Closed and Contradicted

Contradicted

One of the more difficult things about debating with many atheists is the very practical self-contradiction of certain positions they can take[1].  For example, I posted several months ago about someone who argued that “Only an idiot believes that things which cannot be/aren’t proved to exist are facts[2]”  and more recently a gentleman who I have debated with on my last post has argued on his blog “If something is 100% truth then it is not scientifically testable, thus not true. We can only say that things are 99.9(repeating)% truth, but not completely true[3].”  Now, one must ask very simply, how does he know that what he is saying is true?  He seems to say it with the authority of an agreed upon reality, but it is a reality which does not live up to its own test.

In other words, is his statement verifiable only to the point of 99.9(repeating)%?  Has his statement been shown to be consistently true through repeated independent experimentation?  Is there some doubt in his mind that, if further evidence appeared, we might find that his statement is untrue?

The answer, of course, is “no” to all of these questions.  The reason is that the statement “if something is 100% truth, then it is not scientifically testable, thus not true” is not a scientific statement.  It is a philosophical statement.  It has philosophical assumptions that it rests on, like “truth can only be gotten at by scientific means.”  Of course this is a self-contradictory philosophical statement, for it does not rest on scientific experimentation.  It thus fails its own rigorous standards.

This assumption and philosophical position is rampant throughout much atheistic debate.  And it reflects a move to subsume all human knowledge under the rule of scientific discovery.  But there is a category confusion here, as human knowledge is composed of two elements, pieces of information (premises), and the relationships between each piece of information (conclusions).  Now, science can give us new pieces of information, but the relationships between those pieces are left to logic.  And, as much as atheists claim “rationality” as their watchword, they have fallen into a very obvious and illogical blunder by attempting to subsume the logical connections under the rule of the pieces of information.  But this simply will not stand.

For it is only by the laws of logic that we see how things relate, and only by building on apriori truths that we can know anything at all.  Now, by arguing that “the only truth worth knowing is scientific truth” they are in fact obeying the basic laws of logic by asserting an a priori truth, one which is not assailable by any outside means.  However, we need not assail it by outside means, as it destroys itself internally by invalidating itself as a philosophical position.  If all philosophical positions are invalid, as they cannot prove themselves scientifically, so then too is the position that all philosophical positions are invalid.

So as to not be accused of a lack of rigor, let us simply state the argument in its most basic form.

1.  Truth can only be attained through scientific means

2.  Statement 1 is not attainable by scientific means

Conclusion:  Statement 1 is not true, and is self contradictory.

The basic pattern follows for all self contradictory statements:

1.  Only x is true.

2.  Statement 1 is not x.

Conclusion:  1 is not true, and is self contradictory.

This also follows for the basic structure of the negation of all truth:

1.  No statements are true.

2.  Statement 1 is a statement

Conclusion: Statement 1 is not true, and is self contradictory.

That this should not be obvious to anyone arguing for the “rational” position is shocking.  That they do not readily admit to it is not.  For to admit that their view of “worthwhile truth” is itself merely a philosophy (and a self-contradictory one at that) will remove the mystique that what they are doing is SCIENCE, that word that carries with it so much weight in the modern world.  They pass off as professional science done well what is actually amateur philosophy done poorly.

And this is the reason why science can never be sufficient for human purpose.  It is a category of facts, not truth.  Truth belongs to the realm of logic, not experimentation.  Now this too is an a priori position.  However, we can see very clearly that it is not self contradictory, as the statement “truth may be gotten by logical means” is not self-defeating.  It does not prove itself to be true, of course.  And we should point out that there are many positions like this that we fundamentally disagree with.

1.   Josh is the only person who can be right.

2.   Josh is the one who claims statement 1.

3.  Claim 1 is not self contradictory.

The reasoning may be valid here, but anyone knows that the reasoning is not sound.  So the point is not that “truth comes through logic” must be true, but that it is not self-contradictory where the opposite is self contradictory.  And since those are the only two possibilities, we conclude that “truth comes through logic” must be true, because its opposite is self-contradictory.

There seem to be two stances that a skeptic can take here.

1.  “Truth comes from logic, that’s fine.  But logic is incredibly unreliable at delivering that truth, so let’s rely on something else.”  The problem is, once more, how do you know?  You would have to argue from experience here, but that is very shaky ground for a skeptic.  Experience can be falsified.  And if we concede that logic is unreliable at delivering truth (which I do not actually concede), then how can we rely on it to tell us that science is the reliable source of information?

2.  A skeptic might argue that we need to show some evidence that this is the case.  We need not, in fact.  The reason we need not is because we accept that truth can come from logical means, not merely from factual evidence.  We can maintain this without evidence, but with logical certitude without self contradiction.  They however, cannot even say “I will not believe it without scientific evidence because only scientific evidence is truth” because the “because” that connects “I will not believe it without scientific evidence” and “only scientific evidence is truth” is a logical connection, not a scientific connection.

