This is from a comment thread on a YouTube video of mine. This fellow, BB, posted 14 comments back-to-back due to character limits. I told him I’d respond in a blog post rather than leave a huge string of comments in return. Here are his posts reconstructed into one block, and my response:
have you accepted God into your life and turned away from sins and shared the gospel with everyone you care about and know?
Um, I’m the Public Relations Director for American Atheists.
Well, you probably make a living selling books on the philosophy of Atheism. Which is a motivation for thinking you might be intellectually dishonest as your living relies on selling this philosophy, which makes it hard to ever convince you otherwise.
If not then we can have an honest and open discussion based on just logic without any agenda behind it from both our parts.
No, I don’t sell books for a living. I’m not a bookstore. I do public relations.
You seem like a cool intelligent guy. I can convince you that no religion, no church can ever cleanse you of sin, only sincere repentance, and trusting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.
If it’s true we just go in to the ground when we die then you can’t say ‘See, I told you I was right’ and I can’t tell you ‘I’m sorry I was totally wrong’. But if it’s true there is a heaven and you can go there, wouldn’t it be logical to find out how to get there?
There’s no such thing as sin. It’s an imaginary concept. Sin (i.e. “transgression against divine law”) doesn’t really exist, because “divine law” is imaginary.
Yes, IF it were true that there is a heaven and you can go there, it would be logical to look into it. But there isn’t, and you can’t. If you want to claim otherwise, you have the burden of proof. Good luck.
ok well the burden of proof is actually on you as you claim to have proof that God doesn’t exist. If you’re not saying that you have proof then I respect your intellectual consistency and honesty. This is because the best we can do is follow the evidence, because nothing can be proved.
You can’t prove that you walked the earth yesterday. We have to go by evidence such as eye witness testimony.
So we’ve recognized that proving anything is impossible. So the next step is to trust Evidence. We can only trust Evidence if it is shown to be reliable.
So the only thing stopping you from investigating heaven and grabbing the only ticket that will get you there is because you are unsure if there is such a thing as sin.
Well I can tell you that there is such a thing as sin.
There is such a thing as sin because sin is defined outside of culture. Everyone refers to a moral code outside culture because if we lived in a culture where gassing jews or slavery was ok, it still wouldn’t make it right.
That’s why Ghandi and Martin Luther king and others like them existed. They went against their culture because they put objective moral law on top of cultural laws.
No one can live atheism out in real life consistently. For example if you found your wife in the arms of another man you wouldn’t say hey it’s your right to believe unfaithfulness is wrong so I’m not gonna judge you for it.
Loyalty is right not because anyone defines it, it’s right because that’s what we know in our hearts to be true.
God says he has written these moral codes in our hearts. These objective moral laws are intelligently and lovingly created by an intelligent and loving being.
God respects our free will to choose to do right or to do wrong, that’s why people choose to be unfaithful and others choose to be faithful.
So if there is no God then morality is subjective, it’s all relative so Hitler was right in his opinion and I am right in my opinion. Then chaos erupts.
No God, no harmony, no justice. Just chaos and destruction.
Which speaks allot to the condition and the reason for the condition of some parts of the world today.
So once we’ve deduced rationally that there is a God who gives us objective moral values and we can choose or not choose to follow these, then we can go on to find out what happens if we choose to follow these or not.
If we don’t then God grants us our desire. Eternity away from him. If we do then God grants us our desire. Eternity with him.
I’d say I wouldn’t want to find out what eternity is like without him, why? because Satan is without God by his own choosing and he rules hell. Would you want to meet Satan and find out what kind of gastly things he would do to you?
I’d prefer heaven where everything is awesome.
Also I want to take as many people with me to heaven cuz I love my fellow human being. 100 years is nothing vs eternity.
If someone gave me a billion dollars to be without God I’d rather be a homeless person with God because this life is so short anyways.
Okay, so we’ve defined how God exists, what’s good and evil, free will and what sin is.
Now we have to find out what God wants from us. 1. Put your trust in him to guide your life. 2. To show loyalty, love and trust, then turn from sin, otherwise you become a hypocrite.
No sin is worth going to hell over. Remember Jesus spoke more about hell then he did about heaven. He described it as a lake of fire. I would assume that it’s a place of total destruction and chaos. Maybe the equivalent of a dentist poking your nerve for eternity.
Not paradise. lol
In the end, not sinning and praying sincerely from forgiveness isn’t hard.
I don’t think if someone offered you 100 women to pleasure you sexually outside the blessing of God, but you had to site in a dentists chair and take him touching your nerve for 8 hours, you would absolutely deny it. Why? Because it ain’t worth it.
That’s just 8 hours. lol imagine forever. So in perspective it’s good news.God offers you a free ticket to heaven, just take it man and share it with as many people as possible, especially those you wanna see in heaven with you such as your loved ones.
Dude, I’m pleading with you just do it. Any reputation or wealth in this life is not worth it. Now why would I sit here and write a 13 comment reply to you, not asking for money, not to join a religion or to even go to a church, spending my own time?
I don’t believe in silly things. Please for the love of God, do it.
Thanks for listening. Any other questions you might wanna ask?
You’ve got to be kidding me. First of all, just, wow, 14 comments back to back. I’m strongly considering banning you, except that skimming them, it appears you are sincere. I’m going to respond to this, but not here; I have a blog and I’m going to do it there. The blog is at muSASHA . o r g. I can’t do it tonight but I’ll get to it when I can.
And here’s my full response:
If you are making the positive claim that a god exists, you have the burden of proof. Same goes for sin.
I agree with you about your stance on evidence and our inability to prove things with 100% certainty. It’s called the problem of induction and I’m totally with you there.
I’m not “unsure” about the existence of sin. I mean, in a very technical sense, I’m agnostic about it, but for all practical purposes, I don’t believe sin exists, because I don’t believe in divine law, because I don’t believe in anything supernatural. If you want to convince me sin exists, you first have to show me that divine law exists. In order to do that, you have to convince me that a divine lawgiver exists. So really, being “unsure” about sin is NOT the “only thing” holding me back. I don’ t believe in your god, either.
