Today’s chat (one day early) was a bit more fractured than our first, but at least not as lopsided as the second. It does represent a kind of progress, in that we at least attempted to tackle the second goalpost. Though, the end result may have been more despair than enlightenment, as Alan expressed a desire call it quits. Which may be a wise decision, if sad. Not just because of all the unanswered questions, but the loss of the fairly intense personal connection we developed.
At any rate, we agreed to each write up our Closing Thoughts before calling it quits. Stay tuned for the final (?) chapter.
Full transcript below, as usual. Edited for typos, interruptions, and links.
E: (bold) Ernie Prabhakar
A: (italic) Alan Lund
A: Ready anytime…
E: Thanks for being flexible.
A: No problem
E: Sounds like Wednesday was better for both of us.
E: So, any thoughts about how you’d like the conversation to go this time?
E: [since you seem less than thrilled by last week’s trajectory :-]
A: Well, I wonder if you understand my concerns about what kind of conclusions we’d be able to reach.
A: And I am also curious about what flaws you feel exist in Alonzo’s descriptions of how DU solves various problems of morality
E: I can see it; I’m not sure I “understand” it.
E: That did raise an intriguing possibility.
E: I wonder if this might actually be more “constructive” if we focused on less on trying to construct a common understanding, but actually defend opposing viewpoints.
E: That is, get adversarial (in content and structure, though hopefully not tone!)
A: Interesting. It seems like we just decided to “restart” with less adversiality (is that a word?)
E: Yeah, but every time I try to build something, you seem underwhelmed by the result.
A: That’s true.
E: Plus, it seems like you’re more interested in the “adversarial” results (or lack thereof) than in anything mutual we’ve come up with.
E: So, rather than backing into being adversarial, maybe it would actually be more fun for both of us to tackle it (and each other) head on! 🙂
A: Well, I thought our first week’s chat was helpful, but last week we kind of settled back into the same groove we had already tried to cover earlier.
E: I concede that I easily get stuck in lecture mode.
E: Perhaps debate mode would be more mutual.
E: Unless you have a lecture prepared, for the sake of equal time? 😛
E: Do you have any claims you’d like to articulate and/or defend?
E: or even an inquisition you’d like to put me through…
A: Let me back up, and say first, that I am not sure that further discussion on morality seems likely to be that helpful.
A: The reasons I believe (or don’t believe) what I do (or don’t) are not grounded on what provides a basis for morality, so even if you could show that there were no foundation for morality without a benevelent moral purpose,
A: I am not sure it would matter that much to me. (Not that I believe that is true.)
E: Or, put another way, your commitment to “truth” is actually foundational, not merely instrumental to morality.
A: Hmm, I am not sure I would have put it that way. Just stop at “commitment to truth is foundational”.
E: Okay, fair enough.
A: Does that make sense?
E: It does, though it somewhat conflicts with an operational/consequential definition of “truth.”
E: What is the basis of your commitment to truth? In terms of what do you define truth?
E: My metric has been ‘The truth is what works’ (even if “what works is not the truth”).
A: When you say, “the truth is what works”, I would take that to mean that the truth is what lets us make accurate predictions about the world.
A: There need be no moral judgement attached to those predictions.
A: So I still don’t see where the conflict is.
E: But, it gets back to what you mean by “truth is foundational”.
E: Not a strong conflict, just a request for clarification.
E: Since truth about human beings is difficult to evaluate apart from moral considerations (though not impossible).
E: Well, in my worldview, all human action has a moral dimension.
E: It is related to purpose and happiness, at the very least.
A: So, you assume a moral dimension, so it then becomes difficult to interpret people without it.
E: To me, it would be like trying to interpret subatomic particles while ignoring charge.
A: That kind of seems like question begging.
E: Again, my point was that it is *hard* for me to understand how you define truth.
E: So, how about you show me?
A: The reason that we attribute charge to subatomic particles is that we observe particular kinds of behaviors of those particles.
E: RIght, we interpret their behavior as being due to charges we label as “positive” and “negative.”
A: I do think that it is sensible to talk about morality because we can observe various things about how people behave.
E: As I interpret human behavior in terms of positive and negative attributes I label “love” and “hate.”
A: Sure. I hope I have communicated that I do actually think that there is a basis for making moral statements.
E: But, getting back to the epistemic question.
E: Our original definition started with assertion that ‘truth is good’.
