logic

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“Never use an argument that you don’t find convincing”?

Rock_Strata

Not an argument, but a pretty picture nonetheless.

I was contemplating a post I was working on not too long ago and realized I didn’t find one of the arguments I put forward very convincing.

I think that there may be situations in which it is permissible and perhaps even wise to use arguments that you don’t personally find convincing. I want to start this with the caveat that as Christians in no way should you use arguments in this fashion without honestly prefacing them by saying something like “I don’t find this convincing necessarily” or “This is not my view, but some think…” We must be honest in our argumentation, but that doesn’t mean we have to be limited in it.

The Impossibility of Knowing Everything

One reason to use arguments that you don’t personally find convincing is because it is impossible for us to know everything. For example, for a long time I thought Pascal’s Wager was an okay, but not ultimately convincing argument. However, I then read a book on the argument, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God by Jeff Jordan (review linked), which convinced me that the argument is actually fairly powerful. Indeed, after reading the book I even started to use the argument myself.

Thus, what this means is that there was an argument I did not find convincing at one point, but which I later found to be quite convincing indeed. I didn’t have a complete picture of the Wager type argument, and I still don’t. It’s possible that one day I might discover a strong counter-argument which undermines my confidence in the argument.

Effectively any argument that we consider is in a situation like this. We cannot possibly have read every single angle on most (any?) arguments, and so it is possible that any number of arguments we find convincing are really not; or vice versa.

Thus, it might not be a bad idea in some situations to offer something like this: “I haven’t studied X argument much, but as of now I don’t find it very convincing. However, I do think the position it ultimately argues for is true. Perhaps you’d find X argument convincing, and we can talk about it. [Offer X argument.]”

Opening Up New Avenues for Discussion

The closing example above offers another insight into why mentioning or “using” arguments that we don’t personally find convincing could be effective- they might open up avenues for more discussion. For example, when one is doing apologetics, I could see a conversation happening in which an opening could be found by saying something like “I agree! I don’t find X to be a convincing reason to believe in God. Here’s why. Can we talk about Y, though, which I do find convincing?”

Moreover, we are called to pursue the truth and hold fast to what is good. In discussing an argument we might not find convincing, there might be new points raised which cause us to reevaluate the rejected argument in a different light.

The Pragmatic Use of Arguments 

Finally, another reason it might be even wise to utilize arguments that we don’t personally find convincing would be pragmatic. For the sake of the following example, just assume that the positions presented are thought be the apologist to be acceptable biblically, though they favor one over the other. Suppose one is talking to an atheist whose only objection left to Christianity is the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment. In that case, the apologist might mention the alternative Christian doctrine of annihilationism/conditionalism, pointing out that although they don’t personally hold the view, it is a view that is established within the Christian tradition and offers an alternative to the eternal conscious punishment view.

In this case, the atheist’s final objection is at least possibly answered–they are confronted with the reality that their final objection is possibly mistaken. And, the apologist with whom they are having this discussion was honest enough to point out they don’t hold to the view, merely that it is a view which answers their objection.

This pragmatic use of argument must be done carefully, and again very openly and honestly. I have found that if one does use this method in a conversation, it generally goes to more fruitful discussions and drawing out more areas of agreement.

Conclusion

Thus, I am of the opinion that it is at least permissible to use arguments that you do not personally find convincing, with the caveat that you do so honestly.

What do you think? Should you only use arguments you personally find convincing? Is it permissible to use arguments you don’t find convincing? Are there circumstances in which this is different?

By the way, I did take that argument out of the post I was working on.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Rhetoric as Apologetic- Can we learn from ancient apologetics?

apologetics-romanIn the ancient world, rhetoric was a major field of study. Briefly, classical rhetoric is the practice of discourse as a means to motivate, inform, persuade. It is hard to pin down to an exact degree what rhetoric is, but here we will use the term as broadly defined above.

Ancient Rhetoric in Apologetics

Mark Edwards, in “The Flowering of Latin Apologetic: Lactantius and Arnobius,” (cited below) examines the way these ancient apologists used rhetoric in their defense of the Christian faith. This involved demonstrating that Christians were educated over and against the notion that Christians were all slaves and fools. It also involved showing that Christians were the paragons of (Roman) society rather than people who overthrew society. They presented Christianity as an alternative way of thinking–a whole system which was to overthrow the Pagan thought of the time.

