"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

Book Review: Chronicles Of Wasted Time

I.

I was recently recommended Chronicles of Wasted Time, the autobiography of Malcolm Muggeridge. It was a good choice, and not just because its title appropriately described my expectations about reading 500-page books on people’s recommendation. Muggeridge is an obvious reactionary, but one with the personal and historical credentials to pull it off with the utmost class and credibility.

He describes his birth in 1903 to a family of committed British socialists. Their heroes were Karl Marx, George Bernard Shaw, and Fabian leaders Sidney and Beatrice Webb. These last two I had only the slightest familiarity with, but Muggeridge paints a picture of them as the progressive titans of his day, boasting a combination of Chomsky’s intellectual leadership and the Clintons’ network and political acumen. Throughout Muggeridge’s youth, his family would host meetings, sing socialist songs, run for various minor offices on the socialist ticket, and exchange correspondence with intellectual worthies. They even flirt with, though never quite join, an experimental commune being set up in their area, about which Muggeridge has the best stories:

The land was cheap in those days, and they acquired it by purchase; then, to demonstrate their abhorrence of the institution of property, ceremonially burnt the title deeds. It must have been a touching scene – the bonfire, the documents consigned to the flames, their exalted sentiments. Unfortunately, a neighboring farmer heard of their noble gesture and began to encroach on their land. To have resorted to the police, even if it had been practicable, was unthinkable. So after much deliberation, they decided to use physical force to expel the intruder; which they did on the basis of a theory of detached action, whereby it is permissible to infringe a principle for the purpose of a single isolated act without thereby invalidating it. The intruding farmer was, in fact, thrown over the hedge in the presence of the assembled Colonists. There were many such tragi-comic incidents in the years that followed; as well as quarrels, departures, jealousies, betrayals, and domestic upsets. In the end, the Colonists found it necessary to reestablish their title to the land by means of squatters’ rights, and then proceeded to bicker amongst themselves as to who should have which portion.

But he and his family are convinced that all of this is just a momentary hiccup on the road to Glorious Progress. Indeed, his teenage years are marked by a burning excitement at the Russian Revolution:

We called the Metropolitan Mounted Police ‘Cossacks’, rejoiced over early Soviet films like ‘Mother’ and ‘The Battleship Potemkin’, spoke of workers’ control and cadres and agitprop, and I personally decided inwardly that sooner or later I would go to Russia and throw in my lot with the new and better way of life that, I was confident, was coming to pass there.

Against this enthusiasm, he had only a personal tendency which he describes as a deep-set conviction:

…that I was born into a dying, if not already dead, civilization, whose literature was part of the general decomposition; a heap of rubble scavenged by scrawny Eng Lit vultures, and echoing with the hyena cries of Freudians looking for their Marx and Marxists looking for their Freud…a Gaderene descent down which we all must slide, finishing up in the same slough.

By the same token, a strange certainty has possessed me, almost since I can remember, that the Lord Mayor riding in his coach, the Lord Chancellor seated on his Woolsack, Honorable and Right Honorable Members facing one another across the floor of the House of Commons, were somehow the end of a line. That soon there would be no more Lord Mayors, Lord Chancellors, Honorable and Right Honorable Members, the Mother of Parliaments having reached her time of life or menopause, and become incapable of any further procreation…

Doubtless other glories lie ahead. Bigger and better capsules carried to the moon; down in the test tube something stirs; ‘I think, therefore you’re not’ says the computer. We all know, though, in our hearts, that our old homestead is falling down; with death-watch beetles in the rafters, and dry rot in the cellar, and unruly tenants whose only concern is to pull the place to pieces.

This feeling – that everything around him was in a state of permanent decay – was not so far-fetched given that he spent much of his early adulthood in the far-flung territories of the crumbling British Empire. But it soon becomes clear that it’s more than a natural reaction to the political realities of the time. He describes again and again looking on something apparently healthy enough and being overwhelmed with a feeling of impending sickness and decay. He describes T.S. Eliot as “a death-rattle in the throat of a dying civilization”, Shaw as “too encased in his own narcissism, too remote from real life to do more than grimace at it through a long-distance telescope”, and the great reformers and abolitionists of the age as:

…solemn funeral mutes in the long obsequies of western civilization; as they fell by the way, others coming forward to take their places. Now the time has nearly come for the coffin to be actually interred. Then at last their occupation will be gone forever.

I sometimes have patients with very severe depression who tell me that everything they look at is infested by maggots. They won’t eat, because the food is infested with maggots. They won’t hug their children, because their children are infested with maggots. Sleep disgusts them, because the bed is infested with maggots. Et cetera.

And other times, when they have a little more insight, they’ll say something like “Okay, my food isn’t literally infested by maggots, but I get this feeling from it, this overwhelming feeling, such that the feeling would only make sense if the food was infested by maggots. I know deep down it’s not infested by maggots, but it has some metaphysical quality which only things infested by maggots have.”

Poor Malcolm Muggeridge feels this way about everything. One of the most poignant episodes in the book takes place the worst night of the London Blitz, when Muggeridge runs around the burning city, almost euphoric, because finally his inner conviction that everything is on fire and collapsing is reflected in everything really being on fire and collapsing, and nobody can pat his head and patronizingly tell him that it isn’t:

I remember particularly Regent’s Park on a moonlit night, full of the fragrance of the rose gardens; the Nash Terraces, perfectly blacked-out, not a sign of a light anywhere, white stately shapes waiting to be toppled over – as they duly were, crumbling into rubble like melting snow…I felt a terrible joy and exaltation at the sight and smell and taste and sound of all of this destruction; at the lurid sky, the pall of smoke, the faces of bystanders wildly lit in the flames. Goebbels, in one of his broadcasts, accused us of glorying obscenely in London’s demolition. He had a point, but what he failed to understand was that we had destroyed our city already before the Luftwaffe delivered their bombs; what was burning was no more than the dry, residual shell.

The only things that seem to give him any kind of brief reprieve from the maggots are church services, classic literature, quiet domestic life with his wife and 2.4 children, and rural country fields.

And he is convinced, absolutely convinced, that he should be a socialist and go move to the USSR.

This goes approximately as well as you would expect.

After graduating college, which he dislikes because maggots, he gets a couple of jobs at various far-flung British Empire outposts, which he hates. Then, somewhat by coincidence, he ends up in journalism.

His reaction to journalism is an increasing terror that this might be his calling. He is very good at it, takes to it like an old veteran almost immediately, feels in some strange way that he has come home – but the entire enterprise fills him with loathing. He watches in horror how easily the words flow on to the page when his puppet-masters tell him to argue for a particular cause, how fluidly he takes to idioms like “It is surely incumbent upon all of us to…” and “there can be no one here present who does not…”. He writes:

So I began, and the words seemed to come of themselves; like lying as a child, or as a faithless lover; words pouring out of one in a circumstantially false explanation of some suspicious circumstance. The more glib, the greater the guilt…it is painful to me now to reflect the ease with which I got into the way of using this non-language; these drooling non-sentences conveying non-thoughts, propounding non-fears and offering non-hopes. Words are as beautiful as love, and as easily betrayed. I am more penitent for my false words – for the most part, mercifully lost forever in the Media’s great slag-heaps – than for false deeds.

But Malcolm Muggeridge isn’t going to take this lying down! Malcolm Muggeridge has a plan! Malcolm Muggeridge is going to escape this duplicitous charade of lies and petty propaganda. Malcolm Muggeridge is going to move to Stalin’s USSR.

So he does.

He gets a job as The Guardian‘s Russia correspondent and sets off for Moscow with a host of other British intellectuals, heading for what all of them expect is the Promised Land. The mood on their ship is electric; he describes them all singing, sure that they are leaving behind this wretched bourgeois world for the Golden Future:

On their way to the USSR they were in a festive mood; like a cup-tie party on their way to a match, equipped with rattles, coloured scarves and favors. Each of them harboring in his mind some special hope; of meeting Stalin, or alternatively, of falling in with a Komsomolka, sparkling eyed, red scarf and jet black hair, dancing the carmagnole, above all, with very enlightened views on sex, and free and easy ways…oh, to be in Russia, now that Stalin’s there!

His excitement dissipates relatively early; he finds that the Soviet journalistic world fails to live up to his expectations:

Being a correspondent in Moscow, I found, was, in itself, easy enough. The Soviet press was the only source of news; nothing happened or was said until it was reported in the newspapers. So all I had to do was go through the papers, pick out any item that might be interesting to readers of the Guardian, dish it up in a suitable form, get it passed by the censor at the Press Department, and hand it in at the telegraph office for dispatch. One might, if in a conscientious mood, embellish the item a little…sow in a little local colour, blow it up a little, or render it down a little according to the exigencies of the new situation. The original item itself was almost certainly untrue or grotesquely distorted. One’s own deviations, therefore, seemed to matter little, only amounting to further falsifying what was already false.

This bizarre fantasy was very costly and elaborate and earnestly promoted. Something gets published in Pravda; say, that the Soviet Union has a bumper wheat harvest – so many poods per hectare. There is no means of checking; the Press Department men don’t know, and anyone who does is far, far removed from the attentions of foreign journalists. Soviet statistics have always been almost entirely fanciful, though not the less seriously regarded fro that. When the Germans occupied Kiev in the 1939-45 war they got hold of a master Five Year Plan, showing what had really been produced and where. Needless to say, it was quite different from the published figures. This in no way affected credulity about such figures subsequently, as put out in Russia, or even in China.

Hey man, don’t knock China, they’re doing great! Their GDP rose 7% this year! It must be true! The Guardian tells us so!

But getting back to the story…although it is clear to him that the Soviet economy is struggling, every dispatch they are given to send home declares that things are better than ever, that the Workers’ Paradise is even more paradisiacal than previously believed, that the evidence is in and Stalinism is the winner. It doesn’t matter what he makes of this, because anything he writes which deviates from the script is rejected by the censors, who ban him from sending it home. He is reduced to sending secret messages at the bottoms of people’s suitcases, only to find to his horror that even when they successfully reach the Guardian offices back in Britain, his bosses have no interest in publishing them because they offend the prejudices of its progressive readership. Finally, he finds himself a part of the elite fraternity of western journalists on the Soviet beat, who maintain their morale by one-upping each other in how cynical and patronizing they can be towards their Russian hosts and their credulous readers back home:

We used to run a little contest among ourselves to see who could produce the most striking example of credulity among this fine flower of our western intelligentsia. Persuading church dignitaries to feel at home in an anti-God museum was too easy to count. So was taking lawyers into the people´s courts. I got an honourable mention by persuading Lord Marley that the queueing at food shops was permitted by the authorities because it provided a means of inducing the workers to take a rest when otherwise their zeal for completing the five-year plan in record time was such that they would keep at it all the time, but no marks for floating a story that Soviet citizens were being asked to send in human hair – any sort – for making of felt boots. It seemed that this had actually happened.

And he remembers the contempt of these grizzled veterans for the steady stream of Western tourists, intellectuals, and general Stalin fanboys who arrived to gawk over the Glorious New Civilization:

I have never forgotten these visitors, or ceased to marvel at them, at how they have gone on from strength to strength, continuing to lighten our darkness, and to guide, counsel and instruct us. They are unquestionably one of the wonders of the age, and I shall treasure till I die as a blessed memory the spectacle of them travelling with radiant optimism through a famished countryside, wandering in happy bands about squalid, over-crowded towns, listening with unshakeable faith to the fatuous patter of carefully trained and indoctrinated guides, repeating like schoolchildren a multiplication table, the bogus statistics and mindless slogans endlessly intoned on them. There, I would think, an earnest office-holder in some local branch of the League of Nations Union, there a godly Quaker who had once had tea with Gandhi, there an inveigher against the Means Test and the Blasphemy Laws, there a staunch upholder of free speech and human rights, there an indomitable preventer of cruelty to animals, there scarred and worthy veterans of a hundred battles for truth, freedom, and justice – all, all chanting the praises of Stalin and his Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It was as though a vegetarian society had come outwith a passionate plea for cannibalism, or Hitler had been nominated posthumously for the Nobel Peace Prize.

His final break with the rest of the enlightened progressive world comes when he decides to do something that perhaps no other journalist in the entire Soviet Union had dared – to go off the reservation, so to speak, leave Moscow undercover, and see if he can actually get into the regions where rumors say some kind of famine might be happening. The plan goes without a hitch, he passes himself off as a generic middle-class Soviet, and he ends up in Ukraine right in the middle of Stalin’s Great Famine. He describes the scene – famished skeletons begging for crumbs, secret police herding entire towns into railway cars never to be seen again. At great risk to himself, he smuggles notes about the genocide out of the country, only to be met – once again – with total lack of interest. Guardian readers don’t look at the newspapers to hear bad things about the Soviet Union! Guardian readers want to hear about how the Glorious Future is already on its way! He is quickly sidelined in favor of the true stars of Soviet journalism, people like Walter Duranty, the New York Times‘s Russia correspondent, who wrote story after story about how prosperous and happy and well-fed the Soviets were under Stalin, and who later won the Pulitzer Prize for his troubles.

Muggeridge, on the other hand, penurious from lack of interest in his stories, fearing for his safety from the Soviet government, and generally disgusted with everything – even more so than usual for a world infested with maggots – decides to get the hell out of Dodge. He’s had enough of Russia, enough of Communism, enough of that entire part of the world. He’s going somewhere safe, somewhere decent. He’s going somewhere that will renew his crumbling faith in humanity. He’s going to Nazi Germany right as the anti-Jewish pogroms are starting.

Well, to make a long story short, this doesn’t restore his faith in humanity. He hangs out in Berlin for a while, sending his pieces on the Russian famine to all the newspapers he knows, watching more and more rejections come in each day, earning the ire of all of his leftist friends for apparently deserting the cause and turning traitor. Finally, he tells his boss:

“From the way you’ve cut my messages about the Metro-Vickers affair, I realize that you don’t want to know what’s going on in Russia, or let your readers know. If it had been an oppressed minority, or subject people valiantly struggling to be free, that would have been another matter. Then any amount of outspokenness, any amount of honesty.”

I went on to describe the scene in Berlin, and the Nazis beating up Jewish shops, and everyone with his story of murder and folly, and concluded:

“It’s silly to say the Brown Terror is worse than the Red Terror. They’re both horrible. They’re both Terrors. I watched the Nazis march along Unter den Linded and realized – of course, they’re Komsomols, the same people, the same faces. It’s the same show.”

David Ayerst quotes this correspondence in his book on The Guardian, and says it read “like a letter to end all communication”. So it did; I was finished with moderate men of all shades of opinion forever more.

Leaving Nazi Germany for neutral Switzerland, he says he had a pretty good idea even at the time how everything was going to end. And I believe him. By temperament, he expects everything to end in horror and madness and total collapse of civilization, so props to him for choosing the proper time and place for his temperament to be exactly correct. He writes:

All this likewise indubitably belonged to history, and would have to be historically assessed; like the Murder of the Innocents, or the Black Death, or the Battle of Paschendaele. But there was something else; a monumental death-wish, an immense destructive force loosed in the world which was going to sweep over everything and everyone, laying them flat, burning, killing, obliterating, until nothing was left. Those German agronomes in their green uniform suits with feathers in their hats – they had their part to play. So had the paunchy Brown-Shirts, and the matronly blonde maidens painting swastikas on the windows of Jewish shops. So had the credulous armies of the just, listening open-mouthed to Intourist patter, or seeking reassurance from a boozy sandalled Wicksteed. Wise old Shaw, high-minded old Barbusse, the venerable Webbs, Gide the pure in heart and Picasso the impure, down to poor little teachers, crazed clergymen and millionaires, drivelling dons and very special correspondents like Duranty, all resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook anything, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless, and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on Earth could be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good liberal causes to which they had dedicated their lives. All resolved, in other words, to abolish themselves and their world, the rest of us with it. Nor have I from that time ever had the faintest expectation that, in earthly terms, anything could be salvaged; that any earthly battle could be won or earthly solution found. It has all just been sleep-walking to the end of the night.

II.

Muggeridge’s description of World War II is actually super hilarious.

I was not expecting this. When you take one of the darkest and most pessimistic writers of the twentieth century and put him in the middle of one of the twentieth century’s greatest horrors, you might expect the result to have at least a touch of grimness about it, or at least not to leave you rolling on the floor laughing. You would be wrong.

Muggeridge, inspired by some force even he did not understand, decided to enlist in the British military when the war broke out. He’s a bit too old by this point to be a front-line infantryman, and his intellect, connections, and experience with foreign countries catch the eye of Military Intelligence. They recruit him as a spy. His first job is counter-intelligence – hanging around in the army, making sure that there aren’t any secret German spies there. Well, there either aren’t any secret German spies, or else they’re at least not saying that they’re secret German spies, so this task turns out to be kind of a combination of boring, useless, and hilarious. He describes a typical day:

I find it difficult to recall what regular duties I had, if any…Our section was supposed to be responsible for securing the Headquarters from the incursions of enemy agents who might pry out its secrets or subvert its personnel. This gave us a free hand to do almost anything and go almost anywhere. If we went drinking in pubs, it was to keep a look-out for suspicious characters; if we pikced up girls, it was to probe their intentions in frequenting the locality.

A fellow-officer told me of how, on a pub-crawl, ostensibly a security reconnaissance, he got drunk, and, as was his way when in such a condition, pretended to be a foreigner, using strange gestures and speaking with an accent. The next day, badly hung over, he was sent a report of the movements of a suspicious foreigner, and told to check up on them. Tracing the suspect’s movements from pub to pub, it slowly dawned on him he was following himself the night before. When he told me of his adventure, to comfort him I said that it was what we were all doing all the time – keeping ourselves under close surveillance. This was what security was all about.

In a similar vein, another FS officer, idly thumbing over the Security List – a top-secret document containing the names of all subjects who were to be at once apprehended if they tried to get into or out of the country – found he was in it.

Graham Greene was a very famous early 20th century author. Like pretty much every other famous early 20th century author, he was a good friend of Malcolm Muggeridge’s. Greene was working in another branch of Intelligence at the time, and they needed someone for a secret mission, and Greene mooted Muggeridge’s name. He found himself plucked out of his cushy job drinking at pubs and tracking himself, and sent to MI6’s secret spy school at Bletchley Park, where he was taught various hilariously impractical skills like how to make invisible ink out of bird poop. He was then sent on a secret mission to Mozambique, so that just in case anything relevant to World War II were to happen in Mozambique, Her Majesty’s Government would have a secret agent in place.

The Mozambique chapters were among the funniest of the entire book. The Germans and Italians, inspired by the same principle, had also sent agents to Mozambique. It was not at all hard to figure out who they were, nor was Muggeridge’s identity particularly hard to figure out. There was only one nice hotel in Mozambique, so Muggeridge, the German spy, and the Italian spy all got rooms there and spent most of the time glaring at each other during communal dinners, or lying on the beach an appropriate distance away from one another, keeping watch.

Sometimes they would engage in hilarious secret plots against each other. Muggeridge, after chancing into a friendship with a member of Mozambique’s small German community, arranged for his friend to tell the German spy that he was only faking friendship with Muggeridge so he could steal his secrets for the good of The Reich. He then proceeded to “rob” Muggeridge’s house (with Muggeridge’s gleeful consent), producing for his German “master” a trove of documents which, when decoded, suggested that the Italian spy was secretly working for the British. This caused a big fight between the German spy and the Italian spy, which given that there wasn’t really much to spy on in Mozambique, was considered a fantastic success for the British cause and raised Muggeridge’s standing as some kind of intelligence prodigy.

Later in the war, Mozambique actually became sort of relevant as troop convoys started sailing by. Muggeridge bribed local officials to keep a watch out, and ended up foiling a very real German plot to do some sort of vague thing involving ships – as a result, when the war started winding down to the point where maintaining a presence in Mozambique was no longer viewed as entirely necessary, he came home and was promoted into the inner circles of intelligence. His new position was under Kim Philby, the head of the Department Of Counter-Intelligence Against The Soviet Union, who turned out to be a really bad choice for this position given that he, LIKE EVERY OTHER PROGRESSIVE INTELLECTUAL IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY OF BRITAIN, was a secret Soviet spy. But at the time he seemed okay enough, and he sent Muggeridge to France to aid in the Liberation there.

We like to think of the Liberation of France as a nice, happy time, but for Muggeridge it was basically the time when an entire country worth of very angry Frenchmen massacred, pogrommed, lynched, or otherwise descended upon anyone accused of collaborating with the German occupation. Unsurprisingly, everybody turned out to think their personal and political rivals had collaborated with the German occupation, so it was basically the atmosphere of a 17th century Massachusetts witch hunt, only with less restraint.

Muggeridge’s job was, as usual, darkly hilarious – actual spies for the French and British governments usually acted all cooperative toward the German occupation to keep their cover and get a chance of infiltrating enemy ranks; as a result, they were usually First Up Against The Wall When The Liberation Came. Sure, they said “I was just a spy doing it as part of a secret plan,” but of course everybody said that. So Muggeridge had to rush from prison to prison, trying to convince mobs of angry Frenchmen not to execute the people who had just been most instrumental in saving them.

His spy career ended with what seems like maybe the most typical incident in the entire book – somehow P. G. Wodehouse had wandered into Nazi Germany and been stuck in a prison camp there. Then he had wandered out into France, gotten marked as a Collaborator, and was now in serious fear for his life. The British Secret Service picked Muggeridge as their Official Attache For P. G. Wodehouse Related Affairs, showing such exceptional genius in choosing the right man for the job that you would think they would have been able to get AT LEAST ONE ANTI-SOVIET COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AGENT WHO WASN’T A SECRET SOVIET SPY. Anyway, Muggeridge and Wodehouse wander around the cratered, mob-ruled French landscape, having a series of very Wodehousian adventures, until finally the war ends, Wodehouse is deposited safely the United States, and Muggeridge is able to return to Britain.

The book ends with the funeral of Sidney Webb, the early socialist hero his family idolized, who died just after World War II. Muggeridge is invited to the event because his wife is a distant cousin of the Webb family; he has to hold his nose throughout. At the time of his death, Webb is more beloved than ever by a grateful populace. His and his wife’s great works, Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation and The Truth About Soviet Russia, have become Bibles of the Left and part of Stalin’s cult of personality. Their opponents, the sorts who say that maybe Stalin isn’t the reincarnation of Christ, have been summarily dispatched – Muggeridge describes one of his friends from the journalism world, a reporter universally respected for helping expose Nazi atrocities, who made the mistake of trying to do the same with Soviet atrocities:

When Voigt turned the furious indignation with which he had lambasted the Nazi terror on to Stalin’s, his former liberal friends and associates discovered in him a Nazi sympathizer. Another liberal newspaper, the News Chronicle, ran an article about [his publication] headlined HITLER’S FAVORITE READING, with pictures of the Fuhrer and Voigt looking amicably across at one another.

In other words, Webb dies at the height of his career, his lies unexposed. George Bernard Shaw writes a letter to the newspapers suggesting that a man of Webb’s standing deserves a national hero’s funeral, everyone agrees, and he and his wife are interred in Westminster Abbey before a crowd of dignitaries including the Prime Minister (despite their own atheism and specific demands not to be placed in a church).

Muggeridge watches the whole sordid spectacle – the Dean of the Cathedral singing the praises of an unrepentant atheist “whose crowning achievement had been to commend to his fellow-countrymen and the whole world as a new civilization a system of servitude more far-reaching and comprehensive than any hitherto known” and ends his book very abruptly, saying only that “Another way has to be found and explored.”

III.

And then he dies before writing any more volumes of his autobiography, let alone telling us what the other way is.

He quotes very approvingly, as the heart of his philosophy, a passage by his friend Hugh Kingsmill:

What is divine in man is elusive and impalpable, and he is easily tempted to embody it in a concrete form – a church, a country, a social system, a leader – so that he may realize it with less effort and serve it with more profit. Yet the attempt to externalize the kingdom of heaven in a temporal shape must end in disaster. It cannot be created by charters or constitutions nor established by arms. Those who seek for it alone will reach it together, and those who seek it in company will perish by themselves.

And indeed, he writes a lot about how the whole problem started when people started being utopian and getting it into their heads to fix things on earth, rather than seek for “treasure in heaven”.

Some atheists I know write a lot about how religious people think you should hate the world because it’s awful and only some future world, ie Heaven, can be any good. Some religious people I know write a lot about how that’s total poppycock. Certainly G. K. Chesterton would have said something about how the world being sinful and full of flaws is not a reason to hate it, but precisely why we should love it, and Leah Libresco would say something about how hating the world is Gnosticism and Gnosticism is a heresy.

But I think Muggeridge might be pretty close to the atheist straw man on this point, with the key exception that religion isn’t what made him hate the world. He started off hating the world, and religion and mysticism offered him something not to hate, some way to say “Okay, but there’s some divinity buried in all this mess”. He is brilliant, he is compassionate, he is a great writer, it’s impossible to read his autobiography without loving him – but that he hates the world is hard to deny. I write sometimes about how beliefs that we consider abominable can sometimes be therapeutic mental crutches for people with the right cast of mind, and Muggeridge certainly found the idea of the world as a vale of suffering that would soon melt away to be oddly comforting in times of distress.

On the other hand, I’m not sure what to make of his opposition to trying to fix things here on Earth. He clearly hated Stalinism. When he hated Stalinism, he reacted by trying to make there be less Stalinism, which seems like a very reasonable thing to do. But the Communists hated capitalism. They reacted by trying to make there be less capitalism. Other than Muggeridge being right about the object-level issue and the Communists being wrong, it’s hard to see what the difference in principle is between them. The best I can do – and I worry I’m doing great violence to his intellectual uniqueness by rounding him off to my own ways of thinking – is to view him as suggesting some sort of precautionary principle, like that before you make a change you should be sure it’s something that has worked before (like non-Stalinism) and not a totally new idea (like Stalinism). But I am pretty sure if I suggested that to him he would roll his eyes and tell me that I’m such a modern and I don’t get it at all.

The one thing I can be really sure of is that Muggeridge doesn’t want us to get stuck again in the same position we were in during the 30s and 40s where we totally ignored Stalin’s crimes due to our own political biases. Okay. I respect that. It was really eye-opening seeing exactly how brainwashed the entire European, British, and American Left were, and the whole situation gave me a lot more understanding of how overwhelmingly the Question of Communism dominated intellectual and political life in the first half of the century.

I was born in the 80s, at the very tail end of the Cold War, when we’d all had the decency to put all the Communists in one country and all the capitalists in another and make them express their differences like civilized men – ie by pointing thousands of hair-trigger nuclear missiles at one another. In the early days of Communism, we just didn’t know. Would Russia go Communist? Would Germany? Would France? Would everywhere? Muggeridge talks about how one of Britain’s main concerns in post-Liberation France was that the entire country would just move en masse to Communism as soon as the Nazis were out, which somehow or other mysteriously failed to happen EVEN THOUGH EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE WESTERN AGENTS SENT TO PREVENT THAT WAS SECRETLY WORKING FOR THE SOVIETS.

And then the Cold War started, and this very gradually settled down to an equilibrium where okay, a lot of the Western intelligentsia stayed Communist, but at least they had the decency to realize that it was unpopular and the Revolution probably wasn’t literally going to happen next week.

By coincidence, just last week I read about the sad death of historian Robert Conquest, the man who was able to succeed where Muggeridge failed and drag Britain and America kicking and screaming into admitting Stalin wasn’t such a great guy. Conquest had one great advantage over Muggeridge, which was that he wrote in 1968 when, far from being our allies in a world war, the Soviets were technically our Cold War enemies and we were sort of okay with hearing bad things about them. But even then, he faced an extraordinary uphill battle. The most famous legend about him involved the second edition of his book, which came out right around the time the Soviet Union fell and its indisputable records of Stalin’s famines and purges became public knowledge. He supposedly asked to have the new version titled I TOLD YOU SO, YOU FUCKING FOOLS.

This part of our intellectual history is kind of forgotten. Who hears about Sidney and Beatrice Webb nowadays? Who hears about Walter Duranty? Yet these people during their times were absolute titans, “thought leaders” in the modern terminology – as per Muggeridge, Duranty “came to be accepted as the great Russian expert in America, and played a major part in shaping President Roosevelt’s policies vis-a-vis the USSR”. We hear a lot about our moral failures in terms of not stopping the Holocaust, but our quarter-century complicity with and even adulation of Stalinism seems like one of those facts that just fell by the wayside.

A lot of people think that I’m too easy on crackpots, or too fond of contrarians, or too interested in protecting witches, or whatever. But hearing all of these stories about the universal progressive Western adulation of Stalin is really scary. It’s way too easy for the darkest and most primal parts of my brain to map neatly onto the modern modalities of rejecting and punishing disagreement. “Really? You think this random journalist who isn’t even a trained Kremlinologist knows more than expert consensus?” “Killing millions of people, oh God, you’re one of those conspiracy losers.” “It’s obvious you’re just a privileged white guy who’s already decided to believe anything that reflects negatively on Slavs and foreigners.” “Although we respect free speech, that doesn’t extend to pro-Nazi propaganda and worker’s-paradise denialism.” Part of my respect for contrarians is that contrarianism is this incredibly fragile and precious art which needs to be kept alive for the times it is needed – rare times, times that hopefully won’t come up in our lifetimes, but times that, when they do come, desperately need a core of people willing to stand up to the establishment. Cultivating contrarianism is a lot like owning a gun – you get a heck of a lot of opportunities to shoot yourself in the foot, but also very occasionally one opportunity to save your life.

But then, on the other hand, here’s Muggeridge again:

Solzhenitsyn has provided the perfect parable on this theme with his description of Mrs. Roosevelt’s conducted visit to a labor camp where he was doing time. The estimable lady, who spawned the moral platitudes of the contemporary liberal wisdom as effortlessly and plenteously as the most prolific salmon, was easily persuaded that the camp in question was a humanely conducted institution for curing the criminally inclined. A truly wicked woman would have been ashamed to be so callous and so gullible.

Really? Gullible how? I’m sure the Soviets were moderately competent in making sure Roosevelt didn’t see anything too untoward. So what was she supposed to do?

I think of those people who say the US government is setting up FEMA interment camps as we speak to imprison dissenters against the New World Order. They provide some things that look sort of like evidence – photos (which turn out to be of random prisons or, in one case, an Amtrak station), documents (which turn out to be out of context references to setting up FEMA refugee camps for people displaced by disasters), et cetera. The people talking about this are total loons.

But Type 1 errors trade off against Type 2 errors. Make absolutely sure you’re the sort of person who never misses a Stalinist gulag, and you become the type of person who’s easy prey for the FEMA internment camp theory. Make absolutely sure you don’t believe in FEMA internment camps, and you’re liable to miss a Stalinist gulag as soon as the Soviet government gets Duranty to print “Oh, don’t worry, that’s just an Amtrak station”. Use the heuristic of “just trust expert consensus, experts always know what they’re talking about”, and you are now one of the tens of thousands of grateful readers who helped make Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation into a best-seller.

What I’m saying is – there is no royal road. This is why I think learning rationality and the art of sifting through evidence is so important.

As for Muggeridge? I’m not sure he has much to teach there. Yes, he deserves the thanks of a grateful civilization for being a lone voice in the wilderness warning us about Stalin. But after that, as per his Wikipedia page, he was a lone voice in the wilderness warning us about contraception. After that, he became a lone voice in the wilderness warning us about marijuana. After that, he became a lone voice in the wilderness warning us about blasphemy in The Life Of Brian.

I am glad there are all types of people in the world. I am glad that there are crotchety, contrarian, cynical old reporters who constantly feel like everything is hurling off the precipice into Hell, because when things are actually hurling off the precipice into Hell, these people are the first to notice. In the same way, I am glad that there are dedicated survivalists who stockpile canned food in underground shelters in case of the nuclear apocalypse, because if there is ever an actual nuclear apocalypse, these people will survive and rebuild the human race.

But I am not digging a bomb shelter myself, and I am pretty sure I cannot bring myself to be quite as cynical as Malcolm Muggeridge.

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893 Responses to Book Review: Chronicles Of Wasted Time

  1. Jiro says:

    Other than Muggeridge being right about the object-level issue and the Communists being wrong, it’s hard to see what the difference in principle is between them.

    Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

    I’m not a fan of argument by grammatical similarity. “If you can lock him up, why can’t he lock you up?” “Because he robbed a bank and I didn’t.” Sometimes there are no shortcuts to actually determining which side is right and acting differently based on that determination. Creationists and evolutionists say similar-sounding things about each other, but that doesn’t mean creation should be given equal time in schools.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, I agree with you, i just think that Muggeridge wants to insist he has some deeper meta-level principle. He’s just trying to do his civic duty, they’re “trying to externalize the Kingdom of Heaven in a social structure”. He’s trying to do Good, they’re “sentimentally virtuous people…who do far more harm than recognizable villains.”

      • Steve Johnson says:

        Yes, I agree with you, i just think that Muggeridge wants to insist he has some deeper meta-level principle.

        The difference is one side is consequentialist in ethics (anything for the revolution “create the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth”) and the other side is deontological (pointing out lies as a reporter because reporters are supposed to point out lies “doing his civic duty”).

        The deeper meta-level principle is that you must reject consequentialist ethics because it leads to the horrors of the Soviet Union (irony fully noted).

        • Eli says:

          A consequentialist is allowed to use resource-bounded consequential reasoning to nominate heuristics whose violation requires unusually large sums of evidence in favor. A consequentialist is also allowed to be Bayesian without blame, in the sense of acting on information they actually have available rather than on secrets they don’t have.

          You judge the algorithm on its performance with respect to its actual inputs, not with respect to inputs it physically could never have received at the time you ran it.

        • PDV says:

          Yes, yes, we should practice virtue ethics in their daily lives on consequentialist grounds, we know.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Marxists who know what they are doing are not consequentialists– they will have nothing but contempt for your bourgeois moral systems, whose content cannot be understood on its own terms but only as a byproduct of the form the class struggle takes in your particular historical, material circumstances.

          At the same time, consequentialism will only lead you to promote utopian communism if combined with some pseudoscientific views about human nature and perfectability. The most important consequentialists, not falling into this trap, have tended instead to believe strongly in liberal democracy and human freedom.

          Deontologies whose rules are defeasible rather than absolute will also be vulnerable to utopian versions of Pascal’s wager. If an eternal agrarian worker’s paradise is humanly possible, our paramount duty will be to bring it about, even at the expense of other key duties like non-maleficence and justice.

          • Tracy W says:

            Can you explain how deontologists with defeasible rules are vulnerable? The obvious answer would be that even if its humanly possible we should not ignore the possibility that we might fail along the way.

        • mjg235 says:

          Most ethical systems will admit arguments of the form: a leads to b and b is bad, therefore a is also. Consequentialists also allow a large set of arguments whereby a leads to b, b is sufficiently good, therefore a is also. One is basically moral modus tollens, whereas the second can only be affirmed with additional theoretical superstructure.

          The irony is only superficial here.

          • Troy says:

            You can think of “consequentialism leads to the Soviet Union” not as constituting consequentialism’s badness, but as evidence of its badness.

    • Eli says:

      Also, the object-level issue has ended up being answered with “NEITHER THING”. Neither American-style capitalism nor Soviet-style Communism really work all that well.

      (American capitalism originally purported to play the same game as Soviet Communism, “Implement our system, and you get a Consumer’s Paradise, with houses and cars and jazz records for everyone!” It has ended up giving us, “Houses, cars, and jazz records for about 20-30% of the population of Western countries, and moralizing speeches about Trying Harder for everyone else in the world.” No dice.)

      • Ever An Anon says:

        Well if we’re comparing the two, surely the fact that only one produced millions of dead bodies should factor in right? Neither lived up to the hype but one was a hell of a lot closer.

        (Admission on my part: American capitalism isn’t my favorite either, but it seems like all of the opponents of it are pushing for much more suicidal or genocidal alternatives. Better the devil you know.)

        • Multiheaded says:

          They both did that, one more through its cronies (Sukharto, Rhee Syngman, Rios Mott – sp? – etc etc), but directly as well.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            Nevertheless, the actual point – that the USSR did significantly more harm than the USA, had death camps, slaughtered a truly staggering percentage of it’s own population etc – still stands.

          • Eli says:

            Uhhh can we actually show that the USSR did significantly more harm than the USA? I mean, equivalent data up against equivalent data, rather than just claiming the other guy’s data is a leftist conspiracy?

          • Cole says:

            This may be crude, but why not do a body count?

            Government murders within a country for the 20th century, and another count of government murders outside of the country. If the magnitudes are different then we could acknowledge one side was much worse without having to acknowledge that either side was good.

            Estimates from wikipedia:
            Sukharto: .5 million killed
            Rhee Syngman: (not clear he ever engaged in mass killings, but I’ll say 100,000 for participating in the korean war, communists will get the same number)
            Rios Mont: 10,000 killed in a purge of the natives, many others fled.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_killings_under_Communist_regimes
            All mass killings by communists estimated to be around 85 to 100 million.

            There is an anti-communist mass killings wiki page that is somewhat incomplete. The numbers include nazi germany
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-communist_mass_killings
            It has a more useful stat on the south korean killings. 100,000. Indonesia, .5-1 million dead. White terror in spain, .1 – .4 million dead. All in all we have about 1 million not including nazi germany.

            So yes you can claim both sides killed a lot of people, even if only directly. But you can’t claim they were just as bad. Communism’s death toll is staggering.

          • multiheaded says:

            All mass killings by communists estimated to be around 85 to 100 million.

            ????

            I did not count stuff like the famines in China, because that would reflect at least as poorly on capitalism – India, Africa, etc. Cut the number in four or so *at least*, right now it does not seem to refer to anything concrete. Again, “people dying preventable deaths from famine/poverty/etc” is NOT something you want to bring up when defending 20th c. capitalism.

          • Protagoras says:

            The anti-communist mass killings seems to include only people killed for being communists (or suspected communists), while the communist mass killings seem to include pretty much all excess deaths under the regime, including victims of famines that may have been partly deliberately engineered, but may not have, and people quite possibly killed for nationalist or ethnic reasons rather than reasons even vaguely related to communism itself. So this doesn’t seem to be comparing like to like.

            Also, what’s with excluding the Germans? Surely it is a “no true Scotsman” move of the highest order to leave actual signatories to the Anti-Comintern Pact off of a list of anti-communists.

          • Alex Trouble says:

            multiheaded, capitalism (including mixed economies relying heavily one it) is the one economic system which has ever produced any civilization without a significant risk of mass starvation. India and Africa were not capitalist for at least most of the 20th century.

          • Alex Richard says:

            ‘American capitalism’ did not directly produce millions of dead bodies, this is just factually wrong.

            America’s domestic economic policies are not very relevant to its support of foreign dictators.

          • Sylocat says:

            ‘American capitalism’ did not directly produce millions of dead bodies, this is just factually wrong.

            By any criteria of “directly produced” that also includes the millions of deaths “directly produced” by Soviet communism…

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Since we seem to be avoiding to state it outright:

            There is an obvious problem in the comparison, since Communism as was observed involved a large political and social structure while Capitalism just means “market economy”.

          • Sylocat says:

            Well, the terms specifically mentioned were “Soviet communism” and “American capitalism,” not just “communism” and “capitalism.”

          • PC says:

            I suspect that, when all the numbers are in, the Communists will end up “winning” but I certainly hope this serves as a lesson for some of you in the Extremely Evidence-Based At All Times Rationalist Community who seem not to have paused for even a moment to think: “hmm, could it actually be that capitalism whenever possible *externalizes* its mass killings, political prison camps, famines etc.?”

            ETA: It’s also beginning to dawn on me that a lot of you are quite literally unaware of the existence of the 20th century anti-communist/anti-Stalinist left (I infer this from the sweeping statements I keep reading, from Scott on down, about how THE ENTIRE PROGRESSIVE WESTERN COMMUNITY SWALLOWED STALINIST PROPAGANDA UNCRITICALLY AND WITHOUT A PEEP OF DISSENT UNTIL AUTUMN 1991!!!!!!!!), which is kind of chilling.

          • Sylocat says:

            But you see, THEY are a homogenous group who all believe the same things at the same time (as opposed to civil and reasonable folks like us, who would never do awful POLITICAL MIND-KILLED TRIBALISTIC things like calling everyone who disagrees with us brainwashed zombies and claiming that all the “important” people from the other tribe secretly fantasize about murdering us).

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Since one of the foreign dictators the US supported was Stalin, you can see where this gets pretty complicated pretty fast.

          • J. Quinton says:

            “American styled capitalism”

            A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.

            In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

            Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

          • Cole says:

            @Multiheaded

            I decided ahead of time to use whatever wikipedia said about the death tolls. There was a discussion of whether or not to use famine numbers on wikipedia in the controversy sections. Historians seem to have settled on including famine numbers because at least Stalin seems to have intentionally targeted the famines against his political opponents. Also depending on how you define famine you end up with weird results like the Nazis didn’t kill that many people there just happened to be a bunch of starving jewish people during a time when food suppliers were short.

          • PJay says:

            All the direct comparisons of “deaths due to X” in this comment train seem to have a lot implicit biases built in and focused primarily on state-sanctioned/perpetrated violence. That seems to be stacking the deck in favor of boosting Communism’s body count though, since the system itself has more state involvement in everything, they will of course have more state involvement in killing too.

            But capitalist economies also end up perpetrating “death by accounting” by leaving lots of people to live in poverty and underdeveloped conditions that ultimately lead to untimely deaths. Surely we should factor that in as well?

            The communist numbers are also a little skewed by the fact that China is communist and incredibly populous. So even if China and the US had similar death rates, the raw body count for death by state violence will end up being higher for China.

            The more reliable metric would probably be some broad index of human development indicators like infant mortality, crime rates, availability of basic healthcare, literacy rates, etc. Those aren’t without their problems, but it’s a start. Even on those it seems pretty obvious that communist governments didn’t perform particularly well. Even the ones that did do okay aren’t all that much better than developing countries that opted for a more free enterprise economy. In light of that we’d have to ask ourselves what was all the horror for if we the absolute best case scenario is a wash with less brutal regimes?

            The most disappointing aspect of it all is that the end-state of a classless utopia of well provided for people doesn’t seem to have come any closer to being created by any of the communist regimes we have seen than it has from capitalist ones. They just end up replacing the old unjust and arbitrary heirarchies they overthrew with a new set of unjust and arbitrary heirarchies.

        • DrAzathoth says:

          This is a pretty decent collection of democide (the murder of citizens by their own government) numbers for the 20th century.

          The book’s worth contemplating, particularly for people making a moral equivalency argument between forms of government. The per capita piles of corpses produced by totalitarian socialism is staggering relative to other systems.

          https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM

          • Urstoff says:

            Indeed, it seems like the relevant comparison is authoritarian vs. liberal democracy, because you get into semantic nonsense games about what is really “communism” and “capitalism”. Then the question is can you have a communist or socialist state that isn’t authoritarian? I would doubt it.

          • AFC says:

            I’d think the reason you can’t have a communist or socialist state that isn’t authoritarian has to do with the particular history leading up to those governments, not with socialism or communism as such.

            In particular, in every state you have a powerful and somewhat-coordinated propertied class that would need to be put and kept down by force in order to institute a different property regime.

            While this seems like a good practical argument against violent socialist revolution, it’s not an argument against socialism per se.

            Consider, by way of analogy, the fact that in many places you cannot have a secular government without it being authoritarian and autocratic, since any truly democratic government would (with the particular citizenry that is there) institute a religious state, persecute religious minorities, etc.. Obviously this is no argument against secular government in the abstract (and indeed, it may constitute a pretty good practical argument against democracy).

      • Jos says:

        It seriously looks more to me like houses cars jazz records cell phones and air conditioning for 90-95% of the US population and most of the test of the world moving quickly in that direction. You really think only 30% of the Western world has housing transportation and entertainment?

        • Cauê says:

          Agreed. Speaking from the “developing world”, I find Eli’s comment baffling.

        • John Schilling says:

          30% with houses, cars, and personal electronics sounds a lot like China. Up from about 5% in one generation, and pretty much entirely due to “OK, what if we just call ourselves communist, while actually implementing capitalism?”

          • Deiseach says:

            And a consequence of heavy industrialisation is anthropogenic climate change, and warnings about “too many people”, unsustainable growth, rapid using up of unrenewable resources, and that a couple of billion humans need to somehow die or disappear from the earth, and very strict population control on the developing world because there is no way they can support their ever-growing populations and no way we can absorb some of those excess millions into the developed world societies, so in order for us to continue having the nice stuff we have, the aspirations to everybody else all having the same lifestyle and amount of nice stuff need to be limited or drastic changes need to be made.

          • Anthony says:

            All these warnings come from the exact same people who told us about the Glorious Stalinist Future. And every single time they make a testable prediction, they’re wrong.

          • wysinwyg says:

            All these warnings come from the exact same people who told us about the Glorious Stalinist Future.

            Don’t suppose you care to name names?

            It may come as some surprise that the vast majority of contemporary liberals and leftists were not even alive during Stalin’s time.

      • Shenpen says:

        But this suggests precisely EY’s principle: we should be theoretical consequentalists and practical deontologists because our brains are not reliable and such socially evolved rules protect form that.

        • Eli says:

          Rule-consequentialism is actually a distinct thing from “in-practice” deontology: in rule-consequentialism, you keep track of what the rules are for and when they apply (or don’t).

          Bounded rationality is a thing.

          • John Schilling says:

            in rule-consequentialism, you keep track of what the rules are for and when they apply (or don’t).

            Pull the other one; that task is far too complex for any human mind, and nobody has yet created an institution that can tackle it without being subject to the same sort of political biases that corrupt pretty much every other institution with anything resembling police power.

            At its best, rules consequentialism gives you a formal framework for deciding when and how to modify or abandon a rule that does not produce good results in its present form. At its worst, rules consequentialism gives you an excuse to break any rule you don’t like with a bit of quick rationalization according to the prescribed formula.

            At the mean, rules consequentialism gives you the same result as deontology but allows the right sort of person to feel smugly superior about it.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            +1 rule-consequentialism

            Of course it’s nice to have a basic set to start from, and not add new strict rules like the SJWs or the Libertarians do. And it’s convenient when that basic set is nearly the same as nearly everybody else’s basic set.

          • 27chaos says:

            “At the mean, rules consequentialism gives you the same result as deontology but allows the right sort of person to feel smugly superior about it.”

            Funnily enough, this is exactly how I feel about deontology.

      • Scott H. says:

        “Neither American-style capitalism nor Soviet-style Communism really work all that well.”

        Neither Tom Brady nor Tim Tebow really work all that well as football quarterbacks. Sounds like a similar situation. Brady throws a lot of passes, but the vast, vast majority are intercepted, or are dropped, or are not touchdowns.

      • ” Neither American-style capitalism nor Soviet-style Communism really work all that well.”

        American style capitalism—which is also German style, British style, Korean style, Chilean style, and pretty nearly current Chinese style, since relative to Stalinist communism they are all pretty similar—has produced a world with real per capita income about ten times what it was through most of history—twenty or thirty times if you limit yourself to the developed world.

        By what standard is that not working all that well?

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          $$ =/= utilons

          • Dollars are not equal to utiles. One reason is that a dollar is likely to represent more utiles for a poor person than a rich person. But since the changes associated with capitalism have drastically reduced the number of very poor people, that isn’t a reason to consider capitalism a failure on utilitarian grounds.

            Another reason is that the amount of stuff you can get with a dollar changes over time. But I specified real per capita income, which already covers that.

            I can imagine other reasons, but since you don’t specify I have no idea in what particular respect you regard capitalism as unsuccessful, in comparison to what alternative and on what evidence.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            If capitalism satisfied preferences across the board, there would be no anti capitalist movements or complaints. There are, so capitalism is not just an automatic preference satisfying mechanism. What I personally prefer doesn’t have much to do with that.

            The point is that the ability to satisfy actual preferences is the only metric that matters, because every system maximizes something, whether it’s GDP, tractors or headless infidels.

            If you define capitalism, broadly enough, then it seems to encompass almost everything that works…but capitalism isnt just one thing, and no one really believes it is. American pro capitalists wouldn’t want to see the importantion of Japanese capitalism, with employees becoming wedded to corporations for life.

            If you can also shed the illusion that capitalism is something that operates in complete isolation from technology, education, democracy and regulation….then you are in a position to start thinking about how to maxamuse utility, and not just maximizing whatever your favourite system is good at maximizing,

      • Stella says:

        I grew up in a poverty-stricken small town in rural Mississippi. My classmates overwhelmingly lived in (air-conditioned!) houses and owned jazz (well, hip hop) records, and many owned cars or had access to family cars. The idea that *only* 20-30% of the people in Western countries have benefited from capitalist consumerism is ridiculous.

      • Mary says:

        ” Neither American-style capitalism nor Soviet-style Communism really work all that well.”

        In order to run a homeless shelter in America, you must provide amenities deemed necessary to make it fit for human habitation.

        Many of which would make kings and queens and emperors of two centuries gape in astonishment that such a thing is possible.

        If “charity cases live better than royalty” does not “work well,” please state what conditions an economy must meet to be stayed to “work well.”

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          > In order to run a homeless shelter in America, you must provide amenities deemed necessary to make it fit for human habitation.
          > Many of which would make kings and queens and emperors of two centuries gape in astonishment that such a thing is possible.

          Bright electric lights, maybe, and various other things that run by electric switches. Glowing radiant heat without servants bringing coals. Piped hot water and central heating, without servants pouring and fanning. Lots of communication gadgets. Non-live music.

          But even in a best case homeless shelter, there is constant insecurity and stress: rules to follow at the risk of being thrown out, running out of one’s alloted time or being falsely accused by other residents, being recognized as a scruffy outcast outside.

          Working really well would mean socially better facilities — or a system where people don’t fall into homelessnes in the first place.

          • Mary says:

            You write as the social environment of royalty was necessarily a paradise.

            As for the idea of getting an economic system to provide social amenities — how on earth do you expect to buy those?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            An economy that worked really well, would have a better ratio of homeless people to available money to provide better shelters: less crowded, no need for time limits, etc. Or better, UBI sufficient for each person to afford normal private living quarters.

            Or better yet, a system with less unemployment, better wages, lower rent, etc, so that fewer people would become homeless.

            That’s a high standard for a system to work “really well”, and what we’ve got works pretty well; it just needs a few chinks filled in, imo; as British Commonwealth countries have done with their health services, for example.

          • Mary says:

            ” Or better, UBI sufficient for each person to afford normal private living quarters.”

            Not possible.

            In order for that to work, you have provide a UBI sufficient to cover all the other things that each person would spend money on before living quarters. Which is impossible.

          • “An economy that worked really well”

            Would have solved the problem of aging, the lethal disease that all humans suffer from, as well as cancer, heart attacks, traffic deaths, …

            It makes very little sense to say “Both system A and B work poorly, because A produced mass poverty and murder and B does not do all good things I can imagine a system doing.” Which is what this line of argument seems to be coming down to.

          • Mary says:

            Yes. Under this description, what the difference between “well” and “perfectly”?

      • ryanch says:

        You’re a bit low on cars and houses; high on jazz records. Is it the low penetration of jazz that you’re basing your criticism of capitalism on?

        In reply to others, I’m straining to figure out why we’d count Indonesia and Guatemala while overlooking the deaths of 2 million Vietnamese. I’ve always been struck by the western fixated horror with suicide bombers, while we show so little self-awareness of our own homicide bombers.

        I don’t know how to assess Cambodia’s killing fields. Are they pure communist villainy or should we attribute a portion of those deaths to an elite re-enacting the horrors they learned from their colonial and neo-colonial opponents?

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Because it was a proxy war so you can’t really claim it for either side.

          ” Are they pure communist villainy or should we attribute a portion of those deaths to an elite re-enacting the horrors they learned from their colonial and neo-colonial opponents?”

          Given that the Khmer Rogue’s leader learned in Paris, I think blaming colonial history is… odd.

        • Eli says:

          You’re a bit low on cars and houses; high on jazz records. Is it the low penetration of jazz that you’re basing your criticism of capitalism on?

          No, “jazz records” was just a randomly-sampled category of “something people purchase, own, and use for fun rather than for necessity.”

      • Tracy W says:

        Neither American-style capitalism nor Soviet-style Communism really work all that well.

        On the other hand people risked their lives to go from Soviet-sryle Communism to Western-European capitalism. Which is not something you can say about the opposite direction.

        • ryanch says:

          I was being sarcastic. Since your other examples weren’t factually correct (even considered as home ownership, rates are nearly double the numbers you put forward in the US, and virtually everyone has a home in the sense of a reasonable place to stay that’s not a stable) the only thing you were factually correct on was the jazz records. Television penetration in the US was well above 90% (dunno now, but to the degree it’s gone down, it’s because consumers who are well off enough to have tvs choose the internet instead. In fact, racking my brain for the failure of capitalism to put consumer goods in houses, jazz records is about all I can come up with too, so I can see why you have trouble coming up with useful examples.

        • Arashtorel says:

          People absolutely risked their lives to go from western capitalism to Soviet Communism. They just weren’t successful.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I also think Scott is looking at this from a far too meta view. For me the take-away is “Dear God, the entire intellectual class was corrupted and willingly abetted the slaughter of tens of millions of people! The modern left-wing and institutions which descend from them have largely covered up their former sins, made no attempt to fix whatever brought them to such genocidal errors in first place, and use pretty much the same rhetoric against the right as their forebears. Why should we believe they are any different?”

      • onyomi says:

        The most depressing lesson history teaches us is that people don’t learn from history. Or even admit when they’re catastrophically wrong.

      • ryanch says:

        There was a whole segment of liberal opinion from the 50’s on that was anti-communist, and it was the dominant one. You might google the name Kennedy, for instance. He was a Senator or President or something, or research the position on communism of some obscure organization like the AFL. Virtually no one who is politically active today was old enough to be politically aware the last time that anti-communism wasn’t the dominant mode of the left in the US.

