Thursday, February 18, 2010

My essay from Contending with Christianity's Critics is online

At Google Books.

I think the sequence in which my argument is presented is important to the project.

10 comments:

Steven said...

You just had to jab the YE guys with that "hyperliteral" comment, didn't you?

You sneaky dog. If I was your editor, I'd take that out.

Anonymous said...

I just noticed this comment about Reppert's essey

http://www.atheistadam.com/contending-with-christianitys-critics-answering-new-atheists-and-other-objectors-2/#comment-128206

Victor Reppert said...

That is Robinson's review of the book which is also on the Amazon page for the volume.

Steven: I didn't want to endorse the claim that the YE guys are adhering to the true literal sense of Scripture. I happen to think that the Young Earth reading of Genesis is not the genuine sensus literalis of the passage, that it is an interpretation based on tradition rather than on exegesis.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Speaking of Copan and Reppert's contributions . . .

Paul Copan has a chapter on the logic of the Trinity, titled, "Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One." But why limit yourself to only defending a Trinity? I'm sure any imaginative philosopher worth their salt could defend the logic of an infinite Number of "-inities?" like in Hinduism where incarnations of God abound (way beyond just three)? Why doesn't the same argument apply?

As for "the one and the many" question in general, it's an old philosophical riddle or realization concerning how things can share similarities yet also be different and unique.

The same goes for language. Words are both applicable to many things yet also confusing and vague when applied to some in particular. Words are both precise and vague. You think you know what the word "chair" means until you think about all the possible things on which a human being may rest their weight and at all possible angles, until you begin to realize you really don't know what a "chair" is. How many legs can a chair have, does it even need legs? There's bean bag chairs, swinging chairs, perhaps things that lift people up with balloons or magnets. When are you leaning and when are you sitting? Isn't it part of a continuum? At what precise angle does leaning become sitting? And does that also depend on "how" a person happens to be leaning their body at the time?

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic Reppert in his chapter claims to have refuted Quine’s argument “that the reference of our terms is indeterminate and that there is no fact of the matter as to what our words refer to” (p 37). I tend to think that Quine's overall question remains intact as any perusal of modern day philosophical questions concerning "vagueness" demonstrate.

Vagueness and arbitrariness is everywhere, a variant on the "one and the many" question. How can something be both "one" and also part of "many" like it? How can we KNOW something yet not really KNOW it? How can language and definitions be useful but also slippery and vague? Why are universal accepted "proofs" of so many philosophical and theological viewpoints so difficult to acheive?

Physicists have strived for precise definitions (the 1983 Metre Convention equated a metre with the distance travelled by light through a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second) without hope of ever achieving absolute precision. And the definition of the meter was itself arbitrarily determined, chosen out of a limitless host of possible number of alternative lengths. All human measurement began with someone determining an arbitrary length and calling it something and measuring everything else by it.

There's also the haziness of the species notion that set the young Charles Darwin pondering evolution.

And in the world of genetics, Francis Crick observed that if he and James Watson had worried about how to define the gene in the 1950s, progress in molecular biology would have stalled. “In research the front line is almost always in a fog,” Crick wrote in his autobiography. Even today there is no consensus definition of the gene.

Natural languages — as opposed to the formal languages that are used in logic and computing — are full of imprecision and ambiguity. In English, the adjective 'large' is equally applicable to a spider, an elephant or a planet. Speakers infer the meaning of the word from the context of its usage. Thus 'large' is a vague concept because it allows borderline cases. Although the term 'obese' would seem to be better defined, it is also vague: the borderlines between underweight, healthy weight, overweight and obese are, to a large extent, arbitrarily drawn.

Borderlines are essential for precision but their definition can defy reason. Much of the book explores the ramifications of the sorites paradox, an ancient Greek conundrum about the size of a heap (soros in Greek). Adding one grain of sand to another clearly does not make it a heap. But if you follow the reasoning of Aristotelian logic and Boolean algebra, which allows a statement to be either true or false, no matter how many grains you add, at no point does it become a heap. The threshold cannot be defined through classical logic.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Similarly, an object can retain its identity even though it has undergone many changes. In a 1990 London high court case, a seller of a vintage racing car sued a buyer who had withdrawn from the deal after claiming the car was not authentic because of the successive replacement of its parts. The judge ruled in favour of the seller: “Any new parts were assimilated into the whole at such a rate and over such a period of time that they never caused the car to lose its identity.”

There is no satisfactory resolution of the sorites paradox by modifying classical logic, van Deemter argues. Rather than statements being either true or false, what is needed is a logic based on degrees of truth, ranging from zero to 100% certainty (100% certainty includes things like self-referential definitions such as 2 + 2 = 4).

Allowing for such gradations in boundary definitions can help in decision-making. The author tells the story of the stealing of a diamond from the emperor of China by one of a thousand eunuchs. The single witness exclaims on his death bed only that “The thief is tall.” How is the emperor to catch him? A classical logician — who might categorize suspects as either tall or not tall — would define an average height and advise searching everyone who is taller than the average. A logician who allows for degrees of truth might find the culprit more quickly: the taller the thief is, the more likely the witness is to have described him as tall. Therefore, the search should begin with the tallest.

For multiple constraints, the degrees of truth are combined using further logical operations. Such 'fuzzy logic' systems are widely used in computing, for example in providing automated decision-support systems for physicians. But, van Deemter maintains, because these combinations still rely on assumptions of truth or falsity, fuzzy logic cannot address all the ambiguities of natural language, including the sorites paradox.

[much of the last few paragraphs was derived from reviews of a new book, Not Exactly: In Praise of Vagueness]

Edward T. Babinski said...

The final chapter in the "Contending With Christianity's Critics" book is about HELL as if all the previous chapters in the book did not "contend" fully enough with all the "criticisms" the reader might have about Christianity.

I suppose piling on eternal HELL at the end is like saying, "You got a PROBLEM wit anyting in dis book?" while pounding fist into open palm of opposite hand *smile*

The conclusion of the book and chapter is that "Hell is locked on the inside."

Oh joy, God's not to blame at all! And I have all eternity in which to torture myself! And neither God nor angels are going to ever help me out of there, because they can't, I'm as powerful as they are, as powerful as the greatest teacher (God) given all the time of eternity. My puny human will will never have the chance to learn anything new or better, never see what the solid truth of things is compared with the merest shadow of unreality, no one will ever even attempt to help me get out of hell, and my free will will also apparently dry up. Nice.

You know what I think?

I don't think "Hell is locked on the inside."

Instead...

The brain-minds of Christian apologists for eternal suffering appear to be locked on the inside, locked into thinking that they have to believe in eternal suffering for anyone unfortunate enough not to believe excatly as they do concerning the intertestamental origins of demon lords and eternal hells as later adopted by first century prophets like Jesus.

Victor Reppert said...

Vagueness can infect our language in various ways, and we don't need precision for everything. But we do need it for some things, and mathematics, which is absolutely fundamental to physics (try being a physics major if you suck at math) is one of them. The naturalist thinks that there are precise, truths about nature which can be described mathematically.

Any logical inference requires us to presume that any term in the conclusion of the argument is used in the same sense as the term found in the premises. Otherwise, we can't assume that ANY argument is valid. So there has to be some areas we can count on NOT to be vague. If Dennett says naturalism is true, then it has to be clear what he means. If our language slips and slides all over the place, we can't communicate, period.

Fuzzy math and fuzzy logic did not bring the crew of Apollo 13 back home to earth safely.

Steven said...

VR: I was just thinking it was not at all relevant to the point you were making, so I'm not sure why you put it there.

Also, my first comment was meant to be read in a joking tone.

Victor Reppert said...

My main point of the paragraph was to underscore the prestige of science in our civilization as a way of knowledge. As committed to Scripture as the YEC group is, they are not satisfied to say that the Bible is true and that science is wrong. Rather, they say that science, properly done, accords with their beliefs.

Since I was pointing out that they were arguing that science actually supports their interpretation of Scripture, I wanted to say that in such a way that did not imply that in fact their interpretation in fact captured the literal sense. So I didn't want to take a jab at them, I wanted to avoid saying that their interpretations reflect the literal sense of the Genesis text, since I actually don't think they do. I mean, are you being literal if you make "day" out to be a 24-hour period even when the ordinary markers for time, the sun and the moon, haven't even been created yet.