Archive for category Justin

Conflating faith with confidence

after the pod-cast when Derik and I were just shooting the breeze I realized that there is another concept that has a different meaning between rationally minded people and what I have come to describe as the serious mono theists.

This concept is faith. The word faith however in English has two different meanings, that is it refers to two different concepts. The first is to belief in something in the absence of or counter to reason. This is also known as blind faith to separate if from the second kind. The second concept is what we also mean by the concept confidence. confidence is the trust we have in a reasoned conclusion. For example I have confidence that elevators are very reliable. There is a wealth of evidence in support of this and thus I have confidence based on the evidence that they are safe to use. Note that many mono theists will object to this definition I gave for the first concept instead offering the biblical definition of things hoped or wished for. They do this of course because they want to conflate the meaning of faith in the first instance with that of the second instance so as to piggy back on the second meaning and thus gain some intellectual legitimacy. Note the first kind, no evidence or counter to evidence, the second kind has evidence.

This dichotomy of blind faith vs confidence also bears on the earlier post on certainty. The certainty that many mono theists want, nay seem to have an emotional need for is absolute certainty beyond the possibility of doubt and that can only come by having blind faith in what you claim to have absolute epistemological certainty of. So I see blind faith and absolute epistemological certainty are corollaries. On the other hand confidence and certainty beyond reasonable doubt are corollaries.

Now many mono theists will criticize me and like minded people, saying that our world view is reduced to probabilities. This ignores yet another crucial distinction. When I speak of certainty I mean beyond reasonable doubt and or that any alternative is inconceivable. Since we base our conclusions on the evidence and what we do know and not on what we don’t know or our ignorance I can say within the context of my knowledge that I can be 100% certain of at least some things. What I can never be certain of even in principle is that something I previously did not know will not change a conclusion of mine. This is the big difference between my world view and that of the serious hard core mono theists of the judeo christian type. They are immune to learning or even considering anything that might modify their conclusions, and how could it? There conclusions are of the absolute epistemological type and their faith in them is of the blind faith type. They are rigid and inflexible in their thinking, bereft of any error correction, for them error is impossible. To doubt is a sin not a virtue. I strongly suspect that they are this way because they so strongly identify themselves with what they believe. This is obvious once you realize they see themselves as one of the elect, a gold ticket to ever lasting life in heaven… at gods feet… in short they are guanopsychotic.

I am not just being silly or rude with this assessment, I really think this is a bat shit crazy way of thinking. Any time you hear them talk about accounting for reason or logic or giving a damn about such things, what is really going is this. Since reason is not a standard or method of cognition for them when they hear us talk about them they interpret these as our shibboleths. The empty self identifying slogans of our tribe or in group. So given that they know they are important to us even tho they don’t know why they are important to us they attempt to co op them into their own lexicon of shibboleths. This is done in an attempt to induce us to join their in group. It amounts to see we include your gods too! Very similar to what early Christians did with regard to pagan holidays and personalities of note.

What is important to keep in mind is that the actual methods of logic are lost on them. For them it is all a matter of faith. Logic, reason, evidence, this are just words to them. If you point out flaws in their reasoning they simply either don’t understand or as more likely simply don’t care. These things are not important to them. However they are important to me.

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In discussions I have had with christian presuppositionalists the question of certainty often comes up. The presupper will ask if I am sure about a given conclusion and the implication is that if I am not sure then my world view is somehow lacking or invalid as a consequence of my uncertainty. However there is some confusion as to what the word means to each of us. For the presupper it means absolute perfect knowledge about something, that is knowledge without the possibility of being in error. For me it is a reasoned strong conclusion from the premises and or evidence. A conclusion attained without reasonable doubt.

For example I am certain that two plus two is four. This is a very strong conclusion from the premise of number theory, but is number theory correct? Any deductive conclusion is only as good as its premises and if the premises are invalid so is the conclusion. Induction on the other hand is by its very definition tentative in nature and can not furnish you with absolute epistemological certainty.

This is why I ascribe to the justification model of knowledge and not the correspondence model. In the correspondence model knowledge is only knowledge if it actually corresponds to reality. The claim that the electron has a negative charge is knowledge only if the electron really and truly does have a negative charge. In the justification model the claim that the electron has a negative charge is valid knowledge if that is the reasonable conclusion from what evidence there is that bears on the question. If we are rational and honest with ourselves we will realize that we are all using the justification method for no other reason then as the pre suppers are so often heard to say “are you sure”. There is no way to ever be certain by the presuppers standard. If you appeal to evidence then your conclusion is only as good as your evidence and you are using the justification method, if you claim divine revelation well the same question still applies, are you sure, are you sure that was god? You say you felt it was, but are you sure you’re feelings were correct? and so on….

Some people simply can not accept or deal with the inherent level of uncertainty in our conclusions about reality. They pine away for simple answers to complex questions hand delivered to them on a silver platter. No mental effort required, no uncertainly, just the comforting certainty of a child that believes his parents know best. Well for those people I have a simple argument to address their worry, their concern… are you ready… here it is…


Grow the fuck up! so you can’t deal with it. I can, so please don’t project your emotional limitations onto me. Within the confines of my worldview absolute epistemological certainly is not something that has any value, it is not even a standard of knowledge. This is not a problem, it is just the name of the game and I roll with it.

Something else related to this topic that has occurred to me.

Authoritarians seem to have a real issue with analytical thought, that is they don’t wish to put forth the effort. They always go with the simple answer that results from least mental effort. When I am confronted with a question, issue, or problem I analyse it. I try to find out what evidence bears on it. What are the premises. I try to learn as much about it as I can and validate this by comparing it to my sensory inputs of reality. When all this is done I can sometimes come to a conclusion whose strength varies in degree proportional to the about of evidence I have and how much I was able to learn about it. In short in I analyze the crap out of it and come to tentative justifiable conclusions about it. Now compare this to authoritarians, they act like little children afraid to think for themselves. Afraid to make mistakes, afraid to be seen in error. I think this stems from the fact that they strongly identify with their beliefs. They defined themselves by what they believe. Thus an attack on their beliefs is an attack upon themselves. What a low sense of self esteem they must have. I don’t define myself by my conclusions. I define myself by my methods to my conclusions. I am a being capable of being rational and a being that places a moral virtue upon being rational. My conclusions will change from time to time as I learn of new things. Thus for me an attack on one of my conclusions is an attack on the reasoning I used, not myself. I have confidence in myself that I can reason and that I can obtain a measure of knowledge despite sometimes making mistakes. I think for myself and do not usually automatically defer to an authority. In short I grew up, only children and immature adults can’t deal with the uncertainties of life and crave for the unearned, namely omnisense…

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Systemic causation and the authoritarian mindset

Cause and Effect, it is a simple enough concept on the surface of it. This causes that, right? I for example caused these words to be written by typing them out in open office on my nice little Linux PC. So in this example I am the agent of causation that resulted in the words being recorded. Not all agents of causation need be personal or consciousness, consider that right now outside the ground is completely wet, the agent of causation is the fact that it has been raining all damn day long.

Examples of people making decisions and acting on them to effect a change are examples of what is called direct causation. There are many examples of this that don’t involve people such as my example of rain falling on the ground causing it to become wet, however what is important is that these are relatively simple systems of cause and effect. There is a another class of cause and effect known as systemic cause and effect or systemic causation. In systemic causation you have many individual and seemingly separate causes culminating into a single and large effect. To add to the complexity of this there are non linear mechanisms often in play as well that can make prediction impossible.

In my example of the rain while the cause and effect of making the ground wet is simple enough the reason for why it is raining in the first place is not. Weather is a example of systemic causation. The number variables is vast, the sun, the size and shape of the continent, the direction of the wind as determined by Coriolis effect, the distance to the ocean… and so on. You have a vast array of things systematically interacting with each other to create the effect. Now with nonlinear mechanics we can have emergent causation from systemic causation.

Emergent phenomena are where feed back loops arise from the interactions of all the agents of causation in the given system. Negative feedback tends to drive a system to stability or to stay the way it is, while positive feedback tries to drive the dynamics of the system in a new direction. Consider the feedback loops in the interactions of cooling water falling from the sky. If the temperature is right these feedback loops will create a new emergent order, the perfect symmetry of a snow flake. Or in the case of turbulence in a heated liquid, the feedback loops of the water molecules interacting with each other will drive the system to create Hadley cells, nearly perfect hexagonal fluid cells of motion within the liquid or gas.

We tend to over look or not dwell on the full import of these observations when considering the universe as a whole. Non linear systemic causation is to put it bluntly, difficult to understand and at a gut level profoundly counter intuitive. The examples of convection cells and snow flakes are really very simple examples of systemic causation. Take a big enough step back and one realizes that the process described by the biological theory of evolution is a prime example of systemic causation. Order and complexity from none order and none complexity. For those with a grounding in the relevant sciences and a understanding of the processes involved this is not a crazy idea, it makes sense and is elegant. If you are such a person try however for a moment and pretend despite your understanding that you don’t. Try to purge your mind of all the knowledge pertinent to this and imagine if someone told you that cows turned into whales.

If all your understanding came from concrete experiences and you had little in the way of abstract thinking you would think the idea was absurd and in your defense you would be justified in thinking so. The sad fact is that that without a good education people find it difficult to think beyond the immediate here and now, to abstract out to higher order concepts and thus grasp vast and complex systems and that leads me to the point my post, authoritarians don’t get it!

Authoritarians broadly speaking are people that believe for one reason or other that a particular source of knowledge, a sacred text for example is the final answer and everything must be evaluated in light of what it has to say. Authoritarians as a group generally fail at abstract thinking and as a consequence fail to grasp systemic causation. Unless it is a simple and direct case of this causes that in the immediate of the here and now, it is not so much not believed as it is they don’t even understand it. You see it in the continual miss characterizations of evolution by creationists exemplified by such questions as “if men evolved from apes, why are there still apes” or “why don’t horses evolve wings then” or lastly the poster child for straw-men example of “why don’t we see dogs turning into cats then Mr smartly pants”.

The thing to keep in mind is not that the questions are straw-men, we already know that, but that to the theistic authoritarian these are actually valid questions. They don’t want to understand, what they know is that they look around and don’t see animals turning into other types of animals and that is the end of it. Without concrete examples they are not going to get it, abstract concepts about systemic causation expressed over vast periods of time is beyond their reach or desire to reach. We can discuss DNA mutations, environmental pressures and evidentiary retrodictions all day and it will not matter, we cant point to a dog turning into a cat and that is the unsophisticated child like interaction with the world that is their primary basis for knowledge. Well that and the dictates of their scared text. The problem is really two fold, one lack of understanding of systemic causation and emergent phenomena and two the conclusions of an investigation into such systems contradicts their simple pat answers from the authority of their acceptance.

In my arguments with ideologues of one strip or another the thing that shines through is the childlike and immature behavior. You bring up evidence and it is as if they were plugging their ears and saying loudly lah.. lah.. lah… You try to describe the complex emergent phenomena and their eyes glaze over or they stoutly refuse to believe that such things are even possible.

I once had a discussion with a creationist in a Japanese restaurant. The creationist flatly denied that reality ever furnished an example of complexity arising from non complexity unless it was directed by some intelligence, such as man building a bridge for example. I pointed down to her meso soup which had nearly perfect hexagonal patters of cell convection as it cooled. I asked her to disrupt them by stirring the soup and sure enough they were destroyed. However as we both watched they reformed within a minute. In fact as long as their was enough heat in the soup they would continue to reform all on their own. Feedback loops in the interactions between the individual molecules of the soup created by simply following their identity created an emergent order. No designer required for this. She was simply amazed by this simple example of non linear dynamics and asked over and over what was causing this to happen. She had great difficulty in conceptually grasping my explanation because it exceeded in scope and complexity direct causation.



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