Monday, October 29, 2007

The Star of Bethlehem and those that still follow it

Well, so far there have been some interesting comments on the web page about my article on the Star of Bethlehem and Sky & Telescope, and hopefully my responses have been at a reasonable level of content and conduct, though at least one thinks otherwise. I wonder how many or for how long the responses will be about how I am a "charlatan", "hypocrite", "intolerant", "arrogant", "opinionated", and how such a person will "neither trust nor believe that you are 'in agreement with the best scholarship;'” oh, and that's all from just one person! Well, I'll let others be the judge of the truth of these statements for those that read what I have done.

There is also a wealth of incoherence as well. One person wants to argue that there cannot be a contradiction between Matthew and Luke because such a mistake would have been caught by the early Christians. Sorry, but a mistake is not made true because a bunch of people happened to have accepted it decades after the fact when no one could double-check sources, ask witnesses, and that is if anyone in the movement had an iota of skepticism. Besides, the early Christians contradicted each other on most every detail, great and small. Irenaeus thought Jesus lived up to near the age of 50 and died under Emperor Claudius, well after the time of Pilate's rule in Judea; Tertullian said that Saturnius was governor of Syria when Jesus was born, instead of Quirinus as Luke said; etc. The argument is also based on the statement that "ancient Rome was a modern civilization in every respect." So, ancient and modern as the same now? I guess white and black are the same color, up and down mean the same, and I'm raking in money from by lucrative stock trades in Japan. I'm also confused why one person brought up the procedures at Abrams Planetarium. What does that even have to do with the historical truth of the Star? Smells like a red herring to me.

Fortunately, there have also been a fair number of good responses, and I would bet that there will be more positive comments to come, along with some constructive criticism.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Article Away!

My article in Sky & Telescope is now being advertised on their website and the magazine should be out on news stands soon. I will be reading it soon and checking out how the art work came out and if there are any other comments about the Star in this issue.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dubito, . . . I think: Non-Contradiction and How You Can't Contradict It

Perhaps you have come across someone that uses a presupposition's argument about how an atheist cannot account for logic itself, and hence such a person cannot reason without God. After all, to demonstrate that the law of non-contradiction is logical, one must apply logic and this law, hence creating a circular argument. And so, the person will try to argue, something outside of logic, something truly amazing is required in order to make sure logic exists, and that being is the Deity.

Of course, most don't just stop and say this proves that there is a god, but that this proves in fact the Christian God; I haven't heard the argument used by Muslim apologists, or any other religion for that matter, though they could probably be just as able to say the same things. To get to this position about the existence of the Christian concept of the divine requires more than just the existence of logic, but since they think they already have logic on their side because of their theism, the rest will follow for them, either by faith or further argumentation, such as the historicity of the Resurrection.

But, it should also be noticed that by setting up the case that a particular religion has the proper understanding of the force behind logic in fact makes is susceptible to to that same logic which can disprove the entire edifice. Let us take if for granted that logic in some way is emanated by the divine; it should follow then that because logic is so important to this god that all of the tenants about that god should follow the principles of logic. If they have accepted the law of non-contradiction, and they argue that it is true because of their religious beliefs, then it follows that their religion cannot have any breaks from this law. This means that even one contradiction, one flaw in the entire belief structure or scripture or concept of god then the entire argument that logic comes from that god is destroyed. It is so plainly easy to find a single contradiction in the numerous sayings or the religious, the writings of the theologians, the remarks of the apostles, etc. The Skeptic's Annotated Bible includes a massive list of contradictions in the Bible, along with contradictions in the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon. As you can see, in order for any particular theism, other than Deism perhaps, the strategy that the beliefs must be perfect will require so much apologetic work that the entire idea of making God the source of logic a lost cause.

What we can see here is that in fact the notion of forcing the atheist to account for reason itself is simply a debating tactic, something to trip up the debater from showing the errors in the others belief system. The entire notion of pressupositionalist arguments is to say that since there is something wrong, anything wrong, with my world view, then one must default to some religious view and say goddidit with great frequency. The standard of perfection or theism is an amazingly high standard, one that cannot be met by anyone because there is not enough computing power in the universe to see if there are any possible contradictions between all the views a person may take. Besides consistency does not mean that it is necessarily true; if my belief that the world is spherical contradicts some political policy I have adhere to, it does not follow then that all is false, that the world is not necessarily round. Besides, the concept of goddidit for all answers can be consistent, but if there is no God, then the world view must be in error.

But perhaps we should take up the gauntlet of the arguers, take up the case that logic is supported in some fashion by a god, or any being for that matter. It seems that the statement that logic is "true" because god said so seems to beg some form of the old Euthyphro Dilemma:

Is something logical because god says it is logical,
or does god say something is logical because it is so?

If one takes the latter part of the dilemma, then it suggests that logic is independent of that god altogether. If instead one take the former, then it makes the laws of logic arbitrary, that logic is no more true than anything else; we have a super form of relativism, but there is at least something that will force you to obey it.

But perhaps you don't have a problem with logic, and morality for that matter, being arbitrary. Well, here is an interesting question: since god created the laws of logic, then can god break the law of non-contradiction? Suppose no--if that is the case, then that seems to say that logic makes the god subservient to the creation, which seems to be an unlikely situation. More interestingly, suppose yes--if god can break the law of non-contradiction, then god can exist and not exist at the same time. Therefore, that god does not exist is a true statement about god. Ergo, god does not exist. What this means that if god is in fact powerful enough to break the laws of logic, then god does not exist. With such a twist, it seems to be untenable to say that anything is the source of logic.

This is certainly fun to take the theists argument and make it mean that god does not exist, but one can still charge that logic is still not supported and so to use it cannot be meaningful to one that denies it. So, can logic be accounted for?

Now, it seems odd to even ask the question--to suppose that logic comes from something suggests that it could not exist. However, it is not fathomable to say that the law of non-contradiction could not be a true law, that it seems to be a necessary thing in the universe; the law's existence could not be otherwise. This is demonstrated by simply trying to deny its validity. Suppose you say that the law of non-contradiction is false. By your statement, then two opposite statements can both be true. This means that you say the law of non-contradiction is not false, that is, true. Hence, by denying the non-contradiction, you agree with non-contradiction. This means it cannot be denied, hence undeniable. And so, by this bit of word play, we can see that non-contradiction is a necessary thing in the universe. As a simple proof of it (non-contradiction):

If it is true, it is true.
If it is false, it is true.

In fact, we require it to be so just to be able to talk. If the law was not adhered to, then what I say also means what I did not say. In other words, by saying anything I have said nothing because it has no meaning. After all, the term is contra-diction: against speech. Hence, any civilization that produces language must adhere to this principle.

It would seem then that logic accounts for itself just fine; the denial of it is impossible and to declare its need for support from beyond itself will enter the paradox of its own nonexistence. So, if someone tries to badger on about this, just point out that it cannot be said to be otherwise, unlike gods. It is possible to say "there are no gods" without it being internally contradictory; this cannot be said about non-contradiction. Hence, there is nothing left to prove.

Non contradicto me, ergo constans sum, ergo ratione cogito.

I have found that Michael Martin has devoted much more time to these issues, so I must link to his arguments about the transcendental arguments for god (TAG):

Isn't it good to know smart people's arguments?