Behind the Scenes: Notes from my debate with Michael Long

Some readers might be interested in seeing the very beginning of preparation for my debate with Michael Long (found here – http://www.choosinghats.org/2011/08/is-there-good-reason-to-believe-that-the-christian-god-exists). What is posted below is by no means the entirety of my notes for the debate but does provide an idea of how I initially go about preparing for a debate. The quotations are from the Goodness Over God podcast and are as close as I could get them to the originals which may be found here – http://goodnessovergod.blogspot.com. Each quote is followed by a time stamp and episode number.

Michael Long is a philosopher and one of the more consistent Humeans I have met. (He might prefer to be associated with Berkeley rather than Hume, but Hume was the more pertinent philosopher for the purposes of our debate.) Thus the notes below provide an excellent opportunity to think through philosophical or worldview issues as a skeptical philosopher does in order that one may more fully understand the non-Christian position and think of how to answer.

When I gather quotes as I did below I am looking for definitive statements concerning the “big three” of logic, science, and morality as well as clarity concerning my opponent’s position. I then go back and delete excess material, organize what is left, and make notes to myself in the form of comments after each section (not included below).

Totally immersing oneself in an opponent’s worldview for the sake of developing strong, fair arguments corresponds to a thoroughly Christian ethic  in the context of evangelism and apologetics. Learning the intricacies of another position promotes humility as one learns how well-reasoned and nuanced the adherent has been in creating his or her position and it encourages boldness commensurate with familiarity of the opposing system.

It also makes for a better debate!

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Quotes from Michael Long, Goodness Over God

We have no non-circular inductive justification obviously for supposing that induction will hold, and we have no deductive justification for it. We have, I would argue, a kind of pragmatic justification, a certain kind of pragmatic justification for, you know, assuming in terms of our plans in terms of our actions for assuming that induction will hold which is that you know frankly if we don’t do that if we don’t assume induction will hold then we have no way of evaluating our strategies you know relative to the goals that we have. We can’t be actors in a robust sense in the world if we don’t assume induction. But that’s pretty much all we have as far as I can see. That and just the brute fact that we love induction and we’re going to use it. (32.47, 5)

Even though you know we may be uncomfortable with you know what I take to be the just incontrovertible conclusion that Hume came to I mean there’s no, there just is no – I mean – thinking – it seems to me that to make this kind of argument is to say man I really want there to be some justification, so I’ll just suppose that there is, but you know life is tough right? It could be that – in fact I would say that we in fact have no justification or if somebody has one I’ve never heard it and it doesn’t do any good to say you know, you know man I want something better than that I want something better than just the fact that we’re going to go and assume induction. We want to assume induction. Well maybe that’s all we have. And I – if there is something else, if you have another idea, I’d like to know what it is and I guess I don’t see how talking about properties does anything to go and give us a justification, it’s just to go and talk as if we already have a justification. So we can go on and use induction and create and generate our properties through inductive reasoning. I mean I don’t see what else is there. I don’t see what the alternative is to Hume. (34:29, 5)

When I talk about things being probable I’m you know I’m making use of the notion of induction. I’m supposing that induction will in fact hold that in fact the patterns will continue to hold so I can say yes it’s quite probable that the sun will come up tomorrow. So I don’t think that I can’t talk about what’s likely or what’s probable given that I’m just using those very notions in reference to induction. (37:56, 5)

In terms of my inclination – I mean Hume recognizes right – yeah we sure do love induction. I’m an inductiono-phile and I can talk about why I’m an inductiono-phile. I mean first of all I just am, I was born that way. I didn’t fall in love with induction. I was born in – just, yeah – as far as I can remember I loved induction. Before I had any notion of induction I loved induction. And I can sing a love song to induction. I can say:

Oh induction!

