I’m going to be busy for all of today and tomorrow teaching, but I couldn’t resist taking a moment to respond to this passage from John Loftus:
“All you need to do, Randal, is say that what you have concluded is more probable than other alternatives and that you do not claim a higher probability to the evidence than what the evidence calls for.”
This is another piece of rhetoric of the “how often do you beat your wife?” variety. If John wants to be taken seriously from an epistemological perspective he needs to do the following:
First, he needs to explain what his underlying epistemological criteria of justification are. Regarding noetic structure is he a foundationalist or a non-foundationalist? John has often written disparagingly of the concept of proper basicality so it would appear that he may be a non-foundationalist. Except that the way he’s written about proper basicality suggests that he doesn’t really understand the concept except to take pot shots at Alvin Plantinga.
John also needs to explain his attitude toward internalism/externalism. An internalist, crassly described, believes we need to have internal access to the evidence for the truth of all our beliefs for those beliefs to be justified. Internalism faces serious problems and while it would be an exaggeration to say it has gone the way of cold fusion, it nonetheless has fallen out of fashion among what I suspect is a majority of epistemologists. I recommend John read Michael Bergmann’s Justification without Awareness: A Defense of Epistemic Externalism (Oxford, 2006) so that he can begin to grapple with the problems with internalism.
This is a big problem for John because his “challenge” to me appears to be an endorsement of internalism, and a blushingly brutish one at that. He seems to be suggesting the following:
John’s definition (Jd): in order to be justified in believing p one must (a) have completed a probability calculation demonstrating the likelihood of p’s being true relative to the total available data set; (b) apportioned one’s commitment to the truth of p relative to the probability calculation.
Now let’s think about this. John gets up in the morning, looks out the window and sees a blue sky. John believes p where p = “It is sunny today.” John has just flouted Jd and his belief is thus unjustified and irrational.
Next John walks into the kitchen and wonders what to have for breakfast. He initially thinks he’ll have french toast but then remembers that his doctor put him on a no french toast diet. John believes p where p = “I remember my doctor said no french toast.” Again John has flouted Jd and his belief is thus unjusitifed and irrational.
Those are only two beliefs. Between them John would have probably believed several dozen other things all of which failed to meet Jd.
You could think that John has believed forty unjustified things before breakfast. (That actually isn’t that implausible.) But it would make more sense to toss Jd out and send John back to the drawing board to present a viable criterion of proper basicality (or not, if he’s a non-foundationalist), to provide a defensible articulation of internalism (if he really wants to hitch his wagon to that falling star) and then show how his beliefs are justified and rational relative to his defensible definitions but mine are not.