        You’re suggesting that modern liberals are at fault for not belaboring points about their predessors 70-80 years ago? Many conservatives won’t even concede that they caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Iraq and the other conflicts it fueled or re-energized.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Jaskologist is perhaps suggesting that modern liberals are just as wrong about something else. Candidates put forward by NRxs include various combinations of race and crime,

          • Eli says:

            And object-level hypotheses should be supported by object-level evidence, not by claiming that there’s a cover-up by the enemy tribe.

            (Yes, I’m aware there have been actual cover-ups in real life history. But until I see a method for obtaining solid evidence that lets me predict which ones are real and which ones are basically just Zionist Lizard Men from the Moon all over again, “There’s a cover-up over there!” will necessarily be assigned a low probability, particularly when it is contradicted by all the available object-level evidence.

            Conspiracy does not exempt you from the laws of probability.)

          • ryanch says:

            I get that, but plucking an example from 70-80 years ago, long since repudiated quite thoroughly by the group in question, and saying “see, here’s a pattern and it’s clearly not ‘ideologues’ but only ‘liberal ideologues’ who have the problem” is silly. Straining at gnats and all that.

            The Iraq War, of course, being the camel that so many here seem willing to swallow. Why look 80 years ago for an example of people willing to ignore murderousness on an enormous scale?

          • nydwracu says:

            The idea there is that mass deaths due to domestic liquidation campaigns or catastrophic misgovernance are harsher indictments of a system than mass deaths due to war.

            This principle is probably not wrong. It’s well-known that it’s possible to have a system of governance that avoids domestic mass deaths, whereas the only known ways to prevent foreign mass deaths due to war are 1) one side winning a lot of wars and establishing themselves as The Power That Is Not To Be Fucked With (see: Pax Romana, Pax Mongolica, Pax Americana) 2) MAD. And in 2) you get proxy wars instead — and the risk that someone will actually launch a nuke.

            It seems to me that the best current way to avoid mass deaths due to war is to get the US far enough ahead of all other countries in military capability that it can replace an entire foreign government just by looking at it funny. But that comes with its own problems.

          • Sylocat says:

            The idea there is that mass deaths due to domestic liquidation campaigns or catastrophic misgovernance are harsher indictments of a system than mass deaths due to war.

            When the war under discussion had no grounds for declaration and was hopelessly botched anyway, I’d say that the deaths caused by it fall under the heading of “catastrophic misgovernance.”

        • wysinwyg says:

          or research the position on communism of some obscure organization like the AFL.

          That’s complicated because the AFL was a CIA front pretty much from the start.

          But the point of it was to split the left into communist and anti-communist factions to make it easier for right wing governments to get elected.

        • “There was a whole segment of liberal opinion from the 50’s on that was anti-communist, and it was the dominant one. ”

          True in some ways, false in others. The dominant view didn’t approve of the undemocratic nature of communism, but it badly overestimated its economic performance. The most popular introductory economics text (Samuelson) claimed that the Soviet economy was growing much faster than the U.S. economy and would catch up at a date not that far in the future–and did so through multiple editions, even though it continued to report about the same GNP ratio for the two.

          Warren Nutter’s attempts to estimate the Soviet economy by measures other than the official statistics were generally viewed as much too low—and turned out, when good data finally became available, to have been too high.

          When Mao died, the _Economist_ credited him with (among other things) having ended starvation in China. Current estimates for the famine during the Great Leap Forward are thirty to forty million deaths, making it a candidate for the worst famine in history. Orthodox center-left opinion thought Mao was doing a good job of economic development—a position hard to square with the later evidence, when the abandonment of his policies produced twenty-fold increase in per capita GNP over a few decades.

          One consequence of the sympathetic attitude to communist economics, five year plans and the like, was to encourage countries such as India to emulate them, which in turn kept a billion or so people poor.

          • PJay says:

            One the other hand, five-year plans and protective industrial policies seemed to work pretty well for the Asian Tiger Economies. It seems like the animating objective behind the 5 year plans (distributing a small pie rather than baking a big one to share) has more to do with their failure than the act of planning itself.

            The most popular introductory economics text (Samuelson) claimed that the Soviet economy was growing much faster than the U.S. economy and would catch up at a date not that far in the future–and did so through multiple editions

            This was also true for a fair amount of time. Russia was an agrarian economy that had barely just abolished serfdom when Lenin’s revolution took off. Then they took a punch from the German War Machine right on the chin. Stalin took the country from that to a country with a working industrial base and near universal literacy in a generation. That certainly does represent faster economic growth even if they’re wrong on absolute size.

            If you’re sitting where Jawaharlal Nehru or Kwame Nkrumah were and the only other template anyone is offering for rapid industrialization is an unproven assurance to just trust your former colonial masters to not seize the keys to the kingdom when you open up unrestricted trade with them like they did last time, what path would you take? Now we know that in order to avoid the horrific violence required by Maoism and Stalinism, the road they picked required them to basically hand out political offices like bargaining chips to buy off dissenters rather than tossing them into a Gulag or simply disappearing them. This instilling a culture of corruption and government waste and inefficacy that persists in these countries to this day, but they didn’t know that’s what would happen at the time.

            Remember, at that time the Asian Tigers hadn’t taken off yet. There WAS no working template to take a country from agrarian peasantry to an advanced industrial economy in a generation or less. Everyone was simply casting about in the dark.

        • “You’re suggesting that modern liberals are at fault for not belaboring points about their predessors 70-80 years ago?”

          The Left is still in denial about the brutality of communism. Hollywood has given us countless movies showing the horrors of Nazi Germany, but I’m not aware of anything comparable showing the horrors of Communist Russia nor of Chinese Communism under Mao. To this day leftists have a soft spot for Cuba, ignoring the 35,000 to 140,000 murdered by Castro’s regime between 1959 and 1987; and the left continues to idolize mass murderer Che Guevara.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            I dispute the idea that there are people that use a Che shirt unironically and that there are non-custom Iphones that cost 1000 dollars.

          • Urstoff says:

            Do people still wear Che t-shirts? That hasn’t been hipster style for quite some time, I don’t think.

          • ryanch says:

            This is such a preposterous double-standard. “Leftists have a soft spot for Cuba”?? Cuba has been walled off from the whole hemisphere for 50 years, with a large degree of support from all segments of the American electorate, political parties and their intellectual backers. In the 30 years AFTER the things you mention, there has indeed been a swelling undercurrent of “why can we not have relations with Cuba, when we have always had relations with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador?”

            The fair-minded would say “rightists have had a soft spot for murderous regimes for decades, and have largely convinced the American public to go along with them.” I have no great fondness for Cuba. But you have to have been asleep for the 30 years you’re talking about to think that the American left is remotely as guilty as the American right of pandering to murderers.

            Mark Atwood, when I think of you, I initially saw an unfair caricature, which those who care can still find quoted in his reply. I’ll mend my fractious post, and perhaps my fractious ways.

          • Phil says:

            I dispute the idea that … there are non-custom Iphones that cost 1000 dollars.

            The top end iPhone 6+ is just shy of $1000, a 6 with “enough” storage is $750. The typical smartphone purchaser pays that over the course of their contract period, but the cost is fully baked into their monthly payment nonetheless, so Mark’s comment may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s not that much of one.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >Mark Atwood, when I think of you…

            Now, I don’t appreciate MA’s usual brand of stereotyping (seriously, though, Che shirts?), but surely we shouldn’t go all the way in the other direction, right?

            >The top end iPhone 6+ is just shy of $1000, a 6 with “enough” storage is $750. The typical smartphone purchaser pays that over the course of their contract period, but the cost is fully baked into their monthly payment nonetheless, so Mark’s comment may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s not that much of one.

            I must admit I’m not too familiar with how cellphone contracts work in America. I’d assume that the cellphone plan that comes with it would be more expensive than a regular one, but given that the max list price for a non-free Iphone is $500, I had assumed the difference wouldn’t be that big.

          • Nornagest says:

            I must admit I’m not too familiar with how cellphone contracts work in America. I’d assume that the cellphone plan that comes with it would be more expensive than a regular one, but given that the max list price for a non-free Iphone is $500, I had assumed the difference wouldn’t be that big.

            It’s typical in the States for half or more of the cost of the phone to be amortized over a contract of, usually, two years. The high-end iPhones are actually unusual in front-loading so much of their cost; your average smartphone will cost you $200 or less up front if you get a contract.

            (Getting such a contract is not always a good idea, for reasons that should be obvious; and it is possible to buy a phone yourself at full price and get cellphone service month-to-month. But a contract is the “standard” thing to do, and was the only straightforward way to get an iPhone for a long time.)

          • Robbbbbb says:

            To Mark Atwood:

            Whenever I see a kid in a Che Guevara shirt I ask him if he’s got a Goebbels shirt in his closet at home. They usually look at me blankly.

          • ryanch writes: “This is such a preposterous double-standard. ‘Leftists have a soft spot for Cuba’??”

            Are you seriously trying to deny that a pretty large contingent of the American Left remain enthusiastic supporters of Cuban communism and think of Che Guevara as a hero?

            Your other comments — about the U.S. economically isolating Cuba and the Right’s history of supporting their own dictators — are irrelevant to the question of whether the Left continues to overlook the crimes of communists. The Right’s sins do not excuse the Left’s, and “the U.S. should drop the trade embargo against Cuba” is an entirely different proposition from “Cuban communism has been a praiseworthy system.”

            Furthermore, I notice that you have no counter to my observation that Left-dominated Hollywood turns a blind eye to communist atrocities. When is Steven Spielberg going to give us an Oscar-winning movie about Stalin’s Ukrainian genocide, an atrocity whose body count exceeded that of the Holocaust?

          • John Schilling says:

            It is probably not the case that the Holodomor killed more people than the Holocaust. As there was no conquering army marching into the Ukraine in 1933 to settle accounts, the mass murderers were able to do a thorough job of covering up their crimes and there are consequently pretty large error bars on our best estimates of the death toll. But you have to basically compare the very top error bar to just the Jewish deaths of the Holocaust, to make the Ukranian genocide into the greater crime.

            For the same reason, it’s much more troublesome to make a movie about it – whatever version of the story you tell, someone will not-implausibly object that your version isn’t fair to them.

          • SFG says:

            In response to the last comment: I don’t think it is unfair to point out that an industry populated heavily by persons of Jewish descent is going to find extermination of Jews particularly galling–that’s just human nature. If the Ukrainians had started Hollywood, there would be hundreds of Holodomor movies.

      • Tracy W says:

        Bertrand Russell is an obvious counter-example.
        And I think there’s a large gap between falling for propaganda and wistful thinking and actually explicitly willingly abetting mass slaughter. I don’t think it’s fair to accuse the Western intellectual class of that.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          This.

          In Jaskologist’s comment above, I initially read one sentence* as “Dear God, the entire intellectual class was corrupted and unwittingly abetted the slaughter of tens of millions of people!” Which is a much better sentence in rhythm and in truth.

          * Jaskologist actually wrote: “Dear God, the entire intellectual class was corrupted and willingly abetted the slaughter of tens of millions of people!”

        • Saint_Fiasco says:

          Another counter-example is George Orwell, who was a socialist and wrote Animal Farm in 1945.

  2. Matthew O says:

    Looking back on the book now that you have read it, what do you imagine that Moldbug sees in this book to make him recommend this book above all others as the ONE BOOK that you should read? It sounds like it didn’t quite produce the cathartic effect that Moldbug was anticipating it would produce. What do you think this cathartic effect was supposed to have been?

    Was it to make us suspect that we are just as bamboozled by leftist media (“Cathedral”) as the Stalin-worshippers were in their own day? Okay, if so, then what are today’s equivalent of the gulags, and the famines, and the other things that the leftist media are covering up?

    I suppose reactionaries would point to things like “race realism,” and anthropogenic global warming being a hoax. Anything else?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think he thought I would enjoy it and like the author. He was right.

    • aesthete says:

      My guess? It’s more evidence for the Cathedral’s existence and potential harmfulness than for present-day abuses of said Cathedral.

      Muggeridge chronicles roughly half a century of the intelligentsia being in thrall to a series of destructive meme-complexes, and the effects of such on foreign and domestic policy as well as on those who considered themselves part of the intelligentsia or well-read in their works.

      Moldbug has always seemed to me more concerned about the Cathedral as an institution than its specific present-day effects — Moldbug’s central thesis seems to be that the marriage of media/academia and government is an inevitable result of democracy, and that media/academia are institutionally unsuited to structuring government and society effectively. Neo-reaction is, in a sense, incidental to this thesis as a way to resolve this conflict.

      In this regard, the early 20th century is a good example for Moldbug’s thesis.

      • Nornagest says:

        Funny. That’s almost identical to Noam Chomsky’s central thesis, and Chomsky is so far from Moldbug politically that if you invited them both to the same conference and somehow got them to touch each other — presumably by lying profusely to both of them — they’d annihilate and leave a smoking radioactive crater where the conference center, the city around it, and a few miles of the surrounding countryside used to be.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m actually thinking I’ll read Chomsky next; any advice about which book is best?

          • Saal says:

            You may find interesting parallels to the NRx Cathedral in “Manufacturing Consent”.

          • Nornagest says:

            Manufacturing Consent bears most directly on this topic.

            It’s exceptionally polemic-heavy, though, just warning you.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            I really liked Manufacturing Consent, but as I found out in one very awkward (and hilarious after the fact) high school debate, you can use some chapters to argue against the rest

          • AJD says:

            The Sound Pattern of English.

          • Matthew O says:

            “Understanding Power” might be a good one. Check out Luke Muehlhauser’s blog, he has been reading some Chomsky lately and commenting on passages of it.

          • 27chaos says:

            ESCROW, TELL ME YOUR STORY

            I did debate too.

          • Tracy W says:

            A warning: Chomsky leaves stuff out. I once read an article by him on the corruption and bankruptcy of Western intellectuals citing their rejection and punishment of Bertrand Russell (who was imprisoned for his opposition to WWI), shortly after I’d read up a bit on Bertrand Russell. Chomsky failed completely to mention that Bertrand Russell was a frequent talker on the BBC post-WWII and won a Nobel prize.

          • Eli says:

            As a Leftist, I wish to warn you that Chomsky is basically just wrapping conspiracy theories about how awful the United States government is and how noble all anarchists ever are in big words. People give him far too much credit for spending long, elaborate essays pointing out obvious flaws of American society, when in fact his novel and unique object-level claims are often not very good, for example, cutting politics into “Greed vs freedom”.

            Instead, I think you would enjoy something more on the lines of, say, David Graeber’s Debt: the First 5000 Years, which we all keep telling you to read, or Thomas Frank’s One Market Under God (which gives a history of the idea that markets are better at representing preferences than elections are), or Jacobin’s The Red and the Black (which is about ways to actually run a left-wing economy).

          • If you want evidence to distrust Chomsky, read the chapter on Cambodia of the Chomsky and Herman book. It’s deliberate apologia for the most murderous regime in modern history.

            What convinced me it was deliberately dishonest and not merely in error was reading one of their sources, which was transparent apologia, taking all Khmer Rouge claims as facts and describing Pol Pot as a saintly figure. None of which was hinted at by the authors when using it to support their views.

          • Urstoff says:

            Seeing his blurb on the jacket of a 9/11 truther book was enough for me.

          • Saal says:

            Professor Friedman has pointed out what I think is the most important thing to know about Chomsky: when it comes to foreign policy/affairs, he embodies the worst of 60s & 70s 3rd-worldist “anti-imperialists”. He’s just about given up Mao apologetics and to the best of my knowledge he never supported Juche, but anyone else who opposed/opposes US foreign policy gets a free pass through the facts customs depot.

            He’s much more interesting on domestic stuff IMO.

          • Hungry Ghost says:

            There’s a rather good collection of his talks called “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky”, eds. Mitchell and Schoeffel. The kicker with this one is you can download the references for it which run to hundreds of pages and are longer than the book. Fantastic resource, great insight into Chomsky’s political thought.

          • Jaxon Jensen says:

            Stick with the linguistics with Chomsky. The rest is not worth it.

          • JK says:

            Many people think Chomsky’s linguistics is shite, too. See here and here and here.

          • stuart says:

            I hope you do.

            I think it’d be great if you took on the question of whether the non-linguistics Chomsky is a crank as part of what you write, instead of just reviewing one of his books like Manufacturing Consent.

        • Shenpen says:

          I am new to this LW-NRx stuff: you all seriously haven’t noticed that 90% of Moldbuggery would make the basis of a rad-left, anarcho-communist politics too?

          You guys are the SMART COMMUNITY! You should have figured this out in 2009, instead of a drunken hungarian having to stumble in the scene uninvited and point this out 6 years later! What is wrong with ya?

          Couldn’t a radleft say that modern western capitalism just as much an orwellian thought control state as nazis and bolshis, ruled by a small elite totally not democratically and its democracy is fake? Seriously is this new?

          50% of Moldbug’s critique (not the causes or solutions, just the critique) was said by the Soviets. 80% by Western radlefts.

          Seriously Moldbug presents (on the purely critical level) what any leftie would call a hierarchical and oppressive view of the West and you are surprised when the model does not sound like one that is exclusively right wing? What?

          This sounds like the SMART COMMUNITY here was not really exposed to any serious radlefties at all!

          If you think anyone who says progressive democratic capitalist social democratic modernity is an elite dictatorship is on the Right… ya never seen a serious Commie.

          BTW I AM on the Right. I agree with Moldbug FROM the Right, about 75%. But I think this aspect is both hilarious, important, deep, something to think about, and OBVIOUS.

          The Horseshoe Principle is more than obviously correct: Moldbug has his leftie mirror images.

          Except that one side of the horseshoe is right.

          • Nornagest says:

            Evidently the ironic tone I was going for didn’t come across. Can’t speak for the SMART COMMUNITY, but I’m aware of the parallels and I’ve been saying similar stuff for a while.

          • Eli says:

            LOL. I agree with Shenpen. Weird.

          • nydwracu says:

            Marxism-Nixonism will win. Marxism-Nixonism will win.

          • Viliam Búr says:

            Look at an angry neo-conservative or neo-reactionary, and you will find a disappointed former marxist, who has redirected their hate but kept their patterns of thinking.

            The “horseshoe principle” is probably unnecessarily complicated. The more simple explanation would be something like: The arguments of aggressive people can differ wildly, but their psychology remains similar.

          • Lesser Bull says:

            @Viliam Bur,
            that fits Nick Land, but most NRxers are either ex-libertarians or radicalized conservatives.

        • aesthete says:

          I think you’re right. Where the paths split is that Noam Chomsky seems to think the problem is correctable through some form of non-hierarchical leftist politics, avoiding political authority and accomplishing the egalitarian goals of democracy in one neat move. Moldbug seems to view this as naive and prefers to do away with egalitarianism as a goal, going with governance as a skilled trade where only certain persons are in principle capable of the task and certain (non-democratic) processes capable of identifying and enhancing these skills in said individuals.

          Both of their fans exhibit similar behavior types and in both cases the proposed solution is heavy on theory (not so much on practical elements).

        • TrivialGravitas says:

          The problem with that to me is The Cathedral isn’t a particularly hard pill to swallow nor does it justify anything that I don’t like about NRXs (step back and take another look maybe, but they still come off like a bad mix of a pseudointelectual and an edgeposter after I do that, of which I’ve been both but I didn’t try to mix them either).

        • SFG says:

          Naaah, just produce a lot of gamma rays.

          • Nornagest says:

            A hundred-something kilos of cranky anarchist and cranky anti-anarchist produces a lot of gamma rays.

    • Steve Johnson says:

      Was it to make us suspect that we are just as bamboozled by leftist media (“Cathedral”) as the Stalin-worshippers were in their own day?

      How much faith should you have in the institutions of a nation that once endorsed Soviet communism, never renounced it and have institutional continuity. The Pulizter board chose not revoke Walter Duranty’s prize.

      How much faith would you have in an organization that could be tied as directly to German National Socialism?

      • Esquire says:

        Like Volkswagon?

        • Steve Johnson says:

          Not sure if you missed this:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denazification

          When did someone do that for communism and the NY Times or Harvard?

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            Superficial error, the deep error is that the product of the press is nfluence of public policy about more or less everything and the product of Volkswagon is a car that’s too dumb to invade Poland or build death camps..

          • 27chaos says:

            Implying that denazification was ever a real effective policy, when really it was more like just ignoring it and hoping it would go away. Which surprisingly, it more or less did.

          • brad says:

            Reading about the secondary Nuremberg trials definitely gives you a sense that the allies just stopped caring about Nazis pretty quickly after the Cold War began. There’d be a trial of say 12 people (judges, industrialists, whatever) 3 would be sentenced to death, 1 would be acquitted, and the remainder would be sentenced to fairly stiff custodial sentences (e.g. 20 years). But inevitably those custodial sentences would end up being commuted after 4 or 5 years.

          • ryanch says:

            When did someone do that for the mere former bamboozled about Hitler? Denazification was about getting rid of actual Nazis, not for getting rid of Americans who were willing to work with Nazis. You’ve somehow forgotten that by pretty much immediately after the war, there was such consensus on anti-communism across enormous swathes of the American political spectrum that a number of former Nazis were literally brought into the fold.

          • Sylocat says:

            You’ve somehow forgotten that by pretty much immediately after the war, there was such consensus on anti-communism across enormous swathes of the American political spectrum that a number of former Nazis were literally brought into the fold.

            I think the general public believes that “Operation Paperclip” was something Marvel made up for Winter Soldier.

        • fubarobfusco says:

          Or Ford?

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m not really impressed by Pulizter prizes, probably because I’m not American; my usual reaction to “So and so won a Pulizter” is along the lines of “Oh, how sweet, you won a local prize for local people!”

        Journalism prizes in general don’t impress me; too much like Oscars and Baftas and Iftas and other back-patting media awards ceremonies where people in the industry give other people in the same industry prizes based on how wonderful they all think each other are.

        • Randy M says:

          No one is expecting the prize to impress you, but it does indict the prize and all who yet esteem it. See also Nobel Prize, peace, etc.

      • SUT says:

        You can have a swastika tatooed on your forehead and you’re still not a Nazi in the historical sense. The Nazies that caused all that damage were careerists hitching a ride on a movement that promised power when it had conquered. The modern skinhead is the antithesis, he basically cuts himself from any legitimate social advancement in our society. So there’s really no way to actually be nazi in today’s society which is similar for a “committed communist”.

        Take today’s socialist professor: He’s not hitching a ride to the top of the foodchain (say leadership in Fed reserve) by being to the left of Bernie Sanders, in fact he’s hurting his chances. This is fundamentally different from the Soviet apparatchik who callously starved his countrymen to get a promotion. And from I see described in Scott’s review, the well-intentioned leftist-intelligentsia in Muggenridge’s time didn’t actually exploit their power for personal gain on their commune or in the Moscow reporting bureau.

        tldr – I don’t need communism to be renounced by its proponents today, as long as they live in a society where they stand to lose opportunities for their views.

        • andy says:

          Plenty of Nazi supported the movement before it became powerful. Some of them at great personal risk too. Plenty of those were close to Hitler and powerful. Low party number was matter of pride and discussions – it proved that you was nazi before it got popular. Modern skinhead is not anti-thesis to the nazi that became party members soon – if anything he is exposed to less risk.

          Early nazi members did quite a lot of damage too – they made nazism successful via a lot of legwork that included a considerable amount of street violence.

          And the same goes for communism too. Early members did struggled and were persecuted – way more then communists prof at current university. The previously struggling communist turned occasionally into Soviet apparatchik willing to starve others. Just because the movement was successful in gaining power later and thus attracted also ambitious careerists does not mean that original and true believers did not contributed to atrocities.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Take today’s socialist professor: He’s not hitching a ride to the top of the foodchain (say leadership in Fed reserve) by being to the left of Bernie Sanders, in fact he’s hurting his chances.

          It might hurt his chances getting a job in the government, but it’s considerably less obvious that it would hurt his chances in the academic world. If his faculty happens to be particularly left-wing, it might well help.

          • brad says:

            It depends on what you mean exactly by socialist, but assuming you mean full on Marxism the only departments (in the U.S.)) where that is respectable these days is English/Literature and * Studies. In Political Science, Sociology, Philosophy, Economics, and similar departments at best it is a fringe position. History is a bit of a special case as there’s a Marxist mode of historical analysis but it doesn’t involve subscribing to normative Marxist political/economic views.

            If on the other hand you mean a social-democratic in the mold of Canada’s NDP or the like, then yes that’s not going to hurt anyone in academia.

          • Protagoras says:

            History is indeed weird. My favorite history professor when I was an undergrad seems to fit in the Marxist historian classification based on his interests and research, but his political views were quite conservative. I remember him describing the fall of the Ur III dynasty as the earliest known historical example of the failure of a centrally planned economy.

          • nydwracu says:

            When I was in college, the head of the political science department kept talking about how Cuba was the best-governed country in Latin America by far, and how the reason for that is that the US can’t fuck with them. That particular professor (so I heard) appeared on a lot of radio shows.

      • ryan says:

        I really don’t think that’s it. This is what MM said on the subject. One argument is moralistic.

        “When the story of the 20th century is told in its proper, reactionary light, international communism is anything but a grievance of which Americans may complain. Rather, it’s a crime for which we have yet to repent. Since America is a communist country, the original communist country, and the most powerful and important of communist countries, the crimes of communism are our crimes. You may not personally have supported these crimes. Did you oppose them in any way?

        The national guilt is especially strong, since our nation is anything but contrite. Unlike our gelded pet Germans, we still believe in our national ideology of mass murder. We ourselves are not murdering anyone right now, at least not a large scale. But we did in the past, and we still believe the same beliefs that made us accessories, before and after the fact, to Soviet atrocities on an epic scale.”

        The other argument is consequentialist.

        Once you learn to recognize the distinction between empathic and nonempathic altruism, you’ll see it everywhere. Empathic altruism – charity – is simply good. Nonempathic altruism – communism – is simply evil. There’s not a whole lot of gray area between good and evil. Evil motivations can certainly, by coincidence, produce good results – but this is an accident, which has little or nothing to do with the supposed “good intentions.”

        Consider our late lamented “Arab Spring,” a true “spring surprise” that is creeping closer and closer to having killed a million people. As Stalin said, of course, a million people is just a statistic. You need a visual. I like to work with Olympic swimming pools full of blood.

        And why did the Arab Spring happen? It happened because our dear State Department incited revolutions across the Arab world. And why did State do that? They did it with the full-throated approval of the American people – all the American people, from left to right. As far as I can recall, UR and David Goldman were the only two pundits condemning this enormous crime, which has produced exactly the results we expected.

        And what were the American people thinking? They were in a pure state of callous altruism. They thought, we’ll help our little brown Arab brothers by supporting them in their enlightened democratic revolution. Mrs. Jellyby could not have expressed it better.

        When you are motivated by genuine charity, and your charitable efforts backfire and actually harm the recipient of your help, you feel guilt and sorrow like nothing else. You’re a witness to a horrific motorcycle accident. You run over to the man on the ground, pull his helmet off, hug him and give him CPR. Unfortunately, he would have been fine, except that you just severed his spinal cord. How do you feel? Is your reaction: “oh well, at least I tried?”

        How did the American people react when their Arab experiment didn’t go so well? I’ll tell you exactly how they reacted. “Oh well, at least we tried.” And then they changed the channel. And that’s what’s wrong with callous altruism.

        I think the Arab Spring is really just food riots. But neither here nor there when it comes to what MM thinks.

    • Eli says:

      Was it to make us suspect that we are just as bamboozled by leftist media (“Cathedral”) as the Stalin-worshippers were in their own day? Okay, if so, then what are today’s equivalent of the gulags, and the famines, and the other things that the leftist media are covering up?

      That wouldn’t really make sense, since George Orwell wrote against Stalin as well, to the point that his most well-known works are anti-Stalinist but avowedly democratic-socialist author-tracts.

      If two antitotalitarians write against totalitarianism from opposite ends of the political spectrum, they both get credit.

      • Mary says:

        Avowedly and a nickle will get you a cup of coffee. What in 1984 or Animal Farm is pro-democratic-socialist ?

        And while he’s a great anti-Stalinist, he’s weak as a pro-socialist. If you’ve ever read his collected essays, he explicitly states that in a socialist state that there’s no problem with getting boots, the state just decides it. That it has no way to find out how many boots are needed, or what sizes, and if it merely prescribes the number, it will get all the boots in the same size, the easiest to make — this never occurs to him. And he argues that writers need some freedom to work even at the risk of their producing dangerous works, but it never occurs to him that any other occupation might need this, that being micromanaged by the state is not conducive to good work for anyone else. In spite of having worked hop-picking and seen the misery government officials can spread.

        • Eggo says:

          That and his confusion about why the anarchist-run factories never shipped enough materiel to him on the front line made me discount his opinions on economics…

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Don’t forget the bit in 1984 about how the totalitarian, centrally-planned government of Oceania produces more stuff than it can find a use for, and keeps this endless war going just to get rid of its surplus products.

        • Banananon says:

          You are probably familiar with this quote, but adding some context to this thread. Taken from wikiquote:

          The Spanish war and other events in 1936-7 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.

          “Why I Write,” Gangrel (Summer 1946)

          • Mary says:

            That wasn’t what I asked. I asked for what was in the books that was for it.

            Authors can often fail to put in the books what they intend to. They can also misstate their intent.

        • Matthew O says:

          Read “Homage to Catalonia.” This is a book in which Orwell is very explicitly pro-socialist, and in fact you can see a lot of the real-life events in this book that later inspired “Animal Farm” and “1984.” Basically, he found that the pro-Soviet Communists in the Spanish Civil War were being huuuuuge dicks to the anarchists for no reason, or rather, because they were all Stalinist yes-men towing the Party line from Moscow, no better than the fascists.

        • Orwell didn’t understand economics and thought he did. But his support for socialism wasn’t based on a theory of how well it would work, it was based on a (largely incorrect) theory of how badly the alternative worked. See his joint review of Hayek (_Road to Serfdom_) and Zilliacus.

          He recognized the problems with making socialism actually democratic, but hoped they could be solved.

      • Lesser Bull says:

        Isn’t Orwell a bit the exception that proves the rule? He writes how he was ostracized by the Left for criticizing Stalin.

    • ryan says:

      The it’s a good book and you’ll enjoy it theory is pretty strong. But I think this is also part of the answer:

      From http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2013/09/technology-communism-and-brown-scare.html

      When the story of the 20th century is told in its proper, reactionary light, international communism is anything but a grievance of which Americans may complain. Rather, it’s a crime for which we have yet to repent. Since America is a communist country, the original communist country, and the most powerful and important of communist countries, the crimes of communism are our crimes. You may not personally have supported these crimes. Did you oppose them in any way?

      The national guilt is especially strong, since our nation is anything but contrite. Unlike our gelded pet Germans, we still believe in our national ideology of mass murder. We ourselves are not murdering anyone right now, at least not a large scale. But we did in the past, and we still believe the same beliefs that made us accessories, before and after the fact, to Soviet atrocities on an epic scale.

      If the 20th century taught us anything, it taught us that it’s not just the triggerman who’s responsible for political murders. The Schreibtischtäter has also his place in the dock – and behind him stands the howling mob. And Mission to Moscow was not a flop. Your grandparents watched it (mine did, anyway), and laughed and clapped. Across the Atlantic they were laughing and clapping to Jud Süss. Man is Caliban, everywhere.

    • ryan says:

      This is my best explanation, from http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2013/09/technology-communism-and-brown-scare.html

      When the story of the 20th century is told in its proper, reactionary light, international communism is anything but a grievance of which Americans may complain. Rather, it’s a crime for which we have yet to repent. Since America is a communist country, the original communist country, and the most powerful and important of communist countries, the crimes of communism are our crimes. You may not personally have supported these crimes. Did you oppose them in any way?

      The national guilt is especially strong, since our nation is anything but contrite. Unlike our gelded pet Germans, we still believe in our national ideology of mass murder. We ourselves are not murdering anyone right now, at least not a large scale. But we did in the past, and we still believe the same beliefs that made us accessories, before and after the fact, to Soviet atrocities on an epic scale.

      If the 20th century taught us anything, it taught us that it’s not just the triggerman who’s responsible for political murders. The Schreibtischtäter has also his place in the dock – and behind him stands the howling mob. And Mission to Moscow was not a flop. Your grandparents watched it (mine did, anyway), and laughed and clapped. Across the Atlantic they were laughing and clapping to Jud Süss. Man is Caliban, everywhere.

    • Paul Kinsky says:

      > Okay, if so, then what are today’s equivalent of the gulags, and the famines, and the other things that the leftist media are covering up?

      Here’s one: discussing the ethnic cleansing of Assyrians and other ethnically Christian minorities in the middle east makes leftists super uncomfortable because ‘Christian genocide by Islamists’ is way too close to the right’s favorite narrative. (Not that I’m a fan of the ‘saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas is a precursor to genocide’ types in the US)

      • Eli says:

        I’m a hardcore socialist and I feel no discomfort at all about saying that Islamism and Arab nationalism are both exactly the sort of thing we spent the first half of the 20th century putting down in Europe: fascism. They’re evil, and they have to be beaten into submission.

        The question is: by whom? Who will be noble to stand with the humane, decent forces being crushed in the Middle East by removing kebab?

        • Tarrou says:

          I did for a while. Plenty of us did. Probably not too many of us then matriculated here to SSC. You want to know who stands up to islamist shitheads? The sort of fat, bigoted hicks every right thinking SWPL in the country spends all day mocking. The guys who are unironic about ” ‘Merica”. Oh, and a lot of hispanics.

          • ryanch says:

            Problem being that guys who are unironic about ‘Merica also regularly stand up to mere Muslim non-shitheads.

          • Tarrou says:

            Citation.

            And I don’t deny the possibility, it’s all type 1 vs type 2 errors. You reduce one, you increase the other. This is probably why liberals will never, ever, join the fight against islamism. The argument that somewhere, someone who isn’t totally 100% a jihadist will get hurt is a fig leaf for the fact that they agree on basic political goals.

          • Eli says:

            Reversed stupidity is not intelligence. The tribal affiliation of anti-Islamism is no guide to its veracity.

            And no, liberals do not agree with Islamists on basic goals. There is nothing that a neon-haired black lesbian FtM transgender polyamorous SJW on Tumblr wants about the society that Islamists would create.

            People kept making excuses to ignore that, until Daesh started actually building the society Islamists create.

          • Jiro says:

            There is nothing that a neon-haired black lesbian FtM transgender polyamorous SJW on Tumblr wants about the society that Islamists would create.

            Sure there is. Islamists would prevent Israel from oppressing the Palestinians. Islamists oppose US intervention in the third world. Islamists oppose the influence of almost all the religions that she does.

            All that’s necessary is for the NHBLFTPST to pay more attention to their common interests and not enough attention to their points of disagreement.

          • Tarrou says:

            No, but reversed barbarism can save civilization. One need not agree with every vague opinion everyone else on your side has, but if you run out all the people who will bleed and kill for your side, you don’t have a future. Tribalism is the way the world works. If you can’t play the game, you lose to those who can.

            “And no, liberals do not agree with Islamists on basic goals. There is nothing that a neon-haired black lesbian FtM transgender polyamorous SJW on Tumblr wants about the society that Islamists would create.”

            Except the death of western civilization.

          • ryanch says:

            >except the death of western civilization.

            Wow. You should talk to a liberal some day. Might be interesting, if intellectually shattering, for you.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Except the death of western civilization.

            Yeesh, some of you guys need to find a happy place or something.

            And to stop assuming you know everything about the beliefs of your ideological “opponents” better than they do. Obviously you think they’re wrong, but I’m really surprised people on SSC seem so cavalier about implying that everyone on the political left is actually evil.

            (BTW: a lot of people who identify as “liberal” are strongly pro-Israel.)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            And no, liberals do not agree with Islamists on basic goals. There is nothing that a neon-haired black lesbian FtM transgender polyamorous SJW on Tumblr wants about the society that Islamists would create.

            In my experience, the usual attitude is that those Islamists don’t really want what they say they want, they’re just pushed into it by poverty/western imperialism/capitalism/whatever. If only we showed them a little support and understanding, they’d realise that they really want to live in an SJW paradise.

          • wysinwyg says:

            In my experience, the usual attitude is that those Islamists don’t really want what they say they want, they’re just pushed into it by poverty/western imperialism/capitalism/whatever.

            My impression is more that my “fellow travelers” mostly realize that Islamists are a small minority among Muslims even in the middle east and that the vast majority of regular people just trying to work jobs and raise families don’t deserve to get lumped in with the ideologically driven mass murderers.

            This isn’t even controversial if we change “Muslim” to “German” and “Islamist” to “Nazi”.

            Not that you’ll have trouble finding some idiot who “understands why ISIS is doing what they do”, but I suspect that is not a widespread attitude among liberals.

            Edit: OK, it’s also seems pretty widely accepted that Islamist recruits are mostly hopeless young men that are hopeless in part because the US has been undermining the sovereignty of majority Muslim nations and propping up authoritarian governments in the near and middle east for quite a while now.

          • LCL says:

            In my experience, the usual attitude is that those Islamists don’t really want what they say they want, they’re just pushed into it by poverty/western imperialism/capitalism/whatever. If only we showed them a little support and understanding, they’d realise that they really want to live in an SJW paradise.

            A kernel of truth in that one. I think I could restate it minus some tribal hyperbole as:

            People in the countries with ascendant Islamist movements are suffering under an oppressive status quo, which they rightly want to end, and are casting about for alternatives. The Islamists are the obvious alternative at hand. As long as the Islamists remain the obvious alternative to an oppressive status quo, they’ll look appealing by comparison.

            We shouldn’t try to prevent Islamists from coming to power via large public support. Once the Islamists are no longer the opposition and have to govern, the public will realize they aren’t the ultimate answer and their support will evaporate. By trying to prevent Islamists from coming to power, we keep them in the role of opposition and thereby maintain their popularity.

            I actually do believe this.

          • Troy says:

            I am not a progressive, and I agree with everything LCL just said.

          • John Schilling says:

            Once the Islamists are no longer the opposition and have to govern, the public will realize they aren’t the ultimate answer and their support will evaporate. By trying to prevent Islamists from coming to power, we keep them in the role of opposition and thereby maintain their popularity.

            Hamas is an essentially Islamist group that has gained power and does has to govern. Its popularity waxes and wanes but has not “evaporated”; at a minimum, there is no more-popular challenger to their rule in Gaza. And the group’s popularity seems to wax and wane in phase with the intensity of its wars with Israel; if things get dicey on the home front, Hamas’s leaders just need to arrange for some nice battles with the Israelis to get public opinion back where they need it.

            This isn’t even controversial if we change “Muslim” to “German” and “Islamist” to “Nazi”.

            I completely understand why ordinary Germans looked to the Nazis as an alternative to the corruption and incompetence of the Weimar republic and the iniquities of Versailles. And I’m totally on board with the Eighth Air Force having bombed the crap out of the factories where those non-Nazis worked, even knowing that most of the bombs would go far off target and destroy the houses where their innocent families lived.

          • Jaskologist says:

            This isn’t even controversial if we change “Muslim” to “German” and “Islamist” to “Nazi”.

            Back in the day, our policy towards Germans, Nazi or not, was to rain down fire from the heavens to cleanse them of their sins.

          • John Schilling says:

            And it WORKED. There basically are no more Nazi Germans, and the non-Nazi Germans are now among the most peaceful and productive people this side of the Amish. Or maybe the Japanese…

            Find something better, if you can. There are worse answers; we’ve had no trouble finding those.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Back in the day, our policy towards Germans, Nazi or not, was to rain down fire from the heavens to cleanse them of their sins.

            Our policy towards Germans was to continue the war against them that was already in progress — that involved dropping bombs on them. There may have been propaganda to the effect of what you say above, but propaganda is propaganda.

            That is was propaganda is clear from that within a year of victory in Europe, “our” policy towards Nazis, German or not, was to pay and recruit them as a bulwark against the spread of communism in Europe.

          • Cauê says:

            My impression is more that my “fellow travelers” mostly realize that Islamists are a small minority among Muslims even in the middle east and that the vast majority of regular people just trying to work jobs and raise families don’t deserve to get lumped in with the ideologically driven mass murderers.

            Ok, plenty of opportunity to dispute definitions and categories on this one, but the “small minority” thing may not be very solid ground to plant a flag:

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/05/02/what-the-muslim-world-believes-on-everything-from-alcohol-to-honor-killings-in-8-maps-and-4-charts/

            Source:
            http://www.pewforum.org/files/2013/04/worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-full-report.pdf

            Highlights include pages 15 (support for Sharia), 54 (stoning for adultery), 55 (death for apostasy), 70 (suicide bombing), 89 (honor killings), 93 (must a wife obey her husband), among other things that should be of concern to the left.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Summarizing the stats, Muslims in the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Jordan are bugfuck crazy, everywhere else they seem mostly OK with like 10-40% crazies.

            The exclusion of Iran and Saudi Arabia makes it difficult to generalize these results across the “Muslim world” or whatever, but I’d guess Saudi Arabia goes in the bugfuck list and Iran would look more like Iraq (around 40% crazy?).

            This is pretty much what I expected. In countries where working class Muslims can afford to buy air conditioners, Islam is a religion of peace. Anywhere else, it’s an excuse to pick up a rock and throw it at someone. The stats overall suggest to me that Islamism is largely a result of poor governance rather than anything intrinsic to the philosophy or theology of Islam or to the Arab or Persian races.

            among other things that should be of concern to the left.

            Yes, I personally have an ethical issue with honor killings, death sentences for apostasy or adultery, etc., but to assume my personal moral code is the ideal for all human beings seems pretty arrogant and authoritarian to me. (Granted, a lot of leftists/liberals/progressives part ways with me there.)

            But even if I were more concerned with imposing my morality on everyone else, I would still be faced with the question of how best to do so. None of the pages you reference help much with this question because you zeroed in on the “bad news”. Starting at page 29 and going through gives a somewhat different picture than the one you’re trying to present.

          • Jiro says:

            wysinwyg: 10-40% is a huge amount. Can you imagine if 10-40% of Christians supported the idea of executing apostates?

            Yes, I personally have an ethical issue with honor killings, death sentences for apostasy or adultery, etc., but to assume my personal moral code is the ideal for all human beings seems pretty arrogant and authoritarian to me.

            I have no problem with honor killings as long as all parties involved are consenting.

            Of course, there aren’t any honor killings where all parties are fully consenting. And since there aren’t, it *inherently* involves imposing things on unwilling human beings. You can’t just say that you won’t impose yourself, because your imposition consists of stopping someone else from imposing.

            I also doubt you’d hold that standard for similar things involving Christians. “I personally have an issue with the Spanish Inquisition but it’s pretty arrogant and authoritarian for me to assume that that’s right for others.” Or even “I personally have an issue with pollution, but it’s pretty arrogant and authoritarian for me to demand that others stop polluting”.

          • Tarrou says:

            @wysinwig,

            Except it isn’t small minorities, it isn’t the poor and desperate who join terrorist organizations, it is the striving middle, upper middle and lower upper classes. The vast majority of the normal, everyday people in the middle east would cut your throat just to play in your blood, if they ever got the chance to do so without retribution. Take it from someone who lived there for years. You soft westerners cannot fathom what those folks will do given half a chance.

            If you think US “support”* of foreign dictators is to blame, then explain Libya.

            Then explain why the left expends so much energy trying to explain away the basic reality of the world, which is that there are only three major civilization on earth, and one of them is trying to kill the other two. The chinese at least have the cultural confidence to handle them without too much trouble.

          • Psmith says:

            “I have no problem with honor killings as long as all parties involved are consenting.

            Of course, there aren’t any honor killings where all parties are fully consenting. And since there aren’t, it *inherently* involves imposing things on unwilling human beings. You can’t just say that you won’t impose yourself, because your imposition consists of stopping someone else from imposing.”

            The story goes that a group of Hindu clergy complained to Charles James Napier about the prohibition of suttee in British India, asking for the ritual to be permitted once again. Napier is supposed to have replied:
            “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

          • Nita says:

            @ Jiro

            There’s no need to use our imagination — back when Christianity was the law of the land, they did literally kill people for being critical of Christian teachings. Christianity is nice now because it’s lost most of its political power. And Islam is even weaker in the countries where most leftists live, which makes it a very remote personal threat.

            As for peaceful Muslims, it can be hard to tell whether they’re in more danger from tyrannical Islamists or “let’s bomb them to the Stone Age” Christians. It’s a bad situation all around.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The story goes that a group of Hindu clergy complained to Charles James Napier about the prohibition of suttee in British India, asking for the ritual to be permitted once again. Napier is supposed to have replied:
            “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

            There’s another anecdote about him that, when an Indian man was sentenced to execution for beating his wife to death, a group of his friends came to Napier and said that he should quash the sentence, because the man in question had been very angry with his wife at the time. Napier just shrugged and replied, “Well, I am very angry with him, and I mean to hang him.”

          • Nita says:

            @ The original Mr. X

            It’s interesting that the story seems to present the Indians as unreasonable barbarians, while “heat of passion” is actually considered a valid mitigating factor in both the US and the UK.

          • Mary says:

            “Heat of passion” requires something more than just being very angry. It requires being provoked to a blinding fury. If the woman had, say, committed adultery, they probably would have said that. However, if he was very angry because she hadn’t had a meal ready when he arrived home (at a time he had refused to tell her), we would say, You should have controlled yourself.

          • Nita says:

            @ Mary

            Alas, the due process in this case seems to have been rather… simplified, so you and I can’t review the records and find out whether justice was served.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          I’ve found that hardcore socialists and avowed Communists are way better than average at recognizing how awful Islamism and Arab nationalism are. It’s the soft-left, social-justicey crowd who carefully look away.

          • Eli says:

            This matches my experience. The “soft left” mostly don’t really have a theory of how the political forces in the world go together, they just think, “I should always take the weaker side”. This heuristic goes wrong the instant any morally righteous underdogs win for once, and face the problems of actual governance.

            If you raise it to the level of ideology, you get the anarcho-liberal, like Naomi Klein.

            Hardcore socialists and Communists aren’t always right about everything, but since we actually have a theory about the way the world works and actual goals we can clearly envision, we find it easier to notice when the world is deviating away from our desired world.

      • wysinwyg says:

        From what I understand, it is mostly diasporans who go on angrily and at length, and build genocide museums and so forth. An acquaintance who lived in Armenia said the indigenes want to make nicey nice with the Turks to get into the EU. Not sure if recent events have changed that calculus.

    • Steve Johnson says:

      I suppose reactionaries would point to things like “race realism,” and anthropogenic global warming being a hoax. Anything else?

      South Africa, Rhodesia, the Arab Spring, Rotherham, Detroit, Ferguson, Baltimore, Los Angeles in 1950 vs Los Angeles in 2015, Sweden’s rape rate, etc.

    • “Okay, if so, then what are today’s equivalent of the gulags, and the famines, and the other things that the leftist media are covering up?”

      I have no idea what Moldbug’s answer would be, but I recently spent a week in India. Of all the countries I have any experience of, it is the one most rhetorically committed to egalitarianism in particular and left ideology more generally–socialist for sixty-eight years. It is also, by casual observation, the most inegalitarian country I have directly observed. It’s a country where private schools are under a set of legal restrictions that are impossible save for the rich, public schools don’t educate—teachers frequently don’t show up—and the education of the masses occurs in illegal private schools. One of the places I spoke was an elite graduate school. The campus was a lovely rectangle, about half a mile on a side, landscaped, forested—and surrounded by a concrete wall topped with barbed wire.

      • Emile says:

        Huh, interesting, China has the illegal private schools too, for people from the wrong caste, I mean, the wrong Hukou.

        • onyomi says:

          It’s very hard for me to quantify where the average Chinese today would fall on a political spectrum an American might recognize, since they are mostly just very cynical and disengaged, but I get the impression that they are currently more rightwing in their outlook than Europe and probably even America nowadays (certainly than, say, California)–both in the sense of being kind of authoritarian and also kind of viewing economic development, military might, etc. as more important than feel-good social programs.

      • onyomi says:

        Wow, this is very surprising to me. I have never been to India, but always wanted to go. I knew it was very corrupt and strangled by regulation, but I didn’t realize people were so ideologically committed to socialist policies. Are you saying the average Indian is more socialist, leftist, and/or egalitarian in his outlook than the average Swede or Frenchman?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Really, India?

        The place with a still functioning caste system?

        • Aneesh Mulye says:

          I probably shouldn’t, but I’ll bite: what do you mean by that?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Friedman says ” [India is the country] most rhetorically committed to egalitarianism in particular and left ideology more generally”.

            The intact caste system would seem to be proof that this is so far from the truth as to be mistaken for an outright lie.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            To be fair, the experience of most communist countries suggests that a strong rhetorical commitment to equality can coexist quite comfortably with a de facto hierarchical class system.

          • The country where one of the legal requirements for private schools is that a quarter of their students must be from disadvantaged groups–including the low castes. Where official policy is affirmative action for low castes.

            What part of the caste system is supported in any way by government policy?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            You said “India .. the country” not “the government of India”. I don’t think we can say rhetoric is confined to merely government speech.

            That the Indian government feels a need to rhetorically commit to egalitarian ideals (as a guess, directly related to the fact that Ghandi is the one that brought about the end of British rule) does not wipe away the existence of the caste system, carried over from long ago and then used/abused by the Brits. You can’t just ignore it, as if it was the government’s rhetorical speech that created the inequalities you observed.

          • Aneesh Mulye says:

            That’s not what I meant. I meant: what do you mean by the words ‘caste system’?

            (I strongly suspect that what you mean by those words/your model of the ‘caste system’ has a tenuous to non-existent link to what actually exists in reality in India. I know this having a) grown up in India, and b) having had similar discussions far too many times before; and before disagreeing, like I want to, I want to make sure that my disagreement is on firm ground. For that to happen, I need to know what you actually mean.)

      • Aneesh Mulye says:

        A small correction – it’s not 68 years of socialism, it’s ~44-49. It’s getting better – a reforms process started in 1991 abolished the worst of the regulatory state, and it’s slowly, intermittently, but inexorably continued since. The current government is also following the path of smaller government (one of their slogans is ‘minimum government, maximum governance’, which is code for efficient provisioning of a few things, and leaving the rest up to the private sector; and given Modi’s past track record, it’s not just an empty slogan.).

        As an alumnus of a (middle class, legal, and well-equipped, but not extravagantly rich) Indian private school, I can vouch for the inefficacy of most public education, and for the (somewhat spotty, but nonetheless evident) excellence of much private education. Though not rich, and in fact financially conservative, the school authorities did care about education quite a lot: I’ve coasted on the programming and CS skills I learnt in the CS elective I took in the last two years of high school for years (FWIW, they’ve been the foundation that helped me pretty much breeze through most interviews I’ve faced); they also had the seventh or eighth fully equipped bioinformatics laboratory in the country – so that the subject could be offered as an elective to students who wanted it.

        (There are centres of better quality public education, originally intended for the children of central government bureaucrats (Kendriya Vidyalayas) who often have to move around the country.)

        At what graduate school did you speak, if I may ask?

        • I spoke at IIM Bangalore. Among other places.

          • Aneesh Mulye says:

            I’m somewhat surprised that you’d find one of the IIMs bastions of leftism/socialism; also somewhat saddened.

            I’m quite interested in your experiences in India, and would love to hear about them in more detail, if you’re willing. Do you have time for tea/lunch sometime? (FWIW, I have been a libertarian since the age of ~15-16, and growing up in India with those views put me firmly outside the political spectrum of the country, a lot of which is dominated by explicitly tribal politics.)

      • Nita says:

        So, you’re saying that India pretends to be socialist, while actually functioning as an anarcho-capitalist utopia?

        • Jaycol says:

          I’m having a hard time thinking of any version of anarcho-capitalism that would include “private schools are under a set of legal restrictions,” that is, regulated by a state, or in which any form of private education would be, as David Friedman writes, “illegal,” presumably meaning prohibited by the state. In fact, I would venture to say that one of the defining features of anarcho-capitalism, including Friedman’s version among myriad others, is the lack of a state. Since the state is the actor that seems to be mostly responsible for the situation Friedman describes, then at least with respect to his description, it does not seem in any way to resemble an “anarcho-capitalist utopia.”

          Respectfully, I think that certain cosmetic features, like fences and the prevalence of private education, might have led you astray–but whether or not one agrees with anarcho-capitalist theory or even considers it coherent, one should recognize that its salient features are the absence of a state, respect for property rights, and free exchange; not the presence of everyday objects like fences and private schools, which would likely exist in Libertopia, but which also exist in state socialist societies, feudal societies, fascist states, and under most every other form of social organization.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The single most famous work about anarcho-capitalism, Snow Crash, has, in the background, an organization (USA) that thinks itself a sovereign government, but which everyone in the story ignores.

      • I don’t know a lot about India, but it doesn’t seem that socialist? The two largest parties appear to be the BJP and INC. The INC appears to be kinda social liberal/social democratic, and the BJP appears to moderately conservative right wing? Maybe the INC is a bit socialist in parts, but I don’t follow how the country would be considered socialist?

        • wysinwyg says:

          Similar to how France or Italy is socialist — democratic socialism. A market system regulated by a nation state.

          In the absence of polling data, I remain skeptical of the Stalinist credentials of the vast majority of the people of India.

      • Nebfocus says:

        I’m an expat living in Bangalore and I agree. Inequality is not only the norm, it’s the preference. The caste system, while outlawed, is alive and well here.
        (India also has ridiculously bad governance)

    • HlynkaCG says:

      >Okay, if so, then what are today’s equivalent of the gulags, and the famines, and the other things that the leftist media are covering up?

      I would suggest that it is the crimes of Muslim extremists, though there does seem to be a fair bit of pro-Stalin/Mao/Castro nostalgia remaining as well. President Obama wont say boo to ISIL with out prefacing it with “Christians have done some bad things to” and Just up thread we have people defending Soviet style communism, and suggesting that Capitalism is just as bad.

