Friday, 28 September 2012

What do scientists know?


Dinesh D’Souza participated in The Great Debate together with Ian Hutchinson arguing against the proposal that science has refuted religion, which was defended by Sean Carroll and Michael Shermer.

Dinesh speaks last of the four and after bit of introductory fluff which sounds like a complaint that the audience is biased he says, at 37’43”:

Here we are flung into the world and we are facing, if we are going to be thoughtful about it, some very key and fundamental questions that are very difficult to answer:

“Why is there a world, why is there a universe?”

“What are we doing here?” 

“Where are we going, what’s going to come after we die?”

“What’s the point of being here in the first place?”

I don’t think it’s possible to be an intelligent human being and not consider these questions to be important.  They have to do with what our life is all about and what this world is all about.

Now, for science to refute religion, it needs to consider the religious answers to these questions and provide a better answer.  But in fact the scientific answer to all the questions I’ve just mentioned is the following:

“Don’t have a clue”

“Don’t have a clue”

“Don’t have a clue” and

“Don’t have a clue”

Why is there a universe?  There’s no scientific answer to that question.

Why are we here?  There’s no answer to that question either.

What’s going to happen to us after we die?  Science has no clue.

This ends at about 38’54” into the video (I converted it to .mp3 so the timing might be slightly out).

Less than a minute later (about 39’30”), D’Souza says:

But science, if it claims to know what comes after death, is not only going beyond science but engaging in the most ignorant dogmatism that can be imagined, comparable to the foolishness of any mindless fundamentalist.

Science is claiming to know what it absolutely does not know.  This is the worst kind of dogmatism made even more culpable if it is engaged in by intelligent people who should know better.

Presumably there’s a group of people who say “We act on faith, we’re believers”.  Remember that those people don’t even claim to be knowers.  They’re believers.

But if you claim to be science guys, you claim to be guided by facts, by knowledge, by careful empiricism.  So don’t be led into pretending to have the answers that you manifestly don’t have.

This ends at about 40’25”.

So which do you want, D’Souza, to have your cake or to eat it?  Or is it a magic cake, so that you can eat it and still have it?  (Magic chocolate all over again.)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Misquoting WLC



I previously discussed the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy”, which I first stumbled across in a debate between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss.  This particular debate highlights how intellectually dishonest an apologist such as Craig has to be to make his point.  Let’s take a little time to look at some issues from the debate. 

The very first appearance of the term was on Craig’s website (notionally in a response to a reader’s question, a reader who could have been Craig):

Premise 1 is the premise that the atheist typically rejects. Sometimes atheists will respond to premise 1 by saying that it is true of everything in the universe but not of the universe itself. But this response commits what has been aptly called “the taxicab fallacy.” For as the nineteenth century atheist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer quipped, premise 1 can’t be dismissed like a hack once you’ve arrived at your desired destination!

(referring to the first premise of his Cosmological Argument from Contingency:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).)

So, did Schopenhauer first frame the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy”?

The short answer is “no”.  Part of the reason it is not easy to find a direct reference to Schopenhauer’s “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” is because it’s generally known as “Schopenhauer’s taxi-cab objection”.  Fortunately, Alexander Pruss mentions it a couple of times, in a paper in Religious Studies:

II. Schopenhauer’s taxi-cab objection.  The taxi-cab objection says that once the existence of the First Cause is inferred, the PSR (Principle of Sufficient Reason - ed) is dismissed, like a taxi after it has brought us to our destination, instead of being applied to the First Cause or its creative act.

and in a philosophy dissertation (note that while Dr Pruss seems to be a theist, his blog and papers indicate that he is probably not an apologist):

First of all, if one brings God in as a first cause, as an explanation of all things other than himself, then to avoid Schopenhauer’s “taxi cab” objection to the cosmological argument (Schopenhauer charged that the causal principle behind the cosmological argument was dismissed once the existence of God was proved, like a cab that is no longer needed once one is at the destination, and not applied to God himself) one must affirm that God is the explanation of his own existence, perhaps by there being a sound ontological argument, though possibly outside of our grasp, for his existence or by his existence being implicated by his essence.