You speak of objective morality. Objective from what? You mean, outside of culture? It seems like that’s what you’re saying. If all life in the universe were to be wiped out at the same instant, would slavery still be unethical? I don’t know if we can really answer that. It wouldn’t matter at that point. Ethics, the subfield of philosophy that prescriptively tells us how we ought to act, is a human invention—and we are the only species that has them, that we’re aware of—but morals (a subfield of ethology, that descriptively tells us how animals interact) evolve in cooperative species all by themselves. There’s a lot of game theory involved but this is not a mystery to science. If you’re interested in how morality evolved, I recommend Matt Ridley’s wonderful book, “The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation.” Other good books are Robert Axelrod’s “The Evolution of Cooperation” and Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis’ “A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution.“ The last two are pretty math-heavy but they do an excellent job of explaining how this works, and Richard Dawkins wrote the forward of the former.
Slavery is wrong because we decided that people have rights and shouldn’t be owned by other people. That’s not objectively provable, and it wasn’t always the case. Our society has progressed ethically from the time when slavery was the norm (although by raw numbers, not per capita, there are more slaves in the world today than at any point in history). I disagree with your conclusion that sin exists and we can know this because everyone “refers” to a moral code outside of culture. I don’t, for one. Moral codes are inextricable from culture from an ethology perspective.
On to your next point: You say “no one can live out atheism consistently” because, for example, if I found my wife in bed with someone else, I wouldn’t be okay with it. What?…
First of all, that’s a non sequitur. Atheism is the simply the lack of belief in the existence of all gods. This has absolutely nothing to do with sexual ethics?… You seem to be missing about a dozen premises between your first premise and your conclusion there. Second of all, you don’t know me. I would be fine with that; I’m polyamorous. I would hope that she’s being safe about it, but I wouldn’t begrudge someone for having consensual sex. My wife is not my property and as an adult, she can make her own decisions about who she has sex with. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s none of my business, but I would not be mad or jealous. Please note: I’m speaking hypothetically because I’ve never been married, although I was engaged for awhile once.
Then you go on to say that loyalty is right not by definition but because “we know in our hearts” that it is. Yeah, that’s the evolved morality thing we were talking about earlier. See 3 paragraphs up. By the way, loyalty is not always right; it depends on your system of ethics. Hitler’s troops were following orders when they gassed Jews. I think we’d both agree that what they were doing wasn’t ethical, even though they were being loyal when they did it.
Next you claim that God has written these moral codes in our hearts. A couple of major problems here: You jumped right into “God has…” without first showing that a god exists in the first place. What is your argument for god’s existence? Secondly, what do you mean he has “written in our hearts” blah blah blah? I assume you don’t mean that literally; a heart is a muscle and I’m pretty certain there’s no classical Hebrew etched in there, although I haven’t physically checked because that could prove rather tricky If you mean that God has imprinted a gut feeling of these moral codes, then we can work with this. First of all, I try not to think with my gut; I try to think with my brain. The reason I try not to think with my gut is that my gut and your gut can disagree and there’s really no good way to resolve that as far as knowing who’s right and who’s wrong. Only with evidence and logic can we systematically rule out wrong answers and settle on right ones. Second, again, we have this problem that you haven’t shown your god exists at all, let alone that he has done any such thing as imprint moral codes into us. Citation needed!
These objective moral laws are intelligently and lovingly created by an intelligent and loving being.
Bare assertion. Citation needed.
God respects our free will…
I’m not even remotely convinced that humans have free will. Free from what, anyway? The laws of physics? First define “free will,” then convince me that we have it, and we can go down this road. And you still haven’t explained how you know a god exists at all, nor how you claim to know that he respects our free will, even if we have it.
Next you go off on a spiel basically saying that if there were no god, then there would be ”no harmony, no justice. Just chaos and destruction.”
Well, that pretty much seems to be the case. The universe doesn’t know or care that we exist. Nature just does what it does, following simple patterns, or as we call them, laws. Complexity can come out of this, e.g. life on Earth as we recognize it. We have perfectly adequate, natural explanations for all of this. What makes you think there IS justice? Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes good things happen to bad people. Lots of people in the world are dying of starvation and elsewhere in the world, someone is tying $4,000 to some helium-filled balloons and letting it float away just because he can afford it and he’s bored. Look around, man. There’s no justice. The world is what we make of it.
Reading through the rest of your post, I don’t even really see the point of continuing from here. Your argument is a mess and since your later premises depend on your earlier ones, I think you need to go back and revisit them before we can move forward.
Feel free to try again! Thanks for your message(s).
Until next time,
Dave Muscato is the Public Relations Director for American Atheists based in Cranford, New Jersey. An atheism activist, blogger, and public speaker, he is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday; twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard, and monthly or more on SkepticFreethought.com. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
Dave’s Mailbag: Accommodation vs. Confrontation; Avoiding activism burnout; The internet as a source
Hello all! Dave Muscato here. It’s time again for one of my favorite types of posts: Reader mail!
I received the following about my previous post about the Vatican and youth culture. Hang on tight, folks; this is gonna be a long one!
Dylan C. writes:
Hey Dave, hope you had a pleasant day at the courthouse. [NB: I had jury duty the other day]
I’m curious about something. It seems to me from a great number of your recent postings that you have grown increasingly paranoid and irrational in your analysis of information and subsequent conclusions. I assume that as a self-identified activist, you have taken the time to search out and discover things that are important to keep in mind as an activist. In other words, what are some of the key principles that an activist ought to follow in order not to allow their identity as an activist to become all-consuming and deterministic? I ask this because I am concerned for you, for your health, for your sanity, and for your reputation.
“It becomes very difficult for a pastor to get away with lying for Jesus, when anyone—especially young people—can whip out a smartphone and find real answers on Wikipedia faster than you can say the Lord’s Prayer.”
I’ve noticed that you enjoy coming up with and using catchy one-liners such as this to add humor and emotionally-charged content to your posts. But I’m going to have to challenge you on this practice. You of all people should know the significant dangers and limitations inherent to the use of Wikipedia and Google for discovering the “truth”. And young people especially tend to be completely ignorant of how to avoid these dangerous pitfalls. Anyone can post information on the internet, and for just a little bit of financial investment, they can also utilize search engine optimization to make their information more highly visible. A lot of this information is of course from activist groups, some much more biased than others, but all significantly biased nonetheless. The fact that we have labeled this the “Information Age” is a horrible joke to me at best. In fact, from the internet, equally as much as from the “pulpit”, young people are told what to believe. This is REALITY, and I dare you to disagree with me.
