Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jesus lives; is Christianity a corpse?

The title derives from Jeff's deep thought, but this post is about homophobia in particular (some shallow thoughts upon which made the Philosophers' Carnival this biweek, although the following was inspired by some words of Obama's (via Parableman's discussion of them), which seemed reasonable (and certainly not homophobic) but which reminded me that I would reject any hypothesis (e.g., that one should take the whole Bible seriously) that implied that I ought to be anti-gay—I wouldn't have to reject it, insofar as I'm not gay (although I guess that, even if I was, I could just accept that I was in a fallen state), but since my conscience informs me that homosexuality is not wrong (however unattractive it may seem (and I do have homophobic tendencies)), hence any such hypothesis would seem wrong (I've yet to find any doctrine strong enough to withstand gut instincts (although I might just be too fallen to have a fully functioning conscience about such things)))...
......Recently I've been contemplating the content of the concept of Creation, the idea that this universe (and its people) were deliberately Created (that we are kept in being by the relatively almighty and all-knowing, and transcendentally immaterial person who made us up ex nihilo in He/r image), and the most useful metaphor that I've found for Creation is, well, some blend of our compositions (musical, poetic, prosaic and so forth) and our dreams: God is, to some degree, according to such analogical interpretations of "Creation" (and how else should we interpret that word?), to this world as we are to our dreams (and if we're made in He/r image then such an analogy would make sense, would even be sound insofar as we allowed for our being finite, where S/he is infinite etc.). So, the question arises, what is the metaethical content of that metaphor (for Creation)?
......After all that intro, what follows is surely far too weak (so it needs your comments!); but just as our physics would (on the posited view of Creation) be describing nothing more immutable than the stuff of (this episode of) this divine paradream (so to speak), for all that we do not, of course, regard it as variable, not in our day to day lives (cf. my comments here), so it would be apposite for our ethics to be similarly sensitive, for all that we should not ordinarily regard it as flexible (of course (e.g. homosexuality was never wrong, I feel))—we naturally project our ethics onto everything (as we project our percepts onto objects, seeing them as coloured), but surely our morality should adapt as society evolves, especially when such changes are divinely inspired (the eating of pigs, disloyalty towards the king, the emancipation of women and so forth). And would other sorts of sapient creatures (apes, dolphins, angels and so forth) have to have a morality like ours, in order to be good? Probably there is a continuum of ethical law, from God's own definition of the Good, to local conventions within He/r paradreams. And it strikes me that even those Christians who are anti-gay would, many of them, allow for the possibility of an acceptable incest (in order to retain the literality of Genesis) on such grounds as that our biochemistry might, in those days, have been less corrupted.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Determination and Determinism

