1.28.2011

What Weight Evidence?



In order to control my blood pressure I've had to refrain from a couple of my usual blog haunts because I'm pretty sick of the same old tired apologetics delivered either with sheepish smugness (like the Family Circus) or increasing condescension. Some are skillful at debate - kind of master debaters you might say. To bad they aren't so concerned with facts. The problem is that debate does not require facts to be compelling. It can become something with the sole goal of gaining approval, often through some sort of slight of hand approach. Debate, like the law, is adversarial and, though ideally based in logic, may or not be factual. I keep coming back to this - Logic is not the same thing as truth. Take a recent example in a logic test. I smiled to my self when I read this because the authors (intentionally or not) created a false logic - something I accuse them of frequently...
  • All ducks bark
  • Donald is a duck
  • Therefore, Donald barks
This is logically valid. It's also factually false. This one is easy to dismiss because we know ducks don't bark, but think about how often people confound debate with essentially identical arguments from logic. If the basic assumptions used in the logical argument are false the result is false logic. We waste so much time on this sort of thing because it can be convincing in a superficial sort of way and when confronted the master debater will often run off and hide in the realm of metaphysics where almost anything goes - even barking ducks. Philosophers may debate whether we can dismiss this logic out of hand. The apologist will say that because we haven't examined every duck or haven't tested them in the right manner to determine if they might all bark that we can't completely reject this logical claim.

But is that really true? Since the logic implies a positive statement, we can in fact, reject it using empiric methods. We just need one duck that can't bark. That won't convince the master debater because he'll just claim that the duck barks when we aren't looking. We have no evidence that ducks bark. We have never encountered a barking duck. The agbarkic may say that he or she doesn't know if a duck can bark or not. But among other things this is a cognitive bias called neglect of probability if nothing else. Since we have vast experience with quacking ducks and none with barking ones we might logically propose the following:
  • No ducks have ever been observed to bark
  • Donald is a duck
  • Therefore, Donald does not bark
The master debater will be correct in saying that this is an example of overstepping the bounds of what can be concluded through logic, but so what. Do we really want to waste any more time on the notion of barking ducks? The master debater may consider it a win if he or she can get the skeptic to admit that all they can really say is that Donald probably can't bark. Within that tiny reed of uncertainty the master debater can continue their guerrilla war against rationality. With such an admission they can loudly proclaim that we cannot exclude the existence of a barking duck! Soon they'll leap to claim that this means that superpowerful ducks rule the universe, while chiding us for any lapses in logic... Our counter should be simple - Show me a barking duck or shut the heck up about it already. Absent the proof (or woof...) the logic statement becomes nothing more than intellectual amyloid that can be ignored. The overwhelming preponderance of evidence trumps the need to spend any more time on it. Reality has many examples of quaking ducks and not yet a single barking one. So the possibility (tiny) of a barking duck is of no practical importance. Find one and we'll talk.

What about this one?
  • Reality can always be described through logic
  • A particular master debater is always logical
  • Therefore, the master debater can always describe reality
Why is this invalid in fact? Our courts are a good place to see one reason why it's not truthful (in an absolute sense). In the case of two opposing mutually exclusive logical positions, one must be false - unless truth is a quantum phenomenon... Reality may be amenable to logical description but that doesn't in any way mean that a particular human (or any of them for that matter) can accurately describe the baseline logic that is factual. People can, have, and continue to create false assumptions as to the baseline of reality and happily run off in some completely logical, albeit false, direction.

Take one of Zeno's famous paradoxes (created originally to mess with other people's minds) to see how we get caught up in this nonsense. One paradox (the dichotomy paradox) talks about traveling a fixed distance. It posits that before a traveler can get somewhere, he must get halfway there. Before he can get halfway there, he must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a quarter, he must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on. Basically it says that he can never reach his fixed destination. The math can get quite cumbersome if one wants to refute this formally. But the practical minded person can just step back and say, " I have to cover ten meters of distance and my stride is half a meter. Therefore I will reach that fixed point in 20 strides. I won't get caught in an infinite regression because that's not how I walk. I can prove that empirically. No one else I know walks that way either so buzz off." By simply walking across the room the paradox is dispelled by a single exception.

That's one reason that many apologists hate science. It has this nasty habit of demonstrating that their philosophical emperor has no clothes. Rather than wasting time on logic constructs why not let the preponderance of evidence be our guide? When exceptions are proven, then revise the model. What might we call such an approach? Science perhaps?

So as for logic I must confess the following:
  • The overwhelming preponderance of empiric information usually points toward the truth...
  • I seek truth...
  • Therefore as a practical approach, I will look in the direction created by the overwhelming preponderance of empiric data...
Or said another way - from now on I'm from Missouri...

21 comments:

mac said...

I think certain master debaters are want to believe that by throwing Two dollar words about, they'll impress the idjets.

I've said it before,
The master debater subscribes to the 'if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with Bullshit' shool of thought.

Have no substance to your theory, no worries, just mire the debate in minutia and deception.

