Saturday, 20 January 2018

7 Reasons Redux

Conscious that my output has been sporadic of late, and with no piece sufficiently close to completion that I can get it published quickly, I thought I'd bash off a quick piece on logical fallacies.

A few weeks ago, I was involved in a discussion with Stephanie, a Christian apologist we've met before. I'll pop the video in at the bottom for those interested. 

Prior to going on air, Stephanie determined that we were going to talk about logical fallacies and, in the mold of internet apologists the world over, decided to spend five minutes on Google and make herself an instant expert, even going to the lengths of writing a blog post about it

It's worth noting that I've been engaged in this for almost two decades, and even I wouldn't claim mastery. Despite this, Stephanie has, since our discussion, taken to ejaculating the names of fallacies at a rate commensurate with that of a teenager who's just discovered the relationship between his right hand and his penis. Needless to say, she's almost invariably wrong in her citations. 

As a bit of a filler, and because I should be able to bash it off pretty quickly, I thought I'd go through her blog post on logical fallacies and offer some corrections. Note that I'm not going to cover the entire post here, though I may come back to it. Although this blog post wasn't offered as an entry into the hackenslash Challenge, that's how I'm going to treat it.

So, let's crack on.

Anecdotal fallacy/appeal to anecdote:
The anecdotal fallacy occurs when someone attempts to generalize a person’s individual experience to a larger population. For example, an atheist may indicate that he does not believe in God because when he prayed, he felt that God did not answer. Therefore, he determines that God must not answer prayers for anyone.
This, while not technically incorrect, is a pretty poor definition of the fallacy. Moreover, the example given is something that this commentator has never experienced. It does commit the fallacy, but I've never seen an atheist do this.

What an appeal to anecdote really is is an appeal to something that can't be demonstrated, by offering as evidence a personal experience. For example, we often hear the claim from theists to the effect that 'my Aunt had terminal cancer, and we prayed, and she was cured' as evidence for God. This is an appeal to anecdote precisely because there's no way to verify the story.

Incidentally, this also commits several other fallacies, one of which we'll be coming to, and which was the central topic of the discussion we had on Youtube.

Appeal to emotion:
Appeals to emotion include appeals to fear, envy, hatred, pity, pride, selfishness, or another emotion to manipulate an emotional response rather than offering a logical argument. This particular fallacy is commonly applied by atheists when they post pictures of injured or dead babies to generate emotion and animosity against God.
This is a very interesting interpretation of what atheists do when they post such pictures. In my not inconsiderable experience, the motivation for posting such things is not to appeal to emotion, but specifically to counter the notion of a loving god or, in some cases, to juxtapose against those who say their prayers are answered when the Broncos score a touchdown, or some other such inanity. The exposition of the fallacy is correct, but the application is entirely wrong, and Stephanie commits another fallacy of relevance, the appeal to motivation.

Argument from Authority:
This is the opposite of the ad hominem. In this case, the argument is put forth based on the authority of the person who is advancing the argument. The authority may refer to authority via power or knowledge. For example, atheists may state that Richard Dawkins believes that evolution eliminates the “need” for God and there are no objective moral values. Because Richard Dawkins is an authority with a Ph.D. in biology, atheists may assert that his beliefs are true based on his authority.
This is delicious, not least because, of all the litany of fallacies that Stephanie engages in with any regularity, this is far and away her favourite fallacy to commit. 

It should first be noted that it is most definitely NOT the opposite of argumentum ad hominem, as she states, its another member of the same class of fallacies, the genetic fallacy, which I'll be coming to shortly.

In any event, argumentum ad verecundiam, to give it its full Latin moniker, is indeed a fallacious appeal, and another fallacy of relevance. Once again, though, she seems to have entirely invented the atheist argument here. It's certainly not an argument I've made, nor any of the many thousands of atheists I've associated with over the years.

