House Rules Re: [FoRK] The drum beat continues

Stephen D. Williams < sdw at > on > Sat Nov 18 09:05:09 PST 2006

Dr. Ernie Prabhakar wrote:
> Hi Stephen,
> On Nov 17, 2006, at 10:19 AM, Stephen D. Williams wrote:
>> Dr. Ernie Prabhakar wrote:
>>> As a physicist, I have great faith in the scientific method and the 
>>> power of mathematics to explain the universe, but I am fully aware 
>>> that this is something I *choose* to believe. And I work extremely 
>>> hard to ensure my faith in God remains just as theoretically 
>>> rigorous and empirically sound as my other beliefs (and vice versa).
>> I think we covered this a couple threads ago. You can only have 
>> "faith in the scientific method" if you have seen no proof that it 
>> tends to work / be true. After that point, you have a solid, 
>> fact-based probability estimation.
> Um, no. I think you're fundamentally misrepresenting the nature of 
> scientific discovery. Even probability estimations *themselves* -- if 
> applied to the future -- require non-paradigmatic assumptions about:
You're stretching the concepts far too much. Science != faith. 
Hypothesis, theory, guess, and assumption are all distinctly different 
from faith. All of these change when the evidence indicates. Faith is 
not supposed to change regardless of the evidence or the perpetual lack 
thereof. Beliefs of a modern person are at least partially rationality 
and science based, but if they are also faith based, then that person is 
operating on unproven and untestable information.

Look at it another way: The Gods we have left are the ones that don't 
promise anything tangible and testable because the Gods that did promise 
such things never came through. Part of your writing is further eroding 
the concept of God to be further compatible with all we now know.

A lot of people think that faith serves as a mental mechanism provides 
net benefit. I can see that in some local, short term cases, but I'm 
skeptical of both the approach, which seems intellectually dishonest to 
me, and the net overall outcome.
> a) the Bayesian prior 
> <>
> b) which variables are consistent/different between past and future 
> scenarios
> c) the underlying nature of reality
> Sure, we can have *confidence* in our assumptions if we've seen them 
> proved true _within_ our realm of experience, but to extrapolate 
> beyond them is *always* an act of faith -- because, as we well know, 
> sometimes we discover that those extrapolations are invalid.
> Engineering is art of applying what we have already proved to be true; 
> science is the leap of faith to peer over the edge in the hope of 
> finding something new.
> For an example of how these sorts of beliefs impact "real" science, I 
> suggest you take a look at:
>> Faith in God is completely different as you never get proof that can 
>> be explained only by the existence of God.
> And how is that different? Last I checked, science never gets "proof" 
> that we have the "one right" answer, we just invent hypotheses that 
> explain the facts better than anything that precedes them -- and worse 
> than everything that succeeds them. :-)
Science and general rationality rely on constant feedback of proof. We 
get proof of thousands of facts every day.
>> Hawkins Law: Progress does not involve replacing one theory that is 
>> wrong with one that is right, rather it involves replacing one theory 
>> that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.
> I fully concede that my conception of a divine Principle behind the 
> universe is at least "subtly wrong", I just find it a more powerful 
> hypothesis than any alternatives I've seen to date.
Powerful in what way? What exactly does it enable you to do? You are 
arguing that this "powerful hypothesis" is a crucial tool to you. Please 
explain how you use this tool in your everyday life?
>> If you have empirically sound evidence in God, then let's hear it. I 
>> think we examined and disposed of what you mentioned earlier.
> That is a far larger topic than I can cover here, but if you really 
> want to know, you can look at:
> These aren't enormously coherent, or complete, but it should at least 
> give you a flavor of how I think. (If you want to go there, please 
> start another thread :-).
> The short answer (which even if trite is still true) is that I believe 
> in Christianity for the same reason I believe in science: though 
> deeply flawed, both work much better -- for a longer period of time -- 
> than any of the other alternatives that have been tried.
I don't have time to digest all of your content, but let's consider these:
> However, I *am* willing to posit sufficient empirical support for the 
> following propositions. They are listed in order of:
> . decreasing generality (from less to more specific)
> . *increasing* testability (from less to more objective evidence)
> I believe (and am willing to defend) the following to be true and 
> knowable according to traditional scientific standards of evidence:
> a. There is a God -- that is, a source of information, power, and will 
> external to the physical universe
> b. That this God has revealed Himself in numerous ways to numerous 
> people (not necessarily just Judeo-Christians), providing insights, 
> leadership, and occasionally miracles beyond those accessible to 
> mortal men
> c. That communities which respond to these revelations by 'worship' 
> (submission) live healthier, happier, and holier lives that those who 
> denigrate or deny such revelations -- in proportion to the character 
> of the God they worship
> d. That the revelation of truth contained in the person and actions of 
> Jesus Christ is vastly superior to anything claimed by any individual 
> before or since; and that to create a Jesus myth would require wisdom 
> equal to (or greater) than that ascribed to Jesus himself
> e. That Jesus himself, whatever may have been added by legend, 
> explicitly characterized himself as a representative of the 
> above-mentioned external God
> f. That *someone* and *something* -very unusual- happened in the first 
> century AD that gave birth to the Christian movement, in a way that 
> allows enormous diversity yet amazing continuity across both space and 
> time.
> I am not saying that any of these are /easily/ proved. However, I 
> assert that each of these propositions is more consistent with the 
> available evidence than its contradiction, i.e. at least "relatively 
> true.", and that they all support each other. In other words, if you 
> can at least believe either "f" or "a", you ought to be able to infer 
> the rest without difficulty.
Either these can't be proved in any scientific way or they don't mean 
what you are indicating they mean.
>> Science, logic, and related bodies of knowledge and experience are 
>> qualitatively different from faith.
> That is itself an article of faith on your part, since I (and many of 
> the founders of modern science) fundamentally disagree with you, and 
> you haven't proved your ability to refute every possible argument. And 
> as far as I can tell, your statement rests solely on the 
> *presupposition* that you are better at critical thinking than I am. No?
Where is my need to prove my ability to refute every possible 
argument??? There are an infinite number of arguments. Have you 
completely refuted the Flying Spaghetti Monster and his Noodly 
Appendages? I only need to evaluate the best arguments, using tools like 
Occam's Razor, rationality, common sense, scientific knowledge, etc. and 
make my choices.