These different aspects of rhetoric in apologetics were specifically aimed at the audience of the time of Lactantius and Arnobius. Perhaps we can learn from their example.

Rhetoric in Apologetics Today

There are a number of ways we may apply rhetoric to apologetics today. One may argue that the use of memes is one (lowbrow) way of utilizing rhetoric in apologetics–making brief points in a provocative manner that brings forth further thought. How might we best use memes in apologetics? Are they even appropriate? These are questions that I will not delve into, but I think they are worth trying to work out for those involved in apologetics or interested in doing the same.

Another aspect of rhetoric which may be integrated into today’s apologetic is the continued deflection of charges from non-Christians against the faith. Specifically, some allege that Christians are stupid. Like Lactantius and Arnobius, we may feel free to flourish the names of Christian scholars through time and into today. Christians cannot truly be classified as necessarily stupid or foolish when they continually work in the highest levels of academia.

Rhetoric in apologetics seems as though it may necessarily be focused on the “low hanging fruit” like the examples given above. I’m not convinced this is the case, nor am I convinced that this is a valid objection to its use. Regarding the latter point, surely if charges are made against Christians necessarily being foolish or lacking education, a valid response is to demonstrate how this is false. The use of memes is frequently effective, though we must be wary of their tendency to oversimplify.

Regarding the former point–that rhetoric is not necessarily focused on “low hanging fruit,” I would note that in many ways, a convincing case depends on how it is presented. Moreover, as Christians we are called to present our case in a way that will put us above reproach in character. If we’re able to eloquently present a case, then perhaps more will consider the case itself. I’m not suggesting we try to obfuscate, but we should try to work to present our case in a winsome manner that utilizes the best scholarship, the most current language, and integrates the fewest possible errors (and this includes typos and spelling errors–something of which I am guilty, I’m sure).

Moreover, Lactantius and Arnobius were both clearly concerned with the imminent attacks on Christianity. They weren’t seeking to anticipate and shoot down future problems so much as they were dealing with the current attacks on their faith. Perhaps we can take this as a call to focus on the issues which face Christianity today ourselves. Like them, we need to confront the most popular of our naysayers and utilize the best scholarship in order to refute criticisms of Christianity.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I have written on how we may discover the enormous resources historical apologists have left behind for us. Take and read!

Source

Mark Edwards, “The Flowering of Latin Apologetic: Lactantius and Arnobius” in Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 9/5/14- Jesus’ resurrection, logical fallacies, and more!

postWell depending on if my child comes on time, I may currently be in the hospital with my wife and a baby being born today, as it is our due date! Thus, I may not respond right away to any comments. On the other hand, I may just be hanging out waiting for the baby (or he or she may come early!). So long story short keep my family in your prayers, if you please. This week’s posts include Jesus’ resurrection, logical fallacies, “The Unbelievers” movie, Michael Behe’s design argument, and Rob Bell and Oprah Winfrey.

Prior Probability of the Resurrection–  David Marshall presents a lengthy argument related to the prior probability of the resurrection of Jesus. This argument is very important, and Marshall’s approach is one of many leading ways to argue for the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. This article has much depth and is worth the read.

How Not to Argue: The Problem of “Folk Fallacies”– It is easy to fall into the trap of Googling random fallacies and charging others with committing these errors. Here, some difficulties with pointing out an alleged stream of fallacies are pointed out. It’s a good post for apologists to consider.

Are “The Unbelievers” Unbelievable?– Here, Saints and Skeptics addresses several issues of “The Unbelievers” film, including its method, arguments, and conclusions.

A Pretty Sharp Edge: Reflecting on Michael Behe’s Vindication– Michael Behe’s argument for intelligent designed is based upon the concept of irreducible complexity. Check out this post which argues that his argument has been vindicated.

Rob Bell, Oprah Winfrey, and the missing Jesus– What happens when Rob Bell meets Oprah Winfrey? Check out this post for some interesting thoughts on the missing Christ in the conversation. See my own series of posts on Rob Bell’s Love Wins for some more reading.

