Archive for March, 2012

Soundtrack CDs are my Kryptonite …

March 5, 2012

So I just ordered this game. Partly because it is described as being a fighting game with a deep story, and I love me stories. But I also got this and the specifically the limited edition — which costs more — because it comes with these extras:

* BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend for PS3
* 40-page art book
* soundtrack CD
* A BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend 2012 calendar

Well, the game is nice, and I have looked at art books before, and a calendar is kinda “meh” but … hang on, I get a soundtrack CD?!? Sign me up!

The number of games where either one of the reasons for buying it or the reason I went for the more expensive version was because I would get a soundtrack that I could listen to is significant. And often the only thing that I actually use out of the whole package is the soundtrack CD (The Witcher 2, I’m looking at you here!). Soundtrack CDs are my Kryptonite. And unlike Power Girl Galatea from the Justice League cartoons, Kryptonite is not my Kryptonite.

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Even WordPress agrees with me …

March 4, 2012

WordPress gives a quote after every post you make now, and the quote it gave after my latest was:

The best style is the style you don’t notice. Somerset Maugham

Exactly … exactly. Which is why I biggest comment on women and make-up as a guy has always been: If I notice that you’re wearing make-up, you’re wearing too much.

Well she used to look good to me …

March 4, 2012

… but now I find her … simply irresistible.

I had talked before about some facts about how men are attracted to women, and this is carrying on in the same vein. I pretty much literally had an experience like that Robert Palmer song lyric. At work, I interacted with a woman from another group. I’d always thought that she was kinda pretty, to be honest, but not gorgeous. She moved on to other products, and so we didn’t see each other for what had to be over a year. Well, recently I moved to another floor where that group was sitting, and at one point I headed to the coffee station and say an incredibly attractive woman there, and I wondered — as is my wont — who she was.

And then she started talking to me.

Yep, it was the woman I used to know. She looks a lot better now than she used to, and as I said she didn’t look bad then. And it seems that there were only small changes that added up to that. Her hair might have been a little longer. She stopped wearing glasses (which is usually something that reduces my interest, not increases it). She might have changed her style of dress a bit. But she definitely moved from “pretty” to “gorgeous”.

This isn’t the only case I’ve seen of this. Another woman I know made a far more radical change after being promoted, dramatically changing her style of dress and hair style, and went from being kinda meh to being, at least in my opinion, incredibly attractive. In high school, another girl added glasses and cut her hair, and changed her style of dress, and it was the consensus of me and my friends that she looked a lot better that way.

But as you can tell, the changes were in some cases dramatic and some cases subtle, and if we compare the cases a lot of them seem to be diametrically opposed to each other. What gives? Well, attraction is less about any sort of universal trait — ie wear glasses and look better or grow your hair longer and look better — but abouthow your style suits you, and how it suits your body type and your personality. As another example, I generally prefer petite women, and yet there are a number of taller and heavier women that I find quite attractive because their styles suit them; they look good in what they’re wearing. In fact, I noted to friends once when we started talking about attraction that there was one woman that objectively was probably too heavy to be really attractive, and yet I found really attractive — more so than some other, more classically/objectively attractive women — because her style suited her so well.

Style, poise and carriage all contribute to attractiveness, and so when trying to attract one must always keep in mind what your style is saying both about your personality and about how it compliments your body style. Proving yet again that even “shallow” considerations can be remarkably deep when analyzed.

Real logic …

March 2, 2012

Over at the latest comment on Plantinga at Why Evolution is True, commenter Brett says this:

In real logic (as opposed to the parody of logic used by religious “philosophers”), there is no meaningful distinction between existence and necessary existence. If something exists, then it exists; that’s all there is to it. There are not actually any other “possible” worlds for us to compare with, to see whether the same thing exists there.

