Sunday, May 4, 2014

Presuppositional Apologetics And Self-Validating Logic: How Do You Know Your Reasoning is Valid? (Dad's Work)

Yesterday, I came across a video by Creation Today where Christian/creationist speakers Eric Hovind and Sye Ten Bruggencate asked to do an "interview" with James Randi. For those of you who are unaware of who these three individuals are, I will give a bit of background for all of them:

Eric Hovind is the son of Kent Hovind, who was another prominent Christian speaker. Although I would prefer not to mention it, because in most cases it is immaterial, I have to for the purposes of explanation: Kent Hovind was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2007. Afterwards, Eric Hovind decided to learn from Kent's arguments, presentations and debate skills and continue his father's work -- an admirable feat, I have to say.

Sye Ten Bruggencate is also a prominent Christian speaker who has debated other atheists and scholars, although he mainly lays his arguments out online. His parents immigrated from Holand to Toronto, and he now currently still lives in Ontario. I think the only honest way to represent who Sye Bruggencate is is by using the final sentence on the about me page on his website: "By God's grace alone, I am a Christian."

The Amazing Randi is always in his prime.
James Randi is a very famous, but retired, stage magician (or "conjurer" as he prefers) and scientific skeptic. He is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation and has debunked many psychic frauds and pseudoscientists. He currently lives, as well, in Toronto, which gave me a great opportunity not too long ago to meet such an amazing and sweet man, and while it saddens me to realize that he is quite old, I am glad to have met him in his prime. Randi is a self-described atheist and has made many statements concerning why he thinks the Bible is unbelievable.

As for the Reason Rally, it was a large meeting for religious skepticism and secularism back in 2012 at the National Mall.

The video in question, in my opinion, was disgusting in many ways. Eric Hovind's position, as he described, was that we cannot know anything without God, because in order to be absolutely certain about anything, we must know everything (since, if we didn't know everything, we wouldn't know if there is evidence to invalidate the things we think we know). Randi, I think, succinctly responded to his questions, and Hovind thanked him for his time, but not before letting his friend Sye Bruggencate get one final question. After buttering Randi up for a few seconds and showering him with compliments, he asked the question: "how do you know your reasoning is valid?" If you want Randi's response, I suggest watching the video. I believe he answered honestly and sufficiently, but Sye's objection was that Randi was using his reasoning to validate his reasoning, and that this is "viciously circular." Randi stated his unwillingness to continue because the exchange was "juvenile," and Sye gave a snarky dismissal to the crowd: "See, this is what happens when you challenge them to validate their reasoning" all while pointing to Randi and looking at the camera. This was disgusting, and incredibly disrespectful to someone as great as Randi.

Now, of course, this video is from April of 2012, so why am I complaining about it now? The reason (no pun intended) is because I want to try to respond to Sye's question. Of course, when I want to answer philosophical questions which might lead me to an existential crisis, I look to my dad's writings for inspiration, and no surprise, he didn't let me down; thus, the title of this post is labeled under "Dad's Work," but not the implications thereafter. Those are my own. I've also run this by many other people who I think are very rational, reasonable thinkers, and we've all tweaked the arguments so that they can respond to any potential objections.

So once again, the question is "how do you know your reasoning is valid?" This is, immediately, a self-destructive statement. The person asking the question has to use their reasoning to articulate that question in a way the respondent can understand, and the same applies to the respondent -- the question must be asked and answered using reason. It is impossible to give Sye a satisfying answer without using reason; it's impossible for me to even explain all of this without using reasoning, therefore, reasoning is shown to be valid. In actuality, this question is self-destructive at every single level, so let's examine every facet of the question's implications.

First, we have to define "reasoning" and "validity." Here, I will define "reasoning" as having to subscribe to the laws of thought, and "validity" as not eventually leading to a contradiction. Note: a non-contradictory statement may be valid, but it may also be incorrect. The truth of a claim is different from the validity of the claim. However, if we accept this definition of validity (and it widely is accepted as such), then we have to ask: why is that the definition? It's because validity itself is a concept which is only defined under the laws of thought, or reasoning. To ask "is reasoning valid" is like asking "is truth true?" Once again, it's self-destructive, because I cannot validate something without accepting reasoning.

