Friday, February 28, 2014

More on Absolutes, Qualifying Claims, and Addressing some Objections

Designated; Interplanetary Space Unicorn

As the debate continues, I decided to respond directly to those who have said I am "shifting the goal posts" or trying to "play semantic games."

Neither is true. I am following the basic logic of how you qualify the claims, which is why I linked to a college text book on how to argue properly. I've taught argumentation and rhetoric in the past, so I am quite familiar with the subject.

So, let me respond to some of the comments.

A theist wrote in saying:

I think you are trying to be too clever and falling over yourself in the process. There is absolutely nothing conditional about the sentence "there are no absolutes".

This is true. We have no context to supply any conditions of not having any absolutes, therefore we cannot qualify the claim as an absolute one. More on this in a minute. Our friend goes on to say:

You are merely saying that you can be lazy about what you are meaning to say because you can always go back and move the goalposts by saying "that is not what I meant and it is the listeners fault for not abiding by the meanings that I have personally assigned to English words and sentences even though it contradicts standard English".

No, this is all besides the point. I am not talking about semantics here. I am informing how one goes about qualifying a claim when they want to make a conditional statement, such as, there are *always green apples at the store or there are *never green apples at the store or there are *sometimes green apples as the store.

So again, "no" means "none" which is as absolute as it gets. I think you are being a little dishonest since you very well know that saying there is "absolutely none" of something has the same meaning as there are "no" somethings.

It is unclear from the context whether or not "no" in the sentence "there are no absolutes" means not any or hardly any, since the word 'no' can and does contain both meanings (as a determiner). None, on the other hand, specifically means not any, i.e. by no amount at all (in its adverbial form).

This only seeks to support my claim that the sentence is a general statement. We can read "no" as either not any or hardly any. In order to know which meaning we are to assume we have to ask what are the conditions being expressed here? This requires us to have a greater context beyond the claim itself.

As it is we still do not know if "there are no absolutes" is *always the case, *never the case, or merely *sometimes the case. Hence the need to qualify the claim.

Subsequently, an absolute statement would look something like this: "there are *always no absolutes" or, to rephrase it without the negative, "there are never any absolutes."

This is an absolute claim, because the conditional *never any absolutes is met.

Suffice to say, without qualifying the sentence “There are no absolutes” as sometimes, rarely, always, or never no absolutes we cannot consider it an absolute claim.

Moreover, without this necessary qualification to claim the sentence is making an absolute claim, the assumption that the sentence “There are no absolutes” itself somehow qualifies as an absolute claim is rendered false.

Our theist friend didn't like my answers, naturally, and went on to say:

Shifting the posts and saying that there is a "lack" of something conveys a different meaning than there is "none" of something. Surely you know this? These terms do not have the same meaning and cannot be interchanged. "No' or "none" does not equate to "lack". That's nonsense.

I have not shifted the goal posts. I am merely stating that the statement "there are no absolutes" denotes a lack of absolutes in the same way that the sentence "there are no unicorns" denotes a lack of unicorns.

That is all it states. The sentence "there are no absolutes" is a general statement about a lack of absolutes. It doesn't provide any conditions for us to qualify this lack of absolutes as an absolute claim.

What I mean by this is that we do not know what possible conditions there are regarding the existence of unicorns no more so than we know the conditions of the existence of absolutes minus any context to determine these conditions.

Which is why we must qualify the statement if we want to make it an absolute claim. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, is it always the case that there are absolutely no unicorns, i.e. is it true that there are never any unicorns? 

Having not qualified it as an absolute claim, however, it is falsely assumed that it *always follows that there are never any unicorns; falsely assumed because this condition of *always is merely assumed after the fact but not because it has been in any sense qualified, hence the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy is revealed.

Likewise, it is falsely assume that it *always follows that there are no absolutes, which is fallacious for the same reasons. The absolute condition of *always has been assumed post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

The mistake is to import the absolute condition of always into the claim "there are no absolutes" and read an otherwise general claim as an absolute one, since we do not know if the lack of unicorns is something that is always true, sometimes true, or rarely true.

Another writer chimed in, saying:

I have to disagree, Tristan ... You are definitely implying that there are no, none absolutes by that statement.