No, I'm not saying in general that I am better at critical thinking than 
you. I am saying that, after being educated enough and then interested 
enough to fully consider the issue, that relying on faith, i.e. belief 
in God(s), isn't rational for anyone.

Studies have shown that pessimists tend to be better realists than 
optimists, i.e. their estimations of future events is a bit more 
accurate. This doesn't keep me from wanting to be an optimist and 
believing that I'm better off. I can see that being religious is kind of 
a stronger type of optimism, but for me it seems to cross the line of 
"wishing it were so" and therefore believing. There are a lot of 
children that wish Santa Claus existed, and it might even be a useful 
ruse in child development for one reason or another, but that doesn't 
make it correct or useful in the long term.
>> I think it's important to separate lack of interest in social 
>> feelings management from correctness and correctness estimation. 
>> Someone with social graces can avoid appearing egocentric when they 
>> actually are and someone with no interest and/or skill at the social 
>> level can appear egocentric when they are not.
> Sure. I consider House egocentric *not* because he's harsh in the 
> pursuit of truth, but because he sometimes deliberately hurts people 
> for no higher purpose.
I think the writers leave you wondering why he does a lot of things, 
both in his motivations and possible hidden methods.
>>> I think the evidence -- including his own statements -- are far more 
>>> consistent with his *primary* drive being "to the need to be right" 
>>> (which, speaking from experience, is a drug more powerful that 
>>> Vicodin :-). Sure, we're all glad that he's in a profession where 
>>> that drive usually saves lives, but (as in last year's season 
>>> finale) I think even he realizes that sometimes his obsession causes 
>>> a great deal of unnecessary pain.
>> I'm not sure what you're saying that conflicts with what I said. Are 
>> you saying that he would be just as happy to be right even if it 
>> didn't involve positive life or death benefit?
> Yes, like [SPOILER ALERT] when he diagnosed the researcher a few hours 
> before (helping?) kill him. The only positive outcome is that House 
> got to find his answer, albeit at great cost to many others. Sure, he 
> was sad the old guy died, but not as sad as if he'd died sooner (with 
> less pain) without knowing the answer.
I don't think you can argue that it is definite that he didn't learn 
something useful. From his point of view, everything he learns is 
potentially useful in the future.
>> That the pursuit is shallow for him and therefore not commendable?
> No, I did NOT mean that, and it is a crucial distinction.
> I'm not necessarily saying House was wrong to do what he did, but 
> let's be honest about his motivations.
> Wanting to be right -- even knowing that you ARE right -- is a worthy 
> goal, and to that extent commendable.
> Having the *need* to be right is an obsession, and (speaking from 
> personal experience) can justify a lot of damaging behavior.
By the way that is worded, I'm not sure if you are talking about needing 
to be really right or needing to be believed to be right (i.e. winning 
an argument) whether you are correct or not. The latter is damaging. I'd 
need a good example of damage from the former. I have a need to be 
useful. The need to be right is derived from that.
> Let me be clear. I love the character House precisely *because* I 
> identify so much with him, and admire his tenacious pursuit of truth. 
> His willingness to sacrifice lesser things in pursuit of truth is a 
> breath of fresh air which I seek to emulate.
> What I hate about him -- what I hate about myself -- is that sometimes 
> we use those skills to cloak our own motivations and needs by 
> attacking others in a way that *hides* the truth.
"With great power comes great responsibility." ;-)
Don't hate yourself, hate the behavior. ;-)

> :-(
> House is relentless in pursuing the truth about others, but cowardly 
> in facing the truth about himself. The latter doesn't take away from 
> the former, but the first doesn't excuse the last.
It's unclear how much he realizes about himself vs. how much he is 
motivated to do something about it. Clearly, he has been depressed for a 
long time. A self-aware person will often know they are screwing up, be 
able to clearly analyze it, and lack the gumption to actually change or 
do something about it. For me, depression == apathy and mildly neurotic 
behavior even though I'm the furthest thing from neurotic.

On the other hand, even people who think they are self-aware can 
interpret things according to one model when another is more appropriate 
and useful. Injecting those kinds of ideas is probably the best value 
for self-help books.
> -- Ernie P.


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