Wednesday, 26 April 2017

One God, Two Cups

If you want a headache then, so long as you are not a theist, a good destination is Craig-Land.  I was able to carry out a long meandering discussion on the nature of “objective moral values” over a period of more than three months and, while a little frustrating at times, this discussion was reasonably stable – we knew what we are talking about and we pretty much stayed on track.  Not so in another thread on the “Ontological Argument”, which took off a few weeks later.

My claim in this thread, a thread that I initiated, was that Craig continues on a cheat in the modal logic version Ontological Argument that is initially committed by Plantinga and I posed the questions: “Are there people who are seriously persuaded by this argument?  Surely some of you have worked out that something is not quite right in it?”

This claim attracted the attention of self-described logicians who wanted to prove to me that Plantinga’s BS5 is actually a logically valid argument.  Because this was not precisely what I was saying (remember I was claiming that Plantinga and Craig were cheating, not that the argument was not "a logically valid argument"), I claimed that this was a diversion and that, eventually, the argument broke down into counter claims of playing the “pea-and-cup game” - involving switches between claims of (in)validity and claims of (un)soundness.

There is some similarity between this discussion and that on “objective moral values” given that my theist opponents were trying to limit the discussion to a question of the “logical validity” of a specific theorem, namely BS5, (and they wanted to define that as meaning “internally consistent”, rather than applicable in the context in which it was being used) and were trying to avoid discussing whether the modal logic version Ontological Argument as a whole was “sound”.

I thought that I might share two things that stood out to me in these discussions, noting that these were “logicians” and thus apparently sophisticated theists.

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If I was presenting an argument about something as important as the existence of a god is to theists, I would be concerned if I could easily replace “god exists” with “my car is green” and I could logically show that my car is green when it is, in actual fact, blue.

Admittedly, in the excitement of finding an apparently brilliant argument to show that my car is green (when it's not), I might initially fail to notice that I can prove whatever the hell I wanted to prove with this argument (for example, one of the sophisticated theists used BS5 to prove that I don’t exist which, under the circumstances, I didn’t find threatening in the least).  But once it was pointed out that I could “prove” logically that I was the world’s best Morris dancer as easily as I could prove something that I actually wanted to prove, for example that spanking (as defined by my buddy, LNC) is bad, then as a rational person I would become very wary of such an argument.

Not so the sophisticated theist.  Instead, the sophisticated theist will zero in on the internal consistency of BS5 and ignore the fact that their argument (which makes use of BS5) is unsound.  This sounds like intellectual dishonesty to me, but I suppose theists are rarely accused of being intellectual.

Interestingly enough, I got challenged a couple of times on whether I was a logician, as if I wasn’t welcome to point out the fact that BS5 can be used to prove that the moon is made of green cheese when one so desires.  The reason I find it unnecessary to be a logician is that when Craig has presented this argument, he hasn’t carefully checked his audience to ensure that they are all logicians.  If he’s willing to present his argument to non-logicians, then I don’t see why non-logicians should be prevented from pointing out that an argument that relies on BS5 is bollocks (after all, the argument might work perfectly in a logician’s ivory tower and fail miserably when brought out into the real world).

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The second thing I noticed was a far more obvious case of intellectual dishonesty.  During my three weeks of discussion, the more coherent theist involved seemed to be cpdavey24.  This positive assessment of mine might be due to the halo effect given that he noted a few times that he didn’t consider Plantinga’s Ontological Argument to be particularly good.  However, the halo was tarnished somewhat by his last post.