This is also the reason that the ontological argument you outline fails. The notion that a property (“maximal greatness”) of something in our world depends on facts about another (possible) world is incoherent. If “maximal greatness” is to be a property of something in the real world, it must be defined in terms of things in the real world. If, in contrast, it is defined to involve facts about alternate worlds, then either: 1) those worlds exist and impact properties in our universe, hence they must actually be part of our real world and not mere possible worlds at all; or 2) no entity (deity or otherwise) of our real world can satisfy have such a property–there is no “maximally great” being.

The problem is that what Brett claims “real logic” denies are things that philosophy, in fact, accepts, and both are, in fact, a key component of modal logic. Necessary existence means, philosophically, that the thing exists in all possible worlds; you cannot imagine a world where the thing does not exist. Which then leads to the second argument: if I can show that something would exist in all possible worlds if it exists in one of them, and then demonstrate that there must be a possible world where that thing exists, then I can demonstrate that it must exist in all possible worlds. Since this world — the “real world” according to Brett — is also clearly a possible world, then it exists in this one. QED. Of course, establishing the preconditions is the hard part, but it’s perfectly logical to do so.

When you end up claiming that a key component of analytic philosophy isn’t using “real logic”, you do indeed look a little bit, um, what’s the polite way to put this, insane? Brett seems to be using “scientific logic”, at least as he sees it, to dismiss “religious philosophy”, but since religious philosophy is indeed philosophy he runs into issues when he criticizes the “philosophy” part. Although I doubt that he realizes that he’s criticizing the philosophy part, because he clearly doesn’t know or understand philosophy.

Was this really necessary?

March 2, 2012

A day after promising to not talk about Plantinga, Coyne talks about Plantinga again. If he keeps this up, I’m going to develop major trust issues. Anyway, this time he’s going after a supposed argument from Plantinga about how God really must exist because God is necessary, and again he completely gets the argument wrong, despite again giving us a reference to the source text which again spells out amazingly clearly what Plantinga is actually trying to do.

Coyne asserts this about Plantinga’s argument:

But I digress. In this excerpt from Plantinga’s edited book Faith and Philosophy: Philosophical Studies in Religion and Ethics (1964, Eerdmans Publishing Co.), most of which you can read here, he defends the view that God is a “necessary being.” By necessary being, he means this: the denial of God is inconceivable. That is, God cannot fail to exist.

How does he show this? It’s simply a tricked-up version of the Cosmological Argument: everything that exists is contingent—that is, dependent on some other circumstance—except, of course, for God., who’s defined as the ultimate cause. I have read this chapter three times, and I can’t see any difference between Plantinga’s argument and the “First Cause” argument, except that his is couched in fancy words and stuff that looks like logic.

After quoting from Plantinga at length with some asides, he then summarizes with this:

What dreadful stuff! It’s true only if you define God as being the one thing in the Universe that has no cause, i.e., the First Cause. You could say exactly the same thing, but substituting the word “Universe” for “God” in all the above. For, as we know, the Universe could have “caused” itself.

But, of course, Plantinga is not, in fact, trying to establish that the Christian God is, in fact, the only concept — not thing in the universe — that has no cause (and why Coyne feels the need to capitalize “Universe” here is beyond me). He is simply trying to establish that the Christian concept of God includes it as being necessary, and so all of his comments about that trait — as alert commenter Tom points out — are prefaced by “If God exists”. There’s a reason for this, and the reason is that Plantinga is going after a completely different argument than Coyne presumes, as you can see in the exerpt Coyne links to. On the very first page, Plantinga outlines that while it seems that necessary being is part of the concept, that notion has been philosophically challenged, and then says “My purpose in this paper is to discover whether that claim can be construed in a way which is both logically proper and religiously adequate” (pg 214, it seems). He then goes on to talk about what would make it religiously adequate.

This is, of course, nothing like what Coyne says Plantinga was arguing. And tracing it through, and even through Coyne’s quotes, it does seem like Plantinga sticks to that argument that whole way through. Coyne, of course, doesn’t. So, taking Coyne’s direct challenge at the end again, it doesn’t seem like Plantinga, at least here, will deny that there could be another First Cause, that that cause could be the “Universe”, or even that there might not be a First Cause. Those arguments are different arguments. Here he’s just trying to get the conceptual parts out of the way so that he can claim both that the Christian conception contains God as being a necessary being and that that conception is not itself logically contradictory. That’s it. That’s all.

I’d address the comments Coyne scatters throughout the quote, but I really can’t be bothered. Suffice it to say that he does get analytic wrong — it doesn’t mean the denial of it is self-contradictory, even though that is Plantinga’s litmus test, but in fact means that the truth of the statement is contained in the statement itself without any appeal to anything outside the proposition, which is really important when you try to understand Plantinga’s claims that “God exists” is not itself analytic — and that his appeal to omnipotence assumes the kind of omnipotence which allows the abiltiy to do the logically impossible (since it addresses issues of analyticity, which again Coyne doesn’t understand, but which we can forgive as long as Coyne promises to, you know, actually read up on what philosophy says about analyticity in the future), which is not the kind of omnipotence that is required by any Christian concept.

Would it kill Coyne to read what people are saying before calling what they’re saying stupid and ridiculous?

Coyne on Sophisticated Theology: The Geography Argument …

March 1, 2012

Jerry Coyne has decided that the New Atheists really should engage what he derisively calls “sophisticated theology”. This is good. He’s doing it himself. This is neutral. He’s not doing it very well. This is, of course, very bad.

I hope to get back to Coyne’s first recent attempt, his Sunday sermon, but I won’t address that here because there’s a lot to say about that, some of which is mine and some of which is likely Plantinga’s. I want, however, to address the latest one, since it has a smaller scope. But the one thing that really, really annoys me about both these attempts is Coyne’s complete inability to stick to the actual argument that Plantinga is talking about, and it’s patently obvious here. Coyne points out that he’s taking on something in The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader (ed. James F. Sennet, 1998, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) (though he typos it as “The Analystic Theist). Specifically, he’s dealing with chapter 7. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with philosophical readers, let me point out that these things are, basically, a collection of specific essays that are written for a specific topic, and so unlike actual full books don’t have a general overarching theme or argument that’s directly and deliberately and consistently built on over the entire work. Taken all together with a fair bit of wrangling, you can generally get the overall system out of them, but each individual essay will be generally addressing not an overall worldview, but a specific argument or, in fact, a specific counter-argument. So this chapter is, therefore, almost certainly focusing specifically on one argument and one argument alone, and not much if anything else. An argument that Coyne identifies:

This post bears on a frequent argument about the irrationality of religious belief: if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you’d hold the tenets of Islam sacred and aver that Christian belief was wrong; if you were born in Mississippi, you’d have exactly the opposite view. How can you think your belief is right if it would differ depending on the conditions of your upbringing?

So, specifically, it is about how the warrant for your belief changes because you note that in other areas different and contradictory beliefs are held. Fair enough; that is a standard atheist argument and it is one that I belief that Plantinga is addressing, so so far, so good. Let’s see how long that lasts.

Anyway, before getting into the argument itself, Coyne speculates about Plantinga’s goal and takes a shot at theology in general:

Plantinga’s goal—for theology is not an honest attempt to find the truth, but a post facto rationalization of what the theologian already believes—is to show that his brand of Christianity is the best faith, and that it is rational, justified, and warranted to think that the faith you were brought up with is really the right faith, and that adherents to other religions are simply wrong.

Huh. Well, first, depending on what Coyne calls theology I can say that when I do it it isn’t that, or at least it isn’t that anymore than any scientific theory does that when someone challenges it. Second, this goal seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the purported argument that Coyne literally just talked about about a paragraph or two before. Coyne starts from saying that Plantinga wants to defend against this specific challenge, and then moves immediately to insisting that Plantinga is trying to say primarily that Christianity is right and the others are wrong. What argument, then, is Plantinga trying to make? I think Coyne’s first paragraph is right, and the latter one is just him imposing his own beliefs on Plantinga’s work and pushing Plantinga’s quotes and text into further arguments because Coyne can’t actually address — and it seems doesn’t understand — Plantinga’s defense against the argument outlined in the first paragraph.

Coyne was nice enough to link to the actual paper, and Plantinga outlines what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to defend exclusivism:

The claim is that exclusivism as such is or involves a vice of some sort: it is wrong or deplorable; and it is this claim I want to examine. I propose to argue that exclusivism need not involve either epistemic or moral failure, and that furthermore something like it is wholly unavoidable, given our human condition.

So, no notion of defending the idea that he’s right and Muslim’s and that are wrong, but instead simply defending the idea that holding that belief is neither epistemically nor morally wrong. And what belief is that:

One is to continue to believe what you have all along believed; you learn about this diversity, but continue to believe, i. e., take to be true, such propositions as (1) and (2) above, consequently taking to be false any beliefs, religious or otherwise, that are incompatible with (1) and (2). Following current practice, I shall call this exclusivism; the exclusivist holds that the tenets or some of the tenets of one religion—Christianity, let’s say—are in fact true; he adds, naturally enough, that any propositions, including other religious beliefs, that are incompatible with those tenets are false.

So note that Plantinga is using Christianity as an example, but that in no way implies that if he talks about Christian beliefs those are the only ones that can be true, or that only Christians can be true exclusivists. So when Coyne tosses out the two things that Plantinga believes:

In other words, he’s a Christian. How can he show that Muslims and Hindus are wrong? His whole chapter is an attempt to do just that, or, rather, to show that it’s perfectly rational and justifiable to hold that view, and not rational or justifiable to say either, “All faiths are correct,” “No faith is correct,” or “Well, the plurality of faith means that I can’t judge which faith is right.” It’s one of the most annoying pieces of self-justification I’ve ever seen, and truly underscores the difference between science and religion You can read it for free here.

what he’s actually doing is elevating the example into being the actual argument, which Plantinga explicitly denies he’s doing. If you contort Plantinga’s goal, you might be able to hold him to be accepting that you can’t say that all faiths are right, none are, or that you can’t say, but only the last one is really explicitly stated. Plantinga even seems to suggest that naturalism is indeed one of the views that you could be exclusivist about:

Now there are many who do not believe these things. First, there are those who agree with me on (1) but not (2): there are nonChristian theistic religions. Second, there are those who don’t accept either (1) or (2), but nonetheless do believe that there is something beyond the natural world, a something such that human well-being and salvation depend upon standing in a right relation to it. And third, in the West and since the Enlightenment, anyway, there are people—naturalists, we may call them—who don’t believe any of these three things.

So, already Coyne’s interpretation of the argument is highly, highly suspect. I don’t have the time and energy to comprehensively review Plantinga’s arguments right now, so let me move back to what Coyne is saying. He quotes Plantinga saying this, addressing a comment by John Hick about the sociological and geographic impact on religious belief:

As a matter of sociological fact, this may be right. Furthermore, it can certainly produce a sense of intellectual vertigo. But what is one to do with this fact, if fact it is, and what follows from it? Does it follow, for example, that I ought not to accept the religious views that I have been brought up to accept, or the ones that I find myself inclined to accept, or the ones that seem to me to be true? Or that the belief-producing processes that have produced those beliefs in me are unreliable? Surely not. Furthermore, self-referential problems once more loom; this argument is another philosophical tar baby.

For suppose we concede that if I had been born in Madagascar rather than Michigan, my beliefs would have been quite different. (For one thing, I probably wouldn’t believe that I was born in Michigan.) But of course the same goes for the pluralist. Pluralism isn’t and hasn’t been widely popular in the world at large; if the pluralist had been born in Madagascar, or medieval France, he probably wouldn’t have been a pluralist. Does it follow that he shouldn’t be a pluralist or that his pluralistic beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process? I doubt it.

Coyne’s reply:

I think that if you adhere beliefs that you were taught as a child, or that are common where you live, and that is the factor explaining most of the variation among people in religious belief (which I’m sure it is), then yes, you should be deeply suspicious about whether your belief is indeed true. If one faith happens to be true, and Plantinga believes that his brand of Christianity is, then all the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs who hold their incorrect faiths based on where they were born are wrong by virtue of geography.

First, where does Plantinga talk about it being something he was taught as a child here, and about that giving it warrant? Or about what gives it warrant in the first place? He doesn’t. He simply asks if that simple fact — that there is geographic variance — should do anything to your warrant for holding that belief. And the answer seems obvious: it shouldn’t. Imagine that we — being taught as children that the world is round — noted that in a number of societies around the world people believed that it is flat. Would that in any way impact our belief that the world is round? I’d hope not; we do seem to have quite good warrant and justification for that belief. The same thing can be said about Plantinga’s example of pluralism; there are a number of societies that do not consider pluralism valuable or useful, and yet their existence in no way causes us to question those beliefs, since we think they are warranted. So ultimately Plantinga’s claim is that simply pointing out that other cultures hold conflicting beliefs does nothing to impact the warrant of the beliefs we have. If we are warranted in believing those things, we are still warranted even if we find out that others disagree.

Now, what Coyne could argue is that theistic beliefs are not, in fact, warranted at all, which is not an unfair argument. But it has nothing to do with the argument under discussion. Plantinga is simply addressing the idea that differing views really do impact the warrant we can have for our religious beliefs, and pointing out — quite reasonably — that they don’t. Coyne’s whole argument against Plantinga’s argument, then, is based on ignoring the argument that Plantinga is making and addressing and instead smuggling in a completely different argument and smugly pointing out that Plantinga doesn’t address it. Yeah, he’s not trying to address it. Why don’t you address what he is addressing?

So we can see, then, that Coyne’s attempt to contrast that idea with science simply fails, because it doesn’t address exclusivism at all. Those scientists have, presumably, data that conflicts with their own conclusions. But imagine that either set had, in fact, carefully scrutinized their data and methodology and therefore knew that all possible bias was excluded. Would the mere fact that another set of scientists had done their own experiment and found different results change any of that? Absolutely not. They’d rightly, I think, believe that they had done it properly and the other team had introduced bias into their experiment and data, at least until they had clear evidence that undercut their actual warrant. Again, Coyne can claim that theists have no warrant, but again that’s a completely different argument.

Likewise, if you are a Christian because your parents were Christian and imbued you with the faith, that should cast doubt on whether you really arrived at Christian beliefs through a process of rational scrutiny, or whether your “rationale” for being a Christian is simply a post facto confabulation.

First, why is this? Has Coyne eliminated all of his childhood beliefs and cast them into so strong doubt that he can’t believe them until he scrutinizes them? Unlikely. Second, again, he’s claiming that childhood beliefs aren’t warranted, but then whence would come pluralists belief in pluralism or most people’s faith in democracy? Both of these points focus in on one key structure: if you are going to argue that theistic beliefs are not warranted, how many of Coyne’s beliefs is he going to be willing to give up on that basis as well? Coyne hasn’t even thought of that — despite Plantinga giving him one explicit example that Coyne quoted — let alone decided what it all means and how he will handle it.

Coyne then simply says that Plantinga “lays on the sophistry” with this quote:

Suppose I hold

(4) If S‘s religious or philosophical beliefs are such that if S had been born elsewhere and elsewhen, she wouldn’t have held them, then those beliefs are produced by unreliable belief-producing mechanisms and hence have no warrant;

Once more I will be hoist with my own petard. For in all probability, someone born in Mexico to Christian parents wouldn’t believe (4) itself. No matter what philosophical and religious beliefs we hold and withhold (so it seems) there are places and times such that if we had been born there and then, then we would not have displayed the pattern of holding and withholding of religious and philosophical beliefs we do display. As I said, this can indeed be vertiginous; but what can we make of it? What can we infer from it about what has warrant and how we should conduct our intellectual lives? That’s not easy to say. Can we infer anything at all about what has warrant or how we should conduct our intellectual lives? Not obviously.

Except that this is just Plantinga stating his actual argument: If I claim that the fact that if I was born in another place or another time I would believe differently than I do now actually had any impact on the warrant I have for my current beliefs, then I’d have to accept that this holds for any belief I might have. But then all of my beliefs are less warranted by that fact. So that’s ridiculous. So it at least isn’t clear what impact — if any — this geographic thing should have on the warrant for my beliefs. Note that Coyne has not actually ever addressed that, except as an aside to “Taught you by your parents as an article of faith”.

Coyne’s amazing ability to miss the point continues. He moves on to talking about what he says is Plantinga’s second argument for why Christianity is right, when as we all know by now Plantinga is, in fact, making no such arguments at all. The argument is this:

But then clearly enough if (1) or (2) [the Christian beliefs given above] is true, it could be produced in me by a reliable belief-producing process. Calvin’s Sensus Divinitatis, for example, could be working in the exclusivist in such a way as to reliably produce the belief that (1); Calvin’s Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit could do the same for (2). If (1) and (2) are true, therefore, then from a reliabilist perspective there is no reason whatever to think that the exclusivist might not know that they are true.

Recall again that Christianity is an example, not an argument or definition. Coyne waxes eloquently about … something completely unrelated, actually:

I think this comes from Plantinga’s idea that the epistemic warrant for belief must differ from the epistemic warrant for science. If we were to judge “warrant” of a scientific view whose support was solely that a) you were taught it and b) you think it’s right because you have a “Sensus Scientificus” installed by God, then your scientific beliefs would immediately become suspect.

Which, of course, wouldn’t mean that it didn’t have warrant. Science may reject it out of hand, but philosophy might not. But, again, missing the point. The point is that if that position is true and therefore did warrant the belief — which here in the quotes Plantinga is not asserting as a fact, despite Coyne’s attempts to make it seems such — then the fact that, say, Muslims don’t accept that and believe otherwise would not impact the warrant the Christian — again, for example — has for their beliefs. The Christian could just be right, and the Muslim just wrong. Or, given other ways to get warrant, the Christian could be wrong and the Muslim right. Again, all Plantinga is defending here is exclusivism in general, not a particular view. Coyne’s inability to stay on topic makes his reply completely tangential to the thing that he calls sophistry. How can you call something sophistry by appealing to things it was never intended to address and pointing out that it didn’t, in fact, address those things it didn’t intend to address?

The fact is that at most one faith can be correct (and almost certainly none of them are), and that none of Plantiga’s arguments are remotely convincing to the skeptic that Christianity is the right one. What he is doing here, as always, is making stuff up to show that Christian belief is rational and true. He’s providing Christians with shaky but fine-sounding academic arguments to buttress their beliefs.

And Plantinga isn’t trying to address the skeptic about Christianity here. So of course they won’t be convincing to the skeptic. They shouldn’t be. So Coyne’s accusation of making stuff up and giving fine-sounding but shaky arguments is based on a complete misunderstanding of what Plantinga is talking about.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but if you’re going to claim that you’re addressing a sophisticated theological view but demonstrate that you don’t understand it and are in fact arguing against a completely different argument that is not being stated, to me that means that you failed to address it. I’m not sure if everyone will agree with that, but to me it’s clear here that Coyne has not addressed Plantinga, and so has not addressed the theology Plantinga presents, and has not demonstrated anything about the approaches of science and theology or that Plantinga is engaging is sophistry. And note that the title is claiming that Coyne is going to show Plantinga’s sophistry. He’s nowhere near there. Epic fail, as they say.