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Old 01-15-2009, 02:08 PM   #1
Lestat
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Arguing From Personal Incredulity

Is it ever correct?

I think in our ancestral past, it was very important for us to make decisions about things even when we weren't sure it was the correct decision. It's easy to imagine a starving band of hunter gatherers having to decide whether to travel north, south, east, west, or simply stay put and weather out the hard times.

Or perhaps losing the trail of a large beast that would feed them for months, they had to make a 'best guess' decision on which way to go. Actually, it isn't that hard to create a myriad of examples where making some decision (even the wrong one), had to be better than making no decision at all.

This is how I feel (and I think it's also scientist's best guess), on why the human mind first evolved this overwhelming need to make sense of things. As time went on, volcanoes, earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, storms, caused catastrophic misfortune upon our ancestors. To ignore these outcomes would have actually been [b]un[/]scientific! Hypothesis needed to be made in order to make some sense out of them. Enter god(s).

In the absence of anything more explanatory, a supernatural deity with untold powers actually made the most sense. What else could cause the sea to rise 12 feet and wipe out villages for hundreds of miles on a clear blue day? So the scientific process starts.

Since ancient times it can be argued that science has chipped away at this enigmas to find real answers that don't require any supernatural deity. yet, there is no denying that questions DO remain (and probably always will). This is why I tend to be less hard on theists who insist that God provides the remaining answers we are still quite ignorant about.

Don't get me wrong... I have little patience for Creationists who deny the overwhelming evidence for evolution mainly because they haven't taken the time to study it. But still... There are legitimate questions that remain. Consciousness, morality, first cause, abiogenesis, and so on. As someone who read up on a lot of science, I'm perfectly content to simply accept that we don't know these answers, yet. I have confidence that someday science will find the answers to many things that are currently a mystery to us now (although probably never everything).

But I'm just wondering if arguing from the point of personal incredulity is as bad as most atheists think it is? After all, it is a perfectly legitimate human trait. One that if we had never developed, there's little doubt we wouldn't be here today discussing it. In other words, it has served us well in the past to get us where we are. Now the question is, should we drop it entirely? Curious to get responses.

Btw- This is one of those topics that straddles the line between SMP and RGT. I'm asking as much from a scientific standpoint as I am about religion. I think it has to do with both. Perhaps more relevant to science, so if the mod feels it is out of place here feel free to move or delete. Thanks.
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Old 01-15-2009, 02:36 PM   #2
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

Arguments from personal incredulity only succeed in debate if the charismatic traits they hinge on are very developed in the debator.

Next to charismatic, Dawkins can also be described as very intelligent, and to a specific degree also very wise. But I do think Dawkins could propose ideas about evolution and science, based purely on charismatic appeals or of feigned authority. Adopting the method of creationists to make an ironic statement or something?

All this incredulity seems "winging it" logically.

But a scientist who does not fully understand yet, is also ignorant till the a-ha! moment.

Two statement nicked from Wikipedia that describe an argument of personal incredulity are:
1 "I can't believe this is possible, so it can't be true."
2 "That's not what people say about this; people instead agree with what I am saying."


Now look at the scientific method and at those statements. And now look at your colleague scientists. One can find these statements much closer at home.

I doubt arguments from personal incredulity are that bad. I think it even may benefit an enthusiastic scientist or theist to operate from it and make progress in their fields and lives. What are scientists without convictions? Without the initial determination and belief in their intuitions we can only hope some scientist geniuses bump into a proof by luck.

"I don't believe God is possible, so God can't be true. Also Dawkins and many other smart scientists agree with me on that."
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Old 01-15-2009, 03:44 PM   #3
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

Interesting post and it kind of pertains exactly to what I was getting at...

Are you saying that personal incredulity has played a role in scientific advances? I'm sure many a scientist has made a discovery or came upon a theory through intuition alone. But after such a proposal isn't it always subjected to the accuracy of predictions before it is accepted? String theory seems very close to this now. We can't get close enough to understand the workings of it, yet the predictions it makes are undeniably accurate. So through incredulity, we make something up and call it 'string theory'. We know it must be right, but we don't know why or how it works.

This is not unlike the method 'sophisticated' theists use to explain the unexplainable by positing a god. Except that it's somewhat the exact opposite approach. I.e., they have no accurate predictions, yet there is nothing else to explain a phenomenon. Therefore, god is just as good of an answer as anything else. Even if it is the least likely answer.
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Old 01-15-2009, 05:39 PM   #4
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

If I understand "argument from personal incredulity" correctly, then I think it's often a very good way to proceed. The problem comes if you consider it "evidence", or persuasive to anyone else.

It's fine to say "Well, I can't think how it would work unless XYZ is true, so I'm going to assume it is." as long as you use it as some sort of working hypothesis - if your assumption ends up contradicting the evidence (no matter how trivial) then you have no reason to cling to your guess.
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Old 01-15-2009, 05:55 PM   #5
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

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If I understand "argument from personal incredulity" correctly, then I think it's often a very good way to proceed. The problem comes if you consider it "evidence", or persuasive to anyone else.

It's fine to say "Well, I can't think how it would work unless XYZ is true, so I'm going to assume it is." as long as you use it as some sort of working hypothesis - if your assumption ends up contradicting the evidence (no matter how trivial) then you have no reason to cling to your guess.
I think you're exactly right. So now the question is, what's wrong with a theist assuming consciousness is something special from god? Or abiogenesis for that matter? He can easily state: "Well, I can't think of how it got there without some involvement from god, so I'm going to assume godditit". To my knowledge, this doesn't contradict anything known by scientific evidence. So is there still reason to 'cling' to their guess? Problem is, I don't know of a single theist who would call their belief in god a 'guess'. You'd probably be the most likely candidate, but I doubt even you refer to your belief as a guess. Or am I wrong?
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Old 01-15-2009, 07:58 PM   #6
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

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I think you're exactly right. So now the question is, what's wrong with a theist assuming consciousness is something special from god? Or abiogenesis for that matter? He can easily state: "Well, I can't think of how it got there without some involvement from god, so I'm going to assume godditit". To my knowledge, this doesn't contradict anything known by scientific evidence. So is there still reason to 'cling' to their guess? Problem is, I don't know of a single theist who would call their belief in god a 'guess'. You'd probably be the most likely candidate, but I doubt even you refer to your belief as a guess. Or am I wrong?
I think it should be as persuasive to others as if I'd guessed.

Of course, I dont think beliefs are formed or chosen so much as discovered, our language often misses this (People will ask "Why do yuo believe...XYZ?" As if you've sat down and calmly decided to). Consequently, sometimes when I'm faced with a lack of data - I remain ignorant without adopting any working hypothesis. In other cases - I think about it for a while and discover that I have a belief about where it comes from - a belief which is not logically compelled from the available evidence, but which is also consistent with it. I think it's rational to hold such a belief, provided you recognise it as amongst the most weakly justified. As an example:

I dont see any reason to proceed from the phenomenon of consiousness and think "Gee I need an answer to this. Can't think of one. Must be God." Therefore, I dont posit God as the explanation, I just dont know where consciousness comes from.

In contrast, I have a funny feeling in my head and (for some reason unknown to me) I do find this a compelling reason to believe. I dont think it's irrational to hold that belief - provided I acknowledge the slender evidence backing it up. (On my view of belief - there's not much I can do about it anyway other than think about it some more and see if it goes away).
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Old 01-15-2009, 10:21 PM   #7
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

Thanks bunny. I ask the question because I myself am also compelled to think that consciousness is something special. Well, that's not right. There's no doubt that it IS something special. I guess what I mean is that I can perfectly see why people think there is something special about them. Something beyond the physical. It's really the last little doubt in the back of my head about there not being a god. I could easily think about it in the same way you describe this little thing in your head that I can't explain, so why not a soul or god?
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Old 01-15-2009, 10:29 PM   #8
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

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Originally Posted by Lestat View Post
Thanks bunny. I ask the question because I myself am also compelled to think that consciousness is something special. Well, that's not right. There's no doubt that it IS something special. I guess what I mean is that I can perfectly see why people think there is something special about them. Something beyond the physical. It's really the last little doubt in the back of my head about there not being a god. I could easily think about it in the same way you describe this little thing in your head that I can't explain, so why not a soul or god?
I think the growing understanding of the brain/mind relationship will probably persuade you eventually. Unless something startling happens in this area (like unexplained physical changes in the brain when people make decisions or something), the only forms of dualism which remain consistent with the evidence are going to be pretty pathetic, imo.

I have a suspicion that my faith would waver if that happened, although I dont see anything necessarily contradictory in God creating consciousness as a physical thing - nonetheless, I expect it would no longer seem as plausible.
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Old 01-15-2009, 10:51 PM   #9
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

Once you hold the belief that the universe and its systems are created by God to function autonomously, like evolution, then science becomes an observational and experimental tool to study these systems, understand them better, and improve our lives. We use the physics to study and understand the fundamental forces in nature, for example. The flip-side view is to say that science fills the gaps as we progress and learn more, instead of Goddidit. I always shake my head in disappointment when people place science in opposition to God. People should slowly start to try and integrate science and faith. This will never preclude open thought. Your OP fits the bill for how unexplainable phenomena were accounted for where knowledge was absent.
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Old 01-15-2009, 11:43 PM   #10
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

where does the design of such organisms like the earth and all the things on it come from? science can try to prove everything in the world with theories and mathmatics. the fact of the matter is no one was there to see it. you can explain everything away with math, science and evolution, but not one of them can give me the starting point. but this void in facts and truth is still more plausible than some silly old God. do not all these things you say make more sense when there is a God?
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Old 01-15-2009, 11:54 PM   #11
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

I'm with bunny. Incredulity is a poor justification, but it's a good rule of thumb.
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Old 01-16-2009, 12:21 AM   #12
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

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Originally Posted by bunny View Post
I think the growing understanding of the brain/mind relationship will probably persuade you eventually. Unless something startling happens in this area (like unexplained physical changes in the brain when people make decisions or something), the only forms of dualism which remain consistent with the evidence are going to be pretty pathetic, imo.

I have a suspicion that my faith would waver if that happened, although I dont see anything necessarily contradictory in God creating consciousness as a physical thing - nonetheless, I expect it would no longer seem as plausible.
Right. But there's undeniable feeling that there is something unique about me. That there's more to me than in the physical sense. I guess this is what most people refer to as a soul. But I agree that the growing understanding in this field would probably persuade me otherwise. In fact, it's the advances made so far that allow me to be comfortable denying that there is anything special or separate between the physical brain and consciousness.
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Old 01-16-2009, 05:39 AM   #13
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Re: Arguing From Personal Incredulity

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Originally Posted by Lestat View Post
Is it ever correct?

I think in our ancestral past, it was very important for us to make decisions about things even when we weren't sure it was the correct decision. It's easy to imagine a starving band of hunter gatherers having to decide whether to travel north, south, east, west, or simply stay put and weather out the hard times.

Or perhaps losing the trail of a large beast that would feed them for months, they had to make a 'best guess' decision on which way to go. Actually, it isn't that hard to create a myriad of examples where making some decision (even the wrong one), had to be better than making no decision at all.

This is how I feel (and I think it's also scientist's best guess), on why the human mind first evolved this overwhelming need to make sense of things. As time went on, volcanoes, earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, storms, caused catastrophic misfortune upon our ancestors. To ignore these outcomes would have actually been [b]un[/]scientific! Hypothesis needed to be made in order to make some sense out of them. Enter god(s).

In the absence of anything more explanatory, a supernatural deity with untold powers actually made the most sense. What else could cause the sea to rise 12 feet and wipe out villages for hundreds of miles on a clear blue day? So the scientific process starts.

Since ancient times it can be argued that science has chipped away at this enigmas to find real answers that don't require any supernatural deity. yet, there is no denying that questions DO remain (and probably always will). This is why I tend to be less hard on theists who insist that God provides the remaining answers we are still quite ignorant about.

Don't get me wrong... I have little patience for Creationists who deny the overwhelming evidence for evolution mainly because they haven't taken the time to study it. But still... There are legitimate questions that remain. Consciousness, morality, first cause, abiogenesis, and so on. As someone who read up on a lot of science, I'm perfectly content to simply accept that we don't know these answers, yet. I have confidence that someday science will find the answers to many things that are currently a mystery to us now (although probably never everything).

But I'm just wondering if arguing from the point of personal incredulity is as bad as most atheists think it is? After all, it is a perfectly legitimate human trait. One that if we had never developed, there's little doubt we wouldn't be here today discussing it. In other words, it has served us well in the past to get us where we are. Now the question is, should we drop it entirely? Curious to get responses.

Btw- This is one of those topics that straddles the line between SMP and RGT. I'm asking as much from a scientific standpoint as I am about religion. I think it has to do with both. Perhaps more relevant to science, so if the mod feels it is out of place here feel free to move or delete. Thanks.
Yes it is absolutely horrible. If you think someone is sick because god cursed them you're not going to look for a cure. And before anyone whines this has happened countless times in many cultures.

Assuming the answer makes most people docile, intellectually lazy and as has been shown on many occassions makes them protest wildly when unfounded superstition is challenged by empirically verified theories.

In our day and age this mechanism of our brain is like the flight, fright, freeze reflex. It is often a hamstring in our modern day lives.

And the tenacity to which people cling to their assumptions is incredible. Churches and temples also have a lot of money, and they have a lot of people who are willing to contribute money. A lot more money than science has when it comes to marketing. Look at the US. A 6000 year old religious text is held by almost half its populace as being more truthful than the what is certainly in the top three of the most solid and verified theories of the last 100 years. There simply isn't enough money in academics to battle the kind of money machines that is modern organized religion.
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