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A Critique of Objectivist Philosophy of Religion

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Like much of what you have written to me, this does not address my argument.

I attacked your root premise, sarcastically. Was I to continue on?

Not to derail the discussion, but you are aware that Christians believe that an illiterate first century carpenter who cast evil spells on trees was the son of God himself? That he was born of a virgin, not of a loose woman afraid to be stoned to death for having sex, but a literal virgin birth, of the kind like the Komodo dragons do?

This is why I asked him what flavor of Christian he is. Not all of them go for that virgin birth stuff.

Thus, contradictory claims 'seem' true to different people, and there is no proposed method for sorting them out.

Stop talking sense, we’re trying to have some fun here!

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I'm not understanding why it is that Objectivists "just have to respond" to every argument ever put out for theism, or it becomes a "problem for Objectivism." Is it a problem for you that you haven't

Well, first we would need to flesh out that claim a little. 'Must' for what purpose? We are talking about verifying claims, determining the truth of claims. If we take 'true' to mean 'consistent wi

General note: if I recall correctly, ctrl y is a fellow who used to be an Objectivist and now considers himself Christian. The only reason I mention this is because some people seem to think he is no

Well, first we would need to flesh out that claim a little. 'Must' for what purpose? We are talking about verifying claims, determining the truth of claims. If we take 'true' to mean 'consistent with fact or reality,' then we need to connect a claim to reality in some way in order to evaluate its truthfulness. Ultimately, all of our connections to reality come from the evidence of the senses. Think of all the evidence used for scientific inquiry throughout our history. All of it is ultimately processed and evaluated by the scientists and experimenters themselves, using their senses; that is the stopping point. All roads lead through there. Thus, we can evaluate the claim you have proposed above, using the evidence of our senses and logical reasoning, and support it using the methodology you are arguing against.

How does it follow from the success of science that we need to reduce everything to sensory data, though? I don't see how that follows.

What about theoretical entities (e.g. electrons)? How do you reduce them to sensory data?

Finally, I'd point out that science arose within a Christian context. There's some reason to think that science depends on a worldview like Christianity, where there's a foundation for the laws of nature we observe in the character of God.

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Therefore we have to back off from this epistemology. I suggest that it is more reasonable to adopt weak foundationalism, on which a claim can rationally be accepted under less stringent criteria than those which Rand laid down. For example, Swinburne's weak foundationalism suggests that a belief can rationally be accepted if it simply seems true to the agent. On Swinburne's epistemology, we then weave together these beliefs which seem true into worldviews as best we can as the evidence comes in.

And if I held the belief that weak foundationalism was wrong because it seemed to not be true, what then? Such an "epistemology" leads us nowhere.

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The problem with that epistemology is that it's not an epistemology in any helpful sense. It draws no difference between different reasons that beliefs 'seem' true to people; whether they seem true because they are consistent with the evidence, or whether they seem true because, say, the individual in question really wants to believe that they're true. There is no method for determining anything other than appeals to feelings; there is no method of evaluating how those feelings were formed and whether or not they themselves are valid. Thus, contradictory claims 'seem' true to different people, and there is no proposed method for sorting them out.

This isn't really an objection to Swinburne's epistemology as far as I can see. You're just saying, "Swinburne's epistemology isn't the Objectivist epistemology." Well, so what?

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Finally, I'd point out that science arose within a Christian context.

Aristotle brought about the first philosophic foundations necessary for science to succeed with his views of causality and identity. And he was not Christian.

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And if I held the belief that weak foundationalism was wrong because it seemed to not be true, what then? Such an "epistemology" leads us nowhere.

Then, on weak foundationalism, you would be justified in believing that weak foundationalism is false. I see no problem here.

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Then, on weak foundationalism, you would be justified in believing that weak foundationalism is false. I see no problem here.

The problem is precisely that if there is no criterion by which one is justified with respect to propositions other than what things seem like to certain people, it just brings us back to our original point of disagreement with no real way of being sure whether or not our beliefs have anything to do with reality and to what degree. If you reject the possibility of certain knowledge entirely, then that is another issue, but I am assuming that this is not the case.