See, this is the problem. "There are no absolutes" does mean "not any absolutes," this is true. But that, once again, is merely a general statement because "not any absolutes" is not the same as "never any absolutes." The prior being a general claim the latter being an absolute claim. I keep on emphasizing this point, because it seems to be the point everyone keeps missing.

Let's say I have a basket full of oranges. If I said, "there are no apples in this basket" it would be a correct claim, but it would be wrong to assume that there are *never any apples to be found in my basket. Maybe tomorrow I will buy apples and place them in the basket.

This is why it is a general statement about a lack of apples in my basket, not that there are never any apples in my basket, which is the absolute condition of *always having no apples.

If there were no apples in all of existence, i.e. never any apples, then I could never have any apples in my basket. That not being the case, however, there may sometimes be apples in my basket. Hence, the sentence "there are no apples in my basket" is a general claim about the lack of apples in my basket. Not an absolute claim that there are never any apples in my basket ergo no apples in my basket.

If you want to say there are *never any apples in my basket, like there are never any absolutes, then we need a context which will allow us to determine the conditions which will allow us to qualify the claim as such. But as it is, saying there are no apples in my basket is just a general statement about not having any apples in my basket, just as saying there are no absolutes is a general statement about not having any absolutes.

Our friend gives us a nice analogy, which I will relay in full, because it actually helps to demonstrate my point for me.

If I say, "There are no unicorns." I mean there is a full count of ZERO unicorns. To counteract that point might be, "Well, there *might* be unicorns on another planet," which absolutely might be true, but is absurd and pointless.
Granted that it means that "There are no unicorns within my limited knowledge of life in the universe," but now it becomes rather lackluster.
By changing the scenario, and therefore context, adding that there *may be space unicorns, you have attempted to qualify the sentence "there are no unicorns" as "there are *sometimes no unicorns."

This actually goes a long way to prove my point. Again, claiming there are *sometimes no unicorns, because there could be space unicorns (context), is different than claiming there are *always no unicorns (minus any context).

The question isn't on whether or not the scenario is absurd, but whether or not the claim has been qualified as an absolute claim.

Since the claim hasn't been qualified as an absolute, the theist is ignoring the context, neglecting to qualify the claim, and then assuming that it *always holds that there are never any absolutes. This, of course, is fallacious, because as you pointed out, there could possibly be space unicorns.

However, there *are* absolutes if you want to play semantics. If you go into outer space without protective gear, you will absolutely die.

That's technically not what semantics means, but I get your meaning. However, notice you have supplied a context which makes it easy to qualify since you supply the conditions for doing so. Since we know that space has no oxygen (context) then we know that minus any protective gear we will absolutely die (condition), since we need oxygen to breathe (qualification).

The point I am making is that the theist, as they employ the sentence "there are no absolutes" hasn't done any of this.

I think the term "absolutes", mostly used to describe such concepts as "morality" in these discussions, is a dead end from either side.

The problem is that when we are dealing with conceptual ideas, like absolutes, we don't know what it would mean to say there are never no absolutes or always no absolutes without a given context or any conditions to qualify the claim as an absolute claim. Normally concepts require specific contexts to make since, because they are dependent on the surrounding grammar, as concepts can only arise from ideas (thoughts) expressed through language.

As such, the only way to think about concepts is to think about how they are being used in the greater context of their usage within the surrounding grammar and language.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dead-Logic and The A-Unicornist

Both Bud and Mike are my brothers-in-blog. Check out their blogs, which are really worth your while (I guarantee it), along with these nifty new banners I made for them.

I also made a black one for Dead Logic that I like a lot.

And a blue one of The A-Unicornist.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Arguing Logically: Qualifying Claims and On Why “There are no absolutes” is NOT an Absolute Statement

It seems like I may be flogging a dead horse here, but it’s come up again, even after I recently blogged about this very same topic. So I thought I would take the time to write a thorough refutation which puts down the horse once and for all.

Needless to say, it amazes me that theists and religious apologists continually contend that “There are no absolutes” is, in itself, and absolute claim. This is false.

I would say it is obviously false, but rhetorical flourishes like this often place one in danger of sounding overly arrogant. After all, it’s not actually the theists fault that they don’t understand basic high school level grammar. But I suppose it is their fault for not correcting the mistake once it has been pointed out to them in clear and intelligible language.

So, the pressing concern here is why exactly is the statement “There are no absolutes” not an absolute claim?