Note the use of the objection.  It’s an objection to the use of God as a first cause.  In other words, it’s specifically an objection to an argument that God made the universe.  So, it’s a counter to the very argument of Cosmological Contingency that Craig is defending when he invokes the “fallacy”!

This is intellectual dishonesty of staggering proportions.

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Schopenhauer was an atheist.  Surprisingly, Craig quotes a number of atheists during the debate.  There’s Schopenhauer himself, Michael Ruse, Alan Guth (together with Alexander Vilenkin and Arvind Borde whose positions are less clear), Carl Sagan and Sam Harris.  During the Q&A, he also refers to Steven Hawking and Roger Penrose.

I was particularly annoyed by Craig’s indirect quoting of Carl Sagan (note that the novel version of the film Contact was written by Sagan):

So maybe the fine-tuning is due to chance. After all, highly improbable events happen every day! But what serves to distinguish purely chance events from design is not simply high improbability but also the presence of an independently given pattern to which the event conforms. For example, in the movie Contact scientists are able to distinguish a signal from outer space from random noise, not simply due to its improbability but because of its conforming to the pattern of the prime numbers. The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent agents exhibits just that combination of incomprehensible improbability and an independently given pattern that are the earmarks of design.

The misuse of Carl Sagan’s work, given that Sagan was a committed, vocal atheist and sceptic, and given that he is no longer able to defend himself is appalling (although there is a comparison of Sagan and Craig which indicates that perhaps Sagan has nothing much to defend himself again).

I was more bemused by Craig’s appeal to Sam Harris:

Harris says that if there is “only one person in the world [who] held down a struggling, screaming little girl, cut off her genitals with a septic blade, and sewed her back up, . . . the only question would be how severely [he] should be punished.”  It would not be a question that he had done something horribly, objectively wrong. And yet on Dr. Krauss’s view, you cannot affirm that because everything is working according to the clockwork universe. Ought implies can, and you can’t do other than what you do.

Interestingly here, Craig is using Sam Harris to argue against Krauss’s argument that there isn’t free will.  This is despite the fact that Sam Harris wrote clearly in the book from which Craig is quoting that he too (Sam Harris) does not reckon that free will exists.

Again, this is intellectual dishonesty of staggering proportions.

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Craig also references the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem.  This is quite nicely handled by the DebunkingWLC blog.  In brief, the authors of the theorem do not indicate that it supports the God hypothesis and Vilenkin’s book, which Craig exclusively quotes, includes, on page 176, the following:

Theologians have often welcomed any evidence for the beginning of the universe, regarding it as evidence for the existence of God … So what do we make of a proof that the beginning is unavoidable? Is it a proof of the existence of God? This view would be far too simplistic. Anyone who attempts to understand the origin of the universe should be prepared to address its logical paradoxes. In this regard, the theorem that I proved with my colleagues does not give much of an advantage to the theologian over the scientist.

Being too simplistic has never been a barrier to Craig.

The agnostic and atheist Michael Ruse is quoted, although the quote seems quite unnecessary and counterproductive for Craig:

The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says 2+2=5.

In context, it seems that Craig is using this quote to indicate that even atheists have some sort of commitment to an absolute morality.  However, the quote doesn’t support Craig’s case, since “moral acceptability” can be established without any need to appeal to absolute morality and, as Krauss excitedly pointed out, two plus two can equal five – for sufficiently large values of two.

(If you include all the rounded decimal values which are rounded to an integer, then you can arrive at 2 + 2 = 3, 2 + 2 = 4 and 2 + 2 = 5.  The correct answer depends on the circumstances.) 

If Ruse means something akin to “totally, absolutely wrong under all circumstances”, he could have said “The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says 2+2=17”.  But he doesn’t.  At least Ruse is still alive so perhaps someone should ask him whether he meant something as strong as "as wrong as 2+2=17" or something as ambiguous as "as wrong as 2+2=5".

