@Rhology Replies to My Critique of TAG

Fellow blogger and twitter user @Rhology responded to my post about the Slick/Dillahunty debate on TAG, the transcendental argument for the existence of god. In what follows, I provide his comments interspersed with my replies.

From Rhology:

JP,
Thanks for the answer.
It’s interesting – Slick dominated that exchange with the AthExp b/c it became clear after the, I don’t know, 8th repetition of Dillahunty’s naked assertion about logical absolutes.  Slick had him, and I’m not sure if Dillahunty knew it, but it’s painfully obvious.

What’s perhaps funnier is how the AthExp is so out of line with other atheism apologists.  Who’s right, and how can we know?

Me: Yes, I will go part of the way with you on this. Upon re-watching the debate, it was getting pretty painful – particularly towards the end. Perhaps I was too kind in providing Dillahunty with kudos. Perhaps, in sharing Dillahunty’s views, I gave him too much credit for his performance. But I limit this concession specifically to his performance. Like I said in my original post, I attribute his performance to the pressures of live argumentation.

However, Slick’s “gotcha” moment was what I meant when I referred to TAG as a form of “proof by verbosity.” It is an inundation of premises that might first seem plausible but that require closer examination to judge them sound. Thus, the audience must concede the conclusion or admit ignorance. Overall, I doubt many people are swayed from disbelief to belief by this argument.

I do not think that Barker and the Atheist Experience are so different. I’ll explain this and return to the “logical absolutes” below.

Rhology: Now, a few other lines to respond to here:
Dillahunty gets Slick to admit that a god cannot make “A” into “not A” because it would be a logic contradiction he demonstrates that Slick’s god is subject to the laws of logic and, therefore, cannot be the author of them

That’s not an admission that God can’t make A into non-A. It’s our position. This is kind of like saying “I got Slick to admit that Jesus died on a cross. LOL!!!
Well, yes, quite so. Well done.
God is not, however, in submission to the laws of logic, and Slick never said that; it’s your telescoping of what you want Slick to be saying.  Rather, God always acts in accord with His nature and character, and He is logical. The universe operates in accord with the logical way He created it.  So that’s the answer.
Contrast that with the atheistic position, where the laws of logic somehow…arose…spontaneously…whereas nothing existed before. That’s a little bit, ah, dubious.

Me: The admission is not the point here. But let me restate it as “Matt Slick states that a god cannot make ‘A’ into ‘not A'”…admit, state, assert, whatever word works best, the point was about God being subject, or not, to the laws of logic.

I’m not telescoping what I want Slick to be saying. I am saying that if God is subject to the laws of logic, then he cannot be their author. Again, I’ll address the laws of logic below.

Rhology quoting me: The problem with this is that, if this god exists, while he cannot make something inconsistent with his nature, he can make humans who can lie.

Rhology: Again, yes, so what?
You know, you’re just one more in a long line of atheists who can’t bring themselves to remember that the Bible teaches about the Fall of Man.

Me: The point is that this demonstrates that God can create something that is inconsistent with his nature. This is something that Slick argues God cannot do. If God can create humans, who can lie (and yes, hence the Fall, which supports my point), then there is no reason why he cannot make a square circle. Both are supposed to be inconsistent with his nature. There is an inconsistency to argue that he can bring one into being and not the other.

Rhology quoting me: These humans that can lie, therefore, are inconsistent with this god’s nature.

Rhology: I don’t even know what this is supposed to mean, honestly.  It’s a pretty large category error.
Yes, God’s creation is currently in some disarray; have you heard of something called “sin”?

Me: This is not a category error when taken in context of the preceding statements. To clarify, this is about what God can and cannot create because of his consistent nature. Again, Slick argues that God cannot create something that is inconsistent with his nature, he explains that lying is inconsistent with God’s nature. However, the fact that humans can lie, and that we were supposedly created by God, means that God can create something, bring something into being, that is inconsistent with his nature.

Have I heard of sin? Your responses have been amicable and fair thus far, I’m not sure why you felt the need for condescension at this juncture.

