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Philosophy, Science, and the Unexplained



USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
#1
This thread is for exploring how the unexplained can be approached from a philosophical and/or scientific standpoint. The idea is to manage this without resorting to New Age or Quantum Mysticism. There may be times when these modes overlap, but hopefully when they do, we can keep them from getting so tangled that they foul up the whole process. To start off, here's a video featuring Alvin Plantinga, who was recently mentioned by an infrequent poster @smcder in this thread.

This will probably stir some controversy, so let's try to keep it civil. Plantinga is actually a very respected scholar, so let's try to see him as an example for how to behave. My first response to one of Plantinga's video's is here: https://www.theparacast.com/forum/threads/october-20-2013-jerome-clark.14172/page-3#post-173274

To continue from the previous thread: The key point for me is that Plantinga asserts that belief in God is only rational if it is true ( presumably that God exists ). There are some other issues he brings into the mix that I'm not entirely comfortable with. But this one point on truth doesn't seem t be escapable.

So the real question then becomes, how do we tell whether or not God exists? We've been through that here on the forum a number of times. Plantinga argues in the video above that his personal experience is sufficient reason for him to believe. Is that really a supportable position? I think that for him ( personally ) it is. But of what relevance is that for the rest of us?
 
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smcder

Guest
#2
The key point for me is that Plantinga asserts that belief in God is only rational if it is true ( presumably that God exists ). - I did not get that from the above video or other things I've read and heard from Plantinga? He says he believes in the past and in other people (and that seems rational enough) but he can't prove either one . . .

what I do get is that he is claiming that belief in God is rational and "properly basic" - he even says that the various proofs of God, while having some weight, aren't conclusive -

I also thought the defeater for naturalism is worth paying attention to - and it brings to my mind the idea of "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics"
 

boomerang

Paranormal Adept
#3
This classic dualistic argument reduces deity to the role of a mere superhuman who craves our saccharine admiration and doles out reward and punishment accordingly. It is a paradigm driven primarily by human suffering and a need for tribal identity. I am inclined to respond with a copy of Heinlein's "Stranger In A Strange Land". ("Thou art God.") At the very least, each of us is a kind of holographic splinter of some larger intelligence we refer to as "universe". This is a view not so much of substance as of process. It is when we attempt (historically with our courage bolstered by group consensus) to "freeze" this process by means of codification and grasping control in the name of anointed insight, that we are led down a path of spiritual and intellectual stultification.

If there is indeed a theological key written in the language of all that is knowable, it is the elemental particle of self-awareness we call intent. It is to human existence what a unified field theory would be to physics: An underlying principle in which all processes, both good and bad, are rooted. So to come full circle, arguments either for or against the existence of God and the social institutions they may spawn, or neither inherently good nor evil. They are unavoidably shaped by the power of inner intention and are manifest accordingly.
 
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smcder

Guest
#4
I am inclined to respond with a copy of Heinlein's "Stranger In A Strange Land". ("Thou art God.") - delightful! and I will parry with "Job: A Comedy of Justice" - to which "Stranger in a Strange Land" is "The Golden Book of Bible Stories" in comparison - that book (Heinlein's "Job") along with "A Canticle for Leibowitz" saw me through one hellish depression of several months standing and to this day, I have no idea why . . . "Job" is funny enough, but "Canticle" is one of the most pessimistic books I've ever read . . .

You may be disappointed that I find nothing to object to in your post! ;-) But . . . you may not.

Be careful, though, you don't stray down the heroic bath of Bulkington in Moby Dick - if you are in search of a secular Bible, and I feel you might be - you'd do no better than Moby Dick. It's a sure cure for any kind of fundamentalist or reductionist tendencies that you may or may not have.

If there is indeed a theological key written in the language of all that is knowable, it is the elemental particle of self-awareness we call intent.

so you are aware of the western occult tradition? and the definition of "Magick" as change of consciousness in accordance with will (Crowley?) . . .
 