Craig does mention three theists in the debate; one is the Quaker, Templeton Prize winner and cosmologist, George Ellis and the other is the Catholic priest and Philosopher of Science, Ernan McMullin.  The third, James Sinclair, is disguised as a “cosmologist”.  James Sinclair is the co-author of Craig’s book about Kalam Cosmological Argument.  I found no indication that he is an actual cosmologist, but rather his day job is as an air-to-air combat specialist in warfare analysis for the USN.  His claim to being a “cosmologist” derives from his Masters of Physics study and his involvement with “cosmology” seems to be limited to within the realm of Christian apologetics.  So, the claim that James Sinclair is a “cosmologist” is what we atheists call “a lie”.

Moreover, the quotation attributed to Sinclair is:

This approach still does not solve the problem of creation. Rather it has moved the question back one step to the initial, tiny, closed, and meta-stable universe. This universe state can have existed for only a finite time. Where did it come from?

This quotation is taken, word for word, from an essay that was co-authored by Craig himself.  So, in other words, Craig is quoting himself, but attributing the words to someone who he thinks he can get away with describing as a “cosmologist”.  Shame, Dr Craig, shame!

In debating terms, Craig is also cheating with his use of the McMullin quotation, because he introduces new material in his closing statements.  McMullin’s quote was the most questionable one of the lot and the one that Krauss was most likely to have issue with, which is probably why Craig used it at the point he did – leaving Krauss with the option of addressing that quote at the expense of his concluding remarks or not addressing the quote at all:

It is highly improbable that this fine-tuning is going to go away. Ernan McMullin of the University of Notre Dame says, “It seems safe to say that later theory, no matter how different, will turn up approximately the same . . . numbers. And the numerous constraints that have to be imposed upon these numbers . . . are too specific and too numerous to evaporate entirely.” So fine-tuning is a physical feature of the universe, and I think it’s better explained by God.

I’ve already addressed the Fine-Tuning argument at length, so there’s little point in going into detail on why Craig and McMullin are wrong here.

The George Ellis quote is:

And lest you think that this is not reasoning that impresses contemporary scientists, (let) me quote from George Ellis, a great cosmologist, when he asks, “Can there be an infinite set of really existing universes?” He says “We suggest that, on the basis of well-known philosophical arguments, the answer is No.” And therefore they reject a realized past infinity in time.

Hang on, buddy.  Scientists don’t tend to reject results on philosophical grounds.  All Craig is doing here is exposing the fact that scientists who are also theists – such as Ellis – can be tempted to do science badly (while creation scientists/intelligent design advocates are tempted to do science very badly).  Well thanks for the heads-up, but I think we all knew that already.

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So what we have in this debate is, totally aside from his shockingly dishonest logic, as addressed in The Logic of an Apologist and a number of follow-on articles, a number of blatant displays of either dishonesty or stupidity.  I won’t try to convince you how likely either option is but rather, in the immortal words of William Lane Craig:

“I’ll leave it up to you to assess that probability”

WLC as Optimus Prime

This will be another take on William Lane Craig’s “Taxi-Cab Fallacy”.  In previous articles we looked at the origin of this “fallacy” (WLC takes us for a ride and The Misquoting WLC).  For the purposes of this argument, we can use Craig’s apparent definition rather than Greg Laurie’s.  This is my own wording of what appears to be Craig’s definition:

An atheist (materialist) commits the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” when he or she uses science and materialism to explain everything, up to but not including the existence of the universe.  The metaphorical “taxi-cab” is the use of science and materialism.  The existence of the universe is the metaphorical “destination”.  Upon arriving at the “destination”, the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” committing atheist will say, metaphorically, “I got to the destination using the taxi-cab, but I don’t want to use it anymore.  Instead, I want to dismiss the taxi-cab and switch to a new form of transport”.

In WLC takes us for a ride, I argued that an atheist who uses the scientific method does not commit the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy”.  What I want to look at is whether WLC uses a variant of the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy”.

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First, we have to look at a little closer at the assumptions involved in invoking the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy”.  What WLC seems to be saying is that if you use a particular form of argumentation, you have to stick with it all the way.  He’s comparing that to a taxi-cab, that if you want to get to a certain place, you have to use a taxi-cab all the way.

