Sunday, February 14, 2016

From the Bahnsen-Stein debate: The crackers in the pantry fallacy

Although I am not a Bahnsenite by any stretch of the imagination, I think Bahnsen's discussion of the crackers in the pantry fallacy very telling. 

We might ask , "Is there a box of crackers in the pantry?" And we know how we would go about answering that question. But that is a far, far cry from the way we go about answering questions determining the reality of say, barometric pressure, quasars, gravitational attraction, elasticity, radio activity, natural laws, names, grammar, numbers, the university itself that you're now at, past events, categories, future contingencies, laws of thought, political obligations, individual identity over time, causation, memories, dreams, or even love or beauty. In such cases, one does not do anything like walk to the pantry and look inside for the crackers. There are thousands of existence or factual questions, and they are not at all answered in the same way in each case.

Just think of the differences in argumentation and the types of evidences used by biologists, grammarians, physicists, mathematicians, lawyers, magicians, mechanics, merchants, and artists. It should be obvious from this that the types of evidence one looks for in existence or factual claims will be determined by the field of discussion and especially by the metaphysical nature of the entity mentioned in the claim under question.

Dr. Stein's remark that the question of the existence of God is answered in the same way as any other factual question, mistakenly reduces the theistic question to the same level as the box of crackers in the pantry, which we will hereafter call the crackers in the pantry fallacy.

30 comments:

planks length said...

"Is there a box of crackers in the pantry?"

Similar questions:

Do gravitational waves exist?
Is there a planet beyond Pluto?
Is there water in the Earth's mantle?

Totally dissimilar questions:

Is this new job offer right for me?
Does she love me?
Should I try to make friends with the new people down the street?
How do I mend my relations with my estranged sister?
Ought I to forgive that person who wronged me?

Not everything can be reduced to crackers in a pantry.

Karl Marx once insisted that everything Man does can be explained by economics. The new atheists seem to share the same sorts of thought processes. Only now, it's "All questions can be reduced to empirical evidence."

Joe Hinman said...

I agree about their reductionism and the superficial nature of it. Although Iv just add Marx did not means money when he says economics, but your point still holds.

The strength of the Van Til presupper crowd is their hit on atheist inconsistency vis what passes for reason among them. The weakness of the Van Til group is the apparent assumption that belief is a proof in itself.

jdhuey said...

The crackers question is an existence question. The questions you raised are not.

However, scientists generally follow Dr. Johnson's example by kicking the thing in question. If there is a kickback of some type, then it is real. The nature of the kick varies and is sometimes quite delicate, other times quite energetic. The kickback can often be subtle and hard to detect. So, there is commonality in how you investigate any existence question.

How do you kick a god?

Joe Hinman said...

you should use that Dr, Johnson anecdote ("thus do I refute him" meaning Berkeley) for the argument in the other thread about rejecting matter (investigative apologetics)

Modern science's rejection of God is ideological. They as much as admit it. See my article.> They do make the cracker box fallacy (wasn't that a George Harrison song?).

Ilíon said...

"Karl Marx once insisted that everything Man does can be explained by economics. The new atheists seem to share the same sorts of thought processes. Only now, it's "All questions can be reduced to empirical evidence.""

When all you've got is a nail, everything else has got to be a hammer. When all you've got is matter in motion, there really isn't anything else for anything else to be.

planks length said...

It's quite interesting how similar Marxist thinking and atheism are. Marx insisted that every last aspect of human existence, from our cultural and our societal structures, our family life, and even our art, literature and music, were 100% explainable by economics. And not only that, but no other explanation was allowed. Humanity was reduced to an economic machine.

In an eerily like manner, contemporary atheists will claim that everything we think and do is due to a supposed evolutionary drive to preserve our genes (as in The Selfish Gene by Dawkins). No allowance is made for any other factor. Humanity is reduced to a biological machine.

And yet, atheists continue to claim (nay, to insist) that there is no connection between atheism and communism!

Ilíon said...

^ When you deny the personhood of God, the logic of that denial compels you to deny the personhood of men.

jdhuey said...

Crackerbox Palace

jdhuey said...

^ When you deny the personhood of God, the logic of that denial compels you to deny the personhood of men.