The operations of unreasoning.
There is another possible argument as well, which requires a bit more explanation. Let us make a provisional assumption: that reasoning is "invalid" (for all intents and purposes, we will assume that validity is not completely reliant on reasoning). This means we can conclude the obverse: that what we know as "unreasoning" (or illogicality, or irrationality) is valid. Without reasoning, we can conclude outrageous things, such as A from B without any evidence. If we operate under irrationality, I can conclude that this blog post is a potato because my sister is in her room. This will be important in a moment.

At the same time, without rationality, we can conclude both A and Not A at the same time, since contradictions are no longer an issue. For example, I can conclude that I am a cat and that I am not a cat at the same time, and because they are only contradictory under logic and reasoning, they are "valid" under irrationality.

So, given that we can conclude anything from anything under the operations of irrationality, let us begin using the only thing we know to be true right now, which is our provisional assumption: that irrationality, illogicality and unreasoning is "valid." Because the provisional assumption is true, I can conclude anything else under the confines of irrationality. So, I will conclude that reasoning is valid.

"Wait a second, you can't do that-" but I can. Because we are not confined to reasoning, I can conclude whatever the heck I want from any fact. If reasoning were invalid, and therefore unreasoning were valid, then I can conclude any fact (B) from any fact (A). I just chose to make fact (B) "reasoning is valid," and fact (A) "unreasoning is valid." We cannot complain about a non sequitur since reasoning is invalid, and we cannot complain about a contradiction for the same reason.

"So, what's the point? You can't complain that it's a contradiction because you've already said that reasoning is invalid." Exactly, I can't complain it's a contradiction; however, I can say, then, that reasoning is valid. Because unreasoning is valid, reasoning is valid. This is a very unreasonable conclusion, and thus it is "valid" under the confines of irrationality. Therefore, we can conclude that even if reasoning were invalid, reasoning would still be valid -- it is literally impossible for reasoning to be invalid.

I should note, as well, that although we were operating under the confines of unreasoning, how do we know that we could reach that conclusion if we were to accept that unreasoning were "valid," as it were? We had to use reasoning to do so. Once again, at every instance, the question is self-destructive. It is literally impossible for reasoning to be invalid, and we didn't need divine revelation to come to this conclusion.

Debate: Bill Nye thinks: "Are you kidding me?"
It's not over though, because there's another argument I've heard from another Christian speaker by the name of Ken Ham. Ken Ham held a debate with Bill Nye back in early February of this year, in which I must say, Bill Nye absolutely won. Even the poll from Christian Today over the debate said Bill Nye won by a whopping 92%. One of Ken Ham's arguments, however, was interesting: how do we know that natural laws, logical laws, etc. were true several thousand years ago in the sense that they are now? As Ken Ham puts it: "were you there?" His argument, is that unless we have a 3rd party divine being who was present at the time to confirm this, we don't know that these laws have always been true. For now, I will only address its application to the laws of thought (logic).

First, we must establish something: that if any axiom or facet of the laws of thought were to fail, then all of the laws of thought as a whole would fail as well. We can validate this in two ways: (1) by analogy; and, (2) by definition.

My analogy is this: we have a platform that is supported by ten pillars. Each pillar must be made of concrete in order to support the weight of the platform. This being said, only nine of the pillars are made of concrete, while the tenth pillar is made of something weaker: wood, clay, feathers, whatever you want. We can say, therefore, that because this one pillar is flawed, that the structure of this object (the platform supported by the pillars -- we'll call it a tent) is flawed as a whole, because it fails to be "perfect" in every respect. The tent cannot be flawless while something in its structure is flawed.

Similarly, we can say the same about the laws of thought, but the definition itself means we have to accept all axioms or none of them. The purpose of the laws of thought and reasoning is to be applicable in every situation -- if we were to find any instance, any bubble where the laws of thought didn't apply, that means there is a situation where being illogical is valid, and thus the laws of thought would fail, because they are not universally binding (binding, in the sense, that they are always applicable, not that we always have to follow them -- there will always be irrational thinkers in the world).

So, if we were to show that one axiom is invalid, then we could not accept the laws of thought in their entirety. How are we going to apply this to Ken Ham's question?

