Monday, July 29, 2013

A bit of a presuppositionalist argument - Part II

Last time, I delved into this bizarre site that was attempting to prove God exists because of the undemonstrated assertion that this entity was needed for logic/truth/etc.

Then, at the end, a link goes to another page where the actual argument is supplied. Let's have a look.

Why is God Necessary For:
Knowledge: Unless one knows everything, or has revelation from someone (God) who does, something we don't know could contradict what we think we know.
Maybe your reaction was similar to mine, where my first thought was "... what?" Of course, that's usually my reaction to almost anything an apologist says to me.

I've thought about this considerably, trying to figure out the most succinct and understandable rebuttal, but I'm afraid it's just going to take some explanation.

It's a word game - one that warps concepts to the point where a god is required. Those of us who actually engage in epistemology, investigating reality, etc, don't approach it, or even use the same understanding of these concepts, as the author. The author has personally constructed a problem that the rest of us don't have.


Only a Sith deals in absolutes (Woo - I finally have a work of fiction I can cite that's only tangentially related to the subject, as though it were important!).

This is only a problem if we're talking about absolute proscriptive knowledge. I do think this is one of those issues where we're failing to communicate properly, like when Liberals and Conservatives talk about tolerance.

We actually have two halves to this question of knowledge (which the author seems to acknowledge without understanding how it undermines the argument):

  • We claim to know something, and we based that from "demonstration beyond a reasonable doubt". Basically, if we've tested something over and over, and it seems to hold up, we're going to go ahead and conclude that, most likely, we're right... and claim it to be knowledge. 
  • ... Whether we ended up actually knowing something... which is, at the end of the day, a descriptive question.
The example I keep bringing up is:
I claim to know that my car keys are on my kitchen counter, because that's where they've been observed to be all day. We decide to go see if they're there. If the keys are on the counter, then my claim to knowledge was correct. If they aren't, then my claim to knowledge was incorrect - I actually didn't know.
The author has apparently concocted an argument that relies on this idea that "knowledge" is proscribed as absolutely true, and we can't do that unless we know everything, and know it won't be contradicted in the future.

... but that's not how we operate. We're practical creatures, after all.

In my line of work (I'm a programmer), it's very common for me to have a set of things I think I know, and most of the time I'm right. When I find out I'm not, I update what I think is true. Problem solved. We casually correct for this problem as much as we casually correct the problem of our cars running out of fuel, by going to a gas station.

Instead, what we fallible biochemical computers with arms and legs, do, is develop a process that produces a high success rate of data that appears to be consistently true (science). This has led us to a wide variety of things we consider "knowledge" that have allowed us to make things like computers and GPS.... all without requiring any "absolute knowledge". We've built all this success on what could be called "educated guesses" that turn out to be right most of the time, because they're based on reason and evidence.

... so when I read the author's statement, I was confused as to what the problem was, or why divine intervention was required... and that's because the author is operating under a different set of meanings and understandings than the rest of us.

It's a Straw Man Argument wrapped around an Argument from Ignorance (how do we know these are the only options?).

I don't know that I even explained the above very well, but I only barely understand the point the author was trying to make. If we think we know something, and are contradicted, we update what we think we know, and move on. That's how science works. What's the problem?

Let's move onto the next section. The first was just a non-starter.
Truth: If our thoughts are the mere by-products of the electrochemical processes in our evolved brains, you would not get "truth" you would get "brain-fizz." Chemicals do not produce "truth" they just react. As Doug Wilson said, it would be like shaking up a can of Mountain Dew, and a can of Dr. Pepper, opening them, and watching them fizz. Neither fizz is "true," they just are. For truth you need someone (God) who transcends the natural realm.

I would describe this as "word salad." Particularly, this part is curious:
Chemicals do not produce "truth" they just react.
I agree. Who's saying that truth is "produced" by chemicals? In fact, I have no idea what the author means by "truth" here.

Truth is objective. There's an actual objective amount of fuel molecules in the gas tank of my truck... this quantity exists whether any sentient minds currently exist to measure it, or not. This quantity of fuel is part of "truth" - as something that actually manifests in reality.

What that "electrochemical" brain does, is analyze the world around it, and figure things out. It doesn't generate truth... it figures out, to a high degree of probability, what the truth is.

All evidence points to this happening. No evidence indicates that divine intervention is required. No evidence indicates that the brain doesn't work on its own. This is a simple application of Occam's razor... that what we simply directly observe is probably what's true.

I don't know what this "fizz" stuff is about. The brain doesn't "fizz"... what is he talking about?

In fact, in our studies of the organic brain, we've learned about this concept of "neural nets" (link to Wiki), and we're now regularly employing them for a wide variety of applications, from voice recognition, to robotics. The implication is that, so far, our analysis of organic brains indicates they're capable of processing data very well... and nothing about "fizz".
... As Doug Wilson said, it would be like shaking up a can of Mountain Dew, and a can of Dr. Pepper, opening them, and watching them fizz. Neither fizz is "true," they just are.
Actually, no. The truth is, both are fizzing. That's part of "truth". It's true that they're fizzing... what's the problem here?

"For truth you need someone (God) who transcends the natural realm." - the author hasn't come close to justifying this claim.

Long story short, the author's definition of "truth" is screwed up, and dismisses the ability of the brain to do its thing, based on some strange, nonsensical analogy, while also ignoring the bulk of scientific knowledge about how brains work.

Okay, last section...
Universal, immaterial, unchanging logic: For universal, immaterial, unchanging logic, you need someone (God) who is universal (Psalm 90:2), not made of matter (John 4:24) and unchanging (Malachi 3:6). Without God, who has universal knowledge, we could not know anything to be universally true. Without God, who is Spirit (not made of matter), we could not make sense of immaterial things. Without God who is unchanging (and logic is a reflection of the way He thinks), we would have no basis for expecting logic not to change.
Going down through these sections, it's like we're quickly descending into an abyss of insanity. This is the worst yet.

I'll be blunt. I have no idea how or why logic exists. Both I and the author appear to agree that it exists, though. I, on the other hand, and willing to say "I don't know", until we have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that our proposed model is true. I am unwilling to make up mythological entities to explain reality. History has shown that's a severely inaccurate approach to understanding the world.

I can't quite seem to identify this particular logical fallacy... I'm pretty sure it is one. The structure of the argument appears to be to list a bunch of attributes logic, and then saying "see, my invisible sky wizard, that for all intents and purposes humanity invented, happens to have aspects, that if we blur the lines enough, appear to match - therefore, GOD".

It'd be like if we discovered several scorch marks on the ground across several fields, where the source would have to be fairly mobile to get from field to field. So, this source of the marks would have the following attributes:

  1. Can scorch the ground
  2. Is very mobile, and can get around
... and the author of this argument ninja-chops through the doors, and announces that he's got a solution for that - dragons! Dragons are both mobile (can fly) and leave scorch marks (they breathe fire)... so since these attributes match up, we've solved the mystery!

It's ignoring the fact that, for dragons to be a plausible cause, they first have to be demonstrably real... so the author is putting the cart before the horse. It's also ignoring much more reasonable explanations, like lightning.

It's fine if the author wants to propose a potential explanation for a phenomenon, but as usual, the second step is empirical confirmation. That's how we get from "speculation" to "demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt".

I've found this whole argument to be truly vapid, and sorely in need of actual evidence. The author can't even employ logic correctly, as evidenced by fleets of logical fallacies... which invalidates the arguments, and combined with twisting the meanings of words around, and misrepresenting how standard epistemology actually works, has resulted in this entire page being totally invalidated, and thus, a failure.

Unfortunately, any apologists reading through this probably had their eyes glaze over after the first sentence or two. Unlike many apologists, my world view isn't based on a collection of snappy 1-liners. Sometimes, critically thinking through the epistemological issues takes time, and is complicated.

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