Really Recommended Posts 8/3/12

Wow, there are some really excellent posts out there. I am constantly blessed by reading or viewing great material from others. This week, the topics covered are all over the board: abortion, Leviticus, 50 Shades of Grey, apologetics methodology, and more! Check out these really recommended posts.

Grey Areas: How explicit literature went mainstream– You’ve heard of 50 Shades of Grey. What’s all the fuss about? And what kind of junk are we putting on the bookshelves?

The Mistake of Leviticus– Leviticus is one of those books in the Bible many balk at reading. Check out the insight provided here by Credo House. I really, really recommend this post.

Some Standard Definitions From the Doublespeak Dictionary– Bigot, Christian, and Intolerant tie together so well! Check out this great apologetic cartoon.

The Bibliographical Test Updated– Clay Jones, a professor over at Biola University, offers an update to the number of ancient manuscripts available for the various “bibliographic tests” for the accuracy of the New Testament. A brief, readable, and important post.

Is Abortion Really Wrong?–  A great introduction to the debate over abortion.

Why I don’t reply to everyone (and neither should you)– It’s easy to get caught up in online debates or try to respond to everyone who comments on a blog or forum. Glenn Andrew Peoples offers an excellent post on why he doesn’t respond to everyone. He also gives some good guidelines for deciding whether you’re going to respond to someone.

The Atheist War Against Logic and Philosophy– I’m not sure this video is fairly named, because it seems like it is more the extreme views on philosophy of a number of people dismissed by the vast majority of others. Good watch if you want to pull your hair out at people rejecting logic while using it.

Apologetic Taxonomy: Methodological Approaches– Readers of my blog know I’ve been exploring a few other apologetic approaches. Here’s an excellent post which outlines the various methodological approaches to apologetics in a brief, readable format.

Really Recommended Posts 5/25/12

I found some really diverse posts this go-round. Check out some thoughts on archaeology, marriage, logic, cultic churches, volcanic eruptions, logic, and the rule of secularism. I highly recommend these posts! (Owl Post edition 2–if you get it, you’re awesome!)

The Story of Ian & Larissa -Really beautiful video about a couple demonstrating Christian marriage and love. Although I don’t agree with everything in the video (women being emotional, needing to be reeled back by a man?), I think it’s amazing overall.

Avoiding Crackpot Archaeology– It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking some extraordinary, worldview-shattering discovery has been found in archaeology. Too often, that trap is founded upon poor research and scholarship. Reasons to Believe shares some great ways to avoid “crackpot” archaeology.

The Mass Cult of Big -Again, not sure I agree with everything here, but I think the author raises some good points. Not discussed, however, is the notion of what exactly is “big” and is “big” necessarily bad? I don’t think it is.

Marvel Comics and Logical Fallacies– A creative look at logical fallacies and how easily we can fall into them.

The Toba Super Eruption: A Non-Flood Catastrophe–The Artifacts Say Yes!– Another serious challenge to a young earth is presented by super eruptions of volcanoes. Check out this very interesting post.

That the Name of God Should be Forgotten– It is easy to forget that what one believes can easily come under attack. The Soviet Union tried to eliminate all religion in the name of secularism. Let us not forget.

The Past, Probability, and Teleology

This post has been expanded, edited, and published in the journal Hope’s Reason. View it in full here.

I have run into the idea more than once recently that we should discount things like the teleological argument due to the fact that it happened in the past. The thinking goes that, because an event (the existence of the universe, for example), has happened, the probability of that event happening is 1/1. Thus, people like Dawkins can say, “The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful… The answer is this: it could not have been otherwise, given that we are capable of noticing our existence at all and of asking questions about it” (here).

There are a number of ways to take such sentiment. The first is quite trivial. Of course, if an event e happened, the probability e having happened is 1/1. That’s, as I said, trivially true.

The problem is when people try to use this thinking against something like some forms of the teleological argument. Statistically, some people assert, the odds that the universe would be life-permitting (like the one we observe) must be 1/1, because, we are here, after all, to observe it!