Look at this picture and ignore everything else.
Let us look at temporal logic. Temporal logic is a system of rules which allows us to make propositions in terms of time, and by extension make inferences about the past, present and future. The Wikipedia example is hunger -- "I am always hungry." This makes a statement about the past "I was hungry," the present "I am hungry," and the future "I will be hungry." If any of these were to fail, then the statement "I am always hungry" would fail as well. That being said, we are not going to be looking at the truth or falsehood of the statement "I am always hungry." We are going to look at the assumptions it makes about the nature of being (in this case, hunger) and why it shows Ken Ham's argument to be invalid.

The statement "I am always hungry" is inherently valid, because it doesn't necessarily contradict itself. Throughout my life, I have constantly been eating, and there has never been a single time where I was not hungry, and the same will be true in the future, and for all intents and purposes, eternity. If we were to pair it with things like "I will die" and "when I die, I will no longer be hungry," then it would be contradictory, but by itself, it is not contradictory, and therefore is valid. Therefore, we can assume things about the nature of hunger in order for that statement to be valid. One such thing is that the nature of hunger (and by extension our current reasoning) has always been the same.

Consider it like this: in order for the statement "I am always hungry" to be valid, we have to assume both that the nature of hunger has always been the same, and that the nature of reasoning has always been the same. If the nature of reasoning were not the same at some point in the past, then we couldn't make inferences about the past such as with the statement "I am always hungry," and thus temporal logic would be invalid. Let's test this with another provisional assumption: that the nature of hunger was different 5,000 years ago from what it is today. By extension, since the nature of being hungry (and therefore, in at least one instance, the nature of "being") was different at some point in the past, then the nature of reasoning changes from past to present. We cannot make inferences about that point in the past using our reasoning today, then, because they are not consistent with each other. This means that temporal logic will fail to make valid inferences about that point in the past, where the state of nature was quite different from what it is today, and thus temporal logic in itself becomes invalid. Since we have established that in order for the laws of thought to be valid, all of its axioms must be valid, then because temporal logic fails, logic in its entirety fails.

This is what happens when we wonder if the very state of being for certain things was different back then from what it is now -- we find self-destruction. We can state with certainty, then, two things:

(1) That reasoning is valid.
(2) That reasoning has always been valid, and always will be valid, in order for reasoning today to be valid.

We can represent this symbolically too: let (I) be "reasoning is valid," let (W) be "reasoning was valid" and let (B) be "reasoning will be valid."

1. I

We know this to be true because we have already constructed a proof which shows that reasoning has to be valid.

1. I
2. (~W v ~B) --> ~I

This says if either (W) is not true or if (B) is not true, then (I) is not true. We constructed a proof for this as well using temporal logic as the case example. So, let's start with our provisional assumption (PA) -- that reasoning was not valid in the past.

1. I
2. (~W v ~B) --> ~I
3. ~W              [PA]

We can then use the rule of addition (ADD) to create the syntax we need to apply Line 2:

1. I
2. (~W v ~B) --> ~I
3. ~W              [PA]
4. ~W v ~B     [3, ADD]

The reason we can do this is because of what the statement says. Line 4 says "either it is true that ~W, or it is true that ~B." Since we know it is true that ~W, then that statement is true, because at least one of the two variables is true. So now that we have the syntax, we can use Modus Ponens to conclude the assumptions of Line 2.

1. I
2. (~W v ~B) --> ~I
3. ~W              [PA]
4. ~W v ~B     [3, ADD]
5. ~I                [2, 4, MP]

If our PA (that reasoning was not valid in the past) is true, then we can conclude that reasoning is not valid in the present. In actuality, this was the longer proof. There is an easier explanation.

Remember earlier where we proved that reasoning has to be valid no matter what? Well if we think creatively, we can just apply it to thinking in the past or the future. If, at any given point in the past, reasoning was invalid, then the proofs we showed would have to take effect. If, at any point in the past, someone asked these same questions, they would still be able to draw the same conclusions (assuming that everyone in the past knew the laws of thought, which they didn't).

