Thursday, April 19, 2012

PZ Meyers and Sye Bruggencate video


Below is a bit of my book "Believing Bullshit" that refers specifically to Sye Bruggencate's notorious argumentative strategy with which PZ Meyers (Pharyngula) has to cope above at 10 mins onwards... interesting follow up discussion on the video. This is not Myers's finest hour. Sye's approach is an example of one that scientist atheists such as Myers tend to struggle with. You really need some philosophical knowledge and skill to cope at all well with Sye (and even then he is an extremely slippery customer)....

Linked to with thanks to Myers's site here. [if you want to know what "Going Nuclear" is, go here.]

Beyond Going Nuclear

There is an interesting twist on Going Nuclear popular in certain religious circles – a twist that involves combining Going Nuclear with “I Just Know!” It runs as follows.

God, some theists maintain, has provided them direct and certain knowledge of his existence. So, they suppose, they don’t have to assume God exists. They know he does (see “I Just Know!”). And, armed with this certain knowledge that God exists, she can then justify her reliance on logic and her senses. The God she knows exists would not allow her to be deceived in her use of logic and her senses. But the atheist, she thinks, has no such justification. So the atheist remains mired in skepticism.

Such a theist might be tempted to respond to her atheist critics by saying, “Ah, you are attempting to using logic against me, but of course, unlike me, you are not entitled to are you?” In fact this is one of the main argumentative strategies of one well-known commenter on various religious and atheist blogs who, in response to any rational criticism of his extreme, Bible-literalist brand of theism, typically ignores it, saying something like this:

I submit, that your worldview cannot justify the universal, abstract, invariant, laws of logic, which YOU presuppose in all of YOUR arguments, whereas mine can, and does.

Notice that, though this theist is playing the skeptical card, he is not, strictly speaking, Going Nuclear. Going Nuclear involves bringing all positions down to the same level of rationality. The claim made here is that only the atheist ends up mired in skepticism. Our theist plays the skeptical card in order to undermine the arguments of his atheist critics. However, our theist (he supposes) achieves a literally miraculous escape from skepticism himself. With one bound he is free – saved by the grace of God, whom, he supposes, provides him infallible knowledge of God’s existence, knowledge that can then be used to justify his own reliance on logic.

This way of dealing with criticisms of theism also fails. Whether or not our theist is right to claim the atheist is mired in skepticism, he’s still obliged to deal with the atheist’s arguments and objections. Suppose an atheist appears to have provided what looks like a cogent argument that our theist’s God does not exist, or good evidence that our theist is deluded in supposing that he “just knows” his God exists. For the theist to ignore such arguments and say, “But you are using the principles of logic which you can’t justify whereas I can!” is pure evasion. Whether or not atheists can ultimately justify the principles of logic is entirely beside the point. If the atheist’s argument is cogent according to the principles of logic, then our theist’s beliefs are, by his own lights, refuted. So the onus is still on the theist to show that what he has been presented with isn’t a cogent argument. And of course, if the theist can’t do that, then he’s dumped back in the skeptical swamp himself.

P.S. For my parody "proof" that Sye has been hit on the head with a rock and his brain addled, go here.

46 comments:

Rick Warden said...

Hi Stephen,

in the last few days, I've politely asked for you to present your best argument for atheism three times now:

1. "...what would you consider your strongest argument in favor of atheism? Can you present it here in a logical syntax? Can you offer it in a few premises and a conclusion?" (April 15, 2012 10:03 PM)

2. Also, if it's not too much trouble, can you outline the premises and conclusion of the EGC argument for atheism, as you understand them. (April 17, 2012 3:42 AM)

3. When I asked you what you consider the best logical argument for atheism, you stated, "I like the EGC". Can you please show the premises and conclusion of this argument, as you best understand them? (April 18, 2012 5:54 AM)

Instead of ignoring my requests, it might be helpful for the cause of atheism to show what is under the logical hood of that bad-boy atheist machine of yours.

Regards,

Rick

Stephen Law said...

The argument is already out there in various forms, Rick. Engage with them or don't. I could do you your own textbook version, set out as a deductively valid argument, but that would either leave various important stuff out, or else be very complicated in which case I don't have time.

