Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thoughts on Dillahunty v. Slick

Per Wizard's request following our discussion, I listened to episode #593 of The Atheist Experience entitled "A Fallacy Model," while I was on vacation, and I do have a few thoughts with regards to the show.

In the episode (which aired on February 2nd of this year), Matt Dillahunty received a call from Matt Slick (of CARM.org) so that they could specifically discuss Matt Slick's formulation of the Transcendental Argument. I won't review the entire discussion, but I would like to make some comments on the conversation and its relevance to our own discussion we are having with our friend, Wizard.

The most relevant to our own discussion was, in my opinion, Matt Dillahunty's inability to present a positive statement of the nature of the laws of logic. In the discussion, Matt Slick pressed him to get him to admit that the laws of logic are physical. From a strategic perspective, Slick was doing this because if Dillahunty said that they are conceptual, then there must always be a mind to perceive and evaluate truth in order for the laws of logic to exist. If Dillahunty admitted that the laws of logic were physically based, then he would have had to admit that logic is nothing more than a social convention (not to mention a host of other problems that calling the laws of logic "physical laws" creates).

All that Matt Dillahunty would admit in the discussion is that the laws of logic are non-conceptual. Slick pressed him, however, arguing that you cannot say what the laws of logic are not without knowing what they are. Slick presented Dillahunty with two options: Either the laws of logic are (a) Physical or (b) Conceptual. In the conversation, Dillahunty repeatedly insisted that there must be a third option, though he was unable to present an accounting of what that third option might be (this is the same point we have been pressing Wizard on). In other words, what I drew from the conversation was exactly what I suspected when trying to think of the third option on my own: there is not a third option. If there is, I would like the atheists to offer it, because then my own claim that atheism cannot account for the laws of logic will face an obstacle. He uses these laws, he insists that everyone else conform to them, and his entire scientific enterprise is built upon them. But unlike the Christian, all the atheist can say is, "I don't know what the laws of logic are, or why they exist at all, but I do know that they are real and that they're not conceptual or physical." Precisely. That is the substance of the Christian claim. Our worldview can coherently account for what is, but given the atheist worldview, there would be no such thing as universal, invariant, non-physical laws.

Thoughts About the Thought Experiment
If anyone listens to the audio of the broadcast and decides to listen to the thought experiment they do at the beginning (somewhere around the 10 minute mark), they will find an excellent example of defining your opponents out of the conversation. In the broadcast, the co-host set out several jars. One had dice in it, and two others were "empty." For the purposes of the conversation, she informed the audience that one of the jars had existent dice, one was empty (she says it contains "non-existent dice"), and one had transcendent supernatural dice (she said they were "existent supernatural transcendent dice").

She then scrambled the jars up and argued that since there is no physical way to determine the difference between the empty jar and the jar with the transcendent supernatural dice, then there is no point in recognizing anything that is transcendent and supernatural. Now, Wizard asked me to comment on this, but I'm tempted to engage in ad hominem and just make fun of the argument. I won't do that, but does this immediately strike anyone else as a terrible argument?

The only way this would strike anyone as a good argument is if they were already committed materialists. But isn't that precisely the point under discussion? Let me put this another way: The claim that transcendent and supernatural entities exist entails the proposition that these entities cannot be measured with physical instruments. And yet, the claim that their existence can be identified through philosophical means or by means of revelation is completely rejected without a word of debate.

Two teams come to the field. One is dressed in red, the other team is wearing blue. A dad from the red team is reffing the game and moments before the kickoff he decides to tell everyone on the field that only teams wearing red are allowed to play today. Is anyone surprised, then, when the red team walks away with the trophy? It's not exactly the most fulfilling win of the red team's career, but a win's a win, right? I think you get my point.


  1. Adam, I appreciate you taking the time to watch this video and respond. I can see your point when it comes to the thought experiment but I had a question about the Slick Dillahunty debate over TAG. You are correct that Matt Dillahunty could not provide a third category for the laws of logic. but I was wondering if you could indentify the category in which God is. God is not physical or conceptual. Ofcourse on the other hand whatever category Matt D. came up with it would have to be non-physical since he already rejected physical, and his worldview cannot account for a non-physical category. However, is the inability to provide a third category sufficient reason to then hold to the alternative being presented? Could someone not be reasonable rejecting the alternative if it is not a good one and holding that since the alternative is not reasonable that there must be some third category? What are your thoughts? If I have a chance I will e-mail the next portion of arguments tomorrow or so.