In any event, evolution certainly does eliminate the need for certain conceptions of God, but that's a matter of the details of the deity in question and what's being claimed about it. That Dawkins says this isn't appealing to his perceived authority, it's crediting him with stating what is a fact.


Argument from ignorance/argumentum ad ignorantiam:
This argument suggests that a proposition is true only because it is not proven to be false. When I telephoned the Atheist Experience, I was accused of using this fallacy. I had asked Matt Dillahunty for the reasons the apostles stopped hiding out and started preaching illegally for Jesus. I said something like “What other reasons could there be for their bravery?” Dillahunty responded that I was making an argument from ignorance (e.g., since there are no other possible options but mine, my opinion is the answer).

Instead of offering a decent answer to my question, he shut down the argument by claiming I used “fallacious reasoning.” This is an example of the fallacy fallacy, which I’ll explain in detail below.
Actually, this doesn't commit the fallacist's fallacy, for reasons I'll expose when we get to Stephanie's 'explanation'.

On the argumentum ad ignorantiam, this fallacy is committed when a gap in knowledge is plugged with a preferred solution. Matt is absolutely correct that Stephanie's argument commits the fallacy. I tend to avoid citing the argument from ignorance for several reasons. First, it's often the case that, when you level the charge at somebody, they hear 'you're ignorant', which is rarely productive. Secondly, the argument from ignorance is quite a broad class of fallacies, and I find it more useful to focus on the specific iteration of the fallacy. More on this shortly.
Let me explain why my question is valid and should be thoughtfully considered. The apostles preached for decades and risked beatings, imprisonments crucifixions, and torching. Peter was crucified upside down... [snip irrelevant examples]

When I have asked Matt Dillahunty and other atheists to explain the apostles’ bravery, almost all of them acknowledge that they believed in Jesus, but they stop short of admitting exactly what that means. These early Christian martyrs stated that they saw the risen Jesus and they risked their lives to share this information with the world. They refused to recant their testimonies, as documented by the aforementioned sources.

Atheists often state that a “willingness to believe” in something does not mean that the belief is true, which is true. But this is not about a willingness to believe; this is about the content of the belief itself. Comparing early Christian martyrs to people who believe or believed in David Koresh or suicide bombers who believe in Allah is akin to comparing apples to oranges. David Koresh followers did not claim to have seen David Koresh rise from the dead. Muslim terrorists did not claim to have seen Allah (as no Muslim makes that claim as per the Quran). In the Christian martyrs’ cases, they believed what they saw, which was the risen Christ.
And this is the bit that Stephanie doesn't get. We don't actually need an alternative, plausible or otherwise, in order for Stephanie to have committed the fallacy. In fact, what Stephanie is actually doing by insisting that a sceptic come up with an alternative (despite the fact that I and others have done this without breaking any known science or logic) is compounding the argument from ignorance.

I'm going to leave this here, because I'm going to address Stephanie's favourite argument in detail at the end.

Begging the question/circular reasoning/petitio principii:

I'll need to fisk this a little.
The circular argument is an argument which suggests that repetition of a claim makes the claim accurate. An example is as follows: We know this person is great and he is great because we know it.
Errr, no. A circular argument is an argument the conclusion of which is contained in the premises or in which the truth of the premise is contingent on the conclusion being true. The reason it's a problem in a deductive setting (and only in a deductive setting) is that it's exactly equivalent to simply asserting the conclusion, and the argument has done no work in establishing this.

 Atheists often say that Christians use “circular arguments” when they indicate that Jesus fulfilled 330 prophecies in the Old Testament because “the Bible is a single book.” Yet the books of the Bible are authored by forty different authors over hundreds of years, so the Bible is not a single source and thus, the claim that this is a circular argument is invalid. Furthermore, the Old Testament was written hundreds of years prior to the New Testament.
I include this only for completeness because, once again, I've never encountered this argument or anything like it from an atheist. I suspect it to be merely a fabrication or, more likely given Stephanie's abject failure to correctly read unambiguous on numerous occasions in the past, an error on her part.

