Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How to Make a Bad Argument

Victor came up with an argument against naturalism that is stunningly bad.  So bad, in fact, that it could easily have been the product of a grade-school student rather than a PhD philosopher.   This is worthy of examination, simply because it illustrates a number of blunders that should be avoided by anyone who wants to make a serious logical argument.  This is what he said:
The evidential relation is not a physical relation. So if physicalism is true, evidence never has anything to do with what anyone believes. On that view, only spatial, temporal and causal relations have anything to do with anything that goes on in reality. So rather than being the correct conclusion of evidentialism, naturalistic materialism actually makes evidentialism impossible. If theism is true, then it is possible for beliefs to be based on evidence. Otherwise, it's metaphysically impossible. - Reppert
Perhaps we should give Victor the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he's making a parody rather than a serious argument.  Let's take it step by step.

Use obscure wording.
It's hard for someone to argue against you if they can't figure out what you're saying in the first place.  What exactly is "the evidential relation"?  Several people commented that the argument was not worded clearly.  It was a fellow theist, Ilíon, who shed some light on the meaning.  He explained that when evidence is presented, one must make logical inferences from the evidence to some conclusion about what that evidence entails.  And of course, he maintains that any logical process is a non-material process.
Today, "one billiard ball hitting another" may, via physical cause-and-effect, cause you to respond "two" to the question, "How much is one plus one?" Tomorrow, "one billiard ball hitting another" may, via physical cause-and-effect, cause you to respond "applesause" to the same question. Which response is correct? Is either response even an answer in the first place?
This seems to be a reasonable way to interpret Victor's statement.  But that brings up step two in the process of making a bad argument.

Make unsubstantiated assumptions
So any logical process is non-physical?  On what basis is such a claim made?  I understand that theists believe that logic derives from the mind of God, but does that translate to logic being non-physical?  We know that computers perform extraordinarily complex logical processes using purely physical means.  We also know that when adding one and one, the answer doesn't arbitrarily change from "two" to "applesauce".  Only in the absence of any physical basis for logic would it be possible to conclude that one plus one is applesauce, because there would be no way to ground logic in reality.

The notion that logic is anything but physical defies observation.  Logic is nothing more than a recognition of physical reality.  Children begin to learn logical relationships very young, even before they can express them in language, by observing the physical world around them.  How do they do their first problems in addition?  By counting on their fingers - a physical process.  How do they come to accept the truth of any logical rule or axiom?  By using physical examples to convince themselves that these rules always apply.  Only later in their cognitive development do they gain the ability to abstract - to separate logical rules from their physical basis.  Only then might it be possible for someone to claim that logic is not physical.  But they ignore the reality.  Logic just expresses rules about the way the physical world works.

Ignore the implications of your own argument
The presumption of the non-physical nature of logic is a theistic assumption that denies physicalism.  How, then, is it possible to assume physicalism is true as part of the argument without also assuming what physicalism entails?  Victor says "if physicalism is true, evidence never has anything to do with what anyone believes".  Huh?  What?  If physicalism is true, then evidence has everything to do with what we believe.  It is only on the assumption that physicalism is false that we could claim a chasm between physical evidence and beliefs inferred by logic.  What Victor has done is to start out by making a blatantly theistic assumption that denies physicalism, and then stick to it even when his own argument assumes that physicalism is true.

Bad logic and bad assumptions make bad conclusions
So Victor wraps it up by concluding that physicalism makes it impossible to believe anything based on evidence, and theism is consistent with evidence-based belief.  How bizarre.  It is exactly the opposite of what we see every day.  Physicalists don't believe in gods, because the physical evidence doesn't indicate the presence of gods.  Theists believe in gods despite the physical evidence.  It is only through the use of tortured logic and reality-defying assumptions that someone could come to such a ridiculous conclusion.

And Victor should be utterly ashamed to have this argument associated with his name and his PhD.


  1. A couple of tidbits on Christian logic,:

    “That sounds like an oxymoron to me.”
    ~ Voltaire on Christian Logic

    “So, you believe that a cosmic zombie (who was his own father), born from a 'virgin', can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in all humans because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree and thereby pissing off an invisible wizard who lives in the sky (who couldn't find the only 2 humans on Earth)? Yeah....makes perfect sense. ”
    ~ Any one with common sense.

    Christian Logic is an oxymoron and a paradox of modern cognitive reasoning. In the main it appears to be a form of Socratic thinking answering often complex questions with another question, frequently "What Would Jesus Do?"

    This is the cornerstone logic from which Reppert launches his wholly eccentric foray into the bizarro world of nonphysicalism. And this bloke is trying to peddle that the evidential relation is not a physical relation. Utterly freaky. His view really is a joke.

    1. By denying that logic is grounded in physical reality, it becomes possible for a Christian to place one rock inside a bag, and then one more, and then look inside the bag to find ... God (or applesauce, or whatever).

  2. grodrigues weighs in with this piece of logical idiocy:
    For a suitable predicate P, the argument has the structure:

    1. Thought is P.
    2. No purely physical thing is P.
    3. By Leibniz's law, thought is not purely physical.

    The argument is valid in point of logical form. The argument is not circular.

    Not circular? What is the predicate P? Well, it certainly can't be something physical. How do we know that? Because of statement 2. So thought is assumed from the beginning to be something that is non-physical (at least in part). Statement 3 merely restates what has already been assumed. This is obvious circular reasoning, in the disguise of a predicate P. If he wanted to make an honest argument, he wouldn't need to hide what P is. He'd just state his up-front assumption that thought is not physical.

    1. The bastardisation of syllogisms by theist ignoramuses is renowned. Indeed it is the classic example of a syllogism fallacy. grodrigues' example has all the intellectual gravitas of the following:

      1. All crows are black
      2. The bird in the cage is black.
      3. The bird in the cage is a crow.

      1. Thought is P.
      2. No purely physical thing is P.
      3. By Leibniz's law, thought is not purely physical.

      1. Some televisions are black and white
      2. All penguins are black and white.
      3. Therefore, some televisions are penguins.

      Spot the difference.

    2. We've heard from two Christian PhDs, and they both make obvious question-begging assumptions in their arguments. I'm sure they both believe that their logic is impeccable, but they are completely blind the most blatant flaws in their own arguments. Yet if you showed them any similarly flawed non-theistic argument, they would immediately pick it apart. How can this be? It is the Christian Blind Spot.

      Belief in Christianity defies logic. The only way they can prevent their heads from exploding is to willfully set aside the rules of logic when evaluating their own arguments.

  3. I note your foray over at Feser's site. Keep at it, Skep. Feser and his sycophants are the last of the bellicose reactionaries attempting to stem the increasing flow away from the Catholic bodypolitic, pretending that religious superstition still has a contribution to make in modernity.

    As I wrote in another place: I share the view with Greg Erwin [d.1998], former president of the Humanist Association of Canada, who observed:
    "The kind of things that religious people offer as evidence for their brand of religion, they do not accept as evidence when proffered by adherents of other religions. Religions do not accept each others' miracles, revelations, prophets, or holy books .... In the absence of any convincing reason to accept one set of claims while rejecting the rest, the simplest conclusion is that they are all ......."

    The greatest philosophical sham ever perpetrated was the expropriation of Aristotelian thought into the turgid memeplex of Christian superstition. The stench of that Aristotelian-Thomist miasma still remains in the centuries since the Enlightenment that it has taken us thus far to extricate true philosophy from the dead hand of religion. I call Thomism the great lie.

    I will read with great interest your joust with him.

    1. The joust is over. I have noted that Feser's cultists are even more irrational than Victor's, if that's possible. They take issue with every single thing I say, regardless of what it is. Just the fact that I say it is enough to set them off.

      For example, I summarized the first paragraph of Feser's review as a statement that Coyne is the worst of the New Atheists, which is a fair reading of it. Feser actually ascribes some "redeeming feature" to the others that he does not ascribe to Coyne. One of these cultists argues that that paragraph doesn't mention Coyne (it certainly does). Another of them argues that it does not state that Coyne is the worst of them, but merely includes Coyne in the bunch (well, it doesn't say it explicitly).

      It's clear that these people aren't interested in debating issues. All they want to do is attack "the enemy", and logic and reason have nothing to do with it.

      I'll have a review of the whole episode posted later today.