  2. I am fairly certain that God is transcendent. He is certainly not physical, and his nature is beyond conceptual. There is no problem with this, as far as I can tell. But for an atheist to argue that the laws of logic are transcendent would be a big no-no for what should be obvious reasons. Obviously, atheists do not believe in transcendent beings, and they do not comport with his worldview. For a Christian to claim that God is transcendent (which would certainly be a third category of existence) this would not be controversial in the least, since his worldview allows for the existence of transcendent beings.

    "However, is the inability to provide a third category sufficient reason to then hold to the alternative being presented?" That's a very fair question. What it does is demonstrate to the one who can't account for why the laws of logic would exist, given the truth of his worldview that the alternative can provide an accounting of the laws of logic.

    Remember, the argument is stronger than simply, "You don't understand the universe." Rather, it is saying, "If your worldview is really true, then (even from your own perspective) the universe should not be the way that it is. However, if my worldview is true, then it makes perfect sense that the universe is this way. I can explain the laws of logic, I can tell you what they are, what they are like, where they come from, why they are universal, invariant, non-physical, I can tell you what they are not, I can give a full accounting of them in a way that no other worldview can. In fact, in the context of the fuller TAG, I can demonstrate that the Christian worldview is the only one which can make sense of the many aspects of the universe (not only the laws of logic) which all men enjoy, even in spite of their claims to the contrary."

    Looking forward to your next arguments. BTW, your comment regarding holiness in the "Spiritual Oedipus" post has given me much to think about.

  3. Adam, A=A, a logical absolute,doesnt need a mind to make it true. It just is true, as Matt D said. Logical absolutes dont need accounting for as if someone invented them, they are reflections of reality. Again, A=A doesnt need making up, it just is.

  4. Whatsisface, you are taking for granted that you are in a universe where you, a mind, are perceiving A=A. Any universe you choose to imagine (even ones without minds) will still require a mind to assess the truthfulness of A=A.

    Even if you use your imagination and say, "I can imagine a universe where no minds exist and yet A=A is still true," you are still imagining a universe with minds, because you are yourself a mind who is assessing the truthfulness of A=A." The necessity of minds to assess truth claims is unavoidable.

  5. Adam, we seem to be having the Matt/Matt debate over again. It may well be that minds have to assess truth claims, but A=A doesnt need assessing to be true.

  6. If there are no minds, then A does not = A. Instead, there is simply matter with no propositional value.

  7. Hi Adam, this is the heart of it it seems to me. I dont understand " If there are no minds, then A does not=A " I also dont understand what you mean by "simply matter with no propositional value". This may be my fault, but i dont know for sure.
    My view on the third option,so far, is that logical absolutes, as distinct from logic, are the same sort of thing as numbers.

  8. When I say that something has propositional value, I mean that it can be spoken of in terms of philosophical value. It means that the object can have propositions offered up about it. If an object exists in a universe without minds, then there are no minds to offer said proposition, and therefore you only have objects about which no propositions can be made.

    To say that logical absolutes are the same sort of thing as numbers doesn't tell us enough; it begs the question since numbers and math are a part of the laws of logic. Don't believe me? Well consider that there is a very thin line between the problems you deal with in logic class and the ones you face in algebra class. Both deal in manipulating propositions and making equations out of them in order to determine the truth value.

  9. Adam, i still dont see your point, again maybee my fault, but i can see a distinction between an object and a proposition about said object. Is this the point of dissagreement?

  10. By the way, What, I appreciate your offering a third option, which Dillahunty was unwilling to do. If I recall from the conversation he and Slick were having, Slick was arguing that the laws of logic are conceptual in nature, and he was accounting for their existence because there is always a mind at work in the universe. If you want to deny that the laws of logic are conceptual, then you are forced into the same position as Dillahunty was. You must either concede that the laws of logic are physical laws, or you must offer a third option, which you have done.

    Now, I'm not sure what you thought of my criticism of that third option; I don't think it's very viable, but it does strike me that you're trying, and that's more than I can say Dillahunty was doing. He merely deflected criticism and eventually kicked Slick off because he didn't like getting pushed to the place where he had to answer this question.


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