The Atheist Missionary said...

Rick, I'll play ball with you. Consider these premises:

1. If God exists, He is (by definition) a perfect being.

2. Exploitation is always bad/wrong. Just so we are clear on our definitions, by “exploitation” I mean allowing someone to suffer without that suffering being for their benefit.

3. Suffering which results in a net benefit, such as a vaccination to prevent disease, is not exploitative.

4. Morality demands that we prevent unnecessary suffering if it is within our reasonable power to do so. I’m not referring to ambiguous cases like whether you should buy a coffee instead of donating the money to UNICEF. I’m referring to obvious cases like saving a child from an axe murderer where the rescuer is not exposed to any harm.

OK, so far so good. We all know that unimaginable suffering occurs throughout the world on a daily basis. If there is a perfect God, there must be a reason for this suffering. Indeed, the person who endures the suffering must enjoy a net benefit as a result of the suffering. Perhaps the benefit of the suffering is riches in heaven. Perhaps the benefit is simply beyond our comprehension. If the sufferer does not enjoy a net benefit, exploitation has occurred and a perfect God would never allow exploitation.

Conclusion: If the existence of a perfect God means that those who suffer (like the child about to be butchered by an axe murderer) enjoy a net benefit as a result of their suffering, then the reasonable thing for a bystander to do if they believe that is to let the child be slaughtered! In fact, intervening to stop the slaughter would be (theologically speaking) akin to preventing a vaccination in order to make it easier for a patient to catch a disease.

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

[The source of this argument is Acadia University philosopher Stephen Maitzen's paper entitled Does God Destroy Our Duty of Compassion? Free Inquiry (October/November 2010) 52]

Rick Warden said...

Hi, Stephen, Thank you for your response.

I found the following text. Is this a correct version?


1. Most theodicies that explain why God is all powerful and good can be flipped to explain why god is all powerful and evil.

2. Since both lines of argument are so similar, you must either accept them both as equally plausible (and in doing so, break the law of non-contradiction), or dismiss both as spurious.

3. Ergo, we must logically dismiss both as spurious.

Regards,

Rick

Rick Warden said...

Atheist Missionary,

In my opinion it seems your argument holds an underlying false presupposition that the avoidance of suffering is of a higher value than human existence and the experience of love and free choice.

If true, then apparently God would be considered immoral.

However, according to a logical argument, it's not possible to have a world where free will exists in which suffering is not a logical possibility.

According to the biblical account, suffering is a result of human free will and poor choices. The basic issues offered in your argument have been addressed with another argument, Alvin Planting'as free will defense.

1. There are possible worlds that even an omnipotent being can not actualize.

2. A world with morally free creatures producing only moral good is such a world.

As noted, Plantinga's argument has been accepted by a wide variety of philosophers:

"According to Chad Meister, professor of philosophy at Bethel College, most philosophers accept Plantinga's free will defense and thus see the logical problem of evil as having been sufficiently rebutted."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Plantinga%27s_free_will_defense

Another biblical point is that your proposition does not take into account is the existence of eternal life. For people willing to receive the gift of God's forgiveness and eternal life, it is a gift freely offered by God's grace, according to Ephesians 2.8. Any suffering experienced in temporal life pales in comparison to eternal life in God's presence.

http://niv.scripturetext.com/ephesians/2.htm

Patrick said...

Rick Warden- Try to think for yourself instead of just reflexively offering quotes like some kind of religious turing machine.

First, you messed up Plantinga. He doesn't argue that these things are true, he argues that they're not provably false. This lets him direct his argument at the weakest possible opponent- a purely deductive logical argument from evil that argues against the existence of any evil whatsoever. But that's not the one that TAM just used.

Second, he includes an additional premise about the existence of morally free beings being a moral good sufficient to justify the existence of evil. As this premise does a lot of the heavy lifting in his argument, and also provides the source of a lot of potential contradictions with Christian theology (does God do evil? why not? what about heaven? etc, etc.), it can't be omitted.

jules said...

