DiaBlogue Finale 2: The Halting Problem


Today’s title refers both the classic problem that recurs computer science, statistics, epistemology, and philosophy — as well as to our difficulty in ending this DiaBlogue! Specifically, Alan and I exchanged several comments after my “last” post that imply there are still some loose threads we ought to tie up. While I don’t want to continue beating a dead horse, I do feel he raised a few questions that merit a response, and I’d rather do so here than in a comment.

Dear Alan,

I believe I have raised the issue moving goalposts before, but I must confess that it is literally “mysterious” to me — i.e., something I’m not sure I understand. I realize the term could easily be taken as excessively pejorative, and I apologize for that. For the record, I did not mean to imply that any goalpost-shifting on your part was intentional or malicious — or even that any anger involved was necessarily “irrational.”

The specific bit of cognitive dissonance I’ve been trying to wrap my head around is that you appear to hold Christianity to extremely — I would say unrealistically — high standards of “truth”; for example, you seem to fault Christianity for failing strict definitions of “convergence” and “historical support” that I suspect many sciences and other well-accepted facts would also fall short of. Yet at the same time, you seem to willing to uncritically endorse arguments against Christianity that (IMHO) are even less compatible with those criteria.

I say “appear” and “seem” as it is obvious I have my own biases in this area, which is why I’ve expended so much effort trying to find a “neutral common ground” we could both agree upon as our mutual judge. In addition, you have always been meticulous and thorough in your research and your facts, which is why I’ve had such difficulty identifying the source of our disagreement (and failure to converge).

In the end, the most telling “data point” for me is the way you’ve made use of atheistic bloggers to help articulate and defend your position: Ebon Muse, Sam Harris, and of course Alonzo Fyfe. To be sure, they were excellent resources, and I am grateful that you chose to bring them up.

But something odd happened in each one of those cases. Every time I tried to press into understanding exactly what they meant, you seemed to distance yourself from affirming what I perceived as the core of their beliefs. Now, it is fine to bring up sources you only partially agree with; but I don’t understand why you didn’t point out those deficiencies before I did. For that matter, I couldn’t figure out why were you so aggressive in promoting Desire Utilitarianism (including the generous gift of the book) despite what seemed to me very serious flaws.

This ultimately me to the general issue of the halting problem, which colloquially can be formulated as: “when do I stop questioning my beliefs and decide to act”? For the above theorem shows that there is no sure way to validate the “right answer”, so we must ultimately use our best judgement. After all, I dare say we both have passed through various phases where alternately Christianity — and the arguments against it — have seemed quite plausible. What is the underlying difference between us that led you to stop your analysis at a place where Christianity seems “very probably false”, while I’ve come to a point where it appears “fundamentally plausible?”

For myself — while I live up to it inconsistently — I have long been clear that my “metadigm” for making such pre-paradigmatic decisions is “love.” I feel good about halting ethical inquiry when I’ve discovered a way to act lovingly, and I try (however imperfectly) to investigate opposing arguments to the point where I can see what someone might love about them. For that matter, I only trust experts to the extent I believe they love the truth about their subject more than I do — and more than they love their pet theories!

The point of this post (and my previous Finale) is simply that my current working hypothesis for your “metadigm” during this diablogue is, to be blunt, your anger against Christianity. I may well be wrong; in fact, I certainly hope that I am! But it is the only explanation I can think of that explains the results of the various conversational “experiments” over the last 18 months.

Of course, it could equally well be true that my logic is so fundamentally warped that I keep frustrating your arguments and driving you away. But if that is how you see things, I hope you would similarly lay out your hypothesis for my lack of progress, and suggest “tests” for identifying and resolving them, as I have tried to do for you here.

At any rate, the reason I am writing this is not to accuse you, or attempt to restart the argument. Rather, if anything, it is a prophecy (or a prediction, if you prefer). You earlier said that you’re willing to “bet [your] life and all of Western civilization on” the possibility of improving on Christianity [as we know it] — something I whole-heartedly agree with! Where we disagree, IMHO, is that I am betting that we can best accomplish that by seeking to find things to love. While I fear that you are betting your life on nurturing your anger.

Again, I could well be wrong, and I hope and pray that I am. Because if you really are justifying your beliefs and actions based on anger, it will not stop until it devours your health, your relationships, and even your soul.

So that is why I wanted to leave you with this final warning, so that if you ever do find yourself lost and alone on the hellish road of anger you might remember my plea, and turn back before it is too late.

And I am wrong, and five years down the road your philosophy really does lead you to “A Better Place” of service, connectedness, and wholeness, I trust that you will then have the grace to forgive me.

Either way, until then I remain,
Your Friend,
– Ernie Prabhakar

P.S. I honestly can’t think of anything left to say after that, but if you do want to follow up I suggest we schedule a chat, rather than simply commenting back-and-forth. Fair enough?

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