Here’s my response:
Hey Dylan! I really appreciate your feedback. It is true that I have shifted more toward a “confrontationist” approach to religion, as opposed to an “accommodationist” approach. There is actually a division within the secular movement about this: There was a debate/panel discussing the topic at the Skepticon 3 conference that’s worth watching if you’re interested.
Many atheists believe, although we disagree about the existence of gods, that churches have a lot to offer and the best course of action is to work together on “interfaith” activities to make the world a better place. Confrontationists, on the other hand, see religion as dangerous, and see religious moderates as enablers for fundamentalists. The accommodationists dislike that confrontationists add to the stereotype of “angry atheists,” and the confrontationists dislike that the accommodationists give irrationality a free pass.
I’m reminded of the conflict between hellfire & brimstone preachers versus welcoming congregations. The hellfire & brimstone preachers dislike that the welcoming congregations permit gay people, etc, while the welcoming congregations see the hellfire preachers as turning people away from religion and not teaching the “loving” aspects of Christianity.
I feel I must stress that my natural inclination is to be an accommodationist. It feels right to me, and it’s difficult for me to criticize religion as a whole, when I have personally enjoyed so many positive experiences as a formerly religious person, and considering I have many friends whom I love and who are religious.
However, the more I research religion, the more I come to realize that religion is the root of virtually all of the things I consider wrong. The Biblical theme that some God “gave” humankind dominion over the the whole of the Earth and all the animals on it, along with the idea that this God is “in control” of the environment and would not allow us to perish before Jesus returns, is directly at odds with the urgency of the global environmental crisis, and with vegetarianism/veganism. The Biblical theme that woman are subservient to men is directly at odds with feminism. The Biblical theme that souls exist and life begins at conception is directly at odds with reproductive rights, abortion access, and stem cell research. The Biblical theme that there is an afterlife is directly at odds with the secular humanist priority of making this life count for everything it’s worth because you only live once. The Biblical creation mythology is directly at odds with the science education and the teaching the scientific fact of evolution by means of natural selection. The Biblical theme that a man should not lie with another man is directly at odds with LGBTQ rights. Etc, etc.
In fact I am hard-pressed to come up with a cause I care about that DOESN’T have its root conflict in religion. I care about a lot of things and wish I could be an activist for them all, but I understand the prudence in picking one’s battles. Fortunately, it’s not a hard choice: By choosing to focus on atheism activism, I am in effect also fighting for LGBTQ rights, women’s right to choose, birth control access, stem-cell research, science education, vegetarianism, secular humanism, and critical thinking.
I’m curious as to what you mean by “increasingly paranoid and irrational in your analysis of information and subsequent conclusions.” Correct me if this isn’t what you meant, but I assume in effect you mean my increasing willingness to blame religion for social ills. As I stated, it is true that it’s becoming easier for me to criticize religion as a whole. I assert that this is because I am learning more about the pervasiveness of religion in society as the source of many twisted beliefs. These beliefs cause people to do many terrible things out of ignorance and just plain indoctrination.
I am intolerant of bigotry and make no apology for this. If that makes me a confrontationist, so be it. Because I have a conscience, I cannot stand by idly when I see violence, whether physical or structural. I cannot stand by idly when I see irrationality guiding moral decision-making and public policy. These things are just too important.
…What are some of the key principles that an activist ought to follow in order not to allow their identity as an activist to become all-consuming and deterministic?
This is an important question and I’m glad you asked. This applies to activists of all stripes, not just within the secular movement. Here are what I consider key principles to avoiding burnout:
- Make a conscious effort to separate your work and your life. For most professional activists I know, their activism began as a volunteer passion. Sometimes, it is difficult for them to turn that “off” when they go home at night. If you are accustomed to spending your free time doing activism, and you then find yourself doing it professionally, you have to make the decision to spend your free time NOT doing activism. This means having hobbies, and making time for them. For me, this is photography, playing music, and taking road-trips. I always make sure to practice my guitar or bass at least a half-hour a day, to keep up my chops but also to take a break from the computer.
- Have some friends who are not part of your cause. I make a conscious effort to make sure my relationships with my religious friends stay strong. It’s also good to have friends who share your values but simply aren’t activists about it. It gives you some perspective.
- Read/watch fiction. This is very difficult for me personally but I think it’s good advice. It’s important to have an escape. I tend to read only non-fiction, and I like to watch documentaries, but I make an effort to watch funny TV shows and occasionally read a novel.
- Regularly study the opposing point of view. Understand that other people do not share your perspective for a reason, sometimes even good reasons. I make every effort to read apologists’ books when they are recommended to me, if for no other reason than to critique them and practice the name-the-fallacy game.
Now on to our third and final point: the internet as a source.
Of course, I do not recommend that anyone interested in atheism or secular history use Wikipedia as their sole source. Wikipedia is very good for certain subjects and less good for others. But what I love about Wikipedia is that hard sources are provided at the bottom of every article, and information without solid citations is flagged and removed.
It is equally important, if not more so, to read proper history books from credible historians. But I disagree with you about using Google to find sources. Google indexes not only blogs and interest-group websites, etc, which may be heavily biased and contain factual errors and logical fallacies. Google also indexes accredited university websites, peer-reviewed academic journals, and fact-checked magazines and so on.
These are legitimate sources for correct information and I completely disagree that people searching on Google are being told what to believe equally with what comes from the pulpit. Not believing what comes from the pulpit brings with it the threat of “Hell,” for one thing. Not believing what comes from the pulpit, for many young people, comes with the threat of losing internet privileges, games, toys, etc, and sometimes even food. In extreme cases, though unfortunately not all-too-rare, not believing what comes from the pulpit comes with the threat of being disowned and being homeless.
It is simply not true that people are being told what to believe equally on Google and at church.
With regard to Internet sources, the information is simply there. People choose to read it or not, and choose to accept it or not. They can choose to explore opposing points of view with just a few clicks, and just as readily access training on how to think critically and examples of various logical fallacies.
So-called “Internet literacy” is a skill that must be learned—fact-checking information from one site against other sites, using logic and critical thinking to see if the information is coherent with what you already know, and making sure what you’re reading is internally consistent and contains no fallacies. There is a very famous example of teaching Internet literacy regarding a fictional “tree octopus” that’s worth a read if you have time.
I think the most important thing, when it comes to claims of any kind, is to be skeptical. I consider myself a skeptic—SASHA stands for Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics—and skepticism is an important part of my worldview. Skepticism is, in my experience, NOT taught or encouraged in religious settings. In fact in my experience, I have seen it actively discouraged, painted as the work of Satan, trying to trick people into losing their faith in Jesus. Frankly, I find this ridiculous, although I more-or-less believed that myself at one time in my life.