The word of "God" comes at a cost.
Given this, we have shown that the laws of thought, reasoning, logic and rationality have to be true, and always have to be true in the past, present and future. It's quite a lengthy explanation, and I speculate that this will be one of my less popular posts for that reason, but I felt it needed to be done; because while there is a large number of people who know that people like Ken Ham, Eric Hovind and Sye Ten Bruggencate are absolutely full of it, there are many more who watch videos such as the one in question and think "ooooh Randi's on the run, nice job Hovind!" It's stupid.

But then again, what should I expect from a video that turned into some advertisement for "Christian debate tactics?" People like Eric Hovind are just milking their pseudo-intellectualism as much as they can to make a profit, which is shown by the fact that they're asking you to pay for a DVD set which supposedly teaches you how to defend your faith (without a doubt using the faulty logic they use), instead of just, you know, sharing it with their fellow Christians? This may just be my opinion, but it seems really greedy to me for someone to say "I know how to defend Christianity against the atheist movement, so send me $19.95 and I'll get you the DVD right away!"

Thank you all for reading.

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  1. Sye Ten wasn't asking how Randi knew reasoning was valid.... he was asking Randi how he knew HIS reasoning was valid. Big difference. You could've saved yourself all of this blathering on and on about logic and reasoning if you had just taken the time to understand the question in the first place.

    1. Sorry, I didn't really expect that Sye's question would be that petty and stupid.

      "How do you know your reasoning is valid?"

      I don't, prove me wrong.

    2. No, see, you're doing exactly what Sye Ten was making an argument against. You're using your reasoning to validate your reasoning. Your reasoning says that you need to be proven wrong in order for you reasoning to be invalid. How do you know that reasoning is valid?

    3. "Your reasoning says that you need to be proven wrong in order for you reasoning to be invalid. How do you know that reasoning is valid?"

      Because that's what reasoning itself states? That in order to be invalid, a claim must be testable, and then shown to be invalid. That's not my reasoning, that's just the laws of thought.

    4. How do you know, for certain, that your reasoning reflect the laws of thought? That is, how do you know that YOUR reasoning is TRUE reasoning?

    5. Because "my reasoning" is represented in the post you probably didn't read, and I tested it with multiple proofs, and under absolutely every circumstance, it has to be true. It doesn't matter whether it's my reasoning, your reasoning, or the reasoning of the world, that particular reasoning is impossible to invalidate.

      On that note, if you're asking me how I know my perceptions to be true (i.e. how do I know I'm not in a video game), then you're being even more asinine than Sye Ten.

    6. No I'm not asking you to show that you're not in a video game, I'm trying to make you see that you cannot have absolute certainty without God. You were using your own reasoning in the post above. How do you know that it's valid?

    7. You're sending us in circles, and no, it's not by my own reasoning. Let me lay this out for you carefully, so that I don't lose you again.

      My reasoning, for example, states this: that in order to conclude (A) from (B), we need evidence of it. We can replace (A) with anything, and (B) with anything. It doesn't matter, the structure still holds true. So then, I have to wonder: is this reasoning valid? One way we can test the validity of a claim is by seeing if its opposite is valid. If the opposite is valid, then it cannot be valid. If its opposite is invalid, then it is valid.

      So, then, to reiterate, my claim is that to conclude (A) from (B), we need evidence. Let's assume this isn't valid, and that we need no evidence to conclude (A) from (B). Then, I replace (B) with "my reasoning is invalid" and (A) with "my reasoning is valid." Even if we were to remove the information about contradictions, if my reasoning were invalid, my reasoning would still be valid.

      So, let's sum it up. My reasoning is that to conclude (A) from (B), we need evidence. Let's assume we don't need evidence to conclude (A) from (B). Then I can conclude any (A) from any (B). So, I conclude that my reasoning is valid because my reasoning is invalid.

      Once again, it doesn't matter if it's my reasoning or anyone's reasoning, it is impossible for this reasoning to be wrong without it also making me right.

    8. "Let's assume we don't need evidence to conclude (A) from (B). Then I can conclude any (A) from any (B)." But you're assuming this based on your understanding of how that would work, in other words, your reasoning. So, once again, how do you know that reasoning is valid?

    9. It is literally impossible for it to be any other way.

    10. Can you be absolutely certain of that?

    11. ...

