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Russ Jones
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Attended University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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No one expects the Panda! Many of us were surprised when Google rolled out Panda 4.0 after telling us that it was essentially "baked into" the algorithm last year. After seeing many sites take breathtaking hits, what can we learn from their losses? What is the path to recovery?
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Some more questions / thoughts. 

Error Correction
Disagreement Problem

I don't think it is necessary to call a person irrational for not believing X because they have not experienced X. Am I really required to say my belief is not epistemically warranted because it is unconvincing to others? If I ran into Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at a dive bar one evening and had drinks with them, then told you about it a week later, would I be irrational in holding this belief even though you don't? And when you ask Brad and Angelina and they deny it because they were playing hookie from their movie sets, am I no longer epistemically warranted in holding this belief? Since it is in the past, the experience is inaccessible to anyone else. In fact, we have testimony against it. However, I am still epistemically warranted in holding that belief unless there is some form of undercutting defeater like finding a video of you at a completely different bar that night. 

Ad Hominem
Plantinga's response wasn't that philosophers lodging the objections were doing so because they are wicked. Be that as it may, there seems to be no reason to explain this in the first place given my counter-objection listed above.

False Positive rate for religious doctrine:
Was it Plantinga's position that belief in transubstantiation is properly basic? Or that the specific doctrines of his church are properly basic? Or was it simply belief in a God? I suppose one could have properly basic beliefs about a specific doctrine, but the examples provided of the religious experiences do not seem to produce such a belief. Moreover, I am not sure that Plantinga would even say that believers of other religions lack epistemic warrant. He may think they are wrong, but that they are still within their epistemic rights. This seems to be a straw man argument. 

Why Isn't God Obvious?
84% of the world is religious. If we accept the stricter version of Reformed Epistemology I mention above, that such experiences give warrant to belief in a God but not specific doctrines, it seems that "God" has made him existence, at least, quite obvious to most people. Moreover, you indicate that the number of potential alternate explanations for a cause is a reason to dismiss the proposed reason as ambiguous. Seeing as there are an infinite number of possible explanations for any given thing (for example, I could explain your posting this video because you are a professor with at least .1 second of experience, or you are a professor with at least .01 second of experience, ad infinitum), can we dismiss the proposed explanation solely on those grounds? 

Wouldn't it be Obvious that the Omni-God:
Not if Plantinga is right about sin influencing our sensus divetatus. And this needn't be an ad hominem because Plantinga would say that his own was influenced by his own sin. On Christian theology, no one is worthy, so I think it is uncharitable to claim that his sin argument is ad hominem. It would be an interesting ad hominem indeed for an arguer to lodge the assault against both himself and his opponent.
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1. Plantinga's position in the first few seconds deals with Properly Basic Beliefs. The existence of other "persons" (and by this he means minds, not merely automatons) is not empirically verifiable - much like the existence of an external world, the existence of historical events, or logic and math themselves. Plantinga argues that we are rational to hold these types of beliefs (properly basic beliefs) based on our sense perceptions as long as they are not logically incoherent or presented with a defeater. There are many beliefs you and I hold that are simply not verifiable empirically, but are, nevertheless, rational. Bear in mind, rational does not necessarily mean truthful. One could rationally come to believe there is no sun because you were kidnapped and held in a room where the curtains were only opened at night. Plantinga's position is by no means "idiotic".

2. I don't quite understand your position that Plantinga is "bullying" the new atheists by commending the old. Plantinga simply finds the arguments of Bertrand Russell and Hume to be more compelling and defensible than the modern day scientism of Dawkins, Krauss, Hitchens, etc. which overlook the obvious epistemological flaws their arguments contain. If I listened to two people speaking and one said another wasn't as good as his/her colleagues, I wouldn't call that bullying. What I would consider bullying is calling someone an idiot over and over again. That seems far more in line with what I would consider to be bullying.

3. It is quite interesting to hear you at the beginning of your commentary complain that evolution "isn't interested in anything" but later complain that evolution "does care" about true belief. It is clear you are being uncharitable to his use of metaphor and, frankly, hypocritical in that you defend the metaphor in one place and not another.

4. Plantinga addresses your concerns about some beliefs being concerned with survival while others are not, and that, at minimum, one would think that our cognitive faculties are trained such that true beliefs are generally formed in relation to adaptive behavior. There are 3 strong responses to this. The first is that, on socio-evolutionary biology, there is at least one conjecture that a non-true belief has been very adaptive - the belief in God himself. If modern socio-evolutionary biology is true, and naturalism is true (whether we believe it or not), then there is an intrinsic defeater in that some 80% of the world hold an untrue belief that is adaptive, giving strong evidence that evolution can and does produce false beliefs that are adaptive. The second is that the content of beliefs needn't be accurate for them to be adaptive even in direct survival situations as long as their constituent properties are. Take, for example, a tribe in the Amazon that believes that everything is a spirit of some sort - rocks, lichens, snakes, etc. As long as they ascribe the correct properties to each spirit, their survival is ensured despite the fact that every belief they have about every object is, in fact, false. Finally, and most importantly, even if you are completely correct with respect to cognitive faculties tending to produce true belief relative to survival-dependent actions, it would not follow that the belief in naturalism itself or evolution would be among that class of beliefs that one would trust. While we would trust our beliefs in regards to the attacking tiger, we would have no reason to trust our cognitive faculty in discerning a philosophical position like naturalism, or an academic scientific thesis. Our cognitive ability to produce true belief respective of these two theses is just as unreasonable under naturalism as is the likelihood of it to produce belief in God.

5. In regards to his statement about the odds being 50%, he is merely using the standard practice of taking a specifically neutral position on the matter. He could have said that the odds of beliefs being true are low, but he does not. In fact, he makes the extremely charitable statement that reliable cognitive faculties would only need to produce true belief 75% of the time. Would you consider your cognitive faculties reliable if 1/4 times you couldn't figure out that thing in front of you is a tiger? So, however uncharitable you think he may be in regards to his 50% rule, he gives it back in his demands for what would be considered reliable cognitive faculties. What numbers would you choose? Do you think the odds of any individual belief as being true is 60%? 70%? 80? What do you think it takes to have a reliable cognitive faculty? 75%? 85%? 95%?

6. You have clearly failed in understanding the 50% true belief argument. It is not that every belief has a 50% chance of being true, it is that beliefs on average have a 50% chance of being true. Your cognitive faculties may very well produce true belief better in some circumstances than others, which he addresses in his book and published works.

7. "If you believe what you believe due to direct physical evidence"... Here is where you appear to make your biggest mistake. We are talking about cognitive faculties. Your cognitive faculties allow you to perceive direct physical evidence. That there is physical evidence is of no consequence if your cognitive faculties are not, in fact, reliable at understanding and interpreting that direct physical evidence. Your argumentation is presupposing exactly what he is arguing against. 

8. Pen/Hamburger Analogy: If you believe it is a pencil, it won't impact your survivability at all. In fact, you will go about your day writing with it to no negative consequence at all. If you believe that it is a hamburger but that it is one that does not taste good and happens to do a good job for writing, you will also have no negative consequence. There are literally an infinite number of false beliefs as long as they have a few, true, contingent properties that would allow survivability without, in fact, producing on average true beliefs - especially true beliefs about non-survival related questions. 

9. "Avoiding the Question": Plantinga did not avoid the question. He addressed it as such - only the naturalist is compelled to not trust his cognitive faculties (if he is to be logically consistent), not the theist.

10. You claim that you can assess the reliability of your own cognitive faculties by telling if, for example, you keep running into walls. However, once again, you are presupposing your cognitive faculties are there in the first place to accurately measure whether your cognitive faculties are failing. Your argument is grotesquely circular and it continues to show itself over and over again in your analysis. 

I mean no disrespect, but your video is frankly an embarrassment. 
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First of all, thank you for putting the time and thought into your reply. You clearly spent a lot of time on this, and it's obviously not some cut-and-paste from some other post. I really do appreciate the engagement.