Closed

Now this brings me to the second point of a philosophy based purely on naturalism that insists that no other thing exists.  It can explain everything by means of itself.  This may sound like a positive, but when compared to the other systems that can explain everything, one sees how destructive it is to both rational thought and public discourse.  For the other systems which explain everything by means of themselves are Solipsism and modern Biblical Fundamentalism.

Both a naturalist and a solipsist can explain everything in the universe by means of their own philosophy and make room for no other.  The Solipsist says “I am the only thing that exists, and I, though at my current moment do not know how I am doing it, create all of the sense data that I experience.  Thus, even external verification or lack of verification of my experience is invalid, for it too must come through my senses.  Do you slap me?  I feel it, but that is merely sense data that I am imagining for myself.  Do you tell a different story of an event?  It does not matter, for the event never really happened.”  The naturalist says “you have spiritual experience?  That is really just natural experience.  You have seen miracles?  You are deceived by nature.  You believe historical documents about miracles?  We all know they don’t happen, so once again you are deceived.”

The modern Biblical Fundamentalist does the same when confronted with dinosaur bones or evolution.  They say that the Devil is at work, that God has placed things in the world to test our Biblical faith.  They say that people are deceived by anything other than the Bible.  Their mode of interpreting the Bible explains absolutely everything, and you can say nothing to them to bring them out of the tunnel vision of their monomania.

The closed systems then answer in the same ways, and interestingly enough, with the same paranoid and conspiratorial suspicions.  It is no wonder that paranoia itself is a disorder once diagnosed as a monomania.  If everyone is out to get you, no one, no matter how they tell you that they are not out to get you, can appear as a friend.  No information can come in but that which is filtered through the one single lense that you allow for.

Now what we do with closed systems is first, admit that they might, by logic, be true.  For there is no way to prove them false.  One cannot prove by logic that the outside world does in fact exist.  One cannot prove by science that God or the supernatural exists.  Thus we must admit with all rigor that they are possible systems.  But then, that is as far as we can go with them.  For from their little self-referential positions, they can answer all questions, and they do it in the same way.

They may shout “Yes!  Of course we can answer all questions, that is our point!  You should listen to us!”  But it will not do.  The paranoid person can explain all of your actions as well, sitting in his chair, back to the wall, staring out his window to make sure that “they” aren’t coming for him.  If you say you are a friend, he says you are part of the conspiracy.  If you shake him to get him from his madness, he laughs and says that you have revealed yourself  as part of the plot.  If you can explain all things by a single lens, you really fail to explain anything.

Next, it seems, we should then say about them as Confucious does “Those whose courses are different cannot lay plans for one another.” (Analects 15).  Their course, like the course of a Solipsist, is different.  Their system is closed; they can explain all things without room for other kinds of knowledge.  Our system, however, is open, and makes room for their knowledge, and the knowledge of logic, of experience, and of that special kind of experience called inter-personal experience.

Thus we come to what is an impasse, but it is an impasse between the actually open minded, who accept many sources of information, and the solipsist/naturalist/fundamentalist, who insists on only one piece of information.

Response

There seem to be two ways of responding to this post.  First, a Scientific Naturalist or Positivist might try to argue logically.  This will not do.  They have stated that logic is not useful at getting to truth.  Why then do they insist on using it?  I invite them to stick to their guns, and to argue without logic.  Show me that scientific evidence is a superior source of truth than logic by doing so without logic.  If it really is what they claim, they should be able to show quite easily how this is the case through only evidence.

The problem, of course, is that all argumentation is rooted in logic.  One cannot say “if…then” without using logic.  One cannot say “I answer that…” without logic.  Nor can one even respond without the ground/consequent relationship underlying one’s response.  For the “if…then” of “If I wish to answer, I must respond” or “because I want to show him to be wrong, I will write…” is the ground consequent relationship.  We can see this here.

1.  I wish to answer an argument

2.  To answer an argument I must write/speak the answer

3.  I must then write/speak

All of this happens at such a basic level of human thought that we don’t notice it.  We simply do it.  But that is my point.  You cannot get at truth except by logic.  You can experience things, you can test things, but they do not have “truth” without the logical process that every thought of our minds use.  To show that science is superior, one must somehow stop using logic to how it is inferior to evidence.

The second way is to deny that their system is closed and to accuse theism of a closed system.  This will not work.  For theism allows for unknowns, and allows for doubt.  We allow that information can come from many different sources.  We explain dinosaur bones by science, we explain picnics by way of sunny days and groups of friends, and we explain miracles by way of the supernatural.  We are open to many sources of information.  We utilize all four of Aristotle’s causes, not just one.  And thus our system is open, embracing science, embracing logic, and embracing experience.

