Monday, March 04, 2013

My Answer to Lowder's Attack upon My Bayes Paper part 1

  photo Antenna.jpg

Jeff Lowder wrote an article attacking my criticisms of the use of Bayes theorem to plot the probability of God. "Is It a Crock to Use Bayes’ Theorem to Measure Evidence about God? Part 1
March 3, 2013." The point of my original article is that you can't apply scientific probably to something as basic and metahpysal as God, the ground of being, the basis of all reality. The nature of Bayes theorum is such that it only works where new information is obtainable. The sort of new information one can have about God is not available to scientific scrutiny and thus there is no new information. That means the "prior" (the prior probability that must be obtained tom make the theorem work) wont be accurate and thus the whole project is dubious. Lowder never actually comes to terms with this argument. Most of the arguments he makes are red herrings or white rabbits.
.... Lowder summarizes what he thinks I'm saying:

I think the point that Metacrock is trying to make is that, if we define “miracle” as an event which requires a supernatural explanation, then by definition a miracle is logically incompatible with metaphysical naturalism, which denies the existence of all supernatural beings, including God. So naturalists can’t remain naturalists and believe a miracle has occurred. The options seem to be: (1) give up naturalism, (2) deny the event took place at all, or (3) agree the event did take place, but deny it has a supernatural explanation.
That's part of what I'm saying but it's not the really crucial points that I made about Bayes.  It's not so much about supernatural as it is about metaphysics and scientific domain. I am not drawing upon the conventional misunderstanding of supernatural that pits a realm of magic against a realm of what atheist want to believe is "fact." Rather, the whole issue of epistemology and metaphysics is prior to scientific learning. Science requires epistemology and metaphysics to ground its assumptions. God is related to those aspects of reality, and thus not part of the scientific domain. In trying to make God an object of probability they have to reduce the concept of God to just another fact in the universe; something God clearly transcends. Lowder merely denied the circular reasoning but of cousre he would.It's not just a matter of bad reasoning, it's an ideological thing. Those are ho in throngs of ideological zeal can't step back from their ideology and critically evaluate their own thinking. They can critique all that is not the ideology but they can't criticize that. That was my point in talking about the circular reasoning naturalists employ in sweeping aside miracle claims: it is that they can't accept anomalies that would threaten the paradigm. Lowder quotes me in cautioning the skeptical attitude.

    So should we all be watchful not to believe too quickly because its easy to get caught up in private reasons and ignore reason itself. Thus has more than one intelligent person been taken by both scams and honest mistakes. By the the same token it is equally a danger that one will remain too long in the skeptical place and become overly committed to doubting everything. From that position the circular reasoning of the naturalist seems so reasonable. There’s never been any proof of miracles before so we can’t accept that there is any now. But that’s only because we keep making the same assumption and thus have always dismissed the evidence that was valid.
he adds: "I agree with everything Metacrock writes here, with two important exceptions. First, that metaphysical naturalists do, in fact, reason in the way he describes." That's becuase he reasons that way himself. He can see it's a mistake when called out but he can't see that his rejection of evidence for miracles is that kind of mistake.

 Second, that metaphysical naturalists rely upon “circular reasoning” to avoid the conclusion that a miracle has occurred. It is true, of course, that some individual metaphysical naturalists have made fallacious inferences about miracles. The same could be said about some individual theists. But so what? Metacrock presents absolutely no evidence to justify the assumption that such individuals are representative of the position they represent. Metacrock is attacking a straw man of his own creation.
....Presenting evidence would just be an obligatory task becuase we've all seen what they say about miracles and it's clearly ciruclar it's just that they don't step back from their ideolgoical assumptions to see themselves doing it. Look at Hume. "This does not happen enough." Well, we have lots of claims, when they are advanced the usual rejoinder is "this hasn't happened before, it just does not happen, we don't see it, so we have to assume this is not it (a miracle)." If you want to see this principle actions go to CARM and start arguing for the Resurrection. I've been doing this for 15 years and I've seen thousnds of such arguments iti's aburd to say they say that they say it all the time. Next he's going to tell me that they don't say "He must not understand this idea" when you disagree with them. That's another of their obsessions, if you really understood you would agree with me. He makes that very charge in this article. But then he tries to sweep it away by saying theists do the same thing. That's neither here nor there, the point is atheist arguments about miracles are circular reasoning. That's improtant to realize becuase the whole issue of trying to show the probability of God is based upon trying to treat God like another fact in the universe rather than the basis of reality. That's the root issue of the whole matter. When one understands God as the basis of reality one is apt to see the issues pertaining to God as much larger than just charting the probability of some particular item, just as the realities of miracles is more than just finding an anomaly.
....Now here's where he stops following my train of thought and starts interjecting a bunch of red herrings and a bait and switch or two. I brought up ECREE because given what I said above about about the fruits of skepticism I thought "this would be a good place where they might argue ECREE as a counter to the shortcoming of skepticism." Instead of dealing with that issue he goes off on a tangent defending ECREE when in fact I didn't say it was wrong. Here's a crucial point he misses. My position on ECREE is that it is dependent upon Bayes. As Bayes goes so goes ECREE. That means if Bayes is not suited to probability for God then ECREE is not a valid standard for God arguments. Rather than understanding this he tries to tie ECREE to Bayes even more tightly which would mean it's taken out if I can take out Bayes. It also tells me he's not really following my issues. let's look at what he says:

With all due respect to Metacrock, this statement suggests he does not understand ECREE. As I have explained elsewhere, the best interpretation of ECREE is the Bayesian interpretation. According to BT, the final probability of a hypothesis is determined by two other values: the prior probability of a hypothesis and the hypothesis’s explanatory power. Now explanatory power is, by definition, a measure of how well a hypothesis “predicts” (i.e., make probable) the data.
 ....There it is, he disagrees with me, therefore, he doesn't understand. The problem is it's Jeff who doesn't undersatnd. He thinks I'm saying that ECREE is no good. He focuses here on two things that make Bayes work: (1) the "prior," and (2) and explanatory power. The problem there is my argument hinges on how both of those rule Bayes out as valid way to understand God. I think that's what he doesn't get. I show that you can't set the prior for God, no setting will work; all settings for prior probability of God have the same flaw as the overall project, no new info coming in. All the things we can know of god we know through either deductive reasoning or experience of the divine on the level of the numinous. That means scinece can't handle it. It's outside the domain of scinece. Any setting of  a prior for God will be fraught with ideological needs. Ne never deals with that issue. Rather he brings in red herrings. Moreover the same limitation would also go for explanatory power. God can't give the kind of explanation we expect from scientifically verifiable data. Now the explanatory power of apophatic theology is fine with me. The explanatory power of the Jesus prayer works for me it's not gonna work for an atheist. That means no Bayes on God, no ECREE in relation to God.
....I had said that using ECREE in the way they do would cause one to remain skeptical even when the evidence is good. In fact that's what happens when they think in the ideologically circular way that says "we never accepted this stuff before so we shouldn't accept it now." They create a false record, "there have never been any miracles," based upon circular assumptions. He says it would be ambiguous to talk about "good" miracle evidence. Then he explains two reasons why. But  this is one of many red herrings. regardless of the quality of miracle evidence, that must be discussed in another venue about evidence. My only point was that the assumptions they make about naturalism that enable them to explain away God with Bayes also drive them to assume that their basic ideological assumptions are explanatory. An ideological truth regime is not explanation  it's only a reduction of all phenomena to that which can be controlled and pressed into service for the ideology. Of course he winds up diverting our attention with guilt by association trying to link miracle belief to Mormonism. I'm not going to bother to refute the statements about good miracle evidence because that can only serve to take us off the path.
...At this point he returns to ECREE and he assumes my answer about the meaning of extraordinary (as in "extraordinary claims") are irrelevant. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are totally relevant. The point I was making was that atheists try to present "extraordinary" as though Belief in God is some wired thing, or as though the kind of extraordinary evidence we need is on a level of Moses and the red sea. The fact of it is the kind of claim that is extraordinary in the sense of a Bayes theorem would be extremely ordinary. A finding that one has cancer when one has never had it before is statistically extraordinary. At that rate any probabilistic God argument we can pull, or the 200 empirical studies on mystical experience, are extraordinary evidence. He gives us a white rabbit to chase in another direction.
Again, with all due respect to Metacrock, this statement shows that Metacrock doesn’t understand ECREE. We don’t determine whether a belief is extraordinary by measuring the percentage of people who hold that belief. Rather, ECREE is epistemic in nature; it has to do with what we would expect to be the case based upon our background knowledge.
He's actually made the argument for me. I never said anything about extraordinary being defined by a percentage of people that believe it. My point is you can't subject the reality of God to empirical proof in a scientific sense. To the extent that we can establish a co-determinate that can be so subjected, such as religious experience being measured by the M scale, we can measure aspects of belief without claiming to measure God. ECREE is not epistemic it's a betrayal of the epistemic. We can't put over "what we expect to be the case God wise" and translate that into standard mathematical terms for probability. how could we do that when God is beyond our understanding? No new info on God is going to come in becuase it can only come from sources that science cannot trust, such as 'the heart.' How can we attach number and data to that? Epistemic issues can't be resolved by scientific reductionism or inductive empiricism. They are more basic than that. They can only be resolved through either logic, experience, or remain open ended. What all of this comes to is we can do two things: (1) we can keep it on a philosophical level and not try to pretend we've solved it. Or, (2) we can find a co-determinate and make phenomenological observations about aspects of the issues around faith and use that to extrapolate assumptions on the more subjective issues, we should not try to pretend that we have some scinece magic that will resolve all belief and make God vanish in a puff of science.
....AT this point he brings up several observations I made about the history of ECREE and Bayes. I'm not going to bother to correct his disagreement except to point out that I documented by sources and I used some of the most recent historians to write on the issue. I am sure he knows more ins and outs of the history than I do, but none of the information he presents are really relivant to my basic argument about probability and God. He tries to claim that Bayes is not in doubt, rather than disproving the history I brought he ignores it completely. It has been in doubt time and time again, it is professors of mathematics who doubted it. I documented that with McGrayne and he has nothing to say about that.[1] that's probably the most authoritative history about the BT. None of the issues he brings up historically disprove the history I listed. He merely shows additional examples of people who have accepted the BT. That's ust begging the question, they made the same mistake he is. He took the history to mean that I think Bayes isn't useful for anything but to argue for atheism. I did actually read the McGrayne book. Obliviously her point is that BT keeps coming back because it's useful. My argument is not that it's not useful. I never said Bayes is no good we can't use for anything. That is a red herring. It's good but it can't be used to tell us about God becasue God is not amenable by such methods. God is the unified field its so basic you can't get a microscope and find it. It's too basic as the same time too big. Too fundamental to reality to be just another thing we can subject to empirical measures. Now uses those red herrings to take us down to the path to a point where can try to use Chrsitain apologists to argue against me.

To cite the most obvious counter-example, has Metacrock never heard of Richard Swinburne or read any of his numerous books which use BT to defend Christian theism? (See here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Or seen Tim and Lydia McGrew’s impressive use of BT to argue for the Resurrection in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology? (See here.)
Obviously I have hard of them, I have to confess I don't read much of the apologists running around now days. I respect Swinburne. I probalby have missed lot by not following him. Most of the thinkers I use are those I read in Doctoral work when I studied history of science as Ph.D. candidate in history of ideas. Now Jeff sites apologists who argue for the resurrection using the BT. Arguing for the Resurrection is a different matter. That's not arguing for the probably of God. There might be tangible things to latch onto there. The resurrection is a physical event in space/time and it's not on par with God as the basis of reality. So it is anther fact in the universe. Thus it could be subject to empirical means. Natual theology also one can make the same point about that. then he says:

Metacrock is simply “barking up the wrong tree” on this one. I cannot think of any way to salvage his point.
I can think of a way. One might try to undersatnd what I'm real saying and deal with the one cogent point upon which my original paper is based: that God is not given in sense data, thus he cannot be subjected to probability. The Bayes theorem can be used for other things, some of those serve belief in God. That doesn't mean that God himself can be subjected to it.

[1] Sharon Berstch McGrayne, The Theory that would not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, 3.

No comments: