21 May, 2009

Axioms and Absolute Truth

Have you ever found yourself drawn into a debate with a presuppositionalist? If not, count yourself lucky. It is surely one of the most painful experiences known to man. It is basically the adult equivalent of a child repeatedly asking 'but why?'.

What happens in a debate is the presupper will sooner or later get to the question 'how do you know X?'. You might answer 'I know X because of Y', but the crafty presupper will ask 'how do you know Y?. You might answer 'I know Y because of Z', but the crafty presupper will ask.......well you get it......it could go on for ever.

What eventually happens is that you get to a stage in the debate where you need something as a foundation for your knowledge, e.g. if Z is self-evidently true then it is perfectly fine for you to declare that you know Y and X. The presupper would not be able to question this because your answer for 'how do you know Z?' would be 'Z is axiomatic and so is self-evidently true'. This axiom is God as far as the presupper is concerned, and based on this they will claim that they have an avenue to certainty. On hearing this, you might feel the need to provide your own axiom. The question is what are possible axioms for the non-presupper?

Well, Ryk has provided a nice list of axioms to be used in a debate with a presupper. The list is a more reader-friendly version of the techniques Darrin uses over at Skeptical Studies (check the link for a jargon-heavy but thorough pasting of presupper Sye). It includes concepts that are self-evident, such as perception and consciousness. The proof of the existence of these things is that any proof of their non-existence would necessarily require perception from a conscious being in order to interpret the proof as valid. Thus, perception and consciousness are self-evident and can be considered axiomatic. In addition, logic is self-evident since logic would be needed to disprove logic.

Another way to put this is in terms of certainty or truth. We are all certain of specific things but a presupper will insist that certainty or truth mean nothing unless is it 'absolute' certainty or 'absolute' truth. They will ask what your source of absolute truth is. They are banking on you answering that there is no absolute truth because they will then counter this by asking:

"Is it absolutely true that there is no such thing as absolute truth"

At first glance, it may seem that you are cornered. If you answer yes, then you have just confirmed an absolute truth. If you answer no, you are conceding that absolute truth does exist. As the presupper considers God to be absolute truth, this effectively is their way of proving his existence.

Se-man-tics..........

The strategy to use here is not to just explain that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but to also state that there is only truth or not truth, i.e. something is either true or not true and so the terms absolutely true or absolutely false become redundant. When asked:

"Is it absolutely true that there is no such thing as absolute truth"

the answer is simply

"Your question makes no sense, however it is true that there is no such thing as absolute truth"

Unless your opponent can point out a difference between truth and absolute truth then this approach holds. But how can there be a difference between truth and absolute truth? One might be tempted to say that absolute truth is somehow more true than truth. But that's ridiculous. If something is true, it is already 100% true. If something is termed absolutely true, it is still only 100% true. The word 'absolutely' cannot add anymore truth to an already true statement. In fact, Ryk has argued that stating something as 'absolutely true' as opposed to 'true' renders the statement false:

Call true T and absolutely A. and a Statement S. S=T describes a true statement describing a statement as absolutely true would be S=T+A for this to be true A=0 if a has no value it is a non valid qualifier if A>0 then you have a contradiction T+A does not =T so you have a false statement.

To sum if A=0 then there is no reason to call something absolutely true, so therefore a statement can not be absolutely true it can only be true or false.

If A>0, for instance if if the term absolute adds meaning then an absolutely true statement is false because the qualifier absolute makes it non true. So again in this instance a statement is not absolutely true it is simply true.


So does truth exist? Yes, of course. This is self-evident as any disproof of truth, if valid, would itself be true.

With the axiomatic quartet of perception, consciousness, logic and truth, non-presuppers have a solid foundation for their arguments against presuppositionalists. It's a pity most presuppers don't have a good grasp of the latter two...

22 comments:

Ryk said...

I am glad you find these useful. I am really hoping that if enough people work at it instead of just calling these people nutjobs, this type of appologetics will cease to exist.

I recently posted a transcendental argument for the non existence of God Someone pointed out that it works best for the Christian god and doesn't really apply to Deists or Buddhists but still it's a start. Especially since all of the presuppos are Christian.

BeamStalk said...

Well done both of you. I will keep these in my bag of tricks, also called logic and reason.

rhiggs said...

Ryk,

I am glad you find these useful. I am really hoping that if enough people work at it instead of just calling these people nutjobs, this type of appologetics will cease to exist.

Yes I agree. I feel there is definitely way of refuting the presupp stance through rational argument, although I doubt it will cease to exist. The problem lies in the fact that the presupper won't acknowledge the refutation, and just continue spouting the same nonsense. But I suppose that doesn't matter, it's the undecided that need to be convinced.

Ryk said...

Rhiggs

Yes I am discovering that. scmike has found my blog and we have a thread going on my post about the God Delusion. He is basically ignoring what I say and just quote mining for stuff to say "how do you know?" about. I have shut down every argument he has but he just keeps repeating them. Come take a look if you like, there are a few interesting bits but it is mostly just pressuper crap.

Ryk said...

Also I noticed your avatar. I love xkcd. Do you have something to do with it or are you just another fan.

rhiggs said...

Just another fan...

Rick Warden said...

"With the axiomatic quartet of perception, consciousness, logic and truth, non-presuppers have a solid foundation for their arguments against presuppositionalists.

It's a pity most presuppers don't have a good grasp of the latter two..."

You appeal to truth as a foundation but it is relativistic truth, apparently. It seems like a foundation of sand.

You appeal to logic as a foundation but logic presupposes absolute truth and validity exist. If a premise is not true universally and valid in form it is an unsound premise. More sand.

Your consciousness observes and contemplates objects consisting of energy and subatomic particles scattered around the world. You believe there must be a law of identity but this is based on what? More sand.

The maxims you recommended at Ryk's blog seem to be refutable for these same reasons.

Studies show atheists are more depressed and mentally unsound than spiritually minded people and there are reasons for this:

"Gallup Polls Highlight Happiness, Health and Logic in Spirituality"

Regards,

Rick

rhiggs said...

Rick,

Please give me an example of an absolute truth and a non-absolute truth, so that we can understand the difference you are referring to.

You accuse me of building my foundations on sand. I suggest that no worldview is possible without some degree of sand - or do you claim that your worldview is built on solid foundations? If so, can you prove that you exist for certain within your worldview? If you cannot even prove you exist, then what is the point of discussing anything - you could just be a robot or a figment of my imagination. Please provide your formal proof that you exist. I’m not asking you to prove it to me - just provide whatever proof you think you have. Cheers.


Moving on, it is strange that you try to question my use of logic and then, in the same comment, you come out with this statement:

“Studies show atheists are more depressed and mentally unsound than spiritually minded people and there are reasons for this”

Is this supposed to be proof of something or have you just tagged it onto the end of your comment for no apparent reason?

First of all, so what? That something makes you happy has no bearing on whether it is true.

Secondly, the results are hardly overwhelming (depression 15.6% vs 18.7%, well-being 68.7% vs 64.2%). I would have thought that knowledge of and faith in the divine creator of the universe should have a bit more impact than a few percentage points on a person’s well-being. Of course, if you want to revel in the fact that you are apparently 4.5% happier than me then please go ahead. It doesn’t really mean anything other than that, on average, very religious people tell a stranger on the phone that they are happy 4.5% of the time more often than non-religious people. It could just be that religious people are simply 4.5% more likely to want to appear happy, or any other number of reasons.

Your confirmation bias also forces you to ignore the fact that being moderately religious is apparently worse for your mental health (and in some cases well-being) than being non-religious, so your statement that “atheists are more depressed and mentally unsound than spiritually minded people” is simply wrong. It’s not a linear relationship at all - other factors, therefore, must be somewhat responsible for the results.

Also, the depression poll asks about any history of depression, so the religious position held at the time of asking might not be relevant: “It is important to note that Gallup asks Americans if they have been diagnosed with depression at any point in their life. These findings thus do not necessarily imply that the act of becoming religious will reduce or eliminate depression for those currently experiencing it.

Rick Warden said...

"Please give me an example of an absolute truth and a non-absolute truth, so that we can understand the difference you are referring to."

1. There are absolutely no square circles and there are absolutely no round squares.

2. There are many paths to God, they are all valid.

"Please provide your formal proof that you exist."

"you could just be a robot or a figment of my imagination."

Your attitude implies you may not believe in your own existence, so why should I waste my time in trying to prove my existence to you?

“Studies show atheists are more depressed and mentally unsound than spiritually minded people and there are reasons for this”

Is this supposed to be proof of something or have you just tagged it onto the end of your comment for no apparent reason?

- You did not see the many points I made in my article?

You do not seem to be a person interested in truth, but, rather, trying to defend absurdity.

"your statement that “atheists are more depressed and mentally unsound than spiritually minded people” is simply wrong."

No, The people in the study less happy than the non-religious were the ones who didn't actually practice what they say they believe. They are not essentially "spiritually minded people." I could have made that clearer, sorry.

Jesus taught a person must be spiritually regenerated (John 3.3). Many people treat religion as a dead ritualistic ritual and, yes, these counterfeits are the most miserable of any worlds.

It seems you doubt that absolute truth exists. You do realize that philosophical logic and premises are based on the presupposition that universal truth and validity exist?

Do you believe you are capable of philosophical logic?

On what basis are you capable of philosophical logic?

rhiggs said...

Rick,

“1. There are absolutely no square circles and there are absolutely no round squares.
2. There are many paths to God, they are all valid.”

Which of these is the absolute truth and which is the non-absolute truth? That is what I asked you to provide.


“Your attitude implies you may not believe in your own existence, so why should I waste my time in trying to prove my existence to you?”

Not at all. I know that I exist for certain - I’m just asking if you can prove that you do. If you can’t, then your worldview is built on the ‘sandy’ assumption that you exist, and so I feel no need to address your claim that my worldview has problems. People in glass houses...


“The people in the study less happy than the non-religious were the ones who didn't actually practice what they say they believe. They are not essentially "spiritually minded people." I could have made that clearer, sorry.”

Erm, I didn’t read your blog Rick. I only read the articles on the Gallup website. You know - where it defines moderately religious as ‘all others who do not fall into the very religious or nonreligious groups but who gave valid responses on both religion questions’. Just because you decide to redefine this as being not essentially spiritually minded is completely irrelevant. Are you arrogant enough to think you know the spiritual state of all these people? I can guarantee you that many of them are likely to be more spiritually minded than me, and yet I am apparently happier than them. The effect is clearly not a linear one no matter how much you want it to be. As I said before, it could be that very religious people simply prefer to give an outward impression of happiness to a complete stranger on the phone, especially because they have just been asked about how religious they are - and so they know that the poll is somehow going to test the efficacy of their faith.

If you feel the need to defend your religion on the basis of Gallup polls with miniscule results then I find that a bit sad. And if dedicating your whole life to an imaginary unproven deity makes you a few percentage points happier than me then go ahead. I think that is a pathetic return.


“It seems you doubt that absolute truth exists. You do realize that philosophical logic and premises are based on the presupposition that universal truth and validity exist?”

Just because we base logic on the existence of universal truth, this has no bearing on whether universal truth actually exists. That is a fallacious assumption on your part. You do realise that the standard model of physics is based on the presupposition that the Higgs boson exists? Even though it is not yet proven to exist, we still use it because it works most of the time - although not quite all of the time. Same with logic.


“Do you believe you are capable of philosophical logic?
On what basis are you capable of philosophical logic?”

There you go again trying to attack my worldview. First, come out of your glass house and provide your proof that you exist for certain.

Rick Warden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick Warden said...

“Which of these is the absolute truth and which is the non-absolute truth? That is what I asked you to provide.”

-Take a guess.

“I know that I exist for certain.”

- Definitions of certain: “Definite, fixed...established beyond doubt or question; indisputable.”

Your word “certain” here implies absolute truth exists.

I understood that you do not believe in absolute truth.

I must have missed something.

Are you now defending the concept of absolute truth?

If certainty does not exist, how then can you be certain of anything?

Please clarify your thoughts on this before we continue.

rhiggs said...

"Take a guess"

No.


"Your word “certain” here implies absolute truth exists."

Whatever you think it implies has no bearing on whether absolute truth actually exists. You keep getting confused on this point. Remember the Higgs boson?

And I notice you still haven't provided your proof that you exist for certain, suggesting that you can't. This means your whole worldview is built on sand. People in glass houses...


"If certainty does not exist, how then can you be certain of anything?

Please clarify your thoughts on this before we continue."

Strawman alert! I have not said that certainty does not exist. Certainty and 'absolute truth' are not the same thing. It is possible to be certain of something regardless of whether it is true or not. Evidence for this comes from the proponents of the many religions of the world, all of whom are genuinely 'certain' they are in the right club.

Now, are you going to give me the proof or not?

Rick Warden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick Warden said...

Hi Rhiggs,

I wrote: "Your word “certain” here implies absolute truth exists."

You replied: “Whatever you think it implies has no bearing on whether absolute truth actually exists.”

Yes, it has no bearing on whether absolute truth actually exists, I agree. But it has a bearing on the nature of our debate.

We need to be precise in our words, Rhiggs, don't you agree?

Consider the definition of proof:

Proof: 1.The evidence or argument that compels the mind to accept an assertion as true.

1) It would help me to understand your standards if you gave me some examples of what you consider "certain."

2) What approximate level of truth do I need to achieve to offer what you consider "certain" proof?

3) What does proof look like conceptually that is not universally true and absolute but is "certain?"

Some examples of these would be most helpful in understanding the kind of proof you are looking for.

Then, perhaps I can prove to you that I exist according to your personal standards.

Regards,

Rick

rhiggs said...

Rick,

I’ll try to answer your questions, but I’m not going to go through another round of evasion after this. Perhaps if you provide your proof, you will understand why I have asked you to do so.


“1) It would help me to understand your standards if you gave me some examples of what you consider "certain."”

I suppose there are two possible definitions of ‘certain’. One is ‘absolute truth’. If this is what you mean by certain, then you have yet to provide any evidence for this. The second definition, ‘confidence to the point of assuming absolute truth’, is what I mean by ‘certain’. The thing is, no matter what you claim to be certain of, it is always possible that you are wrong. Thus, although absolute truth might be a concept people use in everyday life, it is not necessarily a valid concept. And yes, that does apply to any of my conclusions too.


"2) What approximate level of truth do I need to achieve to offer what you consider "certain" proof?"

Prove you exist with an argument in which you are confident to the point of assuming it is absolutely true. I can, and I don’t require God to do so. I would posit that neither of us can prove we exist in a way that would actually represent ‘absolute truth’. Or can you? If you can’t, and you insist on one knowing things ‘absolutely’ and not ‘relativistically’ then your worldview is built on sand because you are simply assuming that you exist.


"3) What does proof look like conceptually that is not universally true and absolute but is "certain?""

I think I have addressed this above. Prove you exist with an argument in which you are confident to the point of assuming it is absolutely true. We will then look at your proof to see how ‘sandy’ your own foundations are.

Rick Warden said...

Rhiggs,

The main issue from what I understand is “Can I prove absolute truth exists” and you apparently want me to try and prove my own existence to you on the Internet as a pretext for your proving to me that absolute truth does not exist.

When I clarify definitions of the words “proof” and “certainty” you label it as “evasion” and tell me this is my last chance.

It seems to me by your statements you don't want to give me a fair opportunity to outline what I would personally present as a case for the existence of absolute truth but, rather, have presented your own subjective challenge instead, which seems contextually irrelevant.

Under the circumstances, I will write an article on the subject of absolute truth and you can challenge it when it's finished if you want to.

In my article I will attempt to prove to you that any kind of certainty and any relative truth ultimately depends on the existence of absolute truth.

Regards,

Rick

rhiggs said...

Rick,

No, the main issue is that you accuse me of building my worldview on sand. My request for you to prove that you exist, had you actually offered an answer, would have shown that your own worldview is also built on sand. My point is that any worldview is ultimately built on some amount of sand.

Your refusal to offer a proof, and instead get bogged down in definitions, implies that you recognise this - otherwise you would have offered your proof by now instead of evading (yes, evading).

Let me know when your article is ready. Although from the appalling analysis and confirmation bias you applied to the 'depression' Gallup poll ("...recent Gallup polls have shown that atheists tend towards a state of depression, as compared to spiritually minded souls"), I shudder to think what you might produce next...

Rick Warden said...

Rhiggs,

You apparently believe there is no absolute truth and all truth is equally relative. Your article here states “But how can there be a difference between truth and absolute truth?” Yes, I believe your proposed basis for reality is sand and untenable.

You somehow believe my ability to prove my existence will prove or disprove the existence of absolute truth but, in reality, it is an irrelevant issue. It's like comparing a point on a Cartesian coordinate system with the system itself.

The argument for proving the grid exists is different from proving a point on a grid exists. The former must be established and proven first.

My article on atheism and depression was more of a descriptive article. I'll let you know when the new article is finished. Absolute relativity is an impossible condition for mathematics and for reality for a number of reasons.

Regards,

Rick

rhiggs said...

"You somehow believe my ability to prove my existence will prove or disprove the existence of absolute truth"

Not at all. I believe it will show how your worldview is also built on sand.

rhiggs said...

Three months later and still no sign of the promised article from Rick, but for further deconstruction of his completely flawed argument that "atheists are more depressed and mentally unsound than spiritually minded people", see here.

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