The biblical prophecies have their own problems, but circularity isn't a charge I'd level at them. Bullshit, yes, but not circular. I've treated the notion of biblical prophecy at length in an earlier outing

Burden of proof/onus probandi:
The burden of proof lies with the person making a claim. Atheists often state that Christians make the “God claim” and have the burden of proof, yet we are hard-wired to believe in God, so the ones making the claim that there is no God have the burden of proof.
Well, there's some bullshit.

First, whether we're 'hardwired' to believe in a deity (we aren't) is irrelevant to whether or not a deity exists. This statement of the problem actually commits the fallacy of onus probandi, which is the attempt to shift the burden of proof. 

Second, most atheists don't make the claim that there is no god, they reject the claim that there is one based on the fact that the burden of proof has not been met.

Even were it the case that atheists make this claim, however, the charge would still be wrong.

The full Latin moniker for this fallacy is onus probandi ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat, which translates directly into English as 'the burden of proof rests on him who affirms, not him who denies'. The reason for this is very simple, namely that the negating claim cannot be erected absent the affirmative claim. If I were to claim, for example, that the Oort cloud were composed entirely of buttered crumpets, you could easily respond 'don't talk bollocks' without having shouldered any burden of proof. 

The only time this burden shifts is when the burden has categorically been met. This is not the case for any God-claims. The burden is still on the affirmative, i.e., the existence claim, and cannot be on the negating claim.

Occam's Razor:
Occam’s Razor states that the simplest of any given hypothesis is likely the correct hypothesis. For example, if I asked atheists to offer a response to explain why Jews, Romans, and others never recovered Jesus’ body from the empty tomb, they weave tall tales to offer an answer instead of admitting the answer that convinced between five and six million Christians to worship Christianity without legal protections before Christianity was legalized in 312 A.D. by Constantine (c.f., Wawro, 2008).
This is almost funny. 

First, the statement of Occam's Razor is wrong. Properly stated in English, it states 'you shall not multiply entities beyond necessity'. It also doesn't say anything about correctness. Also, it seems a bit strange to me to encounter Occam's Razor in a piece about logical fallacies.

Properly, Occam's Razor is a heuristic for hypothesis selection. It tells you that you should test the hypothesis with the fewest entities before moving on to more complex hypotheses. In other words, it's a principle of parsimony, or economy. 

In answer to the example given by Stephanie above, the most parsimonious solution of all of them that explains the verifiable data we have is... none of it ever happened.

I'm not suggesting that to be the case, you'll note, just that this is the most economical empirically adequate hypothesis. In the long list of proposed solutions, the least parsimonious of all of them is the one that posits an all-powerful, invisible entity that has no supporting evidence.

False dichotomy/fallacy of the excluded middle:
This fallacy occurs when two extremes are offered and other relevant options aside from the extremes are not offered. The famous Euthyphro argument offers an example. The Euthyphro argument began when Socrates asked Plato “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The argument presents a false dichotomy, as it forces respondents to make one of two choices, as if there are only two choices. The third option is the answer, which is that God is love and the standard of what is pious.
Once again, while not technically incorrect, the statement of this fallacy is poor and ambiguous. 

Properly, the fallacy of the excluded middle is committed when a proposition is treated as binary when it isn't. I won't go into great detail on this here, as I've dedicated the entirety of a previous article to comprehensive exposition of this fallacy.

The example given is nonsense, because this 'third option' is actually not a third option, it's the second one, thus Plato already had it covered.

The fallacist's fallacy:

The fallacy fallacy occurs when someone rejects an argument because the person who argued the point argued it poorly.
Errr, no. The fallacist's fallacy is committed when it's asserted that the conclusion of an argument is untrue because a fallacy was committed in arriving at it. It's a subtle distinction, probably lost on somebody whose expertise in logical fallacies was garnered in five minutes on Google, but it's an important one that actually exposes the importance of fallacies in assessing arguments.

In my previous article on how logic is used in the sciences, I used the following example in exposition of this fallacy:

P1. All cars are blue.
P2. Jensen Button is German.
C. Therefore, diamond is an elemental form of carbon.

Neither premise is true nor are they connected, and the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises. Pretty much everything about this argument is fallacious, yet the conclusion is a true statement. In other words, the fallacist's fallacy is a warning against hastily rejecting conclusions based on the commission of a fallacy.


To make the distinction explicit, when a fallacy is committed in an argument, rejecting the argument is exactly the correct thing to do. Rejecting the conclusion is not, but the problem with ANY fallacious argument is that it doesn't lend any support to the conclusion. Thus the conclusion of any fallacious argument stands unsupported and cannot be taken to be true without further support.  
As stated above, Matt Dillahunty stated that I had “fallacious reasoning” when I indicated that the only possibility for the apostles’ bravery and willingness to come out of hiding was that they had seen the risen Jesus. I said “what else could it be?” Dillahunty said “maybe they were hungry.” Dillahunty then chose to reject my argument because I had not properly articulated it.
That's not what happened. I'm choosing to apply Hanlon's Razor here. Not only did Matt not reject the argument because it hadn't been articulated properly, but because it was fallacious.

I'm going to leave Stephanie's post here and focus for the remainder on the argument itself and what's wrong with it.

So, Stephanie wants to know why the apostles would risk persecution if they hadn't seen the risen Jesus, because she can't think of another reason. This is, as Matt quite correctly pointed out, the argument from ignorance. The commission of that fallacy alone is sufficient for the sceptic to dismiss the argument as not providing robust support for the conclusion, but there's another way to approach this, and it's my preference for addressing it. 

In order to do this, we need to recast it in syllogistic form. Let us say, then that the apostles' seeing the risen Jesus (P) implies that they would be willing to risk persecution (Q). This is fine. Stephanie would have it, though, that this means that their willingness to suffer persecution means that they did, in fact, see the risen Jesus. 

Formally:

\( \dfrac {P \Rightarrow Q, Q}{\therefore P}\)

This is the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent, and it renders the argument invalid. 

Note that this is far and away the most common deductive fallacy committed in apologetics. If you strip away the layers of almost every apologetic argument, this fallacy underlies them somewhere. In the case of some apologetics, such as presuppositionalism, the entire house of cards is constructed on this fallacy.

Now, since we had our discussion, Stephanie has asserted that no alternatives to seeing the risen Jesus have been offered. Not only is this false, as she's been given several, but it doesn't actually matter. It wouldn't matter if nobody could come up with an alternative, because it's an inescapable, fully formal fallacy.

As it happens, though, Stephanie has been provided with alternatives. Here are just a select few, all of which are more parsimonious than resurrection.

1. None of it ever happened.

I know that apologists, Stephanie included, don't think this plausible, but the simple fact is that there's no robust evidence for any of it. In fact, the evidence that Jesus even existed is scant at best. I'm no myther, but I do recognise that the case for his existence is shaky at best, and that's long before we get to any of the ridiculous supernatural claims attached to his personage.

2. They were delusional.

It's well-understood that that the human brain is a virtual-reality generator par excellence, and that all our experiences are internally generated, whether they correlate with anything external or not.

3. Grief.

We know from a broad body of experience that, when we lose somebody, we see the person we've lost everywhere. When my brother died when I was in my early twenties, I saw him all over the place for some years afterwards. 

I could go on, but simply believing that they saw the risen Jesus is perfectly sufficient to explain their motivations, but their belief has no bearing on whether what they believed happened actually happened.

Ultimately, although Stephanie is deeply wedded to this argument, it's quite possibly the poorest argument for her beliefs I've come across in a very strong field and a large body of experience.


Further: My discussion with Stephanie on the channel of @GonnaGoForIt.



Stephanie's call to the Atheist Experience.


Thanks for reading. Always happy to hear about any nits, crits, comments or corrections.