Sunday, 25 October 2015

Hands Off Our Logic, God-Boy

“This is a lie.”
Well, actually it isn’t.  In which case, it is and therefore … well, it’s a paradox.  It’s also a good demonstration of how logic can fail when self-reference is involved.  Many moons ago, I used to challenge people to come up with a paradox that doesn't involve self-reference, but then I stumbled across the "Bertrand Paradox". (Why quotation marks?  Because some will argue that it's not a real paradox, that it can be resolved if one thinks about it in the right way - I happen to agree.) There is also the twins paradox (which I also believe can be resolved).  Note that I am not delineating between self-reference and circular reference, which I consider to be self-reference at one remove.  Yablo’s paradox is self-reference at greater than one remove, but it still involves self-reference within the system as a whole.
I guess I should have included those “paradoxes” which are rooted in vagueness, even though I don’t count these as proper paradoxes.
The Sorites paradox is an example of a vagueness paradox, in which a heap of sand can be reduced one grain of sand at a time, but remains a heap – perhaps even up until the very last grain is removed.  However, it is only a paradox in so much as the term “heap” is not clearly defined.  If a heap is defined as two or more grains of sand lying in close proximity such that at least one grain of sand lies on another grain of sand, then the “paradox” disappears.  The same type of resolution can be applied to the Ship of Theseus.
Then there are numerous curiosities of science which result in unexpected results which aren’t really paradoxes at all, but still manage to appear on lists of paradoxes
Nevertheless, even if there were to be other valid sorts of logical paradox, what we can say with confidence is that there are plenty of self-referential paradoxes like the Liar paradox above which was first put in recorded words by Epimenides.

So what? I don’t hear you ask.

What I want to point out here is that apologists like Craig (or Plantinga) should not be dabbling in logic at all.  This is not only because they fail so spectacularly when they attempt it, but also because their so-called “logical arguments”, designed to lend credibility to their assumptions regarding a creator, are inherently self-referential. The logic they are using is, as a consequence, fragile in the extreme.
Let’s look at one of Craig’s major arguments in a little more detail.
The cosmological argument from first cause argument derives from apparent paradox.  I’ll paraphrase the argument to highlight the paradox.
If all things that begin to exist have an antecedent cause,
and the universe (where “the universe” is generally understood to mean “all things” including time) began to exist,
then the universe has an antecedent cause.
This is impossible because without time (and therefore without “the universe”), there can be no antecedent cause.
There is also the niggling fact that the only evidence that we have suffices only to support the claim that:
All things that begin to exist in the universe have an antecedent cause within the universe.
Clearly we do exist, in some form or another, but Craig’s argument seems to say that that is not possible.
The paradox is a blend of vagueness and self-reference.  The term all things is not usually understood to include time itself, and the lack of clarity is heightened when the term is used in the context of an indirect reference to time.  The term “the universe” is presented as if it meant all things but really refers to all things plus time.  The self-reference is revealed when it is understood that we are talking about a cause of (inter alia) time that is antecedent with respect to time.
Craig tries desperately to avoid problems by defining away his god, to make it not part of the set of all things.  Timeless, changeless, immaterial and uncaused.  He fails, however, when he admits that his god is “enormously powerful”.  Well, excuse me, but Craig should check what “energy” and “power” mean.  If Craig wants to use physics to explain his god, he can’t abandon it when it becomes inconvenient – or he is guilty of his very own fallacy.  As it is, he’s left with something which depends on time creating time – a paradox which he could not escape – unless he wants to introduce magic, thus losing all the credibility that the use of science and logic was supposed to provide.
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a paradox.

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