Sunday, January 31, 2010


Stirring the hornet's nest part II

In response to bogus claims from the audience that Gödel's Ontological Argument is circular, I articulated the most basic form a premise would take in modal logic (related to the topic at hand), i.e., if God exists, then he exists necessarily. The audience, in unison, shouting back "IF God exists..." to which I replied, "YES IF, that's the form mathematical arguments take. In mathematics we define an object and then seek to prove it exists." I was trying to show them that a premise of the form "If P then necessarily P" is legitimate and not "circular." The following is excerpted from this article:

"If God exists, then it is necessary that he exists."

In this example, "necessary" has narrow scope, that is, its scope is restricted to the proposition's consequent, rather than the whole proposition. The proposition claims that if God does in fact exist, then His existence is a necessary one. This is a special claim about God which is not true of other things; for instance, it is thankfully not the case that if Osama bin Laden exists then he necessarily exists. If the scope of the modality were broad, then the proposition would say that it is necessarily the case that if God exists then He exists. While this is true, it is true of everything including Osama bin Laden.

In these two examples it is clear what the scope of the modality is, but in other sentences it is not clear whether the modality has a broad or narrow scope. The modal scope fallacy occurs when this amphiboly is exploited.

The audience was hopeless, however, and accused me of being an obtuse creationist. I refer the interested reader to my previous comments on Dawkins' fan club, wherein I combat similar inanity. Also, I refer the interested reader here for what a mathematician (i.e., "Tarski") who publishes research and does not accept Gödel's Ontological Argument wrote in response to an pretentious atheist who was similarly clueless in asserting that the argument is transparently circular.

"Tarski" in brief:

There is a difference between saying that Gödel just simplemindedly begged the question and recognizing that not only do we usually take truths in axiomatic system to be based on the assumed truth of the axioms, it is also the case that the ontology of the entities derived in existential proofs must lean on the ontology of the axioms in some way also; but this seems tricky to me.

This type of thing does not interfere with the work of (most) mathematicians and scientists.

To be continued...

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Stirring the hornet's nest part I

The question I posed to PZ was:

"In your own words, your contributions to science are piddling. [Those are your words, not mine. I just happen to agree with them.] To that I would add that your arguments against God are just as risible as those of Dawkins and the other occupants of the new atheist clown car. Given that, why should anyone who is not already one of your chamchas pay attention to you as opposed to others who are far more accomplished and rational?"

(I added the bracketed part upon hearing a feral growl from the audience.)

PZ responded by trying to dismiss me as a creationist. Now, I don't mind being labeled a creationist, provided it is understood that I accept that the age of the earth is measured in billions of years and that I am not solicitous about the historicity of anyone before Abraham. However, my question/challenge to PZ had nothing to do with creationism, except in the broadest sense of someone who thinks God created life (somehow). I interjected that my question had nothing to do with creationism and PZ replied that his talk was about creationism. (Except the last slide was about atheism, not creationism, and that was the slide to which I was responding.) PZ then claimed I used a creationist tactic by quote-mining him in that I did not include his caveat about most (all?) individual scientific contributions being piddling. (I'll let the reader judge whether I quote-mined PZ.)

PZ then asked me which arguments for God I accepted/endorsed. I mentioned Gödel's Ontological Argument and then he adroitly turned the tables on me by asking me to defend it. Now, I was prepared to address some of PZ and others' anemic/fallacious arguments against/misrepresentations of theistic arguments but I was not prepared to defend Gödel's Ontological Argument. To adequately defend it I would needed worked out notes and access to a white board at center stage. It was essentially impossible for me to argue for it unprepared and from a seat in the audience, and I started to say as much, but I was egged on by PZ and essentially told to "put up or shut up" by a rude, corpulent chin-beard dressed in black (whose volubility was inversely proportional to his knowledge.)

Now, I'm anxious even when teaching my own class. (Although, it typically subsides as the class progresses.) However, despite my anxiety, I tried to articulate that God has every positive property necessarily and that necessary existence is a positive property.

However, at this point the audience started complaining. Zeno (a mathematics instructor at a CC in Northern CA) objected that it wasn't really a proof. I thought he was claiming that no such argument from Gödel existed, so I objected. (He later clarified that he disputed that it was a real proof, not that it existed.) Zeno and the audience made much of the fact that I described myself as a statistician, but I have a bachelors in mathematics, and even though I studied statistics in grad school, I've had graduate level mathematics courses and my advanced degree is from a mathematics department.

PZ, like his friend Dawkins, dismissed Gödel's Ontological Argument as a word game, a philosophy instructor at Sierra said "You've packed 'existence' into the very definition of God, and so your argument is circular" and some dude up front said something about thinking a certain tea was positive but that his friend did not, thereby claiming to establish the subjectivity of positivity and "refuting" the argument. This was followed up by someone in the back (sitting next to Heidi) saying "moral relativism for the win!" (The same guy also asserted that Gödel's Ontological Argument was "bullocks.")

To be continued...

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Friday, January 29, 2010


What a Long Strange Trip It Has Been...

My preliminary thoughts:

I did not expect to end up spending the night with PZ Myers. I also did not expect to be asked to defend Kurt Gödel's Ontological Argument, which I was unprepared to do. (Although, even if I were prepared, I do not think I could have done it justice as a critical respondent among an, umm, unsympathetic audience.) I give credit to PZ for unexpectedly turning the tables and essentially catching me flat-footed; it won't happen again.

Anyway, I met some nice people and I am glad I went to BJ's with the group afterward (PZ graciously invited me) because I met Mr. D, with whom I really enjoyed reminiscing about a high school where he taught and I was a student.

I will write more later.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010


God and the fundamental physical constants

As far as I know, there is no reason to believe the values of the physical constants are necessary, in which case, we have the following likelihood ratio:

P(physical constants and the universe in which we exist|God)/P(physical constants and the universe in which we exist|no God) =

P(physical constants|God)P(the universe in which we exist|physical constants and God)/
P(physical constants|no God)P(the universe in which we exist|physical constants and no God)

Now, P(the universe in which we exist|physical constants and God)/P(the universe in which we exist|physical constants and no God) is essentially one since it does not seem likely that our universe depends on whether the physical constants we observe arose by design or not. Therefore, the likelihood ratio takes the form:

P(physical constants|God)/
P(physical constants|no God)

which I argue is large since it is easy to conceive of God wishing to create a particular universe and choosing the appropriate values of the physical constants whereas a random selection would be very unlikely to achieve the correct values.

Incidentally, I "borrowed" this argument from David Bartholomew's article, "Probability, Statistics and Theology." (Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Vol. 151, No. 1
1988, pp. 137-178)

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