Simple. The statement has not been qualified as an absolute claim. In other words, it’s a general statement about absolutes. It’s not an absolute claim about there being no absolutes.

In the context of an absolute claim we would first need to identify the conditional sentence. Do the conditions, arising from the surrounding grammatical context, require us to qualify the statement as an absolute statement? Is it written as a clause? Or is it something else? In order to claim it is an absolute statement, we need to qualify whether or not the surrounding context requires the sentence “There are no absolutes” to mean that there are absolutely (always) no absolutes, or whether there are only sometimes no absolutes, or whether there are never no absolutes.

Now, what does qualifying a claim actually mean? Well, qualifying a claim demands that we ask ourselves whether the claim can 1) be true in some cases, 2) be true at some times or under certain circumstances, or 3) be true for some groups or individuals and not other groups or individuals. According to authors of The Norton Field Guide to Writing, “Qualifying your claim shows that you’re reasonable and also makes your topic more manageable by limiting it.”[1]

As the sentence is, “There are no absolutes” is merely a general statement about there not being absolutes. Nothing has been done yet to qualify the claim. As such, the “There are no absolutes” needs to be qualified for us to say there are “sometimes no absolutes” or “rarely no absolutes” or “always no absolutes” or “never no absolutes,” &c., &c.

I find the theist and religious apologist’s claim that “There are no absolutes” to be an absolute claim and thus self defeating, even though it’s not, to be a suitable example of an error we are all prone to make if we’re not taking the time to qualify our claims. When the theist or religious apologists makes the argument that “There are no absolutes” to be an absolute sentence, they are, in point of fact, making the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc by assuming that because the sentence has the phrase “no absolutes” that it qualifies this statement as true for all absolutes all of the time.

This realization is entirely devastating to the the theist’s claim that “There are no absolutes” is self defeating because it is an absolute claim, first of all because they have not qualified it as an absolute claim, and so the assumption that it is somehow an absolute claim does not follow. Secondly, it is falsely assumed that it always follows that there are no absolutes; falsely assumed because this condition of always is merely assumed after the fact but not because it has been in any sense qualified, hence the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy is revealed.

Suffice to say, without any context to identify the conditional sentence, we cannot qualify the sentence “There are no absolutes” as sometimes, rarely, always, or never no absolutes. Without this qualification, the assumption that the sentence “There are no absolutes” itself qualifies as an absolute statement is false. It is a general statement about absolutes, not itself an absolute statement minus any conditions to qualify it as such.

[1] For more on arguing logically and qualifying a claim, see The Norton Field Guide to Writing, part 4 strategies, Arguing Logically: Claims, Reasons, and Evidence, pp. 283-299.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Quote of the Day: Sean Carroll

"If we would presume to contemplate theism from an intellectually honest perspective, we would try to decide what kind of universe we would expect to live in if theism were true; then we would do the same for naturalism; and finally we would compare those expectations to the real world. But when we do that we find theistic expectations failing to match reality over and over again. Now, I know perfectly well (from experience as well as from cogitation) that you can never make headway with theists by claiming “If God existed, He would do X, and He doesn’t” (where X is “prevent needless suffering,” “make His existence obvious,” “reveal useful non-trivial information to us,” “spread religious messages uniformly over the world,” etc.) Because they have always thought through these, and can come up with an explanation why God would never have done that. (According to Alvin Plantinga, our world — you know, the one with the Black Death, the Holocaust, AIDS, Hurricane Katrina, and so on — is “so good that no world could be appreciably better.”) But these apologetic moves come at a price: they imply a notion of theism so flexible that it becomes completely ill-defined. That’s the real problem. Craig’s way of putting it is to suggest that God is “like the cosmic artist who wants to splash his canvas with extravagance of design.” That’s precisely why naturalism has pulled so far ahead of theism in the intellectual race to best model our world: because it plays by rules and provides real explanations for why the world is this way rather than that way." --Sean Carroll (Physicist)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What would my life be like today if I had never become an Atheist?

Before I came to Japan the first time I was in love with a woman I had never met in person. We had known each other for seven long years intimately, through correspondence, both online and through traditional written letters.

