Friday, April 20, 2012

Logic, Magicsandwichshow Style

For those not in the know, Sunday last the fortnightly produced Magic Sandwich Show had as its theme the continuation of various and sundry conversations previously held, for one example, between Eric Hovind and Thunderf00t at the Reason Rally. The normal lineup was present (that is to say DPRJones, C0nc0rdance, AronRa**, and Thunderf00t) and joined by creationist and Christian apologist Eric Hovind (son of Kent Hovind, guest of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in sunny Florida), and his presuppositional confederate, Sye Ten Bruggencate. One is hard against a wall to classify the conversation among the panelists, but substantially incoherent comes charging to the fore of my mind. I do not aim to write a comprehensive* overview, but there is to my mind nevertheless a topic of substantial import (and interest):  logic.

This article presumes the reader has watched at least some the relevant episode of the MSS.

At the outset, Bruggencate admits outright that the entirety of his reasoning is circular. This, he supposes, does not present a problem, for it is the case that everyone uses circular reasoning. And it's okay to do it if you're him because his circularity is manifest by god (no indication of how that's supposed to work). And this he calls just circular reasoning. But atheists, he charges, do the same thing but without reference to some external constraint by another mind. This he calls viciously circular reasoning. Grounding his conjecture and dismissing anyone else's he pulls off by invoking the universality and necessity of the laws of identity and non-contradiction.

It is important to note here that he conflates universality and necessity. Something can hold true everywhere in the universe, but still not be a necessary truth. This is technically a nomological issue, which he simply fails to parse in anyway that isn't extremely naive.

Take the so-called law of identity. Why would one suppose that it has to be true? I know the efficient reasons people will cite:  well, I never notice anything simultaneously existing and not existing, moving and being still, rising and falling. These are observations which give us an intuition that the law of identity and the law of non-contradiction are in fact true, but this says nothing whatever about their needing to be true. I also cannot see a valid way to meaningfully say a universe in which they aren't true is an inconsistent universe. To make that claim, one needs to already presuppose a concept of contradiction. But that's only a coherent concept if one assumes the law of identity in the first instance - not a safe assumption to make about a universe that isn't constrained by that law.

As it happens, I cannot imagine what a universe in which something could be not itself would look like. But this still says nothing whatever about whether such a universe is in fact possible or, for that matter, extant. It just doesn't seem to be the universe in which we find ourselves.

So we take in our stride certain axioms for reasoning, axioms which formalize what it is our senses apprehend: a rock is a rock, and it is not a fish; a fish is a fish and it isn't a verb. This notion seems to remain conserved from one moment to the next, and has not ever been noticed to fail to be the case. So, we have as axioms (that is to say things we assume to be true, but cannot actually justify) that things are what they are, and they are not what they are not.

Bruggencate and Hovind see this as a problem, for we can not prove logically that it is so (or rather, they argue that we can, but that we do so only circularly). They are full of shit, of course, for no logician is under the misapprehension that a logic predicated on these two assumptions is in turn capable of justifying or proving those assumptions. A system that can prove itself consistent is inconsistent; this is known as Godel's incompleteness theorem. (This is a rather complex topic all on its own, and I am not in this post taking any effort to develop the reasoning. Not to invoke reGreta Christina's virus of 'later' that always translates into 'never because I'm too busy and important', but the incompleteness theorems deserve a post of their own.)

And this could have ended the entire botched abortion that was the MSS this week.

Not content to remain only marginally inept with logic, they press on demanding to know if an atheist can be wrong about something. Of course. We could all be wrong about something. They then go the extra step to say that because we could be wrong about anything, we could be wrong about everything. And thus we don't know anything. This is trivially dismissed. To say that I could be wrong about anything is not suggestive that I can be wrong about everything.

Indeed, it's not possible for me to be wrong about everything, for there is one inconvenient truth that cannot be sidestepped:  I am conscious. Whether I'm a brain in a vat, plugged into the matrix, suffering severe delusions brought on by some capricious sky wizard or what have you, it remains the case that I am aware of something. Even if that something is false, or imaginary, or projected for me:  Consciousness is the one thing that must be true, even if everything I experience is entirely imaginary.

*This article may (or may not) become the overview to a more detailed series that addresses these topics in more depth. I suppose the largest determining factors are interest and whether or not I have time to lay a properly academic foundation for the more abstruse strictures of logic. So, stay tuned, or not, for that series (or its opposite!). For the moment though, this covers some of the issues that whiled away much of the show.

**Yes, AronRa was being a petulant child in this series of videos, essentially whining like a small child who's been told no and then isn't the center of attention. I am particularly dismayed by the sheer rudeness he showed to C0nc0rdance by trying to cut him off from answering questions directly put to him in the first place. This is not the sign of a person who holds in his estimation that C0nc0rdance is sufficiently educated and intelligent to answer a question that is put to him by name. And this isn't an isolated incident of AronRa acting as though he's the one who is sufficiently smart that when someone else is asked a direct question, he needs to silence that said someone else and answer the question for them (and nearly always with the same litany of examples). Also, AronRa, you should consider abandoning the woo-laden claims about 'truth' and 'true' being different, such that your concept of one is super-mega above that of what others can conceive. You aren't as proficient or knowledgeable about logic as think you are; and some of your very stupid claims demonstrate this. *stares you down*

1 comment:

harrystarkus said...

Really enjoy your writing and willingness to call out "our own side" when you feel the need. One of the very places i can come for real skepticism .... keep it up my good man!
I don't feel the vibe of infallibility here ( unlike elsewhere ). I like this :)