Now this seems a little unreasonable.  If I want to get to work, I can’t take a taxi-cab all the way.  I will walk out of my house to get in the taxi-cab, rather than having it batter down my front door.  At the other end, the taxi-cab will not drop me off at my desk; I have to walk into the building, take an elevator and walk a bit more.

But let’s leave aside this objection, and call the general areas around my home and work as being “home” and “work”, allowing the taxi-cab to take me all the way.

You’ll notice that with this “home” and “work” scenario, I have a predefined destination.

A better scenario is one in which I flag down the taxi-cab and say to the driver: “Drive along this road network as far as you can go, while abiding with all the rules associated with being a taxi-cab.”  If the taxi-cab is science and materialism and the road network is discovery, we might get as far as explaining everything up to and including the existence of the universe, or we might come to a stop somewhere short of that because we run out of fuel (or evidence).  Once we come to a stop, if we rhetorically ask ourselves “What is further up the road?” we are justified in answering “We don’t know because we haven’t got there yet.”

As we progress through the road network, we might come to the occasional dead end and have to reverse a bit and take a new route.  This might be because the road disappears, or because taxi-cabs are not permitted to use the road.

Now if you are an atheist, materialist or scientist, and you arrive at one of these metaphorical dead ends, you are obliged to reverse.

Not so if one is William Lane Craig.

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It’s time for a little explanatory anecdote.

I used to live close to the centre of a large city and, at that time, the most convenient form of transport readily available to me was a bicycle.

If I travelled into and within the centre of the city, there were a number of paths I could take with various restrictions:

·         open road (pedestrians not permitted)

·         bus and taxi lanes (bus and taxis only)

·         pedestrian malls and sidewalks (pedestrians only)

·         bicycle lanes (bicycles only)

·         shared paths (pedestrians and bicycles only)

·         harbour (no express prohibitions)

Now, when I was a little younger, I used to have a slightly more flexible interpretation of the laws when I was riding my bicycle.  I would continually flip between definition of myself as a pedestrian (not being a car), a vehicle (akin to a car) and a bicycle (and thus be outraged that a car or pedestrian was in my lane).  If it was more convenient, I would be more than happy to use the bus and taxi lane (during which time I would occasionally say to myself “I’m a taxi, I’m a taxi”) or a pedestrian mall (I’d usually not talk to myself while traversing pedestrian malls, I’d be too busy avoiding the pesky pedestrians).

I never attempted to ride my bicycle across the harbour.

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In terms of the “fallacy” that Craig invokes himself, you are obliged to stick to the single form of transport (the taxi-cab) but he doesn’t follow his own rule.

Craig is more like a younger version of me on a bicycle.  When he feels like it, he’s a taxi-cab (an appeal to science [or, more often, pseudo-science]).  When someone points out that there is a problem with his “scientific argument”, he’s suddenly a pedestrian (with an appeal to philosophy) or a bicycle (appeal to logic or probability).  Unlike me, however, when Craig gets to the harbour, he magically transforms into a hovercraft (appeal to epistemology) or a hydrofoil (appeal to ontology) or even a ferry (appeal to anecdote).  He also seems to have a giant demolition tank form, which he uses to just drive over objections (an appeal to metaphysics).  Finally there are also the options of: the sky-hook form (appeal to theology), the ectoplasmic form (appeal to his own revelatory experience) and the semantic Segway® form (appeal to semantics).

I’d like to call this the “Optimus Prime Fallacy”:

The continual transformation between multiple forms of argumentation, especially if it is never made clear what form of argumentation is being used until challenged.

If I claim that Craig commits the Optimus Prime Fallacy, it behoves me to show examples.  Here you go:

That’s what’s committing the Taxicab Fallacy: to accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason (I’m a taxi-cab!) everywhere else until you get to the universe, and then arbitrarily stop there. The theist doesn’t arbitrarily stop when he gets to God as the explanatory ultimate. God has an explanation of his existence. “Everything that exists has an explanation (I’m still a taxi-cab!), either in the necessity of its own nature, or (if it’s contingent) in an external cause.” God exists by a necessity of his own nature. Even the atheist recognizes that. If a being has a cause (Wait for it, I’m a taxi-cab … but), it isn’t God because God by definition is the metaphysical ultimate (Look at that, I’m a giant demolition tank!). So when you get to God, you’ve reached a metaphysically necessary being (I’m still a giant demolition tank!) which has no cause of its existence, and its existence is explained by the fact that it exists by a necessity of its own nature, just like mathematical objects and other abstract objects (Shazzam, I’m a logical bicycle!). And that’s why you don’t run into the slushy crush or whatever it is that you were talking about. It would be logically impossible (I’m still a bicycle!) for God to be caused by slushy crush or whatever it is.

