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Wednesday 18 October 2017

7 Reasons Why Apologists Should Stop Trying to Logic

Greetings, dear reader! 

Today's outing is a quickie, a new entry into the hackenslash challenge.

Before I get on with it, a little housekeeping. The astute among you will have noticed that the URLs have changed. This is because, as alluded to over the course of the past few months here and elsewhere, I'm preparing to migrate this site to a more professional setting, with a newly designed website. To that end, I've purchased this domain. I had said at the outset that I didn't intend to spend much time or effort on design but, as the blog has grown more popular and my regular readers on social media channels have commented, I felt it was time to do something about that. I'm also going to be starting to approach publishers in the coming months, to see if I can generate some interest in the book that has always been the end goal of these missives. These comments have also impacted the way I've been thinking about the long-term future of the blog. I have other writing projects rattling around, including maybe a book and maybe a series of books about the unsung heroes of science, a topic that's very dear to me.

Blogspot has been pretty good for me, although there are limitations to implementation that have always bugged me. I always wanted to be able to use html/php tags and LaTeX in comments, so that I can reply properly and so that others can utilise them in their questions and comments. I'm sure that there are ways to deal with these limitations right here, but I also feel that having my own site with complete control is the right way to go for the future.

I must apologise on that front, because one of the consequences of pointing to the new domain has been that all comments submitted via Google+ up until this point have been lost. This was my fault, as I pointed the blog to the domain during the registration process without double-checking the implications of doing so first. Had I been more methodical in this process, I'd have archived the comments first. I'm going to attempt to recover them via G+ or by reverting briefly to the blogspot domain, but only if it doesn't constitute a prohibitive amount of effort. If this can be done reasonably easily, I'll either restore the comments or add them in at the bottom of posts. It would be a shame to lose them, because the comments section has been a source of some great comments, some of which have led to new posts in their own right. Also, there was one comment that I came across the other day when reviewing a post to make sure that it comprehensively answered the question of somebody who asked a question on Twitter, that I really do want to recover, as it was from Hapless Pete, who we met in On Death, and who is no longer with us.

So, let's see what 'logic' has been offered up, shall we?

This particular outing is a response to an attempt at rebutting one of my previous posts, All Kinds of Everything, which is a debunking of the three classic omnis and free will. It was to be an outing addressing what convinced this person of the existence of god, but she's posted this blog while I was finishing other things, and it seems more appropriate to address this. As we'll see, the failure of logic offered up as allegedly refuting my earlier work is, to put it as politely as I can, comprehensive. 

This will possibly not be comprehensive, as I have little intention of burning any more time on this than it warrants and, given that it doesn't warrant any time at all, I'm addressing it only as it's been presented, and will not be going back to read my original post so that I can address the complete failures of context that I know will be there. This will, however, be an exercise in the noble art of fisking.

So, without further ado, let's crack on:

Stephanie begins with this (incorporating what she's responding to in italics):
Argument on omniscience: “To summarise what I said there, because we’re limited to what we can observe, and because there’s no observation we can make, even in principle, that can tell us that what we observe is, in a fully ontological sense, real, we have to stop short of this kind of absolute statement and admit that there’s a limit to what we can know… It’s quite literally an omni-limitation, and it applies equally to any entity that could reasonably be described as a deity.” 

Tony’s assumption that we can “equally” apply our physical limitations to our Creator places God on equal footing as man. One cannot logically assume that the eternal Creator of our magnificent universe should be put on equal footing as the inhabitants on the third rock from the sun in the Milky Way Galaxy. 
Here's the first of many failures of logic. Stephanie characterises my assessment as being predicated on physical limitations, when it's supremely clear that this is a logical limitation. With this objection, Stephanie has demonstrated that she hasn't actually grasped the argument at all. One can, at a stretch, think of the system of god's knowledge to be like a Gödel statement (Phil Scott will have my guts for this), in that it is a logical impossibility to show completeness from within the system. One would have to step outside the system to be sure that it contains 'all knowledge' and, of course, there is no 'outside', even were there a means to get there. 

There is, to my mind, only one possible escape to this conclusion and, prior to beginning this, I confronted Stephanie with it on Twitter. After much evasion, in which she failed singularly to address the question, the following:

It is worth noting that Stephanie objected to this by saying that she hadn't said that God was immune to logic, only that he was immune to my logic. Two things to note about that, the first being that the aforementioned evasion was specifically trying to pin her down on that point, and the second being that there is no 'my logic', there is only logic, something repeatedly pointed out to her in the course of said evasions.
If we consider the billions of people who have inhabited this planet and the many great minds who occupied positions of authority over the centuries, one can make the reasonable assertion that all of the great minds together do not match the knowledge of the mind from which they were derived.

Each man is apportioned a share of a much greater mind and can never exceed that greater mind, just as a river can never exceed its source. And our source knows all.
And this is pure blind assertion, with no basis in evidence. It can be dismissed on that basis alone. 
“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite” Psalm 147:5.
As we go on, I don't intend to include all the bible quotes or to give space to cited apologetic. If this is supposed to stand in evidence of anything, it fails. Feel free to see Stephanie's post and raise anything I fail to address in the comments.

Quoting the bible at an atheist is much like flinging turds at passing strangers and expecting them to thank you for it. I've covered the logical problems of holy books as sources of information at some length elsewhere, notably here, so there seems little point in going over that ground again.
Tony is correct in his observation that humans are limited in what we can observe. Yet what we observe in the physical world is as the tip of an iceberg. Beneath the surface of our observations lies the truth.
And again, this isn't a physical limitation, it's a logical one, and Stephanie's approach to this issue betrays a paucity of understanding not only of the rudiments of logic but epistemology generally.

This objection fails.
The disciple Paul pointed to the importance of opening our eyes to the spiritual world when he made the following observation in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 4:8) “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal.”
And we should be interested in what Paul says on this subject because?

Moving on...
Argument on omnipotence: “Can god construct a pile of bricks so heavy that he can’t lift it?” If he can’t, he’s not omnipotent. If he can, he’s not omnipotent.

To answer this question, one must first consider the characteristics of our Creator, along with the creation that He has advanced. Envision the universe and its planets, stars, and ever expanding dimensions. Hugh Ross (2016, p. 75) states, “A remarkable sequence of events over the course of a billion years somehow worked together to place the solar system’s eight planets (not to mention its other objects) in their current orbital positions.

The observation that these positions provide optimally for the existence and survival of advanced life on Earth adds considerable weight to what science and philosophers refer to as the anthropic principle, or the law of human existence. Some loathe it while others embrace it for the enormity of its implications. In brief, the anthropic principle states that all features of the universe appear fine-tuned for the benefit of human life.” This principle forms the foundation of the teleological argument for God’s existence.
Somehow? It's remarkable that somebody with a doctorate in astrophysics characterises the well-understood processes involved in the formation of the solar system by reducing them to 'somehow'.  

Moreover, Ross has horrendously mischaracterised the anthropic principle here.The anthropic principle is simply the suggestion that, if the universe were sufficiently different to prohibit our existence, we wouldn't be here to describe it. It certainly does not state that the features of the universe appear fine-tuned for life. This is a massive commission of the fallacy known as 'affirming the consequent', which I covered in detail here. I also covered fine-tuning in somewhat greater detail here. To summarise that post in a nutshell, the universe is NOT fine-tuned for life, life is fine-tuned for the universe, by virtue of having arise under its constants. 

Moreover, the apologist is massively equivocating on the concept of fine-tuning as it appears in the lexicon of physics, wherein its role is to point out that certain parameters must fall within a narrow range of values if the model under consideration is correct.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a German philosopher (1646-1716), advanced this version of the cosmological argument in support of God (Craig, 2010).
Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
If the universe has an explanation of its existence, the explanation is God.
The universe exists.
The universe has an explanation of its existence.
Leibniz was a great thinker but, like many of his time, the product of a hegemony of religious doctrine spanning most of two millennia. However, his being a great thinker didn't free him from the biases of his time, and here we see the big one manifest in spades.
All cosmological arguments fail for exactly the same reasons. This one's no different. 

P1, P2 and P4 are unsupported blind assertions. The argument is a failed attempt to define god into existence and, from Stephanie's perspective, smacks of an argumentum ad verecundiam.

I should also note that the notion of existence as a predicate rears its ugly head a couple of times in there but, given that Stephanie has demonstrated a colossal failure to parse considerably simpler logical notions than this during the course of her sojourn into mindless drivel, there's not much point getting into why that's a problem for the time being.

For more on cosmological arguments and why they fail, see my previous post on the Kalam.
Around a century ago, scientists proffered the Big Bang Theory of the universe. The Big Bang theory states that around 13.8 billion years ago, all matter in the universe was concentrated into an incredibly tiny point. A hot explosion occurred and the universe began to expand and is still expanding today, as evidenced by fact that galaxies are continuing to move away from us. The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation of the how the universe came into being (Howell, 2017), despite its theological implications.

What are its theological implications? Since we know that time, space, and matter began with the Big Bang, what existed prior to its expansion had to be unbounded by time (eternal), intentional, powerful, and immaterial. What existed prior had to have the ability to power inflation of the universe and stop an infinite regression of matter. These are the characteristics we attribute to God: the uncaused cause.
My regular readers, being aware that cosmology is actually my primary area of scientific interest, will know that I've covered the ridiculous categorical statements erected here elsewhere, so I won't treat this in any detail, except to note a few things. First, there is no 'the' big bang theory. The big bang is the name we have for the observed expansion of our local cosmic iteration. The statement that we 'know that time, space and matter began with the big bang' is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete arse-water. There is literally zero justification in any of physics for the notion that time began at the big bang. It's a popularly-held notion which was never a robust conclusion and which stems from the original big bang theory, which stands falsified. All else aside, just what is meant by the term 'universe' is open to equivocation.

We certainly have good reason to think that our local expanse had something like a beginning, but that's entirely theoretical, and even our theories don't go all the way to any beginning. They hit a brick wall at the Planck time, and an observation wall at the surface of last scattering. I've covered all of this in considerable detail in a series of posts which I'll link at the bottom of the page. Suffice it to say that we have plausible models dealing with the instantiation of our local expanse, whether it constitutes the totality of the cosmos or not, and whether it literally arose from nothing or from pre-existing stuff. What this means in practice is that the assertion that the big bang has any theological implications is quite simply unmitigated guff with no logical basis.
In other words, the characteristics of our Creator must far exceed the limits of His creation. The one who formed and designed planets and stars certainly would not be limited by a “pile of bricks” of any size. Tony has mischaracterized our Creator as one bounded by physical limitations, yet God is metaphysical, omnipotent, and far beyond anything we can even conceive.
 And here was see what that diversion into irrelevance was all about. It's the 'quick, look over there' school of argument (of course, I'm being as charitable as I can be in that assessment, because it's also possible that Stephanie simply doesn't grok the logic of the argument).

The problem is that she wasn't clever enough to make the diversion complete, and now she's highlighted it again, along with her failure to grasp the implication of the argument, and has made it about physical limitations. 

This is a simple logical principle of two abilities that stand in direct contradiction of each other. One is constructing a pile of bricks too heavy to lift, which I can do, the other is being able to lift a pile of bricks of any size, which I can't do. What Stephanie has done, then, is to answer 'no' to the question, and said that God can't construct such a pile, because he can lift any pile. Therefore, he isn't omnipotent.

It's telling that she doesn't grasp this, which is far and away the easiest of the arguments in my post to deal with. All she has here is apologetic flim-flam, and even that fails miserably.

Now then, what's next?
Argument on omnipresence: “This means that, on its own, something being in multiple locations is not an attribute that points to divinity.”

To be in multiple locations at once is impossible for humans. We cannot physically and concurrently be in India and Japan or in any two distinct locations at once. Only one unhindered by the boundaries of time and a physical body can be concurrently in our past, present, and future: God. In other words, omnipresence is an attribute of God.
This would be almost funny if it weren't so wrong and stated with such confidence. Is bilocation impossible for humans? Modern physics says otherwise. Certainly (see what I did there?) it is highly improbable for a human to be in multiple places at once, but impossible? Afraid not. 

One of those posts linked at the bottom on cosmology explains why this is so. In that post, The Certainty of Uncertainty, we looked at some of the implications of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, and what it means in the real world. Among the things we looked at was the phenomenon of quantum tunnelling, which is actually a function of superposition (bilocation). We also noted that something the size of a human can also experience quantum tunnelling, though the probability is so small that it's unlikely to happen within the entire lifespan of the universe. If bilocation is possible, the so is a superposition of all locations. It's unlikely, but it doesn't break any physical law.

The rest is blind assertion and, again, can be dismissed on that basis alone. It's not even clear at this point that the assertion of being concurrently in past, present and future is even coherent. This is entirely dependent on subscribing to a particular ontology of time, and we all know the value of ontology. As I like to say, metaphysics is to thought what praying is to helping.

Next up:
Argument on omni-benevolence: “Now, a simple reading of any of the major holy texts of monotheism will rapidly disabuse you of the notion that the entity described in them is in any way good.”
“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form” –Lewis, 1940, p. 17).

The problem of pain... [snip vacuous bollocks]
This doesn't even rise to the level of being worthy of a response, since it's a response to an argument I didn't make. It suggests that I argued that, if god is good, there would be no pain. I don't make stupid arguments like that and, frankly, to erect a summary of an argument by an apologist like C.S. Lewis and treat it as if I'd made it is beyond insulting. For all his popularity and grasp of certain topics, Lewis couldn't think his way out of an open gate.

I will say that it's worth noting that Stephanie has elided the vast majority of this section, in which what follows directly after the cutoff point made the following clear:

What my argument was actually dealing with was not the existence of pain, but God's own actions in causing suffering. What's really interesting is that, in this section, Stephanie quotes the book of Job. Let that sink in for a minute. Remember that this book deals with the horrendous treatment of one of God's most faithful for a fucking bet. He completely fucks Job over, killing all his family and subjecting him to misery, just so that he could wave his cock about in front of Satan.

Oh but,' the apologist will say, 'he gave him a new family afterwards' as if that makes it all OK again. Moral arbiter of the universe? Do me a fucking lemon.

Moreover, it constitutes nothing more than preaching, and I have no intention of giving it oxygen.
Argument on vicarious redemption: “I alone must bear the burden – whatever that might be – for the things I’ve said and done. The idea that I could simply divest myself of this responsibility is anathema to me, as it should be to any entity with any moral rectitude. This, completely aside from the accompanying suggestions that a) this occurs with absolutely no input from me concerning my desires in this regard and b) that the process for this has precisely nothing to do with my contributions to society and the well-being of humanity, relies only on believing in an entity that, should it actually be worthy of the appellation ‘deity’, should have neither want nor need of my belief or, indeed, my worship.” Tony goes on to say that humans invented this notion as a means of scapegoating.

Tony is correct in his assertion we should hold ourselves accountable. God also holds us accountable though He gave us free will to make choices that sometimes go against His will.

The Parables of the Lost Sheep... [and other biblical and apologetic drivel snipped]

In summary, the atonement was complementary to the gift of free will. It was not simply a means by which early societies scapegoated God to absolve themselves of their sins.
This completely fails to address the argument. All else aside, the statement that I go on 'to say that humans invented this notion as a means of scapegoating' is a misrepresentation of what I actually said, and doesn't deal with the objection in any way, because it fails to address the immorality of divesting oneself of one's sole responsibility for one's deeds. 

Pure misdirection.
Argument on the coexistence of evil: “Observation tells us that evil exists as defined above. In this context, there can be no entity that has all three of those omnis and for evil to still exist. If an entity knows all about evil, has the power to stop it, and doesn’t, it isn’t benevolent, let alone omnibenevolent. If it’s omnibenevolent and omniscient and doesn’t, it can’t, thus it isn’t omnipotent. If it’s omnipotent and omnibenevolent and doesn’t, it’s ignorant. This exhausts the possibilities, and shows that no entity with all three attributes can co-exist with evil.”

Some skeptics justify their lack of belief in God with the assertion that evil exists.
I know of no sceptic who does this, and I certainly don't. My lack of belief doesn't require justification beyond the fact that I'm a sceptic. The null is the rebuttable position for any given claim, and no justification for holding to the null in the absence of supporting evidence is required. That's why we refer to it as the logical default, because that's what it is. 

The 'assertion' (as if an assertion is all it is) that 'evil' exists is not a justification for not believing, it's a counter to the claim that God knows what's going on, cares about our well-being and has the power to do something about it. 
They make the monumental assumption that God’s goals are necessarily our goals. They question why God, who has the power to stop evil, doesn’t do so at times.
No, they make no assumptions, and they don't question why god doesn't do so 'at times', they question why he doesn't do so ever. This is not an argument against the existence of God, it's an argument against some of the purported characteristics of God.
They question human suffering stemming from tragedies such as the massacres in Manchester and Las Vegas and devastation from hurricanes in Texas, Puerto Rico, and Florida.
Again, this misses the point of such questioning. These events make perfect sense on a dynamic planet populated with fallible humans, but none whatsoever on a planet ruled over by an all-powerful entity who knows what's going on and actually gives a shit.
To understand this issue, we need to examine the purpose of good and evil. The world isn’t a perfect place because if it were, we could never grow the sorts of characteristics needed to be more consistent with the example of Jesus Christ. We’re here to grow and learn from our mistakes, because learning from our mistakes is what helps us to grow. We’re here to persevere through pain, to show empathy around those in need, to demonstrate faith when tested. In other words, we’re tested in all sorts of ways to grow characteristics like determination, faith, perseverance, empathy, and love. How could we ever truly understand love if we hadn’t experienced its counterpart? How could we ever develop hope if we never had anything for which to hope? How could we ever develop humility if we had never been humbled? So, the fact that the Lord has put us into a world with all of these yin and yang sorts of good and evil characteristics is to improve us and make us more like Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Pure preachy nonsense, with no logical content whatsoever. 

As it happens, I have no use whatsoever for the terms 'good' and 'evil', as I also detail in the post that Stephanie purports to refute. They suggest the existence of moral absolutes, which is a complete nonsense. I dealt with that notion at great length here.
Argument on free will: “The sceptic will argue that omniscience and free will are not compatible, because omniscience entails determinism.”

Determinism is the concept that God has preconceived of our lives, so skeptics argue that God cannot have omniscience while granting us free will if our lives have been predetermined. This is a complex concept to understand, so I’ve tried to slowly unpack the answer.

By understanding unbounded time, we can better understand God’s omniscience and the free will He has bestowed upon us. Omniscience means that God is all-knowing. Skeptics often conflate His knowledge with His control over us, thinking that for God to be all knowing, He must have control over our actions. He must have predetermined our lives.

Alternatively, I suggest that the reason God knows our future is not because He’s controlled our future, but because He’s seen our future. Just as a journalist can skip through the pages of the newspapers in which she has published, moving back and forth in time, God can move back and forth in time. So, the real time that constrains us does not constrain Him. He sees our decisions and actions and knows whether we’ll be in the Lamb’s Book of Life, not because He’s predetermined our destiny, but because He has watched us as we exercise our free will through the lens of unbounded time. Furthermore, God is always in the present, yet He is unbounded by linear time so He is concurrently in our future and our past. According to Revelation 1:8, the Lord God “who is and who was and who always will be.”
Wow! It's almost like Stephanie either didn't read or didn't understand the argument I presented! How can that be?

The simple fact is that she's erecting an objection that I already addressed. You can tell, because I knocked down the suggestion that my argument commits the modal fallacy*. One can only come away with thinking that Stephanie doesn't known and didn't bother to find out what any of that means or what the modal fallacy is, which again goes to her competence to even approach the debate table of somebody well-versed in logic. 

It's worth a tiny diversion here to point out that Stephanie didn't actually address the content of my argument or even cite it, she simply took my statement about what a sceptic would say and then ran with that as if it constituted the entirety of what I had to say on the subject.

Suggesting that God's knowledge doesn't constitute his control of the future as an objection to my argument is precisely to accuse me of committing the modal fallacy, when I expressly debunked the notion that I was committing this fallacy in the very post she purports to rebut. The failure of logic here is complete. 

I suggest to Stephanie that, rather than looking merely at the statement of the problem, she actually look at the full argument. It's an essential rule of debate-centred discourse that you actually pay attention to what you're arguing against and be certain you fully understand it prior to formulating a response, and certainly prior to crowing in public about how you've refuted anything.

No, God's omniscience entails determinism not because he causes it to be, but because he has perfect future knowledge, thus the future is fixed. It isn't a requirement for him to have fixed it, only that it is fixed and, because his knowledge is allegedly perfect, cannot turn out another way.
C.S. Lewis described this concept this way: “Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along; and there is room for very little in each. That is what time is like. And of course you and I take it for granted that this time series – this arrangement of past, present, and future – is not simply the way life comes to us but the way things really exist…But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in time at all: later the philosophers took it over: and now some scientists are doing the same. Almost certainly, God is not in time…If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty – and every other moment from the beginning of the world – is always present for Him.”

This is a difficult concept for some to grasp, but according to C.S. Lewis, it fits within Christianity. People may choose to ignore the concept, which is fine, yet it serves to understand several important aspects of God and the free will He has bestowed upon us.
And still wondering why we should be interested in what Lewis has to say about anything. This is not a difficult concept for me to grasp, not least because I understand time a good deal better than Lewis did, not least because I have access to all of 20th century science on the topic, while he did not.

The ontology of time is not known, nor will it or can it ever be, I suspect. Treating it as a settled question is asinine. If you speak to those who actually work in the field, they can't even tell you with any certainty what time is, so for Lewis, a complete novice in the this respect, to assert that time works this way or that way is beyond asinine and wandering into the realm of the utterly fucking stupid.

In summary, it seems apposite to classify Stephanie's outing in the immortal words of physicist Wolfgang Pauli:

Das is nicht nur nicht richtig, es is nicht einmal falsch!

I look forward to any cogent objections, but I don't intend to give Stephanie any more space here unless she presents something that's actually worthy of my attention, which this was not. You'll all forgive me, I hope, if I allow respiration to continue operating within normal parameters in the interim.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading on cosmology
It Wasn't Big, and it Didn't Bang
You Must Be Off Your Brane!
The Certainty of Uncertainty

*The modal fallacy is a fallacy of scope. Properly, this fallacy is committed when the distinction between contingency and necessity is overlooked. In logic, necessity is a technical term, distinct from the vernacular definition, denoting that something cannot fail to obtain. in other words, in the language of possible worlds, there is no possible world in which something that is necessary can fail to be the case. Contingency is a term meaning that the obtaining of one thing is reliant on the truth of something else. Sceptics are often accused by apologists with a little training in logic of committing the modal fallacy in treating free will and omniscience, because they assume that determinism is contingent on god's omniscience. In fact, it's precisely the opposite, in that omniscience is contingent upon determinism. You cannot have perfect future knowledge without the future being set.

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