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2/22/09

Quentin Smith's Two Ways to Prove Atheism

I've been looking around for material to comment on, and stumbled across some of Quentin Smith's writings over at at the Internet Infidels. Mr. Smith is a thoughtful, intelligent atheist that I have respect for. So if all goes well, I intend to critically examine a few of his articles which attempt to positively assert that atheism is true.

In this post, I intend to examine his article, entitled Two Ways of Proving Atheism. In this post, I will show that his proof that God does not exist because of the existence of "gratuitous suffering" fails as a proof. I will not be commenting on the cosmological argument for atheism as stated here, because it's too technical. Plus, after a recent discussion I had with someone on this blog, I've lost confidence in my ability to communicate thoughts on certain abstract subjects.


Gratuitous Evil

I think there's a second, separate argument that decisively refutes theism, based on the ordinary logic of induction that we use in our every day lives.


This is a strange note to begin on. Recall that these are proofs of atheism, which are "decisive". It's curious then that Smith wouldn't rely on deduction, which would allow us to come to certain conclusions, instead of the more-or-less tenable conclusions of induction.

This issue is all the more problematic because we're not talking about concrete objects in our physical reality. Quentin Smith wants to move from abstract moral values, which may or may not have objective existence, to the nonexistence of God. This should be an early red flag that we're not getting what we were promised: a decisive proof.

One of the reasons Mackie [found belief in God absurd] is that Mackie found it obvious that if there's evil in the world, no all-powerful and perfectly good being could have created the world.


This is precisely the problem. What may be obvious to one might not be obvious to another. It might just as well be obvious to me that, if God exists, He must have a perfectly good reason for allowing moral evil in the natural world. How then are we supposed to descriminate between either option in an assured, decisive manner?

Suppose God is all-powerful and is capable of killing the Spanish influenza virus before it killed off twenty million people. Why didn't He? Is it because He's not perfectly good? Because He does not care enough about human beings? That is no god. Sounds like more an evil being governs our universe. So that's just one example of many gratuitous evils in the universe.


This statement is presented as if the only possible answer to the question of, "Why didn't an all-powerful God prevent gratuitous evil?" is, "Because He's evil himself!" In the absence of a conclusive argument to the contrary, we can conclude that it might be the case that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing suffering. In case God does have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil, we aren't forced to conclude that God is evil for allowing evil. Neither are we forced to conclude that God isn't powerful enough to put an end to evil.

Of course, Mr. Smith anticipates this repsonse - sort of.

So how do theists respond to arguments like this? They say there is a reason for evil, but it is a mystery.


Mr. Smith has nearly correctly stated the standard response to the question of evil. I say "nearly", because I don't think that any thoughtful theist would use the word "mystery". It simply leaves too much room for interpretation, and brings to mind thoughts of magic. Which leads to criticisms like this:

Well, let me tell you this: I'm actually one hundred feet tall even though I only appear to be six feet tall. You ask me for proof of this. I have a simply answer: it's a mystery. Just accept my word for it on faith. And that's just the logic theists use in their discussions of evil.


Before I can point out the illogic of this statement, here is how the theist should reponse to the question of evil: God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil. As Craig would say, if this is even possible, then we aren't forced to conclude that God does not exist if evil exists.

Now, what is the problem with Mr. Smith's statement? It's little more than apples-and-oranges. When Mr. Smith claims that he is 100 feet tall, we have a way of verifying his claim. After verification, we may conclude that he's either a liar, or insane.

This doesn't apply to the theist's claim that God might have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil. We cannot put a moral ruler to God and prove that He doesn't measure up. In the absence of some way of verifying the claim that God isn't as morally-tall as theists would like to think - like say a deductive argument - this simply fails as a counterargument, not to mention as a proof of atheism.

At this point, the argument becomes probabalistic at best. That is, we might conclude that because of evil, God probably doesn't exist. However, as a strict, decisive disproof of theism, this doesn't hold water. Further, the theist has overriding reasons to believe that God does exist, whether it be physical evidence, arguments, and so on. Therefore, the theist is reasonable to ignore the probabalistic form of this argument as "too little, too late".

