Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Truth by Repetition

In TID I argued that Loftus' OTF was fallacious, invalid, unsound, and subject to defeater-deflectors. I defended those claims here and here.

Rather than argue down the opposition, Loftus posted a YouTube video of people of other faiths, thinking this somehow shows his OTF is worth taking seriously). I responded to that here. Just recently Loftus posted a quote by Sam Harris that he thinks shows his OTF should be taken seriously---truth by repetition. I answer below.
Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling....Why don't you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this....The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. Isn't it obvious Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically?...Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions." Letter to a Christian Nation (pp. 6-7).
1. Having read Harris I am aware that he relies on naive internalist and evidentialist premises that he does not justify. People can have reasons for a belief without that belief being based on reasons.

2. Bracketing that off for the moment, much in the above quote is just absurd or based on unclear thinking.

a. Christians do not have the same reasons for being Christians as Muslims have for being Muslims. For example, last time I checked, Muslims don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Harris is ambiguous between the same kinds of reasons, and the same reasons. For example,

i. I see my neighbor at the store, so my neighbor is at the store


ii. I see a dog at the park, so there is a dog at the park

are the same kinds of reasons (appeal to sense perception), but they are not the same reasons (the propositions are different).

Harris's argument depends on this ambiguity.

b. Given what we saw in (2a), Harris's next point is easy enough to see through. Only if the reasons were the exact same reasons would it be odd to accept one and deny another; however, if two reasons were of the same kind yet differed in proposition, it is not at all hard to see that one may be compelled by the same kind of reason for one proposition yet not be compelled by the same kind of reason for another proposition. For example:

i. Jones, a trusted friend, told me that he saw Elvis at Burger King last night


ii. Smith, a trusted friend, told me that he saw a frog in the creek that runs through his backyard

are the same kinds of reasons, i.e., they both appeal to sense perception and the testimony of trusted friends. However, I would reject (b.i) and not (b.ii). But it would be absurd to claim that by accepting (b.ii) then I am somehow inconsistent for not being persuaded by (b.i). However, it would be inconsistent if I rejected one out of two reasons that are the same. For example,

iii. I see a moth on the window at t and I am functioning properly

iii*. I see a moth on the window at t and I am functioning properly

If I accepted (b.iii) but not (b.iii*), then I would be inconsistent.

c. What does Harris mean by "prove?" Does he mean prove with deductive certainty? Well, suppose we can't, what of it? Certainly one could have good reasons to deny Islam, reasons that are more probably or reasonable than their denials. One doesn't need Cartesian certainty to reject a claim.

However, who says we can prove Islam wrong? Islam teaches X, and since X implies ~X, therefore, Islam is false because that which implies that which is false is itself false.

d. No doubt Muslims think they have good reasons for being Muslims and rejecting Christianity, and atheists think they have good reasons for rejecting both, but how would it follow from here that I ought to drop my Christian beliefs (something which I take myself to know, and something which would result in massive cognitive disaster if I dropped, and for which I have defeaters to various objections, like those Harris raises, for instance)?

Nothing of interest follows from Harris's claim. He's simply making the descriptive point that we all believe we are justified in our beliefs and that contradictory beliefs are false. And? The mere fact that a solipsist may think he has good reasons for his solipsism doesn't make me less confident or unwarranted in my belief in other minds. And, Loftus can continue to repeat the same old bunk, thinking he has good reasons for it, but I disagree. Does my disagreement mean that he needs to drop his belief that differences in religious belief shows something interesting? If he does, then so much for the OTF. If he doesn't, then so much for the OTF. Either way, so much for the OTF.

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