Now, imagine the following:

d: The chances of any one side coming up are (granting a fair die and surface) 1/6. I toss a die (I really just did here) and get a 1.

Now, the equivalent claim of saying that the universe must have been life permitting because we are here to observe it is saying that d must happen, given that it is what did happen. Some people have no problem with asserting this, and indeed say that this should be the case. The fact that something is true, they may argue, means that the probability that it would happen was 1/1.

We can, in fact, reduce this whole discussion to symbolic logic. It is the case that:

□(pp)

Which tells us that, if p is the case, then necessarily p is the case. Those who are arguing as above, however, need a much stronger conclusion, namely, □p. But this simply doesn’t follow from reality. It is the case that p, therefore, necessarily, p. But it is not the case that necessarily p.

The distinction is a simple de re verses de dicto fallacy. It is an elementary error philosophically, but it is easy to commit. I’ve done so in the past (see here for a post in which I caught myself in this confusion). Now, de dicto necessity is “a matter of a proposition’s being necessarily true” while de re necessity is “an object’s having a property essentially or necessarily” (Plantinga, v). De dicto necessity ascribes necessity to a proposition, while de re necessity argues only that each “res of a certain kind has a certain property essentially or necessarily” (Plantinga, 10).

Returning to the idea of past events, such as the universe coming into existence or rolling a die and having it come up as a 1, we can see where this error occurs. Those who deny with Dawkins that we can work out the prior probabilities of the universe being life-permitting because “it could not have been otherwise” are actually committing this basic error. They have assigned the proposition that the universe exists de re necessity, when in reality it is only a de dicto necessity. It is, in other words, true that whatever has happened, necessarily has happened. It is not true that whatever has happened has happened necessarily.

(This post is a very miniature version of a journal article I have under review for Hope’s Reason right now.)

Sources:

Plantinga, Alvin. The Nature of Necessity. Oxford University Press. 1979.

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:God-dice.jpg

Thanks to Dr. Timothy Folkerts and Dr. Stephen Parrish for some enlightening correspondence on the above points.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Abortion: The Struggle Between Objectivity and Subjectivity

I’ve noticed in the past that as I debate the moral issue of abortion, it seems as though people tend to ignore reason in lieu of emotional appeals. Upon further examination of the issue, I am even more convinced that this is the case. But what is at the bottom of this appeal? Why is it that something which must have an objective answer is treated like subjective, lukewarm hogwash? The reason, I believe, is because the issue of abortion is involved in the overarching debate of subjective (relative) versus objective ethical theories.

What reasons do I have for making this claim? First, we must examine the most prominent pro-choice arguments. Pro-choice arguments generally fall into two broad categories:

1) Devaluing the fetus

2) Pointing towards the value of personal choice/control over one’s own body

Now, 1) fails miserably on a number of logical and scientific levels. See my other posts on the topic for discussions of these reasons (notably, this post and this one). But if 1) is rejected, then 2) may be the only way for pro-choice advocates to argue for their position. Unfortunately, 2) boils down to a kind of subjectivism about morality which ends up being self-defeating.

I am reminded of the echoing catch-phrase popular with politicians, “I am pro-choice, but against abortion.” What does this mean? Often, those who say such things generally mean that whatever someone else wants to do is fine with them. We shouldn’t try to limit the choices others make. We don’t have any reason to regulate what choices someone else can make or can’t make. And sure, I think abortion is wrong, but what right do I have to force my morality on others?

Initially, such arguments seem to make intuitive sense. The problem is that while the argument is trying to avoid forcing any “ought” statements, it has one huge “ought” planted right in the middle of its train of thought. That is, that “We ought not limit the choices of others.” But why should this be the case? There are certainly a huge number of cases in which I would limit the choices of others. Rape, for example, would be one instance where I would say this choice is not to be allowed. Perhaps the argument could be modified, then, and say that as long as one’s choice doesn’t harm anyone else, we ought not limit it. But then this pushes the burden of proof back onto argument 1), which is becoming ever more difficult for the pro-choice advocate to uphold.

Not only that, but having an “ought” statement like any of those above goes exactly contrary to what such statements are asserting. What if I choose to disagree with the statement that we “ought not limit the choices of others”? Should my choice to disagree be limited?