Remember, this was back in the early days of the Internet, long before social media. There was Outlook and AOL and that was it as far as reliable email went. I guess that marks my age pretty well, since I'm as old as the World Wide Web (from the time the Internet went global). Our early romance was a lot like the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romcom "You've Got Mail" and this strange new technology allowed us to become long distance soul-mates, so to speak.

In fact, she was the closest to me of any of my friends because she knew my mind, and she knew it intimately. And I knew hers.

We were a match made in heaven, or so it seemed. Eventually, we did meet and it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. It was like meeting my best friend from high school, and everything felt right with her. We went out for lunch and talked as if we were the oldest of friends and not actually meeting each other for the first time. There was a genuine comfort between us, a familiarity, and a genuine love. 

Not long after our first real-world encounter I couldn't get her out of my mind, and I went ahead and asked her to marry me. And she said, "Yes."

Now, this was before I had ever come to Japan, mind you. I was at the peak of the most religious time in my life, and back then I would have said something like I felt so blessed to find such a "Godly" woman to start my life with.

But both of us had prior commitments. We each agreed to finish college before settling down together and getting married, and I think this was actually a wise decision on our behalf. 

Then I came to Japan, and everything changed. My worldview changed. My faith evaporated. And the "Godly" man she thought she had found was lost to her.

Writing her that letter was one of the hardest things I had ever had to do. 

How does one inform his perfect match that he has had an existential crisis so great that the only way he could claw his way back into this world was to claw his way across the desert of the real and, in the journey, become something entirely new? 

It weighed on my mind so heavily, what words do I choose to say to the woman who said "yes" to being my happily ever after that she is no longer what I need in my life? What a let down. What a cruel twist of fate. What a horrible person I was, or so I felt at the time. 

I felt miserable after writing that letter, and I waited for a reply. I waited. And waited. And one didn't come. Not for four long years. And when we finally did begin speaking to one another again, things weren't the same. We weren't intimate anymore. We barely knew each other. I had become a stranger, and she remained that same lovely, spiritual woman I had fallen so madly in love with all those years ago.

I only reflect on this now because her comments sometimes pop up in my news feed. Wonderfully religious and extremely spiritual comments like this one:

Needless to say, these little comments show me that she is still the same wonderful, amazing, highly spiritual woman I knew all those years ago. And I can't help but think, what if? What if I had never come to Japan and my life remained basically the same? What if I had married her. Would I be contented? Would we? 

Looking back on that time in my life now, that other guy seems like someone else entirely. He's not me. In fact, I couldn't be like him even if I tried. It's just not who I am anymore. I've changed. 

At the same time I feel like I have grown by leaps and bounds, learned so many things, grown in both intellect and knowledge, experienced life altering experiences, gained new worldviews, attained new perspectives, learned new languages and made new friends and there's simply no undoing any of that.

That's who I am now.

The accumulation of my life's experiences.

But sometimes I am envious of those who can breeze through the world with such light-hearted optimism, never having to fear because, in their mind, God is always there for them, and everything will work out in the end if only you keep the faith.

But I have to be realistic, the days of feelings blessed for me have long since past. But I don't decry the new challenges in my life. I tackle them head on. 

Because that's who I am now.

Because that's the person I choose to be.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Religion, Sex, Guilt and Porn!

My good friend Kaede Matsushima is one of the most sexual women I know.
She is also one of the most amazing and intelligent women I know. 

The very notion that the mother of Jesus is a perpetual virgin is a type of sexual perversion. It caters to a dangerous purity myth which, like the virgin sacrifices of old, objectifies the woman as a sexual object to be had, owned, or manipulated by gods and men while denying her her very own sexual identity. 

That's pretty damn perverse, if you ask me.

The point I'm trying to make is this, the impure thought here isn't the notion that a woman may like sex and therefore not be a virgin (because there's nothing wrong with that), but rather that because she is a sexually active woman who likes sex she isn't valued by her religion or society (and clearly there is a lot wrong with this).

If you're a thinking person, you can clearly see that the purity myth, i.e. the virgin fetish, is itself a kind of sexual perversion. It distorts how men ought to view women, in this case demoting women to the status of sexual objects to be owned (e.g. incubators for their husbands), and it places the value and worth of the woman, both spiritually and otherwise, on her so-called "sexual purity." After all, God forbid that a righteous man should fall in love with a woman who isn't a virgin. That would be ... sacrilegious!