      Example: Apple will boycott the state of Indiana for being insufficiently tolerant of Gays while at the same doing business with Saudi Arabia. http://www.examiner.com/article/apple-boycotts-indiana-opens-stores-saudi-arabia

      The “Cathedral” will tell you that “the Right” is racist, homophobic, hates women etc… and the most of the right will simply reply that “racist, homophobic, hates women etc…” are just code-words (dog whistles to use the leftist term) for disagrees with the left on things like whether or not Stalin and Bin Laden were genuinely bad guys or simply misguided.

      • Nornagest says:

        President Obama wont say boo to ISIL with out prefacing it with “Christians have done some bad things to”

        I’m gonna have to ask for a citation for this one. Tumblr, sure; academia, sure. But Obama is pretty hawky for a dude that ran partly on an anti-war platform, and I seem to recall him denouncing ISIS in pretty strong terms.

        • Jiro says:

          Obama is pretty hawky for a dude that ran partly on an anti-war platform

          Explain the Iran deal, then.

          • Nornagest says:

            Honestly I don’t know a lot about the Iran deal. But “hawky for a guy that ran on an anti-war platform” falls well short of implying “hawkish in all situations”.

          • Protagoras says:

            The deal was good enough that if the U.S. didn’t accept it, it is unlikely that all of the participants in the sanctions regime would have been willing to continue sanctions (China seems a particularly likely defector, but probably not the only one). Thus, anyone who didn’t want to just rush into war with Iran (which would be the attitude of an extreme hawk, not just someone “pretty hawky”) faced the choice between the current deal, and sanctions effectively ending with no concessions from Iran.*

            * So why did Iran take the deal in that case? Because if they hadn’t, it would be much less likely that the sanctions coalition would fall apart; Iran showing willingness to accept a deal meant other participants would have cover to drop the sanctions on the basis of being able to claim that it was the U.S., not Iran, being unreasonable.

          • John Schilling says:

            Protagoras has got it. The choices were,

            A: This deal, or one very like it

            B: A war with all the worst features of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea, dialed to 11, or

            C: Punt the decision to the next POTUS, but without the sanctions in place as a negotiating point.

            Also, we passed the point probably ten years ago when Iran could have been stopped from building nuclear weapons with anything less than an outright invasion. It isn’t clear that Iran actually wants nuclear weapons, but if they do want them, they will build them in a year or so. With or without this deal, with or without the sanctions, with or without cruise missiles taking out Natanz and Fordow and so forth.

            The only thing on the table to negotiate is, how hostile is our relationship going to be with a nation that can have nuclear weapons any time it wants. Because of our prior line-drawing on the nuclear issue, any “let’s try not to be enemies” deal has to be phrased in terms of “let’s pretend Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons”; of all the things I can fault Obama for, this isn’t one of them.

            And getting Iran to sign on for pretending that Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons is not a trivial thing. Weapons that you are pretending you don’t have are weapons you can’t test, which makes it problematic to plan on using them as anything but a last resort, and they are weapons you can’t threaten or terrorize people with.

          • Troy says:

            And getting Iran to sign on for pretending that Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons is not a trivial thing. Weapons that you are pretending you don’t have are weapons you can’t test, which makes it problematic to plan on using them as anything but a last resort, and they are weapons you can’t threaten or terrorize people with.

            This is a good point.

          • nydwracu says:

            What’s the Iran thing about anyway? I know USG and Iran are enemies, but why?

          • brad says:

            To make a long story short they had a democratically elected government, but it was kind-of leftish and we were worried they’d side with the Soviets. So we overthrew that government and put in place a brutal right wing dictator. After a couple of decades under the Shah the religious right and liberals banded together overthrow him. (Afterwords the religious right screwed the liberals and put in place a theocracy.) During the Revolution they stormed the American Embassy and held a bunch of employees hostage for a good long time. We haven’t gotten along since.

          • Nornagest says:

            I know USG and Iran are enemies, but why?

            I’m not an expert on Iran, but I gather that the current situation obtains mostly because USG backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who’d been constitutional monarch from WWII onwards but who together with American and British intelligence executed a 1953 coup to set himself up as a more-or-less absolute ruler. He grew increasingly unpopular over the next twenty years, but American support continued; and an odd sort of theological anticolonialism ended up getting mixed into the state ideology of the 1979 revolutionary government. That by itself might not have sufficed to permanently sink relations, but the 1979-1981 hostage crisis made American sentiment substantially worse. On the Iranian side, USG then proceeded to back Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, an incredibly bloody conflict that damaged both countries badly.

            Propaganda aside, Iran is only middling conservative as Middle Eastern theocracies go — it still runs (Shia) Islamic law, and Islamic clerics make up one branch of its government, but Saudi Arabia for example is quite a bit more hardcore Islamist in practice. But it’s a relatively mature regional power for whom anti-Americanism is policy (unusual, though it’s a popular hobby throughout the Middle East), it’s in an inconvenient part of the world (especially re: Israel), and it set up a major standoff with the US and got away with it. There’s a lot of bad blood built up for all those reasons.

            Contrast, say, Venezuela, which is probably even more anti-American in rhetoric but which mostly just gets ignored because it’s not situated to effectively throw its weight around.

          • Oliver Cromwell says:

            nydwracu: They’re not really enemies, in the sense that they have important competing objectives. They are rivals in the sense that they are competing for influence in the same territory.

            The real danger of an Iranian bomb is not that Iran will actually use that bomb to attack the US, or even Israel, but that it might provoke Saudi Arabia to get a bomb, possibly then followed by Egypt, Turkey, and others. Iraq and Syria (in that order) would at one time also have been capable of it. UAE and Qatar are probably also capable if they chose.

            At that point the US could no longer intervene in the Middle East, because almost any country it might choose to intervene against would be a nuclear power. The Middle East would be genuinely independent of the US in the same way that Russia and the PRC are.

            Of course some in the US would see the inability of the US to intervene in the Middle East as a good thing, probably including the present government. Even the right could make an argument that it is not a bad thing, if a nuclear Middle East would prove more careful and circumspect than the non-nuclear Middle East.

            But the US is accustomed to having the option to intervene if it chooses and it is tough to decide to give up that option. The left could also make an argument that massive nuclear proliferation and the possibility of a nuclear Islamic State are not part of the progressive future they imagined.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Actually I think the real biggest threat is probably that Iran gives nuclear weapons to one of its terrorist proxies…

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          There’s the pretty well publicized time where he went all “B-but what about the crusades?”, but he’s still sending the drones, so I’d guess it’s just base appeasing rethoric.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          >I’m gonna have to ask for a citation for this one.

          From the horse’s mouth http://www.c-span.org/video/?324188-1/2015-national-prayer-breakfast Circa 1:24.00 and that’s only incident out of many.

          Frankly, I suspect that you would be hard-pressed to argue that the Tumblr opinion in this case is not shared by the majority. Obama is is only Hawky if you compare him to Nobel peace Prize winners other than Yasser Arafat.

          • Nornagest says:

            What about Henry Kissinger?

            Cheap shots aside, okay, that’s the Crusades thing that Anonymous mentioned. But one instance does not establish a pattern; and even in that one instance, saying “okay, we’ve done some bad stuff too” is pretty anemic after literally calling ISIS a brutal death cult.

  3. multiheaded says:

    The Communists hated capitalism. They reacted by trying to make there be less capitalism.

    This is not exactly correct at all, in several ways.

    • Eli says:

      Oh? I never heard the Soviets were Accelerationists. Do tell!

      • Lightman says:

        The New Economic Policy was an explicit attempt to increase capitalism – albeit what Lenin called “state capitalism.”

        • Shenpen says:

          This is incredibly complex and also wrong. Summary:

          capitalism has two competing definitions:

          – free markets: yes the NEP was more capitalism, also more free markets and also less state. relatively. then stalin and war communism killed that.

          – employer-employee feudalism: then the whole system was state capitalism, and the NEP temporarily reduced that by making peasants less reliant on state and kolkhoz employment, allowing them more home farms

          • Lightman says:

            I am going to respond to your nitpicking with my own nitpicking: war communism didn’t killed the NEP; war communism as a policy was replaced by the NEP.

        • Tracy W says:

          As a temporary measure: Lenin called it a “strategic retreat”.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Is this one of those things where you tell us about how the Soviet Union was really capitalist? Why can’t anarchists use the same definitions as everyone else. You can’t define your way in to winning arguments.

      • wysinwyg says:

        Maybe you should ask for a clarification before jumping to conclusions about Multiheaded’s comment.

        From what I understand, many communists (including Marx?) viewed capitalism as a necessary stage on the way to the worker’s paradise. Marx seemed to think it was an improvement over feudalism (again, IIUC).

        “There are several ways in which communists did not hate capitalism” has approximately nothing to do with the claim that the Soviet Union was actually capitalist.

        • multiheaded says:

          Lenin in particular, in his 1917-1918 papers/letters/talks, really laid on the necessity of “solving the bourgeois development tasks” to make progress on building a new society; a great deal of the early Soviet rhetoric was all about dragging Russia through the five or so decades of capitalist-style intense modernization it was missing out on – in a non-market, centrally planned way, true. They needed to get through capitalism in a non-capitalist way, to go the already known route and not sideways.

          And the Soviets themselves in good faith saw the latest American industrial, infrastructural, etc innovations (including vast, towering concentrations of capital and production!) as fundamental to the might of advanced capitalist countries – the perception was, it all contributed more to the power and wealth of advanced capitalism than things like pricing mechanisms or the level of control over enterprise.

          To that end, they looked to France and Germany and (chiefly) America as superiors to appropriate and learn from, not just enemies to eventually overthrow.

  4. BD Sixsmith says:

    I’m baffled as to why Moldbug thought Muggeridge was your man. He was a fine polemicist but lacked any talent for conceptual thought. He was asked by William Buckley, for example, why he thought himself “a man of the left” and replied that he was “instinctively against authority and on the weaker side”. What did this entail? God knows. But it sounded nice.

    I think better examples of 20th Century conservative thought would be Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism, Oakeshott’s Rationalism in Politics or Kirk’s The Conservative Mind.

    …some sort of precautionary principle, like that before you make a change you should be sure it’s something that has worked before (like non-Stalinism) and not a totally new idea (like Stalinism).

    True. Also, it’s worth observing that sensible anti-communists had no intention of eliminating Stalinism as they had no means of overthrowing his government. Conservatives are as likely as liberals to find evil in the world but are less optimistic about its minimisation.

    • Shenpen says:

      Scruton…. I like him. People of a conservative mentality like him. But in that book he rambles about unimportant and irrelevant things, he has no sense of importance and priority. Like, against animal rights. Does that matter so much now? How about human crime? He just does not get it, he is a high class aesthete guy and just writes what he likes, not what is actually important.

      Theodore Dalrymple. Now he knows what matters.

      Oaekshott is a bit overly skeptical. He is too much of the individualist subset of the tradition which is already pre-liberal. Same for John Kekes. You would like him, I did, but too individualist.

      We, moderns, must focus on order. We face things like crime to the level of hostile militas practically. Oakeshott is for people who live in safe, 100% civilized, classic cities. Not for people who live on the battlefront of crime gangs. We need some order oriented writers.

      • BD Sixsmith says:

        Well, as a philosopher he specialises in aesthetics but human crime? Like the sexual trafficking he’s written a book about? Seems a bit unfair. Both he and Dalrymple know what is important but I grant that they don’t always know how to deal with it.

        (Is there a section of The Meaning of Conservatism that deals with animal rights? I’ve skimmed through copy, and the index, and I can’t find it.)

        I agree that Oakeshott was more relevant when the conservative disposition was enough to preserve societies but his critique of the rationalist mind is still important when it comes to arguing with people who imagine that all of our problems can be resolved theoretically.

        • Mary says:

          “Both he and Dalrymple know what is important but I grant that they don’t always know how to deal with it.”
          Who does?

        • 27chaos says:

          As an aside, if Scott wants to do any more controversial statistics things, he should definitely look into how terrible and inflated most of our numbers on sex trafficking are. I’m pretty sure that they are literally off the top of people’s heads estimates in a lot of cases. Some of the worst numbers ever. But many people who say so get yelled at for minimizing an important problem, even though accurately understanding problems is what’s necessary to actually solve them.

          • Protagoras says:

            When I encounter the BS statistics, I sometimes point it out. I usually don’t get yelled at.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Genuinely curious, do you have a link? I’m prepared to believe that the numbers are all wrong based on my general misanthropy and mistrust, but I should probably be able to back that up…

          • Cauê says:

            Glenn Kessler (the Washington Post’s Fact Checker) has a number of posts on the subject. The latest one has links to the rest.

      • “We, moderns, must focus on order. We face things like crime to the level of hostile militas practically. ”

        You might want to take a look at the historical data on murder rates, probably the best measured crime. Modern societies, even the U.S. (which has an anomalously high homicide rate, although the same is not true for other crimes), are safe relative not only to medieval Europe but to 19th century America.

        • You might want to take a look at the historical data on murder rates, probably the best measured crime. Modern societies, even the U.S. (which has an anomalously high homicide rate, although the same is not true for other crimes), are safe relative not only to medieval Europe but to 19th century America.

          Hear, hear. And perhaps relevant to the overarching topic. Ref Steven Pinker, the whole world has been getting steadily less violent. The last 50 years is the most peaceful half-century in all of human history. Whatever we’re doing, we’re getting better at it.

          Obviously past history is no guarantee of future performance, etc., but I’d rather be living today than in any past era.

          • Irenist says:

            Past history is indeed no guarantee of future performance. The economy seemed so great in the 1990’s that the likes of Greenspan thought the boom might not need to end. Instead, we got a very bad crash. Geopolitics since 1945 seems so great that the likes of Pinker think it might not need to end. But some dope shorting out some Soviet-vintage radar and thinking American ICBMs are coming for Putin could get us into WWIII tomorrow.

          • Geopolitics since 1945 seems so great that the likes of Pinker think it might not need to end.

            The trend of reduced violence around the world has been going on for hundreds of years. The unexpected half-century of historically unprecedented peace is only the most conspicuous manifestation.

            But some dope shorting out some Soviet-vintage radar and thinking American ICBMs are coming for Putin could get us into WWIII tomorrow.

            One guy could do a lot of damage, no question. Could he singlehandedly motivate countries to go to war? Only if he also wipes out channels of information and communications.

          • Irenist says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum:

            You’re quite right that, per Pinker, the trend is centuries old. I certainly hope he’s right. I just think there’s two possible ways to describe Pinker’s data:
            1. Violence is getting rarer per capita, even accounting for 20th c. wars and genocides.
            2. Violent incidents are getting rarer, but when they do happen, they’re doozies like the 20th c. wars and genocides, which probably means we’re due for one heck of a doozy any day now.

            I am completely agnostic as to whether 1 or 2 is correct, because I don’t personally see how the data can determine which is correct. (Although I’m happy to be told why it can by those more insightful than me.)

        • Publius Varinius says:

          Boy, SSC is starting to become repetitive.

          Technology marches on, fudging the murder rate, turning murder victims into mere violent-crime victims.

          The truth is that present-day UK is extremely unsafe compared to early 20th century UK.

          • Nita says:

            How about some metadata for that bitmap? Or at least the source?

          • anodognosic says:

            Those certainly are a lot of long red lines.

            Red means bad, right?

          • Publius Varinius says:

            @Nita: Source – the original NRx in a Nutshell article, written by our very own Scott Alexander.

          • Nita says:

            Thanks. So, here’s some metadata:

            (I’ve included only the change of “notifiable” — that is, counted in crime statistics — status of various events.)

            Householder permitting defilement of girls was ceased to be recorded in 1909
            Slave trade was ceased to be recorded in 1904 and resumed in 1907
            In 1923 Infanticide was introduced, combined with Manslaughter
            In 1930 Child Destruction became notifiable under classification code 4B
            The following changes were made in 1934:
            Theft of pedal cycle became notifiable under classification code 44.
            Theft from vehicles became notifiable under classification code 45
            Theft from automatic machines and meters was introduced under classification code 47
            Theft of vehicle became notifiable under classification code 48
            In 1955 extortion by threats to accuse classified as blackmail under classification code 35
            In 1956 the offence of causing death by dangerous driving became notifiablle under classification code 4C
            In 1961 suicide,aiding & abeting became notifiable under classification code 76
            The following changes were made in 1972:
            Criminal damage endangering life became notifiable
            Other criminal damage became notifiable
            Threat,etc. to commit criminal damage became notifiable
            Forgery or uttering drug prescription became notifiable
            Other forgery or uttering became notifiable
            From 1977 other criminal damage under £20 became notifiable
            From 1978 abstracting electricity became notifiable
            In 1978 pervering from the course of justice and absconding from the lawful custody became notifiable
            In 1979 kidnapping became notifiable under classification number 36
            In 1983 gross indecency with a child became notifiable under classification number 74
            In 1983 trafficking in control drugs became notifiable under classification number 77
            From Criminal Justice Act 1988 Assaults became no longer included in the notifiable offences.
            From 1992 causing death by aggravated vehicle taking became notifiable under classification number 37.1
            From 1992 aggravated vehicle taking became notifiable under classification 37.2
            In 1995 Rape of male became notifiable
            The following changes were made from 1 April 1998: the change to the Home Office Counting Rules for recorded crime had the effect of increasing the number of crimes counted. Numbers of offences for years before and after this date are therefore not directly comparable.
            “Cruelty or neglect of children” (11) became notifiable
            Assault on a constable” (104) became notifiable
            “Common assault” (105) became notifiable
            “Possession of controlled drugs” (92B) and “other drug offences” became notifiable
            A number of other offences, classification numbers 26, 55, 75, 78, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 89, 90, 91, 94, 126, 139, 802 and 814 became notifiable
            Racially aggravated offences became notifiable from 30.9.98
            “Abuse of position of trust” (73) became notifiable from 1.1.01

            Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/historical-crime-data , first file.

    • stillnotking says:

      Why would Moldbug recommend exemplars of 20th-century conservative thought? He sees 20th-century conservative thought as somewhere between irrelevant and perverse, the jealous maundering of the Outer Party.

    • Hemid says:

      I suspect he chose the book because it runs a highlighter over Scott’s astounding-yet-typical incapacity to “get” Moldbug (or “neoreaction” more generally).

      Give out copies of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, one each to, say, a random man on the street, a young Deleuzean, and an internet “rationalist.” Pretend they’ll read it. Street man’s reaction to the book might be something like, “I don’t know, I don’t get it. It seems kind of crazy and awful, but….” The young Deleuzean might experience a shock of recognition: “Oh, that’s where half the things I say came from. Hm. At school they just had me watch Claire Denis movies…” The rationalist, having hunted Nietzsche’s text for a recognizable-under-all-this-nonsense “argument” that he’s already got mentally categorized—along with its all its reductiones and refutations, all of which he knows under goofy sci-fi nicknames because his philosophical education begins with Mondo 2000 and ends in a Buzzfeed list of the ten stupidest TEDx talks—finds no familiar “argument” there and says, “It doesn’t seem to have a point.”

      A book like that—and Muggeridge’s is one, one with a real shard of the horror of the world stuck through it—is a test. Scott’s answer was “It doesn’t seem to have a point” and a couple Tumblr-style hatefully cute tweets.

      I guess it was either that or a hatefully cute sci-fi vignette with an allegory so heavy-handed Rod Serling would say, “Little bit thick, kid. I’ve seen comic books from the War Department that are like Joyce in comparison.”

      So, not the worst possible failure, but as an application for “critic of neoreaction,” it’s a resume printed on rainbow tie-dye origami paper with a high school graduation picture stapled to it.

      • 27chaos says:

        Do you actually have a point, or are you just going to insult Scott’s comprehension without actually explaining what it is that he’s perceived incorrectly or missed? Using analogies just to imply that you are much cleverer than everyone else is not good. Either show us what you think is so clever or go away.

      • buckwheastloaf says:

        >So, not the worst possible failure, but as an application for “critic of neoreaction,” it’s a resume printed on rainbow tie-dye origami paper with a high school graduation picture stapled to it.

        this made me lol

  5. Kudamm99 says:

    I’ve been astonished by statements made about postwar China, even recently. People seem to think the Cultural Revolution was some sort of coherent (dare I say it) “economic” policy, when it really was Mao’s choice of hot beverage on a given morning condemning thousands to their death.

    • ryan says:

      Really interesting post on the Cultural Revolution:

      http://abandonedfootnotes.blogspot.jp/2012/10/ten-thousand-melodies-cannot-express.html

      The tl/dr is love of everything Mao became the principle currency of loyalty signaling (which was how you got ahead in Communist China). After a time a sort of hyperinflation in the currency kicked in. So an ambassador gives Mao a mango as a gift. The next day if you don’t have a mango on hand to show just how loyal you are to Mao, you might get shipped out to the countryside to starve eating the bones of your children, so you make goddamn sure you have your mango.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Really? Where do you see people say that? I’ve seen people praise the Cultural Revolution and call it coherent, but never an economic policy. There’s a reason it has “Cultural” in the name.

    • Michael Watts says:

      As I understand it, the Great Leap Forward was an economic policy (self-consciously so, even), and was also what caused the famine killing tens of millions of hapless Chinese. The Cultural Revolution, later, was how Mao got back into power after being forced out in the wake of the Great Leap Forward. Fitting the name, it was just a bunch of ultra-radicalist rhetoric on the theme of trashing any remnant of pre-Mao society and starting over, newer and better, without intellectuals and landlords unfairly being better off than beggars.

      That and, of course, chronic terrifying murder sprees. But no mass starvation. :/

    • walpolo says:

      Zizek is very into the Cultural Revolution. It’s complete madness.

      • ddreytes says:

        Zizek should probably not be taken seriously, as a general rule

        (for a certain value of serious, at least)

  6. Buckyballas says:

    The problem when arises when the contrarians are charismatic and popular enough to turn significant popular opinion against an establishment idea which happens to be correct or for an anti-establishment idea which happens to be wrong.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      I’ve always thought of this as the role of the Constitution (and more generally, the increasing difficulties at repealing certain types of law).

      Let’s say that I am an insanely charismatic political leader.

      It takes me 2 years to get control of the house, 4 years to get control of the Presidency, and (assuming that I’m not getting 80% of the offices or some such) 6 years to get a majority of the Senate. Without all 3, I can’t pass laws.

      At that point, I still can’t go unconstitutional. To do that, I need to get a 2/3rds majority in the House/Senate AND 37 state legislatures, or wait a decade of 2 for enough Supreme Court justices to die off that my mere majority can get things done.

      And at a certain point, if you’ve managed to fool well over half the population for significant fractions of a human lifetime, I’m willing to grant that maybe you have a point. Or at least that if everyone’s that much of an idiot for that long, they deserve what’s coming to them.

      • John Schilling says:

        It didn’t take Andrew Jackson six years to ethnically cleanse Georgia, nor for FDR to impose the New Deal. Enforcement of the U.S. Constitution has been left almost entirely to the Supreme Court, which has no power save the general perception of its legitimacy. A sufficiently charismatic leader with a sufficiently popular cause could simply ignore or marginalize it.

        If you want to do it by the book, you can have congress impeach the recalcitrant justices, and if the Senate insists on voting against impeachment any competent Attorney General ought to be able to cook up a corruption scandal that gets a couple dozen Senators indicted for felonies.

        The Constitution offers partial protection against creeping tyranny; it does little against the charismatic hero on the white horse who comes promising to cut through the red tape and clean out the corruption in the upper reaches of government.

        • Gallabytes says:

          Your “charismatic hero on the white horse who comes promising to cut through the red tape and clean out the corruption in the upper reaches of government” sounds worryingly like a certain wispy-haired presidential contender. Or a certain other wispy-haired presidential contender, for that matter.

          • LHN says:

            Would-be presidents often sound like that. More rarely, they even get elected. But the system is actually pretty good at tying them up and restraining the more extreme flights of fancy. Even the New Deal was pretty limited compared with the economic and political changes being implemented in contemporary countries. (And the Roosevelt administration had to face clockwork elections to ratify what it was doing, where even the UK just stopped having them for ten years. And then implemented a far more sweeping program than the New Deal as soon as Labour got its innings.)

            Constitutional government and separation of powers aren’t a guarantee of anything, but they are sand in the gears of sweeping radical changes.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s always room for one of those on each wing of the American political spectrum, and they’ll always have millions of cheering followers if and when the TV cameras are focused their way.

            Fortunately it takes on the order of a hundred million quiet supporters to actually win the presidency.

          • B says:

            Or like you-know-who.

            http://28sherman.blogspot.hk/2014/08/unified-theory-on-watergate.html

            Turns out, the small-c constitution of the US is amazingly good at dealing with such situations. The system abides, that’s why it’s the system. The Constitution wasn’t good at it, hence Lincoln (no exit) to FDR (no audible voice).

            Corollary: Either internet censorship is coming or the Cathedral has, for better or worse[1], lost the mandate of heaven.

            [1] While I’m certainly righter-than-thou I’ve no real hankering for the zombie apocalypse, outside of pure moments of blind rage (grooming gangs etc). Violent chaos comes with turbulent system change, and violent chaos is bad for introverted nerds. I think it’s coming, though.

        • Wrong Species says:

          The “general perception of it’s legitimacy” is pretty powerful though. Any president who declared war against the Supreme Court is not going to win(in this day and age anyways).

          • Anonymous says:

            One of those wispy-haired contenders that Gallabytes mentioned is coming pretty close to declaring war against the Supreme Court over Citizens United.

      • Randy M says:

        The constitution exists to show you what tyranny will look like in its less obvious form. It can’t, in itself, really do must to hinder it.

    • Machine Interface says:

      If the fabric of society is determined by who is the most charismatic person, then society has a deeper problem than the possibility that someone who is very wrong might sometimes also be very charismatic.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        Welcome to the party.

      • anodognosic says:

        Like how the abrupt realization that markets are efficient is the first step to libertarianism? Or how realizing that markets have serious shortcomings is the first step to socialism? Or how the abrupt realization that the interests of government officials frequently do not align with those of the population is the first step to anarchism? Or how the abrupt realization that cultural institutions undergo an evolutionary process and often support human flourishing is the first step to conservatism? Or how the abrupt realization that cultural institutions can cause widespread misery is the first step to progressivism? etc etc ad infinitum.

        Most ideologies are built around a core truth. If realizing that truth led you all the way to the strongest formulation of the ideology, political philosophy would be one hell of an ideological rollercoaster.

        • Raph L says:

          I just wanted to say, this is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. It’s like a long, thoughtful think piece that’s just been highly condensed.

        • Dots says:

          I want to apologize because I clicked “report comment”, with the expectation that I was going to be able to submit a report that said “too good”, because I thought that would be funny to do, and because I think your comment made me a lot smarter

          I am sorry, smart philosopher

  7. Steve Johnson says:

    The one thing I can be really sure of is that Muggeridge doesn’t want us to get stuck again in the same position we were in during the 30s and 40s where we totally ignored Stalin’s crimes due to our own political biases. Okay. I respect that. It was really eye-opening seeing exactly how brainwashed the entire European, British, and American Left were, and the whole situation gave me a lot more respect for how overwhelmingly the Question of Communism dominated intellectual and political life in the first half of the century.

    Everything you take as evidence on contemporary questions would say that the Guardian was right about communism under Stalin. After all, other publications agree with them and there are no credible dissenting voices. Communism isn’t a unique matter.

    The problem that MM is helpfully reminding you of is an epistemological one – not a communist specific one. The entire apparatus that acted as a semi-centralized conspiracy (where some people were actual Soviet agents and others just did what they could for the cause out of ideological zeal) was dedicated to deception in favor of communism still exists as a decentralized conspiracy.

    As for Muggeridge? I’m not sure he has much to teach there. Yes, he deserves the thanks of a grateful civilization for being a lone voice in the wilderness warning us about Stalin. But after that, as per his Wikipedia page, he was a lone voice in the wilderness warning us about marijuana; after that, he became a lone voice in the wilderness warning us about contraception. After that, he became a lone voice in the wilderness warning us that The Life Of Brian was blasphemous.

    Don’t be so sure he’s wrong about birth control, marijuana and The Life of Brian either.

    • Shenpen says:

      Bingo – Scott is taking the insider view: what mistakes should the Western elites stop making? MM meant the outsider view: due to so huge mistakes and or dishonesty, don’t trust these elites.

    • Anonymous` says:

      Are you trying to claim that Scott’s positions on birth control, marijuana, and free speech vs. blasphemy are due to unquestioning acceptance of elite dogma?

    • Folder Tunne says:

      I second the notion that something is wrong with contraception. It fundamentally changed something that our institutions, culture, morality, and laws were not equipped to deal with. This change, by the way, is a very recent thing; something people have totally forgotten.

    • Pnevmatico says:

      > Don’t be so sure he’s wrong about birth control, marijuana and The Life of Brian either.

      Muggeridge was not some enlightened Buddha. He was surely wrong about a thing or two as errare humanum est.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Well, I guess I’d say he wasn’t wrong about Life of Brian being blasphemous, but he was wrong about that being a problem worth worrying about. Any right of freedom of speech / freedom of conscience worth a damn has to include a right to think and express view that other people find blasphemous, and in any case, it is very important that people who take their religions more seriously than the evidence in favour of those religions be reminded of how weak the claims are – and in the case of manifestly silly claims, it is important that satirists be able to point out the silliness. Otherwise we end up with members of the religious majority feeling entitled to invoke state coercion against people whose viewpoint they don’t like.

      The extreme case is places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and it is unlikely that my own corner of the world is likely to revert to those sorts of shenanigans, but any attempt to privilege the position of a religious viewpoint at the expense of non-religious or rival-religious viewpoints is at best a violation of the ‘bad argument gets counterargument; does not get bullet’ principle, and is at worst an open opportunity for the stronger tribe to kick members of weaker tribes for the hell of it.

      TL;DR: if you think that Muggeridge wasn’t wrong about wanting to object to a work of satire on grounds of blasphemy (rather than, say, being factually mistaken about what it was satirising, or being just plain bad satire), then that position really needs defending.

      As regards cannabis – I am not quite sure what his position on cannabis was. It is one thing to support the idea that using cannabis is less than optimal for one’s health, and that one shouldn’t do so if one is concerned to take best care of oneself. It very much another thing to support criminal penalties for the use and/or sale of cannabis. We have by now got some good reasons to believe that the criminalisation of the cannabis industry causes much more harm than cannabis itself would under a sensibly regulated legal regime. Certainly our host, trying to be as fair-minded as possible, does not consider cannabis criminalisation to be beneficial on net. What is Muggeridge’s specific policy proposal on cannabis, and if his position is prohibitionist, are you prepared to actually defend that?

      • I haven’t read Muggeridge, but he presumably could have held that the popularity of Life of Brian was evidence of something wrong with the society, whether or not he believed it should have been suppressed. Similarly with marijuana.

        • Steve Johnson says:

          The popularity of Life of Brian is easy to explain without it being a sign of a sick society – it’s funny and silly.

          It’s also corrosive. By being amusing but eating away at the common basis of a culture that allows a high trust equilibrium – in libertarian terms it’s chock full of “externalities”.

          • mico says:

            I’m not sold on the benefits of Christianity. Moldbug identified progressivism as the Protestant reformation, but I think that’s just because that is where the opinion record provided by google books cuts out. Progressivism is Christianity.

            Muggeridge is part of a group of reactionaries (including e.g. Waugh) for whom catholicism was the biggest palatable reversion, but they hadn’t traced the source.

  8. John Sidles says:

    Resolved for purposes of debate  SSL readers attracted to rationality, effective altruism, history, and higher mathematics will gain *far* more insights — and more good-humored enjoyment too — from Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty (2010) and Unapologetic (2013) than from Muggeridge’s now-outdated corpus.

    Example  A recommended example of Spufford’s cogent style is his on-line introduction to the work of Soviet mathematician/ur-effective altruist Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich

    • Eli says:

      It always strikes me: why do all these “intellectuals” with their Deeply Wise, Meta-Levelly Rational defenses of mainline Christianity never pick Judaism or Islam as the One True Religion? You would think that an unbiased, rational, meta-level-loving, object-level-hating Philosophy Student of Perfect Emptiness would have to place roughly equivalent priors on each of these faiths, or at least, damn near equal priors on Judaism and Islam (being more similar to each-other), and then some roughly similar prior on Christianity (divided among the sects), and then some other prior on Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism, etc.

      But instead, what we always see are Deeply Wise, Meta-Level Rational defenses of small-c conservative Christianity in its mainstream American forms.

      Something tells me that we are not dealing here with Perfect Philosophy Students of Perfect Emptiness.

      • John Sidles says:

        Eli, perhaps Spufford’s prose will help to mitigate your rancor:

        Red Plenty in Hindsight

        I want people to laugh (among other things) as they read it [Red Plenty].

        But I don’t want them to laugh comfortably, from a position of comfortable superiority, snickering at the deluded inhabitants of the past.

        I want, I hope for, the nervous laughter of fellow-feeling. We should laugh like what we are: people whom the observers of 2060 will be able to see are naively going about our business beneath our own monstrous overhang of consequences.

        Whatever it is.

        Spufford’s theological essays in Unapologetic similarly are forward-looking … rather in the enlightening tradition of Fred Rogers than the curmudgeonly (even maggot-afflicted?) tradition of Malcom Muggeridge.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        Yeah!

        And why do these “intellectuals” with their Deeply Wise, Meta-Levelly Rational defenses of [well-established true thing] never pick [false thing], either? You would think that an unbiased, rational, meta-level-loving, object-level-hating Philosophy Student of Perfect Emptiness would have to place roughly equivalent priors on everything, right? How come these supposedly “smart”, rational people always end up at this same place?

        You are bad at meta. ಠ_ಠ

        • Eli says:

          Well, the thing is, I am deliberately “bad at meta”, in the sense that the “meta-level reasoning” you’re endorsing is the opposite of proper hierarchical Bayesian reasoning. The very basic principles of hierarchical Bayes (since we’re in Bayesfriendland right now) instruct us that successful meta-level hypotheses are not formed by starting from perfect emptiness, arguing (let alone claiming things to be “self-evident”), and then seeking for ways to fit object-level data and hypotheses into our meta-level ideology, but instead only by accumulating large amounts of object-level observations, noticing a pattern in them, abstracting out that pattern as a generalization, and then seeing how well the generalization performs as an abstract hypothesis (a hypothesis on which our object-level hypotheses are conditioned) when presented with our large amounts of object-level evidence for object-level hypotheses.

          So I can’t help but ask, is this “meta” that’s so popular in SSC comments a kind of intentionally bad philosophy-student reasoning, or just an innocent mistake by people who’ve never heard of hierarchical Bayes?

          And why do these “intellectuals” with their Deeply Wise, Meta-Levelly Rational defenses of [well-established true thing] never pick [false thing], either?

          Except that Christianity of any form is not a well-established true thing. It isn’t even really a false thing. It’s an ostensible “belief” that completely fails to pay rent in anticipated experiences. All the expected experiences generated by Christian belief fall into two categories:

          * Those more easily explicable via some other hypothesis, such as “You feel a kind of Deep Cosmic Serenity when you pray because certain forms of music, atmosphere and intonation generate Deep Cosmic Serenity feelings,” which is actually a verified fact. In fact, it’s why neopagans and “postrationalists” can get anything emotional out of their deliberately made-up rituals: the fact of having a ritual affects people without the content having to map reality at all.

          * Those which are straightforwardly falsified, such as miraculous healings, prayers to saints being fulfilled, etc.

          And then there’s the fact that most of the time, religion and its apologists just sit there making excuses for failing to pay rent in anticipated experiences.

          It’s not just wrong. It’s not even wrong.

          So I genuinely expect that a rational individual, reasoning without bias and understanding their own psychology (eg: that the map is not the territory, etc.), will and should never end up a Christian, or religious in any way.

          The correct answer was strong naturalism and, along with it, atheism with respect to established religions. Sorry.

          • Deiseach says:

            EVERYBODY WILL BE ATHEIST OR ELSE! ANYTHING ELSE IS THOUGHT-ERROR!

            This totally neutral, bias-free, friendly recommendation brought to you by the representatives of independent free thought and making up your own mind on what you choose to accept or reject because you and you alone are the authority to tell you what to do.

            I already have one pope, I’ll stick with him, thanks 🙂

          • Eli says:

            I’m sorry, is this the Cult of Bayes or have I gone into the wrong room?

            I don’t give half a shit if you “confess” your “sins” to a “priest” every Sunday or not. I care that you constrain your anticipated experiences according to evidence, and form generalizations which accord with the evidence and further constrain your anticipated experiences.

            And no, you do not get to make anti-authoritarian meta-arguments for object-level magical thinking, because neither I nor anyone else can exempt you from the laws of reasoning.

          • Troy says:

            So I genuinely expect that a rational individual, reasoning without bias and understanding their own psychology (eg: that the map is not the territory, etc.), will and should never end up a Christian, or religious in any way.

            Do you really believe this, or are you being hyperbolic? (This is a serious question, I can’t tell.) Do you really think that the ~30% of contemporary scientists who are Christians are thereby irrational, to say nothing of the majority of great scientists throughout history who were Christians?

          • Mary says:

            “Those which are straightforwardly falsified, such as miraculous healings, prayers to saints being fulfilled, etc.”

            Prove it.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Do you really think that the ~30% of contemporary scientists who are Christians are thereby irrational, to say nothing of the majority of great scientists throughout history who were Christians?”

            Yes. Do you think people holding religions other than your own are rational?

            “Prove it.”

            Burden of proof is on the claim maker. Nothing has stood up. And the existence of miracle claims in all religions makes it quite doubtful.

          • Troy says:

            Do you think people holding religions other than your own are rational?

            Some of them. Scott, for example, is probably in the >99th percentile of rationality, and he’s not a Christian.

            Edit: not sure if you meant to include atheism under “religions other than your own.” Either way, sure, for some threshold of rationality and some religion there is almost certainly some member of that religion that meets that threshold.

          • 27chaos says:

            I’ve never actually seen anyone in real life bite the bullet and say that Christianity is evidence of irrationality. Cool. Now I’m considering biting the bullet myself. I’m probably more inclined towards meta-atheism though: the belief that few people “actually” believe in God, and instead people just claim that they do while acting in a way that implies they probably don’t.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Do you think people holding religions other than your own are rational?

            It is a very great mistake to equate “rational” with “correct.”

          • Mary says:

            “Burden of proof is on the claim maker. ”

            Yup. Therefore the burden of proof on the one who asserted, ““Those which are straightforwardly falsified, such as miraculous healings, prayers to saints being fulfilled,”

            Furthermore if you can’t easily and readily do so, you are refuted because you explicitly said straightforwardly — which requires said proof to be easy and obvious.

          • John Sidles says:

            Eli opines  “You do not get to make anti-authoritarian meta-arguments for object-level magical thinking, because neither I nor anyone else can exempt you from the laws of reasoning.”

            Question  Can any amount of volitional reasoning compensate for an objectively deficient capacity to read the mind in the eyes?

            Informal Observation  The practices associated to unprogrammed worship, pursued conscientiously over months and years, act cumulatively so as to markedly augment this capacity.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Troy

            Is it really that arrogant to believe that those 30% of scientists(assuming that’s accurate) have a blindspot when it comes to religion? I think everyone has something that they are irrational about, whether it’s politics or religion or whatever. The thing is when I hear someone explain why they became a christian, I have not once heard someone say “Well I looked at all the evidence and then after some deliberation I concluded that the Protestant Christian God exists because of X”. It’s usually more like “I used to be an atheist but then I had this experience with God and became religious”. Who has become a christian without either being raised that way or having a spiritual experience?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Either way, sure, for some threshold of rationality and some religion there is almost certainly some member of that religion that meets that threshold.”

            Than we start talking about rational communists and rational scientologists. Lets bite the bullet- you believe in factual things that are irrational, we get to label you irrational.

            “It is a very great mistake to equate “rational” with “correct.””

            If you agree they are rational, you are essentially admitting you’d hold their religious views in their place. That’s sort of a big deal when it comes to a belief system that justifies itself on faith.

            “Yup. Therefore the burden of proof on the one who asserted, ““Those which are straightforwardly falsified, such as miraculous healings, prayers to saints being fulfilled,”

            Furthermore if you can’t easily and readily do so, you are refuted because you explicitly said straightforwardly — which requires said proof to be easy and obvious.”

            If only I said why in my statement. You know maybe something like

            “Burden of proof is on the claim maker. Nothing has stood up. And the existence of miracle claims in all religions makes it quite doubtful.”

            Its too bad I didn’t say something like that in the post you responded to. It certainly could have saved us the trouble of me repeating myself.

            I’ll highlight the important part, the only part you didn’t respond to.

            “And the existence of miracle claims in all religions makes it quite doubtful”

          • Troy says:

            Is it really that arrogant to believe that those 30% of scientists(assuming that’s accurate) have a blindspot when it comes to religion?

            This is going to turn into Eli-exegesis, which might be unproductive, but I read Eli as saying something stronger than that Christian belief is irrational, even if the Christian believer is on the whole rational. What he said was, “I genuinely expect that a rational individual, reasoning without bias and understanding their own psychology (eg: that the map is not the territory, etc.), will and should never end up a Christian, or religious in any way.” I read this as saying that someone who is generally rational in their belief-forming processes etc. could never become a Christian — that Christianity is so obviously wrong that a reasonably sensible, rational person would immediately see it for the nonsense it is. That’s the claim that struck me as absurdly strong.

            Incidentally, I think it’s probably too strong to even say that every person who believes [thing I do not believe] “has a blindspot” about [that thing]. Some people might have different evidence than I do, and there’s nothing irrational about having different beliefs on the basis of different evidence.

            (And yes, that number is accurate: http://www.unzcloud.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Scientists-and-Belief-2.png)

            The thing is when I hear someone explain why they became a christian, I have not once heard someone say “Well I looked at all the evidence and then after some deliberation I concluded that the Protestant Christian God exists because of X”. It’s usually more like “I used to be an atheist but then I had this experience with God and became religious”. Who has become a christian without either being raised that way or having a spiritual experience?

            Well, first, I would dispute the claim that religious experience cannot be evidence. I would also dispute the claim that the options you’re describing are mutually exclusive — that someone who has a religious experience or was raised Christian can’t look at all the evidence and conclude that Christianity is probably true. I had a professor in undergrad who had a religious experience while an atheist, and then looked into all the major world religions (including spending a year in a Buddhist monastery) and decided that Christianity made the most sense. On a more personal level, although I was raised Christian, I have done my best to examine the evidence for and against Christianity and have become much more firmly convinced in the truth of Christianity as a result. If my study of the historicity of the New Testament had led me to believe that there was no good historical evidence for the miraculous claims of Christianity, I would not be a Christian.

            At any rate, there have been people who converted from atheism to Christianity without a spiritual experience. They may be hard to identify because of the vagueness of “spiritual experience” and because of our corresponding lack of knowledge of their personal lives, but Malcolm Muggeridge, subject of this post, may well be an example. G.E.M. Anscombe and Edward Feser also come to mind; both had intellectual conversions from reading Christian writers. Francis Collins reports becoming a Christian after studying the cosmological evidence and reading C.S. Lewis. Several writers became Christian after studying the historical evidence for Christianity, such as John Warwick Montgomery, Lee Strobel, and David Limbaugh. I also semi-frequently read articles chronicling intellectual converts, usually in college, linked by apologist Facebook friends. The only name I can remember from those articles right now is Laura Keynes (relative of John Maynard Keynes and Charles Darwin), but I have seen several others.

          • J. Quinton says:

            “It is a very great mistake to equate “rational” with “correct.””

            Indeed. I tend to think of religion from a sociological perspective. In that sense, religion is less like science — which is concerned with making accurate predictions about an indifferent world — and more like language or moral intuitions (though in actual human minds it probably falls in some nebulous middle layer), concerned with relationships between people.

            If everyone you know and love spoke English, it would be irrational to start speaking another language. This is an extreme example of what being non-religious in a majority-religious family/town/city/country *can* be like, but then again a lot of former religious people have had their lives upended in similar ways by losing spouses, friends, jobs, etc when they became non-believers.

            Another reason I use the language analogy is that knowing someone’s native language is good Bayesian evidence for what religion they are.

            So yeah, it’s not all that surprising that ~30% of scientists are religious. Humans are social animals, so those scientists probably have people they love who are religious.

          • Troy says:

            Than we start talking about rational communists and rational scientologists. Lets bite the bullet- you believe in factual things that are irrational, we get to label you irrational.

            Okay, then no one is rational, and the label becomes meaningless.

            If you agree they are rational, you are essentially admitting you’d hold their religious views in their place.

            This is too quick. “S’s belief that P is rational” does not imply that I ought also to believe P, because I might have different evidence from S. For example, one could argue that Tycho Brahe’s system was more rational to believe than Copernicus’s given then-available scientific evidence, without committing oneself to the claim that we ought to be Tychonians today.

          • Troy writes: “Do you really think that the ~30% of contemporary scientists who are Christians are thereby irrational”

            Read the essays linked below, then explain to me how any physicist can rationally believe in the notion of life after death — specifically, that human minds have at their core some sort of “spirit” that survives death. Any such “spirit matter” would have to interact with electrons… and it would have been detected by now.

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2008/02/18/telekinesis-and-quantum-field-theory/

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/

          • Troy says:

            Read the essays linked below, then explain to me how any physicist can rationally believe in the notion of life after death — specifically, that human minds have at their core some sort of “spirit” that survives death. Any such “spirit matter” would have to interact with electrons… and it would have been detected by now.

            I read the second and skimmed the first. I don’t think Carroll is right that “the physics of everyday life” are completely understood, for reasons relevant to this discussion: they can’t explain consciousness, which is something that all of us directly observe in our own experience of the world.

            As to your more specific argument against dualism, it is not at all clear to me why a causally efficacious immaterial mind, if it exists, would have already been detected by scientific observation of the brain. The most that seems plausible is that if the laws governing the universe were deterministic, then if we could examine in every last detail the brain and its environment, we could detect differences between interactionist dualism and causally closed materialism. Perhaps we would even be likely to be able to do the same given stable indeterministic laws, as in some interpretations of quantum mechanics. But clearly we cannot examine the brain and its environment in such detail, and so I don’t see why it’s such a sure thing that we’d have observed whatever difference dualism makes to the workings of the brain.

            At any rate, if you really think dualism is inconsistent with science, there are Christian materialists, like Peter van Inwagen, who think they can square materialism with the general resurrection. I don’t find their theories especially plausible, but that is an option.

          • Irenist says:

            @Kevin S. van Horn:

            I admire Sean Carroll, a lot, as both a physics popularizer and an apologist for naturalism who actually LISTENS to religious arguments rather than just snarking at them (e.g., I thought Carroll easily won his debate with WL Craig), but Carroll loses me right away with the title “the laws of physics are …” because I think the concept of “laws” is either parasitic on a non-naturalist metaphysics, or just a matter of “observed regularities” that are then a “brute fact” rather than an explanation. Here’s Feser’s argument on that:
            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/07/carroll-on-laws-and-causation.html

            ETA: Of course, if the non-naturalistic explanation involves formal and final causality (and the right way IMHO to cash out “laws” is as systematic observations of “dispositions and powers” that are finally caused), then the physicist can believe in an immortal immaterial soul (which is the form of the rational animal body) without facing any interaction problem whatsoever.

            ETA2: Indeed, given that on a naturalist account, physics is brute and logic/math is merely the conceptual apparatus we happen to have evolved, the question IMHO is whether naturalism can be rational. Sure, it can be warranted, given what a given naturalist knows, etc. But what I specifically mean here is that a naturalist account cannot defeat the “Argument from Reason” (google it if you’ve never heard of it), and so either surrenders naturalism, or rationality itself.

            ETA3: @J Quinton:
            Perhaps religious scientists are only religious because they have religious loved ones, just as speaking English makes sense in an Anglophone milieu. But that sociological argument cuts both ways: Perhaps the majority of scientists and philosophers who are atheists has more to do with their being in a milieu where atheism is high status than it does with the quality of the arguments.

          • Urstoff says:

            Indeed, Humeanism, where there are no laws, just particularized facts, is gaining popularity in philosophy of physics.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Okay, then no one is rational, and the label becomes meaningless.”

            What makes you say no one is rational? Not believing in magic (except for exceptions for your pet belief) is a very low bar.

            “This is too quick. “S’s belief that P is rational” does not imply that I ought also to believe P, because I might have different evidence from S.”


            Look at what you are quoting
            “If you agree they are rational, you are essentially admitting you’d hold their religious views in their place. ”

            What do you think “in their place” refers to?

            “they can’t explain consciousness, which is something that all of us directly observe in our own experience of the world.”

            Taboo the word and the answer becomes a lot clearer.

            “it is not at all clear to me why a causally efficacious immaterial mind, if it exists, would have already been detected by scientific observation of the brain.”

            Because we have people who have had metal rods shoved into their brain and have changed personality. We can alter your goal system by electrical current into the reward center. Its clear that those systems take place inside the physical brain- what exactly is left for the soul?

            “there are Christian materialists, like Peter van Inwagen, who think they can square materialism with the general resurrection. I don’t find their theories especially plausible, but that is an option.”

            Squaring materialism with general resurrection is easy. God just brings people back to life by punching holes in time between when they ‘died’ and the present.

            ” but Carroll loses me right away with the title “the laws of physics are …” because I think the concept of “laws” is either parasitic on a non-naturalist metaphysics, or just a matter of “observed regularities” that are then a “brute fact” rather than an explanation. ”

            Just plug in “everything we’ve been able to observe about reality and use to make testable predictions”.

          • anodognosic says:

            @Irenist

            I fully reject the argument from reason. I’m not sure how good of a naturalist I am, but I think it fails to refute it anyway.

            According to Lewis, “unless Reason is an absolute–all is in ruins.” But I don’t think Reason is an absolute at all. Reason, in my best estimation, is a mishmash of mental models that have varying degrees of applicability. Naturalism has a plausible enough account of how these came to be – an evolutionary process bringing these models to a point where they’re just good enough. This seems to conform rather well with the evidence.

            (If you point to the apparent order of the universe as some sort of proof, I’d put to you that the universe being ordered may be an extremely surprising fact – but, just like the possibility of existence and nonexistence of alien life, its opposite would be equally surprising.)

            But in the end, there is nothing that guarantees that any is correct – and there is no ultimate response to skepticism. Does that mean that everything is in ruins? I don’t know. But if it is, it was never *not* in ruins, and can never be, even if you find religion.

            Contra Western philosophical tendencies, I think we must – and invariably do – live in a state of suspended disbelief and perpetual uncertainty, a sort of fractal understanding. It seems so clear to me that the idea of absolute Reason seems like a quaint artifact of bygone days – or would, if people didn’t insist on still taking it seriously.

          • Troy says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            What makes you say no one is rational?

            Because everyone, or almost everyone at any rate, believes in “factual things that are irrational.” For example, let’s suppose that there are 100 empirical, politically charged matters about which everyone has an opinion, and that disagreements about these are not based primarily on different evidence bases. I expect you’ll agree that the party-line progressive or party-line conservative package of views are not going to be the correct ones. This already cuts out a huge swath of the population from being rational. Maybe Scott Alexander or some other saint of rationality has the view most supported by the evidence on all 100 of these issues, but that seems pretty doubtful.

            More simply, it’s really, really hard to always follow the evidence and never let biases influence you. That’s the whole point of the rationality movement. If “rational” means “perfectly rational,” then no one is rational just like no one is moral if that means that they’ve never done something wrong.

            Look at what you are quoting
            “If you agree they are rational, you are essentially admitting you’d hold their religious views in their place. ”

            What do you think “in their place” refers to?

            My apologies; I read too quickly.

            Because we have people who have had metal rods shoved into their brain and have changed personality.

            This is fully consistent with interactionist dualism, which posits an interaction between mind and brain, including from brain to mind.

            @anodognosic

            If you point to the apparent order of the universe as some sort of proof, I’d put to you that the universe being ordered may be an extremely surprising fact – but, just like the possibility of existence and nonexistence of alien life, its opposite would be equally surprising.

            If I recall correctly, Roger Penrose estimates the probability that the entropy at the beginning of the universe would be as low as it was by chance as less than 1 in 10^(10^100).

          • anodognosic says:

            @Troy one does wonder out of which cosmic orifice Penrose pulled the priors for that probability calculation.

            Or is he doing a frequentist analysis on the origin of the universe?

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            Just plug in “everything we’ve been able to observe about reality and use to make testable predictions”.

            Nature is (testably) predictable because it exhibits regularity. Either this is because it obeys divine “laws” (as Newton believed), because the orderliness of nature is just an inexplicable brute fact (as the neo-Humeans Urstoff mentioned believe) or because nature is composed of entities with intrinsic dispositions and powers (as us neo-Aristotelians believe). Telling me to replace the Newtonian word “laws” with the entirely Humean formulation “everything we’ve been able to observe about reality and use to make testable predictions” does nothing to save Carroll from Feser’s trilemma (Newtonian occasionalism, Humean obscurantism, or Aristotelian fourfold causality). “Observed regularities,” like “laws of nature,” is just “giving it a name.” Why is nature regular, orderly, law-like?

            @anodognosic:
            The analytical Thomist G.E.M. Anscombe made short work of Lewis’ layman’s formulation of the Argument. A better-worked out version, under the name “the Evolutionary argument against naturalism,” may be found in the books discussed in the Wikipedia article with that title.
            It’s understandable you’d think I meant the Lewis formulation (most people do), but the Plantinga is far more rigorous (as you’d expect), and I commend it to your attention.

            Contra Western philosophical tendencies, I think we must – and invariably do – live in a state of suspended disbelief and perpetual uncertainty, a sort of fractal understanding. It seems so clear to me that the idea of absolute Reason seems like a quaint artifact of bygone days – or would, if people didn’t insist on still taking it seriously.