Simply put: that epistemological view essentially says, you are justified in believing something if you think that you are justified. And this means that we have no real referent for the concept of justification; i.e., it is meaningless.

Edited by ttime
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How does it follow from the success of science that we need to reduce everything to sensory data, though? I don't see how that follows.

It follows by rigorously determining what we mean by 'truth,' and then examining the different methods we have for obtaining it (in this case, for connecting claims or propositions with reality).

What about theoretical entities (e.g. electrons)? How do you reduce them to sensory data?

... Seriously? We examine the evidence of their existence... with our senses. I'll take the example of atomic nuclei since I know more about the original evidence supporting that than I do about electrons. Rutherford performed the gold foil experiment, which gave him results that he could examine visually, and he used this evidence to support the phenomenon in question. No matter what tools are required for the experimentation or the evidence gathering, the ultimate results of those tools must be examined by a human being, using his or her senses.

In fact, we did not know about the existence of electrons or nuclei, precisely because they are unseen, until we were able to devise tools that interacted with them to produce results that we could examine visually. That is how all knowledge formation must be done.

Finally, I'd point out that science arose within a Christian context.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method#History

Edited by Dante
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The problem is precisely that if there is no criterion by which one is justified with respect to propositions other than what things seem like to certain people, it just brings us back to our original point of disagreement with no real way of being sure whether or not our beliefs have anything to do with reality and to what degree. If you reject the possibility of certain knowledge entirely, then that is another issue, but I am assuming that this is not the case.

Yeah, weak foundationalism is a pretty jarring epistemology to someone steeped in classical foundationalism. "What?? You mean to say that all knowledge doesn't reduce tidily to self evident axioms?? You mean to say that there is no simple way to settle disagreements??" Yes. Yes, I do.

Simply put: that epistemological view essentially says, you are justified in believing something if you think that you are justified. And this means that we have no real referent for the concept of justification; i.e., it is meaningless.

The referents for justification would be the beliefs that seem true. It's easy.

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Then, on weak foundationalism, you would be justified in believing that weak foundationalism is false. I see no problem here.

What you are saying means that two contradictory beliefs can be shown to be justified according to weak foundationalism, and therefore that theory cannot work.

But further, to distinguish between strong foundationalism and weak foundationalism we can say that if we can't point to any specific criteria to know what is justified and what isn't, then we don't actually have any foundation at all, weak or otherwise. We actually have nothing more than universal skepticism, as we can never really know what constitutes justified true belief.

So really, we are left with but two options: either strong foundationalism (which is to say foundationalism period) or skepticism. And since skepticism is self-refuting, while the evidence of the senses is axiomatically valid, we are left with the certainty of foundationalism. All knowledge is either immediately evident (self-evidently true), or mediately evident when it has been proved (following by necessity from self-evident truths).

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What you are saying means that two contradictory beliefs can be shown to be justified according to weak foundationalism, and therefore that theory cannot work.

I can't see why that's problem for the theory. It would be a problem for the theory if two contradictory beliefs could be true according to it, but that's not what it says. It only says that two contradictory beliefs can be justified for different people at the same time.

But further, to distinguish between strong foundationalism and weak foundationalism we can say that if we can't point to any specific criteria to know what is justified and what isn't, then we don't actually have any foundation at all, weak or otherwise. We actually have nothing more than universal skepticism, as we can never really know what constitutes justified true belief.

So really, we are left with but two options: either strong foundationalism (which is to say foundationalism period) or skepticism. And since skepticism is self-refuting, while the evidence of the senses is axiomatically valid, we are left with the certainty of foundationalism. All knowledge is either immediately evident (self-evidently true), or mediately evident when it has been proved (following by necessity from self-evident truths).

I don't know what you're up to here, sorry. The criterion would be seeming true.

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Yeah, weak foundationalism is a pretty jarring epistemology to someone steeped in classical foundationalism. "What?? You mean to say that all knowledge doesn't reduce tidily to self evident axioms?? You mean to say that there is no simple way to settle disagreements??" Yes. Yes, I do.

I realize you think this, but I am asking you, that if you claim that people are justified in believing things just because things seem that way to them, then why are you even arguing about anything? Are you trying to change the way things "seem" to us? But even if you were, if we already have a way of interpreting what you say according to what "seems" to be true, what makes you think you could get a point across?