E: If we don’t assume that, we need a slightly different starting point.
A: I still agree with that, but I don’t see us making any real progress from that starting point.
E: Fair enough.
E: So, can you propose an alternate starting point?
A: Well, I am still curious, in a non-adversarial way, in hearing you further explain you views on scripture and why it’s “good”
E: I think of Scripture much like I think of Newton’s Laws.
E: More precisely, like Millikan’s Notebook.
E: The standards of evidence are far below what we’d accept today.
E: But, they got the right answer. 🙂
E: Which implies to me that they were in fact performing real experiments on “moral reality”, and obtaining useful data.
E: And thus, by incorporating their data into my models I achieve better predictive power than if I ignore or discount that data.
E: anyway, that’s the essence of my argument
A: So, scripture could be reproduced by anyone able to perform the same experiments?
A: (Not in exact detail of course)
E: Sure, to the limits of historical correspondence.
E: That’s what most of the charismatic movement is about, after all. 🙂
E: Back to the second goalpost: most of it is due to a small group of old guys from a particular ethnic background wandering in the desert, coming back with paradigm-shattering reports that are difficult to reproduce, but validated by their peers, and prove to have extraordinary explanatory power.
E: Because of that, I tend to believe that their experiences were genuine, and their reports trustworthy — despite the fact that many counterfeits have presented with similar claims.
A: In what ways were the reports validated by their peers?
E: The process of scripture formation was originally organic, and only later hierarchical.
E: People made claims, others wrote them down, still others decided they were worth copying and transmitting, etc.
E: Not entirely unlike our Citation Rank process for scientific papers.
A: Do you have reason to believe those other people actually selected papers for their actual truth value rather than some other characteristic?
E: Do we ever? 🙂
E: Peer-review is only as good as the quality of the peers.
A: Yes, but today we know something about the quality of the peers.
E: And the metrics for selection are more complicated than one might think.
E: Only for fields where we’re already expects, unfortunately.
E: Otherwise, we’re simply trusting in the institutions.
A: Then, we have some information, but it is not necessarily that positive.
E: That’s why my espitemic model makes explicit claims about the nature of communities, and relational trust.
E: (which makes it hard to separate from morality 😛 )
A: I think the scientific process is very much one in which arguments from authority are not supposed to be powerful.
E: Since when? 🙂
E: What that really means is that scientists don’t accept arguments from authorities *outside their paradigm*
E: Within a paradigm, we are continually citing authorities.
E: The Particle Data Book, Newton’s Laws, the Standard Model, etc.
A: They accept (not always immediately, but eventually) arguments that are consistent with the data.
A: And they are judged by that standard.
E: Again, within a given paradigm.
A: I don’t think a similar standard was used for scripture.
E: How can it not be?
E: It was a different paradigm, but obviously people had one.
A: Why should we trust that paradigm?
E: Again, why do we trust any paradigm?
E: More importantly, in which -ways- do we trust the results of those paradigms?
A: We trust science because it works. It has produced results. These results have substantial agreement.
A: There is not a comparable level agreement amongst Christians about doctrine.
E: Can you quantify that statement?
E: Or does it depend entirely on how you define various terms?
A: I think in the entire history of Christianity, there have been and continue to be major disagreements about what it means.
E: As opposed to the history of science? 🙂
A: Science converges.
A: Christianity hasn’t.
E: Last I checked, the vast majority of Christians still hold to the Nicene Creed.
E: Science tends to discard ideas far faster 🙂
E: Believe it or not, Christianity also converges.
E: One fascinating example for me is the charismatic movement.
A: Different pockets converge to different places.
E: Again, how is that different than science?
E: Before the 1960’s, the charismatic movement was a fringe Pentecostal set of denominations.
E: In the 1980’s, it was enormously controversial.
E: Now, it is more-or-less accepted as normal and healthy by virtually every denomination.
E: There’s numerous hard-won convergence points that have enormously broad appeal, e.g. The Lausanne Covenant.
A: I am not so sure about that, actually. Maybe by some people within every denomination, but not by everybody. It’s just another way to split.
E: You miss the point.
E: In the 1980’s, there were a huge number of ideologues talking about how charismatic gifts were of the devil, and how anyone who practiced them should be cast out of the church.
E: Now, it is only a handful of relics who would make such claims, and most of those do so quietly — for they know they’d alienate a bunch of their supporters and colleagues.