As I mentioned above in #4, it’s important to regularly study opposing points of view. It expands your mind and forces you to think critically, which I think is never a bad thing. As Sam Harris wrote in Letter to a Christian Nation, “I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.”
I hope this article has been helpful to you. Thank you again for your message, and please let me know if there is anything you would like me to clarify.
Until next time,
Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.
Today’s article is by SASHA member Alex Papulis.
I’d like to consider something in response to Dave’s June 14 post, where he explains that he will stop using the word “homophobia” and instead use “bigotry”.
Atheism does not entail any given political position, or any political position at all. There is nothing requiring an atheist to support either high or low taxes, strict or forgiving immigration policies, capital punishment or its abolition, or anything at all. One cannot be an atheist and support abolition of the death penalty because God says don’t murder, but one can be an atheist and support the abolition of the death penalty. According to moral nihilism, there are no positive moral facts about the world, and as moral nihilism follows from naturalistic atheism (see brief argument at end of post if you like), there is no imperative that the atheist support or oppose any particular policy.
Additionally, though, as all positive moral propositions are false, we should note that the atheist is inconsistent in claiming any political position to be wrong, bad, harmful, etc. Any such claim, that is held intolerantly in the face of opposition, is bigotry on the part of the atheist. For what reason could an atheist hold to a belief for which there is no evidence, in the face of opposition?
So, while an atheist certainly cannot consistently claim, for example, that homosexual behavior is bad or harmful, neither can he claim that anti-homosexual behavior is bad or harmful. Laws expanding the definition of marriage are not harmful, but neither are laws that restrict the definition of marriage. And it’s clear that anyone who says that such law is harmful, and is intolerant of those disagreeing, is behaving in a bigoted manner. There is no evidence for their belief, yet they obstinately hold on to it and disapprove of those who do not share their belief.
But surely, you may be thinking, there are political positions that are worse than others. Some taxes are better than none, highways are better than no highways, and firemen, policemen, ambulances, these are all good things, and policies can certainly be harmful in this regard. Surely we all agree on this. But we have to be careful. It may be the case that most of us like these things, and we don’t like things that lessen them, but that doesn’t get us what would be needed to avoid a charge of bigotry. After all, everyone can appeal to what they like, and the anti-homosexual doesn’t get off the hook because he likes restrictive marriage laws. No, in the end, stubbornly and intolerantly moralizing is bigotry.
So what’s left? For one, there are our desires. We prefer certain states of the world over others. We like what certain policies get us and dislike what others get us, even if none is better than another. And of course, atheism doesn’t entail anything about what preferences or desires one should have. It doesn’t require one be tolerant or accepting of differences, though one may like if atheists are these things.
The pro-gay, then, is fundamentally no different than the anti-gay. The bigots are those who intolerantly assert that one of the positions is good or bad. The two sides are simply two groups with different political desires, and they both try to impose those desires on the other via legislation. There is no place for moral indignation.
Moral nihilism: There are two problems with a realist view of morality for the naturalist atheist. First, moral entities (be they properties, relations, values) don’t seem to fit into the naturalist catalog. A quick way of thinking about it is by dissecting a behavior or act into its physical constituents and then considering where the moral properties might be. We can think about all the physical elements and effects of an action, yet when we try to find the “requirement” or “obligation” or “value”, we are unable. Second, even if moral entities did exist, it is unclear how we would be able to ascertain their existence or character. As moral entities don’t seem to fit into a naturalist understanding of the world, similarly it seems that our perception of them would be impossible without some faculty of perception capable of perceiving non-natural things.
After completing an economics degree at Washington University in St Louis, Alex Papulis just finished a year at Mizzou as a non-degree-seeking, non-transfer Degree-seeking Transfer student. He enjoyed it, and looks forward to starting a philosophy MA program in Milwaukee this fall.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.
Today’s article is by SASHA member Alex Papulis.
In my last post, “Can we be atheists and believe in knowledge?“ I laid out an argument against the existence of free will and reasonable belief. In this post, I would like to sketch out an analogy to illustrate the argument that, given the premise that all causes are physical, there is no such thing as reasoned belief or knowledge.
Imagine that you want to learn about Jack. Imagine also that the only access (if any) we have to Jack is through Bob. We can ask Bob questions about Jack, and Bob gladly answers. Now the question is, how would we check to see if Bob is a reliable conveyor of information about Jack? Our only access to Jack (if any) is through Bob. We believe, that is, that Bob has access and that he tells us things about Jack. If we wanted to verify that Bob is reliable, though, we would need some way of receiving information about Jack that didn’t involve Bob. And further, we would then need some reason to think that that additional information source was reliable.
Bob is like our brain. It provides us with beliefs. Jack is like the world. We believe that our brain has access to it, and as a result gives us true beliefs. We see, though, that we are unable to check the belief-forming processes of our brain. We have nothing to verify our brain-formed beliefs against, as even beliefs about our brain and the beliefs it forms are the product of our brains. One person’s brain forms a belief in an afterlife, another person’s produces the opposite belief. Unfortunately, we don’t have any means of checking our belief-forming processes to know which are lead to truth and which don’t.
The conclusion of the argument: we have no reason to think that any particular belief is true, i.e. no beliefs are reasoned. The believer in Santa Claus does not hold a reasoned belief. Nor the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, or Muslim. Nor the atheist. The consistent atheist cannot believe that his beliefs are the product of reason. No one comes to any beliefs by reason.
Alex Papulis is a non-degree-seeking, non-transfer Degree-seeking Transfer student at Mizzou. After getting a B.A. in Economics in St. Louis and spending some time abroad, he’s settled on philosophy. He’s enjoyed his year at Mizzou, and looks forward to starting an MA program in Milwaukee next fall. It would be easier for him to get his assignments done if SASHA wasn’t around.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.
Hello. Seth Here. Today’s homily will be about the relation between the Xzibit meme and formal logic. For some, formal logic is like the scary sister of the sexy informal logic you are trying to date. You want to become as familiar as possible with informal logic, but you try to stay out of sight from formal logic. Perhaps you spend hours looking at websites exploring every intimate detail of fallacies constituting the body of informal logic, so’s to better woo your mistress. But to spend hours looking at websites exploring the intimate details of formal logic would just be twisted; a form of sadomasochism. In some ways, yes, extended study of formal logic is self-torture, and to read about the formal logical pursuits of others is to delight in their suffering. But in small doses, the drug is beneficial (I freely dance with multiple metaphors at the Ball). I will show you that if you can reason about the Xzibit meme on the interwebs, you can do formal logic.