In fact, there's a strict disproof of theism that uses the ordinary logic of induction we employ in our everyday lives. If we have evidence that something exists, we say it probably exists. If we see dark clouds approaching, we say it will probably rain. But if we no evidence for something, we admit that it's merely possible that it exists, even though it probably does not exist.


This seems to me to be contradictory. How can you disprove the existence of something, and then conclude that it possibly does exist?

Also, I'm not sure how this arguments fits into the greater tapestry of the article. Is Mr. Smith trying to imply that, unless we find a reason for gratuitous evil, we have no reason to believe that God exists? Are we simply to ignore arguments in favor of God's existence? For instance, any possible physical and historical evidence that might verify God's existence? I don't see why an inductive argument, which seems so weak to me, should cause me to discard the other reasons I have for believing in God.

If God exists, a being who is all-powerful and perfectly good, then this being must somehow ensure our world is perfectly good.


This is really just a baseless assertion. As I've already pointed out, it might be the case that God has a reason for allowing evil. If that's the case, then He has no obligation to ensure that our world is "perfectly good". Worst yet, I think there are problems with Mr. Smith's concept of a perfectly good world. Take a look:

The only way He can do this is to make all of the apparent evils we see in the world into means to a greater good. For example, the pain of a vaccination is in itself bad, but is a means to a greater good.


It seems to me that Quentin Smith's idea of a perfectly good world involves any apparent evil being done for the greater good. However, how can a perfectly good world contain evil as a means for good? Wouldn't a perfectly good world lack evil altogether?

Furthermore, this highlights all sorts of epistemological problems. A child may not understand the "why" of a vaccination, but despite the pain of the needle, isn't the vaccination still for the best? Why should we be so sure that the pain of this life isn't for the best?

Either way, this doesn't matter, because Mr. Smith has not explained why it is necessary that God should make our world perfectly good.

Now the theist might respond that there may be some greater good we don't know about. But notice the theist says, "there may be some greater good we don't know about." Well sure there may be some greater good we don't know about. Anything is possible.


Good so far.

It is possible there is an elephant stomping through my house. It is possible that Elvis Presley is alive and is doing the twist on the dark side of the moon. But the fact that something is possible does not show it is the least bit probable.


If the notion that God has a sufficient reason for allowing evil is really as absurd as these examples, then I suppose I won't argue that we might as well conclude God does not exist. However, the theist has other overriding reasons for believing in God, so that I don't think this argument holds sway on inductive grounds alone.

At least, as an inductive argument, this reasoning cannot qualify as proof of the nonexistence of God. There is a big difference between me concluding that Elvis probably isn't tapdancing on the moon, and proving that Elvis isn't tapdancing on the moon.

22 comments:

  1. Three quick points (because I'm running out the door, but will be back later).

    1. On the issue of the decisiveness of Smith's argument: we can interpret him more charitably to mean "decisive for all practical purposes." Induction can yield "practically certain" conclusions, not just "more-or-less tenable conclusions."

    2. "Mr. Smith has nearly correctly stated the standard response to the question of evil. I say "nearly", because I don't think that any thoughtful theist would use the word "mystery"."

    I don't see why Smith's injection of "mystery" is incorrect - in fact, it is spot on. The theist response is that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil, but that reason--whatever it is--is mysterious.

    3. "Now, what is the problem with Mr. Smith's statement? It's little more than apples-and-oranges. When Mr. Smith claims that he is 100 feet tall, we have a way of verifying his claim. After verification, we may conclude that he's either a liar, or insane."

    It's important to recognize that the claim isn't just: Smith is 100 feet tall. Instead, it is: Smith is 100 feet tall AND, to everyone else, appears to be only 6 feet tall.

    How would you verify or falsify this claim? If you measure him and the ruler reads "6 feet tall," you haven't DISPROVEN his claim that he is 100 feet tall. It would still be consistent with his contention that everyone is mistaken. So I don't think you have shown his example to be not analogous.

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  2. Another quick post.