Pardon my strong language, but that statement is pure piffle.

investigativeapologetics said...

you should use that Dr, Johnson anecdote ("thus do I refute him" meaning Berkeley) for the argument in the other thread about rejecting matter (investigative apologetics)

Ahh, yes...one of the most idiotic--idiotic because it is fallaciously question-begging--"refutations" in all of philosophy.

Furthermore, the "refutation" becomes even weaker when we realize that on materialism, the rock that was kicked was actually chunks of unseen, undefinable (see Hempel's Dilemma), "I know not what" (Locke's term for matter) stuff that actually has vast amounts of space in it and yet somehow coalesces into a rock which appears solid but really isn't. And when you say it like that, materialism seems rather ridiculous, does it not?

Indeed, as I said in reply to Dr. Keith Parsons in the Comments over at the Secular Outpost:

"However, I contend that the problem for the materialist is that the exact opposite is the case [that materialism is a better explanation than immaterialism], and it is only because Western society has been so steeped in the idea of matter that we fail to see that fact. Essentially, we have rose-colored glasses on when it comes to the topic of “matter”.

...

In the end, in my experience, in order to counter immaterialism, most materialists appeal either to fallacious hand-waving (“Most philosophers don’t take immaterialism seriously, so…), and/or fallacious shifting of the burden of proof (“Well, I’m not convinced by the arguments for immaterialism, so…”…failing to see that the burden is on them to prove that matter exists), and/or fallacious appeals to incredulity or subjective plausibility (“I just can’t take immaterialism seriously, so…”).

However, not only are all the above appeals fallacious, it should be noted that immaterialism is no more ridiculous than materialism. Indeed, when you consider that materialism essentially posits that non-rational, non-living chunks of unseen, undefined, “I know not what” (as John Locke defined matter) particles of stuff with vast spaces in-between them somehow coalesce into things from which life and consciousness and rationality somehow “emerges”, you suddenly realize that materialism is by no means any more plausible than immaterialism is. Furthermore, the materialist cannot even appeal to common-sense, for the materialist is the one who tells us that our bodies are composed of little bits of unseen stuff that has vast space between them and yet somehow are and appear to be solid objects to us that are not at all tiny chunks of stuff. So again, by no means is materialism any further ahead in terms of common-sense or plausibility.

Anyway, I will stop thread-jacking, but I just wanted to get my own jabs in, so to speak.

22056

SteveK said...

"If there is a kickback of some type, then it is real."

I've found that God's moral law kicks you in the teeth if you try to ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist.

Joe Hinman said...

"It's quite interesting how similar Marxist thinking and atheism are. Marx insisted that every last aspect of human existence, from our cultural and our societal structures, our family life, and even our art, literature and music, were 100% explainable by economics. And not only that, but no other explanation was allowed. Humanity was reduced to an economic machine."

>>>I have to wonder how much Marx you've read. No offense but that sounds like something the Kato bunch would say. I don't think by economics he meant "money" but economies of scale and that sort of thing. But it would be more apt to say he reduced all humanity to workers but that's what the republicans was as well. workers or unemployed workers.

Ilíon said...

^ The mask *always* slips.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "...which we will hereafter call the crackers in the pantry fallacy."

Ha. You're using classic Motte & Bailey Doctrine and then describing your retreat to the motte as a fallacy on others.

Apologist: "God is real -- read the bible!"
Non-Believer: "How come god isn't real like he is in the stories in the bible then?"
Apologist: "How fallacious of you to think that god should be real like he is in the bible!"
Non-Believer: "What?"

Once you become familiar with Motte & Bailey, you realize how prevalent it is. As the link I provided shows, it's by no means confined to any one group -- it gives a nice example of the ploy used by some feminists, etc.

planks length said...

I have to wonder how much Marx you've read.

I've read The Communist Manifesto and isolated chapters of Das Kapital, skimming the rest. I've also read more books than I could possibly list here by or about Marxists. Off the top of my head are such works as Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, Isaac Deutscher's three volume biography of Leon Trotsky, Adam Ulam's biography of Stalin, Steven Kotkin's Magnetic Mountain (terrific book, by the way), and quite a bit by Daniel DeLeon.

You can stop wondering now.

planks length said...

Oh, and I absolutely must add to the list Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen, a book I would recommend to everybody. A joy to read.

Victor Reppert said...