It seems religion never got the memo from Cole Porter; after all, even educated fleas do it! 

The sad thing is, however, both men and women under the yoke of religious thought suffer from this outmoded view of sexuality. I've researched extensively dangers of the purity myth, in stark contrast to the benefits of pornography, which you can read more about here.

Which brings me to our next topic, piety and porn. 

Recently there were a couple of fascinating articles that popped up in my news feed that I thought were rather telling. In a recent study on piety and porn, researchers found that although religious people viewed the same amount of pornography as other demographics, they were more likely to feel addicted to porn and have a lingering sense of shame for having watched it. Researchers investigated and found that a series of negative feelings including emotional distress, depression, and deep-seeded guilt were far more prevalent in religious viewers of porn than non-religious viewers.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated study conducted in the U.S., researchers discovered that the largest contributors to amateur pornography didn't come from the liberal coastal cities, as one might expect, but rather came from predominantly religious communities of the Bible Belt. In addition to this, over 56% of the uploads were by women.

I find this fascinating, because it is quite revealing at how religion manipulates people to feel shame and guilt for being otherwise normal human beings. When religious people have human urges, the tendency isn't to celebrate this part of our humanity, but to recoil from it, to think it a sickness, and to decry behaviors associated with it such as having sex and watching porn.

But then, if the religious are so guilt ridden over the very notion of sex, why should they be the most sexually promiscuous and be the largest contributors to amateur pornography?

The answer, I think, is obvious. Sexual suppression breeds sexual frustration. The more sexually frustrated you are the more extreme your behavior will likely become.

It's the same with binge drinking, junk food fixes, or anything else you force yourself to abstain from but your body continually craves. As with the aforementioned things, when you fall off the bandwagon you don't just fall off the bandwagon, so to speak. The whole wagon train goes over the cliff, and you feel a great sense of shame, because odds are you didn't just take a sip of wine. Odds are you got fall-flat-on-your-face stupid drunk. Odds are you didn't just eat one piece of chocolate cake, odds are you ate the whole goddamn cake! The idea is that because you failed to abstain entirely, you should be ashamed for your failure.

Religion treats sex a lot like binge drinking or junk food fixes. You're supposed to abstain from sex, but if you can't, well, in these cases these sex-starved religious people don't just fall off the bandwagon. They don't just go out for a one-night-stand and consider themselves contented. No. They go out and have unsafe sex (usually due to poor sex education programs), go make porn, and only God knows what else.

The funny thing is, however, it's the religion itself which is causing the problem here. Religion distorts the idea of sex in the minds of its followers, and makes something which should be celebrated into a temptation that is seen as taboo and is frequently warned against. And like any temptation, whether it is the proverbial hand in the cookie jar, or else sex, we often find ourselves wanting what we are denied the most. 

Worse, perhaps, is the fact that the greatest sexual perversion there is is thinking the act of sex itself to (somehow) be perverse. It's a lot like a person who requires food for sustenance feeling horribly ashamed every time they need to eat. "Oh, I'm such a glutton! This time I'll try and starve myself!" The idea is absurd, not to mention dangerous. Such a negative outlook on food and eating, for example, can lead to serious illnesses like anorexia nervosa

But religion would have you think this way about sex; mainly that you should starve yourself of all sexual appetite and desires, but in actuality it only makes you suffer a type of sexual anorexia. 

Here's the deal though, one can never have too much sex! Sex is a good thing. In fact, medical studies have shown that sex is one of the best forms of exercise. Moreover, having sex on a regular basis provides numerous health benefits to the body, including but not limited to:

  • 1. Sex boosts your body's immune system.
  • 2. Sex increases your libido.
  • 3. Sex can improve bladder control.
  • 4. Sex can lower blood pressure.
  • 5. Sex burns a lot of calories.
  • 6. Sex lowers the risk of heart attack.
  • 7. Increases your tolerance threshold of pain.
  • 8. Reduces chances of prostate cancer.
  • 9. Improves sleep.
  • 10. Eases and lessens stress.

Out of these ten benefits to a regular regiment of sexual activity, which ones do you find we ought to be ashamed of? None. So, the question becomes, why should any one feel guilty or ashamed for what is essentially a good thing?

