Sunday, September 16, 2012

What does it mean to lose an argument?

I was thinking today about logic and argumentation and the fact that when I was a kid everyone around me seemed to be afraid of it. There always seemed to be a bit of unease when going through a logical argument, especially when it related to God. I think there was always the fear of some kind of trickery. They get you to agree to a bunch of things that seem reasonable to you on their own but when put together they conclude something that you disagree with. Here is an example.

I understand trying to avoid such situations, it can be embarrassing. But apart from the fear of being wrong and looking silly, growing up I sensed a different fear, a fear of being tricked out of our faith. Like, if someone has some really slick proof that God doesn't exist and we couldn't refute it then we'd have to stop being Christians. This seems very silly to write down, but I definitely got that sense from my family. It is possible that this was just me reading something that wasn't there, but I don't think so. Also, I have no idea how widespread this mentality is, are my parents an anomaly in this?

So let's talk about what it really means to lose a logical argument. Suppose you agree that A,B and C are all facts that you believe are true, but X is false. I then logically combine A,B and C together to conclude that X is actually true. Something has clearly gone wrong for you here, but what? There are a couple of things, either my logic can be poor, the way I have combined A,B and C together to get X might be faulty. If that is not the case, you are wrong about either A,B,C or X. It doesn't necessarily have to be a complete turnaround. For example, if we decide that premise A was wrong, you don't have to change your opinion to the opposite of A, maybe A just needs a little bit of tweaking. Having these arguments is good, it helps you refine your positions. You shouldn't be afraid of new ideas.

In the example from the video, the woman agrees that
A: God created hell
B: God created the criteria by which souls are judged
C: Everything happens according to God's will
So Matt concludes that
X: God is ultimately responsible for people going to hell.

So what are the woman's options here? As far as I can see, there is not a lot of logic putting these 3 premises together, it follows immediately. So she has 4 options, either God didn't create hell, God didn't decide on the criteria for hell, some things happen outside of God's will, or God is actually responsible for the people in hell. This is difficult, which of the 4 options makes the most sense to her? I'm guessing the easiest way out of it is to slightly let go of C and say that God gave us free will and therefore everything doesn't happen 100% according to God's will. I think as a Christian that is the route I would have gone. Free will and C don't make sense together anyway.

From the other side, I've had a few arguments not go my way as well since I started this blog earlier this year. Obviously it didn't make me a christian, but it did make me rethink what we had been talking about ever so slightly. It made me realize I had made a false assumption somewhere or I had used some poor logic. These things can be very embarrassing and it makes sense to try to keep them from happening as much as possible, but they are ultimately good for us as long as we view them as an opportunity to make ourselves better.

1 comment:

  1. That was definitely my favorite moment on TAE. I do remember fearing "logic" as well. The fear of being tricked out of faith, echoed with me. Logic and faith aren't really compatible, at least deductively. In a deductive argument, if the premises are true, the conclusion is definitely true. In an inductive argument, if the premises are true, the conclusion is at best, probably true. However, I think with faith, it's belief without evidence. If you had evidence, it would no longer be faith.

    You also bring up a good point at the end. It's always good to have our beliefs challenged and try to work on getting to the truth, even if it means we are wrong.


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