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May 14, 2018 | 20 Comments

Inference To An Explanation: Shapiro’s The Miracle Myth Reviewed — Part III

Read Part I, II.

Did Jesus walk on water? Eyewitnesses reported he did. The event was so well remarked that people wrote of it at a time when most events went unrecorded.

Here’s a different question: Could Jesus have walked on water? Well, he claimed to be God, and even a weak understanding of who God is would grant that if Jesus’s claim was (is) true, then walking on water, turning water into wine, raising people from the dead, restoring health instantaneously, and so on are within God’s abilities. If God can create an entire universe, skimming across a sea without sinking is trivial.

Here’s another different question: Why did Jesus walk on water, assuming he did? (Atheists are asked to hold in mind the conditional clause at the end of that question.) The same eyewitnesses report that Jesus took the shortest path to his pals, with whom he wanted to be. Presumably, being God, Jesus could have “transported” himself or even flew to the boat, under his own power or via the assistance of giant eagles à la JRR Tolkien. Those other methods of transportation are a tad showy, and then we recall Jesus was also a man, and walking (or swimming) is what men who cannot lay their hands on skiffs do.

Finally, here’s a last different question: How did Jesus walk on water? Perhaps the best answer is “I have no idea.” Stated with more metaphysical sophistication, but still in profound ignorance, we can say he changed the nature of the water so that it could support weight, whereas the nature or essence of water is that objects in the shape of unadorned walking men sink. Evidence to support that view is increased when we recall one of the eyewitnesses was so stoked by the spectacle that he jumped from the boat and bestrode the waves—until his faith fled and he began to sink. Intriguing.

Means, motive, opportunity.

We have answers, albeit tentative and incomplete on the total cause (form, material, efficient, final) of the miracle. If that’s what it was. We still have to work on the probability that it was a miracle, and that means finding probative evidence. Then we have to contrast the miraculous explanation with other possibilities in order to make a decision: to believe in the miracle or not.

Here is where inference to the best explanation (IBE) begins to fail—in the freedom to pick and choose the evidence we think is probative. And in not recognizing we have this freedom.

What alternatives to the eyewitness reports of the miracle are available? An infinity.

Shapiro’s list (as it did for other reported Biblical miracles) would start with some great power consortium of beings, maybe aliens or “seventeen” lesser gods. Maybe something natural we don’t understand (but not ice). Maybe the apostles were lying. Maybe they were under “mass hypnosis.” Could be Jesus was a “supermagician”. Maybe the sea spoken of was only inches deep.

Here Shapiro lets us down with his lack of imagination. He didn’t conjure a time traveler equipped with a holographic projector. Or maybe the apostles ate bad fish. And if we can posit seventeen gods, why not sixteen or eighteen?

We can see we’ve mixed things up, too. All alternate explanations say something about cause, but only parts of the cause. We want it all: means, motive, opportunity. There is no profit going on and on like this, either, because we could do it forever. Nor have we learned about the probability, except in the crude sense that if we accorded every imaginable scenario some probability, the probability of whatever the true cause is would head to zero. Not useful for making a decision, that.

No detective operates in the way Shapiro does. Detectives take what evidence is available and build a case from that. Detectives also draw upon their experience (which differs from detective to detective) to provide additional evidence. They do not begin investigations fretting about mass hypnosis or alien invasions.

Jorge slides some WonderBread into the toaster and up pops browned bread that, viewed from the side, looks a bit like a classical portrait of Jesus. Miracle?

What evidence do we have? One, any toast pattern will have to look like something. Two, people see faces in everything: :-). (That one was caused by me.) Three, there’s lots of toast out there, and given One and Two, we’d guess there’d be a lot of faces that look like Jesus. Four, Jorge believes. Five, we don’t think he’s lying or he cheated, though he could have. Six, we agree that, if viewed from the side and in the right light, the toast has a vague resemblance to certain portraits. Seven, it seems odd the good Lord would prep a peanut butter receiver with his face: if He wanted to give Jorge a message, He could do so without the risk of being smeared.

That evidence—and we could have gone on to suppose aliens, etc.—indicates two main candidates: (1) an odd miracle, or (2) Jorge’s earnest faith and coincidence. The minor possibility of Jorge lying we give very little probability, based on the evidence of his demeanor, etc.

We now form the probability of both: (1) small, (2) large (neither can be quantified). We know more about the totality of the cause for (2) rather than for (1). What decision to make? That depends on the probability, which is in favor of (2), and of the consequences.

If it was a miracle and we say it was, we receive a minor boost in faith. Has to be minor because of the danger of peanut butter: we could have missed it.

If it was a miracle and we say it wasn’t, we lose out, but not, I think, by a lot.

If it wasn’t a miracle and we say it wasn’t, we gain a wee bit of satisfaction, but really the incident will be quickly forgotten.

If it wasn’t a miracle and we say it was, we make a small error, with the benefit of added faith. Believing harms nobody.

No matter which way we look at it, the stakes are minor. So we say (2), a natural event. This is inference to an explanation—the best explanation given only the evidence we assumed and given my take on the decision. Jorge will still decide to believe, even if he agrees on the probability, because the consequences for him are different. To him we say, God bless you.

Of course, we never reach absolute proof.

We have to play detective in the same manner for every claim we hear—not just claims of miracles. It’s because most claims are mundane—“Did you put the meat in the fridge?” “Yes, dear”—that we don’t see ourselves wearing deerstalkers and smoking pipes. It’s only when they are fantastic we do.

Next time, we wrap up the review, discussing motives and probability.

May 13, 2018 | No comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: To Understand God Is Our Natural End

Previous post.

Dear reader, you are an intellectual substance.

that to understand God is the end of every intellectual substance

1 Since all creatures, even those devoid of understanding, are ordered to God as to an ultimate end, all achieve this end to the extent that they participate somewhat in His likeness. Intellectual creatures attain it in a more special way, that is, through their proper operation of understanding Him. Hence, this must be the end of the intellectual creature, namely, to understand God.

2 The ultimate end of each thing is God, as we have shown. So, each thing intends, as its ultimate end, to be united with God as closely as is possible for it. Now, a thing is more closely united with God by the fact that it attains to His very substance in some manner, and this is accomplished when one knows something of the divine substance, rather than when one acquires some likeness of Him. Therefore, an intellectual substance tends to divine knowledge as an ultimate end.

Notes In some matter and not completely.

3 Again, the proper operation of a thing is an end for it, for this is its secondary perfection. That is why whatever is fittingly related to its proper operation is said to be virtuous and good. But the act of understanding is the proper operation of an intellectual substance. Therefore, this act is its end. Ana that which is most perfect in this operation is the ultimate end, particularly in the case of operations that are not ordered to any products, such as the acts of understanding and sensing.

Now, since operations of this type are specified by their objects, through which they are known also, any one of these operations must be more perfect when its object is more perfect. And so, to understand the most perfect intelligible object, which is God, is the most perfect thing in the genus of this operation of understanding. Therefore, to know God by an act of understanding is the ultimate end of every intellectual substance.

Notes This is an argument for turning off your television.

4 Of course, someone could say that the ultimate end of an intellectual substance consists, in fact, in understanding the best intelligible object—not that the best object of understanding for this or that particular intellectual substance is absolutely the best intelligible object, but that, the higher an intellectual substance is, the higher will its best object of understanding be.

And so, perhaps the highest created intellectual substance may have what is absolutely best as its best intelligible object, and, consequently, its felicity will consist in understanding God, but the felicity of any lower intellectual substance will lie in the understanding of some lower intelligible object, which is, however, the highest thing understood by it.

Particularly would it seem true of the human intellect that its function is not to understand absolutely the best intelligible object, because of its weakness; indeed, it stands in relation to the knowing of the greatest intelligible object, “as the owl’s eye is to the sunlight.”

Notes All teachers will sympathize with “the highest thing understood by it.’

5 But it seems obvious that the end of any intellectual substance, even the lowest, is to understand God. It has been shown above that the ultimate end of all things, to which they tend, is God. Though it is the lowest in the order of intellectual substances, the human intellect is, nevertheless, superior to all things that lack understanding. And so, since there should not be a less noble end for a more noble substance, the end for the human intellect will be God Himself. And an intelligent being attains his ultimate end by understanding Him, as was indicated. Therefore, the human intellect reaches God as its end, through an act of understanding.

6 Again, just as things devoid of understanding tend toward God as an end, by way of assimilation, so intellectual substances do so by way of cognition, as is evident from the foregoing. Now, although things devoid of understanding tend to the likeness of their proximate agents, their natural tendency does not, however, rest there, for this tendency has as its end assimilation to the highest good, as is apparent from what we have said, even though these things can only attain this likeness in a very imperfect way. Therefore, however small the amount of divine knowledge that the intellect may be able to grasp, that will be for the intellect, in regard to its ultimate end, much more than the perfect knowledge of lower objects of understanding.

7 Besides, a thing has the greatest desire for its ultimate end. Now, the human intellect has a greater desire, and love, and pleasure, in knowing divine matters than it has in the perfect knowledge of the lowest things, even though it can grasp but little concerning divine things. So, the ultimate end of man is to understand God, in some fashion.

Notes This is true even in those people who love trivia. When we grasp something higher, we find joy. That accounts for the paeans to science.

8 Moreover, a thing inclines toward the divine likeness as to its own end. So, that whereby a thing chiefly becomes like God is its ultimate end. Now, an intellectual creature chiefly becomes like God by the fact that it is intellectual, for it has this sort of likeness over and above what other creatures have, and this likeness includes all others. In the genus of this sort of likeness a being becomes more like God by actually understanding than by habitually or potentially understanding, because God is always actually understanding, as we proved in Book One [56]. And, in this actual understanding, it becomes most like God by understanding God Himself, for God understands all things in the act of understanding Himself, as we proved in Book One [49]. Therefore, to understand God is the ultimate end of every intellectual substance.

9 Furthermore, that which is capable of being loved only for the sake of some other object exists for the sake of that other thing which is lovable simply on its own account. In fact, there is no point in going on without end in the working of natural appetite, since natural desire would then be futile, because it is impossible to get to the end of an endless series.

Now, all practical sciences, arts, and powers are objects of love only because they are means to something else, for their purpose is not knowledge but operation.

But the speculative sciences are lovable for their own sake, since their end is knowledge itself. Nor do we find any action in human affairs, except speculative thought, that is not directed to some other end.

Even sports activities, which appear to be carried on without any purpose, have a proper end, namely, so that after our minds have been somewhat relaxed through them we may be then better able to do serious jobs. Otherwise, if sport were an end in itself, the proper thing to do would be to play all the time, but that is not appropriate.

So, the practical arts are ordered to the speculative ones, and likewise every human operation to intellectual speculation, as an end. Now, among all the sciences and arts which are thus subordinated, the ultimate end seems to belong to the one that is preceptive and architectonic in relation to the others. For instance, the art of navigation, to which the end, that is the use, of a ship pertains, is architectonic and preceptive in relation to the art of shipbuilding. In fact, this is the way that first philosophy is related to the other speculative sciences, for all the others depend on it, in the sense that they take their principles from it, and also the position to be assumed against those who deny the principles. And this first philosophy is wholly ordered to the knowing of God, as its ultimate end; that is why it is also called divine science. So, divine knowledge is the ultimate end of every act of human knowledge and every operation.

10 Again, in all agents and movers that are arranged in an order, the end of the first agent and mover must be the ultimate end of all. Thus, the end of the commander of an army is the end of all who serve as soldiers under him.

Now, of all the parts of man, the intellect is found to be the superior mover, for the intellect moves the appetite, by presenting it with its object; then the intellectual appetite, that is the will, moves the sensory appetites, irascible and concupiscible, and that is why we do not obey concupiscence unless there be a command from the will; and finally, the sense appetite, with the advent of consent from the will, now moves the body. Therefore, the end of the intellect is the end of all human actions. “But the end and good of the intellect are the true;” consequently, the first truth is the ultimate end. So, the ultimate end of the whole man, and of all his operations and desires, is to know the first truth, which is God.

Notes Hence sin.

11 Besides, there is naturally present in all men the desire to know the causes of whatever things are observed. Hence, because of wondering about things that were seen but whose causes were hidden, men first began to think philosophically; when they found the cause, they were satisfied. But the search did not stop until it reached the first cause, for “then do we think that we know perfectly, when we know the first cause.” Therefore, man naturally desires, as his ultimate end, to know the first cause. But the first cause of all things is God. Therefore, the ultimate end of man is to know God.

Notes This applies even to scientists!

12 Moreover, for each effect that he knows, man naturally desires to know the cause. Now, the human intellect knows universal being. So, he naturally desires to know its cause, which is God alone, as we proved in Book Two [15]. Now, a person has not attained his ultimate end until natural desire comes to rest. Therefore, for human happiness which is the ultimate end it is not enough to have merely any kind of intelligible knowledge; there must be divine knowledge, as an ultimate end, to terminate the natural desire. So, the ultimate end of man is the knowledge of God.

13 Furthermore, a body tending toward its proper place by natural appetite is moved more forcibly and swiftly as it approaches its end. Thus, Aristotle proves, in On the Heavens I [8: 27a 18], that natural motion in a straight line cannot go on to infinity, for then it would be no more moved later than earlier. So, a thing that tends more forcibly later than earlier, toward an objective, is not moved toward an indefinite objective, but tends toward some determinate thing. Now, we find this situation in the desire to know.

The more a person knows, the more he is moved by the desire to know.

Hence, man’s natural desire tends, in the process of knowing, toward some definite end. Now, this can be none other than the most noble object of knowledge, which is God. Therefore, divine knowledge is the ultimate end of man.

14 Now, the ultimate end of man, and of every intellectual substance, is called felicity or happiness, because this is what every intellectual substance desires as an ultimate end, and for its own sake alone. Therefore, the ultimate happiness and felicity of every intellectual substance is to, know God.

15 And so, it is said in Matthew (5:8): “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God”; and in John (17:3): “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God.”

16 With this view, the judgment of Aristotle is also in agreement, in the last Book of his Ethics [X, 7: 1177a 18], where he says that the ultimate felicity of man is “speculative, in accord with the contemplation of the best object of speculation.”

May 12, 2018 | 3 Comments

Insanity & Doom Update XXXIII

Item Noname talks trauma, transitions and Telefone

It’s a few weeks before the Women’s March, and Chicago rapper Noname (aka Fatimah Warner) is explaining how the song Bye Bye Baby, off last year’s debut project, Telefone, is about the idea of abortion as an act of self-love. The inspiration came from knowing many women who had gone through the experience and realizing that there wasn’t really anything in music that recognizes that reality.

“There are very negative connotations around having an abortion, that it’s a selfish, hateful act. That’s not what I see,” she says. “I don’t think that abortion is without love. Sometimes having a kid is not the chase. For a woman to make a decision that’s about her needs is about self-love. Women’s right to have freedom and agency over their bodies is important.”

Here is the video with lyrics. The lyrics are crude and child-like—“My tummy almost got ready; For biddi-baby spaghetti”—which is not a surprise. We are not dealing with a major intellect.

But notice the truth in the article. Abortion as an act of self-love. This is accurate and precise. of course, women (no more than men) do not have complete “freedom and agency over their bodies”, and in any case, the baby is not the woman’s body. It is its own body.

And the women rapper admits this in the song title. Bye Bye Baby. She knows, as all know, that they are killing a person. But they do not care. Self-love comes first.

Item Alfie Evans and the Experts

In each case, the doctors and judges had plausible medical arguments that the limits of treatment had been reached. (Although in the case of Evans, their expertise was undercut by the boy’s refusal to swiftly die, as predicted, when his breathing apparatus was removed; he lived for five days before expiring.) But in each case that judgment was deployed for wicked ends, stripping parents who were not unfit of their ability to act as parents, denying them the ability to choose not only last-ditch treatments but even where and how their ailing children died.

It is easy see the relevance here of Aviv’s story about Jahi McMath, a teenager from Oakland declared brain-dead after a horribly-botched tonsillectomy, whose family managed to spirit her away to New Jersey, where religious-freedom laws allow families to reject a “brain-death” ruling and keep a loved one on a feeding tube indefinitely.

Since then Jahi has survived for years despite confident medical predictions to the contrary, and she now gives pretty decent evidence of retaining some form of consciousness, some ability to listen and respond. In California her status as a dead person is under litigation; in a small apartment in New Jersey, in the care of her mother, she is very much alive.

How can you, a new parent, possibly know what is better for your child, or your father, than the all-knowing most beneficent government, staffed as it is with credentialed experts? Answer: you cannot. Surrender. The State is Mother, the State is Father.

Here, incidentally, is the link to the ruling in the Alfie Evans case. Depressing.

Item California Schools Force Students into Gender Sensitivity Training, Say Parents have No Say

A Facebook user named Stefanie Duncan Fetzer recently posted a memo she uncovered from the Orange County Department of Education explaining to their employees that parents have no right to oppose what the schools decide to teach their children.

The situation started when Orange County School District told their parents that they would soon be teaching their children material that discussed gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Some parents objected and told the schools that they’d prefer to pull their children out of these lessons, so the school checked with the government and learned that, thanks to California’s fascist laws, they could force the students to take the class…and the parents couldn’t do anything about it. (Other than move out of California that is.)

Ellipsis original. The memo spoken of is embedded at the link.

Again, State expertise trumps parents’ wills over their own children. This is tyranny. You may try homeschooling, which is still legal. But experience in Germany shows that once it reaches a critical threshold, in numbers or in distance of parents’ from State beliefs, the State moves in to close it down. We’re going to run out of places to hide.

Update Victory: Outraged California parents block radical elementary sex ed

Concerned parents have successfully fought against the implementation of a controversial new sex education program for elementary school children.

After a marathon meeting, with testimonies and discussion stretching until 2:30 AM Thursday, California’s Fremont Unified School District board voted against the controversial sex ed curriculum.

May 11, 2018 | 36 Comments

Inference To The Best Explanation: Shapiro’s The Miracle Myth Reviewed — Part II

Read Part I.

A researcher puts you into a room. On the table is a blue ball. Somebody put it there. It could have been Alice, Bob, or Charlie. Given only that information—and no more—who put it there? You have to pick one and only one.

If the choice seems arbitrary, it’s because it is. Whoever you pick has equal justification given only the information provided.

Instead of choosing, we can switch to probability. Given only the information provided, what is the probability Alice placed the ball? Same as for the other two: one-third (the proof of that is found in here).

We have learned three things. One, probability is conditional on only the information given or assumed. Two, decision (or choice) is not probability: decision uses probability, but it is a step beyond it. Three, there must have been a cause for the ball.

The probability is straightforward (but see this page if you want to learn more). The choice, decision, or act is less so. Given the probability, and given what you think will happen if you were to guess right or wrong, you make a choice, a decision, or you act. Two people can have the exact same precise duplicate identical information, and thus must necessarily come to the same probability, but they can easily come to different (even wildly different) decisions because they believe their choices will have different consequences—and their choices may very well have different consequences. And no matter what the (conditional) probability is, and no matter what we decide, there will still be a true cause.

Probability (epistemology), act (or will), and cause (metaphysics). All different steps which must be kept distinct when analyzing any problem.

The philosophical concept of inference to the best explanation can confuse and conflate these three steps or categories. Not systematically, so that we can apply a correction, but willy-nilly, depending on who is wielding the tool.

Inference to the best explanation (IBE) asks us to make a choice on a cause without examining—in any thorough sense—probability or the consequences of decision. This is not to say the technique does not and cannot come to correct probabilities, decisions, and understandings of cause. It can and very often does, especially in those areas in which we have expertise or extensive knowledge.

The reason IBE works, when it works, is that people are good at the individual steps without knowing or explicitly acknowledging they are using those steps. That will be obvious in a moment.

What happens when you see a ball and you really want to know the cause of it being there? You run through possibilities. I specified only three, and then said nothing more except that there were these three. There is no information about Alice’s motives, or her placement (where was she?), her personality, nothing. The information allowed was restricted in the extreme. Given only it, we could make a choice, but we recognized that choice’s arbitrariness. That arbitrariness informs the decision we would make, depending on how we view the consequences of making right or wrong decisions (which may well be different for each reader).

We also implicitly recognized one aspect of the cause: the efficient cause. We know a person placed it there, but we don’t know why. We do not know anything of the final cause, the reason the ball was put there. That we don’t know the motivation does not, obviously, mean we do not know the ball isn’t there. It is there. We also do not know the formal and material causes: we do not know the means the person used. Again, our ignorance of these does not mean the ball is not there.

That the IBE does not work here—there is no single best explanation and no identification of all aspects of the cause—is not the fault of the artificial nature of the problem: it is the fault of IBE. Any epistemological technique that claims to be an algorithm to discover the best guess of truth on given information (IBE does not claim to always find truth) has to work everywhere, or we have to look elsewhere for better algorithms. I claim we can’t find one: we’re stuck with probability, decision, and cause. Life and thinking isn’t so easy.

Now in real life you are not as restricted as in this artificial situation. You are free to guess or assume or measure other probative evidence that will modify the probability, change the decision, or lead to fuller understanding of the causes.

Didn’t I see Alice here earlier? I thought Bob said he was driving somewhere. That looks a lot like a ball Charlie plays with. Fastidious Alice might have been here, but I can’t see why she’d leave a ball lying about. Et cetera. You must play detective.

Means, motive, opportunity. That’s what detectives look for, because why? Because these items identify all aspects of the cause of the event. Detectives know they might not always guess right, that the wrong man is sometimes pegged, that some motives are opaque, and on and on. Detectives also know that the defense attorneys are free to form their own list of probative evidence, and so will come to different probabilities, decisions, and understandings of cause.

The possibility of differences in assumptions is the key to understanding the IBE’s general weakness—and it’s sometime usefullness.

It is the freedom to choose the evidence, and that there is no algorithm that leads us to the right set of perfect evidence that results in uncertainty. Uncertainty is often our lot.

Of course, there will always be a right set of perfect evidence that puts the probability at 0 or 1, as the case may be, evidence that results in a flawless decision, and that nails all parts of the cause. Our goal is to get as close as we can to this perfect set. But there is no guarantee we will even come close to it much of the time. (And there is even proof that in some cases, such as in quantum mechanics, it is impossible to come to it.)

A strange blip on the bubble chamber screen. Something caused it. What? The physicist must piece together the evidence. Means, motive, opportunity. In the end, and especially if the blip never repeats, he may just shrug his shoulders and say “Chance”—which is only and ever a euphemism for “I don’t know.”

The nature of evidence is the same at home, in science, in math, and in religion. Why something is is different from that or how it is. (I won’t prove here it works in math, but I do prove it here.)

None of this is controversial, except to die-hard followers of IBE who somehow believe that if only they exerted themselves sufficiently, they can always come to the best explanation of all aspects of a case—which is not synonymous with true. When IBE works, it’s really common sense, carefully explicated.

Next week we’ll see how Shapiro’s use of IBE to dismiss miracles relies on premises he didn’t know he was assuming, on how he did not account for the freedom to assume what evidence is probative, and how he didn’t grasp all aspects of cause.

Update Since it has arisen, there are other interpretations of quantum mechanics which differ from the classical ones. For instance: Quantum Potency & Probability, which restores Heisenberg’s original surmise. About cause. Now everything potential that becomes actual only can do do by something actual—a fancy way of saying QM events are not “uncaused”, as some would have it. On the nature of cause in QM see inter alia Wolfgang Smith’s The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key (3rd Edition) Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. There is another recent monograph by (I think) a Dominican scientist on the same subject which is escaping my memory. When I recall, I’ll post.