And

Well, I would just want to summarize by saying that physical science deals with physical reality (I’m a taxi-cab!). And therefore it’s a gross misuse of ordinary language to use the word “nothing” to characterize either the quantum vacuum, which is a physical reality, or the point from which the universe quantum tunneled into the current state we have in quantum gravity models. These are not non-being. And when the philosopher asks the question, “Why do contingent beings exist rather than nothing?” he’s using the word “nothing” in the philosophical sense of non-being (I’m a pedestrian!). And there is no physics of non-being (I’m a taxi-cab again!). When the universe comes into being, it doesn’t transition from non-being into being. Then it would exist before it existed! Rather it is an absolute beginning of existence. And, therefore, that points to a transcendent cause, a ground of being in a transcendent, metaphysical reality (I’m a giant demolition tank!), which I think is most plausibly identified as God.
And

And lest you think that this is not reasoning that impresses contemporary scientists (I’m a taxi-cab!), (let) me quote from George Ellis, a great cosmologist, when he asks, “Can there be an infinite set of really existing universes?” He says “We suggest that, on the basis of well-known philosophical arguments, the answer is No” (I’m a pedestrian!). And therefore they (scientists – ed) reject a realized past infinity in time (I’m a taxi-cab again!).

And

Well, I was gratified that in his last speech Dr. Krauss ceased to attack probability theory and logic!  Instead, what he says now is that it’s not enough to prove that God’s existence is more probable, given the evidence, than it is on the background information alone; you’ve got to discuss the prior probabilities as well. He’s absolutely correct, but as he said in his opening speech, that’s not the subject of tonight’s debate. And that’s why we’re not looking at, for example, “What is the evidence against the existence of God?”  We’re not asking Dr. Krauss to give the evidence against God’s existence. We’re not talking about the prior probability of God’s existence (I’m a semantic Segway!). We’re talking about one aspect of the probability calculus, namely: is it the case that God’s existence is more probable (I’m a bicycle!), given the evidence (I’m a taxi-cab again!) and background information I mentioned, than just on the background information alone (I’m a bicycle again!)? If it is, it follows that there’s evidence for God (I’m a taxi-cab again!). Now that doesn’t prove that God exists. But that’s not the topic of the debate tonight, and I’ve never claimed that it does (I’m a semantic Segway!).  I’ve simply argued that there’s evidence that there is a God. And I think that the evidence is clear (I’m a taxi-cab again!).

These are just the more blatant examples in just one sitting, the Krauss- Craig debate and its Q&A session.

There are plenty other examples of Craig deploying the Optimus Prime Fallacy if you want to suffer through other debates.

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It could be said that there is the “Optimus Prime with the Optional Taxi-Cab Attachment Fallacy”:
The claim that one’s opponent has committed the vaguely defined “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” via a single change in form of argumentation while one engages in continual transformation between multiple forms of argumentation


Sunday, 16 September 2012

WLC takes us for a ride



I first heard of the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy”, invoked by William Lane Craig while debating against Lawrence Krauss.  Follow me on a journey of discovery to see what this term means.  Once we arrive at an idea of what it means, we can look to see if Craig’s opponents really are guilty of committing it.

Craig first makes reference to the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” in his first rebuttal:

He says, “Well, is the universe contingent? Perhaps the universe doesn’t exist necessarily.” My argument was that the universe doesn’t exist necessarily, that it’s contingent in its being. Scientists regularly discuss other models of the universe that are logically possible, universes governed by different laws of nature. And clearly the universe is not ultimate in the sense of being self-explanatory. And you can’t say that it’s contingent and yet ultimate-without-explanation because that would be arbitrary and unjustified. It commits what’s been called the Taxi-Cab Fallacy, which is thinking you can dismiss the need for explanation when you arrive at your desired destination. And it’s simply arbitrary to apply the explanatory principle everywhere else in life but then deny it when you get to the existence of the universe itself.