            That’s a very strong position, and one to which I’m very sympathetic. However, I think it’s ultimately vulnerable to the method of retorsion: if reason is too flawed a tool to give us anything more certain than degrees of probability of the sort LW favors, then your own argument can never be more than probable. Worse, if you think that our “perpetual uncertainty” extends to things like whether the external world exists, or whether the laws of logic work, then the argument is vulnerable to a retortive reductio (i.e., it’s self-refuting), whereas if our uncertainty doesn’t extend to (a) the existence of a changing world and (b) the laws of logic, then you’ve admitted enough certainty to give someone like Aquinas all the premises he needs for his arguments.

          • Troy says:

            one does wonder out of which cosmic orifice Penrose pulled the priors for that probability calculation.

            As I understand it, 10^(10^123) (I just looked up the exact number) is the volume of the phase space of theoretically possible universes with low enough initial entropy for life to be possible. This gives us a probability of our universe being like this given that it was not designed if we assume a flat distribution over the space of possible universes.

            If you want to assign some other distribution (e.g., giving higher probabilities to lower-entropy universes on grounds of simplicity or something like that), unless it has a rather ridiculously large peak over the actual universe, it seems it will still give you an extremely low probability of a universe like ours arising by chance.

          • Troy says:

            @Irenist: What version of Plantinga’s argument do you like? The original one or the more recent one based on philosophy-of-mind-ish considerations? Both seem like pretty poor arguments to me.

          • anodognosic says:

            @Irenist instead of addressing you point by point, I’m going to try to build a coherent picture of what I believe, and hopefully the points of divergence will become clear.

            I depart from the study of metaphor and meaning, through linguistics and cognitive science. The impossibility of precise definition is evident to me – our categorizations are inherently fuzzy. This already puts me at odds with most of Western philosophy, because it casts some serious doubt on the ability of logic to yield ironclad conclusions about the world.

            Our abstract reasoning emerges from our concrete, largely visual imagination, and is largely restricted to a relatively small number of (mostly spatial) relations (image schemas is the technical term). It seems quite plausible that this is the result of evolution – existing sensorimotor capabilities repurposed for abstract thought. This casts some more doubt on logic, this time on a priori reasoning – because a priori reasoning might just be building on these intuitive models, which are only approximations. Western philosophy tends to assume certainty or bust, so there’s another point of diversion. In fact, I tend to consider the whole philosophical concept of knowledge a complete fantasy, some idealized approximation of how a belief really works.

            Anyone who has a dog or cat may easily observe that the animal has some rudimentary capacity to make predictions at test them – a cat that sees an animated fish on an iPad screen, for instance, will try to get at the fish behind it, and then will eventually stop after repeatedly failing to find it. We can infer from this that some sort of learning is going on. Human knowledge builds on that same capacity, bolstered by a much higher capacity for abstraction.

            An evolutionary process of trial and error – not biological evolution, but of holding on to those beliefs that bring positive results and letting go of those that bring negative ones – explains an accumulation of beliefs that lead to behavior that in turn produce positive results. That positive results imply some correspondence to reality is, with some caveats, a reasonable position.

            Technically, Plantinga could be right that positive results have zero correlation with accuracy. That may be true! Accuracy itself is a fuzzy concept in the concept of basic epistemology. But again, we come up against the philosophical yearning for certainty, and attendant tendency to reject what isn’t certain as incoherent. (And I don’t mean here an LW-Bayesian uncertainty, but a turtles-all-the-way down uncertainty, which does, yes, extend to the existence of external reality and even calls into question some of the assumptions (yes, I said assumptions) of the cogito.)

            What you can’t say is that a fuzzy argument is self-refuting. The worst that you can say about it is that it’s fuzzy. Which, you know, fair enough. My point is that all understanding is in fact fuzzy, all certainty is an illusion, and embracing this is the more coherent and salutary position.

            There is one possible exception to this. It’s not logical reasoning, because it is also infected by the fuzziness of definitions, which are necessary for logic to say anything about reality. No, the exception is mathematics. There seems to be something uniquely non-fuzzy about it, when applying to fundamental physics. And our intuitions about mathematics are primitive, but an apparently complex and consistent system can be extrapolated from these simple intuitions. The relationship of mathematics to reality is mysterious to me, and I don’t have a reasonable account of what it means. But it seems at least clear that even mathematics can partake in fuzziness, in, say, Newton’s law of universal gravitation, which yields very close approximations in certain conditions while evidently not actually corresponding to reality. But any and all of my considerations on the philosophy of mathematics are rudimentary at best.

          • nydwracu says:

            epistemic rationality != instrumental rationality, hth hand

          • Rick Hull says:

            > My point is that all understanding is in fact fuzzy, all certainty is an illusion, and embracing this is the more coherent and salutary position.

            My understanding is that 1+1=2, and I can’t imagine being more certain. Is this a mistake?

            I’m only slightly less certain that a person with an apple in each hand is holding two apples, with the fuzziness mainly confined to what a person is, how it relates to hands, and what apples are.

            EDIT: I see now that I have basically restated your final paragraph. I still don’t think your unqualified statement (which I quoted) is warranted.

            I do think that it is much easier to bridge the gap between math and reality than you imagine. Simple counting or comparing magnitudes is done with utmost certainty. For example, I am certain that I can count my hands, or the fingers on my hands, and that I have more fingers than someone with 9.

          • anodognosic says:

            @Rick I actually wonder to what extent even our basic mathematical intuitions are buttressed by practical experience.

            Edit to your edit: under normal circumstances, sure (not to put too fine a point on the meaning of a finger as a separate object beyond our mental representation of one – to what extent are you counting something “out there”, rather than in your mind? Is there something that makes a finger naturally a unit, or is it our cognitive prejudices that make it one?). But there are edge cases that bring out the fuzziness. Vestigial, partly amputated or prosthetic fingers – these strain at our definition of the term, and any strict division will be sort of arbitrary.

            I know I’m splitting hairs. But it’s the sort of hair you have to split in doing foundational epistemology.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I expect you’ll agree that the party-line progressive or party-line conservative package of views are not going to be the correct ones. This already cuts out a huge swath of the population from being rational.”

            Wrong and irrational are not the same. Their rule of thumb they are using is “trust my side”. Unless you obsessively study politics this is a rational position for individuals who have zero odds of actually affecting anything. If you believe that your choice determines what happens to you for eternity, it is a significantly worse strategy.

            “More simply, it’s really, really hard to always follow the evidence and never let biases influence you. ”

            You can be biased and be rational. Baysianism works even if two individual set different values for priors.

            “This is fully consistent with interactionist dualism, which posits an interaction between mind and brain, including from brain to mind.”

            The soul doesn’t do anything without the brain? Occum’s razor was specifically formulated to get rid of excess ontological entities- it seems to apply here.

            “Nature is (testably) predictable because it exhibits regularity. Either this is because it obeys divine “laws” (as Newton believed), because the orderliness of nature is just an inexplicable brute fact (as the neo-Humeans Urstoff mentioned believe) or because nature is composed of entities with intrinsic dispositions and powers (as us neo-Aristotelians believe).”

            Or states where the laws of physics can change collapse into states where the laws of physics cannot change (because said laws are changing until they hit that point).

            “Why is nature regular, orderly, law-like? ”

            It isn’t. Quantum mechanics is probabilistic. Its just with a large enough sample size the results trend to certain values.

            “then your own argument can never be more than probable. ”

            And? We can live with sufficiently high levels of probable. People marry despite cheating spouse being a significantly higher probability.

            “Worse, if you think that our “perpetual uncertainty” extends to things like whether the external world exists, or whether the laws of logic work, then the argument is vulnerable to a retortive reduction”

            It does. The former is irrelevant since what we observe exhibits patterns (so being in your own mind doesn’t prevent you from starving to death) and the laws of logic work… except when they don’t (whose both a particle and a wave which are supposed to be mutually exclusive?)

            “My understanding is that 1+1=2, and I can’t imagine being more certain. Is this a mistake?”

            No, its accurate. Math is an internally coherent and explicit system.

          • Troy says:

            Wrong and irrational are not the same. Their rule of thumb they are using is “trust my side”. Unless you obsessively study politics this is a rational position for individuals who have zero odds of actually affecting anything. If you believe that your choice determines what happens to you for eternity, it is a significantly worse strategy.

            I’m only talking about epistemic rationality here, not instrumental rationality. A belief is epistemically rational just in case it is the belief most supported by one’s evidence. I think it’s clear that hardly anyone has only epistemically rational political beliefs.

            At any rate, if you think incorrect political beliefs are instrumentally rational (because they don’t make a practical difference), then you ought to say the same about religious beliefs, given their positive effect on health etc.

            You can be biased and be rational. Baysianism works even if two individual set different values for priors.

            As an objective Bayesian, I disagree, but at any rate, plenty of cognitive biases affect updating and not just priors.

            The soul doesn’t do anything without the brain? Occum’s razor was specifically formulated to get rid of excess ontological entities- it seems to apply here.

            If our only observations were of the brain and we never observed the soul, I would agree that Occam’s Razor applies. But I think that we directly observe the soul when we are aware of our own consciousness, and that philosophical reflection makes it clear (or at least as clear as philosophical reflection makes anything) that the soul could not be a purely material thing.

          • Irenist says:

            @Troy:

            I think Plantinga’s more recent formulation is stronger, although obviously YMMV. I also think that Reppert’s defense of Lewis’ argument (once Lewis took onboard Anscombe’s critiques) is valuable. Now, I don’t especially love Plantinga’s habit of arguing probabilistically, and I’m personally more interested in an argument from intentionality that neurons cannot comprise the mind than in an argument that evolved neurons probably don’t lead to veridical judgments.

            Indeed, suitably amended, I think Lewis’ argument may ultimately be stronger (or at least, more interesting), although I suspect Plantinga’s style would be more far more amenable to the average SSC reader. But Lewis (suitably amended by Anscombe so that he’s talking about truth rather than just warrant) is getting at foundational considerations that are actually more interesting to me than probabilistic ones, sort of like how I prefer the Five Ways to fine-tuning arguments for God. Now, I think either Plantinga’s, amended Lewis’, or Reppert’s Lewis’ arguments are vulnerable to good naturalistic arguments about veridicality being adaptive. E.g., I don’t think that someone akin to anodognosic in this thread, who is willing to accept a kind of Pyrrhonian (or LW-style probabilistic) agnosticism about whether our brains can discern truth, is going to be defeated by any of the formulations of the argument from reason. However, anyone who wants to claim that their conclusions are certain (and it’s pretty hard to do philosophy without saying that, e.g., modus ponens is certain as opposed to just handy so far), will be more vulnerable to it. Not fatally so, perhaps, but vulnerable. I tend to prefer arguments from intentionality against materialism (evolutionary or not) about the intellect, so I haven’t sufficiently thought through whether I think “veridicality is adaptive” is a defeater for Plantinga and/or amended Lewis. Maybe? I don’t think so, but maybe. If you have thought more about it, I’d love to hear it.

            @anodognosic:

            I think once you concede “turtles all the way down” uncertainty, I can only respectfully disagree with you, but not refute you. Indeed, I think that kind of position, reminiscent of both the ancient Skeptics and to a certain extent of Buddhism, is a very, very strong position, supple enough to bend rather than breaking when confronted with the argument from reason. Certainly, plenty of Buddhists are quite fairly skeptical of the cogito (an argument of which I disapprove on unrelated Thomist grounds), and would reformulate it as “thinking occurs” rather than “I think therefore I am” which imports the assumption of the self. But once skepticism extends to logic and math, it’s very difficult to argue FOR anything. I can’t refute you, but you can’t convince me. We can abide in uncertainty amicably together, but that’s about it: discursive argument ends. BTW, the only critique I’d have of your excellent comment is to note that the fuzziness of our ability to apply Newton’s laws wouldn’t make math fuzzy, just our observational or calculative ability. But you already said philosophy of math isn’t your thing, so no worries. Oh, one other thing BTW: given your epistemology, your handle, anodognosic, is just perfect. I think from now on I’m likely to smile every time I see it, just from being tickled by the elegant aptness of it.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            The soul doesn’t do anything without the brain? Occum’s razor was specifically formulated to get rid of excess ontological entities- it seems to apply here.

            Occam’s relationship with the concept of a soul was a lot more complicated than that, actually. He (erroneously, from a Thomist view) rejected both realism about universal forms and the demonstrability by reason of the immateriality of the soul, but also (and also erroneously from a Thomist view) unnecessarily multiplied entities by rejecting the unicity of the human soul and instead, in the Scotist tradition, insisting that it was logically necessary to posit separate corporeal, sensitive, etc. souls.

            As for whether the principle of parsimony applies to the soul, regardless of what Occam thought? No. Neither innate self-perfective activity in organisms generally, qualia in animals generally, nor intentionality in humans in particular is adequately explained without formal causality.

            Or states where the laws of physics can change collapse into states where the laws of physics cannot change (because said laws are changing until they hit that point).

            Upthread, when I pointed out that the concept of “laws” of nature was parasitic on theistic occasionalism of the sort endorsed by Newton, you said to replace Carroll’s usage of “law” with “everything we’ve been able to observe about reality and use to make testable predictions.” Since you neither want to accept occasionalism or essentialism, you’re not entitled to help yourself to the occasionalism-implying word “laws” here. So let’s try your Humean formulation here, instead, and see if it can produce anything coherent, or whether it instead reveals an aporia in your philosophy of science:

            Or states where “everything we’ve been able to observe about reality and use to make testable predictions of physics” can change collapse into states where “everything we’ve been able to observe about reality and use to make testable predictions of physics” cannot change (because said “everything we’ve been able to observe about reality and use to make testable predictions” are changing until “everything we’ve been able to observe about reality and use to make testable predictions” hits that point.

            So let’s see here. I asked WHY nature exhibits law-like order and regularity. (I say “law-like” rather than “lawful” because I’m an Aristotelian essentialist, not a Newtonian nomologist.) Unless you’re adopting the essentialism of (atheist, btw, AFAIK) ) neo-Aristotelian analytic philosophers like Brian Ellis, Nancy Cartwright, and Anand Chakravartty, or the “goddidit” of Newton (which your reversion to the word “laws” would imply), you’re not telling me WHY at all. You’re just saying that sometimes there are states where we observe and (can’t?) predict irregular, non-law-like behavior (“change”), and then these states “collapse” (which sounds like you’re trying to invoke quantum mechanics somehow) into states where we observe and predict regular, law-like behavior, “because” said reality which we are observing and (not?) predicting is “changing until we hit that point.” IOW, you’re saying that we observe an irregular, non-law-like reality, until it “collapses” into being regular and law-like, “because” it is irregular and non-law-like until it “hits that point.” So it’s irregular until it isn’t. For some reason. Which you haven’t mentioned. Oh, and it’s irregular until it “hits the point” where it’s regular. Which is tautological.

            Forgive me for being flabbergasted, but that explains nothing whatsoever. Now, attempting to steelman the tautological mess your LW-style neo-Humeanism yielded above, I suspect you’re thinking of some sort of cosmological scenario where various regions of the universe (or the multiverse, or whatever) have different regimes of observed physical regularities (different “laws of physics,” as the theist Newton might have said) and the phase transitions (or whatever) between these are themselves mathematically regular, in theory capable of yielding testable predictions from observation if an observer could somehow get at them. But whatever the mathematics behind how one or another regime of irregularity transitions into regularity may happen to be, they are completely irrelevant to this meta-physical, rather than physical, question. I am not asking “what is the math behind” this transition, which would be mere physics. I am asking why there is any regularity at all, either in the law-like “states” or in the transitions you’ve posited between irregular and regular states. Why is there any order in nature, at all? The atheist New Essentialists (Ellis, Cartwright, Chakravartty) have an answer to that. So do the “old” essentialists I favor, analytical Thomists like Feser and Oderberg. But your neo-Humeanism amounts to saying that it’s just an inexplicable brute fact. And every time you help yourself to the Newtonian language of “laws,” it’s parasitic on some kind of “goddidit,” either directly (as in Newton) or buried under attempts to claim it can be “cashed out” as neo-Humeanism, which as we have just seen, is just an evasion of the question: saying something is a brute fact is throwing up your hands and ceasing to search for explanation, not cashing out a metaphor. I say again: “observed regularity,” every bit as much as “law,” is just “giving it a name.” It is a mystery, a conversation-stopper. Not an answer.

            “Why is nature regular, orderly, law-like? ” It isn’t. Quantum mechanics is probabilistic. Its just with a large enough sample size the results trend to certain values.

            Statistical regularity is regularity. It’s random how any given photon will behave. It’s not random that if you have a fusion reaction the size of the Sun, it will give off photons. The aggregate behavior of all the photons produced by the Sun is statistically regular. And no, sunspots don’t contradict that. I’m not talking about local perturbations. I’m saying that the Sun shines. And it doesn’t just randomly not shine one day. And it doesn’t just randomly shine in red and green stripes like a tacky Christmas tree ornament one day. It shines the same statistically regular way every day. Because physics, in aggregate, is law-like. That’s WHY our observations can lead to testable predictions! So what I’m saying is, WHY is our cosmos the sort of place where observation can reveal regularities sufficient for testable predictions? The vocabularly of “law” answers “goddidit.” The vocabulary of Humean “observed regularities” doesn’t even TRY to answer the question. Look, I’m not saying “Become a Thomist.” I’m saying the atheist analytical philosophers in the New Essentialist movement are doing better philosophy of science than the neo-Humeans, better philosophy of science that, say, LW tends to do. And you should read them if you want to be rational and more correct. Now, once you accept any kind of essentialism, then, yeah, I have more foundations for all my sneaky theist arguments. But even if you don’t end up wanting to cross THAT bridge from New to old Essentialism, you will be a better, more rationally correct atheist if you adopt New Essentialism than if you stick with unreflective neo-Humeanism.

            the laws of logic work… except when they don’t (whose both a particle and a wave which are supposed to be mutually exclusive?)

            Physics is built on observation followed by hypothesis-testing. You cannot hypothesize if you abandon the logical law of non-contradiction. It is more fundamental than physics, and scientific induction is dependent upon it. AFAICT, the motivation behind the embrace of models like MWI is to get rid of as many of the paradoxa of the Copenhagen Interpretation as possible. I don’t know whether wave/particle duality paradoxa are eliminated in any present interpretations of physics. But whether they are or not, it remains true that logic is prior to science. You cannot argue that your hypothesis is correct if you abandon logic. You cannot do science, at all, if you abandon logic. Natural history (observation without hypothesis) maybe, but not natural science. Heck, probably not natural history, either, since “there are two birds in this nest” is either true or it’s not. As is well known, once you allow for logical contradiction, you can prove any nonsense you like. Logic is prior to science. Science cannot disprove logic, any more than it can disprove math. E.g., if I was a Newtonian who thought light was one thing, but then I learned from quantum physics that it’s actually two things, that just means I was wrong about light. It does not mean that 1 = 2. It means that faulty theory led me to employ 1 instead of 2 when recording my observations about light. Now, maybe you’re just trying to say that a paraconsistent logic, dialetheism, is a better model for wave-particle duality. If that’s all you mean, that’s totally legitimate. But that wouldn’t “disprove” classical logic. Indeed, since under dialetheism a statement can be both true and false simultaneously, if you were to abandon classical logic completely (rather than just argue it’s not the best tool for modeling photons), all you could do is say that it’s both true and false that your positions in this thread are correct. Which ain’t much of an argument.

          • Troy says:

            I tend to prefer arguments from intentionality against materialism (evolutionary or not) about the intellect, so I haven’t sufficiently thought through whether I think “veridicality is adaptive” is a defeater for Plantinga and/or amended Lewis. Maybe? I don’t think so, but maybe. If you have thought more about it, I’d love to hear it.

            I do think that the “veridicality is adaptive” move defeats Plantinga’s earlier argument. That argument is that natural selection would be unlikely to select for true beliefs because it could just as well select for useful false beliefs. I think the problem with it is that belief-producing faculties that generally get things right will be much simpler and involve fewer extraneous resources than faculties that reliably get things wrong in exactly the right way for us to survive and reproduce. It’s basically the same logic behind it being easier to tell the truth than spin a convincing lie.

            Plantinga’s later argument, from what I recall, relied on some very dubious assignments of probabilities to brain states that give rise to contentful mental states giving rise to true mental states. Basically he assumes that the probability that any token belief is true is .5 and then that the probability that a set of n beliefs is true is .5^n. Even accepting the problematic application of the Principle of Indifference, these probabilities are obviously not independent — if several of S’s beliefs are true, the best explanation is that there is a general lawlike correlation between S’s brain states and true mental sates.

            I also object to other aspects of Plantinga’s argument inasmuch as they rely on his externalist epistemology. Basically, even if Plantinga’s right that the prior probability of our faculties being reliable given naturalism is low, this doesn’t imply that their posterior probability of being reliable is low, because I can introspect, see how I reason, and check that it matches up with rules of reasoning that I can see a priori to be legitimate. However, Plantinga could modify his argument to account for this and make the reliability of our faculties evidence in the Bayesian sense for theism — claim that P(our faculties reliable | theism) > P(faculties reliable | naturalism). I suspect that this inequality does hold, but I’m not convinced that the inequality is great enough for this to be especially strong evidence for theism.

            Do these considerations defeat Lewis et al.’s version of the argument as well? I’m less familiar with these versions of the argument, but I suspect that it depends on how exactly they’re cached out. If the claim is that empirically beliefs with nonrational causes would be unlikely to be true or warranted, then I think the above adaptivity objection applies. If the claim is rather that as a matter of metaphysics something can’t be both a rational belief and wholly caused by non-rational factors, I think this is more plausible, but still not obvious if there is a general correlation between material causes and rational causes (so that my belief could be both physically and intellectually caused at the same time). At any rate, I think that the most such arguments get us is a refutation of materialism (or at least reductive materialism), and not full-fledged theism.

            By the way, I think that you were meaning to refer to Anjan [not Anand] Chakravartty above.

          • Irenist says:

            @Troy:

            That was very illuminating. Thank you.

            [Re: Lewis,] I think that the most such arguments get us is a refutation of materialism (or at least reductive materialism), and not full-fledged theism

            Sure. For me, what’s interesting is intentionality implying immateriality. Where Lewis-like concerns come in for me is a sort of sidekick, Robin to intentionality’s Batman, that allows me to employ the method of retorsion for James Ross, “you can’t do logic without precise denotation, and you can’t have that without immateriality”-type reasons. But yeah, refuting reductionist materialism and refuting atheism are very distinct projects.

            By the way, I think that you were meaning to refer to Anjan [not Anand] Chakravartty above.

            Apparently I’d filed away his name as “some South Asian name that starts with an ‘A.'” Ugh, that’s kinda racist-y of me. Thanks for the correction.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “A belief is epistemically rational just in case it is the belief most supported by one’s evidence. I think it’s clear that hardly anyone has only epistemically rational political beliefs.”

            What? People who use the metric “supports my side” do have beliefs that are most supported by their evidence. Most people don’t look into politics and that is pretty much the extent of knowledge they have. I’ll accept people who obsess over politics as likely to be irrational, but they aren’t common. Only about 20-30% of registered voters bother to vote in modern mayoral elections in the US.

            Of course since what politics promises is “getting people into power” focusing on “getting people on my side into power” isn’t irrational so not going in depth works as long as there are people validating for the correct side.

            “then you ought to say the same about religious beliefs, given their positive effect on health etc.”

            Incorrect beliefs in politics matter if you are powerful (because you can have an effect on the outcome). Incorrect religious beliefs matter for everyone- the wrong one damns you to hell (exception- polytheistic ones that let you hedge your bets). Incorrect beliefs in religion don’t matter only if you believe they aren’t true.

            “But I think that we directly observe the soul when we are aware of our own consciousness,”

            That isn’t an answer. You are not only assuming physical explanations can’t work, but that nonphysical explanations can, even though you haven’t provided a method for nonphysical methods to do so. How does a soul provide consciousness?

            “and that philosophical reflection makes it clear (or at least as clear as philosophical reflection makes anything) that the soul could not be a purely material thing.”

            The soul is defined as a nonmaterial entity. What does philosophical reflection have to do with accepting that definition?

            @irenist

            If you don’t understand what I’m saying, simply ask. Type “I don’t understand what you are saying here”. Sadly you appear to have taken the “I wish to be a massive asshole” route.

            Also, stop pretending “God causes regularity, no I don’t have to explain why God is regular” is an argument. This is what people are talking about when they say “religion is irrational”. Asserting God by their nature is regular is as justified as asserting that about the universe.

            “Neither innate self-perfective activity in organisms generally, qualia in animals generally, nor intentionality in humans in particular is adequately explained without formal causality.”

            Adding a soul doesn’t add explanatory power. Occum’s razor gets rid of factors that don’t add explanatory power.

            “So let’s see here.”

            I used a specific definition for the current laws of physics based on them not changing. Then I gave an example of laws of physics that can change. That means “physics that can change” have a different definition since “everything we’ve been able to observe about reality and use to make testable predictions of physics” doesn’t hold true for the latter point.

            “Forgive me for being flabbergasted, but that explains nothing whatsoever.”

            Imagine there are a million different rule sets the universe can follow

            1 lasts planck time
            2 lasts planck time
            3 lasts planck time

            999,999 lasts a million years
            1,000,000 lasts 10^20 years

            Exactly what laws of physics do you expect we will see?

            If you have things that can change and you have things that change less often, the majority of the time will be dominated by the things that can change less often even if they are a minority of possible states. If your question is “how does this all work”, that’s the job of physics to discover. There is nothing wrong with saying we currently don’t know an empirical question and if you are going to say it is beyond the possibility of physics uncovering, I’m going to bring up wave-partial duality. There is no way we would have theorized that in the absence of evidence; we should treat these questions the same way.

            “Statistical regularity is regularity. ”

            No it isn’t. Its possible for things to phase transition through solid objects. It is unlikely, but “low probability” is not the same as “regular”. Unless you are arguing that those are the same, in which case see above.

            “You cannot hypothesize if you abandon the logical law of non-contradiction.

            Science cannot disprove logic, any more than it can disprove math.”

            That doesn’t answer what I said. At all. Light is a particle and a wave. Particles and waves are mutually exclusive. Now you can argue that it is a special kind of thing so that it isn’t really a contradiction. Which of course opens up other contradictions to “its a special kind of contradiction”. Unless you are claiming that they weren’t real contradictions… which is functionally the same since we don’t know all the cases of real versus false contradictions.

            I’m not saying logic doesn’t work. I’m saying we can’t treat it as a rule inscribed on the very nature of the cosmos.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Skinner:

            Light is a particle and a wave. Particles and waves are mutually exclusive.

            Clearly not, since one and the same thing can be both a particle and a wave.

            (PS: It’s “Ockham’s” or “Occam’s” Razor, not “Occum’s”.)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Clearly not, since one and the same thing can be both a particle and a wave.”

            Well yes, after we found something that had the property of both it makes it a bit hard to say something can’t have the properties of both. The issue is that we were pretty sure before hand they were mutually contradictory. Logic always works except in cases when it doesn’t seems to put into doubt the “always” part.

            “(PS: It’s “Ockham’s” or “Occam’s” Razor, not “Occum’s”.)”

            I have no idea why I made that type. Er… why does it have two names?

          • Nornagest says:

            Er… why does it have two names?

            It’s named after an English monk, William of Ockham, who lived in the 1200s. Engliish spelling wasn’t standardized then (nor for centuries after), and “Occam’s razor” and “William of Ockham” diverged somewhere along the line. Might be related to William’s Latinized name, too.

            Also, I hate the threading here.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            Sadly you appear to have taken the “I wish to be a massive asshole” route.

            Hmm. Yes, I did. I apologize.

            stop pretending “God causes regularity, no I don’t have to explain why God is regular” is an argument.

            I characterized that position as Newtonian occasionalism, in contrast to the essentialism I favor.

            Adding a soul doesn’t add explanatory power.

            Adding (formal) essences and (final) dispositions and powers does explain, actually. Try reading Ellis and Cartwright.

            there is nothing wrong with saying we don’t know an empirical question, and if you are going to say it is beyond the possibility of physics , I’m going to bring up wave-partial duality. There is no way we would have theorized that in the absence of evidence; we should treat these questions the same way.

            This is the fear that metaphysical certainty leads to refusal to look through Galileo’s telescope. I respect that. But the issue still isn’t empirical.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I characterized that position as Newtonian occasionalism, in contrast to the essentialism I favor.”

            Wikipedia gives essentialism that definition (Essentialism is the view that, for any specific entity (such as an animal, a group of people, a physical object, a concept), there is a set of attributes which are necessary to its identity and function).

            “Adding (formal) essences and (final) dispositions and powers does explain, actually. Try reading Ellis and Cartwright.”

            No it doesn’t because you can have material objects that have those properties. There is nothing about the inexplicable that requires it be attached to immaterial things instead of material ones. Hence adding immaterial ones does not add explanatory power.

            “This is the fear that metaphysical certainty leads to refusal to look through Galileo’s telescope. I respect that. But the issue still isn’t empirical.”

            Metaphysical certainty would have fixed the probabilities of light being a particle and a wave at zero because logical contradictions are impossible. I don’t fear it, it simply doesn’t work.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Well yes, after we found something that had the property of both it makes it a bit hard to say something can’t have the properties of both. The issue is that we were pretty sure before hand they were mutually contradictory. Logic always works except in cases when it doesn’t seems to put into doubt the “always” part.

            So why should we conclude that the laws of logic don’t apply here, and not simply that we were wrong about the natures of waves and particles?

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            “Adding (formal) essences and (final) dispositions and powers does explain, actually. Try reading Ellis and Cartwright.”

            No it doesn’t because you can have material objects that have those properties. There is nothing about the inexplicable that requires it be attached to immaterial things instead of material ones. Hence adding immaterial ones does not add explanatory power.

            I don’t think what you’re saying there would be too difficult to fit into a New Essentialist framework at all. The immaterial soul, in the old understanding, seems to me to be many inferential steps from that framework. The NE framework is just a more coherent language with which to describe what science actually does than either the language of “laws” or that of “observed regularities.” The direct metaphysical stakes have more to do with NE being a defeater for a certain kind of nominalism than with it directly proposing any theological entities.

            It’s true that, along with some other stuff from philosophy of mind, I think NE supports the older, Aristotelian essentialism, because it provides a way for materialist analytical philosophy types to begin reviving some of the Aristotelian insights that would close some of the inferential distance between Scholastic and materialist positions compared to the present sort of Quine and Lewis stuff (e.g., someone like David Armstrong defends a realist position about universals on NE-type grounds). But here, I’m not asking you to accept any of the possible implications I like.

            I’m just saying that the sort of “scientific realism” that, say, Chakravartty thinks NE can help philosophically ground is vastly preferable to the sort of Rorty-style nominalism and “brute” nature that I think Humeanism leads to. What I really have at the back of my mind here is that both “observed regularities allowing us to make testable predictions” and LW-specific stuff like “cluster structures in thingspace” just seem too nominalist and Humean to me. I think a more NE-informed view, something akin to what Carwright outlines in her work, would better capture how scientific rationality works in practice, and how the world actually is. Now, because it is an anti-nominalist, essentialist view, it does make those inferential leaps to more theological-type positions easier. But you can reject those leaps (really!) and still find NE to be good stuff. I promise: you can be a better atheist scientific realist with an NE framework. It’s worth checking out on its own. Although you and I disagree on lots of foundational stuff, please don’t let that dissuade you from checking out the NE work, which deserves better than to be tainted in your mind by whatever associations you have with me or my religious worldview. It’s not the NE thinkers’ fault that us Thomists like them!

            ETA: A lot of the NE stuff grows out of the earlier “scientific realism” of Kripke and Putnam. That’s worth looking at, too, obviously.

            ETA2: Speaking of Kripke and Putnam, let me try to summarize one of the key issues here. A more Humean, nominalist-type view would say that “water” is just a pragmatically convenient “cluster structure in thingspace.” A scientific realist or new essentialist would say, no, “water” is H2O, and that’s a “natural kind,” not just a social convention like the names of popular music genres. In other words, the nominalist and the Humean end up being reduced to saying that how we “carve up” nature conceptually is just based on the whim of whatever projects we happen to be working on, that “water polo” is just as much of a real entity as “water.” And Kripke says, no, H2O is not a social convention. It behaves in certain ways, and categorizing it as something different than other molecules is a discovery about nature, not something we just made up like the rules of a sport.

            Likewise, Ellis insists that fundamental particles are real, are “not made up” in a way that human social conventions are just made up. Indeed, Ellis is a reductionist: he’s a realist about fundamental particles, but he doesn’t think that, say humans have an essence like “rational animal”; instead, he thinks we’re just an aggregate of fundamental particles that DO have essences. Now, as a Thomist I obviously disagree with him there. But the basic insight that these (secular!) thinkers have, that some things really are real, and that both “law” language and “observed regularity” language were wrong turns in philosophy of nature, is true, is important, and is something a non-religious (or even anti-religious) person need have no scruples about considering as insight worth reading.

            ETA3: I should note that the “cluster structure of thingspace” post on LW, although it seems clearly to me to have dire nominalist implications, does talk about “natural cluster[s]” and say “First came the structure-in-the-world.” Like, I think EY thinks it’s a realist position? But all the business about “not having crystalline boundaries” has to be defended against objections from vagueness if it’s not to dissolve into nominalism. And if it is a realist, or even quasi-essentialist position, then that is obscured by the strawman Aristotelianism that the post defines the cluster structure concept in opposition to. Who knows? Maybe something like NE is already a LW position, and the vocab is just different? The muddledness of the Sequences on these points makes it hard for me to tell. But maybe? That would certainly be lovely. It’s possible that because EY’s background is in things like AI, that the sort of “machine learning” vibe I get from the cluster structure post means that the gist is less dire than I think, but phrased differently than someone would phrase it if they were coming from more of an academic philosophy-type background? One can hope.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            In other words, the nominalist and the Humean end up being reduced to saying that how we “carve up” nature conceptually is just based on the whim of whatever projects we happen to be working on,

            That’s one of the reasons why I don’t think I could ever be a nominalist: unless you smuggle a bit of realism in somewhere, your theory will end up leading to absurdities, like that the only thing separating a human from a pot plant is arbitrary social convention.

            (Admittedly, though, given some of the humans I’ve come across that might explain a lot.)

          • Irenist says:

            @The original Mr. X:
            I agree. In philosophy of science, I think the usual move is to claim to be an instrumentalist rather than a nominalist, but that’s just, IMHO, to be a crypto-nominalist. (At least as sinister as a crypto-kitten?)

            @Samuel Skinner:
            Admission against interest that it would be dishonest to leave out: It occurs to me that I should have mentioned to you that Hilary Putnam, one of the thinkers I cite, actually shared your sense that physics ought to inform logic. In his important paper, “Is logic empirical?” he took up a suggestion of the early Quine’s that something like von Neumann’s “quantum logic” ought to replace classical logic. However, in defense of my position that [classical] logic, and thus metaphysics, is prior to physics or any other empirical science, I’ll note both that the later Quine backed off from the suggestion that had interested Putnam in the idea, and that, AFAICT, it’s pretty widely held that thinkers like Dummett and Maudlin have pretty much demolished the idea. But it still has its partisans. Of particular interest if you want to uphold the LW worldview might be Guido Bacciagaluppi, who thinks that critiques like Dummett’s and Maudlin’s don’t have as much force against Putnam if you frame the underlying quantum stuff as MWI rather than, say, Copenhagen. A further admission would be that Dummett was Catholic, so in your case that might mean you can discount his rationality entirely?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “So why should we conclude that the laws of logic don’t apply here, and not simply that we were wrong about the natures of waves and particles?”

            Either approach works fine. My point was you (generalized; I’m not questioning your physics skills) would have declared them contradictory before hand. Thus you can’t claim absolute certainty using logic. The platonic form of logic may be perfect, but since we don’t live in Plato’s world, that is irrelevant.

            @irenist
            “I don’t think what you’re saying there would be too difficult to fit into a New Essentialist framework at all.”

            Er, neither that, nor anything that follows after it had anything to do with what I wrote.

            “here. A more Humean, nominalist-type view would say that “water” is just a pragmatically convenient “cluster structure in thingspace.” A scientific realist or new essentialist would say, no, “water” is H2O, and that’s a “natural kind,” not just a social convention like the names of popular music genres.”

            That doesn’t sound like an argument- it sounds like they are talking past each other. Agua is Spanish for water. The specific word used is a social convention depending on what language you are using. The properties of what you are talking about may be fixed (the Earth doesn’t change even if you call it мир or Welt), but the way we label those properties is determined by how people want to categorize things.

            For example water can be categorized by source (tap water, bottled water, spring water), additions (flavored water, sugar water, polluted water), temperature (hot water, cold water, room temperature water) and so on, but for most usage we simply say water, because the additional information is extraneous.

            “In other words, the nominalist and the Humean end up being reduced to saying that how we “carve up” nature conceptually is just based on the whim of whatever projects we happen to be working on, that “water polo” is just as much of a real entity as “water.” ”

            Real entity? I think you need another word. Water polo exists as much as water exists. What do you need to be more real than that?

            “And Kripke says, no, H2O is not a social convention. It behaves in certain ways, and categorizing it as something different than other molecules is a discovery about nature, not something we just made up like the rules of a sport. ”

            H2O is a chemical description corresponding to the number of protons in individual atoms and their arrangement. Technically if you removed all the electrons and neutrons it would still be H2O, but it would have vastly different properties (namely it would explode because the protons repel each other).

            The use of the term water is a social convention based on the fact we generally deal with its liquid form. Its water vapor, water and ice water compared to gaseous iron, molten iron and iron or oxygen, liquid oxygen and solid oxygen.

            “that some things really are real,”

            Everything that exists in reality is real. Social conventions are real, just like atoms. The difference is they are changeable and don’t have a physical form while the facts atoms exist is not changeable and individual atoms have a physical form.

            “actually shared your sense that physics ought to inform logic. ”

            That isn’t my position. I’m pointing out that we can’t claim logic provides absolute certainty if it declares with absolute certainty something impossible which proceeds to turn out to be true.

          • Eli says:

            Sweet Cthulhu, I am going to enjoy saying this.

            YOU’VE ACTIVATED MY TRAP CARD!

            But no, really: I predicted that you guys have Sophisticated Meta-Level Arguments for object-level nonsense, and voila, here you are with your Sophisticated Meta-Level Arguments for object-level nonsense!

            In privileging the Meta-Level theories designed to compress data over the actual data and in failing to dissolve the debate between nominalism and Platonism, YOU FAIL HIERARCHICAL BAYES FOREVER. I award you no points, and may Cthulhu have mercy on your soul.

            By the way, the correct answer to “Why do we observe regularities?” is “Because we’d have very different sorts of minds and be different sorts of beings if there weren’t actually regularities in the universe.” In fact, our kind of life and our kind of minds could not run in a maximum-entropy universe.

            Now admittedly, this means we’ve explained away the observation without explaining what caused the universe to be that way. But at least we’ve moved from the idiotic Sacred Mystery of “apparent naturalism requires a God of the Gaps” to the genuine scientific unknown of, “Why does the universe work in this stochastic way that gives rise to entropy, thus life, thus evolution, thus minds that reason statistically and build hierarchies of theories to compress their sensory data?”

            Notice how the latter involves a lot more “thuses”, because it actually explains things.

            Also, the correct answer to “Could it be the case that 1+1 != 2?” is no, because once you’re working inside a fixed formal system, you’ve moved your uncertainty out of the model. There’s a countable infinity of (consistent) formal systems, and each of them has no uncertainty “on the inside” (which is what we mean by formal: all the operations of the system are recursively enumerable through raw computation, with no probabilistic choices involved). There is uncertainty in which formal system we use. Foundational systems in real mathematics are chosen for their ability to elegantly represent and derive the object-level structures and theories mathematicians want to study, and those object-level structures and theories have tended to be developed to represent regularities in the physical world.

            IN THIS REALM OF THE A POSTERIORI, OBJECT-LEVEL UNIVERSE, EVEN ALL YOUR META-SOPHISTICATION IS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS!!!

          • Troy says:

            @Eli:

            In privileging the Meta-Level theories designed to compress data over the actual data and in failing to dissolve the debate between nominalism and Platonism, YOU FAIL HIERARCHICAL BAYES FOREVER.

            Could you clarify what you mean here? What in probability theory commits one to any view about nominalism, Platonism, or the substantiveness of the debate between them?

            By the way, the correct answer to “Why do we observe regularities?” is “Because we’d have very different sorts of minds and be different sorts of beings if there weren’t actually regularities in the universe.” In fact, our kind of life and our kind of minds could not run in a maximum-entropy universe.

            This answer only explains why we observe regularities if we take our existence as a given. It explains why we observe regularities rather than non-regularities, but it doesn’t explain why we observe regularities rather than nothing at all. But perhaps that’s what you’re getting at when you say that “we’ve explained away the observation without explaining what caused the universe to be that way.”

            But at least we’ve moved from the idiotic Sacred Mystery of “apparent naturalism requires a God of the Gaps” to the genuine scientific unknown of, “Why does the universe work in this stochastic way that gives rise to entropy, thus life, thus evolution, thus minds that reason statistically and build hierarchies of theories to compress their sensory data?”

            Could you explain how changing the question to “what caused the universe to be that way” undermines God as a potential answer to this question? If the evidence is something like “the universe follows simple regularities” (call that Regular) then if P(Regular | Theism) > P(Regular | Atheism), Regular is evidence for theism over atheism. (Likewise, it is evidence for any sub-version of Atheism which does offer an explanation of Laws, including perhaps some of Irenist’s examples above.)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Could you explain how changing the question to “what caused the universe to be that way” undermines God as a potential answer to this question? ”

            Because adding God doesn’t answer it. You need to explain “what caused God to be that way”. Explanations tend to be “it’s God’s nature” which has zero explanatory power and doesn’t have any advantage of just declaring those properties belong to the universe.

            ” If the evidence is something “the universe follows simple regularities” (call that Regular) then if P(Regular | Theism) > P(Regular | Atheism), Regular is evidence for theism over atheism. ”

            There is a gap in the chain of logic. Why is regularity evidence for God? Why doesn’t God create solely irregular universes? Why doesn’t God create universes that are not mostly empty space?

          • Troy says:

            Because adding God doesn’t answer it. You need to explain “what caused God to be that way”.

            It is not in general true that for X to explain Y, we also need to know what explains X. I can explain a domed structure on Alpha Centauri by intelligent aliens without knowing where the aliens came from.

            Explanations tend to be “it’s God’s nature” which has zero explanatory power and doesn’t have any advantage of just declaring those properties belong to the universe.

            All explanations must end somewhere. It does not follow that any place is as good as any other. God simplifies our picture of the universe by providing an explanation for various properties that we observe the universe to have. That God’s existence is a brute fact is preferable to all of the laws of the universe being brute.

            Similarly, if you infer from the thousand black ravens you’ve observed that ravens have genes that cause them to be black, you could have inferred instead that blackness is just a brute property of those thousand ravens. Although the genes are not brute either, it would be better to end on that level than to just stick with the raven colors as brute.

            There is a gap in the chain of logic. Why is regularity evidence for God? Why doesn’t God create solely irregular universes? Why doesn’t God create universes that are not mostly empty space?

            Life is a good thing. Regularity is (as Eli noted) necessary for stable life. Similarly, Regularity is necessary for life forms to be able to learn about and control their environment, which are also good things. So, the probability that an all-good being would create a Regular universe if he could is not very low — that is, P(Regular | Theism) is not very low.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “It is not in general true that for X to explain Y, we also need to know what explains X. I can explain a domed structure on Alpha Centauri by intelligent aliens without knowing where the aliens came from.”

            Except you are asserting that X explains why because Y can’t do существовать. For that to work you need to explain why X can do существовать AND have the explanation not apply to Y.

            ” simplifies our picture of the universe by providing an explanation for various properties that we observe the universe to have.”

            And claiming thunder comes from Zeus also does that. We don’t want explanations, we want ones that work.

            “That God’s existence is a brute fact is preferable to all of the laws of the universe being brute.”

            By that chain of logic, the Celestial Bureaucracy is even better because it has even more Gods. If something doesn’t add predictive power, don’t add it to the model.

            “Similarly, if you infer from the thousand black ravens you’ve observed that ravens have genes that cause them to be black, you could have inferred instead that blackness is just a brute property of those thousand ravens.”

            The analogy doesn’t follow. We know genes exist. Prior to that people did infer it was a property of ravens.

            “Life is a good thing. Regularity is (as Eli noted) necessary for stable life. Similarly, Regularity is necessary for life forms to be able to learn about and control their environment, which are also good things. So, the probability that an all-good being would create a Regular universe if he could is not very low — that is, P(Regular | Theism) is not very low.”

            That isn’t an answer. It assumes life and having life learn and control their environments are something God values AND the universe is optimal for producing it. Both of those are unjustified assumptions.

            Also, never use the term “All-Good”. It is nonsensical when applied to the real world. What should you do if someone is being raped or murdered? If your answer was “sit back and watch”, congratulations, you are all good. Exactly what properties does an All-Good individual have that other ethical individuals don’t?

          • Troy says:

            Except you are asserting that X explains why because Y can’t do существовать. For that to work you need to explain why X can do существовать AND have the explanation not apply to Y.

            Suppose the domed structure has technologies we’ve never observed before. Then we can’t explain why the aliens can make them. But it’s still much more likely that aliens made them than a tornado or solar flare.

            And claiming thunder comes from Zeus also does that. We don’t want explanations, we want ones that work.

            Whether theism “works” as an explanation is precisely what is in dispute.

            By that chain of logic, the Celestial Bureaucracy is even better because it has even more Gods.

            My claim was that God’s existence being brute is preferable to the laws of the universe being brute because the former has less “bruteness,” inasmuch as there are many fundamental laws that are (according to our best physics) independent and there is only one God. How does adding more gods make things even better from that point of view?

            If something doesn’t add predictive power, don’t add it to the model.

            My claim that certain facts (such as Regularity) are more probable on theism than atheism just is the claim that theism has predictive power.

            The analogy doesn’t follow. We know genes exist. Prior to that people did infer it was a property of ravens.

            I don’t see how that difference is relevant (there are sets of which God is a member such that we know other members of the set exist), but if you think it makes a difference take an unobserved entity that we infer the existence of, such as electrons. We infer the existence of electrons and other similarly sized particles because they explain larger structures that we are able to observe. Instead of positing electrons, neutrons, etc. we could just say that there are a bunch of fundamentally different types of atoms (or whatever the smallest level we’re able to observe is), and that other facts which electrons etc. could explain are similarly brute. We could, but positing electrons etc. is simpler.

            That isn’t an answer. It assumes life and having life learn and control their environments are something God values AND the universe is optimal for producing it. Both of those are unjustified assumptions.

            When dealing with probabilities, we always have to make assumptions. If you think they are dubious, you can assign a probability to them, ask how likely they make the proposition we’re interested in, and then apply the Theorem of Total Probability to estimate the probability of that latter proposition.

            In the case at hand, we’re trying to estimate P(Regular | Theism). If you like, we can think of this as being a function of Value and Necessary, where Value says that God values life of the kind that exists and Necessary says that a Regular universe is necessary for such life. Then

            P(Regular | Theism) = P(Value|Theism)P(Necessary|Value,Theism)P(Regular|Value,Necessary,Theism) + P(Value|Theism)P(~Necessary|Value,Theism)P(Regular|Value,~Necessary,Theism) +
            P(~Value|Theism)P(Necessary|Value,Theism)P(Regular|~Value,Necessary,Theism) +
            P(~Value|Theism)P(~Necessary|Value,Theism)P(Regular|~Value,~Necessary,Theism)

            Inasmuch as God is all good, P(Value|Theism) is high. P(Necessary|Value,Theism) seems to be high for two reasons: (a) what we know of the physics of life says that the natural laws that exist (and, indeed, the particular values that the various parameters that figure in them) are necessary for life to exist (indeed, are often necessary for anything more complex than hydrogen to exist), and (b) without regularities, induction would not work, and inferences about the empirical world would not work, making it impossible for us to learn. Finally, P(Regular|Value,Necessary,Theism) is high inasmuch as, if God wants to create life, and Regular is necessary for that, he’s likely to make Regular true.

            Let’s set each of those terms at 1/2, which I think is generous to the atheist. Then the product of the first three terms is 1/8. This gives us a lower bound for P(Regular | Theism); it is at least 1/8. If we went through and evaluated the last multiplands of each of the last three summands we might find it was higher.

            Plausibly, P(Regular | Atheism) is less than 1/8. A regular universe seems very surprising if atheism is true, given all the ways that the universe could have been irregular. If this is right, P(Regular | Theism) > P(Regular | Atheism), and Regular is evidence for Theism.

            Do you disagree with these numbers? If so, what would your estimates be?

            Also, never use the term “All-Good”. It is nonsensical when applied to the real world. What should you do if someone is being raped or murdered? If your answer was “sit back and watch”, congratulations, you are all good. Exactly what properties does an All-Good individual have that other ethical individuals don’t?

            Addressing the problem of evil would take this post far afield, so let me just register agreement that it is data that needs to be taken into account, and that it is also evidence against theism. I think it’s outweighed by the evidence for theism, but I won’t try to justify that assertion here.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Taboo brute.

            “Suppose the domed structure has technologies we’ve never observed before. Then we can’t explain why the aliens can make them. But it’s still much more likely that aliens made them than a tornado or solar flare.”

            That doesn’t answer my objection. At all. Other intelligent life can have the property of “using tools” and “building structures” and we know that because we have seen what intelligent life can do on earth. Tornado’s and solar flares do not have those capabilities. Hence they fail to meet
            “For that to work you need to explain why X can do существовать AND have the explanation not apply to Y.”

            “Whether theism “works” as an explanation is precisely what is in dispute.”

            Works means explanatory power. Any novel predictions?

            “My claim was that God’s existence being brute is preferable to the laws of the universe being brute because the former has less “bruteness,” inasmuch as there are many fundamental laws that are (according to our best physics) independent and there is only one God. How does adding more gods make things even better from that point of view?”

            First, you are wrong. The fundamental forces are believed to have separated out from a single fundamental force close to the big bang.

            Second more gods does not make things worse- the issue is the attributes assigned to God. Having the attributes assigned to separate entities is no more unsupported then having them all assigned to the same entity and has the obvious advantage of matching the world better (namely explaining the problem of evil).

            “My claim that certain facts (such as Regularity) are more probable on theism than atheism just is the claim that theism has predictive power.”

            Predictive power means you do something in advance of the observation. The universe follows cause and effect isn’t exactly an esoteric insight people in the past lacked.

            ” We infer the existence of electrons and other similarly sized particles because they explain larger structures that we are able to observe.”

            Or because electricity exists.

            “Instead of positing electrons, neutrons, etc. we could just say that there are a bunch of fundamentally different types of atoms (or whatever the smallest level we’re able to observe is), and that other facts which electrons etc. could explain are similarly brute”

            That wouldn’t work for atoms because of nuclear decay and fusion.

            If you mean quarks and other stuff at the bottom, they hold their position as fundamental particles in part because we can’t find them on their own. It is possible there is stuff smaller, but if it doesn’t interact with us, we can treat it as nonexistence for the purpose of prediction making and theory crafting.

            ” are necessary for life to exist (indeed, are often necessary for anything more complex than hydrogen to exist), ”

            Yes, life in our universe is adapted to living in our universe. That tells you nothing about all possible universes.

            “Do you disagree with these numbers? If so, what would your estimates be? ”

            Because there isn’t anything stopping the assumptions from being placed on any other possible noun. The assumptions of “values life” and “can create universe” can be applied to anything giving you the probability of Steve Jobs, Hitler, Scott, EY, Harry Potter, the Women’s Temperance league and Ed, the Talking horse all with 1/8 probability.

            “A regular universe seems very surprising if atheism is true, given all the ways that the universe could have been irregular.”

            We don’t know the laws of physics enough to be able to make that statement.

            “Addressing the problem of evil would take this post far afield, so let me just register agreement that it is data that needs to be taken into account, and that it is also evidence against theism. I think it’s outweighed by the evidence for theism, but I won’t try to justify that assertion here.”

            Its logically incompatible. What are the probability of logically incompatible things existing just with that piece of knowledge?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Skinner:
            Either approach works fine.

            How on earth does destroying the basis for any rational thought work just as well as saying “Oh, yeah, guess we were mistaken about particles are like”?

            “My point was you (generalized; I’m not questioning your physics skills) would have declared them contradictory before hand.

            So people beforehand were mistaken. So what? People have been mistaken about lots of things in the history of science.

            Thus you can’t claim absolute certainty using logic. The platonic form of logic may be perfect, but since we don’t live in Plato’s world, that is irrelevant.

            That doesn’t follow at all. I can be certain that, if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, Socrates must therefore be mortal, whatever scientists might discover about waves and particles.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            “Real entity? I think you need another word. Water polo exists as much as water exists. What do you need to be more real than that?”

            What I need is an ability to survive the Destruction of Earth test. If the Earth destroyed by a meteorite, there is no way for an alien species to recover the concept of water polo, but of course they would have the concept of water…H2O is a natural kind, and therefore realler than a mere social construct.

          • Troy says:

            Taboo brute.

            You’re welcome to replace “brute” with “fundamental” or “ultimately unexplained,” although I don’t see what difference it will make.

            “Suppose the domed structure has technologies we’ve never observed before. Then we can’t explain why the aliens can make them. But it’s still much more likely that aliens made them than a tornado or solar flare.”

            That doesn’t answer my objection. At all. Other intelligent life can have the property of “using tools” and “building structures” and we know that because we have seen what intelligent life can do on earth.

            If we use vague enough descriptions of the relevant abilities, then God will also share the abilities with intelligent beings we have observed. For example, other intelligent beings can have the property of “making stuff” or “constructing systems.” There’s a difference in degree here, but not a difference in kind.

            Tornado’s and solar flares do not have those capabilities.

            Sure they do; it’s possible that a tornado assemble a car, just extremely unlikely.

            “My claim was that God’s existence being brute is preferable to the laws of the universe being brute because the former has less “bruteness,” inasmuch as there are many fundamental laws that are (according to our best physics) independent and there is only one God. How does adding more gods make things even better from that point of view?”

            First, you are wrong. The fundamental forces are believed to have separated out from a single fundamental force close to the big bang.

            I’m talking about the laws governing the forces, not the forces themselves. Those laws govern the way in which the universe evolves out of the big bang.

            Second more gods does not make things worse- the issue is the attributes assigned to God. Having the attributes assigned to separate entities is no more unsupported then having them all assigned to the same entity

            It’s less simple. Instead of one entity that has all the omni-attributes you have several entities each of which has one of them, and other attributes besides (e.g., if the all-knowing one is not all-powerful, he has to have some degree of power or other). That gives us both more total fundamental beings and more total fundamental attributes.

            “Whether theism “works” as an explanation is precisely what is in dispute.”

            Works means explanatory power. Any novel predictions?

            Do you believe that Julius Caesar was assassinated? Can you make any novel predictions from that? Sometimes all the evidence we’re likely to get adjudicating between two hypotheses is already in.

            “My claim that certain facts (such as Regularity) are more probable on theism than atheism just is the claim that theism has predictive power.”

            Predictive power means you do something in advance of the observation.

            Suppose that we had read all the historical texts, done all the archaeology, etc., and that only then did someone stop to think — you know, all these people saying that Caesar was murdered, etc., all that stuff is more likely if he was murdered. So probably he was murdered. There is nothing wrong with this reasoning, and yet (as it happens) they didn’t come up with the theory until after the observations, and so made no predictions.

            ” We infer the existence of electrons and other similarly sized particles because they explain larger structures that we are able to observe.”

            Or because electricity exists.

            Right. Which electrons explain. But we could make the observed functioning of electricity in macroscopic environments a fundamental law, unexplained by anything else.

            That wouldn’t work for atoms because of nuclear decay and fusion.

            We can make the functioning of those fundamental laws too.

            I’m not saying we should do this. I’m just saying that our observations do not entail the existence of electrons, etc., and that we infer their existence because that’s a simpler explanation than all these patterns, laws, etc. being fundamental. We do not get certainty in the existence of electrons, only a very high degree of probability.

            Yes, life in our universe is adapted to living in our universe. That tells you nothing about all possible universes.

            Other possible universes are what physicists study when they talk about fine-tuning. For example, if the cosmological constant (the rate at which the universe is expanding) were just a little bit faster, particles would be moving away from each other so fast that complex matter would never form. If it were a little bit slower, the universe would have collapsed in on itself shortly after the Big Bang.

            “Do you disagree with these numbers? If so, what would your estimates be? ”

            Because there isn’t anything stopping the assumptions from being placed on any other possible noun. The assumptions of “values life” and “can create universe” can be applied to anything giving you the probability of Steve Jobs, Hitler, Scott, EY, Harry Potter, the Women’s Temperance league and Ed, the Talking horse all with 1/8 probability.

            Are you arguing that my probability assignments are wrong, or that we can’t assign probabilities at all here?

            “A regular universe seems very surprising if atheism is true, given all the ways that the universe could have been irregular.”

            We don’t know the laws of physics enough to be able to make that statement.

            Part of what needs to be explained is the existence of laws in the first place. We could have had a universe in which one law governs matter one second, another one the next, and so on. This would be an irregular universe, and there are many more such possible universes than the kind we observe.

            Moreover, even given the existence of laws, their functioning in such a way as to give rise to life and to be discoverable by us is astronomically low given that they take on the forms they do by chance. This is widely accepted in the physics community. The simplest example is the various constants that figure into the laws, such as the cosmological constant or the strength of gravity. Theoretically these can take on a wide range of possible values. However, what we find in most cases is that the range of those theoretically possible values which allow for life (in many cases, anything other than hydrogen) is extremely small — e.g., < 10^-50. For example, a 2003 article by Robin Collins estimates the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant as 1 part in 10^53 (I think that more recent estimates put it at lower than that). Roger Penrose estimates the fine-tuning of the low entropy of the initial state of the universe as 1 part in 10^(10^123). Even if a couple of these estimates are wrong, we know the science well enough at this point to say that the probability of a single universe permitting life by chance is really, really low.

            This doesn't preclude non-theistic explanations of the existence of laws and their fine-tuning, of course. But there is something to be explained.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            Real entity? I think you need another word.

            Natural kind.

            Water polo exists as much as water exists. What do you need to be more real than that?

            They both exist. But water is a natural kind. Water polo is not.

            Agua is Spanish for water. The specific word used is a social convention depending on what language you are using. The properties of what you are talking about may be fixed (the Earth doesn’t change even if you call it мир or Welt), but the way we label those properties is determined by how people want to categorize things.

            Here are two sentences about H2O:

            1. Snow is white.
            2. Schnee ist weiß.

            These are two different sentences, but they express the same proposition. I am not making the trivial point that languages, or the jargons of occupational groups within languages, etc., have different words for things. What I am saying is that propositions about, e.g., “quarks” are propositions about a natural kind, whereas propositions about, e.g., “Fortune 500 Companies” are not.

            All of this goes to the very old philosophical debate about whether it is possible to “carve nature at the joints” or not. That debate is about propositions, not sentences. It is about whether there are natural kinds at all, or just instrumentalist categorizations. Between these positions, there is sonmething like Kantian conceptualism in the debate over universals: that we require certain categories due to our cognitive architecture (which is natural to us) but that these categories are not (or at least need not be) inherent to non-human nature.

            When EY talks about “cluster structures” he sounds like an instrumentalist to me. When he talks about “how an algorithm feels from the inside” he sounds like a conceptualist to me. Those are legitimate positions in philosophy of science, although as a scientific realist I disagree with them. Now, maybe that sort of debate interests you. Maybe not. But “Agua is Spanish for water” is not a contribution to that debate, which is about propositions, not sentences.

            H2O is a chemical description corresponding to the number of protons in individual atoms and their arrangement. Technically if you removed all the electrons and neutrons it would still be H2O, but it would have vastly different properties (namely it would explode because the protons repel each other).

            Okay. But is the H2O molecule a natural kind, or a social convention? How about quarks, or superstrings, or whatever level seems “fundamental” to you in a reductionist sense? Are there ANY natural kinds? That’s the question. E.g., I submit that “H+H++O” is a natural kind and “H+H+O+Queen Elizabeth II” is an arbitrary collection. So: are they both equally arbitrary, both equally valid only in relation to their instrumental utility for human projects? Or not?

            The use of the term water is a social convention based on the fact we generally deal with its liquid form. Its water vapor, water and ice water compared to gaseous iron, molten iron and iron or oxygen, liquid oxygen and solid oxygen.

            By water, I have meant H2O. You can plug in H2O for everything I’ve said so far.

            Everything that exists in reality is real. Social conventions are real, just like atoms. The difference is they are changeable and don’t have a physical form while the facts atoms exist is not changeable and individual atoms have a physical form.

            I apologize for saying “real.” It has proven unhelpful. Let’s taboo “real” and focus on “natural kinds.” That “changeability” you talk about sounds like you’re quite close to the core issue. Quarks differ from electrons independent of human projects and preferences, whereas the prince and the pauper primarily differ along socioeconomic axes derived from human conventions. Independent of human conventions, the prince and the pauper are just two closely related organisms. What I’m getting at is that some conceptual distinctions are more artificial than others, more contingent than others.

            “actually shared your sense that physics ought to inform logic. ”

            That isn’t my position. I’m pointing out that we can’t claim logic provides absolute certainty if it declares with absolute certainty something impossible which proceeds to turn out to be true.

            Okay. Let’s say we somehow discovered curved spacetime before non-Euclidean geometry. Then we developed non-Euclidean geometry to model it. That wouldn’t make Euclidean geometry “less true.” Just less universal: for some purposes, other geometries work better. Likewise, quantum weirdness inspired a revival of interest in dialetheism. That’s fine. But however useful dialetheism is for modeling/categorizing research results, it’s not very useful for conducting discursive arguments in. You still pretty much want classical logic, or a modern logic rather close to it, for that. Because any argument that can be derailed by one interlocutor designating a proposition as “both true and false” isn’t going to get anywhere. And maybe I’m insufficiently imaginative (or insufficiently Buddhist?), but I just don’t see how any result in natural science could conceivably change that fact about arguments. They just don’t seem to relate to each other in that way. That’s all I’m saying about logic. I think it’s a rather modest claim, frankly.

          • Irenist says:

            @Eli:

            In privileging the Meta-Level theories designed to compress data over the actual data and in failing to dissolve the debate between nominalism and Platonism,

            Aristotle dissolved the debate between nominalism and Platonism with moderate realism. And the debate between Parmenides and Heraclitus with the theory of act and potency. Dissolving debates was kind of a thing for him.

            YOU FAIL HIERARCHICAL BAYES FOREVER. I award you no points, and may Cthulhu have mercy on your soul.

            Regarding “fail[ing] hierarchical Bayes forever,” you remind me of something Scott once wrote:

            Feser’s argument is that most atheists arguing with Christians are pretty much the equivalent of a Calvinist going up to a Hindu saying “Look! John Calvin’s writings totally oppose abortion! Why can’t you see that?!”.

            I don’t think you’ll find many metaphysicians who are worried about “failing hypothetical Bayes forever,” any more than you will find New Atheists worrying about “burning in hell forever.”

            By the way, the correct answer to “Why do we observe regularities?” is “Because we’d have very different sorts of minds and be different sorts of beings if there weren’t actually regularities in the universe.” In fact, our kind of life and our kind of minds could not run in a maximum-entropy universe.

            Anthropic principle. Sure.

            Now admittedly, this means we’ve explained away the observation without explaining what caused the universe to be that way.

            Yup. Or the multiverse. But whatever. Physics can do that later. Your real problem is failing to explain why there is anything at all rather than nothing at all (and no, don’t quote Krauss at me, he failed miserably by mistaking physics for metaphysics), and explaining how there can be any change, at all.

            But at least we’ve moved from the idiotic Sacred Mystery of “apparent naturalism requires a God of the Gaps” to the genuine scientific unknown of, “Why does the universe work in this stochastic way that gives rise to entropy, thus life, thus evolution, thus minds that reason statistically and build hierarchies of theories to compress their sensory data?”

            Who’s making a God of the gaps argument? I’ll grant you fine-tuning and associated kalam-style arguments arguendo, okay? But IMHO this subthread has mainly been about whether there’s any sufficient reason (in the Principle of Sufficient Reason sense) for anything (physics, evolution, whatever) to function in a law-like way. It’s the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” question, NOT one of those universe vs. multiverse type questions.

            Notice how the latter involves a lot more “thuses”, because it actually explains things.

            Well, if you want to get into a thus-measuring contest with an analytical Thomist, you will lose. Because our worldview contains every single “thus” your worldview derives from the inductions of natural science, but also contains lots of thuses derived from ontological deductions. (And Aquinas says “ergo” (“thus”) plenty, I promise.) Our worldview explains all the same things yours does, but also answers metaphysical questions. Your worldview stops at science questions, and mocks metaphysics, thereby failing to satisfy the principle of sufficient reason at the level of general ontology. You explain less. Now, you can (erroneously, IMHO) reject our deductions with Ockham’s Razor. But the razor is rather inconsistent with having a thus-measuring contest. So let’s not.

            Also, the correct answer to “Could it be the case that 1+1 != 2?” is no, because once you’re working inside a fixed formal system, you’ve moved your uncertainty out of the model. There’s a countable infinity of (consistent) formal systems, and each of them has no uncertainty “on the inside” (which is what we mean by formal: all the operations of the system are recursively enumerable through raw computation, with no probabilistic choices involved). There is uncertainty in which formal system we use. Foundational systems in real mathematics are chosen for their ability to elegantly represent and derive the object-level structures and theories mathematicians want to study, and those object-level structures and theories have tended to be developed to represent regularities in the physical world.

            That’s all very true and very well-written. But all beside the point of whether physics can somehow “disprove” math or logic. It cannot.

            IN THIS REALM OF THE A POSTERIORI, OBJECT-LEVEL UNIVERSE, EVEN ALL YOUR META-SOPHISTICATION IS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS USELESS!!!

            I don’t think the Calvinist would’ve been more convincing to the Hindu if he’d used all caps, either. Anyhow, nobody here is rejecting any scientific inductions, okay? The methods of natural science are the best methods for the quantitative prediction and control of nature. You think that, and so do analytical Thomists. So whatever use you get out of those methods, so do we. However we also have deductions that explain how a contingent universe in which change occurs can exist. N.B. that these are a posteriori deductions from the fact of change, not a priori conceptual analysis. We explain more of the things.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Mr X
            “How on earth does destroying the basis for any rational thought work just as well as saying “Oh, yeah, guess we were mistaken about particles are like”?”

            You are going to need a explanation for how it destroy rational thought. We still use logic just like we use experimentation to get answers. Sure it possible for the experiments to all trend towards the wrong answer, but the odds are good.

            “So people beforehand were mistaken. So what? People have been mistaken about lots of things in the history of science.”

            Because they would have been mistaken even though they did all the logical steps correctly. This is a strike against logic being able to always produce correct answers.

            “That doesn’t follow at all. I can be certain that, if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, Socrates must therefore be mortal, whatever scientists might discover about waves and particles.”

            That’s great. And if I claimed logic never worked it might even be relevant. I’m not saying logic is internally inconsistent, I’m saying it is not a tool handed down from the heavens that perfectly reflects reality.

            TheAncientGeek
            “What I need is an ability to survive the Destruction of Earth test. If the Earth destroyed by a meteorite, there is no way for an alien species to recover the concept of water polo, but of course they would have the concept of water…H2O is a natural kind, and therefore realler than a mere social construct.”

            Humans aren’t a natural concept?

            Troy
            “You’re welcome to replace “brute” with “fundamental” or “ultimately unexplained,” although I don’t see what difference it will make.”

            Unexplained is best.

            “If we use vague enough descriptions of the relevant abilities, then God will also share the abilities with intelligent beings we have observed.”

            God is postulating new abilities. Intelligent aliens is postulating that “intelligent life is only found on earth” is wrong. That is not a big leap.

            “Sure they do; it’s possible that a tornado assemble a car, just extremely unlikely.”

            Its unlikely in the same manner that phasing through solid matter is unlikely. We can discount it as a relevant explanation for almost all cases.

            “I’m talking about the laws governing the forces, not the forces themselves. Those laws govern the way in which the universe evolves out of the big bang.”

            What makes you say there was more than one? I wouldn’t have predicted “gravity and weak nuclear combine”; what makes you so certain that the laws are different?

            “Instead of one entity that has all the omni-attributes you have several entities each of which has one of them, and other attributes besides (e.g., if the all-knowing one is not all-powerful, he has to have some degree of power or other). That gives us both more total fundamental beings and more total fundamental attributes.”

            No it doesn’t. All knowing and all powerful are infinite. Having highly knowing and highly power are finite. Finite quantities never add up to an infinite value.

            “Do you believe that Julius Caesar was assassinated? Can you make any novel predictions from that? Sometimes all the evidence we’re likely to get adjudicating between two hypotheses is already in.”

            Yes and yes. If we uncover records that talk about the time period we can be confident that they will also report “Caesar was assassinated”.

            If you are questioning “how do we know the official story is true”, the answer is we don’t. We have reason to believe it is true, but the veracity of a lot of historical sources, particularly for the ancient era, are doubtful.

            ” There is nothing wrong with this reasoning, and yet (as it happens) they didn’t come up with the theory until after the observations, and so made no predictions.”

            It would be less solid than theories developed in advance. Its very easy to fit a line to a trend, hard to predict it. We are able to falsify predicting theories eg; what happened on Easter Island.

            “But we could make the observed functioning of electricity in macroscopic environments a fundamental law, unexplained by anything else.”

            That wouldn’t work. It doesn’t explain why not everything is as conductive or how magnetism is related to it. It has worse predictive power than the electron model.

            “We can make the functioning of those fundamental laws too.”

            If fundamental particles break up into smaller particles they aren’t fundamental.

            “I’m just saying that our observations do not entail the existence of electrons, etc., and that we infer their existence because that’s a simpler explanation than all these patterns, laws, etc. being fundamental. We do not get certainty in the existence of electrons, only a very high degree of probability.”

            http://physics.aps.org/featured-article-pdf/10.1103/PhysRevLett.110.213001

            “Other possible universes are what physicists study when they talk about fine-tuning. For example, if the cosmological constant (the rate at which the universe is expanding) were just a little bit faster, particles would be moving away from each other so fast that complex matter would never form. If it were a little bit slower, the universe would have collapsed in on itself shortly after the Big Bang.”

            And? The fundamental forces were all one at a point. What makes you think the cosmological constant is independent?

            “Are you arguing that my probability assignments are wrong, or that we can’t assign probabilities at all here?”

            I’m saying your probabilities scale up to infinity when we keep adding 1/8 for each entity that could carry out that action. Your assumption do not work because they aren’t exclusive- there isn’t anything preventing those criteria being applied to all nouns in the universe. What you have isn’t the probability for God creating the universe- it the odds of something we don’t know creating the universe. Entities we know that do have a motive to make the universe (Hitler, Steve Jobs, Scott, Mr Ed) are at probability 1/4.

            ” We could have had a universe in which one law governs matter one second, another one the next, and so on. This would be an irregular universe, and there are many more such possible universes than the kind we observe.”

            How do you know we don’t live in that universe? As long as they don’t disrupt macroscopic behavior, we wouldn’t be able to tell.

            ” their functioning in such a way as to give rise to life and to be discoverable by us is astronomically low given that they take on the forms they do by chance.”

            Yeah, and the forms of living things are near zero given chance. The alternatives aren’t chance and design.

            “Theoretically these can take on a wide range of possible values. ”

            Where are you getting that? We have no idea what possible values they could take, how likely possible values are or what the relation possible values have with each other. For all we know they could be quantized.

            “But there is something to be explained.”

            Why? The odds of any of those other universes appearing would be equally low. Only since we are assuming that we are important is it a question that we assume needs answering. Its like looking at the long odds to create the current government and then declaring it is divinely chosen because of that. Or declaring nuclear war was 99.9% likely and so our existence is due to divine intervention.

            Irenist

            “Natural kind.”

            Still not useful. Let me give an example- color. We view it as discrete categories even though it is a continuous spectrum. However so do other animals. If natural means “not picked by humans” than it has one answer, but will provide other answers for other definitions of natural.

            “All of this goes to the very old philosophical debate about whether it is possible to “carve nature at the joints” or not. ”

            Given the quantum in quantum mechanics means discrete values, its pretty clear the answer is yes.

            ” It is about whether there are natural kinds at all, or just instrumentalist categorizations.”

            Why not both? Why is the categories human use considered mutually exclusive with “there exist discrete differences between things in the world”?

            “When EY talks about “cluster structures” he sounds like an instrumentalist to me. When he talks about “how an algorithm feels from the inside” he sounds like a conceptualist to me.”

            This?
            http://lesswrong.com/lw/nl/the_cluster_structure_of_thingspace/

            I’m not sure what else he is supposed to say when it comes to things like “birds are animals that can fly” and “penguins are birds”.

            “which is about propositions, not sentences. ”

            It seems to verge on asking if categorization exists independently of categorizers. Attributes exist independent of people. Categories are chosen by people. What categories people choose does not change the attributes of the objects in question.

            “E.g., I submit that “H+H++O” is a natural kind and “H+H+O+Queen Elizabeth II” is an arbitrary collection.”

            That depends on what you are doing. If its “things that physically exist”, both are equally valid collections. The issue is the lower number of shared attributes in the later collection.

            “But is the H2O molecule a natural kind, or a social convention? ”

            Both. We could as easily write out H2O + H2O + H2O because of its propensity to form weak bonds with neighboring atoms. The molecule exists but the way we choose to describe it is a social convention.

            “That wouldn’t make Euclidean geometry “less true.” Just less universal:”

            That’s sort of what “I’m pointing out that we can’t claim logic provides absolute certainty” means.

            “I don’t think you’ll find many metaphysicians who are worried about “failing hypothetical Bayes forever,” any more than you will find New Atheists worrying about “burning in hell forever.” ”

            They don’t post on blogs dedicated to Bayes. Or are you declaring that reason is a social convention?

            “Your real problem is failing to explain why there is anything at all rather than nothing at all (and no, don’t quote Krauss at me, he failed miserably by mistaking physics for metaphysics), and explaining how there can be any change, at all.”

            Theism can’t do this either. You can always take the attributes affixed to God and attach them to the universe which is always one less assumption since we know the universe exists.

            “But IMHO this subthread has mainly been about whether there’s any sufficient reason (in the Principle of Sufficient Reason sense) for anything (physics, evolution, whatever) to function in a law-like way.”

            That’s smuggling in the assumption “there must be a reason/cause”.

            “but also contains lots of thuses derived from ontological deductions.”

            That requires you to have correct understanding of how things exist to start. Given how massively our understanding of physics changed I doubt that is remotely workable (especially since it appears to intend to keep on adding new insights).

            “Our worldview explains all the same things yours does, but also answers metaphysical questions. ”

            And Judaism answers metametaphysical questions that you fail to answer. Being able to answer more questions completely disconnected from the real world is not an accomplishment.

            “thereby failing to satisfy the principle of sufficient reason at the level of general ontology.”

            Because we don’t assume that all things need causes. We can observe things in the universe that don’t have causes (quantum foam).

          • Troy says:

            God is postulating new abilities. Intelligent aliens is postulating that “intelligent life is only found on earth” is wrong. That is not a big leap.

            The line between “new abilities” and “old abilities in a different form” is vague.

            What makes you say there was more than one? I wouldn’t have predicted “gravity and weak nuclear combine”; what makes you so certain that the laws are different?

            This is the orthodox view in physics. Given what we currently know, there is no reason to think that there couldn’t be a universe with a different value of the cosmological constant and the same value of the gravitational force couldn’t exist, or a universe with no gravitation at all but otherwise obeying the same laws as our own.

            “Instead of one entity that has all the omni-attributes you have several entities each of which has one of them, and other attributes besides (e.g., if the all-knowing one is not all-powerful, he has to have some degree of power or other). That gives us both more total fundamental beings and more total fundamental attributes.”

            No it doesn’t. All knowing and all powerful are infinite. Having highly knowing and highly power are finite. Finite quantities never add up to an infinite value.

            This doesn’t contradict what I said. We have more beings and more attributes, whatever the quantities involved in the attributes. Are you claiming that the latter and not the former are what is important for the complexity of a hypothesis?

            “Do you believe that Julius Caesar was assassinated? Can you make any novel predictions from that? Sometimes all the evidence we’re likely to get adjudicating between two hypotheses is already in.”

            Yes and yes. If we uncover records that talk about the time period we can be confident that they will also report “Caesar was assassinated”.

            That’s a conditional prediction. If you pick a conditional with an improbable antecedent, then it’s easy to make those and not be proven wrong. We could imagine that we have extremely good evidence that we will never uncover any more ancient records. (Suppose a devastating natural disaster completely destroys all sites that could contain such records.) It wouldn’t make your belief that Caesar was assassinated any less rational

            (Incidentally, that prediction is too strong. Plenty of historians discuss that time period who don’t mention Caesar’s assassination, e.g., Josephus. This is an example where it’s important to keep in mind not just P(evidence | H), but the Bayes’ factor P(evidence | H) / P(evidence | ~H). Discovering that an ancient source says that Caesar was assassinated is indeed good evidence that he is, because the denominator of the Bayes’ factor is so low. But the numerator is not especially high, because historians, having only finite space and particular interests, often do not talk about even very notable events.)

            It would be less solid than theories developed in advance. Its very easy to fit a line to a trend, hard to predict it.

            Do you consider yourself a Bayesian? It’s generally agreed among Bayesians that there’s nothing inherently (as opposed to contingently, in certain cases) better about prediction than accommodation. In your line-fitting example, an ad hoc fit will usually take a penalty in its prior.

            “But we could make the observed functioning of electricity in macroscopic environments a fundamental law, unexplained by anything else.”

            That wouldn’t work. It doesn’t explain why not everything is as conductive or how magnetism is related to it.

            My point is that we can make any observations we want fundamental. If the ones we’ve made fundamental so far don’t explain some other stuff, make that stuff fundamental too. Just leave it all unexplained.

            Again, I’m not saying we should do this. We can, but we usually shouldn’t. We should try to explain as much as we can.

            “I’m just saying that our observations do not entail the existence of electrons, etc., and that we infer their existence because that’s a simpler explanation than all these patterns, laws, etc. being fundamental. We do not get certainty in the existence of electrons, only a very high degree of probability.”

            http://physics.aps.org/featured-article-pdf/10.1103/PhysRevLett.110.213001

            Assuming that paper is right, just go back a few years before we were able to observe the structure of any atoms. The point I’m making has to do with what we ought to believe under hypothetical circumstances; if those circumstances recently became non-actual, just imagine going back to when they were actual.

            I’m saying your probabilities scale up to infinity when we keep adding 1/8 for each entity that could carry out that action. Your assumption do not work because they aren’t exclusive- there isn’t anything preventing those criteria being applied to all nouns in the universe. What you have isn’t the probability for God creating the universe- it the odds of something we don’t know creating the universe. Entities we know that do have a motive to make the universe (Hitler, Steve Jobs, Scott, Mr Ed) are at probability 1/4.

            I still don’t understand what you’re saying. The probability that God creates the universe was not one of the terms in my estimation. I was trying to estimate P(Reliable|Theism), and showed that if P(Value|Theism), P(Necessary|Value,Theism), and P(Regular|Value,Necessary,Theism) all have probabilities of at least 1/2, P(Reliable|Theism) > 1/8. This follows mathematically; if you wish to deny the conclusion you have to deny one of the premises. Which one(s) do you deny, and why?

            ” We could have had a universe in which one law governs matter one second, another one the next, and so on. This would be an irregular universe, and there are many more such possible universes than the kind we observe.”

            How do you know we don’t live in that universe? As long as they don’t disrupt macroscopic behavior, we wouldn’t be able to tell.

            The number of universes in which micro-laws constantly change but macro-laws stay constant is much smaller than the number in which micro-laws change and so do macro-laws.

            To see this, imagine a universe the state of which at each moment is described by three binary digits. It has 8 possible states:

            000
            001
            010
            100
            011
            101
            110
            111

            Let each of these states be the micro-state and the number of 0s at a moment be the macro-state. Then there are four possible macro-states: 0, 1, 2, and 3.

            Suppose that at one moment the macro-state is 0 or 3. Then if the macro-state changes the micro-state must change. Suppose it’s 1 or 2. Then if the micro-state changes there’s a 5/7 chance the macro-state changes too. So, if at every moment we have a change, we end up with macro-states changing most moments.

            Similarly, the micro-laws changing in just such a way that the macro-laws always stayed the same would be extraordinary: you’d have to constantly have the laws changing in such a way as to “balance each other out,” just like changing two digits at once in the above example so that their change balances out on the macro-level.

            “Theoretically these can take on a wide range of possible values. ”

            Where are you getting that? We have no idea what possible values they could take, how likely possible values are or what the relation possible values have with each other. For all we know they could be quantized.

            Again, this is the dominant view in physics. It’s possible that there’s some deeper theory that makes the values we observe inevitable, but nothing we know right now suggests that. Hence, other values are “theoretically possible” in the sense that other values are compatible with our best scientific theories.

            “But there is something to be explained.”

            Why? The odds of any of those other universes appearing would be equally low. Only since we are assuming that we are important is it a question that we assume needs answering.

            Ultimately it comes down to Bayes’ Theorem; is there another theory which gives the data a higher likelihood that is not itself prohibitively improbable prior to that data? I think there is, and that’s the claim I’m interested in defending. But I do think that looking at a probability on the order of 10^-(10^123) — a number vastly smaller than the ratio of a proton to the entire universe — and saying “eh, no big deal, improbable things happen” is a little crazy. Thinking otherwise seems to me to betray the kind of scope insensitivity Scott talks about in his more recent post, like thinking the improbability here is just like that involved in winning the lottery a couple of times in a row.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “The line between “new abilities” and “old abilities in a different form” is vague.”

            Not really. We have no examples of all powerful, all knowing or all good in the world. We have examples of intelligent life and things from other planets (but not a combination). Since they aren’t mutually exclusive it isn’t a massive leap.

            “This is the orthodox view in physics. ”

            Which only extends back so far. You don’t know how things operated prior to what the current models go. Isn’t “physics was one” a higher probability than believing there is an unsolvable problem?

            “This doesn’t contradict what I said. We have more beings and more attributes, whatever the quantities involved in the attributes. Are you claiming that the latter and not the former are what is important for the complexity of a hypothesis?”

            I’m saying infinite attributes are fundamentally different from all other attributes. I’m sorry I put it so poorly. Good is coherent, all good is not. All powerful and all seeing are coherent, but powerful and wide seeing are actually known to exist. Adding a bunch of spirits/gods/powers adds more entities, but it adds less impossible powers. To choose between the theories you’d need to compare observed reality and see what matches better. And you can make a better case for “competing civil servants” than “all powerful God”. “Wait, who forgot to unpack the laws of physics”, “add a universal speed limit- that will keep anyone from doing anything stupid before we can catch it”, “I bet you can’t hit that planet over there with as many rocks as I can” and, of course “you did divine revelation wrong, let me try (attempt number 179)”. Basically the Omni powers don’t mesh with what we see in the world, which boosts non-Omni theism (which meshes much easier since it has more epicycles).

            “If you pick a conditional with an improbable antecedent, then it’s easy to make those and not be proven wrong.”

            Yes, that’s the problem of talking about times where very little data still exists.

            “It wouldn’t make your belief that Caesar was assassinated any less rational”

            It means talking about “I believe Caesar was assassinated” and “I believe it was reported Caesar was assassinated” doesn’t have any difference. Unless something has effects on what you will discover in the real world, what is the point of talking about beliefs?

            “Plenty of historians discuss that time period who don’t mention Caesar’s assassination, e.g., Josephus.”

            He was writing about Jewish history.

            “It’s generally agreed among Bayesians that there’s nothing inherently (as opposed to contingently, in certain cases) better about prediction than accommodation. In your line-fitting example, an ad hoc fit will usually take a penalty in its prior.”

            We are using before versus after to judge what other people have done. Judging beforehand correctly is evidence the person understands the underlying phenomena; judging afterwards isn’t.

            “My point is that we can make any observations we want fundamental. If the ones we’ve made fundamental so far don’t explain some other stuff, make that stuff fundamental too. Just leave it all unexplained.”

            I’m not seeing how this is an answer since this is in fact how we are operating. Atoms were fundamental until we discovered they weren’t, the same with protons and neutrons.

            “Assuming that paper is right, just go back a few years before we were able to observe the structure of any atoms. ”

            The discovery of electrons involved them being found outside of atoms. If you want to ask “do I believe strings exist”, I’m going to answer “I’m waiting to see”.

            “This follows mathematically; if you wish to deny the conclusion you have to deny one of the premises. Which one(s) do you deny, and why?”

            I’m not denying any of them. You left out the most important assumption of them all- God has the power to create universes. This is an important assumption.

            When you add it to your model it destroy it because if you can assume that about God, why not other entities? Since its equally justified individuals who we know have motivation for wanting to create the universe (and we know exist) have higher probabilities than God for creating the Universe.

            “To see this, imagine a universe the state of which at each moment is described by three binary digits. It has 8 possible states:”

            That example doesn’t work. You are assuming the whole universe changes laws simultaneously, that all changes last an appreciable amount of time and that all macro changes are noticeable.

            If the resolution is the smallest possible unit of measure and smallest possible unit of time, random changes of the laws of physics will be swamped out by changes in the opposite direction and/or the sheer amount of normal.

            “Again, this is the dominant view in physics. It’s possible that there’s some deeper theory that makes the values we observe inevitable, but nothing we know right now suggests that. Hence, other values are “theoretically possible” in the sense that other values are compatible with our best scientific theories.”

            That isn’t particularly helpful though since we don’t know how they can vary, if we’ve got all the physical laws or if they are independent. Treat it as a prediction and see what we have when we complete physics.

            “Ultimately it comes down to Bayes’ Theorem; is there another theory which gives the data a higher likelihood that is not itself prohibitively improbable prior to that data? ”

            “Multiverse”
            “Universe resets after given amount of time with new laws of physics”
            “Constants are a given”
            “Consciousness is magic and would appear regardless of life”
            “Existence is an illusion so the numbers we’ve generated are bunk”
            “Universe created by Satan”
            “Universe created by time travel”

            All answer that question. I personally prefer to wait until we actually understand the universe to declare that naturalism (aka our experience with how things work in the universe) is wrong.

            ” But I do think that looking at a probability on the order of 10^-(10^123) ”

            We exist so I’m not seeing where you get the likelihood we exist as so improbable.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner (1):

            “How on earth does destroying the basis for any rational thought work just as well as saying “Oh, yeah, guess we were mistaken about particles are like”?”
            You are going to need a explanation for how it destroy rational thought.

            I think what Mr. X is getting at is that if you adopt dialetheist logic out of deference to wave particle duality, you destroy rational thought. You don’t seem to be arguing we should adopt dialetheism, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

            Because they would have been mistaken even though they did all the logical steps correctly. This is a strike against logic being able to always produce correct answers.

            It’s not a strike for or against logic; it has to do with whether observation and hypothesis were sound, not whether the logic was valid. Consider the following syllogism:
            All the red jars in the lab contain phlogiston.
            This is a red jar in the lab.
            Thus, this jar contains phlogiston.
            It’s a valid syllogism. Logic hasn’t failed. It’s just that the major premise was unsound: phlogiston doesn’t exist. But that’s not somehow the fault of logic. Logic is a GIGO (“garbage in, garbage out”) system.

            if I claimed logic never worked it might even be relevant. I’m not saying logic is internally inconsistent, I’m saying it is not a tool handed down from the heavens that perfectly reflects reality.

            You seem to be saying that we shouldn’t let our worldview be in any way determined by purely logical considerations, which for you might include deductions in metaphysics. Because if that is what you’re saying, then the fact that logic is prior to physics is relevant. If not, never mind.

            Humans aren’t a natural concept?

            I think for the Ancient Geek, as for me, the question is whether human conventions are artificial as opposed to natural. Whether “human” is a natural kind is a separate inquiry. Some of the New Essentialists (e.g., Brian Ellis), think only fundamental particles are natural kinds. For Thomists, biological species are natural kinds. For conventionalists in the philosophy of science, there are no natural kinds at all.

            “You’re welcome to replace “brute” with “fundamental” or “ultimately unexplained,” although I don’t see what difference it will make.”

            Unexplained is best.

            “Unexplained” is a very good synonym for “brute.” However, the literature on “brute facts” is vast, and I think it’s better to just keep the word, which has connotations involving Anscombe’s discussion of how facts can be brute relative to each other that are lost when you taboo “brute.” You can read it as “unexplained” if you like, but if you’re going to engage in discussions about this stuff, you might as well get used to the vocab.

            “Do you believe that Julius Caesar was assassinated? Can you make any novel predictions from that? Sometimes all the evidence we’re likely to get adjudicating between two hypotheses is already in.”

            Yes and yes. If we uncover records that talk about the time period we can be confident that they will also report “Caesar was assassinated”.

            Let’s say you have locked-in syndrome, can’t feel your lower body, and somebody locks you in a sensory deprivation chamber with some silent, unseen equipment that takes care of nutrition and excretion for you. You have no opportunities to confirm predictions about the outside world. Based on your memories of your life before all this, are you still warranted in believing Caesar was assassinated? Or do you now have to give up all your beliefs about the outside world until such time as you can “make them pay rent in anticipated experiences”? Is it EVER rational to have beliefs that don’t “pay rent” in this way? Why or why not?

            “But we could make the observed functioning of electricity in macroscopic environments a fundamental law, unexplained by anything else.”
            That wouldn’t work. It doesn’t explain why not everything is as conductive or how magnetism is related to it. It has worse predictive power than the electron model.
            “We can make the functioning of those fundamental laws too.”
            If fundamental particles break up into smaller particles they aren’t fundamental.

            Troy appears to be trying to get you to confront the idea of “confirmation holism” developed in Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” The point is that knowledge claims in the natural sciences are always underdetermined, such that observations confirm or disconfirm not individual propositions, but entire webs of belief. Consider Kripke’s “quus” operator or Goodman’s color “grue.” Assuming a calculator capable of handling only a finite number of digits, and a definition of “quus” where the differentiation between “quus” and “plus” happens at a number larger than any expressible by the calculator, no set of observations in which you punch in keys to get answers to math problems is going to confirm for you that your calculator is doing addition rather than “quaddition.” Likewise, if your alleged sample of grue material isn’t due to change over from green to blue until 3015 AD, then no amount of staring at in your lab this year is going to tell you if it’s green or grue. What Troy is (correctly) saying is that all of nature is like this. You can always keep adding epicycles to any theory you like to get it to conform to just as many observations as the other guy’s theory. Eventually you get into “invisible garage dragon” territory, so it’s inelegant compared to employing Ockham’s razor. But in principle you can always, always make adjustments elsewhere in your belief web to accommodate any observation. Quine rightly argues that anything at all, with sufficient dedication and willingness to disregard Ockham’s razor, can be retconned.

            (cont.)

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner (2)

            “Natural kind.”
            Still not useful. Let me give an example- color. We view it as discrete categories even though it is a continuous spectrum. However so do other animals. If natural means “not picked by humans” than it has one answer, but will provide other answers for other definitions of natural.

            Natural has a very specific meaning here—not so much “non-human” as “non-arbitrary.” Not being a human social convention is part of that, but not all of it. Here’s an explanation of what “natural kind” means:
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-kinds/

            “All of this goes to the very old philosophical debate about whether it is possible to “carve nature at the joints” or not. ”
            Given the quantum in quantum mechanics means discrete values, its pretty clear the answer is yes.

            Quantum stuff is very far from the point here. When Plato’s Socrates said in the Phaedrus that philosophy has to carve nature at its joints, he wasn’t talking about Planck length, Planck time, or any other discrete as opposed to continuous stuff. The metaphor involves a butcher. When carving meat, it’s easier to carve at the joints than through a big bone. The idea is that some places are objectively, non-arbitrary division-points. In other words, the idea is that ANY objective observers would reach agreement about which objects in nature are distinct kinds of things. The conventionalist position in philosophy of science is that there are no “joints,” that any way of carving up nature is as good as another, so long as we find it amenable. The realist position is that nature has an intrinsic structure and order independent of our purposes and projects.

            ” It is about whether there are natural kinds at all, or just instrumentalist categorizations.”

            Why not both? Why is the categories human use considered mutually exclusive with “there exist discrete differences between things in the world”?

            The question is whether (a) such differences exist, and (b) whether our categories reflect them, or are just arbitrary preferences we H. sapiens happen to have. It can’t be both conventionalist/instrumentalist and realist, because either the categories are arbitrary or not. Are quarks something we just “made up” like the rules of baseball? Or are they really “out there” independent of our projects and agendas? It’s a yes or no question. Scientific realists like me say quarks are really natural kinds, really “out there” as distinct objects. Strong conventionalists will say that the concept of quarks is just something we happen to find handy, but doesn’t reflect any objective human-independent reality. (Weak conventionalists might grant that there are “joints” in nature, but have epistemological qualms. I think that’s a side issue. I’m interested in the ontological question of whether there are any joints, can be any joints. So for my purposes here, when I say “conventionalist,” I mean “strong conventionalist.) A strong conventionalist like Woolgar will claim with a straight face that the existence of quarks is a social construction of the scientific community, not a fact about nature independent from human discourse. It’s kind of reminiscent of the Sokal Hoax, the strong conventionalists postion—except much better argued. So, now that I’ve explained the stakes, I would expect you to adopt a scientific realist position about natural kinds.

            When EY talks about “cluster structures” he sounds like an instrumentalist to me. When he talks about “how an algorithm feels from the inside” he sounds like a conceptualist to me.”
            This?
            http://lesswrong.com/lw/nl/the_cluster_structure_of_thingspace/
            I’m not sure what else he is supposed to say when it comes to things like “birds are animals that can fly” and “penguins are birds”.

            That’s the page I meant on cluster structures, yes. Look, maybe EY is advocating “cluster realism” about natural kinds, there. I hope so. I hope you’re a realist of one kind or another as well. First, because it’s true. Second, because the conventionalist position is awful in the ways nominalist-type positions tend to be. Third, because work by Kripke, Putnam, Fine, and Ellis, among others, is widely held to have demonstrated that realism about natural kinds implies some kind of essentialism, even if it’s just essentialism about quarks and other fundamental particles (or quantum fields, or whatever). And this modern revival in analytic philosophy of essentialism, we Thomists hold, quite naturally opens the door to a revival of concepts involving formal causality of essence and final causality of dispositions and powers inextricably tied to essence.

            So here’s where I think you have a dilemma. If you adopt conventionalism about natural kinds, you end up thinking the concept “quark” is merely socially constructed; good luck with that. But if you adopt a realist stance (as you should), then you open the door for essentialism, for powers and dispositions. So you can either be wrong about nature, or you can let Aristotle get his foot back in the door. Your choice.

            “which is about propositions, not sentences. ”
            It seems to verge on asking if categorization exists independently of categorizers.

            Yes! Exactly. If I had a prize, I would happily award it to you. That’s what the question of natural kinds is about.

            Attributes exist independent of people. Categories are chosen by people. What categories people choose does not change the attributes of the objects in question.
            “E.g., I submit that “H+H++O” is a natural kind and “H+H+O+Queen Elizabeth II” is an arbitrary collection.”
            That depends on what you are doing. If its “things that physically exist”, both are equally valid collections. The issue is the lower number of shared attributes in the later collection.
            “But is the H2O molecule a natural kind, or a social convention? ”
            Both. We could as easily write out H2O + H2O + H2O because of its propensity to form weak bonds with neighboring atoms. The molecule exists but the way we choose to describe it is a social convention.

            It can’t be both. I’m asking if ANY of our categories are rooted in attributes that are really out there, or if they are ALL mere social convention. Even if all but a few of them were social convention, that would be a realist position. To deny realism is to say that none of our categories are mind independent. It is to say that the universe has no discourse-independent order and structure. That it’s all in our heads.

            “I don’t think you’ll find many metaphysicians who are worried about “failing hypothetical Bayes forever,” any more than you will find New Atheists worrying about “burning in hell forever.” ”
            They don’t post on blogs dedicated to Bayes. Or are you declaring that reason is a social convention?

            I’m declaring that reason is the opposite of an arbitrary social convention, so much so that metaphysics can tell us about being qua being, not just contingent truths about our own universe. And yes, I’m posting on a Bayesian’s blogs. But I’m far from the only commenter here who disagrees with the standard LW suite of positions, even on a 101 level. AFAIK, that’s okay with our gracious host. If not, I’ll respectfully shut up and lurk. His house, his rules.

            “Your real problem is failing to explain why there is anything at all rather than nothing at all (and no, don’t quote Krauss at me, he failed miserably by mistaking physics for metaphysics), and explaining how there can be any change, at all.”
            Theism can’t do this either. You can always take the attributes affixed to God and attach them to the universe which is always one less assumption since we know the universe exists.

            Nope. Complex entities are contingent. Only an absolutely simple being, like God, can be a necessary being adequate to terminate an explanatory chain satisfying the principle of sufficient reason. The selection of God as the final explanation of the cosmos is not an arbitrary one. God cannot be replaced by any complex entity like a celestial bureacracy, the Greek pantheon, the universe, or the multiverse. You can have classical theism, or you can have existence and change as brute facts. There isn’t a third choice. No amount of new physics will ever provide you with a third choice.

            “But IMHO this subthread has mainly been about whether there’s any sufficient reason (in the Principle of Sufficient Reason sense) for anything (physics, evolution, whatever) to function in a law-like way.”
            That’s smuggling in the assumption “there must be a reason/cause”.

            Nope. It’s just a dilemma I’m posing. You either accept our cosmos as a brute fact, or you accept classical theism as its ultimate “reason/cause.” If you choose to end an argument with “because that’s just the way it is; there is no explanation” I can’t stop you from declaring intellectual bankruptcy. That’s up to you. I can only point out to you that classical theism is the only alternative to intellectual bankruptcy.

            (cont.)

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner (3):

            “but also contains lots of thuses derived from ontological deductions.” That requires you to have correct understanding of how things exist to start. Given how massively our understanding of physics changed I doubt that is remotely workable (especially since it appears to intend to keep on adding new insights).

            Physics is about, as you say, “how things exist.” Metaphysics is about “why things exist,” i.e., about explaining not “how things exist” but *that* they exist—that anything exists.

            Judaism answers metametaphysical questions that you fail to answer.

            I don’t know what you’re referring to.

            Being able to answer more questions completely disconnected from the real world is not an accomplishment.

            Well, Eli was claiming that the atheist scientific worldview had more “thuses” than the theist worldview. I was simply pointing out that since sophisticated theist worldviews also include science, that is obviously false. I disagree with you that Thomist posits like the immateriality of the soul and the existence of God lack explanatory power: the first accounts for intentionality, the second for the existence of anything and everything. But even if the Thomist posits are baloney, Eli’s contention about “thuses” would still be incorrect.

            “thereby failing to satisfy the principle of sufficient reason at the level of general ontology.”
            Because we don’t assume that all things need causes.

            So the cosmos (universe, multiverse, whatever it turns out to be) is just a brute fact? Are you admitting that’s your position?

            We can observe things in the universe that don’t have causes (quantum foam).

            Modern understandings of causality descend from mechanistic conceptions of classical physics. So on that perspective, it makes sense when modern physicists speak of various quantum processes as “acausal.” I readily concede that.

            But on a Thomist understanding of causality, quantum phenomena cannot properly be described as acausal. If nothing else, this is because quantum foam, e.g., exhibits law-like behavior considered in aggregate. It is thus at the very least formally and finally caused.

            Frankly, on a proper understanding of what material and efficient causality amount to, I think the better argument is that it is caused in these ways as well. Here’s why: As David Albert said in a different context, since quantum fields are the elementary stuff of the universe, “The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t.”

            Regarding quantum indeterminacy generally, Thomist Ed Feser quotes Werner Heisenberg as follows: The probability wave of Bohr, Kramers, Slater… was a quantitative version of the old concept of “potentia” in Aristotelian philosophy. It introduced something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality.”

            Now, prime matter in Aristotelian hylomorphism just is pure potency, pure potentia. Thus, quantum foam, indeterminate as it is, is just what “matter” on a hylomorphic conception ought to be like. Not “pure” potency, not prime matter, since it’s still informed by the “laws” of physics, not entirely bereft of formal cause. But still “matter” in the Aristotelian (if not the modern physics) sense, and thus certainly not something which, properly understood, oughtn’t to be considered materially (and thus efficiently) caused as well.

          • Troy says:

            Not really. We have no examples of all powerful, all knowing or all good in the world.

            But we have examples of powerful, knowing, and good; taking these quantities to their maximum is an extrapolation from this. No one’s observed an infinitely spatially extended thing, but that doesn’t mean physicists can’t sensibly talk about an infinitely large universe.

            Which only extends back so far. You don’t know how things operated prior to what the current models go. Isn’t “physics was one” a higher probability than believing there is an unsolvable problem?

            I don’t think I follow you here, but if your suggestion is that there’s some probability that there’s a (physical) theory of everything that entails the laws and parameters that we actually find, sure, I’m happy to agree that this is a possibility. I don’t think it’s very likely given the number of apparently independent laws and parameters we know about. But it’s another hypothesis worth considering in light of the fine-tuning evidence.

            I’m saying infinite attributes are fundamentally different from all other attributes. I’m sorry I put it so poorly. Good is coherent, all good is not. All powerful and all seeing are coherent, but powerful and wide seeing are actually known to exist. Adding a bunch of spirits/gods/powers adds more entities, but it adds less impossible powers.

            I naturally don’t agree that all-good etc. are not coherent, but your hypothesis, inasmuch as I understood it, involved making one being all-good, another all-knowing, etc. So you have the same number of “impossible powers,” unless I’m just misunderstanding you.

            To choose between the theories you’d need to compare observed reality and see what matches better. And you can make a better case for “competing civil servants” than “all powerful God”. “Wait, who forgot to unpack the laws of physics”, “add a universal speed limit- that will keep anyone from doing anything stupid before we can catch it”, “I bet you can’t hit that planet over there with as many rocks as I can” and, of course “you did divine revelation wrong, let me try (attempt number 179)”. Basically the Omni powers don’t mesh with what we see in the world, which boosts non-Omni theism (which meshes much easier since it has more epicycles).

            I think we’re talking past each other then. I’m talking only about intrinsic probabilities here, i.e., the probabilities of these theories prior to anything they might explain. And then I’m arguing that fundamental facts about our universe are more likely on theism than naturalism, and so confirm theism. (They might confirm other theories too; multiple incompatible hypotheses can both have their probabilities raised by the same evidence.) Taking into account all the rest of our evidence, i.e., the rest of what we see in the world, is necessary to determine, e.g., the total probability of theism on our evidence. But I wasn’t trying to attempt that large task here. All I was claiming was that the intrinsic probability of classical theism is higher than the intrinsic probability of your committee theism.

            It means talking about “I believe Caesar was assassinated” and “I believe it was reported Caesar was assassinated” doesn’t have any difference. Unless something has effects on what you will discover in the real world, what is the point of talking about beliefs?

            If someone you love died and the manner in which she died will make no difference to what you discover in the real world in the future, wouldn’t you care about whether she was murdered or not? Sometimes the facts matter to us independent of their enabling us to make new discoveries.

            Moreover, most religions, Christianity included, make value claims which, if true, ought to make a difference to how we live. Perhaps a purely deistic God wouldn’t make a difference to how we should live (although I’d personally still want to know if that God exists), but the God of most theistic religions does.

            “Plenty of historians discuss that time period who don’t mention Caesar’s assassination, e.g., Josephus.”

            He was writing about Jewish history.

            Yes, I know that. You didn’t specify the interests of the author in your conditional prediction.

            “It’s generally agreed among Bayesians that there’s nothing inherently (as opposed to contingently, in certain cases) better about prediction than accommodation. In your line-fitting example, an ad hoc fit will usually take a penalty in its prior.”

            We are using before versus after to judge what other people have done. Judging beforehand correctly is evidence the person understands the underlying phenomena; judging afterwards isn’t.

            If you don’t know their reasoning process, I agree. But it’s perfectly possible and reasonable to make an inference to the best explanation after the fact. This is what Darwin did, for example, in the Origin: he listed a bunch of facts and argued that his theory explained them.

            “My point is that we can make any observations we want fundamental. If the ones we’ve made fundamental so far don’t explain some other stuff, make that stuff fundamental too. Just leave it all unexplained.”

            I’m not seeing how this is an answer since this is in fact how we are operating. Atoms were fundamental until we discovered they weren’t, the same with protons and neutrons.

            I’m disputing the “discovered they weren’t” bit. Usually what this means in practice is that we got evidence that we can explain by postulating unobserved entities. Even if we can observe electrons now, almost all scientists believed in them when we couldn’t because they were the best explanation of the data. They preferred postulating unobserved entities to making observed entities fundamental.

            The discovery of electrons involved them being found outside of atoms.

            Experiments which led scientists to believe that electrons existed did not involve the direct observation of electrons themselves. They involved the observation of phenomena that electrons could explain.

            I’m not denying any of them. You left out the most important assumption of them all- God has the power to create universes. This is an important assumption.

            If that’s your sticking point then you probably do mean to deny one of my premises, namely that P(Regular|Value,Necessary,Theism) > 1/2. You’re claiming that this might not be high because even if God exists, values life, and needs to create a regular universe to get life, God might not have the power to do this.

            At any rate, I’m understanding God to be by definition all-powerful. In philosophy of religion and natural theology, classical theism is usually understood as something like the hypothesis that an all-good, all-powerful, all-good being exists and created the universe.

            Perhaps you think that the prior probability of this hypothesis is low, but that’s not relevant to the claim you were responding to, which was that P(Regular | Theism) > P(Regular | Atheism), and that (consequently) Regular is evidence for Theism.

            When you add it to your model it destroy it because if you can assume that about God, why not other entities?

            Other observed entities have been observed to be limited in power. We have very good evidence that Steve Jobs is not all-powerful, and could not create a universe.

            That example doesn’t work. You are assuming the whole universe changes laws simultaneously, that all changes last an appreciable amount of time and that all macro changes are noticeable.

            The example was just that, an example. It was explicitly contrived to be as simple as possible. Make the system more complex and the probability of micro-changes exactly cancelling out becomes even smaller.

            The example also doesn’t assume the whole universe (i.e., each digit) changes simultaneously; it assumes that each part of the universe has some chance of changing at a given moment.

            If the resolution is the smallest possible unit of measure and smallest possible unit of time, random changes of the laws of physics will be swamped out by changes in the opposite direction and/or the sheer amount of normal.

            I do not understand this sentence.

            “Ultimately it comes down to Bayes’ Theorem; is there another theory which gives the data a higher likelihood that is not itself prohibitively improbable prior to that data? ”

            “Multiverse”
            “Universe resets after given amount of time with new laws of physics”
            “Constants are a given”
            “Consciousness is magic and would appear regardless of life”
            “Existence is an illusion so the numbers we’ve generated are bunk”
            “Universe created by Satan”
            “Universe created by time travel”

            All answer that question.

            (1) and (3) are genuine possibilities which deserve to be considered (assuming that by “constants are a given” you mean something like “the laws of nature and the values of their parameters are necessary”). (2) is basically a kind of multiverse hypothesis. The others either don’t explain the data, are impossible, or are also inconsistent with naturalism.

            At any rate, I’ve agreed that there are other theories which regularity, fine-tuning, etc. also support and which should be considered. Ultimately I think they have other problems or don’t explain other data which theism does, but they ought to be considered and not dismissed out of hand.

            I personally prefer to wait until we actually understand the universe to declare that naturalism (aka our experience with how things work in the universe) is wrong.

            That naturalism is our experience of how things work is, of course, question-begging.

            I prefer to conform my beliefs to the probability calculus by assigning priors to fundamental theories and then making my best estimate of how confirmed or disconfirmed they are by the data.

            ” But I do think that looking at a probability on the order of 10^-(10^123) ”

            We exist so I’m not seeing where you get the likelihood we exist as so improbable.

            P(we exist | we exist) =/= P(we exist).

          • Troy says:

            Troy appears to be trying to get you to confront the idea of “confirmation holism” developed in Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.”

            Yes, that’s right, my point is very similar. More generally, it’s more or less universally acknowledged among philosophers of science that “theory is underdetermined by data” — the data almost never entail that we ought to hold a particular theory, so in choosing between theories we have to look at how well different theories explain the data as well as how initially plausible they are. (This is what Bayes’ Theorem does.)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “For Thomists, biological species are natural kinds. ”

            They aren’t. The category falls apart for asexual reproduction and ring species.

            ““Unexplained” is a very good synonym for “brute.” However, the literature on “brute facts” is vast, and I think it’s better to just keep the word, which has connotations involving Anscombe’s discussion of how facts can be brute relative to each other that are lost when you taboo “brute.” You can read it as “unexplained” if you like, but if you’re going to engage in discussions about this stuff, you might as well get used to the vocab.”

            Why? How does using brute add more information that highlighting “we don’t know”?

            “Let’s say you have locked-in syndrome, can’t feel your lower body, and somebody locks you in a sensory deprivation chamber with some silent, unseen equipment that takes care of nutrition and excretion for you. You have no opportunities to confirm predictions about the outside world. Based on your memories of your life before all this, are you still warranted in believing Caesar was assassinated? Or do you now have to give up all your beliefs about the outside world until such time as you can “make them pay rent in anticipated experiences”? Is it EVER rational to have beliefs that don’t “pay rent” in this way? Why or why not?”

            I’m not seeing why I’d stop believing the external world existed. People go into comas.

            “Natural has a very specific meaning here—not so much “non-human” as “non-arbitrary.” Not being a human social convention is part of that, but not all of it. Here’s an explanation of what “natural kind” means:”

            That doesn’t help.

            “To say that a kind is natural is to say that it corresponds to a grouping that reflects the structure of the natural world rather than the interests and actions of human beings.”

            So is color a natural category or not? It reflects the natural world, but it is arbitrary. I’m not seeing why those categories have be contradictory.

            “In other words, the idea is that ANY objective observers would reach agreement about which objects in nature are distinct kinds of things.”

            Astrophysicists use the categories hydrogen, helium and metal (everything else) while chemists break down to the specific element. Which one do you consider more objective and why?

            “The realist position is that nature has an intrinsic structure and order independent of our purposes and projects.”

            I’m not seeing how “categories are arbitrary” and “nature has intrinsic structure and order” are contradictory. If definitions could change, that might be true, but the way things are seen in relation to each other does not affect their relations to each other.

            ” Are quarks something we just “made up” like the rules of baseball? Or are they really “out there” independent of our projects and agendas?”

            The subatomic particles exist. However they are one of the 4 categories for subatomic particles (excluding antiparticles there is a total of 17). There are 6 quarks, but if the definition was subatomic particles with positive charge (3-4) or subatomic particles with spin (16) or subatomic particles with mass (15) the category would be different.

            Which category do you believe is the real one and why would you pick that over the other?

            “I’m asking if ANY of our categories are rooted in attributes that are really out there, or if they are ALL mere social convention”

            Both. How can categories not be rooted in attributes? They are defined by the common attributes of the individual items that make up the category.

            ” It is to say that the universe has no discourse-independent order and structure.”

            Sure there would be. It just requires everything in the category to be exact copies of each other member. This means fundamental particles and things made of the exact same arrangement of fundamental particles.

            ” Complex entities are contingent. Only an absolutely simple being, like God, can be a necessary being adequate to terminate an explanatory chain satisfying the principle of sufficient reason.”

            Assumption 1- God is simple.
            Assumption 2- Complex entities are contingent
            Assumption 3- The universe is a complex entity

            “You either accept our cosmos as a brute fact, or you accept classical theism as its ultimate “reason/cause.””

            See this is why I taboo brute.

            “You can accept that you don’t know the answer or…”

            “Metaphysics is about “why things exist,” i.e., about explaining not “how things exist” but *that* they exist—that anything exists.”

            Why things exist is the origin of the universe. Can you give an example of them making successful novel predictions regarding that? What are their testable predictions?

            “I don’t know what you’re referring to.”

            Judaism answers not only why the universe exists, but why God wants each and every activity proscribed by the Torah to be enacted. Christianity fails to do that.

            “I disagree with you that Thomist posits like the immateriality of the soul and the existence of God lack explanatory power: the first accounts for intentionality, the second for the existence of anything and everything. ”

            Nope. The first fails to do so- why do souls have to be immaterial? Why can’t the brain have the same magical properties as the soul? Since we know the brain exists.

            The second quite obvious does not explain anything and everything- God is the exception.

            “So the cosmos (universe, multiverse, whatever it turns out to be) is just a brute fact? Are you admitting that’s your position?”

            I’m saying you have to justify assumptions. You need to show that “everything has causes” and that this applies to the universe as well. Oh and you need to do it in such a way that you don’t replicate “waves and particles are mutually exclusive”.

            ” If nothing else, this is because quantum foam, e.g., exhibits law-like behavior considered in aggregate.”

            Randomness exhibits law like behavior in aggregate as it cancels itself out. I’m not sure how you could have anything random that doesn’t feature that trait.

            Troy
            “But we have examples of powerful, knowing, and good; taking these quantities to their maximum is an extrapolation from this.”

            For the first two there is no mechanism to “take them to the Max”. How can you enter a singularity and not die? How can you exceed light speed? These things do not appear possible at all.

            All good doesn’t work because good isn’t exactly a scalar value. Once you are Mr. Rogers, what exactly if left?

            “So you have the same number of “impossible powers,” unless I’m just misunderstanding you.”

            Its polytheism where none of the being are Omni.

            “If someone you love died and the manner in which she died will make no difference to what you discover in the real world in the future, wouldn’t you care about whether she was murdered or not? ”

            Yes because traditionally knowing someone was murdered is an important step in being able to catching/stopping said murderer. Even if all the reason that drives the rationale were gone, the emotion that is tied to them remains.

            Its no more a surprise then the fact people eat food, even though they don’t need the additional calories.

            “Moreover, most religions, Christianity included, make value claims which, if true, ought to make a difference to how we live.”

            That isn’t a value claim as much as “do this or suffer punishment” (in a place you can’t check). It should be taken as seriously as all other such claims.

            “This is what Darwin did, for example, in the Origin: he listed a bunch of facts and argued that his theory explained them.”

            And if we had other theories that explained those facts we wouldn’t be able to choose between Darwin’s and the alternate. Darwin was writing at a time when the facts couldn’t be explained by alternate theories- divine creation didn’t seem to work and neither Lamarkianism or other varieties of evolution managed to fit what was observed.

            “Experiments which led scientists to believe that electrons existed did not involve the direct observation of electrons themselves. They involved the observation of phenomena that electrons could explain.”

            They could see them inside vacuum tubes and could measure them and see that they weren’t atoms. I’m not sure what else they could have done.

            “If that’s your sticking point then you probably do mean to deny one of my premises, namely that P(Regular|Value,Necessary,Theism) > 1/2. You’re claiming that this might not be high because even if God exists, values life, and needs to create a regular universe to get life, God might not have the power to do this.”

            I’m not denying it. I’m saying the assumption “can create the universe” can be applied to anything.

            “Other observed entities have been observed to be limited in power. We have very good evidence that Steve Jobs is not all-powerful, and could not create a universe.”

            Assumption 1- must be all powerful to create the universe
            Assumption 2- we would recognize an all powerful entity that wasn’t God

            “The example was just that, an example. It was explicitly contrived to be as simple as possible. Make the system more complex and the probability of micro-changes exactly cancelling out becomes even smaller.”

            It becomes larger. Law of large numbers means the more granular you go, the less randomness has an effect.

            “I do not understand this sentence.”

            Assumption 1- Planck length is the smallest you go (35)
            Assumption 2- Planck time is the smallest you go (44)
            Assumption 3- 1 second cubic meter

            For a single change in the area to have an effect it would need to be 10^42875 times stronger than the default to be double. So if changes aren’t detectable below a billionth difference we’d have 10^42866 before it registers… and then it need to do that 10^44 times in a row for it to be noticeable for the length of time for a second.

            “The others either don’t explain the data, are impossible, or are also inconsistent with naturalism.”

            Yes, but they are alternatives to your theory. What probabilities do you give them?

            “That naturalism is our experience of how things work is, of course, question-begging. ”

            It pointing out the assumptions for God contradict what we’ve seen for everything else we’ve previously encountered.

          • Troy says:

            “But we have examples of powerful, knowing, and good; taking these quantities to their maximum is an extrapolation from this.”

            For the first two there is no mechanism to “take them to the Max”. How can you enter a singularity and not die? How can you exceed light speed? These things do not appear possible at all.

            Unless I misunderstood you, I thought your claim that prompted this exchange was that you can’t use X to explain Y unless you can explain why X can do something that Y can’t. I don’t accept this principle, and pointed out that we could explain technology on a strange planet by aliens even without knowing how they could make it. You responded that we do understand how intelligent beings make things in general. I responded that we could understand how intelligent beings make stuff or construct systems in general, and that God’s actions could be placed in these categories just as the aliens’ actions could be placed into yours.

            If this latest objection works, then it applies just as well to the aliens. Suppose we don’t understand how one of their mechanisms works. Then we can ask (e.g.) “how is it possible for them to use fusion as an energy source for this device while keeping the reaction stable?” (If you think we can explain this, then change the example to something that we can’t explain.) We don’t know, but that’s not relevant to inferring that the machine was created by aliens.

            “So you have the same number of “impossible powers,” unless I’m just misunderstanding you.”

            Its polytheism where none of the being are Omni.

            Okay, then I was misunderstanding you. In that case, sure, polytheism with powerful but not omnipotent beings is one potential explanation for the universe. But I don’t think this view is ultimately as simple as theism or as well-supported by the evidence.

            “Moreover, most religions, Christianity included, make value claims which, if true, ought to make a difference to how we live.”

            That isn’t a value claim as much as “do this or suffer punishment” (in a place you can’t check). It should be taken as seriously as all other such claims.

            It saddens me that you think that such a threat is all that Christianity has to offer in the way of moral guidance, but perhaps this is the form of it to which you were exposed. It bears no resemblance to my experience of God and his Church, and the same is true for most Christians I know.

            “This is what Darwin did, for example, in the Origin: he listed a bunch of facts and argued that his theory explained them.”

            And if we had other theories that explained those facts we wouldn’t be able to choose between Darwin’s and the alternate.

            Okay, good, I think we’ve made progress. What I was arguing is that sometimes in choosing between theories we need to compare explanations of past data, and that this is perfectly respectable. It seems that we now agree on this.

            “Experiments which led scientists to believe that electrons existed did not involve the direct observation of electrons themselves. They involved the observation of phenomena that electrons could explain.”

            They could see them inside vacuum tubes and could measure them and see that they weren’t atoms. I’m not sure what else they could have done.

            They could see phenomena like rays, which they explained with electrons. They could not literally see electrons.

            At any rate, I think we’re getting too stuck on the details of this example. If you don’t like it, pick something else that you don’t think we can directly observe, like quarks or black holes. My point is simply that sometimes scientists reasonably infer the existence of entities they have not observed (and often cannot observe). As long as you think there are some entities that fit this bill, that’s sufficient for my point. Indeed, we could just take the past as such an entity — none of us can observe prehistory, but we reasonably draw inferences about it. Darwin’s theory is an example of this.

            “If that’s your sticking point then you probably do mean to deny one of my premises, namely that P(Regular|Value,Necessary,Theism) > 1/2. You’re claiming that this might not be high because even if God exists, values life, and needs to create a regular universe to get life, God might not have the power to do this.”

            I’m not denying it.

            Then you accept that P(Regular|Theism) > 1/8? This follows logically from my premises.

            I’m saying the assumption “can create the universe” can be applied to anything.

            “Other observed entities have been observed to be limited in power. We have very good evidence that Steve Jobs is not all-powerful, and could not create a universe.”

            Assumption 1- must be all powerful to create the universe
            Assumption 2- we would recognize an all powerful entity that wasn’t God

            Just pointing out that reasoning involves “assumptions” does nothing to discredit it. The essence of probability theory is to attach plausibility weights to our assumptions and structure our reasoning accordingly. I need not claim that we would necessarily recognize an all powerful entity that wasn’t God, only that it’s unlikely that if Steve Jobs were omnipotent he would never have given any indication of that.

            Surprisingly, you appear to deny this, saying that the assumption “can create the universe” can be applied to anything. Well, the predicate “is a cow” can be applied to anything, but not always reasonably or with good evidence. Similarly with “can create the universe.” Are you really in serious doubt about whether Steve Jobs can create the universe? If so you’re embracing a pretty radical skepticism. It seems you ought to walk about all the time wondering if the man next to you is capable of snapping his fingers and causing you 100 years of torment.

            “The example was just that, an example. It was explicitly contrived to be as simple as possible. Make the system more complex and the probability of micro-changes exactly cancelling out becomes even smaller.”

            It becomes larger. Law of large numbers means the more granular you go, the less randomness has an effect.

            “I do not understand this sentence.”

            Assumption 1- Planck length is the smallest you go (35)
            Assumption 2- Planck time is the smallest you go (44)
            Assumption 3- 1 second cubic meter

            For a single change in the area to have an effect it would need to be 10^42875 times stronger than the default to be double. So if changes aren’t detectable below a billionth difference we’d have 10^42866 before it registers… and then it need to do that 10^44 times in a row for it to be noticeable for the length of time for a second.

            If I understand you correctly (of which I am not confident), this seems to assume that the only way micro-changes can have macro-effects is by accumulating until they become “big enough,” in the same way that a heap of rice only becomes visible from a distance when enough grains are added. But I don’t think this is right. Let’s take an example from actual physical laws. The functioning of the strong nuclear force is presumably a micro-law, inasmuch as it governs the interaction of sub-atomic particles. But if it were much weaker than it is, electromagnetism would repel most atomic nuclei apart, and no elements except hydrogen would be stable. Obviously this would have substantial macro-effects, and yet it involves only changing the strength of one constant in one micro-law.

            “The others either don’t explain the data, are impossible, or are also inconsistent with naturalism.”

            Yes, but they are alternatives to your theory. What probabilities do you give them?

            Most of them have negligible priors. However, particular multiverse hypotheses have non-negligible prior probabilities. For example, I think Lewisian modal realism is a very simple system that has a not-outrageously-low prior. Its prior might even be higher than theism’s. But I don’t think it explains the evidence as well as theism, because it implies that most conscious life will be Boltzmann brains (that is, random fluctuations in high entropy states that pop in and out of existence), and that’s not the kind of life we observe. So I think its posterior is lower than theism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “If this latest objection works, then it applies just as well to the aliens. ”

            We can’t do it and “its impossible” are two different categories. The definition of all powerful includes the ability to do the impossible. Not just “we were wrong about how hard it was”, but “we were right about how hard it was”.

            “But I don’t think this view is ultimately as simple as theism or as well-supported by the evidence.”

            Only if you define simple by number of entities and not novel traits of entities. Your argument against reducing things down to inexplicable fundamentals seems to indicate you hold the opposite position. I’m not seeing where you get the evidence either- anything monotheism can do, polytheism can do better because it can fit reality more closely (additional epicycles are good at that).

            “It saddens me that you think that such a threat is all that Christianity has to offer in the way of moral guidance, but perhaps this is the form of it to which you were exposed. It bears no resemblance to my experience of God and his Church, and the same is true for most Christians I know.”

            That’s the only thing that Christianity has relevant to belief. Christian morality stands and falls on its own merits- you don’t have to believe in God for it to work or to fail.

            ” My point is simply that sometimes scientists reasonably infer the existence of entities they have not observed (and often cannot observe). ”

            Yes and my point is there are very tight limits on that. Otherwise, string theory. And that building the theory is distinct from other people judging if its valid.

            “Then you accept that P(Regular|Theism) > 1/8? This follows logically from my premises.”

            Yes, I’m saying it doesn’t prove what you think it proves.

            “I need not claim that we would necessarily recognize an all powerful entity that wasn’t God, only that it’s unlikely that if Steve Jobs were omnipotent he would never have given any indication of that.”

            How unlikely? And how unlikely is it for each and every other entity we know of in the universe?

            Now do that without infinite power but just with “create the universe”- after all, we don’t have any reason to believe creating the universe requires omnipotence.

            Those are respectively your odds another entity is all powerful and the odds another entity created the universe. The latter will be insanely high given your assumptions since most of the sentient entities that exist want to exist and would make the universe.

            “Well, the predicate “is a cow” can be applied to anything, but not always reasonably or with good evidence.”

            Cow is not an assumption. It has a definition that we can check things against. Create the universe does not. You are asserting that an entity has the power to do so; I’m asking why only that one.

            “Similarly with “can create the universe.” Are you really in serious doubt about whether Steve Jobs can create the universe? If so you’re embracing a pretty radical skepticism. ”

            Would you like me to start linking the list of logic fallacies? You are at “Argument from Personal Incredulity”. If you don’t like it, don’t have the assumption “can create the universe”.

            ” It seems you ought to walk about all the time wondering if the man next to you is capable of snapping his fingers and causing you 100 years of torment.”

            You are the person who choose the prior, not me.

            “Obviously this would have substantial macro-effects, and yet it involves only changing the strength of one constant in one micro-law.”

            If it causes the atom to convert to energy, the net effect is zero. Its simply too small.

            “Most of them have negligible priors.”

            Why? I’d imagine good god/evil god having the same prior. Given monotheistic religions trend towards dual power I don’t see why you’d discard that so easily.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            “For Thomists, biological species are natural kinds. ”

            They aren’t. The category falls apart for asexual reproduction and ring species.

            My main goal here has been to recommend the New Essentialism to your attention. Plenty of New Essentialists, e.g. Brian Ellis, reject essentialism for anything more complicated than fundamental particles. So biological species are somewaht beside the main point here. However, I’ll say a word about them anyway.

            Reproductive isolation is relevant for modern biological species concepts rooted in phenetics and cladistics (both of which are perfectly legitimate within their proper fields of inquiry, btw). However, consider something like analytical Thomist David Oderberg’s morphological species concept, where “morphological” refers to formal cause, ie., the “morphe-” in hylomorphism, not merely to phenotype like the phenetic species concept. Morphological species are metaphysically informed delineations of structure, function, and characteristic activity. E.g., under this concept, a human and a rational extraterrestrial would both count as “human,” because both would be “rational animals.” Contrast other species concepts: H. sapiens and a rational alien would have different ancestry, and so be separate species on a cladistic concept. If the alien phenotype is that of some kind of squid or something, then it’ll certainly be a different phenetic species. But under the morphological concept, both Socrates and Squidward are rational animals, so they’re both “human” under that terminology, even though only one is H. sapiens. So your objection about asexual and ring species fails against the morphological species concept, because clades formed by reproductive isolation aren’t determinative of delineations made with that concept.

            But, again, New Essentialists like Ellis reject things like the morphological species concept: they’re only essentialists about fundamental particles and similar entities. So you needn’t accept my account of biological species to accept essentialism.

            Why? How does using brute add more information that highlighting “we don’t know”?

            It doesn’t. It just keeps certain associations in mind. “Planet Venus” and “Hesperus” refer to the same astronomical object, but the associations are different. But it’s not that important. You can keep saying “unexplained” if the assocations don’t have the same resonance for you.

            “Let’s say you have locked-in syndrome, can’t feel your lower body, and somebody locks you in a sensory deprivation chamber with some silent, unseen equipment that takes care of nutrition and excretion for you. You have no opportunities to confirm predictions about the outside world. Based on your memories of your life before all this, are you still warranted in believing Caesar was assassinated? Or do you now have to give up all your beliefs about the outside world until such time as you can “make them pay rent in anticipated experiences”? Is it EVER rational to have beliefs that don’t “pay rent” in this way? Why or why not?”

            I’m not seeing why I’d stop believing the external world existed. People go into comas.

            I didn’t ask you if you’d stop believing the external world existed. I asked you if, in this contrived scenario where you can’t make any more predictions, you’d still believe Caesar was assassinated. Troy got at the same issue with his hypo where all relevant archaeological remains were nuked. The point is that limiting your beliefs only to those that allow you to make new predictions is an epistemic error.

            It means talking about “I believe Caesar was assassinated” and “I believe it was reported Caesar was assassinated” doesn’t have any difference. Unless something has effects on what you will discover in the real world, what is the point of talking about beliefs?

            The above is something you wrote to Troy. It reveals the muddle you’re in. In the real world, Caesar really was assassinated. That is an ontic matter: the event happend. Caesar existed, and so did Brutus and Cassius. Now, we moderns have an epistemic limitation: we only know about the assasination through written reports, inscriptions, artworks, etc. But, our epistemic limitations and the ontology of reality are not identical. If they were, it would make ontology observer-dependent. For example, there have been isolated uncontacted tribesmen (Amazonians, Andaman Islanders, etc.) who didn’t have any access to information about Caesar. They were epistemically limited to a worldview that lacked Caesar. But Caesar was still assassinated. Now, I’ll grant you that you can’t make predictions about Caesar; you can only predict that Roman historians dealing with the political history of the Republic during that period will mention his assassination. But that’s an epistemic limit, and that’s all it is. You should not be reifying your epistemology into an ontology. That kind of reification radically deforms your worldview away from any possibility of mirroring nature. Your ontological catalogue of people that have existed in our past should include BOTH Caesar and his reporters. It should ideally include Caesar even if you’re locked in a sensory deprivation chamber, or marooned on the Andaman Islands tomorrow, etc.

            Of course, once you grant Caesar a place in your ontology, you will have opened the door to granting ontic reality to the deductions of metaphysics–including God. Once again, you may rest in either absurdity (agnosticism as to whether any historical figure ever lived) or theism. Your choice.

            You will be more correct if you include Caesar in your ontology, because he really did exist. To reduce your ontology to a neo-Humean catalogue of only what you can quantitatively predict and control is to impoverish it without good reason. Just to avoid conclusions like essentialism and theism, you’re forced to add more and more anti-commonsensical epicycles to your worldview: denial of causality, denial that there’s a difference in truth claims between the propositions “Caesar was assassinated” and “these books say Caesar was assassinated,” and much else besides. Unless you have a strong emotional need for essentialism and theism to be false, why not just adopt a commonsense worldview that saves the phenomena?

            “Natural has a very specific meaning here—not so much “non-human” as “non-arbitrary.” Not being a human social convention is part of that, but not all of it. Here’s an explanation of what “natural kind” means:”

            That doesn’t help.

            I offered you an article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to explain EXACTLY what I meant by a term. If that doesn’t help you, then I would respectfully suggest that you either educate yourself about philosophy until such articles are clear, or refrain from pronouncing on philosophical disputes. I don’t pronounce on Copenhagen vs. MWI because I know I lack the mathematical physics to have an opinion worth weighting. You seem to me to know a great deal more physics than I do. That’s admirable. But your acquaintance with the arguments in both past and contemporary philosophy doesn’t seem to match your depth of knowledge in the sciences and mathematics. Unfortunately, in the same way that a metaphysician should not let logic lead him to ignore the evidence for wave/particle duality, so an education rooted in science and mathematics is not sufficient for you to be able to dismiss foundational philosophical concerns based on hunches. You can no more “science your way out of a metaphysics question” than some philosopher can “logic his way out of a science problem.” If you want to be able to make a substantial contribution to these debates (and you’re obviously intelligent enough to make a fine contribution if you care to), you have to familiarize yourself with the background knowledge first. Reinventing the wheel out of your own intutitions won’t get you anywhere.

            “To say that a kind is natural is to say that it corresponds to a grouping that reflects the structure of the natural world rather than the interests and actions of human beings.”

            So is color a natural category or not? It reflects the natural world, but it is arbitrary. I’m not seeing why those categories have be contradictory.

            Color is an attributre. Individuals with different perceptual equipment (e.g., hominids and bees) will perceive attributes like color differently. The debate over “natural kinds,” i.e., non-arbitrary species and genera in the ontology of nature, concerns substances far more than the attributes of those substances. N.B., the logical taxonomy of ontology includes non-biological “species” like H2O and “genera” like “inorganic molecules.” Also, something can be a species or a genus relative to something else: the metaphysician doesn’t employ the whole biologist’s hierarchy of clades like species, genus . . . domain, just the first two. E.g., hydrogen is a species relative to the genus “atoms,” but a genus relative to deuterium, etc.

            (cont.)

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            “In other words, the idea is that ANY objective observers would reach agreement about which objects in nature are distinct kinds of things.”

            Astrophysicists use the categories hydrogen, helium and metal (everything else) while chemists break down to the specific element. Which one do you consider more objective and why?

            In essentialist philosophy of chemistry, “metal” is a genus rather than a species. It’s not less objective, it’s just at a different level of specificity. There’s nothing wrong with talking about a mix of species and genera that reflects one’s instrumental objectives. The only problem would be if the astrophysicists refused to admit that “metals” could be broken down into species like gold and silver, copper and tin. If they made that mistake, they would be reifying their pragmatic methodology into ontology, just as your position reifies epistemic limitation into ontology.

            “The realist position is that nature has an intrinsic structure and order independent of our purposes and projects.”

            I’m not seeing how “categories are arbitrary” and “nature has intrinsic structure and order” are contradictory.

            It’s not contradictory for SOME of our categories (e.g., the distinction between a sliotar and a baseball) to be rooted in arbitrary social convention and to still affirm both that nature has intrinsic structure and order AND that we can discern that structure and order. The contradiction would only arise if we tried to affirm both that ALL of our categories are arbitrary, AND that natural science gives us truths about nature that are more than mere social constructions.

            If definitions could change, that might be true, but the way things are seen in relation to each other does not affect their relations to each other.

            Agreed, insofar as our epistomelogical and pragmatic “ways of seeing” do not change the underlying structure of nature. That’s a scientific realist position. But do any of our definitions reflect nature? Or are we just making stuff up? If you think it likely that science tells us anything true about nature, then you are committing yourself to at least a weak realist position on natural kinds.

            The subatomic particles exist. However they are one of the 4 categories for subatomic particles (excluding antiparticles there is a total of 17). There are 6 quarks, but if the definition was subatomic particles with positive charge (3-4) or subatomic particles with spin (16) or subatomic particles with mass (15) the category would be different.

            Which category do you believe is the real one and why would you pick that over the other?

            I’m a realist about all the subatomic particles currently posited by standard physics.

            “I’m asking if ANY of our categories are rooted in attributes that are really out there, or if they are ALL mere social convention”

            Both. How can categories not be rooted in attributes? They are defined by the common attributes of the individual items that make up the category.?

            I’m not asking about phenomenal attributes. I’m asking about noumenal substances. I’m not asking if apples are red. I’m asking if “apple” is a non-arbitrary category of natural object, one that exists apart from human discourse, and human interests. (Actually, I’m not asking about apples, either. I’m just trying to stress to you that I’m not asking about attributes.)

            ” It is to say that the universe has no discourse-independent order and structure.”

            Sure there would be. It just requires everything in the category to be exact copies of each other member. This means fundamental particles and things made of the exact same arrangement of fundamental particles.?

            Great!!! So you’re a realist about fundamental particles, like Brian Ellis? Wonderful. That’s all I was trying to get out of you. If fundamental particles are “exact copies” of each other, that means they share the same essential dispositions and powers, independent of human discourse about them. Which is all I’m trying to argue for here. Like I said, it shouldn’t be that controversial.

            ” Complex entities are contingent. Only an absolutely simple being, like God, can be a necessary being adequate to terminate an explanatory chain satisfying the principle of sufficient reason.”

            Assumption 1- God is simple.
            Assumption 2- Complex entities are contingent
            Assumption 3- The universe is a complex entity

            Nope. The Thomist arguments I’m referring to here first posit an absolutely simple being, and only later demonstrate it to have all the predicates traditionally associated with God. Likewise, that complex entities are contingent is argued for, although it is obvious: anything with parts is subject to change. As for the universe: obviously it has parts, which is all “complex” means.

            “You either accept our cosmos as a brute fact, or you accept classical theism as its ultimate “reason/cause.””

            See this is why I taboo brute.

            Look, the only explanation for contingency that terminates the explanatory chain is necessity. So at some point, you either have to accept our cosmos as unexplained, or posit a necessary being. As I said above, a complex entity is always already contingent. Thus, a necessary being must be absolutely simple. So you can either leave the cosmos unexplained (“brute”) or you can posit a necessary simple being. And it can be demonstrated through sustained argument (like the first half of the Summa Contra Gentiles) that a necessary simple will have the standard divine attributes: absolute goodness, omniscience, omnipotence, etc.

            So in the end, you have to either accept an arbitrary explanatory horizon at some point, or posit a necessary simple, which logically entails positing God. Briefly, the choice is between “the mulitverse just is, and no one knows why,” or God, who is a self-explanatory necessary simple. Either choice is philosophically respectable. But a choice does have to be made. It is not “just as good” to posit a self-explanatory cosmos. The cosmos is complex and contingent–it is not self-explanatory. Whereas a necessary, simple Pure Act, which is God, provides explanatory closure.

            “Metaphysics is about “why things exist,” i.e., about explaining not “how things exist” but *that* they exist—that anything exists.”

            Why things exist is the origin of the universe. Can you give an example of them making successful novel predictions regarding that? What are their testable predictions?

            You are confusing “why” with “how.” How the cosmos goes about its business (Big Bang singularity, quantum and relativistic physics, the mostly Newtonian-ish physics of the human-scale world, etc.) is “how” the cosmos exists. “Why” it exists is the question of how there can be any contingent, complex reality at all. Your confusion is akin to replying to the question “How could God have let Hitler live?” with a mathematically precise account of how Hitler used to get dressed and brush his teeth in the morning. That something exists, why it exists, is different than how it goes about existing. You cannot collapse this commonsensical distinction without adding yet another weird epicycle to your worldview just for the sake of refusing to concede anything in argument. It’s better to be correct than to “win,” so don’t do that.

            Judaism answers not only why the universe exists, but why God wants each and every activity proscribed by the Torah to be enacted. Christianity fails to do that.

            That’s not “meta-metaphysical.” That’s deontological ethics.

            why do souls have to be immaterial? Why can’t the brain have the same magical properties as the soul? Since we know the brain exists.

            The second quite obvious does not explain anything and everything- God is the exception.

            I’ve already said why I think the intentional has to be immaterial in previous (very long) discussion with you: neurons aren’t “about” anything. And I’ve already said that God is different because he is absolutely simple. If you aren’t interested in acquiring a level of acquaintance with philosophical argumentation sufficient to distinguish the metaphysical from the ethical, there’s no point in my discussing such matters further. The inferential distance is too large, and it would require study on your part to close it–study you have previously indicated your complete disinterest in when it was proposed in other discussions.

            I’m saying you have to justify assumptions. You need to show that “everything has causes” and that this applies to the universe as well. Oh and you need to do it in such a way that you don’t replicate “waves and particles are mutually exclusive”.

            Oh, you can belive in acausality if you like. But your worldview will have an arbitrary explanatory horizon. That’s your choice.

            ” If nothing else, this is because quantum foam, e.g., exhibits law-like behavior considered in aggregate.”

            Randomness exhibits law like behavior in aggregate as it cancels itself out. I’m not sure how you could have anything random that doesn’t feature that trait.

            That sounds like stochasticity is an epistemic rather than ontic matter. Some particles exhibit Brownian motion in aggregate, but their motions are caused by collisions: the motion is not acausal. So if quantum acausality just means “randomness,” then it doesn’t sound very acausal. But even if it were acausal on a modern scientific usage of the term, that doesn’t really go to the metaphysical point. Anything that exhibits “law-like” behavior is formally and finally caused.

            It’s not clear to me that we’re closing any inferential distance by continuing this discussion. All the best to you.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Always fun to see how many weird epicycles some people will add to their worldview to avoid letting a divine foot in the door. It really helps put their rationalist, free-thinker shtick in perspective.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ” E.g., under this concept, a human and a rational extraterrestrial would both count as “human,” because both would be “rational animals.” ”

            Or we could not use the term species and just say “rational animal”. We already have the term category- species is biology’s.

            “It just keeps certain associations in mind. ”

            What associations? Why is it useful?

            “I asked you if, in this contrived scenario where you can’t make any more predictions, you’d still believe Caesar was assassinated. ”

            It is the same as asking me how coin flips go. You can ask people if they believe it will end heads or tails, but it is a different meaning than what people normally mean by belief- everyone agrees on the odds.

            In the absence of future predictive power, all beliefs are like that. You only have beliefs about whether anyone is cheating. Now exact probabilities are unlikely (if only because its hard for people to conceptualize), but if there is nothing left to learn (and that includes how people think which is important for this) than we could all agree on what odds the view was correct based on what premises we were using.

            “Once again, you may rest in either absurdity (agnosticism as to whether any historical figure ever lived) or theism. Your choice.”

            See above. Also since Bayesian is all about assigning probabilities to things, that means that Bayesians don’t “believe” that they existed- they have various levels of confidence.

            ” If that doesn’t help you, then I would respectfully suggest that you either educate yourself about philosophy until such articles are clear, or refrain from pronouncing on philosophical disputes. ”

            See below.

            “Color is an attributre. ”

            Wrong. Color is two things- a CATEGORY that contains individual colors and categories of light between certain wavelengths. The wavelength of the light is the attribute.

            Now I read the definition and it doesn’t give me the information to declare if either of the two are natural categories. The definition simply isn’t clear enough.

            “The contradiction would only arise if we tried to affirm both that ALL of our categories are arbitrary, AND that natural science gives us truths about nature that are more than mere social constructions. ”

            Why? If categories are arbitrary that means people choose them however they like. That says nothing about the attributes things have. They have those attributes regardless of category.

            “I’m a realist about all the subatomic particles currently posited by standard physics. ”

            I’m not asking that. You declared quarks exist. Quark is a category. Do you believe that category exists or is just a convenient way to organize subatomic particles.

            “I’m asking if “apple” is a non-arbitrary category of natural object, one that exists apart from human discourse, and human interests.”

            For the definition you’ve given me of natural so far, no. For the definition of “apart from human interests”, yes.

            ” If fundamental particles are “exact copies” of each other, that means they share the same essential dispositions and powers, independent of human discourse about them.”

            Er, I disagree with the former, agree with the latter. Fundamental particles are defined as “everything with these given properties”. Its a definition category. All things the same in way x will be the same in way x. That was sort of the joke (well that and isomers).

            Since our category only covers attributes we can measure, we have no way of knowing attributes we can’t measure are the same between them. Also since they appear the exactly the same, but they don’t decay at exactly the same speed we can’t say they are the same.

            “The Thomist arguments I’m referring to here first posit an absolutely simple being, and only later demonstrate it to have all the predicates traditionally associated with God. ”

            An absolutely simple being exists is a rather massive assumption since all beings we observe aren’t simple and “absolute simplicity” best describes fundamental particles.

            “Likewise, that complex entities are contingent is argued for, although it is obvious: anything with parts is subject to change.”

            Anything with parts we’ve observed inside the universe. And all particles aren’t waves.

            “As for the universe: obviously it has parts, which is all “complex” means. ”

            Even at the Big Bang? As far as I’m aware the number of pieces keeps dropping the closer they get to time zero. What makes you confident it has parts there?

            “Look, the only explanation for contingency that terminates the explanatory chain is necessity.”

            Or your chain of logic is wrong because you’ve made unjustified assumptions. Like particle and waves being mutually exclusive. In that case the assumption was “reality works by consistent rules regardless of scale”.

            “So at some point, you either have to accept our cosmos as unexplained, or posit a necessary being.”

            Like the universe itself?

            “that a necessary simple will have the standard divine attributes: absolute goodness, omniscience, omnipotence, etc. ”

            I decided to look up the good. Apologies if the translation is poor; I can’t speak Latin like my father.
            Aquinas
            “2] For that by which each thing is called good is the virtue that belongs to it; for “the virtue of each thing is what makes its possessor and his work good.” Now, virtue “is a certain perfection, for each thing is then called perfect when it reaches the virtue belonging to it,” as may be seen in Physics VII [3]. Hence, each thing is good from the fact that it is perfect. That is why each thing seeks its perfection as the good belonging to it. But we have shown that God is perfect. Therefore, He is good. ”

            That doesn’t follow. At all. It is conflating between two definitions of perfect. One is the moral. The other is the category which includes “perfect engine of death”.

            Do you
            -think that is valid logic
            -think that the rest of the work is valid (and I was unlucky)
            -use something different for your grounding

            ““Why” it exists is the question of how there can be any contingent, complex reality at all.”

            And what makes you so certain physics won’t help answer this? We don’t know how things work- how can we declare that understanding that won’t provide information? Shouldn’t we be the least confident about our preconceptions when dealing with things like the creation of time itself?

            “That’s not “meta-metaphysical.” That’s deontological ethics. ”

            The prohibitions are ethics. The attempts to derive fundamental rules and figure out how to apply them to the ethics are “meta-metaphysical”. It is attempting to figure out what categories are meaningful to God (or the Jews who had received them from God).

            “I’ve already said why I think the intentional has to be immaterial in previous (very long) discussion with you: neurons aren’t “about” anything.”


            You
            “””“Adding (formal) essences and (final) dispositions and powers does explain, actually. Try reading Ellis and Cartwright.””””

            Me
            “””No it doesn’t because you can have material objects that have those properties. There is nothing about the inexplicable that requires it be attached to immaterial things instead of material ones. Hence adding immaterial ones does not add explanatory power. “””

            You
            “””I don’t think what you’re saying there would be too difficult to fit into a New Essentialist framework at all.”””

            You didn’t answer the question. At all.

            “If you aren’t interested in acquiring a level of acquaintance with philosophical argumentation sufficient to distinguish the metaphysical from the ethical, there’s no point in my discussing such matters further. The inferential distance is too large, and it would require study on your part to close it–study you have previously indicated your complete disinterest in when it was proposed in other discussions. ”

            Or you are making mistakes. I did distinguish between ethics and metaphysics. You fumbled color.

            “Oh, you can belive in acausality if you like. But your worldview will have an arbitrary explanatory horizon. That’s your choice.”

            I don’t get to choose anything. We observe things fundamental particles with half lives. You can’t get more acasual than that.

            “So if quantum acausality just means “randomness,” then it doesn’t sound very acausal.”

            It shows a pattern and it doesn’t show a pattern are the only two possible categories. How would you distinguish between acasual and everything else?

            “Anything that exhibits “law-like” behavior is formally and finally caused. ”

            Quantum randomness isn’t formally or finally caused, but reality is? Are you declaring that means quantum randomness also is formally and finally caused because reality is law like does that mean the fact the physical structure of the universe appears random means that it isn’t law like behavior?

            “Always fun to see how many weird epicycles some people will add to their worldview to avoid letting a divine foot in the door. It really helps put their rationalist, free-thinker shtick in perspective.”

            You know God can take care of God’s own issues? Why on earth are you writing that?

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            ” E.g., under this concept, a human and a rational extraterrestrial would both count as “human,” because both would be “rational animals.” ”
            Or we could not use the term species and just say “rational animal”. We already have the term category- species is biology’s.

            FWIW, “species” and “genera” were employed by ancient and medieval logicians in precisely the way I am employing them long before modern biology. Even in Victorian literature, one might find a character describing someone as a “species of X” when what they mean is a “kind of X,” not a biological species. You can invent new vocabulary for these things (motion = change, perfection = completeness, species = kind, brute = unexplained) but sometimes it’s easier to just row in with the pre-existing terminology.

            “It just keeps certain associations in mind. ”
            What associations? Why is it useful?

            The Anscombe arguments, mainly, which are useful in that it keeps the idea of “unexplained relative to” in mind, rather than just “unexplained.” In other words, it’s a reminder that each explanation is unexplained relative to the thing it’s explaining. If John was electrocuted, then the explanation for what injured him might be “electricity,” which is left otherwise unexplained. If we then ask “what is electricity?” we get into electrons and Maxwell’s equations and all the rest. So one says that “electricity is brute relative to John’s electrocution.” Now, many philosophers would prefer not to have any “brute” or “unexplained” entity in their chain of explanations. Anyway, it’s a pretty minor point. You can use “unexplained” if you want.

            “I asked you if, in this contrived scenario where you can’t make any more predictions, you’d still believe Caesar was assassinated. ”
            It is the same as asking me how coin flips go. You can ask people if they believe it will end heads or tails, but it is a different meaning than what people normally mean by belief- everyone agrees on the odds.
            In the absence of future predictive power, all beliefs are like that. You only have beliefs about whether anyone is cheating. Now exact probabilities are unlikely (if only because its hard for people to conceptualize), but if there is nothing left to learn (and that includes how people think which is important for this) than we could all agree on what odds the view was correct based on what premises we were using.
            “Once again, you may rest in either absurdity (agnosticism as to whether any historical figure ever lived) or theism. Your choice.”
            See above. Also since Bayesian is all about assigning probabilities to things, that means that Bayesians don’t “believe” that they existed- they have various levels of confidence.

            The whole Bayesian probabilistic belief thing is admirable in its way. Were you just saying that you assign the same probability to Caesar’s assassination as to the reports being correct? Because given that the reports are our source for the assassination, I can certainly understand you doing that. If that’s all you meant, that’s fine.

            Wrong. Color is two things- a CATEGORY that contains individual colors and categories of light between certain wavelengths. The wavelength of the light is the attribute.
            Now I read the definition and it doesn’t give me the information to declare if either of the two are natural categories. The definition simply isn’t clear enough.

            A kind is a species, a substance with certain defining characteristics. The idea of “natural kinds” is that at least some of our division of the stuff we see into logical species is correct. Now, light is a substance, particle or wave depending. So that would be a natural kind. But color is something perceived by observers. What wavelength of light an object reflects is an objective question. But what color that leads the observer to see is dependent on the observer’s biology (bees see UV) and culture (the number of basic colors distinguished in human languages varies from two to twelve). The wavelengths of light are a continuum. There is no one right way to divide it. Colors are not a natural kind.

            Why? If categories are arbitrary that means people choose them however they like. That says nothing about the attributes things have. They have those attributes regardless of category.
            “I’m a realist about all the subatomic particles currently posited by standard physics. ”
            I’m not asking that. You declared quarks exist. Quark is a category. Do you believe that category exists or is just a convenient way to organize subatomic particles.

            My layman’s understanding is that quarks come in six flavors. From what I can puzzle out, the six flavors seem different enough that we might best regard each as a species of particle, and “quark” as a genus. The Standard Model categorizes quarks separately from, e.g., leptons, and I’m willing to take physicists’ word for it that that’s the correct way to carve nature at its joints. N.B., in my way of speaking the genus “quark” would still itself be a species of the genus “fermions” just as a “top quark” would be a species of the genus “quarks.”

            Anyway, my only contention is that there is a right way to categorize nature, not that I know what it is. My own lamentable ignorance of physics is an epistemic problem that doesn’t affect ontic reality.

            “The Thomist arguments I’m referring to here first posit an absolutely simple being, and only later demonstrate it to have all the predicates traditionally associated with God. ”
            An absolutely simple being exists is a rather massive assumption since all beings we observe aren’t simple and “absolute simplicity” best describes fundamental particles.

            The existence of an absolutely simple being is demonstrated as well, before being used in subsequent arguments. I apologize for my confusing use of “posit.”

            “Likewise, that complex entities are contingent is argued for, although it is obvious: anything with parts is subject to change.”
            Anything with parts we’ve observed inside the universe. And all particles aren’t waves.

            Well, if you want to propose something without parts outside the universe, that’s well on the way to proposing God.

            “As for the universe: obviously it has parts, which is all “complex” means. ”
            Even at the Big Bang? As far as I’m aware the number of pieces keeps dropping the closer they get to time zero. What makes you confident it has parts there?

            Even at t=0, formal and material cause would still be separate, as would essence and existence.

            “Look, the only explanation for contingency that terminates the explanatory chain is necessity.”
            Or your chain of logic is wrong because you’ve made unjustified assumptions. Like particle and waves being mutually exclusive. In that case the assumption was “reality works by consistent rules regardless of scale”.

            The assumption about consistency regardless of scale was a falsifiable (and falsified) hypothesis about how nature happens to behave. The assumption that necessary contrasts with contingent is a logical consideration, not a hypothesis about nature.

            “So at some point, you either have to accept our cosmos as unexplained, or posit a necessary being.”
            Like the universe itself?

            A necessary being has to be simple. The universe is complex, and thus contingent.
            (cont.)

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            I decided to look up the good….
            Aquinas:
            “2] For that by which each thing is called good is the virtue that belongs to it; for “the virtue of each thing is what makes its possessor and his work good.” Now, virtue “is a certain perfection, for each thing is then called perfect when it reaches the virtue belonging to it,” as may be seen in Physics VII [3]. Hence, each thing is good from the fact that it is perfect. That is why each thing seeks its perfection as the good belonging to it. But we have shown that God is perfect. Therefore, He is good. ”
            That doesn’t follow. At all. It is conflating between two definitions of perfect. One is the moral. The other is the category which includes “perfect engine of death”.

            I applaud you looking up the argument. Thank you very much for doing me the courtesy of taking the thinkers I invoke seriously enough to do that.

            I do think this snippet of Chapter 37 of S.G. is valid, although it presumes much of what has come before. Your objection is incisive, and resolving it will take us right to the heart of the argument, which involves moving from the “perfect engine of death” sense to the moral sense. First, we note that in Latin, “perfectus” translates “teleos,” and both mean “complete” or “finished” or “consummate” or something similar, just like a “perfect engine of death” is a maximally effective one. So, earlier on, Aquinas has demonstrated a necessary being that is pure actuality, with no admixture of potentiality. It follows easily from this that such a being is “perfectus”: it has no unfulfilled potential, and is thus “perfectus,” complete, needing no finishing or improvement. (Chapter 28). Now, how do we get from that to “good”? Well, Aquinas is a virtue ethicist. For him, the “good” of anything is to actualize its potential: to be the most effective thing of its sort it can be—the sharpest knife, the fastest cheetah, the wisest man, etc. So, again, it follows easily that God, being “perfectus” in the morally neutral sense you mentioned, has always already actualized His potential. Thus, in a virtue ethics sense, God is completely good, precisely because He is “complete” in the morally neutral sense. However, this only establishes that God is good with regard to being the “best God He can be,” as it were. I think what you’re asking is whether that has anything to do with being morally good, and in particular being benevolent as humans would understand it, and not just benevolent, but “omni-benevolent,” as it were. Aquinas develops the answer to this in chapters 38-41, immediately following the one you quoted. He makes a few points there. Following the thrust of your objection, I’ll stick to quoting this from Chapter 40:

            [2] For the goodness of each thing is its perfection, as we have said. But, since God is absolutely perfect, in His perfection He comprehends the perfections of all things, as has been shown. His goodness, therefore, comprehends every goodness. Thus, He is the good of every good.

            Again, this crucially depends on virtue ethics. The idea is that each living thing seeks its own “perfection,” its own completeness. The acorn becomes an oak, the human strives for virtue. Since God just is pure completeness, he is good in the human sense, and in every other sense. Now, there are two further points worth considering here. First, Aquinas is quite concerned early on to stress that God must be spoken of analogically; that applies to “good” here. Second, God is, crucially for Aquinas, that being in which essense and existence are united, that being Whose essense is to exist. “I AM WHO AM,” as the Bible says. (Not that Aquinas depends on the Bible; he demonstrates this in chapters 21-22.) The idea of actuality, of perfection, includes for Aquinas being as opposed to nonbeing, in particular because Aquinas adopts Augustine’s privative account of evil. Third, Aquinas’ arguments here are more intuitive if read in conjunction with his discussion in the Summa Theolgica, of God as the ultimate final cause of everything. The final cause is precisely the telos of each thing. In a teleological ethic, to identify God as the human telos is precisely to identify contemplation or union with God as the ultimate good for humans.

            ““Why” it exists is the question of how there can be any contingent, complex reality at all.”
            And what makes you so certain physics won’t help answer this?

            Because modern natural science is about the quantitative prediction and control of nature, and it’s not that kind of question.

            “That’s not “meta-metaphysical.” That’s deontological ethics. ”
            The prohibitions are ethics. The attempts to derive fundamental rules and figure out how to apply them to the ethics are “meta-metaphysical”. It is attempting to figure out what categories are meaningful to God (or the Jews who had received them from God).

            Ah, okay. Now I see what you were getting at.

            As to immateriality and intentionality: I’m mostly thinking of something like James Ross’ argument. We’ve discussed that before.

            As to quantum acausality: if you can model something with math, it’s formally caused. I’m agnostic as to whether it’s acausal in terms of efficient causality, which is the kind of acausality I take the terminology to be referring to.

            “Always fun to see how many weird epicycles some people will add to their worldview to avoid letting a divine foot in the door. It really helps put their rationalist, free-thinker shtick in perspective.”
            You know God can take care of God’s own issues? Why on earth are you writing that?

            I think that you meant that exchange for The original Mr. X, whom I assume can also take care of his own issues.

          • Troy says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            We can’t do it and “its impossible” are two different categories. The definition of all powerful includes the ability to do the impossible. Not just “we were wrong about how hard it was”, but “we were right about how hard it was”.

            Naturally I don’t agree that God or God’s properties are impossible. I don’t think omnipotence includes the ability to make contradictions true, if that’s what you’re getting at.

            “But I don’t think this view is ultimately as simple as theism or as well-supported by the evidence.”

            Only if you define simple by number of entities and not novel traits of entities. Your argument against reducing things down to inexplicable fundamentals seems to indicate you hold the opposite position.

            I don’t define simplicity in either of those ways. I don’t have an exact analysis of simplicity — I take that to be a very hard problem — but I suspect that the kind of simplicity of a hypothesis relevant to assigning a prior to it is at least closely approximated by how long the shortest statement of that hypothesis is that uses only fundamental concepts. That’s hard to measure because we hardly ever use only fundamental concepts, but I think theism comes out fairly simple on this approach. Theism, as it’s often understood in philosophical debates, is basically the hypothesis that an omnipotent, omniscient, all-good being exists (and has always existed) and caused the universe to exist. Not all of the terms/concepts employed in that definition are fundamental. The omni- attributes, in particular, need to be analyzed into simpler concepts. But those analyses will plausibly not be very complex.

            Any particular form of polytheism, on the other hand, will take much longer to state: “God A exists, and has this amount of knowledge, this amount of power, this amount of goodness, etc.; God B exists, and has these amounts of those things; etc.” So will a view of the universe with its particular laws as fundamental.

            I’m not seeing where you get the evidence either

            It mainly has to do with the (mostly historical) evidence for Christian theism over other religions. I haven’t addressed (and don’t plan to) that (very large) topic here, sticking rather with the intrinsic probability of theism and its explanation of fundamental aspects of physics.

            ” My point is simply that sometimes scientists reasonably infer the existence of entities they have not observed (and often cannot observe). ”

            Yes and my point is there are very tight limits on that. Otherwise, string theory.

            Good, then we’ve made progress here too, because I likewise agree that we should be careful about making inferences about unobserved entities. I only claim that some such inferences are good ones. This opens in principle the possibility of inferring the existence of God as an explanation of facts about the universe, but we agree that the task of showing that inference to be a good one involves further argumentation.

            “Then you accept that P(Regular|Theism) > 1/8? This follows logically from my premises.”

            Yes, I’m saying it doesn’t prove what you think it proves.

            In the context in which I made that estimate, I was arguing that Regular is evidence for theism, i.e., that P(Theism|Regular) > P(Theism), which is true if and only if P(Regular|Theism) > P(Regular|Atheism).

            Do you think that P(Regular|Atheism) < 1/8? I think it's much lower, because (as I said above) there are many more ways for the universe to be irregular than regular, and I don't think any hypothesis compatible with atheism that would entail Regular (or give it a very high probability) — such as the laws of nature being necessary — has a probability conditional on atheism higher than 1/8.

            “I need not claim that we would necessarily recognize an all powerful entity that wasn’t God, only that it’s unlikely that if Steve Jobs were omnipotent he would never have given any indication of that.”

            How unlikely? And how unlikely is it for each and every other entity we know of in the universe?

            Now do that without infinite power but just with “create the universe”- after all, we don’t have any reason to believe creating the universe requires omnipotence. Those are respectively your odds another entity is all powerful and the odds another entity created the universe.

            So, first, “can create a universe” does not entail “created the universe”; the probability of the latter will be lower than the former (since it requires the truth of the former), and the former is what we have been discussing here.

            Second, and these numbers will naturally be inexact, but just sticking with being able to create a universe, I think my probability that any particular human being can create a universe is at most 10^-20. (It’s probably much lower than that, but I’m trying to give a generous upper bound.) For non-humans it is lower. These probabilities are not independent, because conditional on half of the human race not having any incredible powers I would never have imagined them to have, the probability that the other half does not have those powers either is extremely high. My probability that some physical entity in the universe or other which we have encountered has this power is, let’s say, < 10^-19.

            The latter will be insanely high given your assumptions since most of the sentient entities that exist want to exist and would make the universe.

            As I said with regards to omnipotence, we have good evidence of most sentient entities that they do not have the kind of incredible power that would be necessary to create a universe, e.g., their desires often being frustrated, their never displaying incredible power, and their membership in a species that in general has limited powers which we understand to some degree both from biology and our own first-person experience.

            In the case of God, not only do we not have evidence that he can’t create a universe, but, as I said above, the God hypothesis is defined in such a way that God can create a universe. “God” is a definite description, like “the largest star.” Asking whether God is capable of creating a universe is like asking whether the largest star is bigger than all other stars. If the object exists, then this predicate is true of it; the only question is whether it exists.

            “Similarly with “can create the universe.” Are you really in serious doubt about whether Steve Jobs can create the universe? If so you’re embracing a pretty radical skepticism. ”

            Would you like me to start linking the list of logic fallacies? You are at “Argument from Personal Incredulity”. If you don’t like it, don’t have the assumption “can create the universe”.

            ” It seems you ought to walk about all the time wondering if the man next to you is capable of snapping his fingers and causing you 100 years of torment.”

            You are the person who choose the prior, not me.

            In general discussions of issues like these can never be resolved by rigorous proofs of one side or the other. Usually the best we can is see if the beliefs, or probability assignments, of both sides are consistent. One way of doing this is pointing out apparently absurd consequences of someone’s position. Of course you may not agree that they’re absurd; you can accept them if you like. I have a colleague who is a full-blown skeptic about the external world. But for my part, if a position implies the truth of such skepticism I will still take that as a strike against it.

            What I’m arguing is that if you accept that Steve Jobs has a high probability of creating a universe, then you ought to assign a high probability to the man next to you being able to cause you 100 years of torment by snapping his fingers. And unless I’ve misunderstood you, you seem to accept the former high probability — e.g., earlier you said, “The assumptions of “values life” and “can create universe” can be applied to anything giving you the probability of Steve Jobs, Hitler, Scott, EY, Harry Potter, the Women’s Temperance league and Ed, the Talking horse all with 1/8 probability.”

            I think these probability assignments are obviously crazy. But again, that doesn’t mean you can’t accept them; you’re always welcome to bite the bullet.

            Now you appear to be arguing — although I’m again not sure — that my earlier probability assignments somehow commit me to these consequences as well. Perhaps your claim is that if I assign a high probability to God being able to create the universe I ought to assign a high probability to other beings being able to create a universe? If so, I’ve already explained why this doesn’t follow above.

            “Obviously this would have substantial macro-effects, and yet it involves only changing the strength of one constant in one micro-law.”

            If it causes the atom to convert to energy, the net effect is zero. Its simply too small.

            Maybe I wasn’t clear. I was talking about the micro-law governing the strong force changing universally, not just the strong force operating differently locally to a particular atom.

            “Most of them have negligible priors.”

            Why? I’d imagine good god/evil god having the same prior. Given monotheistic religions trend towards dual power I don’t see why you’d discard that so easily

            I take it you’re referring to the “Satan” possibility? That’s not the same thing as an “evil God” (for one thing, “Satan” is a proper name that only refers if the Christian God exists), but anyway, I think an “evil God” hypothesis has some prior probability, but not as high as classical theism. There are several arguments that the other divine attributes will entail or likely occur together with perfect goodness, ranging from Thomist-style arguments having to do with all these attributes being perfections to motivational internalism-style arguments that move from perfect knowledge of the good to perfect goodness. I don’t think any of these arguments are knock-down — hence my still assigning some probability to an evil God hypothesis — but I think they have enough plausibility to raise the prior of a good God over an evil God. I’m inclined towards motivational internalism myself, on which, at the least, knowledge of the good is intrinsically motivating. In humans we observe this motivation to be overridden by weakness of will, but inasmuch as God’s desires would only come from knowledge of the good and not from the kinds of animal impulses we have, that wouldn’t be a factor for him. (And weakness of will wouldn’t, at any rate, get you a wholly evil entity.)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “The whole Bayesian probabilistic belief thing is admirable in its way. Were you just saying that you assign the same probability to Caesar’s assassination as to the reports being correct? Because given that the reports are our source for the assassination, I can certainly understand you doing that. If that’s all you meant, that’s fine. ”

            Yes but “report being correct” hides a lot. Its the odd the original incident was recorded correctly with the odds that it wasn’t garbled in transmission or translation. Its relatively high given how important it became (justification for the Princeps, Obcession for Roman culture), but a lot of other historical information isn’t. For example the information we have on the Qin comes from their successors who rebelled against them and justified their actions in terms of how bad the Qin were. Or information on the conquest of the America’s heavily draws from the Conquistadors, who wished to present themselves in the most impressive light possible.

            So while Caesar existing and was murdered are high probability, “The Gallic Wars” being an accurate and true account is… lower. In general if you don’t do indepth historical research the rule of thumb should that details that can’t be confirmed or refuted by archeology should be treated as more likely to be ‘plausible’ and/or idealized (especially military numbers). So what the ancient Greeks ate is something we can be pretty confident about, what people actually believed or organized themselves, less so.

            “The idea of “natural kinds” is that at least some of our division of the stuff we see into logical species is correct.”

            The issue is your definition seems to imply only fundamental particles could possibly qualify and that simultaneously people believe it applies to things that aren’t fundamental particles. That is what continues to not be explained.

            And if the question is “is there anything more basic than the fundamental particles we currently observe” the correct answer is “we don’t know”. If the question is “is it possible to get to a point where there isn’t anything more basic”, the fact reality appears quantized suggests the answer is yes. Unfortunately that isn’t your question either. The true question is “are all the things we designate as fundamental particles (and are fundamental particles) the same or are there differences between them we can’t detect”.

            The answer probably has to wait until we complete physics. I think (the current theory) reality is quantized, not continuous so we should hit the bottom at some point and can use that to figure out how much “room” there is. If it isn’t, physics will never, ever run out of things to study.

            “The existence of an absolutely simple being is demonstrated as well, before being used in subsequent arguments. I apologize for my confusing use of “posit.””

            The existence of an absolutely simple being is “something existing”. If the contention is that nothing else can answer the question of “why does anything exist”, it does not follow. Logical necessary only follows if you assume the rules of logic apply to things outside the universe.

            “Well, if you want to propose something without parts outside the universe, that’s well on the way to proposing God.”

            I did say “inside the universe”. The universe itself isn’t “inside the universe”.

            “Even at t=0, formal and material cause would still be separate, as would essence and existence.”

            Why? At t=0 time itself doesn’t exist.

            “The assumption that necessary contrasts with contingent is a logical consideration, not a hypothesis about nature.”

            Acasual and random are disproof.

            “A necessary being has to be simple. The universe is complex, and thus contingent.”

            Are you declaring the universe is complex relative to God at the time of the Big Bang?

            “The idea is that each living thing seeks its own “perfection,” its own completeness. The acorn becomes an oak, the human strives for virtue. Since God just is pure completeness, he is good in the human sense, and in every other sense. ”

            That doesn’t follow. The acorn is becoming the oak in order to produce more acorns. Human striving for virtue is fundamentally different and not universally shared, even among humans. And to borrow from Less Wrong, the completeness of an optimizer is totally hostile to every other form of life in the universe.

            “Because modern natural science is about the quantitative prediction and control of nature, and it’s not that kind of question.”

            If it can be tested and falsified, science will get into it. It currently avoids this because of a lack of tools, not interest.

            “As to immateriality and intentionality: I’m mostly thinking of something like James Ross’ argument. We’ve discussed that before.”

            I’m pretty sure it didn’t answer the “what if matter was magic” argument. Care to highlight it since I don’t know what you are talking about?

            “As to quantum acausality: if you can model something with math, it’s formally caused. ”

            You can’t. We cannot predict exactly when an individual particle will decay and there is strong evidence suggesting that we never will (unless there are more layers yet to be discovered).

            If you are talking about large numbers, what do you expect non-formally caused to display?

            Troy
            “Naturally I don’t agree that God or God’s properties are impossible. I don’t think omnipotence includes the ability to make contradictions true, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

            I’m referring to the ability to do things that are possible. Not logical contradictions, but things like “touch the singularity in a black hole”, “move faster than light”, “time travel”, etc (yes, I’m aware they aren’t necessarily impossible- I’m going off current knowledge).

            “That’s hard to measure because we hardly ever use only fundamental concepts, but I think theism comes out fairly simple on this approach.”

            The universe caused itself is even shorter. I don’t think that is the chain of logic you intend it to be.

            ” Theism, as it’s often understood in philosophical debates, is basically the hypothesis that an omnipotent, omniscient, all-good being exists (and has always existed) and caused the universe to exist.”

            That doesn’t cover deism, dualism or polytheism which use much the same grounding.

            “It mainly has to do with the (mostly historical) evidence for Christian theism over other religions.”

            So what religion would you have been prior to 20 AD with complete evidence for the existing religions up to that point?

            ” These probabilities are not independent, because conditional on half of the human race not having any incredible powers I would never have imagined them to have, ”

            I’m not following. Why are you setting limits based on the fact you didn’t imagine it?

            “My probability that some physical entity in the universe or other which we have encountered has this power is, let’s say, < 10^-19."

            The number of humans who have ever lived is about 120 billion (or 1.2 * 10^10). So a billion more worlds like ours would boot it up to that value. Meanwhile the Milky Way has 300 billion stars.

            Unless you are saying that is your total estimate which is incredibly odd since that implies you think humanity has a 1 in ten chance of creating the Universe compared to any other living thing that ever existed and will ever live. We currently estimate 10^22 or 10^24 as the number of stars in the observable universe.

            "As I said with regards to omnipotence, we have good evidence of most sentient entities that they do not have the kind of incredible power that would be necessary to create a universe,"

            Zero energy universe is a thing. You are updating?

            "In the case of God, not only do we not have evidence that he can’t create a universe,"

            I'm not sure what you mean by this. We can never have evidence that individuals can't create universes. Unless they interact with our own, people could be popping them out like children and we'd never know.

            "but, as I said above, the God hypothesis is defined in such a way that God can create a universe."

            Yes, but I'm pointing out it is an unstated assumption. If the definition of God is "created a universe" than if Steve Jobs creates the universe he is God and the definition agrees with that. I think we can agree that is nonsensical and that God didn't suddenly become God only when God created the universe. If the definition of God is the 3 os intervention and created the universe, than all 5 of those are separate assumptions. You need to show they are dependent and exclusive. Irenist is trying to show the former, but the latter is impossible. You can't prove that no one else could have done it and any small probabilities explode very quickly due to the sheer number of entities in the universe.

            "In general discussions of issues like these can never be resolved by rigorous proofs of one side or the other. "

            I'm not seeing why.

            "What I’m arguing is that if you accept that Steve Jobs has a high probability of creating a universe, then you ought to assign a high probability to the man next to you being able to cause you 100 years of torment by snapping his fingers."

            I don't accept he has a high probability of doing that. I pointed out that it applies to every other thing that exists. Given the sheer number of things that exist, even if I believed one of them was responsible, Jobs would be very low.

            "And unless I’ve misunderstood you, you seem to accept the former high probability — e.g., earlier you said, “The assumptions of “values life” and “can create universe” can be applied to anything giving you the probability of Steve Jobs, Hitler, Scott, EY, Harry Potter, the Women’s Temperance league and Ed, the Talking horse all with 1/8 probability.”"

            No, I'm saying that is what your argument implies. "Of course God can create the universe" is an assumption which can just as easily be applied to all of them.

            "I was talking about the micro-law governing the strong force changing universally, not just the strong force operating differently locally to a particular atom."

            Why are you assuming laws would be changeable universally instead of at the actual bottom scale of the universe? The former would require a propagation effect, while the latter doesn't.

            "I take it you’re referring to the “Satan” possibility? That’s not the same thing as an “evil God"

            Sort of. You have Zoroastrianism, Cathars, some forms of Hinduism, etc.

            "There are several arguments that the other divine attributes will entail or likely occur together with perfect goodness,"

            Now remember the arguments were created by people trying to prove a good God existed so ones proving an evil God exists were less likely to occur and be recorded.

            " I’m inclined towards motivational internalism myself, on which, at the least, knowledge of the good is intrinsically motivating. In humans we observe this motivation to be overridden by weakness of will, but inasmuch as God’s desires would only come from knowledge of the good and not from the kinds of animal impulses we have, that wouldn’t be a factor for him. (And weakness of will wouldn’t, at any rate, get you a wholly evil entity.)"

            I don't think you've been paying attention to the whole AI risk panic. Knowledge and caring are unrelated categories.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:
            Your discussion of Caesar was sensible and level-headed. I deeply misunderstood your position, and I want to apologize for that.
            I’m not one for quantifying my degrees of belief, but I think the rationalist attempt to do so is a laudable project in many ways.

            “The idea of “natural kinds” is that at least some of our division of the stuff we see into logical species is correct.”
            The issue is your definition seems to imply only fundamental particles could possibly qualify and that simultaneously people believe it applies to things that aren’t fundamental particles. That is what continues to not be explained.

            I can see where I’ve been confusing there, thank you for clarifying that. As a Thomist, I personally happen to think that there are objectively correct categorizations for macro-scale objects. That’s what the essentialists (in particular, the realists in the debate over universals) thought in antiquity and the middle ages, from Plato and Aristotle through the work of figures like Aquinas and many of his later commentators. However, the recent revival of essentialism in some quarters of Anglo-American analytic philosophy has often been coupled with a high regard for scientific reductionism, such that many New Essentialists (e.g., Ellis) restrict essentialism to fundamental particles. I think the extension of New Essentialist insights back toward an “old essentialist” understanding like Thomism is rationally defensible. D.S. Oderberg’s “Real Essentialism” is the best book on how to do that I’ve encountered. But here, in this subthread, I don’t have any desire to try to make that very complicated argument. My goal here is just to recommend the New Essentialists to your attention: I think their essentialism is an important contribution to philosophy of science, and I’d love to see more of the very intelligent people here at SSC, and in the LW community generally, engage with it. Most of you have intellectual gifts very different than my own limited measure, and I’d just love to see what you’d all do with the New Essentialism in dialogue with, e.g., the Sequences.

            The existence of an absolutely simple being is “something existing”. If the contention is that nothing else can answer the question of “why does anything exist”, it does not follow. Logical necessary only follows if you assume the rules of logic apply to things outside the universe.

            I assume logical necessity applies to anyplace whatsoever. If you reject that assumption, then you can of course reject not only the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), but the entirety of metaphysics. I can’t imagine what would seem to me sufficient warrant for rejecting the universality of logic itself. But if that’s something you’re comfortable with, I can’t argue you into any position at all. I can only respectfully and amicably disagree with you.

            “Even at t=0, formal and material cause would still be separate, as would essence and existence.”
            Why? At t=0 time itself doesn’t exist.

            Materiality is necessarily temporal. Formal cause is not. The truths of mathematics, e.g., are eternally true, not temporally.

            “The assumption that necessary contrasts with contingent is a logical consideration, not a hypothesis about nature.”
            Acasual and random are disproof.

            No. But I think we ought to agree to disagree on that one. The inferential distance is vast, I fear.

            “A necessary being has to be simple. The universe is complex, and thus contingent.”
            Are you declaring the universe is complex relative to God at the time of the Big Bang?

            Yes. For a Thomist, any object with a material component (including the universe as we approach the limit t=0 as arbitrarily close as physics will let us) is a compound of matter and form into an essence, and the further compound of that essence with an act of existing (“existence”). Less complex would be a purely spiritual being like an angel, a demon, or a disembodied human soul. Such an immaterial person would be a compound only of immaterial formal essence and existence. The least complex conceivable entity is God, the purely simple Being, “I AM THAT I AM,” Whose formal essence is identical to the act of existence itself.

            It’s perhaps useful here to note that, for an essentialist, the essence, or kind, of a thing is precisely how we distinguish one thing from another. Existence is one thing. So there can only be one Being Who is, essentially, existence itself. Thus, although there may be plenty of demons running around doing minor mischievous miracles and passing themselves off as “gods,” there can only be one God in the proper sense, only one simple Being Whose essence is existence. No non-simple demonic “god,” no complex compound of form and existence, can satisfy the PSR and provide explanatory closure, which is why your probabilistic arguments with Troy about polytheism, Steve Jobs, and the usual suite of “why not be an atheist with regard to just one god more?” arguments are ultimately point-missing.

            Much of what I’ve just said is discussed by Aquinas in the fourth chapter of his very short work “De Ente et Essentia” (“On Being and Essence,”) which chapter is very well summarized and explained here:
            http://www.iep.utm.edu/aq-meta/#H2

            “The idea is that each living thing seeks its own “perfection,” its own completeness. The acorn becomes an oak, the human strives for virtue. Since God just is pure completeness, he is good in the human sense, and in every other sense. ”
            That doesn’t follow. The acorn is becoming the oak in order to produce more acorns. Human striving for virtue is fundamentally different and not universally shared, even among humans.

            The Thomist traces the etiology of human vice to original sin: were it not for the Fall, humans would all be virtuous. As a virtue ethicist, the Thomist affirms that the human telos is virtue in precisely the same way that the acorn’s telos is to become an oak that makes more acorns. The vegetatively souled plant has its telos in growth, nutrition, and reproduction. We rationally souled animals have our telos in reasonable virtue, in wisdom.

            And to borrow from Less Wrong, the completeness of an optimizer is totally hostile to every other form of life in the universe.

            In arguing that humans are “virtue optimizers,” as it were, the Thomist virtue ethicist is pretty much arguing that the virtuous human is Friendly, and that God is the completely Friendly Intelligence, always already maximally Friendly.

            “Because modern natural science is about the quantitative prediction and control of nature, and it’s not that kind of question.” If it can be tested and falsified, science will get into it. It currently avoids this because of a lack of tools, not interest.

            Okay, let’s say you’re working within the bounds of Peano arithmetic (not trying to prove the consistency of the arithmetic itself, just trying to prove stuff about numbers within it). Let’s further say that, within Peano arithmetic, you prove that 2 +2 = 4, and disprove that 2+ 2 = 5. The validity of these results is subject only to logical concerns from within the system. There is nothing for investigation of the material universe with scientific instrumentation either to prove or to disprove. There is nothing to test or falsify. Nothing in the material universe (not even a Thought Policeman O’Brien or a Gul Madred) can affect whether it is true that 2 + 2 = 4 as a matter of pure arithmetic. If you accept the universal applicability of logic generally, and of the PSR, then you will be, IMHO, inexorably led to posit God. Now, you can reject the PSR if you like, and you can reject the idea that logic applies not only in our universe, but anywhere. If you reject these, then you will have a brute (“unexplained”) universe, or multiverse, or however deep physics gets, and we can just agree to disagree. (Physics won’t be able to get you explanatory closure any more than physics can prove a theorem in Peano arithmetic: that’s not its job. Even with a “theory of everything,” physics would only ever explain what the “laws” of the universe/multiverse are, not “that there is” a cosmos of any kind at all; only logical metaphysics can answer the latter kind of question.)

            “As to immateriality and intentionality: I’m mostly thinking of something like James Ross’ argument. We’ve discussed that before.”
            I’m pretty sure it didn’t answer the “what if matter was magic” argument. Care to highlight it since I don’t know what you are talking about?

            I really don’t want to get into it again on this thread (maybe in another thread sometime, where the subthreading isn’t annoyingly maxed out yet), but here are three brief readings:

            First, for some IMHO very useful background considerations, here’s a blog post from Feser in which he (a) agrees with atheist eliminative materialist philosopher Alex Rosenberg’s very cogent argument that intentionality cannot reside in, e.g., “a Paris neuron” about Paris because intentionality isn’t that kind of thing, but then (b) argues by retorsion that Rosenberg’s consequent denial of intentionality is incoherent:
            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/04/reading-rosenberg-part-ix.html

            Second, here’s a pdf of Ross’ original article, “Immaterial Aspects of Thought”:
            http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdf

            Third, here’s Feser quite helpfully fleshing out Ross’ article in an article of his own called “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought”:
            http://www.newdualism.org/papers/E.Feser/Feser-acpq_2013.pdf

            “As to quantum acausality: if you can model something with math, it’s formally caused. ”
            You can’t. We cannot predict exactly when an individual particle will decay and there is strong evidence suggesting that we never will (unless there are more layers yet to be discovered).
            If you are talking about large numbers, what do you expect non-formally caused to display?

            My phrasing was unhelpful. I was trying to draw attention to the formal-causal aspects of mathematical regularity. But I ended up sounding as if I thought that mathematical tractability was a requirement for formal causality. On a Thomist understanding, prime matter, which is “pure potentiality,” never “actually” exists. Physics (might!) take us asymptotically close to prime matter. Indeed, I think quantum weirdness is rather what that would look like. But a non-formally caused object would be purely potential. Since to exist is to be actual, a purely potential object never was or will be. So I can’t make any predictions, other than that we’ll never encounter such. (A Scotist, as opposed to a Thomist, would among other differences be a Scholastic who thinks prime matter can actually exist. Scotism is famously “subtle,” being characterized by a plethora of very finely cut logical distinctions, and my familiarity with it is almost as lamentably limited as my familiarity with mathematical physics. So I don’t know how a Scotist would answer your question.)

            Oh, here’s an interesting question you asked Troy:

            So what religion would you have been prior to 20 AD with complete evidence for the existing religions up to that point?

            I think the best position would have been to be a Jew (including a proselyte, if you didn’t happen to have the honor of being born into the Chosen People) who was interested in integrating the best insights of Greek philosophy. A figure like Philo of Alexandria seems to have been, very broadly, on the right track.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            Oh, I think I’ve said something else confusing I should clear up. I’ve been writing about the Ross paper as having to do with intentionality. But one of the references I sent you on the argument is a Feser paper that follows Jerry Fodor in distinguishing between consciousness (of qualia), intentionality, and rationality. Feser rightly says that Ross’ paper is strictly about rationality, not intentionality generally. However, muddled mind that I am, I have a bad habit of conflating these when I think about the problem, because certain intentional but not necessarily rational states seem to me to have precisely the sort of “definite content” that Ross is talking about (although given the argument about universals vs. particulars, it’s arguable that they don’t have this definiteness). Anyway, Feser is right to draw the distinction, and I think I owe it to you to mention it. The main gist is still the idea that the sort of thoughts we think are necessarily immaterial.

            A second note–Feser’s bit about Rosenberg is really saying (1) Eliminativism is true given materialist premises, but (2) eliminativism can’t be true because it’s self-refutingly incoherent. Now, the Feser piece doesn’t go into much detail (other than quoting Rosenberg) on why eliminativism (rather than functionalism, or some kind of supervenience theory, or Dennett’s “intentional stance” or Fodor’s mentalese or Millikan’s biosemantics) is inevitable given physicalist premises. And while I think Feser and Rosenberg are correct on (1), a huge, huge amount of modern Anglo-American analytic philosophy is all about debating (1), so I’m not going to try to prove that in a combox.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “As a Thomist, I personally happen to think that there are objectively correct categorizations for macro-scale objects. ”

            That would require defining “objective observer” for defining categorizations. And no, God can’t do it for the rather obvious reason that “creator of the universe” is not exactly objective for “universe they created”. It is the very definition of conflict of interest! (okay, I’ll be more serious)

            More prosaically, I’m not seeing how you’d pull this off- what do you do when you run into people who disagree about a categorization?

            “Most of you have intellectual gifts very different than my own limited measure, and I’d just love to see what you’d all do with the New Essentialism in dialogue with, e.g., the Sequences.”

            Why would they bother? Its either an empirical question (in which case LW will differ to physics) or its a “how much do we understand the bottom” in which case they will do what they always do- make up a probability for (Yes/No/Third option/Combination yes/no) and (solved/never solved).

            I’m not sure what the current rate for “impossible to solve has been solved”- while I think its fair they would have avoid Star Trek’s Fermat mistake (a proof was discovered 6 years after they said it was unsolved), quantum physics would have caught them as off guard as everyone else.

            “I assume logical necessity applies to anyplace whatsoever. If you reject that assumption, then you can of course reject not only the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), but the entirety of metaphysics. I can’t imagine what would seem to me sufficient warrant for rejecting the universality of logic itself. But if that’s something you’re comfortable with, I can’t argue you into any position at all. I can only respectfully and amicably disagree with you.”

            It was 2 parts.

            You believe regularity is explained by God creating everything. Using that assumption, we can’t hold that logical consistency applies to before the creation of the universe (because if it does not need to be explained by God, than it can’t be evidence for God). Logic falls into that category.

            The other part is existence. Having God necessary for everything to exist doesn’t answer “why does anything exist at all”.

            “No. But I think we ought to agree to disagree on that one. The inferential distance is vast, I fear.”

            Why not? If that isn’t conceivable, how can you assert that regularity needs to be explained?

            “Materiality is necessarily temporal. Formal cause is not. The truths of mathematics, e.g., are eternally true, not temporally.”

            See 2 above.

            ” Less complex would be a purely spiritual being like an angel, a demon, or a disembodied human soul. Such an immaterial person would be a compound only of immaterial formal essence and existence. ”

            That isn’t simple. That’s immaterial. Why do you assume immaterial things have no parts? Everything we know of that interacts with other things uses parts to do so. You have no parts and you start looking like a photon which goes at a constant speed and is unaffected by the 4 fundamental forces.

            ” Existence is one thing. So there can only be one Being Who is, essentially, existence itself. ”

            That’s pantheism.

            “No non-simple demonic “god,” no complex compound of form and existence, can satisfy the PSR and provide explanatory closure, which is why your probabilistic arguments with Troy about polytheism, Steve Jobs, and the usual suite of “why not be an atheist with regard to just one god more?” arguments are ultimately point-missing.”

            Neither can the God you described. You have to assume a simple being exists first.

            “The Thomist traces the etiology of human vice to original sin: were it not for the Fall, humans would all be virtuous. As a virtue ethicist, the Thomist affirms that the human telos is virtue in precisely the same way that the acorn’s telos is to become an oak that makes more acorns. The vegetatively souled plant has its telos in growth, nutrition, and reproduction. We rationally souled animals have our telos in reasonable virtue, in wisdom. ”

            Those assumptions only follow if you assume the Bible is true. If you are attempting to prove God exists merely from first principles you can’t use outside assumptions like that.

            There is also the issue that line of thought doesn’t actually explain what we see in the world as well as evolutionary biology which does. And genetic engineering which appears to be able to alter telos.

            “In arguing that humans are “virtue optimizers,” as it were, the Thomist virtue ethicist is pretty much arguing that the virtuous human is Friendly, and that God is the completely Friendly Intelligence, always already maximally Friendly.”

            Friendliness means “shares human values”. Applying it to God is nonsensical (if God is perfect, values are not shared) and asserting God is a virtue optimizer doesn’t work with our universe since we can imagine versions of it that are better (an efficient optimizer will produce results that can’t be improved upon).

            “and you can reject the idea that logic applies not only in our universe, but anywhere.”

            Remember the ‘rules’ of the universe weren’t scale insensitive? If we were wrong going to the bottom scale, what makes you think our assumptions will be right for the maximum (the universe itself). You can’t just accept that the system you are using is without error- you need to have probabilities and fallibility or else you will walk into wave/particle duality while insisting its impossible.

            In this case we don’t know how the universe as a whole functions. I mean we have space inside the universe, but there isn’t anything to suggest the universe as a whole takes up any (since that would require it to have something outside it).

            “I really don’t want to get into it again on this thread (maybe in another thread sometime, where the subthreading isn’t annoyingly maxed out yet), but here are three brief readings:”

            It doesn’t help. Remember, I said I’m accepting the brain can do blatant magic and be as magical as the soul.

            The retort meanwhile consists of things like “because they have features that no physical thing or process can have at all.”

            Or, to use his language, I’m saying physical features aren’t limited to physical processes (this isn’t my belief, I’m just pointing out the idea of the immortal soul is untenable even given the assumptions).

            His choice of math is also unfortunate since I am currently siting right next to a copy of “Where Mathematics Comes From”. Suffice to say the people involved in cognitive science do have explanations for how humans think about math. The book was published 8 years after that PDF which explains why he wasn’t up to date on the latest research.

            Unfortunately the last PDF was published recently and ignores cognitive science entirely, sticking entirely to philosophers.

            There is plenty of dispute about Lakoff’s position’s and conclusions (his quality varies. On the metaphors, he is great. On this ‘holds hand straight, waves sides up and down opposite each other’. I’d suggest other, more recent works if you are interested. On politics he can make a grown man cry). Ignoring the field of cognitive science when it comes to question like “how do people think” is why philosophy is not highly regarded.

            “On a Thomist understanding, prime matter, which is “pure potentiality,” never “actually” exists. Physics (might!) take us asymptotically close to prime matter. Indeed, I think quantum weirdness is rather what that would look like.”

            They think it is one thing? That isn’t possible. Photons simply aren’t translatable into any other fundamental particle.

            “On a Thomist understanding, prime matter, which is “pure potentiality,” never “actually” exists. ”

            The only way I can make sense of this is if you assume matter has a soul/immaterial form.

            “But a non-formally caused object would be purely potential. Since to exist is to be actual, a purely potential object never was or will be. So I can’t make any predictions, other than that we’ll never encounter such.”

            Er, that would mean even without God you would have regularity because everything would be caused.

            “I think the best position would have been to be a Jew (including a proselyte, if you didn’t happen to have the honor of being born into the Chosen People) who was interested in integrating the best insights of Greek philosophy. A figure like Philo of Alexandria seems to have been, very broadly, on the right track.”

            Why a Jew? There are plenty of religions that had creation myths that were ex nihlo or from primordial chaos (although many are dualistic). Greeks and Romans had primordial chaos followed by Gaia who then produced the rest of the gods.

          • Troy says:

            I’m referring to the ability to do things that are possible. Not logical contradictions, but things like “touch the singularity in a black hole”, “move faster than light”, “time travel”, etc (yes, I’m aware they aren’t necessarily impossible- I’m going off current knowledge).

            The relevant current knowledge tells us what is physically possible for beings operating within the laws of physics. Theism posits that God is the source of these laws, and so not bound by them. (Irenist brought this up earlier in I think this thread: the first scientists to talk about laws of nature, like Newton, saw them as constituted by divine activity.) The same would, for what it’s worth, presumably be true for any creator of a system that exists outside that system, including a superintelligence simulating our universe.

            The universe caused itself is even shorter. I don’t think that is the chain of logic you intend it to be.

            But that’s not a full description of the relevant hypothesis, which is that a universe with precisely the features we observe in this one exists fundamentally. That description takes much longer, because of all the laws of physics and so on that must be mentioned.

            ” Theism, as it’s often understood in philosophical debates, is basically the hypothesis that an omnipotent, omniscient, all-good being exists (and has always existed) and caused the universe to exist.”

            That doesn’t cover deism, dualism or polytheism which use much the same grounding.

            It depends on how you’re understanding those hypotheses, but yes, they would often be seen as alternatives to theism as I’ve defined it. Sometimes the term ‘classical theism’ is used instead for what I’m calling ‘theism.’

            So what religion would you have been prior to 20 AD with complete evidence for the existing religions up to that point?

            Well, it depends on exactly what “complete evidence” amounts to, but if it was, say, that available to an educated person in the Roman Empire, then probably either a Jew or a Platonist. In my view both are precursors to Christianity.

            Edit: I’m pleased to see that Irenist gave pretty much the same answer to the “what religion” question as I did.

            ” These probabilities are not independent, because conditional on half of the human race not having any incredible powers I would never have imagined them to have, ”

            I’m not following. Why are you setting limits based on the fact you didn’t imagine it?

            “My probability that some physical entity in the universe or other which we have encountered has this power is, let’s say, < 10^-19."

            The number of humans who have ever lived is about 120 billion (or 1.2 * 10^10). So a billion more worlds like ours would boot it up to that value. Meanwhile the Milky Way has 300 billion stars.

            Unless you are saying that is your total estimate which is incredibly odd since that implies you think humanity has a 1 in ten chance of creating the Universe compared to any other living thing that ever existed and will ever live. We currently estimate 10^22 or 10^24 as the number of stars in the observable universe.

            any small probabilities explode very quickly due to the sheer number of entities in the universe.

            How much probability theory do you know? I’m not asking to be condescending; I’m unsure how much explanation I need to offer here. Basically your argument here is assuming that the probability that intelligent being 1 can create a universe and the probability that intelligent being 2 can create a universe are probabilistically independent. That’s the assumption I’m denying — I’m saying that learning that 1 can’t create a universe lowers the probability that 2 can, by simple induction. That means that, if B1 says that being 1 can create a universe you can’t just multiply P(~B1)P(~B2)…P(~Bn) to get P(~B1,~B2,…,~Bn). You need to multiply P(~B1)P(~B2|~B1)…P(~Bn|~B1,~B2,…,~B(n-1)), and my claim is that these terms get progressively smaller because each Bi that we’re conditioning on gives us more evidence for the next Bi. So the limit of this multiplicative process is not necessarily 0; it might be 10^-19, .5, or whatever else, depending on how strong the dependence relation is.

            If this is not clear I am happy to explain it more.

            “As I said with regards to omnipotence, we have good evidence of most sentient entities that they do not have the kind of incredible power that would be necessary to create a universe,”

            Zero energy universe is a thing. You are updating?

            I don’t know what you’re getting at.

            “In the case of God, not only do we not have evidence that he can’t create a universe,”

            I’m not sure what you mean by this. We can never have evidence that individuals can’t create universes. Unless they interact with our own, people could be popping them out like children and we’d never know.

            No, I completely disagree. This is the kind of radical skepticism I was worrying about earlier. Of course we can get evidence that people can’t create universes, because we can get evidence that people are limited in power. I gave you several examples of evidences we have that most people are limited in power in my last post.

            Your observation that people could be creating universes all the time is consistent with this. This is the same point I made earlier about why simply pointing out “your argument makes assumptions” is insufficient. Outside of logic and mathematics, certainty is scarce. Assumptions are inevitable, and we use probability theory to quantify and organize them. Yes, people could be creating universes all the time. But all the evidence is against it.

            “but, as I said above, the God hypothesis is defined in such a way that God can create a universe.”

            Yes, but I’m pointing out it is an unstated assumption. If the definition of God is “created a universe” than if Steve Jobs creates the universe he is God and the definition agrees with that. … If the definition of God is the 3 os intervention and created the universe,

            That’s the one. The hypothesis says that an omni- being exists and created the universe. If we assume that only one being can create the universe, then if Jobs did it either Jobs is God or God as defined above doesn’t exist. The latter would be the case if Jobs created the universe but is not omni-. He would then meet one aspect of the definition but not the whole thing.

            If the definition of God is the 3 os intervention and created the universe, than all 5 of those are separate assumptions. You need to show they are dependent

            This is just the issue of the prior again. I already said above that the description of theism will involve some complexity inasmuch as it involves describing God’s attributes. You’re right that if those attributes are probabilistically relevant to each other, the overall hypothesis will be more probable. I gave such an argument with respect to moral perfection earlier, and as you note Irenist has also been giving Thomist arguments for this.

            “In general discussions of issues like these can never be resolved by rigorous proofs of one side or the other. ”

            I’m not seeing why.

            Then you should read more philosophy. 🙂

            “I was talking about the micro-law governing the strong force changing universally, not just the strong force operating differently locally to a particular atom.”

            Why are you assuming laws would be changeable universally instead of at the actual bottom scale of the universe?

            I don’t know what you mean by the latter option.

            I don’t think you’ve been paying attention to the whole AI risk panic. Knowledge and caring are unrelated categories.

            That’s philosophically controversial. Some philosophers agree with you, but there are a lot of philosophers on the other side, including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, Anscombe, and Davidson.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Theism posits that God is the source of these laws, and so not bound by them. (Irenist brought this up earlier in I think this thread: the first scientists to talk about laws of nature, like Newton, saw them as constituted by divine activity.) ”

            That includes logic. Unless you are claiming logic exists independently of God in which case we have another thing that needs to have its existence explained.

            “But that’s not a full description of the relevant hypothesis, which is that a universe with precisely the features we observe in this one exists fundamentally. That description takes much longer, because of all the laws of physics and so on that must be mentioned.”

            I’m not claiming that. That is an empirical matter to be determined by physics. Which has proceeded to steadily reduce the amount of “necessary laws”.

            “Well, it depends on exactly what “complete evidence” amounts to, but if it was, say, that available to an educated person in the Roman Empire, then probably either a Jew or a Platonist. In my view both are precursors to Christianity.”

            Why? The latter doesn’t conflict with Greek mythology. Judaism being a precursor to Christianity is… off. Its foundation is chosen people and a contract with God. Christianity is about all mankind. If you went to a Jew and told them “you know all the stuff your faith has built up for the last 3000 years based on divine law? We are getting rid of all of it.” they’d point out that would require God’s nature changing.

            “. Basically your argument here is assuming that the probability that intelligent being 1 can create a universe and the probability that intelligent being 2 can create a universe are probabilistically independent.”

            Correct.

            “That’s the assumption I’m denying — I’m saying that learning that 1 can’t create a universe lowers the probability that 2 can, by simple induction. ”

            That doesn’t follow. You haven’t learnt that 1 can’t create a universe. For that you’d need to establish the requirements and show 1 failed to meet them.

            ” and my claim is that these terms get progressively smaller because each Bi that we’re conditioning on gives us more evidence for the next Bi.”

            That doesn’t work. Lets take “No human alive is over 8 feet tall”. There are 3 people alive who are over 8 feet tall. Each person you’d observe would reduce the probabilities of that statement being true. If your starting probability is .5 you’ll need to reduce probability by less than .0000000001 for each person checked, otherwise you declare it is impossible after going through China.

            Lets take another one- do elements with 118 protons exist? If you could wait all of Earth’s 4.5 billion year history and not see one.

            “I don’t know what you’re getting at.”

            The universe has zero net energy (technically in some models that we still need to check). It doesn’t need an incredibly amount of power to create.

            ” Of course we can get evidence that people can’t create universes, because we can get evidence that people are limited in power. ”

            And? You need to show “limited in power” includes “creating the universe”. For that to work you need to actually show how much power creating the universe requires and that humans do not have that power. I can show that rabbits can’t make condos because they don’t have the hands to mix the concrete or the language to order subcontractors around.

            “Outside of logic and mathematics, certainty is scarce. Assumptions are inevitable, and we use probability theory to quantify and organize them.”

            Use Bayes to put probabilities on those assumptions.

            “Yes, people could be creating universes all the time. But all the evidence is against it.”

            There is zero evidence against it. If people are creating universes that we can’t observe there wouldn’t be any change to our own universe. So our universe would look exactly the same either way.

            “I gave such an argument with respect to moral perfection earlier, and as you note Irenist has also been giving Thomist arguments for this.”

            The problem is that they are dependent upon the bible for defining morality. If you step away from that, the whole edifice collapses.

            “I don’t know what you mean by the latter option.”

            The universe is quantum- it consists of discrete parts. If the parts can shift around, why do you think they would all do so simultaneously? That would require a way of propagating such changes.

            “That’s philosophically controversial. Some philosophers agree with you, but there are a lot of philosophers on the other side, including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, Anscombe, and Davidson.”

            They are wrong. We have sociopaths. They know what morality is. They just don’t care. It would be like expecting Wikipedia to be moral because it is filled with articles about right and wrong.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            “ there are objectively correct categorizations for macro-scale objects. ”
            I’m not seeing how you’d pull this off- what do you do when you run into people who disagree about a categorization?

            Gather more data and/or engage in argumentation. Just like any other disagreement.

            You believe regularity is explained by God creating everything. Using that assumption, we can’t hold that logical consistency applies to before the creation of the universe (because if it does not need to be explained by God, than it can’t be evidence for God). Logic falls into that category.

            God doesn’t do the logically impossible on a Thomist understanding. “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” John 1:1, with “Word” in the original Greek. (The Thomist idea that God is foremost rational intellect, rather than inscrutable will, is a key differentiator with the voluntarism of Ockham, and with the similar Islamic views (e.g., al Ghazali) critiqued by Benedict XVI in his Regensburg Address).

            The other part is existence. Having God necessary for everything to exist doesn’t answer “why does anything exist at all”.

            Everything else is contingent. The rock bottom answer to any question of the form “why this contingency?” is an underlying necessity.

            Why do you assume immaterial things have no parts?

            Parts are extended. Immateriality isn’t. Does the number two have more “parts” than the number one? (I’m not asking if it’s a more complicated concept in, e.g., set theoretical accounts of the foundations of arithmetic. I’m asking if it has “parts” the way a material object does.)

            Everything we know of that interacts with other things uses parts to do so.

            Formal causes don’t “interact.” Efficient and material causes interact. Formal and final causes do not.

            ” Existence is one thing. So there can only be one Being Who is, essentially, existence itself. ”
            That’s pantheism.

            No. If God were posited to be the formal cause of the universe, that would be pantheism.

            Neither can the God you described. You have to assume a simple being exists first.

            Aquinas doesn’t assume that a simple being exists. He demonstrates it with a collection of five a posteriori proofs. In the First Way, for example, Aquinas starts with the reality of “motion” (viz., “change”). Aristotle has demonstrated that change is the reduction of potentiality to actuality. Aquinas demonstrates that any per se (as opposed to per accidens) causal series of changes presupposes a pure actuality, and that such a pure actuality is necessarily simple. You can accept or disdain these proofs, but either way, Aquinas isn’t just assuming that a simple being exists.

            “The Thomist traces the etiology of human vice to original sin: were it not for the Fall, humans would all be virtuous. As a virtue ethicist, the Thomist affirms that the human telos is virtue in precisely the same way that the acorn’s telos is to become an oak that makes more acorns. The vegetatively souled plant has its telos in growth, nutrition, and reproduction. We rationally souled animals have our telos in reasonable virtue, in wisdom. ”

            Those assumptions only follow if you assume the Bible is true. If you are attempting to prove God exists merely from first principles you can’t use outside assumptions like that.

            Original sin and the Fall come from the Bible. Virtue ethics, including the idea that the telos of the acorn is to become an oak, and the telos of a human is to attain wisdom sufficient to allow for the contemplation of the Divine, does not come from the Bible (although it is compatible with the Bible). Virtue ethics comes from Aristotle, a pagan Greek who quite likely had never encountered or read the Bible. The arguments for virtue ethics, and in particular the argument that humanity’s telos is contemplation of the Divine, comprises the whole of Aristotle’s Ethica Nicomachea. It is a philosophical argument, not dependent upon revealed religion for its premises. It’s also short, and IMHO one of the most important books ever written: give it a look.

            genetic engineering which appears to be able to alter telos.

            So what? We already know that evolution alters telos: healthy behavior for a squirrel is very different than what was healthy behavior for its piscine and unicellular ancestors. No modern thinker is claiming that biological species are immutable, and different species have different teloi. That technique can alter the conditions of flourishing for some microorganism is a neat trick, but not noteworthy w/r/t theorization of final causality.

            Friendliness means “shares human values”. Applying it to God is nonsensical (if God is perfect, values are not shared)

            Humans don’t always share ideal human values. God actually does an infinitely better job typifying those values than we do. But I don’t want to get into a debate about the semantics of “Friendly”: “good” is fine.

            asserting God is a virtue optimizer doesn’t work with our universe since we can imagine versions of it that are better (an efficient optimizer will produce results that can’t be improved upon).

            That’s just a restatement of the Problem of Evil. The current state of play in professional philosophy of religion is that the Problem of Evil is not considered a defeater for theism.

            You can’t just accept that the system you are using is without error- you need to have probabilities and fallibility or else you will walk into wave/particle duality while insisting its impossible.

            Logic is prior to mathematics is prior to the assignment of probabilities. You cannot coherently reject logic.

            I’m accepting the brain can do blatant magic and be as magical as the soul.

            Well, that’s silly. Neither the matter nor form of the brain is “magic.” The human mind is free, but it is not arbitrary and random.

            The retort meanwhile consists of things like “because they have features that no physical thing or process can have at all.”

            Or, to use his language, I’m saying physical features aren’t limited to physical processes (this isn’t my belief, I’m just pointing out the idea of the immortal soul is untenable even given the assumptions).

            His choice of math is also unfortunate since I am currently siting right next to a copy of “Where Mathematics Comes From”. Suffice to say the people involved in cognitive science do have explanations for how humans think about math. The book was published 8 years after that PDF which explains why he wasn’t up to date on the latest research.

            Unfortunately the last PDF was published recently and ignores cognitive science entirely, sticking entirely to philosophers.

            Of course the cognitive scientists can identify what brain states are correlated with mathematical thought. So what? The technician can identify what transistors are correlated with a calculator’s calculations. Both are completely irrelevant to Ross’ argument, which is about whether rationality can be material in principle.

            Ignoring the field of cognitive science when it comes to question like “how do people think” is why philosophy is not highly regarded.

            Not highly regarded by whom? Partisans of scientism? Cognitive science isn’t relevant to the argument. It’s a very interesting and worthwhile field. But it’s a different field. Just like physics is different from metaphysics.

            “On a Thomist understanding, prime matter, which is “pure potentiality,” never “actually” exists. Physics (might!) take us asymptotically close to prime matter. Indeed, I think quantum weirdness is rather what that would look like.”

            They think it is one thing? That isn’t possible. Photons simply aren’t translatable into any other fundamental particle.

            Who said anything about particles?

            “On a Thomist understanding, prime matter, which is “pure potentiality,” never “actually” exists.”

            The only way I can make sense of this is if you assume matter has a soul/immaterial form.

            Sort of. The idea is that actually existing matter must always already be informed. Nothing material actually exists that lacks any structure whatsoever.

            “But a non-formally caused object would be purely potential. Since to exist is to be actual, a purely potential object never was or will be. So I can’t make any predictions, other than that we’ll never encounter such.”

            Er, that would mean even without God you would have regularity because everything would be caused.

            You need pure actuality to ground the per se causal series, and you need Ipsum Esse Subsistens to impart existence even to the forms themselves.

            Why a Jew?

            Because unlike the gods of other peoples, the God of Israel actually is God. Many other philosophical traditions, Hellenistic and Dharmic alike, had intuited the key logical lineaments of classical theism. They thought well of God, and their mystical meditations brought them closer to Him. But of all the classical theists, only the Jews were in covenant with God, worshipping Him and following His Law as He had revealed it.

            Some stuff you wrote to Troy:

            Unless you are claiming logic exists independently of God in which case we have another thing that needs to have its existence explained.

            Logic is formal. Whatever existence it has is owed to God. But God’s nature is in accord with rationality, just as His nature is in accord with goodness.

            Why? [Platonism] doesn’t conflict with Greek mythology.

            Neoplatonism, like Advaita Vedanta, was focused on the One behind apparent polytheism. Both are henotheisms well on their way to classical monotheism.

            Judaism being a precursor to Christianity is… off.

            Plenty of Pharisees and Sadducees agreed with you that Christianity was not a valid development of Judaism. These Pharisees went on to found rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the Temple. [Some have argued that the Sadducees went on to found Karaite Judaism, but AFAICT that’s disputed.] Other Pharisees (e.g., St. Paul) thought Christianity was precisely the direction in which Judaism needed to develop.

            Its foundation is chosen people and a contract with God. Christianity is about all mankind.

            Developments in Judaism toward universalism, like proselytization and accommodation at Hellenistic synagogues for gentile “God-fearers” predated (and indeed helped to enable) the rise of Christianity. In reaction to the universalism of Christianity (and later, also Islam), Judaism retreated into renewed particularism (with the notable exception of the conversion of the ruling class of the Khazar Khaganate).

            If you went to a Jew and told them “you know all the stuff your faith has built up for the last 3000 years based on divine law? We are getting rid of all of it.” they’d point out that would require God’s nature changing.

            The Christian would respond (and in Apostolic times, did respond) that it was not God Who was changing, but rather that He was revealing more about His nature (e.g., that His Oneness is Trinitarian), requiring the loyal follower of God to change his own views of that nature. The change wasn’t in God’s nature, but in our understanding of it.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Gather more data and/or engage in argumentation. Just like any other disagreement.”

            Except you need universal agreement among objective observers for something that is subjective. That’s impossible.

            “God doesn’t do the logically impossible on a Thomist understanding. ”

            I’m not contesting that, I’m pointing out that you framework assumes that logic existed before the universe. That’s more than one simple thing.

            “Everything else is contingent. The rock bottom answer to any question of the form “why this contingency?” is an underlying necessity.”

            Mass exists in the universe. The universe as a whole has zero mass. Volume exists in the universe. The universe as a whole has no volume. Not all things scale up.

            “Parts are extended. Immateriality isn’t. Does the number two have more “parts” than the number one? (I’m not asking if it’s a more complicated concept in, e.g., set theoretical accounts of the foundations of arithmetic. I’m asking if it has “parts” the way a material object does.)”

            Position’s on a number line are all equally simple (since they are just coordinates).
            The number 2 is a label. It does not exist anymore than the words I’m writing have an independent existence. That doesn’t help for souls which are supposed to exist, not just be a label for a concept.

            “Formal causes don’t “interact.” Efficient and material causes interact. Formal and final causes do not.”

            Er, making the universe is an interaction with the universe. Intervening in the universe is an interaction with the universe.

            “In the First Way, for example, Aquinas starts with the reality of “motion” (viz., “change”). ”

            If you are using premodern physics, do not be surprised your results are off.

            “Original sin and the Fall come from the Bible. Virtue ethics, including the idea that the telos of the acorn is to become an oak, and the telos of a human is to attain wisdom sufficient to allow for the contemplation of the Divine, does not come from the Bible (although it is compatible with the Bible). Virtue ethics comes from Aristotle, a pagan Greek who quite likely had never encountered or read the Bible. The arguments for virtue ethics, and in particular the argument that humanity’s telos is contemplation of the Divine, comprises the whole of Aristotle’s Ethica Nicomachea. It is a philosophical argument, not dependent upon revealed religion for its premises. It’s also short, and IMHO one of the most important books ever written: give it a look.”

            You are asserting we can’t look at actual humans to judge virtue ethics or what they “really” intend because of the fall and sin; that is from the bible.

            That part is necessary for your position because otherwise the existence of sociopaths (know morality, don’t care) is evidence against the proof for all goodness (which requires knowledge to lead to virtue).

            Without that, God has no motivation and doesn’t do anything and the position falls apart.

            “So what? We already know that evolution alters telos: healthy behavior for a squirrel is very different than what was healthy behavior for its piscine and unicellular ancestors. No modern thinker is claiming that biological species are immutable, and different species have different teloi. That technique can alter the conditions of flourishing for some microorganism is a neat trick, but not noteworthy w/r/t theorization of final causality.”

            If we can alter telos by altering DNA, DNA is what determines telos. The telos of an acorn isn’t to make oak trees- the telos is of an oak gene to make more oak genes. That generalizes to all DNA and at that point why are we using the term telos again?

            “That’s just a restatement of the Problem of Evil. The current state of play in professional philosophy of religion is that the Problem of Evil is not considered a defeater for theism.”

            Well yes, otherwise they would be atheists. That isn’t a very good counter though- its like pointing out that “central planning is efficient” was considered true among communists.

            “Logic is prior to mathematics is prior to the assignment of probabilities. You cannot coherently reject logic. ”

            I can
            -put probabilities I am using logic wrong
            -put probabilities everyone is using logic wrong
            -put probabilities that logic is local to our universe and not to all possible universe and nonexistence.

            “Well, that’s silly. Neither the matter nor form of the brain is “magic.” The human mind is free, but it is not arbitrary and random.”

            I’m not claiming either of those. I’m saying if the issue is “material things can’t produce intentionality because we don’t have a physical process to do so” then “material things have a nonphysical process to do so”.

            “Of course the cognitive scientists can identify what brain states are correlated with mathematical thought. So what? The technician can identify what transistors are correlated with a calculator’s calculations. Both are completely irrelevant to Ross’ argument, which is about whether rationality can be material in principle.”

            If people can show how something is done, whether it is possible “in principle” starts to be a bit silly. Unless you are arguing “truth value is conserved” is totally unrelated to the brain (in which case people shouldn’t need to memorize multiplication and crazy people should follow the same logic as the rest of us).

            “Not highly regarded by whom? Partisans of scientism? ”

            No, the soft sciences also look down on philosophy. Given that philosophers have failed to come to agreement on relatively simple questions most people peg them as useless (notably accuracy in a field is correlated with agreement- few physics professors would disagree with much of the fundamentals and even among economics and sociology there is agreement on certain basics).

            “Who said anything about particles?”

            If prime matter isn’t related to fundamental particles, than it isn’t fundamental in any way.

            “Sort of. The idea is that actually existing matter must always already be informed. Nothing material actually exists that lacks any structure whatsoever.”

            Fundamental particles do not appear to have structure.

            “Because unlike the gods of other peoples, the God of Israel actually is God. Many other philosophical traditions, Hellenistic and Dharmic alike, had intuited the key logical lineaments of classical theism. They thought well of God, and their mystical meditations brought them closer to Him. But of all the classical theists, only the Jews were in covenant with God, worshipping Him and following His Law as He had revealed it.”

            You are assuming “claims all powerful” is equal to “is all powerful”. That’s pretty strange given that there is zero reason for an all powerful being to bother creating humans and telling them about himself. There is nothing that contradicts the Greeks from having an all powerful God that simply didn’t care about Greeks. And that is pretty much their opinion- the God that made everything, the King of the Gods and the Gods who made humanity are not the same.

            “Logic is formal. Whatever existence it has is owed to God. But God’s nature is in accord with rationality, just as His nature is in accord with goodness.”

            Why would it be? Logic didn’t apply to God prior to the existence of the universe and since God is outside the universe, why does it apply now?

            “Developments in Judaism toward universalism, like proselytization and accommodation at Hellenistic synagogues for gentile “God-fearers” predated (and indeed helped to enable) the rise of Christianity.”

            That doesn’t contradict what I said. The Jews proselytized from the beginning. They were a chosen people to serve as an example to everyone though. That doesn’t mesh with “we must convert everyone on the planet” that is found in Christianity. Judaism is about upholding the agreement made with God, not just a profession of faith like Christianity.

            “In reaction to the universalism of Christianity (and later, also Islam), Judaism retreated into renewed particularism (with the notable exception of the conversion of the ruling class of the Khazar Khaganate).”

            That’s not what happened. First, the Khazar’s converted for political reasons (being between Orthodox and Islam and not wanting to piss anyone off inside their realm). Second, the Jews did convert people during this time. However Islam tends to punish conversion… poorly and Christianity tended to respond to conversion… also poorly.