In other words, our system is human.


[1] Having argued against the position of fundamentalists myself, I appreciate the frustration they must often feel when arguing against us as well.

[2] http://theologian78.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/truthandtruth/ The current post is an expansion of the ideas contained in this post from last July.

[3] http://garrettspeaks.com/  There is another problem here, of course, other than the one I am going to focus on here in this post.  It is the self-contradiction of the statement “if something is 100% true, it is not true” which equates truth and falsehood with each other.  This is not only an illogical statement, it is also a logically destructive statement, which functions simply and practically the same as the rest of this post indicates the larger philosophical statement does.

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5 thoughts on “Closed and Contradicted

  1. Although I agree with your premises and conclusions, I have a question based on this:

    “So the point is not that ‘truth comes through logic’ must be true, but that it is not self-contradictory where the opposite is self contradictory. And since those are the only two possibilities, we conclude that ‘truth comes through logic’ must be true, because its opposite is self-contradictory.”

    I agree that ‘truth comes through logic’ does not end up being self contradictory and that ‘truth comes through science’ does. My question is this: Is it that all in the discussion agree that these two are both a.) opposites and b.) the only two possibilities or do we need to provide evidence or logical proof to substantiate both a and b?

    I don’t know that I disagree with either, but don’t know that I can get behind asserting them without “proof” either. Further, would your naturalist opponent in a debate agree with these, and if not, I think he might see an argument based entirely on logic as not being self-contradictory as his is, but “only” internally self consistent and thus trivial?

  2. Adam,

    The statement “logic can produce truth” is an a priori, and thus does not bear proof. Their statement “Logic cannot produce truth” is also an a priori, and also does not bear proof. However, since it is also self-contradictory, it cannot be true.

    If we have no a priori’s we have no knowledge. This too is an a priori, but one that also is not contradictory. To ask for logical proof of this is to claim that it is not an a priori, and then we can argue about whether or not it is. But to ask for scientific evidence is to step into a category error of asking for the kind of proofs that are applicable to science in logical deduction.

    Did I get at your questions, or I did I misinterpret them?

    • Sort of. By claiming it as a priori, you are saying that these points are axiomatic and understood to be true in the context of the discussion. I could phrase what I was saying differently, by asking “How would you respond to someone who says that there is insufficient reason to assume the dichotomy you have proposed isn’t a false dicothomy and in fact simply by definition logic and science need not be a set of only two members that are furthermore ‘opposite’?”. I feel that claiming logic and science are such could be subject to a problem not dissimilar to the one the naturalist’s argument is guilty of. Not that I think they are, but that is my point of view. Similar to how the naturalist is blind to the problem inherent in their reasoning, could we not be to some aspect of our own?

  3. Adam, I think the dichotomy is not between “reason” and “science” but the dichotomy between “Logic gives us truth” and “Logic does not give us truth.” The first viewpoint allows science to say what it will about the world within its own means of verification as a class of information unto itself, while allowing also for logic. The second allows, ultimately, for neither.

    Thus I don’t claim science and logic are opposite. That would be to claim that they are of the same kind, and they are not. Therefore they can no more be opposites than apples and numbers. The opposites are the two positions about logic given above.

    • I see what has happened. But first, I would agree both with the statement “science and logic are not opposite” and further that you have not claimed that. Though that is an easy trap to get into in such discussions.

      I did not see in the very specific part that I quoted in my first post as a dichotomy between “logic gives us truth” and “logic does not give us truth” (I would agree that that is by definition a dichotomy). What I saw was that I thought you were saying is:

      “So the point is not that ‘truth comes through logic’ must be true, but that it is not self-contradictory where the opposite [the opposite being what we had been talking about earlier and pointing out was self-contradictory, namely that truth comes through science] is self contradictory. And since those are the only two possibilities, we conclude that ‘truth comes through logic’ must be true, because its opposite is self-contradictory.”

      It appears that after your explanation that “the opposite” in the above quote was not functioning as a sort of pronoun whose antecedent was the earlier part of the discussion where you were talking about something which was self contradictory but rather the negation of the statement you had just made (namely “NOT logic gives us truth” or more informally “logic does not give us truth”). In short when you talked about the “opposite” as self contradictory without explicitly defining what “opposite” was, I jumped to the conclusion that the thing that had been shown to be self contradictory earlier was being positted as that opposite.

      So, given this, I can grant that there are no assertions being made in your line of reasoning that neither party in such a debate could justify as needing more “proof” (whether that proof be in the realm of scientific evidence or mathematical/logical proof).

      Now, the worst your hypothetical opponent could accuse you of would be to say that your argument is internally self consistent, which is more than he can say for his own.

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