Rhology quoting me: If this were to be logically consistent, it would mean that Slick’s god could also make a square circle. This line of reasoning is self-refuting.

Rhology: Sorry, but this is silly.

Me: Ok, now you’ve moved from condescension to patently dismissive. I think I deserve better but maybe I’ve overestimated your opinion of me. My point stands and is explained in my responses above. I am amenable to correction if I have missed something but need a coherent argument to do so, not a dismissal.

Rhology: Now for your comment:
The short (and unsatisfying) answer to your question is…it depends. It depends on what you mean by both “concept” and “mind.”

It’s not difficult. Concepts are ideas, subjects of thought.
Minds are intelligent entities capable of thought and reflection. So…your answer, please?

Me: I never said it was difficult, but I did say short (and unsatisfying). However, if we define concepts as “subjects of thought” then of course they require a mind. The rest of my answer follows below.

Rhology quoting me: In brief, if there were no minds in the universe, for example, and the only thing existing was one thing we now signify “asteroid,” then the “logical absolutes” apply to it even in the absence of any minds to conceive the absolutes or perceive the “asteroid.”

Rhology: W/o the ability to apply a logical statement to it, how do you know this is true?
We don’t live in that universe.
Thanks for any reply whenever you may have time. I’m not big on time limits, as I understand what it’s like to have a life outside the blogosphere.

Me: There are facts to be known about the universe. These facts can be described through reason and logic. Whether or not we can apply the logical statement is irrelevant because logical statements inform how we think of existence. Existence does not need them to proceed as it will.

And this gets us back to the laws of logic, or what Slick refers to as “logical absolutes.” The laws of logic are “laws” for us, not for existence. By that I mean that they help us understand how the world works, not vice versa. Logic can be understood as having both a descriptive and a prescriptive function. On the descriptive end, the laws of logic are simply that, a description of the way things behave. On the prescriptive end, these laws serve to govern our reasoning so that we are able to match it with the way things behave. Again, things in existence do not need a prescription to behave…they will behave as they behave whether or not the minds are present to observe them.

As far as concepts are concerned, the logical statement “a is a” is conceptual, it requires a mind to conceive it. Like Barker says, “You can’t have a concept without a mind.” However, when I asked what you meant by “concept” I was getting at the tendency of people to confuse a concept with what the concept points to. In this context, while the statement “a is a” is conceptual, what the statement applies to is not conceptual. “A is a” is a description of the nature or feature of “a,” that is, how “a” behaves, its properties. How a thing behaves, or its features, requires no “other thing” (eg, a mind) for it to behave or to have those features. The property of “roundness” does not need a mind to conceive it before things can be round, for example. While the statement of the laws of logic are conceptual, we cannot conclude that what the laws describe are conceptual. Therefore, Slick’s “logical absolutes,” the things which the statements describe, are not conceptual in nature. To assert otherwise is a category error. In this regard, Slick only “had him” in the sense that he got Dillahunty to accept the category error.

Therefore, when I say that perhaps Dillahunty and Barker are not so far apart it is because I think they are talking about these two different aspects of concepts. Barker says concepts require a mind. Dillahunty says that what concepts refer to do not require a mind. If Barker means the “concept as statement” and if Dillahunty means “concept as description,” and I think this is indeed what they mean, then they are both correct and not so far out of line with each other. However, this is a tentative conclusion because I have not listened to the entirety of Barker’s debate. I’ve only read the quote you provided and I may be reading too much into Dillahunty’s position.

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About JP Laughlin

Originally intent on Christian ministry, I attended the College of Charleston where I earned a BA in Religious Studies (and where I also nearly completed a BA in Biology) and where I met my wife in our New Testament class. I attended graduate school at the University of Washington and earned a MA in International Studies – Comparative Religion. My areas of focus were Religion-and-Culture and American Religion. Somewhere along the way, I escaped from the prison of religious belief and found a new joy in living.

9 responses to “@Rhology Replies to My Critique of TAG”

  1. Rhology says :

    Thanks for the interaction!
    I’ve replied.

    • JP Laughlin says :

      @Rhology continues the conversation and is unapologetic for his condescension and dismissal of my previous arguments.

      From Rhology:

      “The concept is new to many, but it’s not that complicated. Matt Slick lays it out in a fairly full form here, as you mentioned, but the main points are only 10 or so in number.
      Besides, I’d be surprised if you reject modern accepted scientific theorems just b/c they’re verbose….

      As Matt Slick is fond of saying, proof is not the same as persuasion. What we’re after is the glorification of the Lord Jesus and the evident refutation of the unbeliever. Until you offer something better than “hey, that argument uses a lot of words; ergo it is false” or “laws of logic are similar to laws of etiquette” in response, we’ve accomplished both.”

      Me: Proof by Verbosity is not a fallacy because something is verbose. It is a fallacy because it makes a number of arguments that at first seem sound or that contain some sound arguments but other arguments either are not sound, or draw conclusions that do not follow. Thereby, the conclusion is unsound. I am familiar with the full layout of Slick’s argument and it contains a number of fallacies…any one of which is enough to make the conclusion unsound. I addressed one of them in the way Slick refers to the laws of logic as conceptual in nature but in doing so conflates their meaning. Perhaps you didn’t understand that that was what I was arguing which may mean that I wasn’t clear. That happens. But I by no means offered “it uses a lot of words, ergo false.” Both the nature of “proof by verbosity” and my critique of one of his premises bear this out.

      Rhology: “It’s not that He’s subject to them. They are part of His attributes, like love, justice, holiness.  All of His actions are loving, all are just, all are holy, all are logical. It makes no sense to say that God is “subject to holiness”. It’s just how He is.”

      Me: This is a semantic way to take the same conclusion and reword it so that it sounds better. The conclusion is still valid whether we choose, “bound,” “nature,” or “attribute.”

      Rhology: “And what I’m reminding you is that we don’t claim God is the “author” of laws of logic.”

      Me: From Slick’s own argument: “But, since logical absolutes are always true everywhere, and not dependent upon human minds, it must be an absolute transcendent mind that is authoring them.  This mind is called God.” (emphasis mine).

      Rhology: “You know, some of His attributes are communicable and others are incommunicable.”

      Me: So a case of special pleading. While the laws of logic are part of God’s and the universe’s nature, the inability to lie is part of God’s nature specifically?

      Rhology: “But the point here is that you’re confusing categories, again. I’ve been telling you that He doesn’t act in a way that’s not commensurate with His nature, and creating stuff is completely commensurate. But those creations are not identical to God. They’re not interchangeable.”

      Me: But I was never talking about acting, I was talking about creating and what he cannot create. If we were talking about acting then it would be something similar to: God cannot lie because lying is inconsistent with his nature. God cannot act square-circle because square circles are inconsistent with his nature. Now both of these are matched with the idea of acting but the second idea doesn’t make any sense. Instead, I am talking about creation…bringing something into being that is, or is not, consistent with God’s nature. If he cannot bring one thing into being because it is inconsistent with his nature, then he should not bring the other for the same reason. Otherwise, this is logically inconsistent and you’ve already asserted he isn’t.

      Rhology: “No, he doesn’t. I’d appreciate a direct quote from Slick to that effect.”

      Me: Ok. Making a circle square is a logical contradiction. Slick says that God cannot do this. From the second part of the debate:

      (1:23) Matt D.: Can God make A, not A?

      Matt S.: No

      Matt D.: Why not?

      Matt S.: Because it would be a logical contradiction.

      ….(later)

      (2:17) Matt S.: God did not author the logical absolutes. [emphasis mine. Compare with the quote above from Slick’s own description].

      ….(later)

      (2:40) Matt S.: So since certain things are just impossible, like a square circle, God cannot make a square circle because it’s a logically impossible thing. [emphasis mine]

      Rhology: “I have to admit, it is difficult to take seriously someone who whiffs on one of the most foundational doctrines of Christianity while critiquing Christianity.”

      Me: Two things. First, in this case, many of those doctrines are logically problematic (eg.sin). They do not solve the problem but are called into question. Moreover, you haven’t even gotten me to agree that the conclusion is sound, much less that Christian doctrine – whether about sin, the fall, the hypostases and ouisia (I don’t envy you that one), etc. – can follow from that conclusion.

      Second, regardless of my perceived whiffing of Christian doctrines, I have been respectful of your arguments and would hope that the courtesy was reciprocated.  Condescension and dismissal are neither respectful nor counter-arguments. But when I mention it your response is to rub it in? Seriously? Your statement implies that when you perceive me to be missing (or whiffing at) the point that I am, therefore, worthy of outright dismissal and disrespect. I’m sorry but the conclusion does not follow. (Where is that darned book of laws of etiquette when I need it?)

      I could reply in kind to you for: 1) missing the point (not understanding “proof by verbosity”), 2) not knowing what your own position is (is God the author or is he not), 3) for not understanding the argument of the person you’re defending (Slick didn’t say that…Yes, he did), and 4) for “whiffing” at the foundational principles of logical argumentation. But I see these issues as vectors for continued discussion and clarification, not cause for exasperation because I believe you “just don’t get it.”

      But, Ok, if that’s your game…I have little patience for it, though, and have now lost interest.


      • Rhology says :

        My two comments are here.
        A further comment – JP claims that Slick and I are saying different things, but it’s quite clear that we are in fact expressing identical positions. I’m not at all sure what JP is getting at.

  2. D4M10N says :

    “The property of ’roundness’ does not need a mind to conceive it before things can be round, for example.”

    Precisely, because the property of roundness is about something in the world of objects, rather than ideas in the minds of subjects.

    “While the statement of the laws of logic are conceptual, we cannot conclude that what the laws describe are conceptual.”

    Do the laws of logic describe something objective, in the same sense that “roundness” describes the planets? Or do the laws of logic describe relations between ideas and conventions for using language? Is there a third possibility?

    • JP Laughlin says :

      Do the laws of logic describe something objective, in the same sense that “roundness” describes the planets?

      Yes. The consistency of the objective world, of existence, that the laws of logic represent is objective in the same sense as roundness.

      Or do the laws of logic describe relations between ideas and conventions for using language?

      Yes, with a caveat. The laws of logic, as in the language we use to describe them and the processes we use to apply them, are guides for us to allow our reasoning to match our ideas with a real, objective world, not necessarily to describe relations between ideas.

      Is there a third possibility?

      Does Yes to both count? If not, I’m tempted to say no.

    • JP Laughlin says :

      Oh, and D4M1oN thank you very much for reading my blog. I appreciate it.

  3. Rhology says :

    not necessarily to describe relations between ideas.

    So they both do necessarily describe relations between ideas and don’t describe relations between ideas?

  4. JP Laughlin says :

    (Update for those interested)

    Rhology says:

    “A further comment – JP claims that Slick and I are saying different things, but it’s quite clear that we are in fact expressing identical positions. I’m not at all sure what JP is getting at.”

    I think this is in reference to whether or not god is the author of the laws of logic. In short, in our discussion I pointed out that while Rhology says that god is not the author of the laws of logic, Matt Slick argues that he is the author in the summary of the TAG argument but at other times argues that god is not the author. (Incidentally, in the Slick/Dillahunty debate Slick argues that god is not the author. However, in a debate against Dr. Edwin Kagan, Slick states on multiple occasions that god is the author).

    When asked by Rhology to clarify what I meant by he and Slick saying different things, I pointed to the conclusion of the summary of the TAG argument:

    “But, since logical absolutes are always true everywhere, and not dependent upon human minds, it must be an absolute transcendent mind that is authoring them.  This mind is called God.”

    Rhology emailed Matt Slick about this issue asking him to clarify it and very kindly added me as a “cc” to the email. I’ll keep everyone posted if there’s any clarification forthcoming.

    • Rhology says :

      Thanks for the update, JP.
      While I do think Slick came out the victor in the AthExp phone convos, he is definitely not the most careful, nor the most commendable, of Christian apologists, so it’s good that subtle misstatements can be brought to light. It makes everyone better.

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