      You're asking me if I can be absolutely certain that there are no other possibilities besides (Random Fact) or (Not Random Fact). This has reduced to mere childishness. You're done here.

    12. "Let's assume we don't need evidence to conclude (A) from (B). Then I can conclude any (A) from any (B)."

      Cats are Blue = God exists
      Cats are Blue = God does not exist
      Good Job.

      The alternative, circular reasoning.
      Good job.

      Can you tell us if there is an objective standard for your alleged thought "laws" or are these merely the (circular) electrical constructs of great apes?

    13. "Cats are Blue = God exists
      Cats are Blue = God does not exist
      Good Job."

      Yes, because it shows that if we were to accept that kind of "reasoning," the the law of non-contradiction would be violated; or, if we were to accept that kind of "reasoning," then I could still say I'm correct.

      "The alternative, circular reasoning.
      Good job."

      No. Now you're just being stubborn.

      "Can you tell us if there is an objective standard for your alleged thought 'laws' or are these merely the (circular) electrical constructs of great apes?"

      First of all, no need to put laws in quotations.

      Second of all, once again, they're not circular.

      And lastly, we can show its objectivity and universal application via reductio ad absurdiam. As shown above, we physically cannot operate under models which contradict the laws of thought -- and even if we could, those models would still show that I'm correct because they do not adhere to the law of non-contradiction.

      If this didn't answer your question, then excuse me, but your comment was incredibly vague and malformed, much like the premise of this entire argument is.

  2. Seems like it's not your night concerning idiotic people arguing relentlessly with you. I followed everything you were saying Lex, and I'm deeply sorry you had to go through this trouble.

    On that note, however, can I nominate you for "Most Critical Thinker of the Year?"

    1. I almost just closed my laptop and crawled into bed with a glass of wine, but I forgot to check my college email and came back on; i.e., I was lucky to see your comment, and I'm glad I did. It was sweet and refreshing after what just took place.

      Hahaha, thank you Nick. If you do, let me know how that turns out. If you don't, I won't hold it against you.

      Now, this was sufficient enough to calm my nerves, so I'll just go to bed instead. Goodnight, and I'm glad you appreciated my post. :)

  3. Do you know the universe is real?

    1. What do you define as real?

    2. No hedging. You asked the question, you define the terms which are required to understand your question.

    3. real:

      actually existing or happening : not imaginary

      How do you know the universe is real?

    4. Your definition came from Webster. That understanding of "real" is dependent on the existence of the universe, and by extension Webster. Webster can only be real if we assume the universe is real.

    5. Can you be certain of that?

    6. Define "certainty" now.

      For any word that you come up with, I am going to ask you to define it. No matter how you define it, it is going to be using the knowledge you have available, which only exists within the confines of a presupposed universe.

      In order to ask the question using words, you have to implement the words' definitions. The words' definitions are created by humans. Humans' definitions are created from our knowledge. Our knowledge comes from our observations. Our observations are of reality, and by extension the universe; therefore, we have to assume that the universe exists, and that reality exists.

      Now in response to all of this, if you ask "can you be certain of that?" then you are going to get the same answer, and you are going to send us into a circle.

    7. Okay, then I'll ask a different question. Can you be absolutely certain about anything?

    8. Yes.

      Reductio ad Absurdiam:

      I am not absolutely certain about anything; therefore, I can be absolutely certain that I am not absolutely certain about anything.


      I am not absolutely certain that I am not absolutely certain about anything; therefore, there exists the possibility that I can be absolutely certain about something, since I'm not absolutely certain that I can't be.

      It's another circular question. By the very concept, I have to be able to be absolutely certain about something.

    9. Could you be wrong about everything you know?

    10. If I said "I could be wrong about everything I know," then I would have to be able to say "I know that I could be wrong about everything I know." In which case, I would indefinitely know something, and could never be wrong about it; therefore, I cannot be wrong about absolutely everything I know. If I said "I'm not sure," then I would have to know that I'm not sure. Let's try this again: it's a circular question.

      Once again, by the very definition of "knowledge," we cannot be wrong about something we know, otherwise we wouldn't have known it in the first place. We could be mistaken to think we know it, but we would never have really known it.

      Do you have a question for me which isn't circular, redundant, or contradictory in nature?