Furthermore, what reasons are their to argue that one should have absolute and total control over one’s own body? For if we do think that this is the case, we should then cease efforts in trying to limit substance abuse, cutting, anorexia, suicide, bulimia, and the like! These are all cases in which someone is simply making choices about his/her own body! If I want to cut myself, that should be my choice! If I want to starve myself, that should be my choice!

No, the bottom line is that the pro-choice camp wants to advocate total relativism. On this view, that which is ethically right for one person is okay for that person. There are innumerable difficulties with such a view (I’ve only touched on these above).

Thus, it seems to me that the pro-choice advocate has insurmountable difficulties with his or her position. First, this view cannot accurately measure when one’s “personhood” begins objectively. Second, it desires to claim an objective “ought” statement which ultimately defeats itself. Third, it runs contrary to scientific advances in measuring the stages of life of the human. Fourth, it stands on shift philosophical soil, for it is unable to accurately define “personhood” in any sufficient manner.

Thus, I conclude, as I’ve done so many times before, that to be pro-abortion is to hold a view that is positively irrational.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

God and Logical Priority

Logical priority, broadly defined, is the way things are ontologically ordered. That is, to say that for two factors, x and y, x is logically prior to y if and only if x takes precedence over y. An example could be to use miracles and God (note this is just for the sake of example, I realize that some would argue miracles can exist without God, but I’m simply using it as an illustration). The existence of God is logically prior to miracles in the sense that if God does not exist, then miracles do not. In this case, God would be x, while miracles would be y. In order for y to be the case, x must also be the case, thus making x logically prior to y.

So what does this have to do with God? Very much, I would say. For one of the most common objections to the existence of God is that there is no (or not enough) scientific evidence to demonstrate God’s existence. I have addressed such objections before, but now I would like to take a completely different approach. That is, I believe that the existence of God is logically prior to the question of scientific evidence.

The reason I take the existence of God to be logically prior to scientific evidence is be cause logic is prior to science. Take the case of necessity, for example, and combine it with the case of scientific laws. Now, in science, a law is generally something like “if x occurs, then y will occur.” But it is not the case that such laws operate on a logically necessary level. For it is not the case that “Necessarily, If x occurs, then y will occur” (or, □(x⊃y) for those who enjoy ‘logic-ese’). It is simply the case that this is what happens in all observed cases. It could even (possibly, but not modally) be said that “If x occurs, then, necessarily y will occur” (again, logic-ese: x⊃□y), but this does not establish logical necessity in the modal and broader sense.

The type of necessity which can therefore be ascribed to scientific laws is a contingent or “accidental” necessity. They operate in a necessary sense in that in this world (out of all possible worlds) it is the case that if x then y, but they do not operate necessarily in the sense that in every possible worlds it is the case that “if x then y.

Logical necessity, however, is prior to this. For, on logical necessity, that which is necessary is necessary in all possible worlds. Logical necessity is the very thing which scientific necessity lacks.

Again, we may ask, what does this have to do with God? Well, if it is the case that it can be demonstrated that God exists out of logical necessity, then the question of scientific evidence is irrelevant. For logical necessity is prior to scientific necessity. This is not to say that scientific evidence is not useful when exploring the “God question”, if you will, but it is to say that if it can be demonstrated that God is logically necessary, then demands for scientific evidence to demonstrate or even make probable the existence of God are misplaced. For if God is logically necessary, then to deny the existence of God is incoherent in the strong sense (that is, it is illogical). The logical demonstration would be prior to and therefore supersede the scientific evidence or lack thereof (I believe that there are at least some reasons scientifically to believe God exists, but that is off topic).

But then, we must ask, can it be demonstrated that God is logically necessary? Well yes, I believe so. I have argued this at length elsewhere, so I won’t reiterate it (see here). If any of these arguments are sound (as I believe they are), then the question of scientific evidence for God’s existence is simply a non-factor. Certainly, the scientific (and other) evidences may be seen  as providing further justification for believing that God exists, but if it is the case that the arguments for God’s logical necessity are sound, then such arguments are the only tools needed to defend the claim that God exists. Further, to dispute such a claim (that is, God’s existence) would be incoherent in the strongest possible sense.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Sam Harris on Morality: A Critique

I watched a video of Sam Harris talking about morality in February this year (here) and was quite interested in what he had to say on morality.