From as early as reply #24 in our exchange, cpdavey24 began to admit that perhaps Plantinga’s and Craig’s arguments might not be good (“But look, I never said Plantinga’s or Craig’s OA was a good argument.”)  He maintained this position of strategic neutrality in replies #38, #56, #82, #117 (two mentions) and #120 (a staggering six mentions).  When I replied to #120, applauding him for effectively arguing my point, I quoted all six instances:

  • If by "logic can't be used to show that it does" you mean that when "god exists" or "a maximally great being exists" is plugged in for A, the argument is unsound (though valid), then you may be right. But if by this you mean the logic itself is invalid, then this has yet to be shown
  • As for for the second part of your statement, let me reiterate a fourth time that I am not arguing that God exists, nor am I arguing that Plantinga's argument is a good or "convincing" proof
  • The reasoning is unsound given certain instances of A
  • If by "dodgy" you mean unsound, then I agree with you; but, again, this is the case with all valid forms of reasoning
  • So, again, if you want to retract your claim that Plantinga/Craig's argument is invalid, and simply hold that, like the argument above, it is a terrible and unconvincing argument (though valid), then that's fine
  • First, I would never use the OA to try to save your soul, neopolitan, because it is a very complex argument and I'm not convinced it's a good argument anyway.  //  Second, I've never said the OA is the best argument one can present for the existence of God. Others on this thread might be making that claim, but I certainly am not

However, despite this, cpdavey24 had the gall to include in his reply (#130) not only further confirmation:

  • First, if by “works” you mean is sound, then I’ve never said it works.

but also denial of that confirmation:

  • If by “he argues my point” you mean that I have anywhere in this thread argued that Plantinga’s or Craig’s OA is unsound, then I am afraid you are simply mistaken.

His compatriot, Biep, also tried to argue that Plantinga himself wasn’t actually arguing that his Ontological Argument was sound (I’m not sure what the point of making that claim was).  When I posted Plantinga’s own words from the document in which he presented “A Victorious Modal Version”, in which Plantinga claimed that his argument was sound very clearly at least three times, Biep responded with:

  • Indeed, those are not claims about the logic, but about the truth of the premises, especially the first one.

This reality realignment on the fly really makes it difficult to maintain interest in reasoned argument.  It certainly doesn’t indicate any willingness to work towards truth and understanding.

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Anyways, what I have learnt from this, yet again, is that theists are very resilient.  They will believe a ridiculous proof if it gives the answer they want, they will hide behind definitions and authority and they are more than willing to warp reality if they think it will aid their cause.  And while it just might be possible that they are not totally mad themselves, arguing with them can certainly drive a poor fellow to distraction.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A Good Reason for WLC's Modus Tollens

I've railed elsewhere about the fact that WLC's morality argument is posed confusingly; in modus tollens form rather than the (more standard) modus ponens form.  To clarify, the argument:
  • If P then Q
  • P
  • Therefore, Q

is more straightforward than:
  • If not Q then not P
  • P
  • Therefore, Q

So, why use the latter rather than the former?

I've also pointed out that WLC himself torpedoes his own argument when appealing to vacuous truth (which he calls "trivial truth", perhaps because it thus seems as if he is referring to a Nils Bohr quotation).

What I have come to realise is not only that WLC possibly was aware of what he was doing when he presented his argument in the form that he did, but also that the problem that he was trying to avoid possibly applies to all arguments for the existence of god.

You see, if WLC had presented the moral argument in the standard modus ponens form, it would look like this:
  • If objective moral values and duties exist then god exists 
  • Objective moral values and duties do exist
  • Therefore, god exists

The issue that WLC was aware of, I think, is that people who are not theists are not as enamoured with "objective moral values and duties" as theists are.  Sure, we agree that if a god of the sort that WLC believes in were to exist, then it would follow that objective moral values and duties would exist, somehow rooted in the existence of that god.  But this is just saying "if a god existed, then the sort of objective moral values and duties that only would exist if a god existed would exist" and non-theists simply do not believe that "the sort of objective moral values and duties that would only exist if a god existed" exist.

So, for us, "objective moral values and duties" of the sort that WLC is referring to constitutes an empty category and therefore it becomes perfectly clear that the major premise of the modus ponens is only vacuously true.  The argument becomes:

  • If the sort of objective moral values and duties that would only exist if a god existed existed then a god would exist
  • The sort of objective moral values and duties that would only exist if a god existed do exist
  • Therefore, a god does exist

We can live with the major premise, since it's vacuously true, but we disagree with the minor premise.

Now, the thing with the vacuously true premise is that it effectively begs the question.  The (actually empty) category that is in question is assumed to not be empty on the basis of an assumption that the conclusion is true.  This is the case, even when you shuffle the terms around and present your argument in modus tollens form.

The trick the WLC then plays, by shuffling his terms around, is to imply that the major premise of his modus tollens is vacuously true:

As you can see, p → q comes out false only when the antecedent clause is true and the consequent clause is false. (I know that seems weird, but that’s the way “→” is understood logically.)

So what does this imply for the first premise of the moral argument?

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Well, since God does exist, the antecedent clause is false. Therefore, no matter what the consequent clause is, (1) comes out true! (Look at our truth table above.) So it is also true that

1′. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do exist.

A falsehood implies anything! So for the theist, (1) and (1′) are said to be trivially true or vacuously true.

Again, can you see?  WLC is pointing out that he is begging the question here (see WLC Being a Duffer for more).  His argument only works for theists who have already committed to the truth of what he is ostensibly trying to prove.  It's a worthless argument.

If an argument is begging the question in its modus ponens form then the argument is begging the question in all correctly stated equivalent forms, including the modus tollens form, such as WLC's stripped down version:

  • If god did not exist then objective moral values and duties would not exist
  • Objective moral values and duties do exist
  • Therefore, god exists


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My other realisation was that this applies to all arguments for god.  If you shuffle the terms around and find that there is begging of the question happening in one (correctly stated) form of the argument, then it's happening in all correctly stated forms of the argument.

This is not a huge realisation on my part, since I thought that was the case in an informal way.  It's just nice to know that it can be shown formally.


Of course, if there is an argument for god which does not include any begging of the question, you are welcome to present your case.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

A Powerful Argument

In Hands Off Our Logic, God-Boy, I mentioned the fact that Craig refers to his god as “enormously powerful”.  I noted that “power” is time related and want to address a possible wriggle manoeuvre that Craig and his disciples might try.  Possibly, they might argue, Craig is using a different definition of “power”, the “power” that would be necessary to make the universe out of nothing:

If Craig is using a magic version of these concepts, then he’s doing an argument like this:

In The Last Day of the Dinosaurs, the renowned palaeontologist Mathew Wedel holds forth on “how these majestic creatures went extinct”.

(Note that there is no clear indication that Wedel is responsible for the quote that I attributed to him.  Even if he is, it’s a mine-quote, and more than likely it’s a misattributed mine-quote that I took from an inappropriate source, namely tvtropes.org in an article which has a link to a complaint by Wedel that he had been totally misquoted by the production company responsible for the Discovery channel show mentioned.)

“Majesty” derives from the existence of royalty, but where did this “majesty” come from?  It couldn’t have come from human kings and queens because they were not around during the time of the dinosaurs, and dinosaurs had no kings and queens.

(Note that this is a misuse of the term “majestic” and of authority.)

Therefore, when seen as part of a cumulative argument, this shows that there must be a beginningless, uncaused, spaceless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, and sovereign, Personal Creator of the universe!

(Note that this is a very minor change from Craig’s own words as uttered during his debate with Stephen Law.)

In his argument about the creation of the universe however, Craig is specifically talking physics.  In physics, power is the rate at which energy is transferred, used or transformed.  So “enormously powerful” means having the capacity to transfer vast quantities energy (or, alternatively, more modest quantities of energy over very short periods of time).  Hang on a second though … what is energy?  Energy has the SI unit “joule” and 1 joule is 1 kilogram multiplied by the square of 1 metre divided by the square of 1 second.  Both power and energy imply the existence of time and space.

So how did we end up with a spaceless and timeless being who is also “enormously powerful”?

I’ll leave it up to the apologists to provide an answer.  I won’t try to stuff more words in their mouths.


(And, if I am to be completely fair, I have to acknowledge that this simple physics based critique may be unreasonable since I am taking Craig’s gibberish far more seriously than is truly warranted.)