This Taxi-Cab Fallacy doesn’t seem to exist outside of Craig’s world (Christian Apologetics), so nailing down precisely what it means is a little difficult.  When Craig uses it in this context, it’s not totally clear what he means.  Note that he makes reference to “the explanatory principle”.

Later in the debate, in the second rebuttal, Craig invokes the “fallacy” again:

What about the first point of evidence that the existence of contingent beings is more probable on God’s existence than on atheism? He didn’t deny the point. Remember, I explained, to deny the explanatory principle of the universe is to commit the Taxi-Cab Fallacy: it’s arbitrary and unjustified.

O-kay.  This is no explanation either.

Craig calls on it again, in his closing speech:

First of all, we looked at the existence of contingent beings, and I explained that given the existence of God, it is more probable that contingent beings would exist than on atheism because on atheism there is no explanation for the existence of contingent beings. And to try and say that there need not be an explanation for the existence of the universe is arbitrary and unjustified. It commits the Taxi-Cab Fallacy. So I think the very existence of contingent beings makes God’s existence more probable than it otherwise would have been.

Hang on, are we talking about the existence of “contingent beings” or “the existence of the universe”?  Craig veers wildly between the two.

The universe exists and we know that because we are in it.  Our lack of an explanation for the universe clearly doesn’t prevent us from being here anymore than an inability to explain cosmology affects existence of slugs.  Craig seems to be arguing for a God on the basis that our having an explanation for the universe (that is, God) would make the existence of contingent beings (that is, us) more probable.

But Dr Craig, just in case you haven’t noticed … we exist.  The probability of us existing, given that we are doing the calculation of the probability, is 100%.  The probability of us existing is:

·         100% if God made us

·         100% if the Flying Spaghetti Monster made us and

·         100% if we arose due to processes entirely consistent with materialism

Only if you were a God, sitting outside the universe making these calculations could you arrive at any other probability.

But, back the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” …

In the closing speech, Craig fails again to clarify what he means by the term.

In the Q&A session, Craig invokes the “fallacy” one last time:

Well, what’s lazy is to stop arbitrarily when you get to the universe. That’s what’s committing the Taxicab Fallacy: to accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason everywhere else until you get to the universe, and then arbitrarily stop there. The theist doesn’t arbitrarily stop when he gets to God as the explanatory ultimate. God has an explanation of his existence. “Everything that exists has an explanation, either in the necessity of its own nature, or (if it’s contingent) in an external cause.” God exists by a necessity of his own nature. Even the atheist recognizes that. If a being has a cause, it isn’t God because God by definition is the metaphysical ultimate. So when you get to God, you’ve reached a metaphysically necessary being which has no cause of its existence, and its existence is explained by the fact that it exists by a necessity of its own nature, just like mathematical objects and other abstract objects. And that’s why you don’t run into the slushy crush or whatever it is that you were talking about. It would be logically impossible for God to be caused by slushy crush or whatever it is.

At this point, Craig has still not explained his “fallacy” properly.  What he has done, however, is to make reference to the “Principle of Sufficient Reason” (which he also fails to explain, but we can look up) and exposed what he probably means by invoking the “fallacy”.

This was my thesis: Craig meant that for an atheist (and a materialist), the metaphorical “taxi-cab” is the use of science and materialism to explain everything.  The atheist likes to use this explanation all the way up to the existence of the universe, which is the metaphorical “destination”, but then the atheist will say, metaphorically, “I got here using the taxi-cab (science and materialism), but I don’t want to use it anymore, I want to switch to a new argument”.

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A little more on the origin of the fallacy and then we can look to see if its use has been appropriate.

If you use Google and limit the search to before the end of 2007, you can find the first appearance of the term – William Lane Craig’s website (we will get to it shortly).  If you widen the search out to the end of 2010, there will be two websites with the term, but the second is a blog which has a mention of the “fallacy” only in a comment which was posted towards the end of January 2011.

2011 was a golden year for the term, with a total of maybe a dozen new sites referring to the fallacy – Google seems to say more but a couple of blogs inflate the numbers significantly such as www.onthebox.us and somethingsurprising.blogspot.com.  This year, 2012, has seen another dozen or so appearances (of which, this shall be another).

Tip for those who are new to Google, click on the last o in Gooooooooooogle and do it again.  At the time of writing, rather than approximately 19700 mentions (shown just to the right of the word “Search” in the top right hand corner), you end up with 121.  You can then click on the “repeat the search with the omitted results included” (at the bottom of the last page) to see an estimate of 8440 results.  Then repeat the clicking on the last o process and you arrive at a grand total of … 177 mentions.  This strange bouncing around of numbers seems to be a standard feature of Google’s search engine (you can get the same sort of result with “Loki is angry”, so it’s nothing to do with this particular search string).

The bottom line with this is that Craig’s fallacy is poorly known, despite the apparent 19,700 mentions that a na├»ve use of Google implies.  Craig should have clearly explained what he meant by the term.

The extent of Craig’s dishonesty is already apparent in the first appearance of the fallacy, which was phrased as a response to a reader’s question (it might have been Craig himself though, the fellow being called “William”).  Craig says:

Premise 1 is the premise that the atheist typically rejects. Sometimes atheists will respond to premise 1 by saying that it is true of everything in the universe but not of the universe itself. But this response commits what has been aptly called “the taxicab fallacy.” For as the nineteenth century atheist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer quipped, premise 1 can’t be dismissed like a hack once you’ve arrived at your desired destination!

(He’s referring to the first premise of his Cosmological Argument from Contingency:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).)

But hang on, “has been aptly called “the taxicab fallacy”?  By who?  This is the very first appearance of the fallacy.  But to be fair, he sort of attributes it to Schopenhauer (more about that in a later article).

Craig’s first use seems to be consistent with my thesis.  But being a thorough sort of person, I looked for a better explanation, which I found in the second direct appearance of the fallacy at Street Apologetics – led by Greg Laurie, who holds an honorary doctorate from Biola University, which just happens to be Craig’s University:

The “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” is committed when one hops in and assumes a certain system of thought or worldview in an attempt to make a particular point but then jumps out of the system of thought when it suits their fancy. Such practice lacks logical consistency and is therefore a logical fallacy.

A detractor of the Christian worldview cannot hop into the Christian system of thought by erecting an objection grounded in the Bible and then demand an answer be given without the use of a Bible. Again, they cannot appeal to the Bible in raising their question and then insist we throw our Bible out of the equation when we give an answer!

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Ok, we now have a verified definition of the “fallacy”.  It’s not quite how Craig is using it though, since here the “fallacy” seems to be related to asking for a non-Biblical explanation of an objection based on what is in the Bible.  Laurie’s version of the fallacy seems fair enough.  So long as an apologist never steps out of the Bible, and argues entirely within the narrative framework of the Bible, she is invulnerable.  No problems with that.

If she steps outside of the Bible, however, and tries to apply anything Biblical in the real world, she is fair game.

However, this is not how Craig uses the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” in his debate with Krauss.  He implies that he is specifically talking about how atheists try to explain everything in the universe with science and then they switch arguments when it comes to the universe itself.  Are atheists guilty of this?

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Put briefly, no.

But perhaps I am biased, so let’s not accept the brief explanation.

The trouble with Craig’s argument is the fact that the atheist doesn’t switch arguments.  At each and every stage up to and including the existence of the universe (which is notionally a question about the origins of the universe), the atheist can say and is fully justified in responding with “I don’t know” to a question if there is no evidence on which to base an answer.

There is no sudden change of tactics when arriving at the existence of the universe.

Also, science uses the evidence gleaned from the universe to explain things in the universe.  If we live in a universe which is part of a multiverse, then we can possibly explain more about the universe, because we are also in the multiverse.