Only through you can I evaluate the strategies I have for achieving my goals

For there is no other strategy

For evaluating my strategies

And lo, I am a being who wants to evaluate his strategies

You know? I mean that, these are psychological facts about me. But given that I do want to be that kind of being, and when I recognize that there’s no other way possible for me to be that being – to be a being who in essence uses induction except by using induction – there’s no way I’m going to be able to have a strategy for evaluating my strategies if I don’t go and use induction. Well then, again, if there’s nothing to privilege any other strategy, why shouldn’t I use induction? And I would hasten to admit this too – that yeah, in my bones I believe induction will in fact hold. It’s not that I think I have a justification for it, the point is we don’t have a justification, but it’s just another weird psychological fact about me that uh – and about all other human beings – that we sure do expect, don’t we, we expect that the future’s going to resemble the past. Okay, that’s a psychological fact about me. Why on earth should I frustrate these desires that I have, to use induction? Why should I try to resist my um you know my inclination to go and use induction? I don’t see how, again there is any rival to induction. So why is it irrational for me to use it? (40:28, 5)

Why not just say, ‘Life is tough’ you know? We don’t have a justification, but that’s okay you know we can get along without a justification. We can just go and justify you know we can just assume induction which we’re gunna do anyway because that’s just a fact about us and then we can in our justifications for the most part can be in terms of induction. They can presuppose induction and you know most of our practical justifications unless we’re talking about uh you know like deductive truths, they are predicated upon induction continuing. Why isn’t that good enough? I mean where’s the irrationality? Is there some contradiction in what I’m doing in this strategy? I don’t see any contradiction in it, so it can’t be that I’m – you know unless you see one that I’m missing – like I’m not going and affirming A and Not-A in some way, so in what sense am I being irrational if I assume induction? It can’t be, I mean what other way is there to be irrational? Except the kind of irrationality that comes from not assuming induction. In fact our notion of rationality itself is tied to induction. Right? There is certainly a kind of rationality that is tied to induction and uh you know and that’s just kind of comes with that inductive package. But I mean how on earth am I being irrational? And, again, am I missing something? Do you have an alternative that isn’t just, ‘It would be horrible if induction didn’t hold so there must be a justification for believing that induction will hold’? (44:32, 5)

In fact our notion of rationality itself is tied to induction. (45:36, 5)

I really want to address the notion of chance and randomness and chaos. I mean, that isn’t what I have in mind…we don’t think that there’s some kind of background chaos where this is the result. Our state of affairs is the result of a bunch of dice being rolled and this just so happens to have been the way things have landed so far. I mean, because, to talk to think that way would be to suppose that there is some background context where you know where there are I don’t know some elements and they’ve got a chance of doing this or that and they all happened to have behaved in such a way just by pure chance because the dice were rolled that way so that we have the kind of natural laws that we observe. But that’s not the point. The point isn’t to say that there’s some kind of background chaos, it’s just that, because that would mean that there would be a reason for why things are the way they are I mean chance is a kind of reason right? It’s a kind of explanation. The whole point here though is that there just isn’t any reason you’ve reached the end of explanation when you go and you get to induction when you get to just you know the pattern itself. You just have to say, ‘Look, this is the way it is.’ So there’s no expectation. There would be you know it would really be to miss the point to suppose that it is improbable that things would that induction would continue to hold. That’s some wildly improbable event. No no it’s not improbable or probable it’s just the way things have gone. Um do you see the distinction I’m trying to make? (51:39, 5)

We all agree that it’s logically possible that something else occur. I think all that I would want to say is that sure it’s logically possible that things be different, but in fact, you know they are the way they’ve been and that you know they will be the way that they will be however that might be but there’s no mechanism for deciding the way things will be. There is no deciding there is no determining. (1:07:20, 5)

It’s enough of a justification to say that this is what we really, really want to do. (1:19:55, 5)

Where does ethics begin for me? I have to say it begins for me in my own suffering and in my own happiness. I mean I don’t need a justification for why I don’t want my hand burned in a fire. I don’t need a justification for why I want the experience of eating a piece of candy or something that I enjoy. I just love pleasure and I more importantly, I hate suffering, you know? I hate my hand in the fire. It’s an awful thing. Now that’s the beginning, but then that’s just all about me right? I don’t think we need a justification, I don’t even understand what it would mean to have a justification for, you know, despising our own suffering and seeking our own joy and happiness. But I can still ask, what is the reason for my despising my own suffering and liking my own joy and happiness? Well, you know why is it, what’s the you know what explains it? Is it because I’m a man? That has nothing to do with it right? Is it because I’m white? That has nothing to do with it either. What about because I’m an American? No. Is it because I’m smart or good or even because I’m human? Nah it’s for none of those reasons. I despise my own suffering just because it’s suffering. There’s no deeper reason than that. You know I think that’s true of you too but you know I think it’s true of every single member of our audience.  (3:04, 2)

Consider this, suppose you knew that you were going to get into an automobile accident tomorrow. There’s no getting around it there’s no avoiding it and you’re going to be severely brain damaged so that everything that you think about yourself you know your identity is pretty much going to be gone. You’ll lose your memories, you’ll lose your intelligence, maybe your personality will change so that you’ll be an aggressive nasty person if you’re a nice person right now. You know it could all happen we’ve seen that happen we’ve seen how people’s personalities change when they you know through brain trauma. Well suppose you knew that was going to happen to you tomorrow because of a car accident or maybe a stroke. Would you mind, would you not be bothered at the prospect of being tortured forever after tomorrow after you’ve had your stroke after those things that made you you? Your interests were gone your personality was pretty much changed dramatically. Wouldn’t you still be concerned about that person that you’re going to be and their future? Wouldn’t you be concerned about them? Maybe you wouldn’t want that person to live, but wouldn’t you be concerned about them suffering? I think most of us would, and I think that that you know hopefully will hope to reveal that we really are just concerned about ourselves as sufferers and enjoyers of our lives. That doesn’t mean that we don’t value other things about ourselves, but I mean that deep self-concern that sense in which I you know that which kind of evokes a fear in us and you know a dread. At least a great portion of what makes us self-concerned is just that capacity to suffer and enjoy our lives. Now if you accept that then, and you know you may or may not, to me that’s pretty clear, but when I confront that I realize that well gee I have good reason to think that other people not just people but animals as well, non-human animals, also have that capacity to suffer and enjoy their lives. They’re just as real as I am and for me to go and discount that, to take their interests less seriously than my own, well, I can only do that by pretending, by rationalizing, by thinking that I care about myself for reasons that I actually don’t. I think that’s what we do when we’re racist or nationalistic or sexist or you know whenever we go and we say well I’m part of this group, and you know you’re part of that group, and you don’t matter as much as I do. You know that’s a rationalization when we do that we’re just pretending that the source of our concern is different than it really is. And that’s the beginning of ethics. It’s just that recognition that, hey others are as real as I am, their interests are as poignant as mine are, and so they matter as much as I do. And there’s a lot to think about beyond that. But that’s how my ethics is grounded.  (4:32, 2)

The things about the world, the things about you know ultimately my experience and my beliefs about the experiences of others are constituent parts of my happiness. (9:52, 2)

Hopefully we all recognize that not everyone is capable of that right of all of the exact same pleasures and joys I should say I think that’s a better word of the joys that we are capable of. They’re you know they may be capable of joys that we aren’t capable of and we may be capable of joys that they’re not capable of. (12:07, 2)

Well, if somebody would say that I would suggest to them that they want to use another person as you know as kind of an object as something that they, you know, it sounds like the person who would say that you know isn’t really concerned about the well-being of that other person but instead, you know they have designs for that person they have a vision of the world so that they have a particular aesthetic view where they want to say well gee I’d like to see a world like this I’d like to see a world where everybody reads Shakespeare. Well in what sense could that be valuable if not from someone’s point of view? And I would say to that person, it may be valuable from your point of view but again, others are just as real as you are. (15:14, 2)

We do fix meanings to words and once we have fixed a meaning to a word, once we decide to use a word in a particular way, well it really can be true or false that I’m sitting on a chair or not right now. Even though the word ‘chair’ could be used to designate icecream sundaes and ‘icecream sundaes’ could be used to designate chair, once I’ve fixed that no, by ‘chair’ I mean you know like a platform with legs and a back with you know at least with you know one foot that is you know sized appropriately for a human being to sit upon; once I go and I set a standard like that I say, ‘That’s what I’m going to mean by chair,’ well then, it really is the case whether you like it or not that I’m sitting on a chair. I don’t think it’s any different with morality. Once you go and affix a meaning for moral terms or even a set of meanings…if we define morality and moral terms in terms of the interests of everyone you know as I described – we’re going to quarrel still on the edges but there are going to be clear cases of moral and immoral behavior – I don’t know what could possibly be more objective than that. I don’t know what else anyone could possibly aspire to that’s more objective than that. (29:09, 2)

People think that – they’re afraid of saying that right and wrong – that saying that that’s right and that’s wrong is like saying, ‘I like this and I don’t like that.’….They don’t want their distaste for torturing children to be like their distaste for eating dirt, or their appreciation of kindness to be like their appreciation of cheesecake. I would say that just because in both cases both concerns both motivations are of course motivations, you know both appreciations are of course both appreciations, nevertheless there are different kinds of motivations involved and they’re very different things that are being appreciated. There is a big difference between my concern about that people not torture children and my moral condemnation of that, versus my distaste of eating dirt you know and my desire not to eat dirt….I have a second order desire, a desire about my desires with respect to torturing children. I not only find the desire to torture children to be distasteful, I’m really glad that I find the torture of children distasteful. I mean that’s part of my identity in fact. I wouldn’t recognize myself if I didn’t find the torture of children distasteful I don’t want to be the kind of person who finds the torture of children not to be distasteful where as with eating dirt you know apart from the health problems of it that’s really not that big of a deal you know? (33:09, 2)

The way the word ‘faith’ is used on a functional level by Christians is to, it seems to be a way of going and excusing you know a willful you know insistence upon maintaining one’s beliefs in the face of objections to them in spite of serious objections to one’s beliefs. The idea that – or that it’s you know – of maintaining one’s beliefs even though one doesn’t really have any good reason for believing them at all that’s grounded in a desire to really apprehend the truth….I think people have a moral obligation to try to understand the world as best they can. If you care about others as I expressed earlier, if you’re an empathetic person, then you know you’re going to want to change the world for the better or at least you’re going to want to avoid doing harm to others, and you just aren’t well equipped to do that if you don’t understand the world. (38:54, 2)

If you go and you take the view and you promote the view that it is in fact a virtue and not a vice to believe things without good reason and to willfully ignore objections or not take seriously the objections that are raised against your beliefs well you’ve opted for an epistemic strategy for acquiring beliefs, for acquiring purported knowledge that you know again isn’t conducive to you understanding the world as well as you could. And you’re foisting that upon others when you say that this is a good habit. (43:54, 2)

Faith is a word that denotes epistemic irresponsibility with a positive connotation…(46:33, 2)

It seems to me if you’re going to be a historian you have to begin by assuming the world worked in the past the same way it works now otherwise you have no guidance. (41:27, 9)

 

Strictly speaking I’m an antirealist. I mean I’m a kind of subjective idealist. I think that we – you know – I really just think there’s experience and we build models to navigate our experience. My ultimate metaphysics – it doesn’t really come up very much outside of philosophy – it doesn’t even really include you know matter and space and so on in an ultimate sense. That’s all reducible as far as I’m concerned ultimately to experience. You know things like that exist within our models and we use models to again negotiate our experience right? To go and predict and control you know our experience. So, you know, I guess in that sense I guess wouldn’t be a naturalist if that’s the way you define naturalism and yet I still don’t have any reason to believe in God. (49:08, 9)

 

It was all philosophy for me Michael it was all David Hume really in the end I mean you know he’s my, he’s my guy. (52:03, 9)

 

I don’t think the principle of sufficient reason is true, I don’t think there is any reason to believe it is true I think construed in some ways it is trivially true in other ways it can’t be true and actually I just think that it could be yeah I think ultimately things just are the way that they are there there’s just, everything is kind of a brute fact and we connect….I’m really going down a road that maybe I shouldn’t….I don’t even take it for granted that we need any cause at all. I’m really questioning that, but assuming that we do need a cause, again, I want to say that consciousness isn’t more likely to be able to go all by itself as a cause than a red wagon is. It could just be a strange fact about this wagon that it does this just like it’s a strange fact about this consciousness that it’s unembodied and nothing caused it to begin to exist and think, right? (1:01:15, 9)

 

We’re anti-realists. We think that the physical world is a useful construction of ours to go and predict and control experience….There is a reality, it’s really there, and it’s experience. And everything is ultimately reducible to experience….That doesn’t mean that there aren’t lamps and tables and chairs and electrons and protons and economies and things like that. It’s that we need a framework in which to speak about those things. Those things exist within the framework of our models. It makes perfect sense to talk about the table is here and it is true that the table is here within the model, but ultimately the models themselves depend upon experience and outside of a model I don’t even know how you talk about causality. In the end, ultimate reality? We just see experience and that’s it. (1:10:14, 9)

 

I actually think there’s a strong inductive argument for other minds. (1:48, 7)

 

To go and say that we have a justification; you know words like warrant, justification; they’re kind of accolades that we give ourselves. We say well this is acceptable, here’s a standard and against this standard it’s acceptable to hold the beliefs that I hold. But then it’s always an open question to go and say well, why should you accept that standard? And in the end, we accept the standards we accept because of our desires. That’s even true of the standard of coherence. Why do I go and evaluate sentences like that there are round squares? Why do I go and look for coherence? Well, because I want to interpret those things. Now granted with some sentences like that it’s just a fact that I’m not really doing anything with there are round squares if I don’t go and unpack it and I don’t go and find a coherent interpretation of it. But even there I am still capable of just going and saying yup or no that sentence is false. I can say those words without really evaluating the sentence. I mean, in the end I have the desire to interpret a particular sentence and that’s where I use the standard of coherence. Where I try and go to interpret a sentence in a way that it is coherent or I say well look given how I understand the language and the grammar in particular here I can’t interpret that sentence I don’t understand what the person who is communicating it to me means. I can do all of that and it’s all rooted in my desires. (6:30, 7)

 

Now, we can go beyond coherence, we talked about induction a bit before. It is a fact that we all desire to use induction, and we can talk about the reasons why we desire to use induction more but in the end it’s going to come down to a desire that we have. There’s no getting away from that. I think that what’s crucial if we’re going to be honest is that we make it clear exactly what desires are driving us, why we’re accepting particular standards of justification, and that when we actually do that, when we make that clear and transparent, the kind of standards of justification that Plantinga is using are going to strike us as being pretty thin and they’re going to be inconsistent with the desire to be ethical, to be responsible citizens, to go and be concerned about the well being of others and even of ourselves. We even can defy prudence once we’ve accepted induction and we have a notion of ethics and prudence. (8:18, 7)

 

Once we accept induction we have a strong, not a weak argument for other minds. (11:03, 7)

 

This body doesn’t just do one thing that corresponds to particular conscious experiences. I talk, I pick up cups, I do things all day long; all kinds of particular actions that correspond to particular conscious experiences. And when I observe other bodies again I have lots and lots of examples of them doing the same sorts of things that I’m doing especially in their verbal behavior so that granted there certainly is an inductive leap here, induction is something we have to assume, it certainly isn’t a deductive case, but I submit that I have a very strong inductive case because I have lots and lots of examples of people talking, they say things, they behave in a certain way after they make their statements, they say I’m going to pick up the cup and sure enough they pick up the cup, they ask me a question, I answer, their response is just the sort of response I would expect if they understood language in the way that I understand language, I think there’s a powerful inductive argument for the existence of other minds. (12:31, 7)

 

Until I actually have other minds, which I believe I get to through induction, there isn’t any ethics. And furthermore, until I have induction, even if I do have other minds, there is no ethics. I need other minds and I need induction for me to go and have other conscious states to act toward, to affect. Now if I can go and cause harm to others and if I can help others to have better experiences well then I have ethical and immoral ends which I can pursue….So I need other minds to have ethics but I also need induction. It needs to be the case that there are particular things that I can do that will in fact affect those other minds in particular ways. (19:33, 7)

 

Once I have those other minds which I get to through induction, well then I have obligations to them. Again, assuming induction, I have obligations to them. And among those obligations are epistemic obligations. (21:08, 7)

 

I have an ethical obligation to go and be epistemically chaste, to not go and believe in things for no good reason. (22:31, 7)

 

So I would go and point to Plantinga and say, ‘Look, given that God is different from other minds as I have argued, because we do have a good inductive argument to believe in other minds in terms of associated with other bodies, and that you have absolutely no reason to posit God, anymore than elves on Pluto or Santa Claus or any arbitrary thing you might come up with, because induction doesn’t lead us to go and posit any of those things exist, and so, you have an ethical obligation to – if you are inclined to believe in those things – to dismiss your intuitions, your inclinations because in fact they, you know given what you do through induction have good reason to believe in, you ought to reject them they are, your intuitions are, actually a poor guide in general in many, many contexts including this context to tell you what actually exists in the world.’ (22:46, 7)

[Plantinga’s] notion of warrant looks pretty darn weak. (55:26, 7)


2 Comments

Justin

Hey Chris, are you planning on opening comments to your recent post on my comment about bible translations? I’d like to write a response because I don’t think the point i was making was understood. This may be my fault for not being sufficiently clear.

C.L. Bolt

Sure, I have opened the comments for your response.


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