Allow me to address your points:

1. You say that the existence of other persons is not empirically verifiable -- but it is! If empiricism has any validity or meaning at all, then the existence of other minds is as empirically verifiable as any other observed fact, unless you're a solipsist, and if you are, then I have no interest in talking to you (because I'm just a figment of your imagination, right?)  As for his unsupported assertion that his examples are all "properly basic", well, that's simply wrong. The only "properly basic" idea is that your senses report some event or experience to your brain, and then your brain gets to interpret it, and that the observed sensory input is reasonably accurate (though we are also easily fooled). That's it. We can infer logical conclusions based on what we experience or observe, which is what Science is based on. Plantinga said, plainly, at the beginning of his video, that he believes in god for the same reason you believe in other people. And then he didn't elaborate any further. He's terrible at analogies, apparently, since we believe in other people because we have direct, sensory experience of them (and no, fuzzy feelings do not equate to direct sensory experience). Obviously the belief in other people is not "properly basic" because if you grew up raised by wolves, never seeing a human, you wouldn't believe in humans, you would think yourself to be a wolf (though maybe one who looks different).

A person born with no sensory input to their brain would certainly have no concept of people, or god, or the world, or any other experienced or taught concept, so his idea that these concepts are "properly basic" is patently false.

As for beliefs we hold that are not empirically verifiable, what do you mean? As far as I know, I don't have any unsubstantiated beliefs. Every belief I have has at least some evidence to support it (or is based on scientific principles, which themselves are ultimately based on observation, inference and experimentation), or if it's something trivial (such as my friend telling me what he had for breakfast this morning and me believing him), word of mouth is enough. And if you cared enough, every one of these beliefs should be objectively verifiable if you were willing to put the time and effort into them.

It would be reasonable to not believe in a sun if you were raised in a room with no windows and never told about the sun, because you wouldn't have any evidence of the sun. I don't see how that relates to his belief in god, where there is no evidence (only fairy tales) of god.

2. Perhaps bullying isn't the right term, but he's full of shit anyway. For one thing, you say that he found the "old atheist's" arguments more compelling than the new. Except that he didn't find any of them compelling, or else he would be an atheist. So by this false comparison of new and old, he's able to throw darts at the new guys by saying "not as good as the old guys" while at the same time not buying the "old guys" arguments themselves.

Also, he doesn't support his assertion that the new guys are not as good with any examples or analysis. At least, nothing I've read from him so far does any kind of honest and detailed breakdown of "new atheist" thinking.

Also - you mention "obvious epistemological flaws their arguments contain"...really? Like what?

As for me bullying -- I'm in no position of power over Plantinga. I'm the kid at the side of the road saying that the emperor has no clothes, and that Plantinga's arguments are unsupported and absurd. Is that really bullying? I do agree that my reactions seem kind of over the top, but this is a "first viewing" reaction video, and I was dumbfounded that someone with such a reputation and level of respect could say such obviously foolish things.

3. I'm not hypocritical - a natural process obviously has no "interest" in the sense of mental curiosity or desire. I was trying to use his own phrasing to frame my response, which perhaps was a mistake. My point remains though - "true belief", or a correct apprehension of the situation, is important to survival, which is key to the operation of evolution. Did you not understand that? As for being uncharitable to his use of metaphor - he clearly doesn't understand anything about evolution, and therefore has no grounds to talk about it.


4. I think you're equivocating the use of the term "evolution". There is biological evolution, and then there is the underlying concept of what it means to "evolve".  Only biological organisms can participate in biological evolution, but just about anything else can "evolve", in the sense of gradual change over time to adapt to circumstances. Products evolve, ideas evolve, language evolves.

If a "true belief" is the understanding and acceptance of some true fact, then evolution has nothing to do with that one way or the other, except in that the evolutionary process will tend to develop brains that create accurate models of the world (because inaccurate models will  lead to invalid predictions and planning, and therefore death).

Belief in god is a cultural thing, and the beliefs themselves evolve over time to deal with cultural shifts. Some gods go out of fashion and die out, some mutate into a new form more palatable by society. A better question would be simply to ask why some people never grow up emotionally and need some kind of perpetual powerful parent figure to take care of them?

You said: "While we would trust our beliefs in regards to the attacking tiger, we would have no reason to trust our cognitive faculty in discerning a philosophical position like naturalism, or an academic scientific thesis. "

Our cognitive abilities are variable and oft-times questionable. Just talk to any creationist - their cognitive faculties are working overtime to try to bend the interpretation of their holy books to match reality, or bend reality to match the holy books. So clearly our thinking is not foolproof. This is why we developed Scientific Processes. The scientific method, if actually practiced, leads towards truth. Observation, Inference, Modelling, experimentation; rinse, repeat. There is no pure cognitive activity that can match this.

5. I would never try to put odds on an individual belief being true. I would accept it as true if it was supported by evidence, or as an extension of some prior knowledge (scientifically derived, of course).

6. Again - I think it's ridiculous to try to put a percentage chance on any beliefs. A belief is true if it's true, and you determine if it's true by observation, experimentation, etc. The scientific method. Until you've verified it, it's just an idea.

7. He is arguing against cognitive facilities functioning at all, if we're based on evolution and not divine intervention? Hello, emperor? Got more clothes for you. 

So, let me get this straight. He's claiming that the only way your Cognitive Facilities are reliable is if there is a god. The only way you can see this fabric is if you are worthy.

He doesn't support this assertion by anything other than an embarrassing lack of understanding of the evolutionary process. Awesome.

8. Why would you try to write with a hamburger? Is that what you do? I usually try to eat them, and if I ate a pen thinking it was a hamburger, there definitely would be health consequences, though not as bad as if I believed arsenic was a good coffee whitener. Obviously there is going to be a sliding scale of benefit or harm to acting on any particular belief, be it a true belief or not. You could believe that jogging brings you closer to god, and still benefit from it because jogging is good for you. What is your point?

9. He avoided the question because he didn't support his assertion with anything. If his "supporting statements" crumble under scrutiny, they don't count as supports.

10. Yes, you need cognitive facilities to consider your cognitive facilities. What's the problem with this? It's basically looking in a mirror. You need eyes to see. You need cognitive facilities to think. I don't see your point.

I've tried arguing with idiots before, and the problem is their cognitive facilities are not working well enough to understand when they've been beaten. Not all CF are "created" equal. Again, this is why we invented the scientific method, to make up for the shortcomings of our reasoning.
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Got to help round up this great piece on the evolving ethics of SEO post-Penguin
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Sure, especially robots.txt
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Masters in Criminal Justice

The only thing cops like this have mastered is the art of the con!
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At least in other countries you can pay them to stop bothering you. 
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Russ Jones

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No one expects the Panda! Many of us were surprised when Google rolled out Panda 4.0 after telling us that it was essentially "baked into" the algorithm last year. After seeing many sites take breathtaking hits, what can we learn from their losses? What is the path to recovery?
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First off, thanks for the lectures, they are really helpful.

In response to the question of Error Correction problem and the Prescription, Culpable problem, is Plantinga making a less radical claim here that simply the person is within their rational rights to hold the belief, not that the belief is necessarily true? 

In particular, imagine a blind person on the jury who cannot access the photographic evidence. We can't hold the blind person "epistemically culpable" for not becoming convinced of the guilt of the defendant, but we also wouldn't reject photographic evidence as carrying epistemic warrant because it isn't convincing to all people. Considering that the overwhelming majority of humans on earth believe in some God or another, and seem to accept - at least for themselves - that some form of personal revelation is an appropriate foundation for that belief, I wonder how it differs so much from the blind example.

Thanks in advance for your comments! Your videos are great!
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Krauss can keep saying "science is a process" over and over again. I agree. It is a process that asks the objective physical world questions and uses this methodology to get back empirically verified answers. What he fails to understand is that for the empirically verified answers to be TRUE, there must be an objective physical world to which he asks questions. If there was no objective reality, then there would be nothing to question and the answers we received would be subjective from person to person.

For some reason, he can't catch on to why that is so important with morality. For science - a mere process - to give us answers about morality, it must be able to question an objective moral value set and use its methodology to bring back answers. Otherwise, there would be nothing to question and the answers we received would be subjective from person to person.

So, then, just like Craig asks the question about the existence of Objective Moral Values, he does so because it is necessary for science to even be applicable to moral questions. 
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Well then color me crazy :-) I'll take a look!
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I am the CTO of Virante, Inc. Virante is a full service search marketing (SEO, PPC, Social Media & Analytics) firm located in Research Triangle Park. I am also the primary author of TheGoogleCacheI am married to the beautiful Morgan Jones and have awesome daughters Claren and Aven. We live in Durham, NC with our dog Cooper. 
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