Is Richard Dawkins deluded in his optimism?

David Benatar, author and professor of philosophy, seems to think so:

There are well-established features of human psychology that lead most people to underestimate how bad the quality of their lives is. Chief among these psychological features is ‘pollyannaism’, an inclination most people have towards optimism. Research has shown, for example, that people selectively recall the good more often than the bad, overestimate how well things will go, and tend to think that the quality of their life is above average.
It is curious that Professor Dawkins seems so unaware of these optimistic biases, given their obvious evolutionary explanation. Those with the right dose of delusion are more likely to produce offspring, whereas those who see the human condition for what it is, are unlikely to want to reproduce it. Optimistic delusions, within a normal human range, are thus adaptive. The delusions that help people cope with the human predicament are often theistic, but they are not always so. Professor Dawkins is quick to debunk the theistic consolations and to begrudge those who seek comfort in them. Yet he does not cast the same critical light on his own delusions and consolations.

Advertisements
  1. #1 by Cannonball Jones on February 17, 2009 - 10:38 am

    That seemed like a pretty rambling and empty article. He attacks Dawkins for his delusions but refuses to get any more specific. Why would it be considered delusional to marvel at the size and complexity of the universe and the life contained therein? It’s huge. It’s complex. What’s the problem?
    He then goes after the idea that life contains no more meaning than that which we give it ourselves and equates this to taking meaning from religion. This is just wrong, the entire point of Dakwins’ argument is that there is no objective meaning to life, which is the opposite of what religions claim. His claim that we are wrong to assume that our own meanings are ‘right’ or indeed ‘meaningful’ aren’t backed up at all and seem to make little sense unless accepted as come from the school of “because I say so” arguments.
    Poor stuff, how’d this guy get to be a professor?

  2. #2 by Cannonball Jones on February 17, 2009 - 10:38 am

    That seemed like a pretty rambling and empty article. He attacks Dawkins for his delusions but refuses to get any more specific. Why would it be considered delusional to marvel at the size and complexity of the universe and the life contained therein? It’s huge. It’s complex. What’s the problem?
    He then goes after the idea that life contains no more meaning than that which we give it ourselves and equates this to taking meaning from religion. This is just wrong, the entire point of Dakwins’ argument is that there is no objective meaning to life, which is the opposite of what religions claim. His claim that we are wrong to assume that our own meanings are ‘right’ or indeed ‘meaningful’ aren’t backed up at all and seem to make little sense unless accepted as come from the school of “because I say so” arguments.
    Poor stuff, how’d this guy get to be a professor?

  3. #3 by Kevin Beck on February 17, 2009 - 10:47 am

    My own take on the “optimism” in TGD is that in invoking it, Dawkins is merely pointing out that demonstrably naturalistic processes and circumstances are sufficient to explain–and justify, if need be–the human tendency toward wonder that some attribute to religious forces. Unlike Benatar I do not see it as a claim that the universe is any friendlier than it appears to be, but as the proposal that while a religious view is sufficient for some, it is not necessary, and that given the maths and human psychological foibles it is easy to see why people are prone to attributing certain qualities of the universe to crank-yanking, level-pulling deities.

  4. #4 by hopper3011 on February 17, 2009 - 11:34 am

    I’ve never been a big fan of Dawkins, he has always come across as a right pompous ass. He has never struck me as being someone who could make a really compelling argument, although he does have considerable success with people who are predisposed to agree with him. He presented a programme on Channel 4 recently where he tried to disabuse some school kids of their religious notions by explaining the theory of evolution, showing them fossils, etc., with a spectacular lack of success. If you follow the link below there are some clips, but essentially the kids – none of whom struck me as being particularly stupid or overly indoctrinated, just “normal” teenagers – unanimously said “thanks, but no thanks”.
    http://www.channel4.com/science/microsites/F/famelab/index.html

  5. #5 by Jim Fiore on February 17, 2009 - 1:31 pm

    Yeah, but that’s what most teenagers say to anything offered to them by most any adult.
    I will say this much: Years ago I truly believed that humans were fundamentally rational; that if you simply offered up a cogent, tight, logical argument which the other person could not counter, said person would tend to agree with you (eventually). I realize now that such is not the case. Many people do not come to particular positions via a rational/logical thought process but through emotion or indoctrination. I think the only effective way of fighting that is at the very same level. If something is held at a very emotional level, attacking it at the level of abstract logical argument is a difficult battle at best.
    Everyone lives with a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, some more than others. We don’t tend to notice it due to compartmentalization and a desire to back off when colliding thoughts become “uncomfortable”. I think that when you apply a logical argument against an emotional position, the end result is that you stimulate a protective response and your target “throws up the walls” to keep the discomfort away. If you attack at the emotional level, that’s not so easy to do (though certainly not impossible). I find this to be an unfortunate realization, and really, I’d prefer it if I was wrong, but this hypothesis seems to be a better fit to reality than my old one.