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smcder

Guest
#5
the thing i like about Moby Dick is the idea of polytheism, he is remarkably open to all Gods - the most recurrent of which is a type of blind weaver, who is remarkably reminiscent of Dawkin's "blind watch-maker" and the sight of whom drives Pip mad when he falls overboard . . . . now, how can seeing things as they truly are (rationalism) drive one mad? I think of the cosmicism of Lovecraft and the depressing works of the French existentialists as well as research that indicates persons who are somewhat depressed tend to see reality more accurately . . . but they are depressed (in what we would call an "abnormal" or "un-natural" state of mind) . . . anyway - if you haven't read Moby Dick and are into audiobooks you could do no better than the magnificent recording by Stuart Wills available for absolutely nothing from Librivox.org - I'd also check out the lectures by Bert Dreyfuss available on I-Tunes University, about a half dozen sessions on Moby Dick, I can get you an exact link if you are interested -
 

USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
#6
OK, but I think the relevance to the discussion here is that 1) I think experience and event are useful categories until we understand if and how they relate to one another and that we don't have to give up on understanding and classifying UFO experience reports even if we can't understand them from the outside; mystical experience is subjective but has been analyzed by Huxley and Evelyn Underhill (notably among many others) so maybe there are some useful tools there as well as in apophatic theology because it shows how you can talk about something in terms of what it is not and 2) maybe Plantinga's ideas offer something useful to an experiencer in terms of supporting the beliefs they may form following an experience -
I need to get my bearings before we get in too deep here. Please clarify what you mean when you say, "... we don't have to give up on understanding and classifying UFO experience reports even if we can't understand them from the outside; mystical experience is subjective ..." Are you saying that UFOs are mystical in nature as opposed to objective realities, or that because they are so beyond our everyday experience that they take on a subjectively mystical quality analogous to the cargo cult phenomenon?

The key point for me is that Plantinga asserts that belief in God is only rational if it is true ( presumably that God exists ). - I did not get that from the above video or other things I've read and heard from Plantinga? He says he believes in the past and in other people (and that seems rational enough) but he can't prove either one . . .
The video in which Plantinga asserts, or more correctly, quotes a paper that says: "Here I believe that the right answer is that in the typical case, belief in God is rational if and only if it is true." is posted below:

Quote above at time 0:19:14

what I do get is that he is claiming that belief in God is rational and "properly basic" - he even says that the various proofs of God, while having some weight, aren't conclusive -
I also thought the defeater for naturalism is worth paying attention to - and it brings to my mind the idea of "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics"
Before we get too far down this path, I'd like to clarify the issue of the "apophatic" and "cataphatic" approaches you speak of with respect to ufology. These stemmed from Clark's comment on our lack vocabulary to describe the phenomenon, and my subsequent comment that sometimes people declare the phenomenon as unknowable and incomprehensible and indescribable in the same way as some religious people do with God, and my resistance to that kind of thinking. For example rather than believing UFOs are ineffable, my position is that we can class them as alien and describe them according to observation. They are also not beyond the possibility of scientific understanding, only beyond our immediate capability due to a lack of sufficient scientifically valid evidence.

Consequently, if I understand what you are saying correctly, it's not that you're advocating an opposing position, but interjecting an observation that elaborates on the analogy of the UFO experience to the religious experience. Do I have that right? Or am I all messed up?
 
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smcder

Guest
#7
let me take this a thing at a time - I'll have to watch the video . . . but first let me see if i can answer this question:

Please clarify what you mean when you say, "... we don't have to give up on understanding and classifying UFO experience reports even if we can't understand them from the outside; mystical experience is subjective ..." Are you saying that UFOs are mystical in nature as opposed to objective realities, or that because they are so beyond our everyday experience that they take on a subjectively mystical quality analogous to the cargo cult phenomenon?
yeah . . . I'm gonna say "maybe" . . . ;-) what I had in mind is that since mystical experience is subjective and Huxley and Underhill managed to analyze and classify it - then maybe we can take hope and techniques from them to look at some of the more anomalous experiences and see if they line up in any way with how they have analyzed mystical experiences - are there hierarchies and spectra or are there simply idiosyncratic experiences? - so as to whether they are one thing or another, I'd say both/and - someone might literally be taken aboard a spacecraft and have a mystical experience - magnetic fields (the "god helmet") alien abductions, mental illness, head injuries, psychedelics may all cause similar subjective experience for an individual and still be objectively different even if we don't have any evidence of the objective reality - (would God leave traces?) . . . so I don't want to put all of these into one bucket - but we do need to cut this down in some kind of manageable way in order to deal with it - so I would ask you, "what do you want to talk about, specifically?"
 
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smcder

Guest
#8
Before we get too far down this path, I'd like to clarify the issue of the "apophatic" and "cataphatic" approaches you speak of with respect to ufology. These stemmed from Clark's comment on our lack vocabulary to describe the phenomenon, and my subsequent comment that sometimes people declare the phenomenon as unknowable and incomprehensible and indescribable in the same way as some religious people do with God, and my resistance to that kind of thinking. For example rather than believing UFOs are ineffable, my position is that we can class them as alien and describe them according to observation. They are also not beyond the possibility of scientific understanding, only beyond our immediate capability due to a lack of sufficient scientifically valid evidence.

Consequently, if I understand what you are saying correctly, it's not that you're advocating an opposing position, but interjecting an observation that elaborates on the analogy of the UFO experience to the religious experience. Do I have that right? Or am I all messed up?


"apophatic" language came up for me because whether it's a theological attempt to bring rigor to how one talks about God or a mystic's attempt to say what happened to him/her, there is a model for how toto systematically talk about what an experience is not and maybe is very helpful . . . if we can show that UFO experiencers talk about their experiences in a way that is not fully consonant with other kinds of anomalous subjective experiences, if the language they use is somehow unique - then maybe we can say what happened to them is not mental illness, psychedelia (whatever the stimulus) not mystical but is its own kind of subjective experience - this doesn't tell us what happened but it helps to classify it - how the hell you do this, I have no idea! - I just wanted to look at apophatic language and mystical language b/c these have a kind of "feel" to them and after listening to lots of UFO experiences, it seems these have their own "texture" that isn't the same as the way mystics talk about their experiences - fairy abductions, yes, encounters with God, no - psychedelic experiences . . . welllll . . . especially Stausmann's DMT stories about insectoids - that's awfully close to UFO experiences but not, to me, at all like classical mystic experience - but all that's not very scientific - cultural front-loading could account for the differences in wording, but my gut is that it would not, not entirely . . .
 
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smcder

Guest
#9
got it - he is saying we have an innate sense of God such that belief in God is rational if it is based on this innate sense and hinging on whether the faculties are functioning correctly - . . . yes?
 
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smcder

Guest
#10
but he is still making various distinctions between the rationality of a belief and the truth of a belief -
 

USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
#11
"apophatic" language came up for me because whether it's a theological attempt to bring rigor to how one talks about God or a mystic's attempt to say what happened to him/her, there is a model for how toto systematically talk about what an experience is not and maybe is very helpful . . . if we can show that UFO experiencers talk about their experiences in a way that is not fully consonant with other kinds of anomalous subjective experiences, if the language they use is somehow unique - then maybe we can say what happened to them is not mental illness, psychedelia (whatever the stimulus) not mystical but is its own kind of subjective experience - this doesn't tell us what happened but it helps to classify it -
OK I think I see where you're coming from, and I'd like to know more about this, "model for how to systematically talk about what an experience is." I'm interested because I think it's important to have a solid foundation from which to proceed. One thing I'd like to mention before we go too far is the difference between what we mean by a UFO and a UFO report. To clarify, UFOs themselves as defined for the purpose of ufology within this discussion aren't subjective manifestations, they're objectively real alien craft. However that isn't to say that all the objects that are the subject of UFO reports are alien craft. So when you say:
"I'm gonna say "maybe" . . . ;-) what I had in mind is that since mystical experience is subjective and Huxley and Underhill managed to analyze and classify it ...
What you're referring to aren't UFOs themselves, but the content of a UFO report, which describes the experience of the person who filled out the report. Such experiences may be mystical and involve a UFO like archetype that has no connection to an actual UFO. For example we've seen this happen more an more with the channelers. That's getting out there into fringe ufology.
 

USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
#12
but he is still making various distinctions between the rationality of a belief and the truth of a belief -
Whatever else he's doing isn't really all that relevant to the point I was making, which is that this quote: "Here I believe that the right answer is that in the typical case, belief in God is rational if and only if it is true." as it stands on its own, regardless of the surrounding context of the video, is something I can get behind. The rest of the video gets a little wishy-washy in my view. I'm not certain that Russel's paradox is founded on solid ground, or that the paradox of the stone is as inconsequential as was suggested. Mostly I have yet to see Plantinga deal with a couple of key points, the first being the definition of God ( as in a God or any God ). Until we do that we have no way to evaluate the rationality of belief in God based on the concept of truth.
 
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smcder

Guest
#13
I don't think you can take it out of context - don't you have to listen to what anyone says before and after any given statement and in the context of other things they've written and said?
 
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smcder

Guest
#14
i think you're going to have to read more of Plantinga (and probably the theological background he is assuming) before picking apart isolated statements - and I'm not sure it's germane to the discussion about analogous use of language in mystical and UFO experiences . . . I'm willing to plow into all of that though if it's where you are going, but it will take study on my part too -
 

USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
#15
I don't think you can take it out of context - don't you have to listen to what anyone says before and after any given statement and in the context of other things they've written and said?
Sure, one can use a statement out of context provided that it's done appropriately. In this case it was to describe a point of view that I can agree with that was associated with the video, for the purpose of opening the door to further discussion. This is entirely OK. What's not OK is to do it in a manner that puts words in the mouth of those being quoted. So now we might ask, what does it mean for the existence of God to be true? And we might quote something else from the video or simply state our own viewpoint.
 
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smcder

Guest
#16
Very good, then let's just make that statement your own: "Here I believe that the right answer is that in the typical case, belief in God is rational if and only if it is true." . . . now, where do we go from there? Do we look at other than the typical case, or do you want to tighten this down to: "Belief in God is rational if and only if it is true?" . . .
 
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smcder

Guest
#17
the reason I brought Plantinga up was his idea of belief in God being "properly warranted" - so it is relevant whether one can be rational in holding a belief that isn't true (or hasn't been determined to be true or can not be determined to be true) - and he discusses that in the video and elsewhere in his writings - these tools, these thoughts I think could be one way to look at beliefs a UFO experiencer might come to hold - they may in fact be rational whether or not we can establish them as true -
 

USI Calgary

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
#18
Very good, then let's just make that statement your own: "Here I believe that the right answer is that in the typical case, belief in God is rational if and only if it is true." . . . now, where do we go from there? Do we look at other than the typical case, or do you want to tighten this down to: "Belief in God is rational if and only if it is true?" . . .
I think a good case could be made for tightening it down. But before we get too far into that, you also mentioned that we weren't necessarily intending on getting into religion and God specifically. Not that I'm not OK talking about it, but it's been more because of your mention of Plantinga that led us here. It piqued my interest because of the scholarly approach, and your mention of this "model" that we can use to assess experience also sounds interesting. I thought that perhaps you were more familiar with both and had a particular point of view that was larger than the points you mentioned. Is there anything along these lines that you'd like to expand on?

While you're thinking about that, I'll quickly comment that the model of experience that I currently relate to has to do with the nature of objective and subjective experience ( duality ), the former fed by stimulus responses which are fairly well understood by science, and the former that deals with the nature of consciousness, which we've been discussing a lot in other threads recently.
 
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smcder

Guest
#19
key phrases such as "realer than real" that comes up in NDEs - Ray Palmer said he had a test, some detail that told him whether a report was true - leaving all that baggage aside - are there actually key words or objective ways in which language is used (like trying to determine authorship) that validates my sense that UFO experiencers are talking about something that is distinct from what mystics are experiencing that is distinct from what users of psychedelics are experiencing or is there no way to tell anomalous subjective experience apart? We do this every day in ordinary subjective states when for example we try to determine if someone really loves us by the words they use and we might be pretty good at it - I think Chris or Jerome last week maybe said no one had identified any real patterns in the experience phenomena and surely someone has looked at the language used? - Huxley does this informally in The Perennial Science - noting that mystical reports from all times and places sounds a lot alike . . . Underhill classifies levels or types of mystical experience, has anyone done this kind of scholarly work with UFO reports? is it even possible considering the volume? Huxley worked with the mystical literature of the time from all over the world, Underhill with the Christian tradition and the language was strikingly similar to me - but to say a computer could sort all of this out by an analysis of language . . . I don't know, Plantinga's argument for belief in God being properly basic does hinge on some things he considers to be unique to deity, for example that we have an innate cognitive sense of God and that our ability to accurately apprehend reality hinges on theism and not naturalism, so I don't know if it would be useful - but my thought was to look at this and see if there is anything about UFO experience that is analogous that lets us say "ok, your belief in x is rational, even if we can't prove it" - it seems that would make a difference in how we view and treat experiencers . . . I haven't gotten any further than that
 

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