From the wiki entry on Plantinga's argument:

"Another issue with Plantinga's defense is that it does not address the problem of natural evil, since natural evil is not brought about by the free choices of creatures. Plantinga's reply is a suggestion that it is at least logically possible that perhaps free, nonhuman persons are responsible for natural evils (e.g. rebellious spirits or fallen angels).[22] This suggestion assigns the responsibility for natural evils to other moral actors.[23]"

So the reason why thousands die in earthquakes, floods, droughts etc is because of evil spirits? I thought we'd moved on from that kind of thinking.

what about if the brakes fail on my car and I plough into someone crossing the road, who's responsible then?

Why does there always have to be an agent?

wombat said...

Rick

"However, according to a logical argument, it's not possible to have a world where free will exists in which suffering is not a logical possibility. "

[Leaving aside for the moment that there may be some subtle logical flaw in the argumentation for the moment.]

Even though suffering may necessarily be logically possible surely it does not _actually_ have to happen does it. i.e. it could be physically impossible (like kids toys made of safe materials to protect them) or practically impossible (the nasty stuff is locked in a cupboard) or just vanishingly unlikely (parents are watching and will always intervene in the nick of time)

What is to prevent a world in which the inhabitants can exercise their free will and choose not to suffer? Not by choosing to do something which removes or negates the cause or appealing to some other agency to do so but simply choosing not to experience that feeling. Looks like that world meets the logical conditions but I expect most people in it would give up on the suffering after a very small taster.

The other acceptable conclusion would seem that we do not have free will.

Paul Baird said...

Hi Stephen - there is a Facebook group too.

The Anti Sye-Clone Foundation

at https://www.facebook.com/groups/392063290826802/

BenYachov said...

@Rick Warden

Assuming your not some type of Neo-Theist or Theistic Personalist type these links might help.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/crickets-still-chirping.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/broken-law.html

You can check out Prof Law's attempted responses to Feser on his blog.

I got at with several people on it here.

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2012/03/evil-god-challenge-cartoon.html

For the Argument from Evil I am a member of the Brian Davies School.

I don't believe God is metaphysically and ontologically good but that moral goodness can coherently be unequivocally ascribed to God as He is understood in the classic sense. Thus the Problem of Evil for me is a non-problem.

Cheers.

BenYachov said...

The above are about the EGC.

Forgot to mention that sorry.

Alex B said...

@Rick Warden. For several months now you've been challenged to discuss your religious views on the Fundamentally Flawed podcast - when are you going to display some courage and appear on the show?

BenYachov said...

Screw me! I made a mistake.

edit:I believe God is metaphysically and ontologically good butI don't believe that moral goodness can coherently be unequivocally ascribed to God as He is understood in the classic sense. Thus the Problem of Evil for me is a non-problem.

With my notoriously bad spelling and grammar skills I should maybe log in using my google account.

Then I could erase my mistakes and repost.

Tony Lloyd said...

I thought PZ did very well. He got Sye to shut up and walk away!

BenYachov said...

So this Sye Ten Bruggencate person is a Presuppositionist and a Young Earth Creationist?

He believes in the Transcendental argument for the existence of God?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendental_argument_for_the_existence_of_God

Have I got this right?

Tony Lloyd said...

So this Sye Ten Bruggencate person is a Presuppositionist and a Young Earth Creationist?

That reminds me of Kung Fu Panda (a film I enjoyed immensely) when the main character protests at being called a "big fat panda":

"I'm not a big fat panda. I'm the big fat panda!"

Sye, at least as far as the internet goes, is the presuppositionalist. He even has his own Rationalwiki page (http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Sye_ten_Bruggencate)


Yep, he's also a YEC, a slimy motherfucker and probably was hit on the head by a rock.

BNJ said...

@The Atheist Missionary

A perfect God could have done many others things…...including creating us in a universe without any negatives with continuous orgasmic level stimulation of our brain pleasure centers. But why? There is no free lunch perhaps even at his table!

But a perfect god could also require learning from you and I, and an enacted testimony of our true selves. A murder that never happens, is not a testimony against a murderer. Not acting to stop a murder is also not a testimony of one who loves and carries goodness. While he wants to murder, I want to stop him, perhaps both acts are important to God.

Reynold said...

Rick Warden
in the last few days, I've politely asked for you to present your best argument for atheism three times now:

vs.