I was excited to see what  Sam Harris had to say. He is one of the so-called “New Atheists”, and thus I expect him to be on the absolute cutting edge of the philosophical debate between theism and atheism. My excitement built because the video was called “Science Can Answer Moral Questions.” I think there are insurmountable problems with such a claim, but this video claims Sam Harris answers this very question.

After some initial comments in which Harris remarked that people often think science doesn’t have much to say about values, Harris did not wait very long to show how it is that science can indeed interact with values and morality. He states, “Values are a certain kind of fact [sic]; they are facts about the well-being of conscious creatures.”

This is literally his argument. I’ve watched the  video twice, trying to see if I missed anything, but I haven’t. This is what he says “Values are… fact[s]…”

I read the comments underneath and I noted that one commenter said “I do not see how the speaker used science to understand morality.” The next commenter replied, “I agree that his current argument is unscientific, and that his examples were somewhat extreme and not well presented.” Okay, so I don’t think I missed anything.

One commenter did say that Harris made (sort of) the following argument:

“-science can tell us what makes people happy
“-a moral decision will increase happiness
“-therefore, we can use science to determine if a decision is good or not”

Now obviously these comments are not authoritative on what Harris was saying, but from this video I see no actual argument. Harris managed to prove nothing. What does it mean to say a moral value is a fact? This is something that most (I’d say all, but there are always exceptions) theists would absolutely agree with. Moral values are facts. So what?

How is it that suddenly declaring moral values facts means that science can now discover moral values? It seems to me as though this is impossible. Construct an empirical test that demonstrates “Rape is wrong” or “Murdering people for one’s own pleasure is wrong.” It seems to me as though this cannot be done. Perhaps the one comment did make some headway, however. On atheistic naturalistic science, consciousness is reducible to brain states. These can be detected by science. Throw in the assumption that what makes people feel good is right and what makes them feel bad is wrong, and we now have a way to determine objective morality!

Well, not so much. One immediate objection is that murder or rape, it could be argued, make the perpetrators quite happy. Who decides which happiness trumps which happiness? Is it a group effort? Gather enough test subjects around when a murder happens, measure their brain waves to determine how many people are happy or sad, check off a box “right” or “wrong” depending on the happiness levels. Repeat as many times as needed for empirical validation, and now we have an objective moral values? I think this view is utterly bankrupt. How can we determine morality by mob?

Not only that, but isn’t it possible that at different time periods in history (or the future) such measurements would come up differently? Suppose that in the future the majority of people believe murder is a happy thing, or at least it is acceptable. Well, on this same test, there would be completely different results. Suddenly, objective morality has changed its mind!

There are other problems, however. How exactly can a moral value even be testable. We can do as above and simply measure happiness in various moral situations, but that doesn’t do anything to test the moral value itself. Instead, it tests how people feel about the moral value. How do we test the value with science? I don’t see any possible way to do so.

One final problem is that Harris, on this argument, seems to take what is “right” to be what people like. This is a huge assumption. How fortuitous it would be that naturalistic evolution managed to line us up exactly with the self-existent moral values such that we would like what is “right”! No, the problem with this is that equating “right” with “pleasure” allows for things like the Nazis. Get enough people who take pleasure in exterminating a populace that is a huge minority, and you have suddenly changed “objective” “right” to be exterminating that populace. Say there are 1,000,000,000 people who each get +1 happiness to exterminate a population of 10 people, who would each get -100 happiness (the maximum!) for being exterminated. Clearly, +1,000,000,000 is better than -100. But is it objectively right to say that exterminating people for +1 happiness is right?

Speaking of the well being of children, Harris says: “Is there any doubt that this question has an answer and that it matters?” Indeed not. I am absolutely astounded that someone like Sam Harris seems to be arguing that there are objective moral values. He has nothing on which he can base them. Dawkins states that “there is at bottom no… evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” In contrast, Harris states that moral values are fact! But he has no grounds to do so. Science cannot show objective morality. It can show the feelings of individuals. These feelings are not objective.

