Wednesday, 19 September 2012

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”.


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.


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.


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.


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 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!).


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.


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

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