Michael Lockridge said...

I am inspired! I simply must contemplate the quantum nature of Truth! Ah, you have hit on a good one!

As to Zeno, do you not grasp the wonder? In taking a common stride you traverse an infinite number of infinities! This is a HUGE profound triviality, and I love profound trivialities! They add such an interesting spice to life.

Could the magic of the debater and the legalist possibly be linked to the variably inherent human appetite for religion, as we have discussed here before?

Harvey said...

I posted this this evening on SaintBrian's blog in response to Eric's recent posts:
"Eric:
You may have noticed that I have not chosen to comment much in these threads in which you have tried to get us "unbelievers" to see how you have arrived at the belief system which to you is fully logical and, as you put it, "strongly supported" by your premises.
This is partly because I have travelled a path of inquiry very much like yours(in reverse) from, in my case, a highly observant and extensively studied religious background to the opposite conclusions
(i.e. agnosticism/atheism)you tell us you have reached. I choose to think that I have studied the necessary logic, as well as enough of the philosophers/apologists to have done so with an "open" mind and a sincere effort to arrive at the "truth". If I have learned anything useful in this long personal inquiry, it must include that all of the philosophers/apologists I have studied, including many atheists, either have concluded or have made implicit in their writings that Aquinas was right. No matter how brilliant one's logic may be, he/she must at some point have the "kernel" of faith (by which I mean the willingness to accept/believe some premise for which there can be no proof, at least in our current reality) he referred to. Even intellectually honest non-believers like many of us on this blog have to admit that we can no more be certain of the non-existance of a "prime mover" than theists can be certain of their conviction that their particular deity of choice does exist. For some of us, continued participation in debates about this may be purely intellectual curiosity, but for the majority, it seems to me, this ongoing interest reflects the fear and uncertainty that have led every culture we know of to create a deity or deities. It seems to me that Christians, in particular, seem to become apologists/proselytizers largely to get some degree of affirmation for their beliefs, perhaps even more than out of any sincere concern for some unbeliever's immortal soul.
Although I continue to follow your often erudite "teaching" efforts here, I can readily understand why some of us find your posts excessively pedantic and, despite your protestations of conviction that you are certain you have it right, some people could conclude that you are as much in need of self-confirmation as any overt proselytizing fundy."
I apologize for repeating it here, but I think it addreesses Michael Lockridge's rhetorical question: "Could the magic of the debater and the legalist possibly be linked to the variably inherent human appetite for religion, as we have discussed here before?"
In spades!!

pboyfloyd said...

As the mythbusters would say, "Now that that's settled, lets blow something up!!"

Harry C Pharisee said...

Pliny,

No ducks have ever been observed to bark
Donald is a duck
Therefore, Donald does not bark

I hesitate... but I think this ironically is a valid argument! EAE - 2

If I am correct that speaks to your point of certain people's misuse of logic. "In the case of two opposing mutually exclusive logical positions, one must be false - unless truth is a quantum phenomenon..." 'Two opposing mutually exclusive' valid arguments tell the apologist something, but he/she isn't listening.

To defend logic a little though (sheepish grin), It doesn't stop with validity, apologists do. Logic tries to determine soundness as well, something which hearkens easily to empirical data. Apologists also can't provide a cogent argument for God's existence because causal inferences are in the realm of induction, science's specialty.

Zeno is a trip. He's the reason why I think infinity is a false concept.

Btw, I've also noticed from Eric's posts that master debaters are usually master baiters as well. :-)

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Harry. I don't think that logic is an unsound principle ;) -just that it isn't always the same as truth. Logic ideally leads to truth but only if the logician scrupulously avoids bias. Logic is part of the scientific method but it's logic backed by data.

As for the barking duck,
No ducks have ever been observed to bark
Donald is a duck
Therefore, Donald does not bark,being valid, I would agree. I also think a barking mad apologist would insist that it's an overstatement ;)

Also - who's this Eric of which you speak? I was thinking of DD...

Harry C Pharisee said...

"Also - who's this Eric of which you speak? I was thinking of DD..."

What a coincidence Pliny, I'm sure DD was just thinking of himself too.

Jared said...

The "all ducks bark" and "no ducks have been observed to bark" are both potentially false premises. If, for example, all ducks yet observed have barked, how do we know that Donald does not happen to have a developmental disorder which prevents the syrinx from vibrating? The likelihood of Donald being an exception in the former case is much more likely than in the later as the later would require a new trait to arise rather than the capacity or need to vanish from the repertoire of anatid vociferations.

Additionally, if we define a bark as the precise vocalizations (frequency, amplitude, and duration) produced by canid species as well as otters, ferrets, seals, some deer, and we would be hard pressed to exclude some duck (especially if all Anatidae are included) vocalizations. This is certainly not to say that all ducks bark, but that some sounds made by ducks can be considered "barks."

It seems that "philosophy" devoid of observationally correct facts is not really true to the "love of wisdom" from which the Greeks originally coined the term, but more of philosophist (love of sophism--a completely different thing).

