The Ironism

The Ironism


The lair of Lars J. Nilsson. Contains random musings on beer, writing and this thing we call life.

June 2009
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The Minimum Threshold Stand-off

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Here’s a position I’ve been thinking about lately, and been tempted to try out, which has to do with the problems of communicating across different view points, mostly in paranormal, faith based or plain strange discussions (let’s call them “supernatural” for this post). Such discussions are often frustrating both for the skeptic and the believer as both sides tend to use very different language. But perhaps there’s a starting point we could use, a threshold to see if we should at all go on with the discussion?

Naturally I’m presenting this little exercise as a skeptic, but I’m genuinely interested in if this is a fair argument or not. Let’s call it “the minimum threshold stand-off”.

If you want to persuade me to accept a statement you have made as true which I currently do not believe, you must first, openly and honestly, acknowledge the possibility that you may be wrong. Furthermore, if I can provide you with examples of the kind of things that would be likely to sway me to accept you claim, the you must equally present me with examples of things that would sway you to change your opinion. If you cannot do this, it is either because you have honestly never considered the option and you may find it hard to come up with such examples immediately, or you are quite simply intellectually dishonest and uninterested in genuine argumentation.

Implied here is of course that if this minimum threshold fails, then I’m not interested in the discussion.What I’m trying to establish is mainly:

  1. A fair, double-edged starting point. If you want me to listen, you must listen yourself. If you want me to be open for alternative explanations, you must equally be open. This seems extremely fair and should not be controversial.
  2. A simple threshold based on meta-data instead of real arguments. Instead of arguing and getting involved in the messy details, let’s make sure we we start at the same page, and a page we can both agree to. This also seems fair, but in supernatural discussions it may seem skewed towards materialism (more on that below).
  3. A transparent agreement that both sides may be wrong. This should be obvious, but is remarkably often not.

Obviously I do not think very many supernatural proponents will be able to meet this test. And the reason I believe, is this: Many, if not all, supernatural ideas are based on faith, and faith, famously, is the belief in a proposition despite lack of evidence, or indeed in the face of conflicting evidence.

If this is a fair test it puts the supernatural proponent in a very difficult position. What, after all would make you stop believing in an almighty, all powerful god? What would make you stop believing in ghosts? What would make you accept that homeopathy does not work, and is mainly a fraudulent business?

Is this fair? After all we’re dealing with two kinds of changes here: the switch from “I do not believe” to “I believe” normally only requires positive evidence of some sort, whereas the opposite, going from the positive to the negative is often quite tricky. But in both cases it is a negative statement that is sought: what would it take to falsify you current beliefs? And as such, I’m beginning to think it is fair after all.

I do think that this test is slightly skewed to a materialistic view point, but in a good way. It requires simple, and verifiable examples to pass, and such examples, by the very nature of being verifiable, must be materialistic. There’s no other real alternative. But this is also one of the main strength of the test, in order to pass both sides must agree, in the real world, to examples of what is needed to persuade the other, that both can understand, and it should be nailing down an important point: The only things we can agree upon are facts, and those belong firmly in the real world; make belief can only take you so far.

This test is inspired by the Outsider Test of Faith, proposed by John W Luftus, of which one main point is that the only intellectually honest position from which to test ones faith is that of an outsider looking in.

What do you think?

The proprietor of this blog. Lunchtime poet, former opera singer, computer programmer. But not always in that order. Ask me again tomorrow.

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