The referents for justification would be the beliefs that seem true. It's easy.

Okay, then give me the standard by which a belief can be said to "seem true".

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Okay, I've figured out what the root of our disagreement is. People here apparently believe that they have a method of reaching the truth, "reducing concepts to reality," which all knowledge must conform to. I will need to undermine your confidence in this epistemology before we'll be able to make any progress, because otherwise you'll just assert that you already know that any argument for God must fail because the claim that God exists cannot be reduced to the data of sense.

Yes, you have identified what the root of the disagreement is. What are you going to appeal to in order to undermine an epistemology which is based on concepts that have been reduced to reality, i.e. data of sense?

Data of non-sense?

So, loosely following an argument of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, I claim that this epistemology fails because it is self stultifying. There is no way to reduce the claim, "all claims must be reduced to the self evident data of sense," to the data of sense. It's an arbitrary assertion. An epistemology which demands that we begin with self evident or incorrigible claims will always be self stultifying for this reason. (Rand's view is a form of what is called classical foundationalism, which is defunct.)

If you do not understand how to reduce a claim to the self-evident data of sense, you have again demonstrated that you do not understand how consciousness is identification. An epistemology which demands we begin with something other than the self-evident is obviously not self-evidently (contradictorily) anchored.

Therefore we have to back off from this epistemology. I suggest that it is more reasonable to adopt weak foundationalism, on which a claim can rationally be accepted under less stringent criteria than those which Rand laid down. For example, Swinburne's weak foundationalism suggests that a belief can rationally be accepted if it simply seems true to the agent. On Swinburne's epistemology, we then weave together these beliefs which seem true into worldviews as best we can as the evidence comes in.

So, in other words: we have to back off from an epistemology which has been induced from observations (data of sense) in order to make room for less stringent criteria (arbitrary assertion) to be given a foot-hold, bearing in mind that evidence is the data of sense.

So, even if you somehow establish that the claim that God exists cannot be reduced to the data of sense, that doesn't imply that theism is unjustified. Theism could still follow from claims that seem true (or itself be a claim that seems true).

The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that "God" exists, by reducing the concept to the data of sense. That theism could still follow from claims that seem true, serves to undermine your epistemology, not Objectivism's.

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I realize you think this, but I am asking you, that if you claim that people are justified in believing things just because things seem that way to them, then why are you even arguing about anything? Are you trying to change the way things "seem" to us? But even if you were, if we already have a way of interpreting what you say according to what "seems" to be true, what makes you think you could get a point across?

As there are no firm, certain foundations for all knowledge, a reasonable person constructs his worldview as best he can based on limited information and according to what seems true. This necessarily means that a rational person's worldview will be constantly shifting and, insofar as he lacks information, always somewhat uncertain. I see my job as being to introduce a little more information into your worldview to help you grasp a little more of reality than you presently do, and maybe (as I hope) I'll get some helpful information from you in return.

Okay, then give me the standard by which a belief can be said to "seem true".

We're talking about what's called "epistemic seeming" here, which is what you're inclined to believe taking into account all of your beliefs and experiences at a given time. For example, if you think it seems true that there is an apple on the table, that means that when you've taken into account all of your beliefs and (say) the experience of the apple on the table, you're inclined to believe that there's an apple on the table.

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Yes, you have identified what the root of the disagreement is. What are you going to appeal to in order to undermine an epistemology which is based on concepts that have been reduced to reality, i.e. data of sense?

Data of non-sense?

If you do not understand how to reduce a claim to the self-evident data of sense, you have again demonstrated that you do not understand how consciousness is identification. An epistemology which demands we begin with something other than the self-evident is obviously not self-evidently (contradictorily) anchored.

So, in other words: we have to back off from an epistemology which has been induced from observations (data of sense) in order to make room for less stringent criteria (arbitrary assertion) to be given a foot-hold, bearing in mind that evidence is the data of sense.

The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that "God" exists, by reducing the concept to the data of sense. That theism could still follow from claims that seem true, serves to undermine your epistemology, not Objectivism's.

I don't see any substantive objections in this post, just lots of question begging. Sorry.