First, I want to crush this nasty rumor that informal logic is sexy and cool. I will do so with an argument.
1. All logic is the study of good reasoning.
2. The study of good reasoning is about good form.
3. To be about good form is to be formal.
4. Thus, all logic is formal.
5. Informal logic is logic.
6. Informal logic is not formal.
7. But from 4 and 5, informal logic is formal.
8. Thus, informal logic is a contradiction.
9. No contradictions are sexy.
10. No contradictions are cool.
11. Therefore, informal logic is not sexy, and is not cool.
Informal logic is just a heuristic that makes some aspects of formal logic easier to grasp for the pathetic human brain. It is actually just formal logic, heavily photoshopped. Underneath every sexy fallacy from informal logic’s Spring Break album is a shy and demure invalid formal logic formula, waiting to bust out and rock your world.
Because everything is better if Xzibit is involved, I will let Xzibit show you that you already understand how formal logic works.
The Xzibit meme is over 3 years old. In Internet time that is pre-historic, so I will refresh your memory.
In the show, Pimp My Ride, Xzibit takes the old junker of an episode’s guest and tricks it out in crazy creative ways, often implementing new features based on the guest’s individual goals, desires, and preferences. The features implemented are such that they do not often appear in a vehicle. For example, if the episode’s guest is an aspiring singer who loves singing in the car, Xzibit will include a mobile recording studio in the pimped out ride’s console.
The Internet quickly latched on to the formula, and exploited it in absurd ways. Here is a simple example of the meme.
It has been recognized by Cracked.com and knowyourmeme that there is a general form to the Yo Dawg memes. Based on what I’ve given you, it should be simple to arrive at the generalized form of the meme. The good news is that this is all there is to formal logic. If you can understand the general form of the Xzibit meme, then you can understand formal logic.
The general form is:
Yo dawg, I heard you like (X or X-verb), so we put a X in your Y so you can X-verb while you Y-verb.
The X’s and Y’s are variables in the formula. We could further formalize the formula by giving symbols that represent ‘I heard you like’, ‘so’, ‘we put in’, ‘you can’, and ‘while you’. This would be no different from how formal logic gives symbols that represent the connectives ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘if…then’, and ‘not’.
Suppose I present an Xzibit meme with the following text:
Yo dawg, I heard you like pool, so we put a pool in your car so you can swim while you drive.
On the face of it, it looks right, where
X = pool
Y = car
X-verb = swim
Y-verb = drive.
However, it should strike you as odd, because the first ‘pool’ is referring to billiards, a game, while the second ‘pool’ is referring to an artificial body of water. Thus, two different ‘pool’s are being used in the formula, when it should be the same throughout. This is the fallacy of equivocation. Formally,
Yo dawg, I heard you like Z, so we put a X in your Y so you can X-verb while you Y-verb.
Z = pool (billiards)
X = pool (body of water)
Y = car
X-verb = swim
Y-verb = drive
This clearly violates the meme’s formula, which does not allow for liked objects that are different from objects put-into-Y. The liked object (or liked verb) must be the object (or verb form related to the object) put into Y. Because ‘pool’ has two different meanings, it equivocates. This has to do with a violation of the formal rules. And you thought equivocation was an informal fallacy!
If you understand how the general form of the meme relates to the particular example above, then you can understand how formal logic relates to natural language arguments. In my argument above, against informal logic, we can formalize it thus:
1. All L is R.
2. R is G.
3. G is F.
4. Therefore, all L is F.
5. I is L.
6. I is not F.
7. I is F.
8. I is not F, and I is F; I is C.
9. No C’s are S.
10. No C’s are O.
11. I is not S and I is not O.
We represent each distinct concept as a letter. We then follow the rules of categorical logic to assess it for validity. I leave that to the reader. It is the exact same process as evaluating an Xzibit meme. Does it have the right form?
The Xzibit meme doesn’t stop at categorical logic. It can also help you learn about higher order logic, and set theory. One of the earliest mutations of the meme set X = Y, whereby the Interwebs discovered some of the hilarity of self-reference and recursion.
This stems from the set-theoretic notions tied to the definition of “we put in”. Mathematicians have known for ages that hilarity ensues from sets containing sets! For example, does the set of all sets that do not contain themselves contain itself? LoL Frege and Russell.
So prevalent did the recursive version of the meme become, that a sub-meme of Xzibit recursion spawned. His face need only be placed next to some recursive image for the meme to work.
Wineglasses in your wine glass.
Pizzas on your pizza.
And with multiple iterations:
And of course, this version of the meme was a natural marriage with Inception.
If you understand these modified versions of the meme, then you can understand higher 0rder logic and set theory, no problem.
So, if in the past you have felt intimidated by formal logic, and have stayed close to the shore of informal logic, I urge you now to venture forth and fearlessly explore the riches that formal logic has to offer. Not only will you truly be understanding logic, but it is no more difficult than understanding or crafting a good Yo Dawg meme.
Seth Kurtenbach is a philosophy PhD student at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on applications of formal logic and game theory to questions about knowledge and rationality. He is growing a mighty beard, in order to increase his philosophical powers [EDIT: He recently shaved his mighty beard, and has thus lost all of his philosophical powers. ]. Feel free to contact Seth at email@example.com with inquiries about philosophy, logic, guest blogging, or visiting to give a presentation!
Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.
SASHA’s “WWJD? – Ask him yourself!” event was featured in Mizzou’s student newspaper, The Maneater, this week. You can read the article here and my take on it here (with more photos). James Pflug (the SASHA member who portrayed Jesus during the event) had this to say about his experience. Even more photos are here.
On Friday, Brother Jed had his twice-annual open house and invited students on campus, religious & atheist alike. Although Jed travels throughout the country and preaches on various campuses most of the year, he and his family actually happen to live right here in Columbia, and so I’ve had the opportunity to have dinner with him and his family a few times now.
There were about 35 of us there, and after we all ate, there was some good discussion. I was only able to stay until about 7:30, but I did get to hear Jed reading out of the Bible a bit (Romans 1, more on this in a moment), and some discussion with my friend Michael Acuff, a Young Earth creationist & medical doctor who specializes in rehabilitation and spinal injuries.
