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Showing posts from May, 2008

How Should I Be A Sceptic -- a sieve of curious similarities

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.

Near the end of the previous entry, which begins chapter 12, I introduced an example featuring myself making a cloud through supernatural power, and considering what a naturalist friend of mine, Chase, might decide about my claim that I had done such a thing. This entry continues the chapter by expanding the complexity of the example.]


Let us say Chase has a friend, Reed, who is a supernaturalist. The possibilities become complex from here, so I will set up a sieve to help distinguish them. Remember, however, that in every case I am in fact producing the cloud through supernatural power. My claim is presumed (for purposes of this illustration of principles) to in fact be true.

I.) I create a cloud with supernatural power, and then call Chase (the naturalist) and Reed (the supernaturalist) to come look at it. I…

How Should I Be A Sceptic -- evidence and the burden of proof

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.]


At the end of my previous chapter, I demonstrated that metaphor does not necessarily need to mean something less than its imagery suggests; and that to immediately presume otherwise is a common fallacy in the discussion of religious propositions. Incidents and claims should be taken on a case-by-case basis, and filtered through an already developed philosophical position.

So, to return to my example of Jesus' Ascension into heaven: what you or I believe this imagery can mean, is constrained by what you or I have already decided is, or is not, possible. If a supernatural God does not exist, then Jesus cannot have moved from our Nature to a Supernature while exhibiting the extent of His divine authority and/or existence. The story must reflect some other set of objectively real events: for example, perhaps…

Bloodline: Fact or Fiction?

Media awareness has been spreading for the controversial new documentary Bloodline, which claims to present new evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, had children and moved to Southern France, where they died and were buried. Its context is the mystery surrounding the small village of Rennes-le-Chateau and its abbe during the late 19th Century, Berenger Sauniere and what he may have discovered in the surrounding region. As the former mayor of RLC put it, the mystery is that when Sauniere arrived at RLC he was dirt poor, when he died he was just as poor, but during that period he spent enormous amounts of money on the lavish, idiosyncratic redecoration of the town parish, building a tower called 'Tour Magdala' and the extravagant entertainment of guests (this is important, because spending lots of money is different than actually having lots of money; Sauniere was a big spender but he didn't necessarily become very rich). The source of Sauniere's money is…

How Should I Be A Sceptic -- an unwanted level of religious complexity?

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.

The previous entry, discussing metaphorical language use, in relation to religious belief, ended with the observation, "If we believe in God, and if we believe we have communications from Him, then we can trust (given we have already established those other notions) that He is giving us true and useful information of some sort, and so we could reasonably attach great authority to the communication. But it will still be up to us to figure out what exactly is being communicated, and why, and to what degree later information may alter our perception of what is being communicated to us by God."]


I realize this introduces what is perhaps an unwanted level of complexity for Jews, Muslims and Christians (like myself) who would prefer a straight-up straight-out reading of Scripture at all points. I am no di…

The Shroud of Turin to be Retested

You can call it an obsession if you like, but I am still fascinated by the Shroud of Turin -- the cloth imprinted with the image of a man that some claim to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. As I have stated previously, there are good reasons to think that it is real and equally good reasons to think that it's a fake. I personally haven't made up my mind one way or another about the Shroud, for while it is truly a fascinating artifact, if it is ever demonstrated conclusively not to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus it will have absolutely no impact on my faith. Still, the possibility that it is genuine is one of the things that make the Shroud so fascinating.

To many, the inauthenticity of the Shroud was sealed in 1988 when carbon-dating experts ran a test on a small portion of the Shroud and determined that the cloth dated from the 13th or 14th Century. Previously, I noted that physicist Raymond N. Rogers believed that the carbon dating gave an inaccurate date for the s…

How Should I Be A Sceptic -- thought and imagination

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.]


People sometimes attempt to explain apparent contradictions in this fashion: "I was only being metaphorical." This does resolve the contradiction; but at the cost of retaining anything like the apparent meaning of the term or phrase thus 'metaphorized'.

If a person claims that 6 = 16, she can always later say, "I was only being metaphorical when I claimed '16'". But then, so much for '16' representing any kind of distinctive property. She really meant 6 = 6; and if she is going to play fair, she must remember that having 'explained away' 16 as a 'metaphor', she should not go back to its apparent attributes later and treat them as if they were in fact exclusively reflective of the properties of 16.

Thus I grant that this type of reductive metaphorizat…

How Should I Be A Sceptic -- theism or atheism

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.

In my previous entry, I introduced two different examples of attempts to propose that the ultimate reality is both atheistic and theistic. (Not to be confused with ontological dualisms which would propose two ultimate realities with one being sentient and the other non-sentient. This concept was covered in previous entries, though it'll be discussed again in later entries where applicable.)]


On one side we have this concept: the IF is a Mind, but it has no plans and does not initiate events.

On the other side, we have this: the IF is not a Mind, but it has plans (or 'purposes') and initiates events (or 'strives').

What do these propositions offer?

The first one may seem to offer an explanation for the apparent intelligibility of the universe: the universe is not completely arbitrary, and ther…

How Should I Be A Sceptic -- theism and atheism?

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.]


I have been arguing throughout this book that philosophical positions can be most cogently divided into two mutually exclusive categories: non-Sentient Independent Fact, or Sentient Independent Fact. I have reached this position mainly by tracing the implications of apparently competitive belief-systems (it turns out they were advocating one of these at bottom all the time), or by discovering that competitive theories end in self-contradictions.

But some people throughout human history would agree there is such a thing as the IF (or at least we must presume there is, in order to build philosophies and subsequent sciences) and that we can discover particular things about it (at least in principle); yet they would also propose that this IF is, in essence or in effect, sentient and non-sentient.

For instance, th…

Faith & Reason

I have been reading an apologetics text book, Introducing Apologetics, Cultivating Christian Commitment, by James E. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor, who had been "a committed Christian" most of his life, writes about how in college he began experiencing intense doubts about his faith. Unlike many stories that start like this, he did not find his faith encouraged by the study of philosophy or Christian evidence. In fact, although he "spent must of [his] senior year trying to find arguments for God's existence," he could not find a sure foundation by his investigation.

Obviously, because Dr. Taylor ended up writing an apologetics textbook, he somehow found his faith strengthened. If it was not the study of apologetics, what was it? In his own words,

It was a spring break trip to Mexico with a few hundred fellow students to lead vacation Bible school programs and evangelistic meetings in various neighborhoods around Ensenada. What I found during that trip was that the …

How Should I Be A Sceptic -- God and gods

[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. The first entry can be found here.]


In my previous chapter I explained why I think the concept of two or more IFs (whatever their other characteristics may be) leads, one way or another, to a functional proposition of only one IF.

So far when I have discussed a sentient IF (or a SIF), I have identified the IF as 'God'. But of course our history is full of religions where people declare the existence of numerous gods. Notice I have changed the big 'G' to a little 'g' in that statement. I am not trying to belittle this type of belief, but to preserve an important philosophical distinction.

I had to delay this discussion until after I had already covered the issue of what an IF is, and also until after I had established that there was no real point to discussing multiple-IFs (whether sentient, non-sentient, or any mix thereof). Now, I can now safely go back and cover th…