Instead of ignoring my requests, it might be helpful for the cause of atheism to show what is under the logical hood of that bad-boy atheist machine of yours.
Yeah, real polite and respectful aren't you? You love to goad people but when people like Havoc (and now to an extent, Tony) show you up on your own blog, you complain of slander and spam, while you have done far worse to others. You know who I'm talking about.


By the way, how's about some actual evidence for your god instead of "arguments" with messed-up premises?

Anonymous said...

Rick, if someone asked me for my best argument for atheism, I couldn't give one.

There are too many different versions of gods with different claims being made even for the same god, so that any positive argument for atheism might well be met by the response, "But that's not the god I believe in."

I can put a case for unbelief only in response to specific arguments and evidence by theists for the existence and worth of their particular god.

As Reynold says above, you need to present evidence for the existence and worth of your god.

Kiwi Dave

Havok said...

Rick, here's a nice simple argument for atheism:

P1. It is epistemologically irresponsible to believe something to be true that we do not have sufficient reason to think is true, or that we have reason to think is false.
P2. We do not have sufficient reason to think the God of Christianity that you believe in exists.
P3. We have reason to think the God of Christianity that you believe in does not exist.
C. Therefore we should not believe that the God of Christianity that you believe in exists.

:-)

Havok said...

BNJ: But a perfect god could also require learning from you and I, and an enacted testimony of our true selves.
A perfect God wouldn't need this, since it would *know* of our true selves through it's claimed omniscience.

BNJ: A murder that never happens, is not a testimony against a murderer.
A murder that was attempted and prevented certainly is testimony against the would be murderer - we punish such crimes routinely.

BNJ: Not acting to stop a murder is also not a testimony of one who loves and carries goodness.
It certainly is a testimony against such a person if that person could have prevented the murder but decided not to.

BNJ: While he wants to murder, I want to stop him, perhaps both acts are important to God.
If God wants you to stop him, then God want's the act stopped. God, being omnipotent could prevent the murder, but chooses not to. This surely makes you, should you attempt to prevent the murder, more morally praiseworthy than your God, which doesn't seem logically possible if your God is claimed to be morally perfect and worthy of worship.

jules said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adzcliff said...

Just listening to the first few seconds as I type, but my first thought ...is this the guy the intelligently designed banana guy??

Rick Warden said...

Atheist Missionary,

>Not acting to stop a murder is also not a testimony of one who loves and carries goodness.

- So, in your opinion, If God does not automatically protect everyone from every harm, then God is not good?

Or, if God does not automatically protect everyone from serious suffering, then God is not good?

This would create a world where people could cause as many problems as they wanted to, but there would be no negative "effect" for their causes.

What kind of people would such a world develop?

One of the main purposes of life is to develop character. For the atheist, this may seem to be a waste of time. But for a person who knows God and scripture, this should be realized to be a main goal.

http://bible.cc/philippians/1-6.htm

In this respect, the scriptures state that God is working in us and through us to build and develop our character as believers.

The main purpose is not to save us from suffering, or even to necessarily avoid it, as Jesus demonstrated, but to live with an eternal and true perspective in spite of suffering and seek to fulfill the purpose God has foreordained for us.

http://bible.cc/philippians/2-13.htm

Regards,

Rick

Paul Wright said...

Rick: I don't think you're addressing Maitzen's argument at all, since Maitzen concedes that there can be a point to suffering (premise 3). You appear to be arguing as if Atheist Missionary had just presented the logical problem of evil.

Maitzen's point is that if you grant the sort of theodicy which says that there are reasons for suffering (such as a reward in heaven or free will), we should not intervene to prevent it: if we see the child being murdered, we should not intervene, as God doubtless planned this to work to the good.

BNJ said...

A perfect God wouldn't need this, since it would *know* of our true selves through it's claimed omniscience

Havok, you misunderstood I think. Its not because he would need to know, its because you and I require our testimonies for our best learning. If you were teaching me how to drive and completely neutralized all my errors by preemptively taking control of the car , you would not provide me with the learning experience that is inherent in mistakes

A murder that was attempted and prevented certainly is testimony against the would be murderer - we punish such crimes routinely.

The crime is called “attempted murder” my friend, not murder. You can technically, still change your mind at the very last second.

It certainly is a testimony against such a person if that person could have prevented the murder but decided not to

You’d want to re-read my corresponding comment.....didn’t state what you think I said.

If God wants you to stop him, then God want's the act stopped. God, being omnipotent could prevent the murder, but chooses not to......

I suspect you’d want to relook your take after these responses from me.

BNJ said...

@Rick:

"So, in your opinion, If God does not automatically protect everyone from every harm, then God is not good?"

"Or, if God does not automatically protect everyone from serious suffering, then God is not good?"

Just in case you directed these comments to me, my response is this:

Your presentation of my opinions are incorrect.
What I meant was that good people must act against the murder to provide a testimony of their goodness. All that is evil must come out, and all that is good must come out. However, nothing is a surprise for the Ultimate who has already seen this coming.

The Atheist Missionary said...

Paul Wright has distilled the Maitzen argument perfectly and no theist appears willing to engage it. The only response I have ever heard it terribly ad hoc such as: God must have reasons for wanting Dominick Calhoun to have been tortured and killed but, if a passerby had an opportunity to save him, that was God's will as well. Yawn.

BNJ said...

@The Atheist Missionary

God must have reasons for wanting Dominick Calhoun to have been tortured and killed but, if a passerby had an opportunity to save him, that was God's will as well.


I suspect the confusion lies in confusing the words “want” and “will”. There is quite a difference between wanting something to happen and permitting something to happen. These gross examples bring in strong emotions and cloud our reasons. Lets think through this with less emotionally provocative hypos. I am running across a field trying to chase my dog, in the process I step on a stone and sprain my ankle. Did he want it – implying he got the stone in my way to hurt me for no reason, or did not help me when he could have by diverting me a little from my running path? Or did he allow it to happen for a reason?

If a less significant harm may have an explanation, a more significant harm can have it too even when our emotions cloud it.

Reynold said...

For those interested: Rick Warden has now tried to use philosophy and quantum mechanics to justify the "trinity" in the post that he's "dedicated" to Stephen Law.

My reply is right below his comment.

Patrick said...

BJN- Its not about whether its possible that there might be a reason for God to allow all suffering that has ever occurred, ever. Its about whether its plausible that all suffering, ever, was necessary for a greater good.

That's a tough sell on its own, but worse than that, I've never seen an argument for its plausibility that was remotely close to compatible with the Christian belief in the life and miracles of Christ.

BNJ said...

@Patrick
Its about whether its plausible that all suffering, ever, was necessary for a greater good.
May be......if I cannot cogently express it was necessary, neither can one convince it was not. What I can do is look around and know for sure that’s what underpins the operations of our universe. Evolutionary biology expresses that very well. Lots of processes are happening all the time, most are lost, few are carried forward…....they are carried forward because they have resulted in a higher functional level.

The Atheist Missionary said...

BNJ, there is no confusion. I'm quite happy to use the term God's "will" instead of "want". Once you start suggesting that there is a cosmic reason why your deity permits baby rapes and the like, there is a serious issue about whether there is any moral duty to stop them. That's Maitzen's point.

Use of the phrase "It's God will" appears to be tautology for "I hope there's a reason for what would otherwise appear to be inexplicable". I'm ok with inexplicable.

BTW, Tony's schooling of Rick at Rick's site is hilarious.

BNJ said...

@The Atheist Missionary:

Consider my less drastic example above. Do you see a reason? And do you see why next time I run, I would have learnt to be more cautious?

You might return with what if there is no next time?.....but that would be a different discussion to be had.

Ryan M said...

Rick,

Have you thought that perhaps Stephen does not put too much weight in single arguments for atheism? He might take an approach similar to Swinburne.

Swinburne would probably say that no single argument for theism is inductively strong enough to warrant belief, however a cumulative case is (So some sort of grand bayesian case). Perhaps Stephen is the same way, so he wouldn't want to single out any particular argument since it would be weak on it's own.

Or additionally, maybe Stephen takes van Inwagen's approach and concludes that deductive arguments in general are simply to be avoided.

Reynold said...

Ryan M
Rick,

Have you thought that perhaps Stephen does not put too much weight in single arguments for atheism? He might take an approach similar to Swinburne.