Jed’s Bible reading was, as he put it, “food for thought.” He wanted to explore “why, according to the Bible…” – in his words, “Whether you believe in the Bible or not is another issue” – “… [atheists] don’t believe.” I did record a video of his reading, but since I did it with my cell phone, the audio is pretty hard to make out. You can watch it here if you’re so inclined; I got a text message around 11 minutes in and my phone automatically stopped recording, sorry about that:
Jed’s basic point, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, 1:16-20, is that God has made it plain to us that he exists, such that all men are “without excuse.” We (atheists) “know [that God exists] because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath [shown] it unto them” – but we are willfully resisting the truth, and this makes God angry.
Let’s take a look at this critically. The argument here, according to Jed, is that even if you’ve never heard the gospel preached to you, you are without excuse for knowing that God is real, because, in Jed’s words, “he has revealed himself through his creation.”
This is an unbelievably easy argument to knock down. I’m frankly surprised that Jed thought it was worthwhile enough to lead with during the after-dinner discussion. Let’s dig in.
First problem: It’s not exclusive to any particular god. Before we continue, I want you to take a moment and look at this link. Seriously, right now, click this, glance it over, and then come back. I’ll wait.
Okay, back now? You may have noticed that there are over 100 names listed on that page. There are 111, in fact. Yahweh is among them, the third from the last, right where you’d expect to find the ol’ fella, alphabetically under “Y.”
The reason Paul’s line of reasoning fails as an argument in favor of Yahweh’s existence is that you could just as easily make this argument in favor of any creator god – any of the 111 listed on that page, or any other you might care to make up on your own, and indeed, throughout history and up to today, people do just that. You could just as easily make the case, “People are without excuse for not worshipping the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who is clearly real, because he has revealed himself through all of creation.”
Even if it were true that “creation” necessarily means a creator (it doesn’t), that doesn’t tell us WHICH creator. The teleological argument, as it has been called, only gets us to Deism, not to Theism, and certainly not allllll the way down the spectrum to Christianity specifically:
In order for a hypothesis to be credible, it has to fulfill a few minimum requirements, for example, internal consistency, external consistency, and elegance. By internal consistency, I mean that the explanation you’re offering can’t be logically impossible nor contradict itself. A hypothesis is no good if it depends upon an assumption that can’t logically work. For example, if your explanation requires an omnipotent being, we can easily show that your explanation is flawed. An omnipotent being cannot exist, and we can easily prove this using “the paradox of the stone,” employed by Aquinas and others, which dates back to at least the 12th century. The paradox of the stone asks, simply, “Can God make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it?”
If he can, than he fails at being so powerful that he can lift anything, no matter how heavy. If he can’t, than he fails at being able to make something he intends to make. Either way, he’s not all-powerful. So we can be sure than an all-powerful god does not - cannot – exist. Though the Bible doesn’t make the claim internally that God is all-powerful in the first place, Christians sometimes do, so it’s a good point to keep handy. Christianity does not depend on belief in an all-powerful god, just a very-powerful one.
The Bible does make other claims that are logically impossible, though. John 1:1 is a good example. In the Gospel according to John, the opening line states: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Well, which is it? Was the Word with God, or was the Word actually God? This violates the logical principle called the law of non-contradiction: Something cannot logically be A and not A at the same time and in the same context (in this case, the contradiction is that Christianity is a monotheistic religion, as the 1st Commandment requires, and that Christianity is not a monotheistic religion, as Christians worship Jesus as a separate entity from God the Father). You can’t put forth the statement that Jesus was a separate person, who sits at the right hand of the Father (God) and who is the “way” to God the Father, and that Jesus is God the Father simultaneously, just as you cannot logically put forth the statement that your went for a walk with your dog, and that you are your dog, simultaneously, if you want to make sense. (For a video explanation of why this is nonsense, click here.) In several places in the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that he is not God the Father himself, yet if Christians worship him, this violates their own “greatest commandment.” You could argue that the trinity is a paradox – an argument that appears to be self-contradictory but is in fact sound – but I would say to this, explain! In what way is this argument actually sound, aside from the Bible’s mere say-so?
Just stating, “God works in mysterious ways” is another way of saying “I haven’t the foggiest.” If you don’t know, just say so. It’s okay to say “I don’t know”! What’s not okay is saying, “I don’t know, therefore it must be God.” If you don’t know, the default is that you reserve concluding either way and err on the side of caution (that is, you refrain from believing it until you have better evidence one way or the other). To do otherwise is to think fallaciously.
Another example of internal inconsistency would be if two separate statements contradict each other (rather than one statement contradicting itself, as above). As just one example, let’s take the year of Jesus’ birth:
In Luke 2:1, the author says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, despite the fact that his parents lived in Nazareth. According to the author, Joseph and a very-pregnant Mary traveled the roughly 70 miles to Bethlehem in order to register for the census, while Quirinius was governor of Syria. When they got there, there was no more room at the inn, so Jesus was born in the stable and placed in a manger (a livestock feeding trough), where the shepherds came to pay tribute to him.
However, in Matthew 2:1, the author says that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem (they were not just visiting), and Jesus was born in their house there, while Herod was client king of Judea. According to the author of Matthew, the astrologers (“kings”) from the East, following a star, came to Jerusalem to pay tribute to him, and stopped at Herod’s first to ask for directions to Bethlehem, 5 miles away. Herod asked them to come back afterward and tell him all about it, so they he, too, could worship the newborn king (although he secretly wanted to kill the kid). But the astrologers were warned in a dream about Herod’s plan, and so they didn’t go back to Jerusalem as Herod requested. Joseph, too, was warned in a dream, and so he, Mary, and baby Jesus ran away to Egypt (the Egyptian border at the time was about 75 miles from Bethlehem). Herod, unaware of this, ordered the slaughter of all the babies 2 years and under in that town to try to get the kid anyway. According to Matthew 2:19-21, after Herod died, Joseph was told in yet another dream that the threat to Jesus’ life was abated, and so they could return to their home in Bethlehem. But when they got back into Israel (Bethlehem being a city in Judea, which is another name for the southern, mountainous part of Israel), they found out that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was now on the throne, and so they went to Nazareth instead (70 miles north of Bethlehem, in Galilee), and raised Jesus there.
Therefore, the Bible cannot be correct about where Jesus was born, because it is internally inconsistent: One writer says Joseph’s house in Bethlehem; another says in a stable in Bethlehem, because having traveled there from their home in Nazareth, there was no room at the inn.
So, what do I mean by external consistency? In this specific case, we also have an external, bigger historical problem with the reliability of these two accounts: We know from extrabiblical historical & archaeological records that Quirinius wasn’t governor of Syria during the same time period that Herod was client king of Judea. In fact, Herod died in 4 BCE, and Quirinius wasn’t governor until 6 CE, about a 10-year gap. It’s not just that they didn’t rule at the same time; Quirinius was Herod’s son’s replacement, after Herod himself died and was succeeded by his son, and his son was removed from power 10 years after that. There is no mistaking this: Herod ruled from 37 BCE until he died in 4 BCE. Then, Herod’s son, Archelaus, ruled after his father’s death from 4 BCE until 6 CE. Then, Archelaus was replaced by Quirinius (the Roman government got rid of the client-king arrangement and placed the area under direct Roman rule, with Quirinius in charge).
If Matthew is correct, Jesus must have been born before 4 BCE. If Luke is correct, Jesus must have been born after 6 CE. So we can be certain that (at least) one of these two accounts of Jesus’s birth is incorrect. But we already knew that, because of the internal contradictions.
So, that’s internal consistency, and external consistency. What about elegance?
By elegance, I don’t mean that a hypothesis has to be attractively refined in its appearance, but rather, it must be precise, neat, and simple. (Easy and simple, by the way, are not interchangeable.) An elegant hypothesis leaves no glaring holes in its explanatory power, but at the same time, it is not unnecessarily complicated: It is parsimonious, meaning that it refrains from making unnecessary assumptions in reasoning: It follows Ockham’s Razor.
By way of example, natural selection is an elegant explanation of evolution because it is simple, precise, and neat. (Natural selection and evolution, also, are not interchangeable.) Natural selection is pretty easy to sum up: Over multiple generations, random mutations in genetic code occasionally give rise to fitness advantages, which, under conditions of scarcity, naturally lead to non-random, increased competitive proliferation of the better-equipped specimens. That’s it. There are no glaring holes in this hypothesis – we know random mutations occur, we know conditions of scarcity and competition are present, and we can easily see how these fit together to explain what we observe (i.e. changes in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next). It’s elegant; it’s internally consistent (non-contradictory), and it’s externally consistent (it fits the evidence without leaving any glaring holes).
God, in contrast, is not an elegant hypothesis. To say, as Jed does, that we know God exists because he is revealed “through” his creation, is basically arguing that the universe exists, and someone “must” have created it: Ergo, God. If you’re going to argue that everything that exists must have had a creator, than we’re left with the “glaring hole”: Who created God?
Some theists, Jed among them, attempt to get out of this one, by arguing that God does not “need” a creator; it’s not simply “everything that exists must have had a creator,” but rather “everything that was created must have had a creator,” and God, by the way, wasn’t created. If faced with this argument, I simply argue that the universe, too, wasn’t created. Ask also, how do you know God wasn’t created? Is that just an assertion? Well, then I assert that the universe does not “need” a creator, either.
When asked who created god, a theist might argue that he either always existed, is beyond our ability to explain at present (“supernatural,” “metaphysical,” or simply “mysterious”), or that we cannot know where he came from (beyond our comprehension).
If you are presented with this argument, just turn it right around, substituting “the universe” for “God”: Does it not make equal sense to argue that either the universe has always existed, or is beyond our ability to explain (so far at least), or that we may never be able to explain where it came from? Or if a theist wants to argue that God created himself, just say, “I argue that the universe created itself” (which, by the way, is what Stephen Hawking argues in The Grand Design).
Either way, this argument falls apart rather rapidly as any sort of proof for a god’s existence. At best, God is an unnecessarily middle-man when it comes to the existence of the universe, and barring other evidence, we should strike the God hypothesis on grounds of parsimony.
I must pause here to stress that yes, God is a scientific hypothesis in this context. Some people – particularly theists but also fans of the agnostic Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria – might be tempted to say that God exists outside the natural realm and therefore cannot be explored or understood with the tools of science, which can, by definition, only examine the natural realm.
That’s fine with me, so long as you understand that this line of reasoning makes you a deist, and you understand that your assertion that “God exists outside the natural realm” is by definition unsupported by evidence, and, therefore, not rational due to its departure from parsimony. Allow me to explain.
If you want to argue that we can’t see beyond the natural realm with the tools we have, whether scientific or cognitive, that’s fine – but then you are effectively barring yourself from making any further claims about what’s out there, as well. If you are arguing that the metaphysical realm is not available to us for natural inquiry, then the most we can say about what’s beyond the natural universe – by that I mean, metaphysical ideas like God(s) – is that we can’t say anything about them. By definition they are outside of our realm. So much for what God wants, heaven, hell, souls, prayer, etc!
If you want to argue that something outside of our realm exists in the first place, I think the only way you could possibly do it is by committing the fallacy of attempting to shift the burden of proof.
Jed likes to argue that we can’t explain the metaphysical using the physical. He argues that God is a metaphysical being, and therefore off-limits when it comes to physical (natural) examination, explanation, or criticism. I say, if you want to postulate the existence of something metaphysical at all, two things:
1) You understand that such a postulation is not parsimonious
2) The moment you try to argue that God has ever interacted with the physical universe (including the initial creation!), you are no longer arguing that God is purely metaphysical. A purely metaphysical entity cannot interact with the physical because in so doing he/she/it/they would no longer exist purely in the metaphysical realm (if such a realm even exists).
In the very instant that a purely metaphysical God crossed over into our (natural) realm to interact with it – to answer prayers, to work miracles, or to come here himself… pretty much anything credited to “the holy spirit” – he would once again be on the table for natural, critical examination. This line of reasoning, by definition, excludes belief in Christianity, since a purely metaphysical god cannot, by definition, perform miracles, and this would knock belief in the resurrection off the table.
I think that an illustration might help make this point more clear. Consider the following:
Say that we live in the “natural” realm, which for sake of this example is two-dimensional. We’ll call this place “Flatland.” We can only see, interact with, measure, and know about objects that have width and/or length. We have no concept of, nor process or technology of measuring, height (read: metaphysical beings). The third dimension, height, is simply not visible to us and it is outside our comprehension, much like Jed purports the metaphysical realm and metaphysical beings like God to be.