Why is the Two Envelopes paradox paradoxical? After some thought I've decided that I don't really know (so the following is less clear than I'd hoped it would be) but maybe the reason is related to our difficulties with such concepts as deliberation and probability. Perhaps we overlook (for some reason) something that we intuit easily enough in the case of, for example, Pascal’s Wager:
......Even were you totally unsure, whether or not there was a God, it would clearly be silly to act as though God probably existed just because (even if you did know that) the net rewards for doing so were very much greater than those for not doing so. Intuitively, such rewards are irrelevant if there is no genuine chance of whichever is not already the case (if it is not as if someone will toss a fair coin fairly, and give you those rewards on heads)—and that is, I think, reminiscent of the calculation (see my previous post) of the expected gain on exchanging your envelope (when only one of the ‘X’s in the equation for expected gain named the definite amount in your envelope). Such a distinction, between genuine and other chances, is obscure but apposite (cf. Denyer's 'proof,' below) because whenever we are thinking rationally we have already presupposed that our decisions might make a genuine difference.
......After all, with your original choice of envelope (which gave you the 50% chance of X = 1 and 50% chance of X = 2) there was no temptation to wonder how it could be that, whilst X = 3/2 is impossible, 50% of X (= 1) + 50% of X (= 2) = 3/2. And those chances were genuine (so to speak; and even if, counterfactually, your envelope had been given to you, via some deterministic mechanism, your epistemic uncertainty would have yielded a similarly quasi-genuine, if then entirely imaginary, chanciness). By contrast, the chances that seemed paradoxical, when focusing upon just part of what you know (when ignoring the parenthetical identities in the equation below for expected gain on exchange), could have measured nothing more than your ignorance about what was already the case.
......Regarding that possibility (that ‘could), it seems (as below) that simply to be rational is to have (rather obscurely) related presuppositions about what is possible—beliefs so obscure (so analytically dubious) that we might well overlook their import when a scenario encourages us to (and plausibly the way in which that happens within the two envelopes scenario is a clue as to how to analyse such beliefs). Similarly, we might presuppose that (certainly) 2 + 2 = 4, even those of us who think that a (Cartesian) demon, fooling us about such things, is not just possible (despite its inconsistency with 2 + 2 = 4) but is not necessarily unlikely. And if determinism is like that, if its nonexistence is a necessary presupposition of the practice of our rationality (for all that various determinisms are prima facie possible), then the fact that possible worlds are, in themselves, rather deterministic objects (whereas in no possible world is it false that 2 + 2 = 4) might help to account for why philosophers (who have tended to favour possible worlds analyses) have tended to find the Two Envelopes so paradoxical (cf. Pascal being a deterministic Jansenist, which might explain his view of his Wager).
......So maybe the answer (to why we find the two envelopes so paradoxical) has something to do with the following argument (inspired by Denyer's "Time, Action & Necessity") for free will (and against Stephen Law's most recent argument). Many Naturalists believe that there are, in reality, such relativistic particles and fields as are the subject-matter of physics, and that what the other subjects (biochemistry, psychology, politics and so forth) concern themselves with are really just relatively large chunks of that. Many Naturalists also believe that, given how much we know, from such sciences, it would be irrational to believe in such things as souls and revelations; and they think that it would, of course, be wrong to be irrational.
......Thinking is important (we can all agree, at least here). Coming to the right decision is important—it should not just be a random event, choosing what to think about the real world, of real people (many Naturalists are humanists too). One could be irrational, but that would be wrong. And thinking rationally (making a responsible decision on the basis of the evidence) cannot be something that you are bound to do, in a totally determined way, if it is something that you might neglect to do, could be at fault for not doing. Naturalists arguing against the possibility of religious knowledge are, in particular, very aware of the ‘ought’ in ‘thought;’ and ought implies can—there would be little point in arguing against irrational beliefs if believers are bound to believe as they do, as would be the case were the physics of their physicalistic minds deterministic.
......But the only alternative to determinism, in this physical universe (of which we know a vast amount, thanks to modern physics), is randomness; if there is another alternative, and if mind is reducible to physics, then it’s odd that we don't know about it in modern physics (which has even revealed to us the relativity of space and time). And how could mere randomness be the cause of the difference between a moral act (thinking properly) and an immoral act (thinking improperly); how could it be that we should try to get result A rather than B, if it is just random whether A or B? So (to end with my reply to Law) the very rationality that Naturalists are fond of opposing to religious knowledge presupposes something that cannot be either of the options (determinism or randomness) available to them, as physicalistic atheists; so that, according to their own scientific standards, all the evidence available to us, at any time, must be evidence between the major alternatives (such as some modern monotheisms).

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Two Envelopes

Suppose that someone put some money (say, an arbitrary unit) into one envelope and twice as much (two units) into another. You get to choose an envelope, and since you are ignorant of their contents you have, intuitively, a 50% chance of getting 1 (arbitrary unit), and a 50% chance of getting 2 (of them). Let the amount in your envelope be X, and the amount in the other be Y, so that either X = 1 = Y/2, which I call case A, or else B is the case, and X = 2 = 2Y.
......You are asked if you want to exchange your envelope for the other. In case A you have (whether or not you look inside your envelope) X = 1, so you would definitely gain X = 1 on switching; and if you would have lost, you would have been in case B, with X = 2. In case B you would definitely lose 1/2 of that on switching (and if you would have gained, you would have been in case A). And it was 50-50 which envelope you chose (as above), so it is similarly 50-50 which of A and B is the case, and so your expected gain on switching is:
......50% of X (= 1 = Y/2) 50% of X/2 (= 1 = Y) = 0
......No paradox yet, but if you ignore the parenthetical identities (which should not, intuitively, affect that equality) then the remainder of that equation says that you have a 50% chance of gaining X (the definite amount you are holding) and a 50% chance of losing X/2, and that those two cancel out; so a puzzle is, how could X = X/2? But the paradox dissolves with the seeing of that question as silly. Athough X is a definite amount, only one of the ‘X’s in that equation names it (since it can't be that both B and A are the case; by contrast, if someone flipped a coin fairly, gave you X on heads, and took X/2 off you on tails, your expectation would indeed be X/4).
......A puzzle remains: Why do we find the above so puzzling? (To be continued (a clue: we are like this!).)