Or additionally, maybe Stephen takes van Inwagen's approach and concludes that deductive arguments in general are simply to be avoided.

I'm afraid Ryan, that it doesn't look like Rick is going to do that.

He's going to call "coward, coward" instead.

Rick Warden said...

Hi Stephen,

>The argument is already out there in various forms, Rick. Engage with them or don't.

- Engaged and logically debunked, Stephen.

Anyone here who cares to critique, I welcome inspection wholeheartedly. The link is here:

"Stephen Law: EGC Illusionist Debunked"

http://templestream.blogspot.com/2012/04/stephen-law-austin-cline-and-ukrainian.html

Regards,

Rick

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Ryan

This van Inwagen avoidance of deductive arguments sounds very interesting.

I'm not about to deny deductive logic but the premises are always a problem. I keep thinking that abduction is the way to go (which is deductive, but a different argument form).

Have you got a link/reference to van Inwagen arguing this?

Ryan M said...

I'll try to find the paper I think I read van Inwagen's take on deductive arguments.

I think a short take on his position is that basically all deductive arguments in the history of philosophy have been failures, and it doesn't look like the future is going to be any better. So we need to take alternative routes.

Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM said...

I took a look at Sye's "proof" page. I came to an insurmountable logical problem the minute I was asked to make a yes/no decision about the morality of harming a child for fun. The Law of the Elided Middle is in effect as Sye has not provided the possibility that this would be a perfectly moral response if Sye's version of god commanded it. After all, the Yahweh god commands all manner of gruesome torture and slaughter, including children, pregnant women and fetuses. So if harming children for fun or to please a god is OK then it cannot be a moral absolute to refrain from doing so - at least not if you claim to believe in the absolute goodness and the actual existence of the Yahweh god. QED.



The rest of the argument fails to follow from this point on as the forced dichotic choice lumps "absolute morality" with other less contentious factors. There is no reasonable third choice.

Sye's logic is specious. He also exhibits an extraordinary sense of self-importance and an extraordinary belief in his ability to infallibly interpret passages of scripture in contradiction to the readings given by other pious individuals who can also reasonably claim to be guided by their version of the Christian or Jewish or Islamic god. This makes him a narcissistic intelligent idiot.

Billy said...

1. "...what would you consider your strongest argument in favor of atheism?

Easy. The case for theism is unconvincing - next!

It would have been amusing if PZ just stated "You just called me a ****!". When Sye denies it, PZ just states "but I prewsuppose you just called me a ****" and take it from there

Negative Entropy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Negative Entropy said...

RIck,

In my opinion it seems your argument holds an underlying false presupposition that the avoidance of suffering is of a higher value than human existence and the experience of love and free choice.

It is simply ridiculous to suggest that avoidance of suffering contradicts the ability to experience love and free choice. Most especially the former. A conflagration that seems delivered for mere rhetorical effect. For starters there are such levels of suffering that those under it are denied any possibility for any experience of love and free choice. That and many other situations clearly and unambiguously deny the existence of a good god. There is no way that sufferings I rather not mention can have a "sufficient moral reason." That you think that anything could, only speaks about how detached of reality you are. Otherwise, you would have to be incredibly perverse. I would not be too surprised if the latter. After all, your beliefs promote the idea that whatever some god does and declares is automatically good, regardless of the consequences for us "mere" human beings. "Mere" objects of this tantrum-prone god of yours.

Next you will say that we have no basis for morality. Well, if you are an example of someone with a basis, I pass. Thanks but no thanks.

Reynold said...

Next you will say that we have no basis for morality. Well, if you are an example of someone with a basis, I pass. Thanks but no thanks.
That seems to be one of Rick Warden's tactics: Keep insinuating about atheist's lack of morality or lack of reasons to be moral, even if he has to lie to do it.

Steven said...

Certainty isn't justifiable just because you feel it. Saying that you are certain because god can make you certain is the same thing as saying you are certain that you are certain.

People who are that certain should not be listened to.

jeremy said...

Certainty isn't justifiable just because you feel it. Saying that you are certain because god can make you certain is the same thing as saying you are certain that you are certain.

People who are that certain should not be listened to.


Um, so you are certain about that?
(Do you feel strongly about this?)