            “The Christian would respond (and in Apostolic times, did respond) that it was not God Who was changing, but rather that He was revealing more about His nature (e.g., that His Oneness is Trinitarian), requiring the loyal follower of God to change his own views of that nature. The change wasn’t in God’s nature, but in our understanding of it.”

            That isn’t the part they were objecting to (although Islam does). Its rather “you know the contract? The one you were always supposed to keep? Well, I’m voiding it.”. The Law isn’t supposed to change; God is constant.

          • Troy says:

            “Theism posits that God is the source of these laws, and so not bound by them. (Irenist brought this up earlier in I think this thread: the first scientists to talk about laws of nature, like Newton, saw them as constituted by divine activity.) ”

            That includes logic. Unless you are claiming logic exists independently of God in which case we have another thing that needs to have its existence explained.

            As I understand them the laws of logic are independent of God and do not need to be explained, because they are not contingent.

            “. Basically your argument here is assuming that the probability that intelligent being 1 can create a universe and the probability that intelligent being 2 can create a universe are probabilistically independent.”

            Correct.

            “That’s the assumption I’m denying — I’m saying that learning that 1 can’t create a universe lowers the probability that 2 can, by simple induction. ”

            That doesn’t follow. You haven’t learnt that 1 can’t create a universe. For that you’d need to establish the requirements and show 1 failed to meet them.

            Let me try one more time. Suppose that we have background knowledge K. Then A and B are independent relative to K iff P(B|K) = P(B|A&K). One way of expressing this is to say that learning A would make no difference to the probability of B. Similarly, A and B are dependent relative to K iff P(B|K) =/= P(B|A&K). One way of expressing this is that learning A would make a difference to the probability of B. This statement does not presuppose that we have in fact learned A or even that we can learn A; it’s just a way of expressing the fact that the probabilities here have to do with our knowledge and not with, e.g., causal connections — the claim is not that A would causally influence B and so make it more or less probable in that sense.

            That doesn’t work. Lets take “No human alive is over 8 feet tall”. There are 3 people alive who are over 8 feet tall. Each person you’d observe would reduce the probabilities of that statement being true. If your starting probability is .5 you’ll need to reduce probability by less than .0000000001 for each person checked, otherwise you declare it is impossible after going through China.

            No. You never get to impossibility (unless you go through an infinite number of samples); you only approach it.

            Suppose we’ve never observed a human 8 feet tall, and that we just learn, for each human, whether they are more or less than 8 feet tall. Then each “<(8 ft tall)" we learn is evidence that the next human we learn about will also be <(8 ft tall). Height is not random; in learning the height of one human we learn something about the underlying mechanisms controlling height in other humans as well. (This is the same kind of logic that underlies most inductions and that underlies my claims about getting evidence against people creating universes that you object to later.)

            Of course, in real life we learn more information than just "8 ft”; learning that someone is 7 ft 11 inches might in the above context be evidence that the next person will be >8 ft.

            Let me give a simple example to help illustrate this. Suppose we have an urn with 10 balls, each of which is either black and white. We have two hypotheses with equal priors: all 10 balls are black, 5 are black and 5 are white. (If you like, we can imagine that a coin was flip and the urn was picked from two urns with these compositions.) We begin sampling from the urn, and keep on drawing black balls. Here are the probabilities of drawing black each time (the derivation involves updating the Urn hypotheses by Bayes’ Theorem and then updating the draw probabilities by the Theorem of Total Probability):

            P(B1) = 3/4
            P(B2|B1) = 5/6
            P(B3|B1,B2) = 9/10
            P(B4|B1,B2,B3) = 17/18

            The general pattern here is that the probability of draw i being black, given the previous draws all being black, is (1+2^i) / (2+2^i). So you never get that the probability that the next draw is black is 0, because i always takes on a finite value. But as you approach infinity, the probability that the next draw is black approaches 0. In addition, the probability (before you do any sampling) that all the draws you make will be black — that is, P(B1,B2,…Bn) — equals .5. This is the limit of multiplying those terms together. This makes sense if you just think about the fact that if you have the urn with 10 black balls, you’ll always draw black, and if you have the other one, you’ll eventually draw white if you keep drawing — and the probability of the former hypothesis is .5.

            So in this example, the probability that you’ll ever draw a white ball is (1 – .5) = .5. In this example, “draw i is black” is like “person i can’t create a universe.” If the former statements are probabilistically relevant to each other, then the probability of some draw or other being white is less than 1. Similarly, if the latter statements are probablistically relevant to each other, then the probability of some person or other being able to create a universe is less than 1. (The exact probability depends on how strong the dependence is.)

            Lets take another one- do elements with 118 protons exist? If you could wait all of Earth’s 4.5 billion year history and not see one.

            Sometimes your evidence is misleading, and leads you to assign a high probability to something false. The fault lies in the evidence, not the inference procedure.

            “I don’t know what you’re getting at.”

            The universe has zero net energy (technically in some models that we still need to check). It doesn’t need an incredibly amount of power to create.

            The latter does not follow from the former.

            “Yes, people could be creating universes all the time. But all the evidence is against it.”

            There is zero evidence against it. If people are creating universes that we can’t observe there wouldn’t be any change to our own universe. So our universe would look exactly the same either way.

            In general, the fact that if A were true in some particular way, we wouldn’t observe it, doesn’t imply that we can’t get evidence against A. If I didn’t have hands in virtue of being a handless brain in a vat with sensory experiences identical to my present ones, I couldn’t observe my lack of hands. That doesn’t imply that my sensory experiences of hands aren’t evidence that I have hands, because that skeptical scenario does not take up most of the probability space where I don’t have hands.

            Similarly, it is possible that people could constantly create universes that we can’t observe with no other signs that they are doing so. But if people had these kinds of powers they would be likely to have other kinds of incredible power too, which we don’t observe. If other people had these kinds of powers I would be more likely too. But I don’t.

            I also note that your current argument does not appeal to any theistic assumptions and so seems to again be as binding on you as it is on me. So it again seems that you’re committing yourself to a pretty radical skepticism.

            “I gave such an argument with respect to moral perfection earlier, and as you note Irenist has also been giving Thomist arguments for this.”

            The problem is that they are dependent upon the bible for defining morality. If you step away from that, the whole edifice collapses.

            The moral internalist argument relies on premises widely shared by non-Christian philosophers. In my last post I named seven philosophers who were moral internalists. Only three (Aquinas, Kant, Anscombe) were Christians, and Kant’s commitment to the Bible is dubious to say the least.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “As I understand them the laws of logic are independent of God and do not need to be explained, because they are not contingent.”

            Since we don’t have an outside view of the universe, I don’t see how we can think that. Noncontradiction is a property in our universe, but I don’t see any good evidence to believe it is generalizable.

            “No. You never get to impossibility (unless you go through an infinite number of samples); you only approach it.”

            I’m aware of that. However “living human over 8 feet tall” is true right now. You would however get a very low estimate for the possibility; such a method isn’t very useful for traits that show up only a few times in an entire population. It is better to judge by the percentage of the population checked for rare traits.

            “Sometimes your evidence is misleading, and leads you to assign a high probability to something false. The fault lies in the evidence, not the inference procedure.”

            The fault lies in your method. Probabilities should reflect the odds something is true.

            “The latter does not follow from the former.”

            Now who is embracing radical skepticism? The latter follows from the former. It does not prove the former, but it is evidence for it.

            “if people had these kinds of powers they would be likely to have other kinds of incredible power too, which we don’t observe.”

            You mean like having quantum uncertainty collapse when they observe it? Oh wait, if people have it, it isn’t an incredible power.

            You need to show “making the universe” is in fact an incredible power.

            “I also note that your current argument does not appeal to any theistic assumptions and so seems to again be as binding on you as it is on me. So it again seems that you’re committing yourself to a pretty radical skepticism.”

            You are the one who put your priors at 1/8, not me. I put my priors at consistent values for all unfalsifiable and unprovable but logically consistent positions.

            “The moral internalist argument relies on premises widely shared by non-Christian philosophers.”

            And it is wrong because sociopaths exist. The argument does not match what we see in reality.

            You can only get around that by claiming “original sin” somehow fixes things, but that requires assuming the bible is correct.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            you need universal agreement among objective observers for something that is subjective.

            You keep confusing practical epistemological concerns with ontology. Whether we can agree on objective categories is epistemological; given human limitations, we likely can’t. Whether there are any is ontological: they exist even if we can’t figure out what they are.

            you framework assumes that logic existed before the universe. That’s more than one simple thing.

            There is no “before” spacetime. Logic is eternal though: within the mind of God.

            Mass exists in the universe. The universe as a whole has zero mass. Volume exists in the universe. The universe as a whole has no volume. Not all things scale up.

            Necessity and contingency are not matters of spatiotemporal scale.

            The number 2 is a label. It does not exist anymore than the words I’m writing have an independent existence. That doesn’t help for souls which are supposed to exist, not just be a label for a concept.

            If you beg the question against Platonic or Aristotelian realism in philosophy of mathematics, sure.

            Er, making the universe is an interaction with the universe. Intervening in the universe is an interaction with the universe.

            “Interact” as in “the interaction problem” in philosophy of mind, refers to efficient and material causality. God acts through formal and final causality. If you want to call that “interaction,” you can, so long as you keep in mind that it’s not efficient or material causality.

            If you are using premodern physics, do not be surprised your results are off.

            Aquinas’ proofs do not depend upon premodern physics. He occasionally draws examples from premodern physics, but the arguments don’t depend on any of them. If you’re a consequentialist, e.g., you probably think utilitarians like Bentham made important contributions to ethics, regardless of the fact that Bentham believed in Newtonian rather than modern physics. The same principle applies here. Like ethics, metaphysics and natural theology are separate fields from physics.

            You are asserting we can’t look at actual humans to judge virtue ethics or what they “really” intend because of the fall and sin; that is from the bible. That part is necessary for your position because otherwise the existence of sociopaths (know morality, don’t care) is evidence against the proof for all goodness (which requires knowledge to lead to virtue). Without that, God has no motivation and doesn’t do anything and the position falls apart.

            Virtue ethics has nothing to do with discerning what people intend. It has to do with discerning what leads to flourishing, to “eudaimonia.” Whether certain people have the wisdom and will to intend virtue and to act virtuously is irrelevant to the question of what they “ought” to do, which is what ethics is about. God, as pure actuality, both knows and wills to do the Good, and indeed is the Good. Sociopaths and sinners know and do the good incompletely. So what? Let’s say I’m a 19th c. Viennese doctor, and Ignaz Semmelweis tells me to wash my hands to avoid iatrogenic patient infection. But I’m either too stupid to understand, or I’m a sociopath and don’t care. So I don’t wash my hands and my patients get sick. That doesn’t disprove Semmelweis’ theory. Quite the contrary. Likewise, that we neither know the Good fully nor do the Good properly, and thus fail to fully flourish as well as we would if we were saints, is no disproof of virtue ethics.

            If we can alter telos by altering DNA, DNA is what determines telos. The telos of an acorn isn’t to make oak trees- the telos is of an oak gene to make more oak genes. That generalizes to all DNA and at that point why are we using the term telos again?

            Don’t conflate telos with the selfish gene idea. Telos concerns the health and flourishing of the organism, not the survival of the gene: the ideas are both valid, but they are distinct. As for DNA, to the extent that altering DNA can give rise to a new organism whose structure and function, and thus mode of flourishing, is sufficiently different from the old one that a new species has arisen, then of course telos will change. But as a practical matter, it would be intractable to read off telos from DNA; better patient ethological observation.

            “That’s just a restatement of the Problem of Evil. The current state of play in professional philosophy of religion is that the Problem of Evil is not considered a defeater for theism.”

            Well yes, otherwise they would be atheists. That isn’t a very good counter though- its like pointing out that “central planning is efficient” was considered true among communists.

            “Philosophy of religion” is the academic subfield that deals with theological questions. It is not exclusively practiced by theists. Atheist philosophers of religion include J.L. Mackie, Graham Oppy, and Quentin Smith.

            I can
            -put probabilities I am using logic wrong
            -put probabilities everyone is using logic wrong
            -put probabilities that logic is local to our universe and not to all possible universe and nonexistence.

            You can make up all sorts of ill-founded priors, sure. But logic is prior to math. Thus, any statistical calculations you do presuppose logic. Honestly, the idea that you can “put probabilities that logic is local to our universe” is like the perfect reductio ad absurdum of everything haters like RationalWiki accuse LW of being. With respect, you are in some serious “not even wrong” territory here.

            If people can show how something is done, whether it is possible “in principle” starts to be a bit silly. Unless you are arguing “truth value is conserved” is totally unrelated to the brain (in which case people shouldn’t need to memorize multiplication and crazy people should follow the same logic as the rest of us).

            No one can “show” through scientific research that Ross’ Kripkean argument is wrong. Reality is theoretically underdeterminate, as Quine demonstrated. You can show neural correlates of intellection, or mechanical correlates of the operation of a calculator. But Ross has to be defeated by argument.

            If prime matter isn’t related to fundamental particles, than it isn’t fundamental in any way.

            It’s more fundamental than fundamental particles. It’s not unrelated to them. I’ve seen a few Thomists suggest that vector state (wave function) collapse might be a transition from potency to act. I don’t know enough physics to evaluate whether that’s nonsense or not. But I suppose the relationship might be something of that kind. (Of course, given that most LW folks strongly prefer MWI to Copenhagen, mentioning wave function collapse surely cuts no mustard around here. That’s fine.)

            Fundamental particles do not appear to have structure.

            Fundamental particles are at the very least compounds of form and matter.

            there is zero reason for an all powerful being to bother creating humans and telling them about himself.

            You base this judgment on, what, exactly? How would you know what an Omnipotence would see fit to do?

            Logic didn’t apply to God prior to the existence of the universe

            Nothing is spatiotemporally “prior to,” i.e., “outside of” or “before” the universe. So you must mean logically prior? Which is odd. Anyhow, logic is necessary and so is God. Both are eternal.

            That doesn’t mesh with “we must convert everyone on the planet” that is found in Christianity.

            Sure, Christianity differs from Judaism. I never claimed they were identical.

            not just a profession of faith like Christianity.

            Catholicism and Orthodoxy are about both faith and works. Christianity != Protestantism.

            The Law isn’t supposed to change; God is constant.

            What does it mean to “keep” the contract? To “fulfill” the Law, which Christ claimed to do? Keep in mind both that modern rabbis hold that many of the mitzvot are not in effect without the Temple, and that a minority of rabbis has always maintained that some mitzvot could be abrogated during the Messianic Age (which, on a Christian understanding, we have been in since the birth of Christ). Also, rabbinic commentary can include “spirit” as opposed to “letter” interpretations of various mitzvot. So “the Law isn’t supposed to change” is a simplistic view of the matter. YMMV as to whether the Gospel “fulfills” the spirit of the Law. But it’s unsurprising that plenty of ancient converts thought that it does, just as it’s unsurprising that plenty of ancient Pharisees thought it does not.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I got accused as a fundamentalist Christian for defending marriage against adultery (argument in a forum due to the recent case). Not relevant to this; thought you’d find it hilarious though.

            “You keep confusing practical epistemological concerns with ontology. Whether we can agree on objective categories is epistemological; given human limitations, we likely can’t. Whether there are any is ontological: they exist even if we can’t figure out what they are. ”

            The problem is that results in beliefs completely detached from the possibility of testing. Given how ancient physics worked out, I think we can agree without testing you go down blind allies.

            “There is no “before” spacetime. Logic is eternal though: within the mind of God.”

            That is an assumption.

            “Necessity and contingency are not matters of spatiotemporal scale. ”

            Yeah and neither is wave or particles. We don’t know until we’ve actually observed the situation what is or isn’t matters of spatiotemporal scale.

            “If you beg the question against Platonic or Aristotelian realism in philosophy of mathematics, sure. ”

            How is it begging the question?

            ““Interact” as in “the interaction problem” in philosophy of mind, refers to efficient and material causality. God acts through formal and final causality. If you want to call that “interaction,” you can, so long as you keep in mind that it’s not efficient or material causality.”

            That sounds like saying the rules don’t apply to God because the rules are defined not to apply to God.

            “Aquinas’ proofs do not depend upon premodern physics. He occasionally draws examples from premodern physics, but the arguments don’t depend on any of them. If you’re a consequentialist, e.g., you probably think utilitarians like Bentham made important contributions to ethics, regardless of the fact that Bentham believed in Newtonian rather than modern physics. The same principle applies here. Like ethics, metaphysics and natural theology are separate fields from physics.”

            You just said they depend on his definition of change. The definition of change in modern physics is different from the definition in classical physics which is different from the definition in premodern physics.

            Utilitarianism doesn’t ground itself in anything like that. It is “quantify morality, then maximize”.

            “Virtue ethics has nothing to do with discerning what people intend. It has to do with discerning what leads to flourishing, to “eudaimonia.” Whether certain people have the wisdom and will to intend virtue and to act virtuously is irrelevant to the question of what they “ought” to do, which is what ethics is about. God, as pure actuality, both knows and wills to do the Good, and indeed is the Good. Sociopaths and sinners know and do the good incompletely. So what? Let’s say I’m a 19th c. Viennese doctor, and Ignaz Semmelweis tells me to wash my hands to avoid iatrogenic patient infection. But I’m either too stupid to understand, or I’m a sociopath and don’t care. So I don’t wash my hands and my patients get sick. That doesn’t disprove Semmelweis’ theory. Quite the contrary. Likewise, that we neither know the Good fully nor do the Good properly, and thus fail to fully flourish as well as we would if we were saints, is no disproof of virtue ethics.”

            The break in your line of logic is “knows the good” to “does the good”. Sociopaths “know the good”, but it is unrelated to their desire to “do the good”. You need to show why “knowing the good” leads to doing the good. After all, if God fully understands virtue ethics he knows exactly what needs to be done in order to be virtuous… but that doesn’t get God any closer to actually caring about being virtuous. The fact there are people who know and don’t care is evidence the two are unrelated. Only if you assume this is because of a flaw can you reconcile the two- otherwise you are left with the fact that some people simply don’t care about being virtuous.

            ” Telos concerns the health and flourishing of the organism, not the survival of the gene: ”

            Health and flourishing is necessary in order to produce more copies of the gene. The more necessary it is, the more we find of it, the less necessary, the less we find of it. How exactly are you separating the two?

            ““Philosophy of religion” is the academic subfield that deals with theological questions. It is not exclusively practiced by theists. Atheist philosophers of religion include J.L. Mackie, Graham Oppy, and Quentin Smith.”

            The people most interested in the philosophy of religion are the people who believe in said religion. It should not be a surprise they consider their positions correct; it would be surprising if a substantial number of atheists went into the field and converted.

            “You can make up all sorts of ill-founded priors, sure. But logic is prior to math. Thus, any statistical calculations you do presuppose logic. Honestly, the idea that you can “put probabilities that logic is local to our universe” is like the perfect reductio ad absurdum of everything haters like RationalWiki accuse LW of being. With respect, you are in some serious “not even wrong” territory here.”

            If you assume logic holds true everywhere and put that as “any other situation is impossible”, that is correct. If you don’t make that assumption (and since we haven’t seen outside our universe we should not be making such absolute statements), you shouldn’t.

            “No one can “show” through scientific research that Ross’ Kripkean argument is wrong. Reality is theoretically underdeterminate, as Quine demonstrated. You can show neural correlates of intellection, or mechanical correlates of the operation of a calculator. But Ross has to be defeated by argument. ”

            Wait, you think a calculator has a soul?

            “It’s more fundamental than fundamental particles. ”

            Then the fundamental particles aren’t fundamental. You don’t have something “more fundamental” then them- they either are, or aren’t.

            “Fundamental particles are at the very least compounds of form and matter.”

            Nope. Photons are a fundamental particle. Photons are not matter- they do not have rest mass. It isn’t clear they have form either.

            “You base this judgment on, what, exactly? How would you know what an Omnipotence would see fit to do?”

            I’m not seeing what omnipotence has to do with anything. All powerful is unrelated to motivation. If you want people to know you exist, you tell them. You don’t have minions do that- it never works out. It leads to splintering, violence and… well, exactly what we have in history. I guess randomly using bioweapons against people just to see how they react is a fun way to pass the time, but you’d expect more systematic efforts from someone who considered it anywhere near a high priority.

            “What does it mean to “keep” the contract? To “fulfill” the Law, which Christ claimed to do? Keep in mind both that modern rabbis hold that many of the mitzvot are not in effect without the Temple, and that a minority of rabbis has always maintained that some mitzvot could be abrogated during the Messianic Age (which, on a Christian understanding, we have been in since the birth of Christ). Also, rabbinic commentary can include “spirit” as opposed to “letter” interpretations of various mitzvot. So “the Law isn’t supposed to change” is a simplistic view of the matter. YMMV as to whether the Gospel “fulfills” the spirit of the Law. But it’s unsurprising that plenty of ancient converts thought that it does, just as it’s unsurprising that plenty of ancient Pharisees thought it does not.”

            It is as much a replacement of the law as Islam is.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            I got accused as a fundamentalist Christian for defending marriage against adultery (argument in a forum due to the recent case). Not relevant to this; thought you’d find it hilarious though.

            That is hilarious! Thanks for sharing that. And bravo to you for defending marriage against adultery.

            The problem is that results in beliefs completely detached from the possibility of testing. Given how ancient physics worked out, I think we can agree without testing you go down blind allies.

            That’s a good point. Our scientific beliefs should be falsifiable by testing, and our philosophical beliefs should be open to defeat in argument. Our categorizations of the natural world should be informed by the results of science.

            “If you beg the question against Platonic or Aristotelian realism in philosophy of mathematics, sure. ”

            How is it begging the question?

            I gave numbers as an example of forms without parts. You seemed to me to say that numbers were just labels, so if the soul is a form it must just be a label. Platonic or Aristotelian realism in philosophy of mathematics says that a number is more than just a label.

            ““Interact” as in “the interaction problem” in philosophy of mind, refers to efficient and material causality. God acts through formal and final causality. If you want to call that “interaction,” you can, so long as you keep in mind that it’s not efficient or material causality.”

            That sounds like saying the rules don’t apply to God because the rules are defined not to apply to God.

            Formal and final causality are defined independently of God. And they were defined long before anyone confronted Cartesian dualism with the interaction problem.

            You just said [Aquinas’ proofs] depend on his definition of change. The definition of change in modern physics is different from the definition in classical physics which is different from the definition in premodern physics.

            Oh. I see. I just meant that Aquinas uses the word “motion,” but in the Latin of his time that just meant “change” of any kind. Aquinas wasn’t thinking of any particular kind of change, and the act/potency distinction elucidates any kind.

            The break in your line of logic is “knows the good” to “does the good”. Sociopaths “know the good”, but it is unrelated to their desire to “do the good”. You need to show why “knowing the good” leads to doing the good. After all, if God fully understands virtue ethics he knows exactly what needs to be done in order to be virtuous… but that doesn’t get God any closer to actually caring about being virtuous. The fact there are people who know and don’t care is evidence the two are unrelated. Only if you assume this is because of a flaw can you reconcile the two- otherwise you are left with the fact that some people simply don’t care about being virtuous.

            God both knows and does the Good. But He is the Good, so by doing it, He just enacts His own nature. That He is the Good is demonstrated from his being pure act, not from His knowing the Good. As for us, it is well known to Christian saints that often the spirit is willing but the flesh weak—that we know the good but suffer akrasia. Indeed, Socrates and Buddha seem to have defended ideas (that it is mere ignorance of the good that keeps us from doing it) closer to the one you assail here than the Christian understanding is.

            Health and flourishing is necessary in order to produce more copies of the gene. The more necessary it is, the more we find of it, the less necessary, the less we find of it. How exactly are you separating the two?

            Same as you, I imagine. Your doctor can tell you if you’re healthy without enquiring about your reproductive success, and indeed you can be healthy without having any children. They’re distinct concepts.

            The people most interested in the philosophy of religion are the people who believe in said religion. It should not be a surprise they consider their positions correct; it would be surprising if a substantial number of atheists went into the field and converted.

            That’s a fair point.

            “No one can “show” through scientific research that Ross’ Kripkean argument is wrong. Reality is theoretically underdeterminate, as Quine demonstrated. You can show neural correlates of intellection, or mechanical correlates of the operation of a calculator. But Ross has to be defeated by argument. ”

            Wait, you think a calculator has a soul?

            No. The calculator has derived intentionality and rationality, the human has innate intentionality and rationality. Only the latter is informed by an intellectual soul. The former is just an artifact the inputs and outputs of which would be completely without meaning or rational import without our assigning meaning and rational import to them—derived rather than innate.

            “It’s more fundamental than fundamental particles. ”

            Then the fundamental particles aren’t fundamental. You don’t have something “more fundamental” then them- they either are, or aren’t.

            Then I’ll say “logically prior to” instead of “fundamental.” However, it’s my layman’s understanding that even the fundamental particles are just arrangements of quantum fields, right? But that doesn’t stop anyone from calling them “fundamental” particles, so I think this is just a semantic issue.

            “Fundamental particles are at the very least compounds of form and matter.”
            Nope. Photons are a fundamental particle. Photons are not matter- they do not have rest mass. It isn’t clear they have form either.

            Sorry, I was unclear. I should have clarified that I meant “matter” in the metaphysical “form and matter” sense; energy would count as “matter” in this sense, and IIRC photons are energetic. Even if, arguendo, photons were without energy, too, then they would still be mathematically informed, though, and thus still be a compound of form and an act of existence—not simple. In any case, it’s my layman’s understanding that a photon, like any other particle, is just a certain quantum field arrangement. Indeed, quantum fields seem to be the most basic “stuff” in the universe in present physics? So I think that for metaphysical purposes, “matter” as understood by Thomists is probably going to apply foremost to those quantum fields, and then to complex arrangements of those (particles, atoms, molecules, trees, people, etc.) only in the sense that they are “made of” arrangements of this metaphysical “matter.”

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “That is hilarious! ”

            It gets better!
            -Indeed, I’d say the onus is on you to tell me ‘why’ not for me to tell -you ‘why not’. Something something character something something -truth is what I got so far. I don’t think as low of people who’ve had -an affair as I think of puritans. There, I said it. Now, that info should -clearly be available to me as a black mark. I demand that all sites -where these people congregate be hacked and doxxed. /sarcasm

            I suspect that thread is going to get lock/in toilet fast

            “I gave numbers as an example of forms without parts. You seemed to me to say that numbers were just labels, so if the soul is a form it must just be a label. Platonic or Aristotelian realism in philosophy of mathematics says that a number is more than just a label. ”

            There needs to be a reason to believe that it is more than just a label, otherwise pointing out “it is a label” is the correct response.

            “God both knows and does the Good. But He is the Good, so by doing it, He just enacts His own nature. That He is the Good is demonstrated from his being pure act, not from His knowing the Good. As for us, it is well known to Christian saints that often the spirit is willing but the flesh weak—that we know the good but suffer akrasia. Indeed, Socrates and Buddha seem to have defended ideas (that it is mere ignorance of the good that keeps us from doing it) closer to the one you assail here than the Christian understanding is.”

            Why? Why does “knowing good” lead to “doing good”? Ought does not lead to is. I don’t see how “pure act” leads to moral perfection either- why not pure evil?

            “Same as you, I imagine. Your doctor can tell you if you’re healthy without enquiring about your reproductive success, and indeed you can be healthy without having any children. They’re distinct concepts.”

            Not on a statistical level. The only reason its changed now is that human society has altered so quickly that the conditions and instincts no longer match up very well. It should resolve shortly enough. The nerds win, collapse or the Amish win.

            “No. The calculator has derived intentionality and rationality, the human has innate intentionality and rationality. Only the latter is informed by an intellectual soul. The former is just an artifact the inputs and outputs of which would be completely without meaning or rational import without our assigning meaning and rational import to them—derived rather than innate. ”

            The argument you linked was about “how can math be truth conserving in the human mind”. If you don’t need souls to be truth conserving, it isn’t an argument for souls.

            As for your present argument, you seem to be declaring the soul is agency, the ability of an entity to operate independently. That isn’t exactly without inputs in humans (see feral children) and also would mean that most animals have souls. Unfortunately that seems to completely overlap with “haves a nervous system”- do you have any way of distinguishing the two.

            “Then I’ll say “logically prior to” instead of “fundamental.” However, it’s my layman’s understanding that even the fundamental particles are just arrangements of quantum fields, right? But that doesn’t stop anyone from calling them “fundamental” particles, so I think this is just a semantic issue.”

            I have no idea. You’d need to consult actual physicists.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            There needs to be a reason to believe that [number] is more than just a label, otherwise pointing out “it is a label” is the correct response.

            Well, I think Platonic realism (although perennially popular with mathematicians) and nominalism (“it’s just a label”) are twin extremes both of which distort the truth in the middle, which is Aristotelian realism about mathematics. It’s a complicated argument, and not one I’m qualified to advance properly. AFAICT, the most prominent defender of Aristotelian realism about mathematics is James Franklin, a professor of mathematics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, who seems to be the chief spokesman for the “Sydney School” of Aristotelian mathematical realism. Here’s a link to Franklin’s paper “Aristotelian Realism,” which provides the fullest non-book-length statement of the Sydney School’s views: http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/irv.pdf
            (I had posted more Sydney School links, but then this whole comment got eaten by the spam filter. My advice would be to google for James Franklin, Aristotelian Realism, and mathematics, if you want more).

            Why does “knowing good” lead to “doing good”?

            I’m not claiming it always does.

            Ought does not lead to is.

            That’s Hume’s fork. It doesn’t apply to virtue ethics (which considers “oughts” to just be fact statements about what leads to human flourishing) and in any case, is notoriously self-undermining, since “Everything is either a statement of value or of fact, never both,” is itself neither a statement of value nor a fact about the natural world arrived at through scientific investigation.

            I don’t see how “pure act” leads to moral perfection either- why not pure evil?

            Evil is privative; it partakes less of being. Pure act, pure being, is fullness, the opposite of privation.

            The argument you linked was about “how can math be truth conserving in the human mind”. If you don’t need souls to be truth conserving, it isn’t an argument for souls.

            The argument is that math and logic are precise in a way that nothing material can be, and thus must be immaterial. You don’t need any kind of soul for derived intentionality (a book need not have a soul for me to assign meaning [as words] to the ink marks in it) but there must be innate intentionality somewhere: an infinite number of books will remain meaningless without at least one reader.

            As for your present argument, you seem to be declaring the soul is agency, the ability of an entity to operate independently.

            No, not exactly. “Soul” is a word for the formal cause of a living thing. The formal cause is the structuring, actualizing principle that makes something the kind of thing that it is. The form of an inanimate object not only involves the mathematical specification of its structure as understood by physics (and chemistry, etc.) but also the specification of the qualia it provokes in observers: the Thomist sees qualia like color as inhering in the object, and not being solely the result of the sensorium and imagination of the observer. The form of a plant, its “vegetative soul,” is the active specifying principle of all the things listed above, but also of its self-perfective unfolding from seed to flourishing organism through structures and systems giving rise to growth, nutrition, and reproduction. An animal’s “animal soul” informs all the inanimate and plant stuff, but also structures and systems giving rise to locomotion and appetition. A human’s “rational soul” informs everything above, but also instantiates the rational intellection that expresses itself through the neural correlates of abstract thought. There are elements of agency in things like plant growth, animal appetition and locomotion, and in rational thought, but agency isn’t the whole issue. The real issue is that the form specifies the quiddity, the “whatness” of each object or organism: it formally causes it to be this kind of thing, and not just some amorphous blob of uninformed, featureless prime matter (indeed, nothing is such a blob—every existing thing has a form).

            That isn’t exactly without inputs in humans (see feral children) and also would mean that most animals have souls.

            Animals (and microbes exhibiting appetitive/locomotive behavior like chemotaxis) have animal souls. Plants (and fungi) have “vegetative” souls. What’s distinctive about humans is that we are rational animals, so we have rational souls. The kinds of abstractions in which humans are capable of dealing (logical inference, e.g.), are necessarily immaterially instantiated. Thus, the human soul has an immaterially instantiated faculty. Since the immaterial can survive the corruption of the material, the rational animal has an immortal soul. However, the faculties of animal and plant souls are entirely related to, entirely informing of, strictly material functionalities. There is nothing immaterial being informed. Accordingly, the structuring principle, the form, the soul of these organisms, having no immaterial faculty, does not persist after the death of the organism. So while it is Thomist teaching that the animal and the plant lack “immortal souls,” it is not our understanding that they lack any souls at all. Heck, even inanimate objects have forms, although the convention is to refer only to the forms of animate creatures as “souls.”

            Unfortunately that seems to completely overlap with “haves a nervous system”- do you have any way of distinguishing the two.

            Well, as I said, soul != agency. But, FWIW, I don’t think that “animal-souled” agency (locomotion and appetition) requires a nervous system in any case: unicellular microbes exhibiting chemotaxis seem to me to exhibit rudimentary agency, although I wouldn’t describe a microbe’s sensorium as a “nervous system.” But, since soul != agency, I suppose that’s beside the point.

            Speaking of those microbes, I’ll preemptively clarify: I think some of those microbes might be phylogenetically, cladistically closer to “plants” as modern science uses the word, and indeed, fungi are of course known to be phylogenetically, cladistically closer to animals than to plants. That’s fine. As with “matter,” I’m using “animal” and “plant” here in a metaphysical sense. E.g., consider the HeLa cell line. It’s been argued that Ms. Lacks’ cells, cultivated in labs all over, are functionally an independent organism at this point. Assume, arguendo, that they are (a matter about which I have no strong opinions). Now, cladistically, phylogenetically, the HeLa cell line is just part of the species H. sapiens, having come from a certain human woman. But “morphologically,” (in the metaphysical “as to form” sense, not the modern “phenotypically” sense, although, that, too), the HeLa cell line is not “rationally souled.” If it is, arguendo, a new organism, then metaphysically, if not cladistically, it is a new species: it has different structure, function, and facultative capacity than an H. sapiens individual. In particular, a human has the capacity for rationality; the HeLa cell line does not. (I should note that the HeLa cell line is somatic; thus, unlike a zygote or fetal stem cells, the HeLa cell line doesn’t have a rational soul merely awaiting the innate self-perfective development of its proper rationality, the HeLa cell line lacks rationality intrinsically rather than “accidentally” in its metaphysical sense).

            Now, the cladistics species concept is understandably ascendant in biology: it helps us trace genetic distance, evolutionary history, etc. It’s a powerful, legitimate conceptual tool. But for metaphysical work, the morphological species concept is more useful, since the features it picks out (faculties, structure and function, proper as opposed to accidental traits) are more relevant to metaphysical inquiry, and indeed to ethical inquiry. E.g., the zygote has a right to life, and the HeLa cell line does not. That’s of ethical importance. But that the HeLa cell line is genetically “human” is irrelevant to that judgment, just as the ethical distinction between somatic and germ cells is irrelevant to an evolutionary biologist qua evolutionary biologist. (BTW: if the HeLa cell line isn’t of interest, I think there’s a variety of contagious canine cancers hypothesized to be descended from the cancerous cells of some individual dog. That cancer would have allowed for some of the same points about how morphology is often more revealing than cladistics, but since both the dog and the canine cancer both lack rationality, the metaphysical issues would have stood out in less relief than they do upon consideration of the HeLa cell line, which is why I preferred that example.)

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Apologies; I’m going to have to bow out. I’m starting to have headache trouble for some reason and my time is being eaten up by other commitments. While responses don’t take that long, whenever I do respond I also look at others things on the internet which does eat up significant amounts of time.

          • Irenist says:

            @Samuel Skinner:

            There’s certainly no need to apologize.

            I hope that both your headaches and any unwanted commitments lessen for you very soon.

            All the best to you.

      • nydwracu says:

        It always strikes me: why do all these “intellectuals” with their Deeply Wise, Meta-Levelly Rational defenses of mainline Christianity never pick Judaism or Islam as the One True Religion?

        Let’s say you’re God.

        If you don’t want converts, it doesn’t matter to anyone who’s not in the true religion what the true religion is. So let’s say you want converts. Let’s say you want a lot of converts. But let’s say you’re going to get converts in ways that fit with actually-existing history: you might send one guy down at one point, get him to start an institution, and gently prod at the institution from time to time to make sure it doesn’t fall into total error, but you’re not going to zap everyone into following you next Thursday.

        What do you do?

        “Put a guy in the most significant empire in history at just the right time for him to start an institution that totally displaces paganism on an entire continent [and more], and provide bits of that continent with a culture and set of values that will lead them to take over and convert most of the rest of the world” sounds a lot better than “put a conquering warlord in the desert in the sort of place in which one would expect to find conquering warlords, and have him convert the empire that he builds out of the part of the world that has a habit of getting conquered by empires”, doesn’t it?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          The Muslim counterargument goes: “Which sounds more like what God’s Chosen One would do – sweep all before him in a tide of glorious victory after glorious victory, or get himself killed almost immediately?”

          Or actually, there are a couple of different Muslim and Christian responses, which shows the problems with this kind of reasoning.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think Nydwracu is giving Muhammad quite enough credit — he was an interesting guy — but saying that he swept all before him in a tide of glorious victory isn’t accurate either. He had about twenty years as a political leader to conquer people in, which is roughly the same amount of time that Alexander of Macedonia had, and in that time he managed to take over about half the Arabian Peninsula: junior-varsity stuff as far as Middle Eastern empire-builders are concerned. And then his nascent empire almost fell apart because he hadn’t gotten his shit together succession-wise, with repercussions that are still starting wars today.

            The Rashidun Caliphate did get its shit together, and produced a quite respectable empire in a remarkably short time, but that isn’t all down to Muhammad.

          • brad says:

            I just attended a lecture last week the upshot of which was a complaint that not enough academic effort had been devoted to higher and lower textual criticism of the Quran and the historicity of Muhammad.

          • wysinwyg says:

            but saying that he swept all before him in a tide of glorious victory isn’t accurate either.

            Yeah, but relative to Mr. I Bring Not Peace But a Sword?

          • Mary says:

            “Why, it depends on what he was trying to do.”

            Followed by the observation that perhaps God might know a thing or two I don’t that perhaps changes the calculus.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Nornagest

            Aiui, the Muslim view is that Jesus was a prophet but obviously did not fit the specs for a Messiah; Muhammad didn’t fit them either, but never claimed to be a Messiah, just a better prophet. Thus, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet.”

          • Troy says:

            The Muslim counterargument goes: “Which sounds more like what God’s Chosen One would do – sweep all before him in a tide of glorious victory after glorious victory, or get himself killed almost immediately?”

            Why Scott, I think this very post illustrates why the answer is the latter. Muhammad tried to bring about paradise on Earth through violent conquest — just like the Soviets tried to bring it about by mass murder. Christ offers a different way. Rather than trying to change the world we change ourselves. Inasmuch as the world as evil, we then do not cooperate with it — and this can get you killed.

            The answer to the question of what Muggeridge’s alternative is to politics-as-usual is (or should be, at least: I haven’t read the man) Christianity.

          • LHN says:

            @houseboatonstyx, apparently the Islamic view is that he was/is the Messiah (Isa al-Masīḥ), but their understanding of that is, unsurprisingly different from Christians’. He’s considered the last Israelite prophet, and was raised alive to Heaven (according to the Quran: “nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them”). He will return at the end of days to ally with the Mahdi, slay the false Messiah, and after the Mahdi’s death will reign as his successor for the remaining decades of his own life.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_Islam

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ LHN
            > He will return at the end of days to ally with the Mahdi, slay the false Messiah, and after the Mahdi’s death will reign as his successor for the remaining decades of his own life.

            Ah, that sounds nearer to the Jewish specs that I’ve heard. So he is the Messiah, he just hasn’t finished the job yet.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_Islam

            A smooth and civilized resolution of many issues.

          • Mary says:

            For some peculiar reason, I read this today and remembered this thread:
            ‘Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid —
            Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.’
            ‘Good!’ said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
            ‘But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.’

            So he made rebellion ’gainst the King his liege,
            Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
            ‘Nay!’ said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
            ‘But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!’

            Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
            When the cruel cannon-balls laid ’em all along;
            He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
            And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!

            Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)
            ‘What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?’
            ‘Nay!’ said the Baron, ‘mock not at my fall,
            For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all.’

            ‘Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown —
            Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.’
            ‘As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
            For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!’

            Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)
            ‘Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.
            Eat and drink in Mary’s Name, the whiles I do recall
            How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!’

            He took the Wine and blessed it. He blessed and brake the Bread.
            With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
            ‘See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
            Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all.’

            ‘Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
            Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
            I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall —
            For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!’

            ‘Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!
            Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!’
            ‘Nay!’ said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
            ‘But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all!
            Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!’

            —Rudyard Kipling

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Mary
            ‘Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!
            Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!’

            “Wheels are made for rolling, mules are made to pack
            I’ve never seen a sight that didn’t look better looking back!”

            I wouldn’t be surprised if that song writer were a Kipling fan.

          • Steve Johnson says:

            That was beautiful Mary. Thank you.

        • Nornagest says:

          Seems to depend rather crucially on your estimate of God’s character.

          I’m not a theist, but isn’t that the sort of thing that man is conventionally not supposed to speculate about?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Speculating on God’s character has a long, proud history in Christianity, although “speculating” may be the wrong word; the primary axiom of a revelatory religion is that God has revealed things about Himself to us.

        • Eli says:

          Actually, if I’m God, and I want converts, I’m going to just zap everyone’s brains, or give some really simple and obvious demonstrations of my divine power. For instance, I might set reality up so that any ceremonies performed as I want them performed result in some minor but visually impressive bit of physical impossibility (and in fact, this is exactly what Judaism claims regarding sacrifices made in the Temple).

          But if we’re playing this game, then in fact, Islam and Christianity have roughly equal records of conquest and evangelization, measured by the raw number of people who officially subscribe to each religion. Each of them has about a billion followers. Islam is actually growing faster, as the formerly-Christian world gets its shit together and puts aside religion for naturalism.

          • Nornagest says:

            Nah. Islam is way better at the conquest thing than Christianity is — Christians have tried it, sure, but the best they’ve managed to do is setting up some short-lived crusader kingdoms in the Levant. And the Reconquista, I suppose, if you want to count that.

            Christianity, on the other hand, is way better at evangelism. I’d put the religious successes of early modern colonialism into that category, by the way — there was plenty of conquest going on, but its motives were mostly secular.

          • aesthete says:

            “if we’re playing this game, then in fact, Islam and Christianity have roughly equal records of conquest and evangelization, measured by the raw number of people who officially subscribe to each religion. Each of them has about a billion followers. Islam is actually growing faster, as the formerly-Christian world gets its shit together and puts aside religion for naturalism.”

            This is factually incorrect. Christianity has over 2 billion followers and Islam roughly 1.5. As far as faster growth goes, Islam is starting from a lower base and is mostly growing through population growth. Christianity is growing very quickly in the third world and certain parts of Asia through evangelism. During the last century Christianity in Africa went from less than 10% of the population to ~45-50% of the population. And historically, Islam has had a difficult time spreading outside the borders of political entities under its control. The major exceptions I can think of would be parts of Central Asia and SE Asia — which is relatively minor compared to Christianity or Buddhism or Manichean evangelical spread.

          • Jaskologist says:

            People like to use this simple conquest model to explain the rise and fall of different religions and religious factions, but the actual history is so much more complex and interesting than that. “Those people believe that because everybody who didn’t was killed” fits some instances, but far from all of them (yes to why there aren’t any more Albigensians, no to the triumph of Trinitarians). I’d go so far as to say that it’s more the exception than the rule in the West.

          • Brad (the other one) says:

            >Actually, if I’m God, and I want converts, I’m going to just zap everyone’s brains

            But that’s not a “sincere” convert in the purest sense of the the word, any more than a person worshipping Kim Jung Ung in North Korean can be called to be “sincere”.

            The Christian tradition puts a premium on the idea that converts are people who *willingly* makes the conversion and *willingly* love god in a sincere way, instead of someone going through the motions (see: pharisees). In theory, God could convert everyone by putting a big flaming guillotine in the sky; but he does not. You would have a lot of worshipers (of a sort), but converts? I think you’d have very few comparatively.

            >But if we’re playing this game, then in fact, Islam and Christianity have roughly equal records of conquest and evangelization, measured by the raw number of people who officially subscribe to each religion.

            Which I think is a really really bad way to measure this sort of thing. You may ask for an alternative measure, but I’m not sure there is an adequate one; how are you going to measure who is sincerely impressed by the faith to love God, and who is going through the motions?

            All this probably seems useless at the level of pragmatically figuring if Christianity (or any other religion) is true, but I am mostly concerned with correctly understanding what God wants of us from within the Christian faith, rather than trying to explain it from without, which I consider nearly impossible to do.

          • Jiro says:

            If God converted people by zapping their brains, converted people would teach all their children. For the same (somewhat dubious) reason that people count as sincere believers even if they learned from their parents, people who learned from brainwashed parents would have to count as well. The result would be that in one generation there would be a huge upswing in sincere believers, even if brainwashed people don’t count as sincere.

          • Justin says:

            “Actually, if I’m God, and I want converts, I’m going to just zap everyone’s brains, or give some really simple and obvious demonstrations of my divine power.”

            Sure, and suppose you (as God) do that and then say “Oh, and by the way, behave yourselves.”

            The Bible is filled with stories where God did just that, and the behaving doesn’t last long. What tends to happen is that as soon as God stops kicking ass on a regular and reliable basis, people go back to some other religion (or disbelief).

            After all, if God never repeated his simple and obvious demonstration then your grandkids would think you are a superstitious fool while they are rational and enlightened. Even if God did something that we could document like stopping the sun (Earth’s rotation), then people would eventually conclude there was a naturalistic explanation, even if it were as contrived being on an alien version of Jackass.

            Which leads us to the crux of the problem. Using awesome displays of power to force people in line was never God’s plan A, and it doesn’t last anyways. So what do you do?

          • Deiseach says:

            Except that for the really determined, nothing counts as “really simple and obvious demonstrations” of divine power or existence.

            This argument has been made before, with determined unbelievers saying they’d rather think it was really technologically advanced aliens pulling some stunt, or that they were hallucinating, or even crazy, anything rather than believe “Yep, that’s supernatural and gods, God or something exists”.

          • Troy says:

            Actually, if I’m God, and I want converts, I’m going to just zap everyone’s brains, or give some really simple and obvious demonstrations of my divine power.

            nydwracu’s argument was that the prior probability of God revealing himself through a religion like Christianity is higher than his revealing himself through a religion like Islam. Given that Christianity and Islam both exist, this provides some reason to think Christianity is more likely to be true.

            Your response is that God would be even more likely to reveal himself in a third way. This would only be relevant to this argument if there were some third religion which, if true, involves God revealing himself in this third way. Then this religion would have a higher prior probability than Christianity or Islam.

          • jOYOUSLY says:

            “For the same (somewhat dubious) reason that people count as sincere believers even if they learned from their parents”

            Among the Evangelicals I grew up with, many said they “became Christian” at some point in their adolescence. Among Mormons there’s also an idea that those who were born into the church still need to be “converted” in their hearts. I don’t know about other strains of Christianity, but I assume there’s similar ideas.

          • Mary says:

            “if I’m God, and I want converts, ”

            Perhaps that’s the difference between you and God.

          • Samuel says:

            “Perhaps that’s the difference between you and God.”

            The multiple prophets for Judaism followed by coming in person seem to indicate otherwise.

          • Mary says:

            “If God converted people by zapping their brains, converted people would teach all their children.”

            If God were willing to do that, He wouldn’t need to zap because he’d have made us all meat robots in the first place, and so teaching would also be irrelevant.

          • Jiro says:

            Mary: The point is that zapping everyone’s minds and then having them teach their children would make lots of children taught by such parents believe in God sincerely and on their own. Making everyone meat robots would not count as believing the idea sincerely and on their own.

            Deseach: You are confusing the ideas of evidence and absolute proof. Having God come down and perform a miracle wouldn’t be absolute proof of God, because of the possibility of aliens and such. But it would really raise my estimate of the chance of God existing. Furthermore, it could be much better evidence in combination with something else; for instance, in combination with evidence that the being who did these things is good as well as powerful.

          • wysinwyg says:

            This argument has been made before, with determined unbelievers saying they’d rather think it was really technologically advanced aliens pulling some stunt, or that they were hallucinating, or even crazy, anything rather than believe “Yep, that’s supernatural and gods, God or something exists”.

            Yes, some atheists believe that any naturalistic explanation is obviously superior to any supernatural explanation.

            Some believe that hallucinations, confabulated memories, and various misinterpretations of sense data are all reasonable explanations for apparently supernatural events, and that they do not even require that someone be “crazy” (maybe just a little credulous or engaged in motivated reasoning).

            Others think that supernatural explanations could be reasonable, but historically there has not been a lot of high-quality intersubjective evidence for them, and so they personally do not lend them credence.

            And still others think the “natural/supernatural” dichotomy is artificial and if we need to, e.g., admit new fundamental forces to explain well-attested apparently supernatural events then so be it.

            So the argument is not necessarily stupid or ridiculous because some small subset of the people who disagree with it do so on the basis of premises rather than conclusions.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Eh, the Muhammed plan seems to make a lot of sense to me. “Conquer and convert the unbelievers” is pretty straight-forward, and seems to be working for them. The Jesus plan is more roundabout, and really only makes sense if you assume that God likes to work in mysterious ways using the small things of this world. Sure, you can reason backwards to find various advantages like strategic placement in the Roman world, but for the most part I find the success of Christianity pretty counter-intuitive (seems like it would have been nice to have the government refrain from executing lots of Christians, for starters). Obviously it worked, but I don’t see a strong reason why it shouldn’t have been Mithraism or Stoicism or whatever instead.

          • LHN says:

            Mithraism was a mystery cult with, as far as I can tell, disproportionate appeal to military men. It would have needed to mutate significantly to appeal to many women, for example, or to attempt to evangelize generally, both of which seems to have been a big factor in Christianity’s spread.

            I know less about the history of Stoicism, but was there a popular layer that pointed towards it extending beyond the philosophically inclined?

          • Randy M says:

            “I find the success of Christianity pretty counter-intuitive”
            You’re meant to, or at least Christianity is internally consistent with being counter-intuitive.

          • Mary says:

            More than internally consistent.

            “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. “

        • ““Put a guy in the most significant empire in history” …

          Chinese? British? Alexander’s and the Hellenic successors?

          “at just the right time for him to start an institution that totally displaces paganism on an entire continent”

          Europe, if that’s what you mean, is a small part of the continent of Eurasia—most of which still isn’t Christian. Compare the area of Islam a couple of centuries after Mohammed’s death with the area of Christianity a couple of centuries after Christ’s death.

          “put a conquering warlord in the desert in the sort of place in which one would expect to find conquering warlords, and have him convert the empire that he builds out of the part of the world that has a habit of getting conquered by empires”

          The Arabs were bit players in the conflict between the two great powers, Byzantine and Sassanid. Why would you expect them to be conquering warlords?

          In a generation or two, the movement started by an orphan with no special resources or status living in the pilgrimage city of the local paganism, himself driven out of that city for his heterodox religious views, annexed all of one of the great powers and half the other.

          Looks like at least as good evidence for divine intervention as your case.

      • Shenpen says:

        1) Chesterton was British and defended a form of it, Catholicism, which back then really many Brits and Catholics hated

        2) Oakeshott (atheist) would say there is no perfect emptiness or objectivity and really don’t even entertain anyone could ever defend anything on an empty mind basis

        3) Probably part of the explanation is that they are not using (they may believe they do, they may try, but they do not actually do) truly neutral arguments, but neutral, secular arguments as their culture i.e. as loyal Westerners see them. Their premise is you like and you are loyal to the contemporary or traditional West: hence, Christianity. You want a state tolerant to atheism? A Western state is ideal for that, hence a state rooted in Christianity. And so on.

        They do not – try to, but do not – use 100% objective cosmic truths. They are like: hey atheist, this West tolerates you, Yemen does not. Hence you like it. Now if you like it, this is what it makes it so: and then talk about C.

        • Eli says:

          Probably part of the explanation is that they are not using (they may believe they do, they may try, but they do not actually do) truly neutral arguments, but neutral, secular arguments as their culture i.e. as loyal Westerners see them. Their premise is you like and you are loyal to the contemporary or traditional West: hence, Christianity. You want a state tolerant to atheism? A Western state is ideal for that, hence a state rooted in Christianity. And so on.

          The fact that Christian countries are more tolerant of Israeli Jewish atheists than Muslim countries is not an object-level argument, in the first place, for the propositional truth of Christianity — that Christianity is a map which matches the territory.

      • Jaskologist says:

        This is a weird objection. If rational intellectualism is good at finding the truth, shouldn’t we expect its proponents to cluster around one thing, rather than evenly distributing themselves across the current theories? This should be a mark in Christianity’s favor.

        (Usually I see people make the exact opposite complaint: If X is the one true religion, why do people believe in all those other religions?)

        • Eli says:

          If rational intellectualism is good at finding the truth, shouldn’t we expect its proponents to cluster around one thing, rather than evenly distributing themselves across the current theories?

          And, as a matter of fact, the major practitioners of rational intellectualism do cluster, around two major conclusions: non-religiosity and naturalism. Religion does not map the territory, a posteriori; naturalism does, a posteriori.

          The different ideas have been given their fair tries as ways of mapping and predicting the world, and the verdict is in: atoms, not angels.

          As a matter of emphasis, please make special note that more scientists appear to belong to theistic religions than philosophers, but philosophers are less often naturalists than scientists, so the ordinary and irritating split between science and philosophy doesn’t actually cut this issue at its joints.

          • Troy says:

            And, as a matter of fact, the major practitioners of rational intellectualism do cluster, around two major conclusions: non-religiosity and naturalism.

            On any scientific issue, 33% of scientists holding to view X and 41% holding to view Y would be almost no evidence for Y over X on the basis of an appeal to authority. Those numbers suggest the issue is a matter open for debate among experts.

            But those are the numbers you have for theism vs. atheism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Those are both rejection of religious belief so its hardly coming to different conclusions.