E: It is like believing in a Steady State universe — only those with a huge ego investment in that belief persist in it.
E: To be sure, we don’t converge on *everything* — but then again, neither does science.
E: But, the church has in fact converged on a great many things, at least to the “majority extent” — which is all we get out of science, either. 🙂
E: We just have an annoying tendency to amplify our controversies.
E: Still there?
A: Yes and no…
E: I get the impression that you feel any of the “common beliefs” of Christianity (and western culture) are “obvious”, so Christians shouldn’t get any of the credit for having discovered and converged upon them.
A: Some were also discovered by non-Christians. Some were not discovered by all Christians. Some were wrong. The signal is not strong enough to overcome the disconfirming evidence.
A: (Or, sometimes, significant lack of evidence.)
E: Which brings us back to whether you think the success of Western culture and morality is a notable discovery, on par with Newton’s Laws.
A: I don’t think it was that concentrated and unique.
E: I’ve never claimed that Christians had all truth, or were always correct; just that it is the most successful paradigm, among other less succesful ones.
E: Further, need I point out that while Christian societies have had mixed results, atheistic ones have been uniformly disastrous?
A: They have had other problems.
E: Other than moral ones?
A: It may be true that Christianity and other religions play a beneficial role while being false. That’s something I’m still chewing on.
E: So, I get the feeling that you’re attacking me from both sides.
E: Either you say it doesn’t matter that Christianity works, because its false; or else you say it must not work, since its false.
A: It’s not just Christianity that works in that sense though.
E: (wait, that came out wrong)
E: What sense must it work? Can you come up with a consistent standard, that you’d be willing to judge atheism against?
A: Atheism entails too little.
A: People with vastly different views can still be atheists.
E: Well, do you have a foundational alternative to Christianity you’d propose building society around instead?
A: Secular humanism
E: Or are you just tearing it down because you think it deserves to die, and you really don’t care about the consequences?
E: Secular humanism is almost as vague as atheism.
A: Stalin and Pol Pot, while atheists, were not secular humanists.
E: Okay, sure.
E: But they at least managed to run a country.
E: There is zero evidence that secular humanists can actually manage to maintain social cohesion while being true to their values.
E: At least that I’ve seen — I’d be willing to be confronted by facts I’ve overlooked.
A: How would you describe Japan and Scandinavia? They are among the most “atheistic” countries in existence right now.
E: Sure, if you consider Confucianism atheism, but that grossly mistates the case.
E: Japan is bound together by far more than secular humanism, as you well know.
E: And Norway is hardly secular in the strict sense, even if people are skeptical of organized religion.
E: “Norwegian religious expression is largely private; whereas most individuals state that religion is important to them, this is not generally expressed through active religious participation in organized communities.”
E: Besides, you do realize that all secularized societies are slowly committed genetic suicide, right?
A: And the religious societies are doing so much better?
E: Well, yeah.
E: At least by that crude metric, the world population is still increasing.
A: But, is increasing population a good thing at this point?
E: Compared to the alternative?
E: Look, any society that fails to have children is eliminating itself from history.
E: I would consider that counter-productive.
E: And, it is in fact creating a huge age crisis in Japan, as I’m sure you’ve heard.
E: I’m not saying that the excessive breeding of African Muslims is a good thing, but at least you gotta give em credit for trying to stay alive.
E: Well, I do; I’m not sure where your morality fits into this.
E: So, we should wrap up.
E: Do you want to take a stab at defining secular humanism for next time, and how it obviates the need for a consensus around my Deistic Hypothesis?
A: I’m not really sure I’m interested in continuing, actually.
E: Sorry to hear that.
E: I apologize if my more adversarial tone today didn’t help things.
E: But, perhaps that is wisdom on your part, to recognize the futility of dead-horse beatings.
E: still there?
A: I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere.
E: So, maybe we should simply try to end well.
E: Perhaps we could each write up our reflections on how we thought things went, just to wrap things up.
A: Sure. It might be a couple days, though.
E: No hurry; I’m gone all weekend anyway.
E: Perhaps if we can get our respective Conclusions posted, we can chat about them one last time next Thursday.
A: We can discuss that (privately) after they are posted, I suppose.
E: To be honest, it would be something of a relief to have this over; though, I’ll miss being connected to you this tightly.
E: fair enough
A: Thanks, Ernie. I’ll be in touch.