  6. #6 by Ian on February 17, 2009 - 1:43 pm

    Benatar ignores the fact that evolution was shaping organisms (including minds and senses) quite literally for billions of years before humans came along. Or does he really think it only started with humans?

  7. #7 by Bill from Dover on February 17, 2009 - 1:59 pm


    Research has shown, for example, that (some) people selectively recall the good more often than the bad, overestimate how well things will go,…

    Didn’t we just go through eight years of this shit?

  8. #8 by anpanman on February 22, 2009 - 12:04 pm

    “In debunking theism in more than one of his books, Professor Dawkins reveals his own delusion – namely, a bad case of optimism.”
    some optimistic biases are more harmful than others.
    i couldnt get past the first few paragraphs. the writer was far too opimistic in assuming that white text on black background was readable. i doubt, however, that makes him as delusional as joseph smith.

  9. #9 by antinatalist on February 23, 2009 - 4:11 am

    The author is apparently an elitist or a zionist who argues for eugenics in a less than obvious manner. Thus his arguments are designed to be convincing to some people and others are meant to see through it. Another possibility is that I am over-estimating his IQ. Either way, I back up what Cannonball said – it is not very evolved to be a eugenist or to present bad arguments. Nor is it evolved to breed. Sadly most of those who get to write books take good ideas or theories and corrupt them.

  10. #10 by antinatalist on February 23, 2009 - 4:11 am

    The author is apparently an elitist or a zionist who argues for eugenics in a less than obvious manner. Thus his arguments are designed to be convincing to some people and others are meant to see through it. Another possibility is that I am over-estimating his IQ. Either way, I back up what Cannonball said – it is not very evolved to be a eugenist or to present bad arguments. Nor is it evolved to breed. Sadly most of those who get to write books take good ideas or theories and corrupt them.

  11. #11 by antinatalist on February 23, 2009 - 4:11 am

    The author is apparently an elitist or a zionist who argues for eugenics in a less than obvious manner. Thus his arguments are designed to be convincing to some people and others are meant to see through it. Another possibility is that I am over-estimating his IQ. Either way, I back up what Cannonball said – it is not very evolved to be a eugenist or to present bad arguments. Nor is it evolved to breed. Sadly most of those who get to write books take good ideas or theories and corrupt them.

  12. #12 by hopper3011 on February 23, 2009 - 6:18 am

    Yeah, but that’s what most teenagers say to anything offered to them by most any adult.

    True, but they are also being offered religion by adults, and they seemed quite happy to accept that? It doesn’t seem too far fetched to suggest that, perhaps, Prof. Dawkins arguments aren’t as convincing as they might be?

    will say this much: Years ago I truly believed that humans were fundamentally rational; that if you simply offered up a cogent, tight, logical argument which the other person could not counter, said person would tend to agree with you (eventually).

    The problem is that you can make a perfectly logical argument for belief in religion (e.g. Pascal’s wager) – the problem for both sides is that proof doesn’t exist, therefore however logical, cogent, tight, or whatever, your argument, it still boils down to your opinion against his – a problem that most people are intuitively good at recognising.

  13. #13 by Jim Fiore on February 23, 2009 - 10:35 am

    Hopper,
    I wouldn’t say that teenagers are being “offered” religion by adults. At least when/where I grew up, it was forced, and not everyone was “happy to accept” it, but you did accept or else. Because of that experience, I maintain that many people who are religious are so out of either inertia or simple indoctrination.
    Further, I would not agree that Pascal’s Wager is a perfectly logical argument, but even if it were, my observation is not strictly limited to religiosity. I have experienced this in other areas as well. As I said, I hope that my hypothesis is not correct, but so far…

  14. #14 by hopper3011 on February 25, 2009 - 11:47 am

    Jim;

    I wouldn’t say that teenagers are being “offered” religion by adults.

    I guess that is a difference in our upbringings – whilst growing up I knew nobody who went to church regularly. One of my best friends was the son of the local vicar, and even he (the son, not the vicar) wasn’t pressured into going to church. I must admit that it is an assumption that the teenagers in the programme are having a similar sort of upbringing to mine – the school isnt very far away from my home town.
    I certainly knew where the church was in my village, but I never really felt like going in, and nobody ever tried to force it on me.
    Working under that assumption, it is not really a mis-speaking to use the word “offered” in terms of religion, so my criticism of Dawkins remains unanswered.

    I maintain that many people who are religious are so out of either inertia or simple indoctrination.

    I believe the same could be said about atheists. I’ve certainly had a few discussions on here that would indicate an inability to reason out a position of atheism – Gingerbaker, bybelknap, and Brian being prime examples.

    I would not agree that Pascal’s Wager is a perfectly logical argument

    I would beg to differ: the argument is logically valid. I would enjoy seeing the reasoning behind your claim.

  15. #15 by Jim Fiore on February 25, 2009 - 2:38 pm

    hopper,
    I find this interesting as your experience seems to be the opposite of mine. Virtually everyone I grew up with was indoctrinated into the family church. I didn’t meet atheists until college and almost everyone I know today who is an atheist started off in a church and had to break away. Thus, in my experience, inertia and indoctrination were what people battled through to wind up at atheism, not a thing that held them there.
    Regarding Pascal, the argument works only if you assume that there are two possibilities: no god, Pascal’s Christian God. What if there is another god or gods who would be very pissed that you put a false god before them? What if Pascal’s god turned out to NOT like people who simply used faith, but rather, wanted people to think in terms of empirical evidence? There are many possibilities that exist outside of the two original choices and some of them lead to the believer being in a world of shit when they die and the non-believer in a much better position. Saying that the argument is logical given its precepts may be correct in a pedantic sort of way, but that’s like saying that the sum of two integers must always be 0 or more (fine, so long as we ignore the existence of negative integers, but ultimately impractically constrained).

  16. #16 by hopper3011 on March 2, 2009 - 3:00 am

    Jim;

    Regarding Pascal, the argument works only if you assume that there are two possibilities: no god, Pascal’s Christian God.

    That was kind of my point (and probably Pascal’s too); most logical arguments only work if you accept the presuppositions of a particular position. You said:

    Years ago I truly believed that humans were fundamentally rational; that if you simply offered up a cogent, tight, logical argument which the other person could not counter, said person would tend to agree with you (eventually).

    But if the person you are arguing with doesn’t accept your presuppositions they are not necessarily illogical, just working from a different worldview. If they accept your presuppositions and still reject your argument they are behaving illogically, but otherwise not.

  17. #17 by Jim Fiore on March 2, 2009 - 2:42 pm

    most logical arguments only work if you accept the presuppositions of a particular position.
    And in the case of PW, is there any valid reason to ignore the other possibilities? One could say “they’re not part of my worldview”, but that’s just obfuscation.
    I don’t buy a lot of what I hear about so-called “worldviews”. In many instances it seems to be merely an artifice constructed so as to exclude certain uncomfortable facts and situations.

  18. #18 by hopper3011 on March 3, 2009 - 1:18 am

    I don’t buy a lot of what I hear about so-called “worldviews”. In many instances it seems to be merely an artifice constructed so as to exclude certain uncomfortable facts and situations.

    Interesting comment; are you saying that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is wrong? I notice that you manage to “exclude certain uncomfortable facts and situations” when it suits you (when I offered a critique of Dawkins TV programme you were quick to try and denigrate the kids who failed to accept what he was saying – which was preferable to you rather than facing up to the idea that Dawkins’ argument for atheism is moderate at best), but anyone else who does that is just hiding?
    As far as Pascal’s wager goes, rejection of other religions to arrive at the one with which you make your wager doesn’t entail denying the others in your worldview (whatever that means), you can arrive at support for a particular religion by the simple process of comparison. It is not unreasonable to choose the most personally “satisfactory” religion and make your wager there.

  19. #19 by hopper3011 on March 3, 2009 - 1:18 am

    I don’t buy a lot of what I hear about so-called “worldviews”. In many instances it seems to be merely an artifice constructed so as to exclude certain uncomfortable facts and situations.

    Interesting comment; are you saying that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is wrong? I notice that you manage to “exclude certain uncomfortable facts and situations” when it suits you (when I offered a critique of Dawkins TV programme you were quick to try and denigrate the kids who failed to accept what he was saying – which was preferable to you rather than facing up to the idea that Dawkins’ argument for atheism is moderate at best), but anyone else who does that is just hiding?
    As far as Pascal’s wager goes, rejection of other religions to arrive at the one with which you make your wager doesn’t entail denying the others in your worldview (whatever that means), you can arrive at support for a particular religion by the simple process of comparison. It is not unreasonable to choose the most personally “satisfactory” religion and make your wager there.

  20. #20 by Jim Fiore on March 3, 2009 - 10:55 am

    No, I’m not saying that at all. My point is that in my dealings with people, I have discovered that some individuals use “this is my worldview” as a means to rationalize why they don’t admit obvious empirical evidence. I’m not talking about matters of opinion here or even relative weighting of the importance of different factors. In this instance, I don’t ignore the fact that these kids were none too excited. Further, you will note that I never said that Dawkins’ arguments were supreme nor do I have a problem with anyone who suggests that others could do a better job of it. I simply stated one possible reason for the student’s reactions (or at least a portion thereof), and no, I don’t think that counts as “denigration” of them (it was a tad snarky but it was meant more as a humorous aside).
    As far as your defense of PW, I hope you’re not suggesting that most people go through a comparative process in order to determine their religion. I think there are sufficient data to show that most people stray very little from the religion of their family upbringing.