Here is what Flatland looks like:
Notice that there are no mountains, hills, or even buildings in Flatland. There cannot be any, since Flatland exists only in 2 dimensions.
Now, imagine that a sphere, which exists in 3 dimensions, visits Flatland. It comes down to Flatland from above, but citizens of Flatland can’t see it, because they can only perceive things which exist in two dimensions. Since they can’t “look up,” they have no way of even knowing that it’s there so long as it remains in the sky and not touching the ground.
If God exists in the metaphysical realm, the sphere is like God. It may, in fact, be there, but we would have no way of knowing this. Since we don’t have the ability to “look up,” we can’t see him, measure him, or interact with him. Until, that is, he interacts with us.
Imagine now that the sphere “touches down” in Flatland. Since the citizens of Flatland live in two dimensions, they don’t see a sphere; they can only see a dot, which grows and grows into a big circle (a cross section) as the sphere travels deeper into the ground, and then once it passes its widest point, the circle gets smaller and smaller, until it turns back into a dot, then “disappears” altogether. To the citizens of Flatland, it appears as though this thing just came out of nowhere. They can’t explain where it came from or where it went without postulating another dimension or some kind of other realm:
So, back to our analogy: It is possible that there exists another realm, beyond ours (meta-physical), and that’s where God exists or existed. It is possible that we are unable to see or measure that realm using the tools we have, since those tools only seem to work in our realm. But it is incorrect to say that we cannot apply science, which only measures “the natural,” to God, who is supernatural, so long as you also want to make the claim that God has ever interacted with the natural world (as Christianity necessarily does).
The reason for this is clear in our analogy: While the sphere is floating above the 2-dimensional plane, it’s true that we can’t see or measure it, or even tell if it exists. But the instant it “touches down,” we can! We have that little dot where it’s touching our realm. And we can see and measure that dot as it grows into a big circle, and as that circle shrinks, and as it turns back into a dot. This sort of measurement is within our realm and is possible using the tools of science. I have no problem (except for Ockham’s Razor) with postulating a purely metaphysical God, but that necessarily excludes belief in miracles, including the resurrection.
If Christians want to argue that Jesus resurrected, simply saying he was able to do this supernaturally is not an explanation. We still want to know how, and since Jesus’s body existed in this realm, this is a question that medical science can explore. If Jed wants to argue that we survive our deaths (via souls), simply postulating the existence of souls in another realm is not an explanation. We still want to know how our personalities are transferred across that threshold, and because that transfer occurs (at least halfway) in our realm, medical science can ask – and answer – these questions. The fact that there is absolutely no evidence that this happens on our side is evidence that we, indeed, likely do not “survive” our bodily deaths. Further, we can examine exactly what does happen to the energy and matter in our bodies at the moments of and after our deaths, and we can see that nothing unexplained is going on: The activity stops, and the energy that made up our bodies goes on to do other things. Our bodies get cold when we die, because the heat dissipates into the surrounding air, for example.
The point here is that we can understand the supernatural, because all the supernatural has ever been is simply “stuff we haven’t been able to explain yet.” This is otherwise known as the god of the gaps argument. Lightning is scary! A god must be doing it! Therefore, Zeus. The sun moves across the sky! A god must be doing it! Therefore, Apollo. People get diseases! A god must be doing it! Therefore, demons. There are a bunch of different kinds of animals! A god must be doing it! Therefore, Yahweh.
The fact of the matter is, we have excellent scientific explanations for lightning, sunrise/sunset, and why we see diversity in the animal kingdom. These were once mysteries, but so far, it has never been the right answer to say that a god was doing it. Why start now?
Lacking a time machine, we may never be able to fully answer where our universe came from, but in the immortal words of Tim Minchin, “Throughout history, every mystery, ever solved, has turned out to be not magic.”
I think we’re on the right track.
Until next time!
(573) 424-0420 cell/text
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin. Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
Seth Kurtenbach here. The above link is a claim that can be formalized with modal logic. Modal logic is a branch of logic that deals with necessity and possibility qualifiers on truth. Depending on how one specifies the type of necessity and possibility, one can formalize arguments from many domains that cannot otherwise be precisely represented with regular old classical logic. Classical logic is strictly extensional, because it was developed to explore the foundations of mathematics. It is complicated why this is so, but trust me, it is. An intensional logic is one that does not guarantee the substitution of identities. For example, suppose the number of planets = 8. Furthermore, suppose, reasonably, that 8 = 8. In regular extensional logic, one can substitute these equivalencies, due to transitivity. However, suppose one wants to say that necessarily, 8 = 8. Now, one cannot validly make the substitution. It is not necessary that the number of planets = 8. It is possible that the number of planets = 9. This is an example of intensionality disrupting the logic. In the last half of the 20th century much work has gone into exploring the various types of modal logic and their rules of inference.
During the recent XKCD hubbub about all Wikipedia roads leading to philosophy, I encountered a Wikipedia page about the formal sciences. The page indicates that these sciences are different from most other sciences insofar as the formal sciences are a priori, while the other sciences are a posteriori. That is, the formal sciences are not empirical, but instead amass knowledge based on definitions and axioms.
Among the so-called formal sciences is logic and its various subfields. I do work in modal logic, and so it would seem that if Wikipedia is correct, then I am a sort of scientist. But, I have never thought of my work as being a type of science. I usually consider logic to be a subfield of analytic philosophy, and I consider analytic philosophy to be distinct from science. In that same vein, I am not sure any of the so-called formal sciences are actually sciences, because my impression is that all science is primarily empirical.
I would like to know what others think about these so-called formal sciences, specifically about logic. Am I a formal scientist, or is that a misnomer?
This week’s posts
- RT @AmericanAtheist: .@todayshow @alroker @NMoralesNBC Atheists are citizens too. Leave your god out of journalism. Remember we don't all b… 1 week ago
- Buying CAFO products is bad, mmm-kay, Part 1: youtu.be/s8C9ajXYZOI?a via @YouTube 1 week ago
- Buying CAFO products is bad, mmm-kay, Part 2: youtu.be/NGrCwXW084U?a via @YouTube 2 weeks ago
- About to get started at Speaker's Circle. Come out and help us #DefendDissent 3 weeks ago
- Come to Speaker's Circle today at noon to #DefendDisssent facebook.com/events/1828297… 3 weeks ago