At best, all the atheist can do is distill the feelings of the mob into a general recommendation for morality one way or another. I’m not saying atheists cannot be moral people (indeed, I think often many atheists are extremely moral individuals, with much to commend them in this regard), rather, I would argue that atheists have no basis for their morality. Such morality can be based on the feelings of the majority, but it can never be stated that these are objectively right or wrong.

It is telling, further, that someone like Harris admits that there are indeed objective values such as right and wrong. It is quite unfortunate, however, to have to watch him fumbling to try to explain them. The atheistic universe is exactly as Dawkins portrays it, “there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Thankfully, theists have something on which to base objective morality: God. The universe, on theism, has such things as objective moral values, it has design, it has purpose, it has good and evil, and instead of blind, pitiless indifference, it has a God who cares specifically about each creature in this universe.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from cited material which is the property of its respective owner[s]) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Counter-Counter Apologetics 2: Gross Misunderstandings of the Ontological Argument

In this second in my series countering counter-apologetics, I will examine arguments that are supposed to counter the Ontological Argument, which I personally believe is both logically valid and unavoidably true.

There are two main sources I will use to show the anti-theistic counter. Iron Chariots and Richard Dawkins. It is telling that I personally believe that Iron Chariots, a Wikipedia-offshoot site for counter-apologetics manages to make a better case than Richard Dawkins.

The Ontological Argument comes in a very wide range of forms. There is no way I could discuss all of them individually in a limited space, so I won’t. What I will do is simply lay out a very basic template that underlies most ontological arguments, show the counter-arguments and counter those.

The Ontological Argument is basically as follows:

1. It is possible there is a being that is the greatest conceivable being.

2. That which exists in reality is greater than that which exists in the understanding.

3. Therefore, the greatest possible being must exist in reality by definition.

This is by far the most basic possible way I could strip the argument down. I’d like to put a mini disclaimer here and say I am no professional philosopher, so I may have taken too many of the finer points out of the Ontological Argument, but I think this is the best summing up.

There are a few ways that anti-theists attempt to counter this argument, by making a parody of it, by challenging the first premise, or by judging it as unintelligible.

I will deal with the latter argument first. The challenge is made that the Ontological Argument is unintelligible. This is, I believe, the general point Richard Dawkins is trying to make in his amateurish attack on theistic arguments in The God Delusion. He points to a few things in order to try to get around it. The first is reducing the argument to the “language of the playground (104).” I might point out that I would gladly put his entire book in such language, because I wholly agree with him when he states that “I am a scientist rather than a philosopher (107).” Poking fun at an argument is an interesting tactic, but wholly ineffective. I honestly have nothing more to say about this first apparent attack, because all it shows is Dawkins’ own ineffectual method of argumentation: discarding the rules of philosophy in favor of elitest bickering.

His second attack is stating that, “The very idea that grand conclusions could follow from such logomachist trickery offends me aesthetically, so I must take care to refrain from brandying words like ‘fool (105).'” Dawkins breaks his own rule several times, not using the word fool, but berating the religious in general throughout his book. Further, the fact that logic offends him aesthetically speaks volumes for the amount of mastery he has over philosophy. His claim that an argument such as the ontological one is “trickery” really does nothing to the argument, because once again it’s not actually an attack on any of the premises, but rather simply being offended by a logically sound argument.

In his third approach, Dawkisn simply tries to point to the argument as unintelligible by quoting a story of a debate between Euler and Diderot, in which Euler was said to have stated “Monsieur [sic], (a+b^n)/n=x therefore God exists!” I’m not entirely sure I’m drawing the correct conclusion from Dawkins random placement of this quote in his supposed dismantling of various theistic arguments, but it seems he’s comparing the Ontological Argument to just pulling random things out of a hat. Unfortunately, that is not the case, because the Ontological Argument is logically valid, and the only way to get around it is to challenge a premise, which Dawkins either can’t, due to his ineptness with philosophy, or won’t, due to his general misrepresentation of theism in general, do.

Further, how exactly is it that the ontological argument is unintelligible? It states simply that it is possible to think of a being that is the greatest of all. That’s not so hard to comprehend. The argument doesn’t depend on us being able to conceive of this being in its entirety, just to have a concept of possibility. This idea that God is possible is intelligible to even those children who would use the “playground language” dawkins attempts to reduce the Ontological Argument to. The other points of the Ontological Argument follow, so the argument itself is intelligible.

Iron Chariots takes a different route, presenting some of the more interesting challenges to the Ontological Argument (in fairness to Dawkins, he did show a parody of the argument, but I don’t think it’s any better or worse than those presented at Iron Chariots).

The Ontological Argument is generally thought to be most susceptible to parodies. This is essentially taking an argument and constructing a new argument with the same logical structure to come to an absurd conclusion.

Iron Chariots presents three parodies. They are all almost identical, so I shall show the two classic versions:

“Unicorns:

  1. Let us define a unicorn as a magical equine being that has one horn, and that exists.
  2. By the above definition, such a being must necessarily exist.
  3. Therefore unicorns exist.

Shangri-La:

  1. Shangri-La is the greatest place on earth.
  2. A place that exists is greater than one that doesn’t.
  3. Therefore, Shangri-La exists. (Iron Chariots) “

The problem with these parodies is that they seem to miss the entire point of the Ontological Argument, which is that it is discussing a necessary being. Unicorns, by definition, are contingent beings. That is, their existence is not necessary, they are not necessary in our universe for our universe to be as it is. The same goes for locations such as Shangri-La. The theistic God, however, has tied into the concept necessity. According to theism, God is not a contingent being, but a necessary one. Therefore, these parodies don’t actually do anything to the Ontological Argument because they missed one of the core premises. Now I will concede my mini-Ontological Arugment doesn’t explicitly state necessity, but other versions do. It can also be shown through logical analysis that these kind of paraodies are invalid.

The final attempt at invalidating the Ontological Argument is another parody, known as “Gasking’s Proof”:

  1. The creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable.
  2. The merit of an achievement consists of its intrinsic greatness and the ability of its creator.
  3. The greater the handicap to the creator, the greater the achievement (would you be more impressed by Turner painting a beautiful landscape or a blind one-armed dwarf?)
  4. The biggest handicap to a creator would be non-existence
  5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the creation of an existing creator, we can conceive a greater being — namely, one who created everything while not existing.
  6. Therefore, God does not exist.

There are many problems with this attempt to parody the Ontological Argument and prove God doesn’t exist. These are all problems with the premises. Premise 1 states that the creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable. How so? Are there not achievements that could be greater? Could not the greatest achievement be creating infinite universes? For the sake of argument, however, I’ll concede step 1. Premises 3 and 4, I believe, has the greatest problems. Premise 3 assumes that doing things with a handicap makes something logically greater. I’d love to see a proof of this. The premise makes an appeal to common sense, but that is invalid in logic. I’m not at all convinced that having a handicap and doing something makes that achievement itself greater. This is made more problematic by the fact that premise 1 points to the universe as being the greatest achievement. This would seem to mean that an achievement is a finished product, not the steps leading up to the product.

For example, the Cubs winning the World Series after over a century without doing so may seem a greater achievement than the Yankees doing so, but it would be hard to show that logically, for both have the World Series as the finished product. I’m willing to grant premise 3, however, just for the sake of argument.

Premise 4 is where the argument really breaks apart. How is it that non-existence is a handicap? Handicaps can only be applied to things that do exist. To imply that something has a handicap assumes implicitly that it exists. Thus, premise 4 essentially says that a being both exists and does not exist, which is logically impossible. I assume that this premise was in order to counter the idea that existing-in-reality is greater than existing-in-understanding, but note that both of these are existing. In other words, the choice in the Ontological Argument is not saying that something that doesn’t exist exists, just that something that exists-in-the-understanding rather exists-in-reality. Premise 4 is therefore completely invalid both logically and in relation to the Ontological Argument.

I may talk further about Ontological Arguments, but that’s what I have for now. As William Lane Craig states, the Ontological argument leaves anti-theists with no way out. If the concept of the theistic God is even possible, than God exists, necessarily.

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