Thursday, August 18, 2005

Conversations with Angie: How can you be a Christian if you don't believe the Bible is inspired?


You're pretty good at silencing my ineffectual arguments! I don't
think I have ever actually had someone say this to me:

"I don't think it's necessary to believe the Bible is the inspired
word of God before you can be justified in thinking Christianity is

That one surprised me! The only thing is... you then use biblical
quotes to support that statement. Isn't that kind of circular? Are
you saying that you don't have to believe that it's the inspired word
of God, but you do need to have some faith in its historical accuracy?
Because if you don't at least believe that, how can you believe that
Jesus claimed to be the Messiah? Isn't the Bible the only record that
we have that says that he made that claim? I mean, I see what you're
saying from a theological standpoint ... but how can that really play
out in faith? How can someone say, "yes, I believe in the God that
this book talks about, and I believe in Jesus, his life, death,
resurrection, etc..., but I don't really believe the Bible."

Okay... going for now...

Conversations with Angie:  Using the Bible as an historical source apart from assuming inspiration


At 8/18/2005 7:03 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

I was browsing over a book at the bookstore today, and I came across something that might be of interest to you, though it's not relevant to the topic at hand.

The book, The Pig That Wants to be Eaten, presents a large number of thought experiments. One, in particular, regarding Brain-in-Vats (which you touched on previously), was especially intriguing. I especially remember your claim, which I accepted too, that although it is possible that we are brain-in-vats, it is unreasonable to believe.

The author brings up an argument (which he says was recently presented) which challenges our presumptions of the unlikelihood that we are not real.

Interestingly enough, it is overwhelmingly plausible that we are artificially-created creatures, if not brain-in-vats.

The argument goes like this:

Over time, we or another civilization will be able to create artificially intelligent creatures, as well as virtual realities to put them in. Furthermore, the natural resources required to support the virtual environments will be miniscule compared to a biological environment, so there can be an infinite number of virtual worlds. It is quite possible that our entire earth "lives" in a desktop computer of the future.

If all this is possible, then all we need to do is a little math to see how likely it is that we are in one of these virtual worlds. Suppose that in the history of the entire human civilization, there are nine virtual humans for every real human. Since there is no way of knowing the difference, both the real and virtual humans think they are real. So, for every human that thinks they are real, there is a 90% chance that they are wrong. Therefore, it is much more plausible that we are artificially-created rather than actual humans.

The author then goes on to say that most people will probably be highly skeptical of the argument on a first hearing, that we are more likely to be living out a matrix-style existence, but he suggests that perhaps people are skeptical not because of the argument itself, but of the conclusion. He then welcomes any critisms of the argument, though he says it looks like it'd be difficult to find any faults with it.

At 8/19/2005 12:27 AM , Blogger derailuer said...

im a firm believer in the greatness of christ by the way. . its his FOLLOWERS that i have a problem with .

At 8/19/2005 3:43 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I like arguments like that. They're fun to think about. But I think the author is right that on a first hearing, just about anybody would disagree with it. The same is true with the four paradoxes of Zeno, which supposedly prove that motion is not possible. Parmenides used Zeno's paradoxes to argue that the external world does not exist. Philosophers have been wrestling with Zeno's paradoxes for over two thousand years, and it's hard to find any flaw in them. They do seem to prove that it's logically impossible for there to be any motion. Parmenides' argument went like this:

1. If what we perceive to be the external world is real, then motion is possible.
2. Motion is not possible.
3. Therefore, what we perceive to be the external world is not real.

The first premise is true, because we see motion going on in the external world all the time. The second premise is supposedly proved by Zeno's paradoxes. The conclusion follows necessarily from the two premises.

Now think about this. Suppose the average person is unable to solve Zeno's paradoxes--to explain where Zeno's reasoning is faulty. Does it follow that the average person is not rationally justified in believing that the external world exists? Of course not! We know that our perceptions correspond to an external world, and we know that by intuition. The intuition is so strong that hardly any philosophers have taken Zeno and Parmenides seriously. It is what drives people to try to solve the paradoxes. Everybody knows there's a flaw, because they know that motion really is possible, but they don't necessarily know what the flaw is.

The same can be sid of the argument in The Pig That Wants to be Eaten. Even if the argument appeared to be sound, it would still be more reasonable to believe that our perceptions correspond to an external world.

The first flaw in the argument is that it assumes this presumption is based on probability. It then compares the statistical probability that we are real to the statistical probability that we are not real, and concludes that it is statistically more probable that we are not real than that we are real.

But our knowleges of our real-ness and the real-ness of the external world is not derived from statistical probability. In fact, it isn't derived from anything at all. It's an intuition we have. It's knowledge built into our brains. It's a first principle. It is one of the foundational items of knowlege upon which every other item of knowledge is based. If this intuition is strong enough to overcome Zeno and Paremindes with their deductive arguments, then it is quite strong enough to overcome your author's inductive argument.

The second flaw is in the assumption that all possibilities are equally likely. If you have ten possibilities, then each possibility is as likely as each other possibility, namely 10% likely/90% unlikely. Since it seems to the author possible that we or some other civilization can someday create virtual realities to plug brains in vats up to, then it's possible to have 9 virtual realities and one real reality. That would make it 90% likely that we are in a virtual reality. But how likely it is that we or any other civilization will ever be able to do that is not mentioned. That there is some true reality, regardless of its nature, is certain, but that there are or ever will be virtual realities that people live in is not at all certain. That has to be taken into account, but the author apparently does not take it into account.

A third flaw is that the author confuses virtual reality with virtual persons. Assuming you could plug real people into a matrix, they would still be real people with real minds. But virtual people--people who only exist as computer programs--do not have minds. We know we have minds because we experience first person subjectivity. That means we are not virtual people. It could be that we are real people with our brains plugged into virtual realities, but we cannot be virtual people. So it's illigitimate to suppose there are nine virtual persons to every real person, and then to say it's 90% likely that we are not real.

1. If we were not real, we would not experience first person subjectivity.
2. But we do experience first person subjectivity.
3. Therefore, we are real.

Everything we percieve in the world may be artificially fed into our brains, but we ourselves are real, and we can know that with 100% certainty.


At 8/19/2005 3:48 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Thanks, sprocketandspokes. Glad you don't think we're all bad. :-)

At 8/19/2005 1:45 PM , Blogger daleliop said...


The first 2 objections I get, but for the 3rd one, I think the author is assuming that in the future we will have the technology to create virtual beings with their own mind.

Despite the objections, I still think the argument is pretty cool to think about, don't you?

At 8/19/2005 6:08 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Well, Dale, that seems to me to be an even worse problem with the argument. I don't think it is possible to create a virtual being with its own mind. I don't think we can create minds at all. The best we can do is create programs that mimic minds, but they won't be self-aware.

This give me an idea. I might have to so some blogs on the mind/body problem. I'm just about done with the Angie conversation. I think there will be two more blogs on her. I should've saved these for when school started, because I'm not going to have as much time when school starts this Tuesday.

Yeah, I agree it's a fun thing to think about. I used to like sitting around with people who were willing to throw our crazy scenarios of how things might really be. There was always a guy suggesting alternate universes, some of which contained replicas of us or our opposites or something like that. If nothing else, it gets the mind working, and it's entertaining.



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