    11. Fine, let's cut to the chase then. Is it impossible for God to exist?

    12. I'll just assume you're talking about the god of the bible, which is attributed with omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. There are many gods of the bible, actually, depending on the interpretation, but in order to be deserving of the title "god," he should and must have these attributes, or at least omnipotence. If he doesn't, why call him a god?

      Can this god create an anvil that even he cannot lift? If not, then he's not omnipotent. If so, then he's still not omnipotent.

      Can this god conceive of a math problem that even he cannot solve? If not, he is not omnipotent. If so, then he is not omniscient.

      Can this god cease his presence for the duration of a single nanosecond in time, and a single square inch in space? If not, then he's not omnipotent. If so, then he's not omnipresent for that moment.

      The attributes are incompatible, and even if we were to attribute only omnipotence to this god, it would still be self-destructive. That being said, I can say that the "God" you believe in cannot exist.

      I think you've gone through the script now, so I'm going to end this particular discussion.

    13. I enjoy how you have utterly destroyed this little argument I've seen pop up in many discussions on the subject of the existence of god or gods. I'd love to see you debate people like Sye or Hovind and watch their reactions. I'd call vid a win for the non-theists opposing Sye, but you can hear their frustration as he constantly takes them around in circles.

    14. Someone else on YouTube recommended a way of dealing with their tactics: when they ask you "are you certain about that," ask them "what do you think?"

      "Are you certain that's Coca Cola?"
      "I don't know, what do you think?"

      If they say yes it is, and you agree, then you've both come to the same conclusion, but one didn't require God.

      If he says no, he loses credibility.

    15. Yes but if my may (for lack of a better term) play "devil's advocate," that would just lead them back to either A) Yes, but we both could not have come to that conclusion without god helping us. The position he takes is that God constantly maitains the nature of logic and reasoning and in a model without, we cannot be certian that the nature of logic and reasoning will be the same in the next 5 secs (which you debunked using your Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate analogy. If they want to continue trying to debunk a model of reality without god(s), b) While it's true that both of you concluded that "this is Coca Cola" can you be certain that the logical process aiding YOU (annoying) in coming to that conclusion and therefore forming the consensus, is sound? He does this constantly throughout the video but I think conc0rdance's first argument is quite a brilliant way to look at the flaw in Sye's position. He argues that Sye's position is contingent on a subjective worldview because it requires the mind of God to will things the way they are.

    16. The problem with that defense would be that it goes from being reductio ad absurdum to a normal positive claim. I know what I just said may need some explaining:

      The presuppositional apologetic argument is not to directly prove that we need God to have knowledge, but to prove that we can't have knowledge WITHOUT God; from that, it would follow if we can't have knowledge without God, we can only have knowledge with God. This is how they get you: they force you to defend your position in order to prove their own.

      However, if you were to conclude that both you (the atheist) and they (the Christian presupp) could both come to the same conclusion, and they suggested "it's because God is revealing it to you, you just don't know it," then they are not sticking to the reductio ad absurdum -- they have now transferred the burden of proof onto themselves to validate that claim. They can't.

      C0nc0rdance did illustrate it, but unfortunately people like Sye and Hovind can't comprehend that saying "it's true because God is revealing it to me" is their own cognitive bias. Then you ask "how do you know?" and they say "because God." How do they know that it's God? They don't, but you can't break them out of that cultural barrier. I still believe that the method I suggested (but is which, by no means, a method of my own invention) is the preferable one to use.

  4. Whimsical AscentJuly 8, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    I think this was well thought out and incredible for the mind to read, but there is a very easy way to point out the flaw in Sye Ten's argument. His conclusion, that God exists, comes from the presupposition that God exists. He readily admits to that, and from there, you can discuss why your position is much more tenable than his.

    For example, he may argue that your presupposition that the universe exists is circular, because you use that to conclude that the universe exists and what you observe in it is real. We don't, though. We assume the universe exists in what could be seen as one gigantic, universal reductio ad absurdam. "Assuming the universe exists, we can conclude that ..." This is unlike Sye Ten's position because he admits to presupposing that God exists in order to conclude, in fact, that God exists. He is asserting as fact that which cannot be known, while you admit to making a logical assumption.


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