science's rigid criterion for the testability of theories, doesn't this cast belief in Pragmatism as an appeal to authority (even if only in theory or insight). If not, how does this differ from religious evidence if, according to Goldstein's criticism, pragmatic evidence is incoherent? Authority, in practice or in theory, could be right or wrong, but it seem to the advantage science has regarding empirical matters is it lets the data speak for itself.

    I gave it a shot and look forward to your response.

    1. "'I've been working on developing..."

      "So, in light of Goldstein's..."

      Evidence of thoughts traveling faster than proofreading. I'm sure there's a few more.

  6. re: Jamie, its not a popular oppinion. science can make testable PREDICTIONS of future events. if these predictions are reliable through repeatable experiments then it accepted. its not by popular vote.

  7. If they are in theory reliable through repeatable experiments, yes. In reality, the scientific experiments we do these days are often never repeated due to the enormous cost and time involved. And on the real cutting edge stuff (physics primarily) the resources and technology to actually test the theories do not exist, and so we're left only with consensus of predictions.

  8. The new discoveries in physics are made through mathematics. The math can be repeated. There are some that are based on an unproved assumption.....but that’s why its "theoretical physics". The arguments among physicists about string theory are deep and wide, but they are supported to a certain degree mathematically.