These comments came from Greg Bahnsen, not me. I see what the Motte and Bailey doctrine is. What I don't see is why the crackers in the pantry fallacy is an example of it. Bahnsen is arguing that there are a number of questions which are can't be settled in the same empirical way as the question of whether there are crackers in the pantry. The existence of God, is, in his view, one of the issues where other methods of justifications ought to be used.

Why do you think he's retreating inside of a motte?

Ilíon said...

"Why do you think he's retreating inside of a motte?"

He doesn't believe it; he merely asserts it. And, he asserts it because until there was some critical mass of "mean" people like me around, such assertions were useful because they always served to put nice (notice, so sarcasm in this use) people like you on the defensive.

Ilíon said...

... see, instead of asking him for a rationale for his assertion, you were *supposed* to waste your time trying to convince him that he is mistaken.

Cal Metzger said...

Vr: "What I don't see is why the crackers in the pantry fallacy is an example of it."

I thought it was clear from the dialogue I used to illuminate it. I'll paste it below:

Apologist: "God is real -- read the bible!"
Non-Believer: "How come god isn't real like he is in the stories in the bible then?"
Apologist: "How fallacious of you to think that god should be real like he is in the bible!"
Non-Believer: "What?"

Apologists like to pretend that there is good evidence for god, and that those who don't agree are deficient for not recognizing this. This is the bailey -- good evidence is where people are convinced. This is where real things are.

The non believers arrive and point out that nothing about god seems real, and ask for good evidence.

And, so, apologists then go on to hem and haw and "oh my dear boy" and explain, from the safety of the motte into which they must now climb, that they never meant "real" as in good evidence, etc. They will stay there until the non-believers go away, and then the apologists will step back outside onto the bailey and pretend that there is good evidence for their belief.

Victor Reppert said...

Bahnsen's point is that good evidence doesn't always have to be of the crackers in the pantry variety, there are different things for which evidence might be of a different type. He didn't question the importance of evidence, he questioned whether the same type of evidence has to be used in every case.

planks length said...

I'm with Ilion on this one. Cal has no intention of actually engaging you in an argument. He'd rather dance and weave and deny he said what he just said until he finally concludes that "Nobody understands me!" and then wonder why even his fellow atheists think he's a tool.

jdhuey said...

Obviously, since we have different senses (hearing, sight, smell, etc) then we have access to multiple forms of evidence. Couple that with different tools for measuring different aspects of reality and there are a great many avenues for collecting good evidence. However, each and everyone of those avenues is based on some interaction with the real world: a 'kick' and a 'kickback'. And that is the essense of checking on the crackers in the pantry. Opening up the pantry door and looking is just a variation on the pointing a telescope and looking. Taking everything out of the pantry and taking inventory is just a variation on smashing protons together and cataloging all the sub-atomic particles. Is there really a significant difference between looking at receipts from the store and looking at historical records?

So, frankly, I think that there is nothing to the 'Crackers in the pantry' fallacy - it is simply a straw man.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Bahnsen's point is that good evidence doesn't always have to be of the crackers in the pantry variety, there are different things for which evidence might be of a different type."

I think I understand Bahnsen's point well enough. I have pointed out that he is making his remarks from his motte, and that non-believers like myself have been coming back to the bailey every time someone like him is overheard saying that there's actually good evidence for his belief out on the bailey. But then he goes back into his motte, and tells us that his evidence is actually different than good evidence. He'll stay there until we stop asking for the good evidence, talking about how wonderful his motte is, and how much he loves it up there. And if he stayed up there in his motte after we leave the bailey, I would believe him.


Ilíon said...

"Bahnsen's point is ..."

... clear to any intellectually honest person. It's clear to the intellectually dishonest ones, too, but being intellectually dishonest, they pretend mystification.

jdhuey said...

Llion, you toss around the term "intellectually dishonest" like a monkey tosses around his feces. Somewhat shocking and amusing at first but after a while it is just tiresome and uninteresting.

planks length said...

... Like all atheist "reasoning".

Ilíon said...

... who, being more evolved than monkeys (though yet as evolved as honest men), don't toss their feces. Instead, they wallow in it.

Victor Reppert said...

Oh, and I thought you would say "If you weren't so intellectually dishonest you'd realize that I am right.

Ilíon said...

^ That seems to be aimed at me. And it's so unfair ... so dishonest ... because you *know* that I don't "argue" like that.