    You said: "If the notion that God has a sufficient reason for allowing evil is really as absurd as these examples, then I suppose I won't argue that we might as well conclude God does not exist. However, the theist has other overriding reasons for believing in God..."

    Are there overriding reasons for believing in a God who is all powerful AND perfectly good? If so, what are they?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey, radical_logic. Thanks for the great feedback! It's nice to have someone thoughtful to critique my stuff.

    1. On the issue of the decisiveness of Smith's argument: we can interpret him more charitably to mean "decisive for all practical purposes." Induction can yield "practically certain" conclusions, not just "more-or-less tenable conclusions."

    Well...that depends on how much stock you put into inductive reasoning. I know for instance that some folks have argued that inductive reasoning doesn't even exist!

    I'm not one of those people, and perhaps in retrospect I would have chosen a 'softer' word. However, I also put less stock in induction than Smith apparently does. It would be quite a semantic stretch for me to ever consider an "inductive" argument to be a "decisive proof". Induction is a great shortcut for bypassing certain absurd conclusions that are untouchable through deductive reasoning, but the problem is that humanity's generally agreed upon idea of absurd isn't always reliable.

    I don't know if you're an atheist, but let's assume you are for now. Imagine me arguing that I had a decisive proof that the universe was designed by an intelligent agent. I refer to apparent design in the universe, and then say, "It may be the case that there is some mysterious reason the universe is apparently designed, just as it might be the case that I appear to be six feet tall when I'm really one hundred feet tall."

    As a weakness to this analogy, you might rightly point out that atheists have come up with potential explanations for the apparent design of the universe, but theists have come up with potential theodicies as well....

    2. "Mr. Smith has nearly correctly stated the standard response to the question of evil. I say "nearly", because I don't think that any thoughtful theist would use the word "mystery"."

    I don't see why Smith's injection of "mystery" is incorrect - in fact, it is spot on. The theist response is that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil, but that reason--whatever it is--is mysterious.


    It's incorrect in more than one sense. Firstly, a theist probably wouldn't want to use the word "mystery", because then the theist himself would be making a definite epistemological statement. That is, the theist would be ruling out any knowable explanation. If I say, "God may have a reason, period." This avoids that problem and leaves open the possibility for a knowable theodicy.

    On semantic terms, mystery is the type of word one would expect an atheist to use to rhetorically make the theist's case sound weaker. It might imply that not only do we not know what the reason for evil is, but we cannot know because it is beyond human comprehension.

    I just don't like the word, and those two reasons are why I labelled his use of "mystery" incorrect.

    3. "Now, what is the problem with Mr. Smith's statement? It's little more than apples-and-oranges. When Mr. Smith claims that he is 100 feet tall, we have a way of verifying his claim. After verification, we may conclude that he's either a liar, or insane."

    It's important to recognize that the claim isn't just: Smith is 100 feet tall. Instead, it is: Smith is 100 feet tall AND, to everyone else, appears to be only 6 feet tall.

    How would you verify or falsify this claim? If you measure him and the ruler reads "6 feet tall," you haven't DISPROVEN his claim that he is 100 feet tall. It would still be consistent with his contention that everyone is mistaken. So I don't think you have shown his example to be not analogous.


    Fair enough. I'm really tired, so I'm going to cut it short here and pass out. Thanks again for the constructive criticism.

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  4. I'm interested in focusing on the second point I raised, the issue of Smith's use of the word "mystery."

    You said:

    "Firstly, a theist probably wouldn't want to use the word "mystery", because then the theist himself would be making a definite epistemological statement."

    Right. And how is the theist not making a definite epistemological statement when he says: God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil, but we don't know what that reason is? Hence that reason--because we don't know what it is--is a mystery. What's the problem here?

    "On semantic terms, mystery is the type of word one would expect an atheist to use to rhetorically make the theist's case sound weaker. It might imply that not only do we not know what the reason for evil is, but we cannot know because it is beyond human comprehension."

    To me, to say a reason is a "mystery" or "unknown by humans" are equivalent. Is this not the case?

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  5. Right. And how is the theist not making a definite epistemological statement when he says: God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil, but we don't know what that reason is? Hence that reason--because we don't know what it is--is a mystery. What's the problem here?


    The problem is that the theist probably doesn't want to make a definite epistemological statement, unless they want to present a theodicy.

    I would limit my own words at, "God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil." I wouldn't necessarily want to say, "God HAS a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil." Because this forces the speaker to then present a theodicy if they want to defend that assertion. The theist also might not want to say, "God might have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil, we just don't know what it is." Because this means that they're making a positive claim that one cannot develop a theodicy. How can you give God a reason for allowing evil when you don't know what that reason is?

    It really is just a quibble.

    To me, to say a reason is a "mystery" or "unknown by humans" are equivalent. Is this not the case?

    It is the case.

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  6. You said:

    "
    I would limit my own words at, "God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil." I wouldn't necessarily want to say, "God HAS a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil."

    It seems you're committed to the latter--if God only *may* have a MSR, then he may not have one.

    Are you really comfortable with saying that God may NOT have adequate moral justification for permitting evil?

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  7. I also put less stock in induction than Smith apparently does.

    This is no surprise. Science is based on induction. Since you don't like the conclusions of science, you reject the method.

    Deduction is weak. It is unable to provide new information.

    God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil.

    This is just like saying "God works in mysterious ways". You are appealing to mystery. Smith's analogy is apt.

    --------------------

    For myself, I have never found arguments from evil the least bit convincing. At best, they conclude that if the universe is governed by a god, then that god is in no sense good. But the argument cannot conclude that no god or gods exist.

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  8. You said:

    "
    I would limit my own words at, "God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil." I wouldn't necessarily want to say, "God HAS a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil."

    It seems you're committed to the latter--if God only *may* have a MSR, then he may not have one.


    Yes, the point is that it's possible that God has a reason.

    Are you really comfortable with saying that God may NOT have adequate moral justification for permitting evil?

    Yes, because logically the effect of my statement ultimately takes the wind out of any argument that claims to "prove" that God doesn't exist.

    Is it possible that God doesn't have a good reason? Yes. But it's possible that He does, and so evil and God are compossible.

    This is no surprise. Science is based on induction. Since you don't like the conclusions of science, you reject the method.

    That's fantastic, unbeguiled. But when have I ever claimed to dislike the conclusions of science?

    Deduction is weak. It is unable to provide new information.

    Of the two forms of reasoning, deduction is the only one which actually provides assured answers. Of course, your comments are usually filled with deductive reasoning.

    You're like a bad parody of an atheist, sometimes.

    God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil.

    This is just like saying "God works in mysterious ways". You are appealing to mystery. Smith's analogy is apt.


    No it's not, and I've already explained why it isn't logically equivalent. Do you have an actual response, or do you just come into posts with a derisive attitude, contradicting yourself, all the while ignoring the poster's actual words?

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  9. "Of the two forms of reasoning, deduction is the only one which actually provides assured answers."

    Irish:

    You have a fetish for certainty. I am not so afflicted. I seek what is most likely true using the best method we have: science.

    Deduction cannot do the work you think it can.

    I am amazed how all of you guys are so confused about logic.

    Learn something:

    http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/logic.htm

    ReplyDelete
  10. unBeguiled - that's a great little essay, I hadn't seen it before, thanks for linking. This part was well put:

    "Just what is an 'empty' argument about the 'real world' of our experience?

    * One kind is the argument that may have faultless logic but is based on premises that have not, or cannot, be experimentally verified. Another kind is based on premises that are not part of any well-established and accepted scientific theory.
    * Some arguments are empty of content because they use words with no clear and unambiguous meaning, or words that cannot be related to anything real (experimentally unverifiable).
    * The most seductive empty arguments build upon premises that are so emotionally appealing that we don't ask for verification, or which have appealing conclusions that blind us to the emptiness of the premises."


    Kind of sums up theology.

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  11. Yeah, it's good. I re-read it frequently. This is good too:

    http://candleinthedark.com/laws.html

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  12. unBeguiled - Ah ha! You use those "axioms" and that "logic", but did you know who invented them? That's right: Jesus.
    Take that, atheism!

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  13. You have a fetish for certainty. I am not so afflicted. I seek what is most likely true using the best method we have: science.

    When I claim that deduction provides certain conclusions, I'm saying that so long as the premises are true, the conclusion follows with certainty. That isn't a fetish, it's just the way deduction works.

    You can rely on science all you want, but science isn't "basic" in nature. That is, it isn't the foundation of all knowledge, because science itself relies on pre-scientific assumptions about truth and reality.

    Deduction cannot do the work you think it can.

    What have I said it can do that is so controversial?

    Actually, don't bother answering that, because I can guarantee you that whatever your response is going to be, it's going to involve something completely off-the-wall that has nothing to do with anything I've actually written.

    I am amazed how all of you guys are so confused about logic.

    Coming from you, that means a lot.

    Learn something:

    http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/logic.htm


    Lesson learned: You believe without question, and parrot with enthusiasm, internet articles that are self-contradictory in nature.

    Here's my favorite highlight:

    "We can't find, discover, or construct scientific laws and theories by mathematics and logic alone. But we can derive testable and useful results by application of mathematics and logic to laws and theories, and if those deduced results pass experimental tests, our confidence in the validity of the theory from which they were derived is strengthened.

    In this context, logic and mathematics are reliable and essential tools. Outside of this context they are instruments of error and self-delusion. Whenever you hear a politician, theologian or evangelist casting verbal arguments in the trappings of logic, you can be pretty sure that person is talking moonshine. The quotes that open this essay reflect caution in accepting such misuses of logic."

    Which is interesting, because this assertion relies on the application of logic outside of the context of "laws and theories".

    By this person's own 'logic', I should probably conclude that what s/he's writing is false.

    Furthermore, nothing in that article (aside from the fallacious, and subtle scientism) contradicts anything I've written so far. But it doesn't really surprise me that you're ignoring the context of the argument yet again.

    I can see that you're just parroting other people's work without actually understanding or grasping the concepts involved. From now on, you can save me the trouble and simply copy and paste links to people who do your thinking for you. It'll save us both a lot of time.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Oh, I couldn't pass on this - but I almost forgot. Your author through in a bit of postmodern psychobabble as well - and Lord knows I never get tired of pointing out the inherent self-destruction involved in postmodernism.

    "These folks who made these skeptical comments are not saying that "We can't know anything, so why bother?" They are saying that we can't "know" in the absolute sense, that we have no way to know if there are any absolute truths, and we wouldn't be able to prove the absoluteness of an absolute truth if we accidentally stumbled on one."

    Yeah, like say if it was absolutely true that there is no absolute truth. One of the only certain truths we can know about reality is that there is certain truth, because denying certain truth paradoxically proves that there is such a thing as certain truth.

    Consider it this way: "There is no absolute truth." Is this statement absolutely true? If not, then a rational man should reject it. If it is absolutely true, then it is also false because by being absolutely true it proves itself false.

    You actually read crap like this article without questioning it?

    You must be one of those "freethinkers".

    This is the sort of bullcrap, self-refuting reasoning someone finds themselves in when they subscribe to dead philosophies like scientism.

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  15. Irish,

    Serious question. Consider the following two statements:

    "There is no such thing as absolute truth."

    Compared to:

    "I can never know for sure if I have absolute truth."

    Do you see the difference?

    Am I sure about the second statement? I'm fairly certain it's true, but not absolutely certain.

    You see, you do not need to be certain to get going. The methods of science are founded on doubt. And using that foundation of doubt and uncertainty, the methods of science provide us the most reliable knowledge.

    You may have seen this on a T-shirt:

    SCIENCE. It works, bitch.

    Outgrow your juvenile need to know absolute truth. It is time to put away childish things. You might actually learn something.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Serious question. Consider the following two statements:

    "There is no such thing as absolute truth."

    Compared to:

    "I can never know for sure if I have absolute truth."

    Do you see the difference?


    No. Let me explain why.

    Consider the statement, "I can never know for sure if I have absolute truth." Is that statement not absolutely true? Then a rational wo/man should discard it. Is it absolutely true? Then you have to look no further than that sentence to know if you have found an absolute truth.

    How long do you want to keep doing this? You can't win, because this is going to be an infinite regress.

    You see, you do not need to be certain to get going.

    Are you certain about that?

    And using that foundation of doubt and uncertainty, the methods of science provide us the most reliable knowledge.

    I think science is a pretty reliable source of knowledge too. So what?

    Outgrow your juvenile need to know absolute truth. It is time to put away childish things. You might actually learn something.

    You need to know absolute truth yourself, you just don't know it because you have a self-refuting epistemology.

    ReplyDelete
  17. irishFarmer is a case study from the first quartile in Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. He apparently prides himself on his acute grip on snarky sarcasm; problem with this being that, when someone is as ignorant as irishFarmer, adding sarcasm and snarky arrogance is no improvement. He thinks soundness of an argument doesn't matter; he thinks he can define knowledge into existence; he can't tell the difference between empirical conclusion and theoretical assertion; he thinks that by throwing in random accusations of "self-refuting!" he does not need to make an actual argument. Etc.

    More than a year ago I remember irishFarmer accusing me of "scientism," which left me perplexed because I had never been accused of that before, and I didn't even know what the accusation meant. Well, now I know what it means, and also that it was false then, just as his accusations now of the same are completely false and groundless.

    Observing that knowledge about nature comes to us via a scientific method that is ultimately inductive, and never deduced from propositional calculus alone, as the article did observe - that isn't "scientism," and there's no self-refutation in this observation. In more than a year irishFarmer apparently hasn't learned a damn thing, and is still just throwing the same shtick randomly out there, seemingly oblivious to its utter irrelevance.

    No one has subscribed to the philosophy of "scientism" here, not in previous threads, nor in the article linked by unBeguiled. But with cries of "self-refuting!" irishFarmer tilts at the windmills and imagine himself defeating the evil giants who always misunderstands his arguments. Cargo cult philosophy combined with psychological projection would be bad enough even without the inflated self-assessment and bloated ego that irishFarmer thinks are his strong points.

    ReplyDelete
  18. All men are mortal
    Socrates is a man
    Therefore, Socrates is mortal

    Guess what Irish, the first premise we know by induction.

    You do not need absolute knowledge to learn things. I realize you have this strange need for absolutes. I myself do not.

    "you have a self-refuting epistemology."

    Wrong. How do I know? Induction. It works, bitch.

    Now go read your magic book and pray to your imaginary gods.

    ReplyDelete
  19. adonais,

    Interesting and apt article. Of course, if Irish reads it to the very end, he will judge the study "self refuting" because the authors acknowledge their own fallibility.

    Others, more wise, will understand that insight into our own imperfection is the critical first step to knowledge. A step Irish has yet to take.

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  20. Eh, you guys are hopeless.

    Adonais, if there were an award for "Comment Containing the Most Words that Mean Nothing", I'm sure you would win.

    Nice retreat, by the way. I proved that your epistemology is self-refuting, and your only response is to point out that I called your epistemology self-refuting.

    Also, thank you for letting me know that induction is "valid". I never said that induction was invalid. But even though I just said that I think induction is "valid", you'll still accuse me of thinking induction is invalid (despite that I never said it was). Because that's who you are.

    If there were an "ignore" button for you two, I would hit it. You two are beyond senseless. You can't understand simple concepts, nor can you be corrected on any of your mistakes.

    You two are like bad parodies of atheists. It's as if you're trying to go out of your way to make yourselves look stupid, as if it's a joke. In fact, I'm half convinced that you both are getting a good laugh out of me even taking you seriously in the first place.

    That's about all the time I have to waste on either of you.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "I proved that your epistemology is self-refuting"

    Have you ever read a science book? Have you ever read a book about critical thinking?

    My epistemology is based on the methods of science. Science cannot, by its very nature, "prove" anything. I am comfortable with that.

    I realize you are not. That is why you accept a bronze fairy tale as the perfect word of the creator of the universe. You are certain that your beliefs and religion are True.


    "Doubt is not a pleasant mental state, but certainty is a ridiculous one."
    -Voltaire

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  22. IrishFarmer wrote:

    "Of the two forms of reasoning, deduction is the only one which actually provides assured answers. "

    If the answers are wrong, it is of little comfort that deduction is assured to give them to us. Only a sound argument will produce a valid and true conclusion, and therefore all the informational content, all our actual knowledge, is really contained within the premises. And the premises, representing our knowledge, when not self-evident or axiomatic, we validate by induction. A valid and true conclusion can then act as true premise for another argument, with the proviso that we don't have absolute certainty, only tentative knowledge that grows stronger with every test - this is how science gradually builds up its tree of knowledge.

    "When I claim that deduction provides certain conclusions, I'm saying that so long as the premises are true, the conclusion follows with certainty."

    No that's not what you said above, and it's also not true. What you said first was actually true: deduction can always give you some sort of conclusion, but it will never stop you from deducing the wrong answer if you have insufficient information.

    "Which is interesting, because this assertion relies on the application of logic outside of the context of "laws and theories". By this person's own 'logic', I should probably conclude that what s/he's writing is false."

    The "assertion" that irishFarmer refers to was both an empirical observation argued from from evidence and a statement about the inherent nature of formal logic: it is meaningless until given an interpretive isomorphism that relates symbols to real entities. Science is one such isomorphism that relates mathematics to natural entities. But scientific credibility, and knowledge about nature, ultimately comes about by induction, not deduction - logic is just a tool, a mediator, in the scientific method. Outside of the scientific isomorphism with nature, propositional logic does not have the same scientific credibility that science affords it via mathematics. Rampant logical fallacies and unsound premises in theological and political arguments are testament to the misuses of logic outside of the scientific isomorphism.

    Making the above statement as I just did, or in different words as the article did, is in no way an "...application of logic outside of the context of 'laws and theories'" as irishFarmer claims. It is, as I just said, an empirical observation about the relationship between science and logic, and how the same relationship does not exist in many other contexts.

    This isn't epistemology, only a statement about how things are in fact. It is also not by any stretch of the imagination "scientism."

    "Yeah, like say if it was absolutely true that there is no absolute truth. One of the only certain truths we can know about reality is that there is certain truth, because denying certain truth paradoxically proves that there is such a thing as certain truth."

    "Consider it this way: "There is no absolute truth." Is this statement absolutely true? If not, then a rational man should reject it. If it is absolutely true, then it is also false because by being absolutely true it proves itself false."

    "Consider the statement, "I can never know for sure if I have absolute truth." Is that statement not absolutely true? Then a rational wo/man should discard it. Is it absolutely true? Then you have to look no further than that sentence to know if you have found an absolute truth. "

    This, too, ain't epistemology, though irishFarmer seems to think so. These three paragraphs are examples of pointlessly playing around with semantic constructions that are grammatically valid but can by manipulation be made semantically devoid of content. As unBeguiled already pointed out, we don't have to know whether the statement "I can never know for sure if I have absolute truth" in the third paragraph itself represents an absolute truth or not, in order operate under the assumption; to do science, to learn things, etc. The statement is just an observation of how things are in fact, for all practical purposes, not any sort of epistemic absolute.

    Also, it ain't scientism.

    Given all this, here is how irishFarmer sums up his achievement:

    "This is the sort of bullcrap, self-refuting reasoning someone finds themselves in when they subscribe to dead philosophies like scientism."

    "You need to know absolute truth yourself, you just don't know it because you have a self-refuting epistemology."

    "Nice retreat, by the way. I proved that your epistemology is self-refuting, and your only response is to point out that I called your epistemology self-refuting."

    Except there isn't a shred of scientism or "self-refuting epistemology" in anything that I or unBeguiled or linked articles have said. irish is just blatantly making stuff up. With an attitude and gratuitous insults to boot.

    The aphorism "Playing chess with pigeons" was invented for people like irishFarmer: "it craps on the board, knocks over the pieces, and flies back to its flock to claim victory."

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