However, if we live in a more classic universe which includes all there is, all there ever was and all there ever will be, then it is not possible to fully explain the universe using the universe.  Self-reference invariably opens the door to paradox, even if the self-reference is indirect.  For example, the next sentence is a lie.  The previous sentence is true.  This sentence, however, is certainly a lie.
So, the long answer is no.  Atheists would not be guilty of employing the “Taxi-Cab Fallacy”, even if there were such a fallacy

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Logic of a Mystic


I have, more than once, had the unmitigated pleasure of debating with a theistic mystic.  But what, I hear you ask is a “theistic mystic”?

Put it this way, if I were a theistic mystic, I would ask you what you thought a theistic mystic was.  Fortunately I am not a theistic mystic (TM).

What I mean by the term is a theist who tends to argue by putting out statements that appear deep and then when asked to clarify a term asks what the questioner thinks the term means.  If the person seeking clarification falls into the trap of presenting a definition of the term, the TM then says no, you clearly don’t comprehend and you need to do some more research.

The TM will usually then make a new statement related to either the original, still as yet unclarified statement or the attempted definition.  Sometimes, the TM will attack his/her opponent based on the attempted definition, as the opponent had made a statement of position rather than trying to get clarification.  This can, for the unwary, trigger a defensive reaction leading to an apparent defeat since few people can successfully defend a position that they don’t really hold (and the TM will claim that the opponent is retreating).

What a skilled TM will never, ever do is properly clarify.

neopolitan (in a discussion with someone else) – … the right thing to do really depends on the circumstances of the situation.

dyster (the theistic mystic, or TM) – So you are a moral relativist.

neo – Well it depends on what you mean by “a moral relativist” …

dyster – What do you think “a moral relativist” is?

neo – I’m guessing you mean someone who is not a moral absolutist.

dyster – Are you trying to tell me that you don’t believe in absolute morality?  What about rape, is that not always wrong?

neo – We-ell, rape is clearly not always wrong to the person perpetrating rape.

dyster – So rape is ok in your world, what about killing children or torturing puppies?

neo – I didn’t say that rape is right, I ...

dyster – Yes you did, you condoned it.

neo – No, no, I didn’t.  Look, you seem to say that there is an absolute morality.  On what do you base this absolute morality?

dyster – Logic.

neo – Logic?  But what are your premises?

dyster – Look … some things are true, ok, and some things are false.

neo – Ye-es, but what are your premises?

dyster – Are you now trying to say that nothing is true?

neo – What? No, I’m …

dyster – So some things are true, some things are wrong and some things are right.

neo – But if you are going to say some things are right and some things are wrong, you are going to have to have some basis on which you make the determination.

dyster – Aren’t you listening?  I just told you the basis, logic.

neo – You still haven’t given me any of your premises.

dyster – You clearly don’t understand logic, you need to go away and do some study.

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This was pretty much how a real conversation went, although it was longer and a little more heated.

As you can (hopefully) see, the logic of a mystic is on a whole different level to that of an apologist.  You know what the TM is claiming, but it is never clearly articulated.  This may tempt you to try to short circuit it thus:

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neo – Look, you are just saying that things are right or wrong based on what your God thinks about it.

dyster – What do you mean by God?

neo – It’s your God, not mine, you’d need to define it.

dyster – I didn’t bring God into the discussion, you did.  You need to define your terms.

neo – Hang on, you didn’t define your terms before.  What do you mean by a “moral relativist”?

dyster – Really?  You just want to run away from the discussion now and go back to an earlier point that we’ve already discussed at length?

neo – Alright, have it your way.  The God I think you mean is the omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God one of the Bible.

dyster – Your dismissive tone just indicates that you need to go study some theology.  How can we have a profitable conversation if you don’t understand what you are talking about?

(neo ducks off to spend 4 years in seminary college)

neo – Right, here is the definition of the God that I think you meant ...

(neo downloads 4 years’ worth of theology)

dyster – Oh, that’s not the understanding of God that I have, you have to study more widely …

(Early the next morning, the mystical Mr dyster is found nailed to a tree with a little sign saying “Is this the sort of God you meant?”)

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All you can really do with a TM is remain politely sceptical as long as humanly possible and be dogged in your demands for clarification and evidence.

Then, if the TM doesn’t crack, you buy a hammer.