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

What a coincidence Pliny, I'm sure DD was just thinking of himself too.

Badda BING!
--------------------

The "all ducks bark" and "no ducks have been observed to bark" are both potentially false premises. If, for example, all ducks yet observed have barked, how do we know that Donald does not happen to have a developmental disorder which prevents the syrinx from vibrating? The likelihood of Donald being an exception in the former case is much more likely than in the later as the later would require a new trait to arise rather than the capacity or need to vanish from the repertoire of anatid vociferations.

Additionally, if we define a bark as the precise vocalizations (frequency, amplitude, and duration) produced by canid species as well as otters, ferrets, seals, some deer, and we would be hard pressed to exclude some duck (especially if all Anatidae are included) vocalizations. This is certainly not to say that all ducks bark, but that some sounds made by ducks can be considered "barks."


AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGH! - Pliny's last utterance as he leaps from the roof pursued by the specter of the barking duck.....

Sad thing is Jared - your tongue in bill discussion probably will convince someone ;)

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

I'm reminded of a classic medicine joke for some reason...

A family doc, an internist, a surgeon and a pathologist are out duck hunting.

A bird flies over and the family doc says, "it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, probably is a duck and BLAM! fires away.

Another flies over and the internist says, "looks like a duck, could be a chicken, can't rule out a pheasant," and doesn't fire at all.

Then another comes over and the surgeon fires BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, turns to the pathologist and says, "go tell me if that was a duck".

Harvey said...

Pliny:
As I believe we are both surgeons, it may follow that I both find the joke amusing and quite accurate in describing reality because those of us with a certain mind set tend to gravitate to those disciplines best suited to that mind set. Or...
perhaps we think the way we do because of how we were trained. Nature vs Nurture, anyone?

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Harvey I think certain choices nurture our nature...

Michael Lockridge said...

Don't exclude the purposes of a sovereign God working from eternity past throughout all of time, even on an individual level and even in the lives of unbelievers.

Oh, wait. Most of you do.

I really do thank God for you all. This is an interesting place, you all have very interesting perspectives and you all articulate well. Truly, may God bless you all in the richness of His grace.

Thanks for keeping things interesting.

mac said...

You guys are quacking me up over here.

A guys says to his doctor: "Dr, my wife thinks she's a duck!"

The dr says: "You better get her in here right away"

To which the man replies:" I can't...she's already flown south for the winter"

Jared said...

I am reminded of a book by Matt Ridley entitled "Nature via Nurture" which was quite interesting.

Harry C Pharisee said...

mac, that was effin terrible.

Congratulations :-D

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Harry - why would you NoT expect that a fowl joke might show up in this thread....

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Harvey, to give your question more just treatment, I think that we are drawn to careers that are in keeping with our basic nature (if we are lucky). Once we are there, continuous exposure to that environment pretty much weeds out any competing threads of our being and we become almost cliches of our profession to some extent.

Take our little niche for example. People have told me that only arrogant control freaks with an elevated sense of their own importance become surgeons (most such people were internists btw ;))

I obviously disagree but there is no doubt that confidence in one's ability and a willingness to make a critical decision are needed traits in surgeons. Surgeons get in the habit of basically blasting through what ever obstacles they encounter when trying to get their job done. That sometimes doesn't translate well to standing in line at TSA ;)

Harry C Pharisee said...

Jared,

I checked out Matt Ridley, he's pretty interesting. I'm not sure about his argument concerning Darwin's "inspiration" coming from economic theorists. Though that will be interesting to investigate when I have the time.

Pliny,

Give me a beak! Your best shot has only winged me because I ducked. You're a turkey up to no snood, hen again maybe simply too chicken to jump the gullf between good puns and punishment. Wattle you do next? Whatever it is don't peacocky about it.

;-)

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Well, it looks as though you are up to your old Archeopteryx with the puns, And while most might find themselves between a Rok and a hard place punning against the likes of Harry C Fricassee, toucan play at this game. Ole Pliny knows more about this subject than Ronnie Wood... While I might be throwing petrel on the flames, I can’t just let you get your auks without a flight. Whydahs one feel compelled to pun? Owl leave that for others to ponder. But though it grebes me to admit it, I may have some culpability having established this site as a place of pun - after all- wren in Rome...

Harry C Pharisee said...

"Parroting my style Pliny? Guano go a few rounds?" I ask, as egrets his teeth -the exchange had been so pheasant up till now- "C'mon hoopoes first?"

"You little flocker. I am not emused," comes the reply, "You should be tarred and feathered, then eggsecuted. Trying to out pun me would be quite ostrich for you, regardless, on this blog it's a cardinal sin."

"What a poultry showing from a punmeister. I will not quail while you grouse and snipe. Come now, it's like you've albatrossed in the towel with geese empty threats."

"Vireostute of you to observe my warnings as a lark. But from heron out you will swallow your pride in the wake of my raven-ous hunger for puns."

Well Pliny, your tern. :)