The fact is, like monogamy, religious views about sex are mainly antiquated. One of the reasons I became atheist, and became a lot happier as a consequence, was because I no longer was made to feel ashamed of liking or even wanting sex. I could embrace that part of me, accept myself fully, in addition to accepting others as sexual beings with sexual urges and needs. In the end, the problem of sex being viewed as a "sin" is simply a problem religion creates for itself. I'm here to tell you, from experience, there is absolutely no reason to be ashamed of having sex or wanting sex.

If more religious people could learn to accept themselves as sexual people with sexual urges and desires, and that these urges and desires are normal, then I am sure they would find much more contentment in their sexual relationships and lives. 


A Duke University woman who does porn writes an open letter to defend herself against the hypocrisy of bigoted bullies, slut-shamers, and narrow minded genophobes. I highly recommend it for anyone with an open mind and who accepts sex as a natural part of being human.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why I didn't Watch the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate: And on the Near Extinction of Christianity

Let me clarify, Evangelical, Creationist, and Fundamentalist Christianity are most certainly doomed. In other words, any version of Christianity that does not embrace science will simply begin to gradually disappear into the vastness of its own blinkered absurdity until there's nothing left. After all, the tell tale signs are written all over Bill Nye's face in the above image.

I did not watch the Bill Nye "The Science Guy" vs. Ken Ham debate. I didn't feel I needed to. I'm sure Bill Nye did just fine. He has fact and figures, information and genuine knowledge to share. Ken Ham, as I'm told, simply has a book.

Another reason I did not watch the debate is because I'm not scientifically illiterate. Bill Nye was, thank goodness, exactly what Ken Ham's audience needed. He is not what I need in terms of gaining knowledge on scientific matters. But I do love Bill Nye's dedication to science and what he stands for, and bow-ties are pretty damn cool too.

I'm glad he debated Ham though. I don't get why so many people are troubled by the fact that anybody would take a Creationist seriously. I assure you, nobody actually does. Nobody outside of other Creationists, that is. Look again at the priceless expression on Nye's face. That's a look of concern. If anything, we're concerned for Creationists. Which is why ignoring the problem won't help it any. Ignorance simply doesn't go away if you ignore it. It will persist. It will persist until something replaces that ignorance. In this case, something being knowledge.

We have to debate Creationists, if anything, to share the accumulated information, the bulwark of human knowledge, and give them something tangible to think about. Otherwise, how will they ever learn anything? They are all trapped inside massive echo chambers of faith. As long as we are being invited in to talk about science, I say we jump at the chance to do so! Let's not ignore it, and simply hope the ignorant keep to themselves. 

Let's take Bill Nye's lead and start to educate! I think this is Richard Dawkins' big mistake. He should take on at least one or two notable fundies just to breach the bubble. But I understand his trepidation. Of all people, he perhaps has the fewest reasons to take fundamentalist Christians serious. Still, it would be nice to have more heavy hitters taking their A game to the other side, so to speak. Thank goodness we have Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, and others willing to champion the cause of spreading science to the public.

The more pin-pricks we can give to the bubble of faith, the echo chamber will eventually collapse in on itself. Millennials are already the largest nonbelieving demographic, which is splendid, because the forecast is more nonbelievers, agnosticism, and atheism. 

Meanwhile, millennials will continue to walk away, and when they have families, their kids will be more or less raised secular. This is good news. That's the future. A secular world. One where science is genuinely appreciated.

And this is why the aforementioned versions of Christianity will go the way of the dinosaur. They simply have no curiosity to know the truth, because they feel they've already found it. It's all right there in Ken Ham's book.

At the same time, I hope we continue to engage such people in public forums. Nothing works better than bringing absurd ideas into the lime-light to be mocked and ridiculed. I mean, even Pat Robertson--yes, that Pat Roberston--has a problem with Ken Ham's version of Christianity and wants him to shut up about it! After we expose the absurdity of backwards and outmoded thinking to the public, all we have to do is sit back and watch them devour one another like piranhas. No skin off our backs.

But it's not just the lack of scientific understanding, the limited--and often wrong--information, or the absurdity of specific religious beliefs which will be the downfall of Evangelical forms of Christianity. It will be the simple lack of curiosity.

