Sunday, December 17, 2017

Circular Reasoning







At approximately 11pm on December 16th, 2017, Mike Danker (who, according to his public Facebook profile, lives in Hudson Ohio) recently made these comments about me (typos and all) on a public atheist Facebook page:
Wonder if he knows the difference between formal and informal fallacies
Almost lost it laughing when he said circular reasoning isnt always fallacious. Its a fomal fallacy, not an informal one.
He talks shit about how the modern common apologists answer these questions meanwhile his response to the problem of evil is the standard C.S. Lewis response by attacking the atheist's views on morality as a redherring instead of responding
Over and over again its like if you were to ask a theorhetical someone how they know dungeons and dragons isnt just a game and they respond by saying "if only you knew the rules on dungeons and dragons clearer youd realize its not just a game" like, the rules arent all that relevant to whether or not its a game
Also "if you dont understand my views because theyre inadequetely explained youre strawmanning me" was annoying

Consider the following post to be my initial response to Mike, even though I doubt he will ever come across this response of mine.

First of all, there is no need to wonder, Mike. I do know the difference between formal and informal fallacies. I also know the difference between the kind of circular reasoning which is fallacious and the kind of circular reasoning which is absolutely necessary for reason itself to exist and be utilized by rational beings. That logical distinction is not one that you seem to be aware of, though. And since you aren’t aware, please allow me to illustrate what I meant at the time I made those claims (which, interestingly, neither time or opportunity was granted to me by David Smalley at the time those comments of mine, which you are criticizing, were made).

If someone—whether a theist or an atheist—claims that circular reasoning is always fallacious, and I was to ask why, the response would likely be some kind of appeal to “logic.” No matter what response occurs, as long as "logic" or "laws of logic" are being appealed to, inferred, or implied, that is the only thing needed to proceed. After all, any claim about "fallacious" reasoning presupposes the laws of logic (i.e. thought) in which the information conveyed can be considered "logical" or "illogical" at all. So when it is claimed, as Mike did, that a “fallacy” always occurs when an argument is circular, that is the same thing (logically, at least) as saying that a circular argument is always “invalid.” Let’s break this down though, because, as someone who has taught a course on critical thinking (using Copi’s Symbolic Logic) in the past, I suspect that Mike doesn’t realize that circular reasoning is involved within that very claim of his is, which means that if his claim is true (which I think is a necessary absurdity) then his claim, according to his own arbitrary definition, is itself fallacious. Of course, he wouldn't appreciate that at all, so I will attempt to free him from this embarrassing and unnecessary faux pas.

So then, on one hand, the claim is made that “circular reasoning” is always fallacious. It can only be fallacious if laws of logic (i.e. thought) exist. Once a second claim is made that he (or anyone) can identify circular reasoning in action, then the conclusion can be drawn that laws of logic (i.e. thought) exist. But that very syllogism (which is a formal fallacy, Mike) presupposes laws of logic in order to even claim that they exist and are being used. In every one of such instances where the laws of logic are appealed to, inferred, or implied for an opponent's reasoning to be "fallacious," one cannot help but reason circularly (either formally or informally). 

Circular reasoning is one of those very strange fallacies to be accused of, because it’s the only fallacy which is actually valid. Valid reasoning, according to the laws of logic, is found when a conclusion follows its premise(s). Normally, fallacies are actually not valid. That is because a conclusion normally does not follow from the premise(s), thereby making such reasoning "fallacious." Yet oddly, with circular reasoning the conclusion does follow from the premise precisely because it is a restatement of the premise. Circular reasoning is only fallacious if the premises are demonstrably arbitrary. (And for the record, just saying so doesn't make it so either. It must be demonstrated, not simply dogmatically asserted, as was the case with David Smalley's response to me.) Arbitrary circular reasoning is obviously problematic because anyone who denies the conclusion would also have to deny the premise, because the conclusion is essentially the same as the premise. 

As noted above with the chain of reasoning about utilizing laws of logic, the conclusion (that laws of logic must exist) must be presupposed at the outset by anyone participating in the discussion. As such, the argument is perfectly reasonable, and valid, but is subtly circular. It’s also absolutely unavoidable in this case, even though all parties involved in the discussion have tacitly presupposed they were trying to prove. We must, therefore, use laws of logic to prove anything as valid or invalid, even the existence of laws of logic. 

As a side note to Mike, the argument on display above was also utilizing a variation (although the same general format) of another law of logic, in order to prove that there are laws of logic. That law is known as modus tollens, and it also happens to be one of the first laws one ever learns when studying the laws of logic. You might want to learn the basics of logic if you'd like to interact with me about circular reasoning.


Every time I find someone accused of “fallacious circular reasoning”—whether its by a theist or an atheist—I pause and reflect upon the actual argument being used, attempting to see the actual circularity involved, and to decipher whether or not the premises are arbitrary. For someone to mock me (publicly, by the way) and deflect (public) attention away from what the laws of logic actually teach us, and to simply dismiss what I said about circular reasoning as not always being fallacious (which, in Mike's case, was illustrated with laughter), is an audaciously naive response, and one I hope is recanted before infecting others with one's own arbitrary circular reasoning.

Now comes the million dollar question: Between David Smalley and I (or Mike, I guess, could also be included), which person's view of the world and the nature of reality can justify the existence of universal, unchanging, and immaterial entities such as the laws of logic? 

At this point all I want to do is leave the reader to research a debate in order to begin answering such a vital question. That debate i'm referring to is known as "The Great Debate" between Dr. Greg Bahnsen and Dr. Gordon Stein. The formal title of the debate was originally called "Does God Exist?", but after listening to the audio below it will become obvious as to why it was renamed "The Great Debate." The transcript of that debate can be found here. The audio of that debate can be found here. And a brief web page about that debate can be found here. Enjoy!









8 comments:

  1. I'm sorry but the atheist will accept evidence for god. Just have to define what evidence means.

    Evidence is not one's feelings. "I believe god exists because when i do i feel good" well i don't believe in god and i feel good too.

    "I believe god exists because there is nature around me" However we have science to explain how nature exists without needing a god. Believers think god has always been here. And energy can never be created or destroyed. So when electrons move around and form elements they eventually form nature.
    "I believe god exists because he talks to me" and some people who say that get committed and some don't what is the dividing line?

    Frankly we just dont have a way YET to measure the SUPER(more than) NATURAL. Which is one reason we dont use it in a court of law. Xan you imagine all the people saying god told me you committed the crime?

    Evidence has to be able to be measured. Evidence has to be able to be reproduced by other people and get the same results. If you have that for god many people would love to see/hear/read/ replicate the tests for it.

    Thanks

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    1. Thanks Marcia. I actually agree with you that an atheist will accept evidence for a god. I know many atheists who have, and are no longer atheists.

      Regarding your comments evidence "has to be able to be measured,'' I think I understand what you meant by that. You meant that in order to know something for certain, it must be through empiricism alone, right? And not with any metaphysical pre-commitments, right?

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  2. This post is very confusing. My understanding of circular reasoning ia that it ia akin to using a word to define itself.

    So if you say your mother is a spy. And i say how do you know? And you sau because spies are mothers. You haven't told me HOW YOUR KNOW YOUR MOTHER IS ONE.

    IF i say what IS a spy? And you say one who does Spy things YOU HAVENT TOLD ME ANYTHING and we will go around in circles.

    The use of the term fallacy is possibly offensive but it appears that the logic "game" is played by calling all traps of poor reasoning, fallacies

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    1. Every time I use the term "fallacy," I mean it as an informal or formal syllogism which presents an invalid argument.

      Circular reasoning is the fallacy of Begging the Question, where one assumes the validity or existence of a thing within the premises of one's argument, in order to reach a conclusion about the validity or existence of that thing.

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  3. Thanks to whomever typed 2 hours of transcription.

    I was stopped very early in this debate. The crackers in the pantry fallacy. The Christian states that ffinding out whether there are crackers in the closet is different than how you find out many other things and he lists all kinds of aciences. But that's not true. You examine the closet to find out whether the crackers are there. You also EXAMINE the air to determine bariatric pressure. Perhaps the cracker only needs one exam whereas bariatric pressure may need more exams but it is STILL EXAMINATION and testing.

    QUOTE: The problem arises when Dr. Stein elsewhere insists
    that every claim that someone makes must be treated as a hypothesis which must be tested
    by such evidence before accepting it. "There is to be nothing," he says, "which smacks of
    begging the question or circular reasoning."
    This, I think, is oversimplified thinking and again misleading, what we might call the
    Pretended Neutrality fallacy. One can see this by considering the following quotation from Dr.
    Stein: "The use of logic or reason is the only valid way to examine the truth or falsity of any
    statement which claims to be factual."
    One must eventually ask Dr. Stein, then, how he proves this statement itself. That is,
    how does he prove that logic or reason is the only way to prove factual statements? END QUOTE

    This also doesn't make sense. There's logic and there's illogic there's order in thinking and there s disorder in thinking, there's knowledge through your senses and there's knowledge without your senses? which i don't know how you measure, but i think believers count this as knowledge but atheists don't. So the spiritualist/medium can not close her eyes and say she's talking to dead people and we would believe it.

    So the way you prove that logic is the best way to solve a problem or determine something is factual is try tbe opposite. Try yo prove something is factual illogically or chaotically or disorderedly. Even if you get results you woukdnt know how you did it. All we habe are our brains and senses to input information into our brains. Thay is our reasoning our logic that is all we can use because that is what we can measure.

    Example: (I'm not an expert but my inderstanding is) a gun sight needs you to close one eye. So the gin maker takes into account that our two eyes have a focus that our one eye does not. So in the experiment of a machine that can shoot a projectile an hit a target we can measure for the fallibility od our eyesight. There is no way to do that with god.

    We label the thing we think with a brain, and the thinking logic. So the question is not circular it it's just the labels we use.

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    1. Again, it sounds like you are committed to the belief that pure reason apart from sense experience cannot itself provide us with factual knowledge. Or, another way of saying the same thing is, that all informative or factual statements about the objective world must be derived empirically (based on experience, observation, sensation), and therefore human knowledge cannot transcend particular, physical experience or the appearance of the senses.

      Is that an accurate portrayal of what you believe? Honest question.

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  4. 2+2=4. 4-2=2. The way Dr Stein proves his logic/reasoning is by falsifying it. Or in other words seeing if the opposite or negative is true. Or trying to prove it is false.
    If you put out water, and you think the dog drank it. You now test in some manner that it was not anyone else like the cat. If the cat can be a possibility then you need another test? If the cat was locked up all day then it was the dog.

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  5. Hi Jon,

    I listened to your appearance on Dogma Debate. I must say I shared in David's frustration at your evasiveness. On this particular issue I think you said, or at least alluded to, two contradictory assertions. At one point you said that you presuppose that your god is good. And therefore, when you read about him doing horrible things, like killing children to prove a point, you assume he has a good reason to do it. The other thing you said was that circular reasoning is not always fallacious. You then tried to explain why it is not always fallacious.

    I think in the first instance, where you presuppose something, it is not circular. So if you presuppose that your god exists, or that he is good or just, then you are not trying to justify your assertion. This is not circular. but if you try to justify your presupposition, it becomes circular.

    I've heard many metaphysical justifications for the principles of logic. But you could simply presuppose the principles of logic in which case it is similarly not circular. Presupposing a god to explain logic seems unnecessary and problematic in many ways.

    Allan

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