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Guys, let me say that I actually wish your version of foundationalism was true. As far as I can tell, it is not. I'm not advocating weak foundationalism as a breakthrough that will make us able to settle debates easily and reach confident conclusions on all issues. I'm advocating weak foundationalism because, unfortunately, this seems to be how justification actually works.

And if we look at our epistemic practice, this does reflect experience. We don't spend our lives progressively constructing one edifice of knowledge that gets progressively larger as we learn more and is never undercut. We build one structure, then it gets torn down by some new argument, so we build another structure, and that one gets torn down too. Oftentimes a person who knows more than we do will come along and demolish our carefully constructed position on some issue. Think about how many ideologies you have been through in your life - most people convert a few times during their lives. It just doesn't seem like we're building on a single, firm foundation.

You can say that this is because we're all making epistemic errors if you like. However, I think it's implausible to claim that a twelfth century peasant who grew up hearing about God from his friends, knew that all the learned people believed that God existed, heard of the accounts in the Bible, and had no other source of information, was not justified in believing that God existed.

Edited by ctrl y
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Guys, let me say that I actually wish your version of foundationalism was true. As far as I can tell, it is not. I'm not advocating weak foundationalism as a breakthrough that will make us able to settle debates easily and reach confident conclusions on all issues. I'm advocating weak foundationalism because, unfortunately, this seems to be how justification actually works.

As Harry Binswanger pointed out on "Consciousness as Identification", you may thank the fact that "most people are unable to understand Objectivism" to “Why Johnny Can’t Think” by Leonard Peikoff. He traces the philosophical roots of the anti-conceptual mentalities that we are confronted with there.

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Then, on weak foundationalism, you would be justified in believing that weak foundationalism is false. I see no problem here.

Then the thread is over, your job here is done. There is no problem.

When it can be justified by the rules of a certain epistemology that that epistemology is false, then that epistemology is self-refuting. Stop wasting our time (yours included).

Your identification of Objectivist epistemology as an instance of foundationalism is correct, but it is not classical foundationalism. Dr. David Kelley devoted a chapter of his book The Evidence of the Senses to justification. The reason foundationalism had been rejected was because of the Cartesian elements in its defenders. By 'Cartesian element' he refers to the contradiction between the primacy of consciousness perspective implicit in "cogito ergo sum" and the correspondence theory of truth which is only consistent with the primacy of existence perspective. Rand is a fully consistent exponent of the primacy of existence perspective.

Here is a teaser from my notes on chapter 6:

Chapter 6 Foundations and Nebulas

Knowledge has structure. Most knowledge is acquired and validated by inference from prior knowledge. Where does this prior knowledge come from? This chapter is about the foundationalist and coherence theories of the justification of knowledge and the realist theory of perception affects that debate.

Definitions

I.Foundationalism

Basic knowledge is necessary for any other kind of knowledge, for the truth of any inferential knowledge depends upon the truth of its premises.

Basic knowledge is possible. There are judgements justified without prior conceptual knowledge of other facts.

II. Coherence (Anti-Foundationalism)

Basic knowledge is not possible because justification can only occur within a vast network of background knowledge.

Basic knowledge is not necessary because the standard of justification is the coherence between a belief and its context.

As analogs of the two sides of this debates, we have "buildings, towers, or trees" vs. "nebulas, clouds, webs, or ships at sea".

Debates

The debate takes place at three levels.

A. If there is basic knowledge it is perceptual knowledge so the two sides must clash over perception.

B. Contextual and hierarchical perspectives on knowledge are both valid and do not contradict each other. Neither side can prove the other's appoach is wrong, but they try. Integrating them fully is beyond the scope of this work but a few things will be said.

C. There is a more fundamental conflict underlying the two positions on the relation between knowledge and existence. Foundationalism is consistent with "Cartesian empiricism" while cohence theory has an underlying "Linguistic Idealism".

Discussion of the two primacy principles is in the first chapter.

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ctrl y said:

However, I think it's implausible to claim that a twelfth century peasant who grew up hearing about God from his friends, knew that all the learned people believed that God existed, heard of the accounts in the Bible, and had no other source of information, was not justified in believing that God existed.

Thats an artifact of your particular conception of what plausability and justification is....

As there are no firm, certain foundations for all knowledge, a reasonable person constructs his worldview as best he can based on limited information and according to what seems true.

You "seem" sure that there are "NO firm certain, foundations". You are stealing the concept certain.

Edited by Plasmatic
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Then the thread is over, your job here is done. There is no problem.

When it can be justified by the rules of a certain epistemology that that epistemology is false, then that epistemology is self-refuting. Stop wasting our time (yours included).

You don't have to spend your time on this thread if you don't want to. But you're simply mistaken in saying that if someone could possibly be justified in believing that weak foundationalism is false, then weak foundationalism is self refuting. Again, the claim is not that weak foundationalism implies that weak foundationalism is false; the claim is that weak foundationalism implies that (say) John Smith could be justified in believing that weak foundationalism is false. But since on weak foundationalism, we can be justified in believing things that are not true, that has no necessary implications for the truth of weak foundationalism.

I think you're confusing weak and strong foundationalism. On strong foundationalism, if a claim can be justified, then the claim has to be true. But on weak foundationalism, things are different.

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You don't have to spend your time on this thread if you don't want to. But you're simply mistaken in saying that if someone could possibly be justified in believing that weak foundationalism is false, then weak foundationalism is self refuting. Again, the claim is not that weak foundationalism implies that weak foundationalism is false; the claim is that weak foundationalism implies that (say) John Smith could be justified in believing that weak foundationalism is false. But since on weak foundationalism, we can be justified in believing things that are not true, that has no necessary implications for the truth of weak foundationalism.

I think you're confusing weak and strong foundationalism. On strong foundationalism, if a claim can be justified, then the claim has to be true. But on weak foundationalism, things are different.

But that's the argument I put forward: that weak foundationalism isn't a foundation at all. By your own admission, it gives us no way of knowing that if I adhere to it that my beliefs are true. Since knowledge is justified true belief, weak foundationalism does not allow me to have knowledge, including of weak foundationalism. It reduces to skepticism (with the added twist that it says go ahead and believe whatever you want, you just won't be certain that it's true.) Weak foundationalism, like all skepticism, is self-refuting because in order to claim it as knowledge, it has to be possible that I have knowledge. Anything I claim to be true is non-sensory and non-logical, because its justification is that I just say it seems true to me, and the justification of that is because it seems true that what seems true is the justification for believing something is true. This is circular, arbitrary, and invalid. In other words, this is just plain mysticism and thus warrants no further consideration.

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But that's the argument I put forward: that weak foundationalism isn't a foundation at all. By your own admission, it gives us no way of knowing that if I adhere to it that my beliefs are true. Since knowledge is justified true belief, weak foundationalism does not allow me to have knowledge, including of weak foundationalism. It reduces to skepticism (with the added twist that it says go ahead and believe whatever you want, you just won't be certain that it's true.) Weak foundationalism, like all skepticism, is self-refuting because in order to claim it as knowledge, it has to be possible that I have knowledge.

Right - if weak foundationalism is true, then there is no strong foundationalist flavored knowledge. There is, however, weak foundationalist flavored knowledge. Weak foundationalism is a whole different account of knowledge, not another way of achieving strong foundationalist knowledge.

Anything I claim to be true is non-sensory and non-logical, because its justification is that I just say it seems true to me, and the justification of that is because it seems true that what seems true is the justification for believing something is true.

Right, insofar as you can ask "how do you know that?" three times in a row, and the answer will be, "it seems true," each of those three times. I don't think that there's a philosophical problem here unless you demand that we arrive at strong foundationalist justification at some point (which would be question begging).

Basically, here's what you just did:

Me: "I know x."

You: "How do you know that?"

Me: "It seems true."

You: "How do you know that?"

Me: "It seems true."

You: "How do you know that?"

Me: "It seems true."

You: "Ha ha! Victory!" *runs off

Me: *scratches head

This is circular, arbitrary, and invalid. In other words, this is just plain mysticism and thus warrants no further consideration.

I have no idea where you got this conclusion from, sorry. You just pointed to parts of weak foundationalism and said, "that's different from strong foundationalism!" Well, yeah. That's the point.

Edited by ctrl y
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