The biggest problem, as far as I can tell by reading the recent flood of Creationist questions, is that they didn't actually ask any real questions. Questions, after all, typically involve a desire to know something about the world or about the bigger picture. That was nowhere evident. These Creationists weren't curious to know how or why things work in the world. They merely wanted to know how their religious beliefs could be considered wrong by those who thought and felt differently. Every single one of the 22 questions posted reflect back on how they perceive their cherished beliefs, beliefs they cling to, it had nothing to do with them wanting to learn about this or that thing or some such as it relates to the real world.

That's the big reason their version of the way they see the world simply will not last. Because their version doesn't wish to concern itself with the way the world really is. There is a detachment here, and this lack of curiosity, this lack of desire to understand, will cause them to fall behind the curve of progress and eventually they will have no choice but to leave their failed beliefs behind or adapt them into something new, something most likely bizarre, in order to stand the test of time. 

So it seems Ken Ham is wrong on that front as well, evolution is very real. In fact, if he--and more importantly those who think like him--wish to continue to call themselves Christian in the modern world, they are going to have to adapt or go extinct. Survival of the fittest, after all.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Self-Refuting Claims: Reductio Ad Absurdum, The Road Runner Tactic, and There Are No Absolutes

When I was a religious believer I would often employ what is known as 'The Road Runner Tactic', as coined by Christian apologist Norman Geisler, who overuses it in his philosophically illiterate book I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.

The Road Runner Tactic is a form of the reductio ad absurdum argument employed as an argument to counter a statement made that is untenable. It is used to show how the statement might yield a nonsensical or absurd result. 

But theists often use it wrong, using it to counter an argument when it isn't actually intended as a contra-argument. Arguments, after all, consist of numerous interelated claims. Even if one claim is untenable, it doesn't mean all the others are. All it means is that the argument needs revision.

Applied absolutely to any claim, 'Road Runner' style tactics will almost always lead to absurd results. But this distortion arises due to a misapplication of the method. Argumentum ad absurdum arguments are meant only to determine the difeasibility of a claim--not act as a competing claim. 

As theists use it, it is typically intended to falsify claims that they frame as absolute. I'll explain why this is problematic later on.

In an online conversation with a theist I has said there are a million to one arguments against God. Needless to say, it was a bit of a rhetorical flourish. Although I think atheism is the more rational position, and is more defensible than theism, that doesn't mean there aren't coherent arguments for the existence of God. My statement merely reflects the fact that, having gone from a devote believer to a nonbeliever, I currently feel that the atheistic position is the better supported and better defended position.

Challenging me on the claim, he responded, "Oh, yeah? A million to one arguments against God? Are you prepared to back up your claims?"

And I was like... it's a rhetorical flourish... don't be so literal.

Later on in the discussion he hit me with the old canard, "There are no absolute claims" is an absolute claim, therefore it is self-refuting, via reductio ad absurdum

This reasoning is wrong, however. It's wrong because it imports an absolute meaning into an otherwise general statement.

I tried to inform him that it only reduces to the absurd and is self-refuting if the grammar or context explicitly specifies for it being an absolute statement. If not, then it should be interpreted as a generalization. 

Let me explain.

We can read "There are no absolute claims" in either one of two ways. 

1) There are probably no absolute claims"


2) There are absolutely no absolute claims"

Is it a probabilistic claim or an absolute claim? Without a conditional sentence, or a clause, we simply cannot know which one is intended. Which is why clauses matter when talking about absolutes. You can't have an absolute without a conditional clause. 

I informed it is a mistake to assume either one is the intended meaning when the comment stated is, itself, a generalization (due to the aforementioned lack of a clause to specify an absolute condition).  This is basic high school level grammar, so it's strange to me that so many apologists seem to get it so wrong.

Generally speaking, it's simply a rule of thumb, unless the context or the grammar (such as from #2) expressly state that it is intended as an absolute (hence requiring a conditional clause). Knowing this, we know it is a mistake to presuppose an absolute statement where there is no conditional clause. Therefore argument from reductio ad absurdum is not valid as a counter to generalizations. 

Even if the apologists gets lucky and the generalization of a claim is rendered untenable (however, not because of their understanding of the grammar--or lack thereof it would seem), this still doesn't mean the whole of the argument is falsified. Although, one would probably have to revise the argument, or the wording, for it to be tenable.

Anyway, I hope this helps any of you if this comes up in online discussions with theists or believers, because it comes up a lot.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist