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.
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.
Of all the arguments used to try to persuade an atheist that a god exists the transcendental argument is one of the least persuasive. In fact, it really is an attempt to just shut down an argument. A form of “proof by verbosity,” this argument inundates the audience with a string of premises that superficially seem plausible in an attempt to get the audience to either concede the conclusion or admit ignorance. So I was glad to discover this gem of a debate between Matt Slick from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry and Matt Dillahunty from the Atheist Experience.
Matt Slick’s version of the argument is full of logical fallacies. (Read it here). Any one of which is sufficient to discredit the argument. Dillahunty does a good job in this debate addressing many of them. For the most part this is a good debate. But there was a key moment where Dillahunty had really demonstrated all that he needed to demonstrate in order to reveal a huge fallacy in Slick’s transcendental argument.
When 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. Slick attempts to argue that this is because these absolutes are a part of his god’s nature and his god must operate in a manner consistent with his own nature. Therefore, this god cannot bring things into existence that are logically inconsistent…a square circle, for example. In the process of making this statement, Slick mentions that his god also cannot lie because it is part of his nature. 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. These humans that can lie, therefore, are inconsistent with this god’s nature. 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.
Dillahunty could have dismantled the conversation right there. But, not having the benefit of hindsight, and being subject to the pressures of live argumentation, I can’t blame him. It was a well fought debate and Dillahunty did a splendid job.
Copyright © 2011 JP Laughlin