  21. #21 by Jim Fiore on March 3, 2009 - 10:55 am

    No, I’m not saying that at all. My point is that in my dealings with people, I have discovered that some individuals use “this is my worldview” as a means to rationalize why they don’t admit obvious empirical evidence. I’m not talking about matters of opinion here or even relative weighting of the importance of different factors. In this instance, I don’t ignore the fact that these kids were none too excited. Further, you will note that I never said that Dawkins’ arguments were supreme nor do I have a problem with anyone who suggests that others could do a better job of it. I simply stated one possible reason for the student’s reactions (or at least a portion thereof), and no, I don’t think that counts as “denigration” of them (it was a tad snarky but it was meant more as a humorous aside).
    As far as your defense of PW, I hope you’re not suggesting that most people go through a comparative process in order to determine their religion. I think there are sufficient data to show that most people stray very little from the religion of their family upbringing.

  22. #22 by llewelly on March 3, 2009 - 6:41 pm

    David Benatar:

    Optimists tend to forget just how much pain and suffering there is in the world. Professor Dawkins, for example, says that we ‘live on a planet that is all but perfect for our kind of life’, noting that it is neither too warm nor too cold, and that it contains both water and food. He is correct, of course, that our planet has the minimum conditions necessary to sustain life (at least for the moment). However, it is far from ‘all but perfect’. Most people, most of the time, are too hot or too cold – not too hot or too cold in order to live, but rather too hot or too cold for comfort. Natural disasters and infectious diseases kill millions. The planet is not to blame for all our ills, however. Our own bodies fail us, causing vast amounts of suffering. There are millions of victims of human evil.

    The Dawkins quote ‘live on a planet that is all but perfect for our kind of life’ is actually part of a set-up for dismantling the argument that the world is perfect for us, thus it was designed for us. David Benatar is engaging in quote-mining. Several of Dawkins’ books (The Selfish Gene , Unweaving The Rainbow , The God Delusion ) contain either a few paragraphs to a few pages about the numerous myriad sufferings humans and other forms of life endure while on alive on earth. Dawkins is fully aware that our world is ‘far from perfect’ (indeed, this is a centerpiece of one of his arguments against design). Dawkins has also shown how the flaws in our own bodies support evolution and reject design. Benatar seems to have read little if any Dawkins.
    Benatar:

    Even the luckier inhabitants of our planet suffer much discomfort, pain, anxiety, disappointment, fear, grief, death and much else, All of these harms could have been avoided if the people suffering them had never been brought into existence.

    I also think Dawkins’ view that those of us who exist are incredibly fortunate is flawed, and I think Dawkins’ optimism is difficult to justify, but Benatar’s supporting arguments, particularly the weird notion that Dawkins tends to forget just how much pain and suffering there is in the world, is demonstrably wrong. There’s more garbage in Benatar’s article, but it’s hardly worth my time.

  23. #23 by hopper3011 on March 5, 2009 - 1:23 am

    My point is that in my dealings with people, I have discovered that some individuals use “this is my worldview” as a means to rationalize why they don’t admit obvious empirical evidence.

    ‘Obvious empirical evidence’ isn’t always obvious, nor is the interpretation of it always correct.

    As far as your defense of PW, I hope you’re not suggesting that most people go through a comparative process in order to determine their religion. I think there are sufficient data to show that most people stray very little from the religion of their family upbringing.

    Are there? Besides which, as far as I am aware, we aren’t dicussing how most people arrive at a religion, the discussion is a logical basis for a belief in religion – and as far as that goes then either a process of elimination based on personal preference (which is how I assume you arrived at your position), or Pascal’s Wager are both perfectly logical ways to arrive at a religious standpoint.

  24. #24 by Jim Fiore on March 5, 2009 - 11:29 am

    We may be picking nits here. I agree that the reasoning for PW may be logical in and of itself, but only if you accept the basic premise that there are only two possible choices: no god and Christian god as described. If you accept that, then sure, the logic stands, but why accept the premise to begin with? Is there any evidence for it or is this really just another exercise in circular reasoning?
    Further, I don’t understand your comment about me arriving at my position via personal preference. My preference would be that there’s an after life where I get to play my drums, frolic with puppies, visit far away planets, and go xc skiing with my wife (and we never get cold) without a worry. My preference has nothing to do with my position, though. I looked at the available evidence, and here I am. If new evidence comes along, I’ll look at that too. What I’d like there to be has nothing to do with what is.

  25. #25 by hopper3011 on March 10, 2009 - 3:36 am

    We may be picking nits here.

    Of course, isn’t that what it’s all about?

    I agree that the reasoning for PW may be logical in and of itself, but only if you accept the basic premise that there are only two possible choices: no god and Christian god as described.

    Not at all, there is no reason for the wager to become illogical just because you choose to make it with the god of another religion, or even a god of your own invention. The wager simply says that, given the choice of what could be (nothing or everything) that given the cost to you (it costs you nothing to believe and nothing not to believe) it is better to believe, since the potential payout is far higher. The wager only becomes illogical if there is an upfront cost involved, such that the potential payout is reduced.

    I looked at the available evidence, and here I am. If new evidence comes along, I’ll look at that too.

    Now that’s an illogical position, and classical lazy atheism: why would you believe that a metaphysical being would leave evidence of its existence in the physical world?
    You might be in a position to reject formalised religion like that, but the argument that God doesn’t exist because there is physical evidence that the God of organised religion (which is simply a power structure invented to utilise the existential fear of existence) doesn’t exist is massively illogical. You might want to look at the last few pages of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus before you make categorical statements like that.

  26. #26 by hopper3011 on March 10, 2009 - 3:36 am

    We may be picking nits here.

    Of course, isn’t that what it’s all about?

    I agree that the reasoning for PW may be logical in and of itself, but only if you accept the basic premise that there are only two possible choices: no god and Christian god as described.

    Not at all, there is no reason for the wager to become illogical just because you choose to make it with the god of another religion, or even a god of your own invention. The wager simply says that, given the choice of what could be (nothing or everything) that given the cost to you (it costs you nothing to believe and nothing not to believe) it is better to believe, since the potential payout is far higher. The wager only becomes illogical if there is an upfront cost involved, such that the potential payout is reduced.

    I looked at the available evidence, and here I am. If new evidence comes along, I’ll look at that too.

    Now that’s an illogical position, and classical lazy atheism: why would you believe that a metaphysical being would leave evidence of its existence in the physical world?
    You might be in a position to reject formalised religion like that, but the argument that God doesn’t exist because there is physical evidence that the God of organised religion (which is simply a power structure invented to utilise the existential fear of existence) doesn’t exist is massively illogical. You might want to look at the last few pages of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus before you make categorical statements like that.

  27. #27 by Jim Fiore on March 10, 2009 - 8:50 am

    So we agree on PW then. The logic itself is fine if we accept the premise. The premise is the part that presents the problem. Why accept the premise?
    Regarding the final paragraph, there might be a misunderstanding of my position. I think the evidence that the gods of organized religion do not exist is substantial. I do not, however, state categorically that it is impossible for a god to exist. I am comfortable with the deist argument of a “god who hides”. I doubt it’s likely and it offers no useful explanatory power, and I think it’s pointless to argue beyond that.

  28. #28 by Jim Fiore on March 10, 2009 - 8:50 am

    So we agree on PW then. The logic itself is fine if we accept the premise. The premise is the part that presents the problem. Why accept the premise?
    Regarding the final paragraph, there might be a misunderstanding of my position. I think the evidence that the gods of organized religion do not exist is substantial. I do not, however, state categorically that it is impossible for a god to exist. I am comfortable with the deist argument of a “god who hides”. I doubt it’s likely and it offers no useful explanatory power, and I think it’s pointless to argue beyond that.

  29. #29 by hopper3011 on March 10, 2009 - 10:33 am

    Why accept the premise?

    I think the question is: why not accept the premise?
    It costs you the same to believe as it does to not believe:
    The potential payout for belief is either heaven or nothing;
    The potential payout for non-belief is either hell or nothing;
    If you choose to believe and you are wrong you aren’t any worse off;
    If you choose not to believe and you are wrong then you spend eternity in Hell;
    So what do you lose by believing?
    The gamble doesn’t cost you any more, whichever god or gods you choose to believe in, but believing in any one of the gods gives you better odds of a payout than non-belief.
    Say there are 20 religions with 20 gods – if you believe in one of them you have a 1:20 chance of having picked the right god; if you look at the the size of the payout (plus or minus) against the size of the stake (zero), I’d say it would be worth a punt?

    I doubt it’s likely and it offers no useful explanatory power, and I think it’s pointless to argue beyond that.

    So what you are saying is that we can’t know anything about the metaphysical universe, so we should just stop trying?

  30. #30 by Jim Fiore on March 10, 2009 - 12:04 pm

    Say there are 20 religions with 20 gods – if you believe in one of them you have a 1:20 chance of having picked the right god; if you look at the the size of the payout (plus or minus) against the size of the stake (zero), I’d say it would be worth a punt?
    You don’t have a 1 in 20 chance. That would only be true if you could ascertain that there are only 20 possibilities and they’re each equally likely.
    Second, if you’re going to posit that a supposed metaphysical universe is entirely hidden, it is unknowable by definition, so what’s the point?

  31. #31 by hopper3011 on March 10, 2009 - 12:42 pm

    However you divide up the probability it is still greater than zero, which is the probability of not believing. You may not think such a small chance is worth bothering with, but that’s a non-logical position.
    Second, I’m sure there are lots of things that it seemed impossible to know; where would we be if everyone took that attitude?

  32. #32 by hopper3011 on March 10, 2009 - 12:42 pm

    However you divide up the probability it is still greater than zero, which is the probability of not believing. You may not think such a small chance is worth bothering with, but that’s a non-logical position.
    Second, I’m sure there are lots of things that it seemed impossible to know; where would we be if everyone took that attitude?

  33. #33 by Jim Fiore on March 10, 2009 - 2:23 pm

    No. As far as we know the number of possibilities is infinite, thus the improbability is infinite.
    Nope. You can’t have it both ways. Seemed impossible is not the same as impossible. This has just devolved into a word game.

  34. #34 by Jim Fiore on March 10, 2009 - 2:23 pm

    No. As far as we know the number of possibilities is infinite, thus the improbability is infinite.
    Nope. You can’t have it both ways. Seemed impossible is not the same as impossible. This has just devolved into a word game.

  35. #35 by Lofcaudio on March 10, 2009 - 2:30 pm

    While I have enjoyed watching this civil debate on Pascal’s Wager, I can’t help but jump in and point out what I think are some valid considerations on this topic.
    hopper3011’s approach is to favor a “logical” economic cost determination to which religion one should cast one’s belief. While there may be some logic to it, I’m not sure if logic is best served in molding one’s beliefs. This approach would consider all possible religions, determine which one has the greatest reward and/or harshest punishment, and then adhere to the beliefs of that religion. There are a couple of problems with this approach (if am understanding it correctly), the primary problem being the formation of belief.
    Regardless of the risk-reward criteria and all of the logical reasoning in the world, if the crux of the religion involves an individual having a certain set of beliefs, can a person just choose to believe something that he has no valid reason for believing? If so, is choosing to believe the same thing as truly believing?
    Pascal’s Wager or any type of similar reasoning only works if “belief” is simply a choice one makes and can switch from unbelief to belief without any external influence/evidence contributing to such a transition.

  36. #36 by hopper3011 on March 11, 2009 - 3:20 am

    As far as we know the number of possibilities is infinite, thus the improbability is infinite.
    I think you might be muddling probability and possibility?
    The possibility that a god exists is exactly that, a possibility, there aren’t endless possibilities, only one, and that possibility has a probability of 50:50 – exist:not exist.
    The possibility of a particular god existing is exactly that, a possibility, and that possibility has a probability of 50:50 – exist:not exist.
    The probability of choosing the right god from amongst all the variations is less than 50:50, but can never be zero.
    Therefore, belief is always the logical position, since the probability of getting it right is non-zero while the position of non-belief is always zero.
    Seemed impossible is not the same as impossible.
    That is a fairly bold categorical statement there, care to back it up? Why is it impossible to know the metaphysical universe?
    This has just devolved into a word game.
    It always was Jim, that’s what makes it fun.

  37. #37 by hopper3011 on March 11, 2009 - 11:58 am

    Pascal’s Wager or any type of similar reasoning only works if “belief” is simply a choice one makes and can switch from unbelief to belief without any external influence/evidence contributing to such a transition.

    If somebody walks into your office and says “it is raining” then you have two choices, you can either believe him , or look out of the window.
    The only distinction between your decision not too look out of the window and your decision about God is that getting a bit wet isn’t a major loss.
    The reason you want belief in God to be more than just a basic decision matrix is that the payoff is so big. You feel (irrationally) that if you make your belief into a big deal, then the likelihood of your being right is increased.

  38. #38 by Jim Fiore on March 11, 2009 - 1:18 pm

    I though my intention on possible vs. probable was clear. Sorry if it wasn’t.
    Therefore, belief is always the logical position, since the probability of getting it right is non-zero while the position of non-belief is always zero.
    Your game theory approach to this assumes that there is no greater downside to another god existing than for the god you declare. Not so.
    That is a fairly bold categorical statement there, care to back it up? Why is it impossible to know the metaphysical universe?
    I didn’t say it was. I said if you’re going to envision a system where X is by definition unknowable, then there’s no point in going further. Anyway, for an example, circa 1930 it seemed impossible that the 4:00 mile barrier would never be broken. It wasn’t. 30 years ago it seemed impossible that humans would never break 2 hours for the marathon but today it doesn’t seem so as the record is now down to 2:03:59 (although some would still argue it’s impossible). On the other hand, I think we can state categorically that unaided Earth bound humans in their current form will never break 4:00 for the marathon as it is impossible for a human to run at world record sprint speed for over 26 miles. Human physiology prevents this.

  39. #39 by Lofcaudio on March 11, 2009 - 2:58 pm

    hopper3011:
    If somebody walks into your office and says “it is raining” then you have two choices, you can either believe him , or look out of the window.
    I’m fairly certain that I have more than two choice that I can make if someone walked into my office and uttered such a statement, but that is irrelevant. Let me ask you this, what are my choices of belief if a stranger was to tell me that there was an invisible pot of gold sitting on his bedroom windowsill when he woke up this morning and if it remains there for a year then it will become visible and he will be able to then use the gold. Do I only have two choices? Would you suggest for me to not inquire any further but instead do whatever it takes to get into the good graces of this stranger in hopes of him sharing some of his gold with me when it becomes corporeal in a year’s time?

  40. #40 by hopper3011 on March 12, 2009 - 3:16 am

    Your game theory approach to this assumes that there is no greater downside to another god existing than for the god you declare. Not so.

    The downside affects the payout, not the probability of existence. A less good or less bad payout affects the size of the wager you should be willing to make, not the fact of existence or non-existence.

    I didn’t say it was.

    Yes, you did. And your example confuses possibility and probability again. A four minute marathon is perfectly possible, but it is very, very, improbable.

  41. #41 by hopper3011 on March 12, 2009 - 3:16 am

    Your game theory approach to this assumes that there is no greater downside to another god existing than for the god you declare. Not so.

    The downside affects the payout, not the probability of existence. A less good or less bad payout affects the size of the wager you should be willing to make, not the fact of existence or non-existence.

    I didn’t say it was.

    Yes, you did. And your example confuses possibility and probability again. A four minute marathon is perfectly possible, but it is very, very, improbable.

  42. #42 by kelebek on March 12, 2009 - 6:38 am

    yorumsuz

  43. #43 by Jim Fiore on March 12, 2009 - 10:51 am

    If you think I said that, you’re mistaken.
    And quite simply, an unaided four minute marathon is impossible by any modern normal human under anything approaching normal conditions. A basic understanding of human physiology shows this to be the case. If you want to argue that it’s “possible” in some abstruse, pedantic sense, be my guest, but I’ve got more useful things to do.

  44. #44 by hopper3011 on March 12, 2009 - 12:27 pm

    If you think I said that, you’re mistaken.

    So you didn’t say this:

    Second, if you’re going to posit that a supposed metaphysical universe is entirely hidden, it is unknowable by definition, so what’s the point?

    If you are using the word “you” to refer to me specifically, then I haven’t posited anything like that; if you are using the word you in the general sense, then I can’t be held responsible for what other people claim about the properties of metaphysical universes.

    If you want to argue that it’s “possible” in some abstruse, pedantic sense, be my guest, but I’ve got more useful things to do.

    It is hardly abstruse when it is in Merriam-Webster: “POSSIBLE implies that a thing may certainly exist or occur given the proper conditions”, but you have better things to do, apparently (people usually do when they are getting their arses kicked).

  45. #45 by hopper3011 on March 12, 2009 - 12:27 pm

    If you think I said that, you’re mistaken.

    So you didn’t say this:

    Second, if you’re going to posit that a supposed metaphysical universe is entirely hidden, it is unknowable by definition, so what’s the point?

    If you are using the word “you” to refer to me specifically, then I haven’t posited anything like that; if you are using the word you in the general sense, then I can’t be held responsible for what other people claim about the properties of metaphysical universes.

    If you want to argue that it’s “possible” in some abstruse, pedantic sense, be my guest, but I’ve got more useful things to do.

    It is hardly abstruse when it is in Merriam-Webster: “POSSIBLE implies that a thing may certainly exist or occur given the proper conditions”, but you have better things to do, apparently (people usually do when they are getting their arses kicked).

  46. #46 by Jim Fiore on March 12, 2009 - 1:40 pm

    I assumed you implied it when you said “why would you believe that a metaphysical being would leave evidence of its existence in the physical world?” along with follow-up comments. If not, fine. (Ooops. I just noticed that I misread your comment #22, so this thread is probably due to miscommunication)
    Now then, regarding abstruse commentary, dictionaries, marathon timings and “arse kickings”…
    hopper, in order to run a 4:00 minute marathon, a human would have to sustain an average velocity of nearly 400 miles per hour. IT’S FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE. It will NEVER “occur given the proper conditions” unless you include diving from the edge of the stratosphere with a rocket pack strapped to your back as a legitimate marathon attempt. Let it go already. And just because someone realizes that they are beginning to waste their time does not automatically imply that they have lost an argument. “That’s an illogical position”.

  47. #47 by hopper3011 on March 14, 2009 - 9:07 am

    IT’S FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE.

    What you are displaying there is “certitude”, when I believe that you are intending to communicate “certainty”. The problem is that “certainty” really only exists in the areas of logic and mathematics. There are other ways to achieve certainty, but tautologies (the proposition: “Either A is true, or A is false” necessarily has a superpositive truth value of “true”), while necessarily certain, are not generally useful.
    A square circle or a four-sided triangle certainly do not exist; they are impossible to imagine beause they stand in contradiction to the concept that a circle is round or a triangle has three sides (this is a priori knowledge, which can be roughly defined as knowledge gained through reason, not experience, and true in all situations), but any concept which doesn’t stand in contradiction to another is possible, notwithstanding that it may be extremely improbable.
    Your judgement that a four-minute marathon is impossible is a judgement based on the past, but there is no logical contradiction in thinking that the future may be different (you are using a posteriori knowledge; reasoning from a particular factual situation to formulate a general rule, but the falsification of that rule is imaginable in a way that a 4-sided triagle is not, since its negation does not contravene logic). The Sun rises in the East, but it is not impossible that tomorrow it could rise in the West, since to do so would only contravene the habits of nature (physics). On the other hand, we can state that, like the 4-minute marathon, the Sun’s rising in the West is extremely improbable.
    Probability is useful because so few things are truly impossible – the innate calculation of probability forms the decision matrix which allows us to choose which actions to take.
    This is not an “abstruse, pedantic” definition, this is what the words “probable” and “possible” actually mean. (Incidentally, this is why people see the flaw in Professor Dawkins rhetoric when he states categorically that there is no God; he confuses certainty with certitude, which puts him on a par with the ultra-religious person who “knows” that God exists – some people can instinctively spot this glossing of the truth.)
    Unless you can demonstrate that knowledge of the metaphysical world is in some manner contradictory to an a priori truth, then such knowledge is no more impossible than running a 4-minute marathon.
    As for who is winning or losing, if you have better things to do than discuss this subject with me then go and do them: neither of us need to have this discussion; we both know that you are wrong; every time you post you are getting in deeper, but, on the other hand, I am more than happy to spend the time dissecting the woolly thought processes which you so endearingly assume is reasoned argument – you keep teeing them up; I’ll keep on knocking them down, it’s your choice.

  48. #48 by hopper3011 on March 14, 2009 - 9:07 am

    IT’S FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE.

    What you are displaying there is “certitude”, when I believe that you are intending to communicate “certainty”. The problem is that “certainty” really only exists in the areas of logic and mathematics. There are other ways to achieve certainty, but tautologies (the proposition: “Either A is true, or A is false” necessarily has a superpositive truth value of “true”), while necessarily certain, are not generally useful.
    A square circle or a four-sided triangle certainly do not exist; they are impossible to imagine beause they stand in contradiction to the concept that a circle is round or a triangle has three sides (this is a priori knowledge, which can be roughly defined as knowledge gained through reason, not experience, and true in all situations), but any concept which doesn’t stand in contradiction to another is possible, notwithstanding that it may be extremely improbable.
    Your judgement that a four-minute marathon is impossible is a judgement based on the past, but there is no logical contradiction in thinking that the future may be different (you are using a posteriori knowledge; reasoning from a particular factual situation to formulate a general rule, but the falsification of that rule is imaginable in a way that a 4-sided triagle is not, since its negation does not contravene logic). The Sun rises in the East, but it is not impossible that tomorrow it could rise in the West, since to do so would only contravene the habits of nature (physics). On the other hand, we can state that, like the 4-minute marathon, the Sun’s rising in the West is extremely improbable.
    Probability is useful because so few things are truly impossible – the innate calculation of probability forms the decision matrix which allows us to choose which actions to take.
    This is not an “abstruse, pedantic” definition, this is what the words “probable” and “possible” actually mean. (Incidentally, this is why people see the flaw in Professor Dawkins rhetoric when he states categorically that there is no God; he confuses certainty with certitude, which puts him on a par with the ultra-religious person who “knows” that God exists – some people can instinctively spot this glossing of the truth.)
    Unless you can demonstrate that knowledge of the metaphysical world is in some manner contradictory to an a priori truth, then such knowledge is no more impossible than running a 4-minute marathon.
    As for who is winning or losing, if you have better things to do than discuss this subject with me then go and do them: neither of us need to have this discussion; we both know that you are wrong; every time you post you are getting in deeper, but, on the other hand, I am more than happy to spend the time dissecting the woolly thought processes which you so endearingly assume is reasoned argument – you keep teeing them up; I’ll keep on knocking them down, it’s your choice.

%d bloggers like this: