Sunday, June 29, 2008

Logical? Maybe Not. Educational? You Bet!

OK, I confess. The whole Death Penalty Logic post was a hose, aimed primarily at my friend (maybe my ex-friend, after this admission) PhillyChief, who had been blowing loud and hard about his superior logical ability in death penalty debates. Unfortunately, he bowed out early at No More Hornets. He has now rejoined the fray over at You Made Me Say It, though. If he wants to continue, I’ll joust with him there – because I think his “demonstration” of the flaws in my argument is itself extremely flawed. I did love the graphic, though. Anyway, I recommend that you head over there and judge his logic for yourself.

You might also want to take a look at Barefoot Bum's devastating commentary on my "astoundingly bad argument." (I'm not exactly sure what criterion he uses to distinguish between an argument that's just garden-variety bad and one that's astoundingly bad, but his premise seems correct.)

The truth is: The long-winded argument in my post was cobbled together in about as long as it took to type it. I actually have no idea if it’s logically sound or not, but I can’t imagine how it could be. I’m pretty good with slinging words, though, and I was aware of some “tricks.” Many other seemingly planned authorial manipulations, like that sophomoric affirming the consequent, were just fuck-ups on my part.

There was one other person in the Atheosphere who knew I was going to do this before I’d actually done it, but that person bears no responsibility for anything in the post — or even for the fact that it became a post. I’ll amend this paragraph to give that person a link if he or she (seriously, I can’t decide) wants his or her (still can’t) identity known. I also briefly told my wife what I planned to do, but she never listens to me anyway (could you blame her?), and wouldn’t have cared even if she had listened.

I don’t know shit about formal logic much beyond what I learned in 1966 in my Freshman Course in the Symbolic Logic of Lewis Carroll. In that course, we proved all kinds of important stuff on the level of “a dormouse who dunks crumpets in his tea will never amount to anything.” (My memory isn’t what it once was, but I could probably still derive that if I could duplicate the set of premises.) I also own a book called Thinking From A to Z, but I usually get to more than one Z just a few minutes after opening it. I think I've actually read as far as D-and-a-half.

Interestingly, some atheists and theists alike showed that their primary method of fighting faulty logic is to yell “bullshit,” make ad hominem wisecracks, and resort to other forms of semantic thuggery. I’ve been guilty, myself, of using that technique. Hundreds of times. It’s fun. And it gets your rocks off. And you feel so self-righteous when you’re done. But it doesn’t win debates against someone who refuses to get rattled. Very early in the thread, commenter yunshui noticed that.

Finally, John Morales (who, alas, has no blog to link to) stepped into the arena with some real skill at deflating a logical argument just by using the tools of logic. I’m not certain what his plan was, but I think he hoped to give me just enough rope to slowly hang myself with my tendentious definitions and unsupportable premises. I’m going to assume that was it; he’ll have to demonstrate to me formally that my assumption is incorrect. (Note to JM: I’d still love to see how you skewer me, so let’s continue over there — or here, if you’d like. I’ll pretend I never wrote this, and defend my argument against you as best I can. I wasn’t kidding about how much I was learning from watching you build up a solid case, even though I have no idea yet what that case is.)

There's a blatant lesson in the comment thread. In future, I think all of us atheists should refrain, when “debating” with theists of the pseudo-logical variety, from immediately reaching for “this sucks” or “you’re a moron.” That goes for me, too. When we do that, we heat up the interchange without accomplishing anything. Now, obviously, there are plenty of morons out there, making sucky arguments, who can’t respond to anything other than insults. If you find one like that, and you’ve lost your patience, knock yourself out. But do try to be witty about it for the entertainment of the rest of us. Saying “your ideas are fucked-up” is so dull.

As far as the death penalty, I am adamantly against it. But I don’t think either side can get anywhere in expressing its position by going through the rigmarole of a silly logical puzzle. The best way to exchange views on that issue is probably to have just a regular old-fashioned discussion, featuring, on both sides, some logic, some emotions, some references to authority, gut feelings, preconceptions, etc. — as if we’re normal people (not bloggers) having a conversation, instead of engaging in a debate or a formalized exercise.

If anyone gets angry enough to murder me for my little hoax, know that my friends and relatives will do everything in their power to make sure you’re executed. I won't approve, but I'll be dead.


Larry Hamelin said...

An astoundingly bad argument is one in which I say, "Oh, good grief!" three times before I'm halfway through the argument. I also tend to hold atheists to a higher standard than theists, and people I like to a higher standard than people I don't like. (Yes, I'm holding you to the highest of those standards.)

I was going to write a follow-up saying that you're ordinarily a smart guy, but it looked liked you just phoned this one in. That seems unnecessary now.

The Exterminator said...

Yeah, I agree with your definition of an astoundingly bad argument, except I never say anything as genteel as "Oh, good grief!" I assume your definition would still apply even if I substituted other language.

By the way, consider the compliment mutual.

You know, after Philly published his own post last night, and linked to it with that oh-so-condescending "Have a nice day," I figured he wasn't going to come back here. So I thought maybe I should just say "fuck it" and confess. Most of the commenters had actually been pretty polite; I was kinda disappointed.

But I found JM's most recent formal logic lesson genuinely interesting, and I was curious as hell to see how he would crucify me. That's how I rationalized to myself keeping the thread going. Really, though, I was hoping against hope to get just one more atheist who ... So I decided: "I'll wait till noon on Sunday."

Then you came along with "stupid" and "sucks" and "fucked from the get-go." I felt as if I'd hit a Trifecta. And you were "offended," too! Wow!

I hope you're not offended now. I actually think you got a great post out of the interchange. Your discussion of deductivism was particularly nice. I had no idea that I'd inadvertently put my finger on exactly what was wrong with Christian philosophy; I just thought Definition 7 was stupid.

John Evo said...

You just a postin' fool this week, aren't ya?

Well, I'll read and respond to this one in a couple of hours. We're having a Euro Cup Finals party with some friends who are from Spain.

Viva Espana!

(just bringing sports talk to Ex's blog).

Spanish Inquisitor said...

I had an intuitive sense that I should not join the fray in that long comment thread. I got through all of your premises and conclusions, and my head hurt, which I usually take as a sign that there is no way I'll be able to add anything intelligent, headaches being a sign of stupidity, at least for me. So I stayed out.

John Evo said...

You are free to link me if you want to, though I can't imagine what the reason would be, or what I'd do with the extra hit my blog would get from it.

When you and I were discussing the "logical" case for capital punishment, you said something that made a great deal of sense. Paraphrased: You can be rational and end up on either end of the debate and it basically comes down to gut feelings. My gut says it's bad for us. Philly's gut tells him it's good for society. How either of us would logically prove the other wrong is beyond me.

My personal issue with Philly on this is not that, but that he could think my position against the death penalty is so absolute that it can be equated with theistic beliefs. That's absurd. I'm "absolutely" against the death penalty in precisely the same sense that he is "absolutely" in favor of it. The fact that he might claim - "no, I'm for it in certain prescribed circumstances" does not relieve him of being "absolutely for it" if those conditions are met.

My extension of this distaste for Philly's position is that he is using a form of ad hominem. When he says that I sound like a theist, he might as well say I sound dumb... and he is well aware of that. If that's not ad hominem, I'd like to know why.

Larry Hamelin said...

I wasn't offended in the sense of insulted. A better word might have been disappointed, or incredulous or astonished in a somewhat negative sense.

The Exterminator said...

You just a postin' fool this week, aren't ya?
I know a lot of people who would agree with you if you edited your comment by deleting "postin'" and "this week."

You are free to link me if you want to, though I can't imagine what the reason would be, or what I'd do with the extra hit my blog would get from it.
I think the post is funnier without the link, but since I linked to everybody else in the world, I didn't want you to feel left out.

And I agree with you: telling an atheist that he sounds like a theist is about the worst ad hominem going.

Take two aspirins and call me in the morning.

I knew that "offended" was just hyperbole. I actually read it to myself in a Claude Rains voice: "I'm offended, offended to find that sloppy thinking is going on in here!"

Alejandro said...

I'll admit you had me hook line and sinker-- to the point where I honestly started wondering whether you were actually really that dogmatic and given to such outrageous oversimplification, you prove, once again, that I take myself and everything else entirely too seriously.

Kudos to SI for having the good sense to stay out of it.

The Exterminator said...

Kudos to SI for having the good sense to stay out of it.
Since both you and SI are lawyers, I have to ask: Is that a legalistic argument?

By the way, I hate to oversimplify outrageously, but: Congratulations in advance.

Anonymous said...

How 'bout you stop picking on dormice, you moronic twit?!

There. That should make you feel better, Ex.

Vis a vis your penultimate paragraph above, here's something from Lakoff's latest (The Political Mind):

"Progressives have accepted an old view of reason, dating back to the Enlightenment, namely, that reason is conscious, literal, logical, universal, unemotional, disembodied, and serves self-interest. As the cognitive and brain sciences have been showing, this is a false view of reason."

Of course any guy who's tried to have a reasonable and logical discussion with his wife in the throes of PMS could probably have told us that.

BTW, I'm with Spanqi. My head hurt after a few minutes of trying to wander through your original moron's logic, so I knew you were screwing with us. Just didn't have the patience of JM et al to try to figure it all out. You twit.


Anonymous said...

Now I don't have to feel guilty for leaving that thread alone (not that I was unduly plagued with guilt, mind you). I figured I'd let you and Philly duke it out while I munched popcorn in the grandstands.

The Exterminator said...

Of course any guy who's tried to have a reasonable and logical discussion with his wife in the throes of PMS could probably have told us that.
When was the last time you were in the throes of PMS?

Now I don't have to feel guilty ...
Yeah, now that you're not a Christian any more, that's probably true.

Alejandro said...


As I read through the thread, I actually found myself wondering whether you were watching and if you would jump into the fray.

Either you have better sense or you know Ex better.

Or was this some kind of campaign stunt?

PhillyChief said...

I REALLY have no idea where the two of you knuckleheads got the idea that I was solidly in support of the death penalty because my superior logic skills show it to be absolutely right. That's fucking nuts. You've got my permission to post publicly any email where I said such a thing.

You two got so bent when I said I wasn't against the death penalty that I was shocked, like I dared to push over the sacred cow. Those reactions were textbook theist dogmatic bullshit, and right on the heels of having faced that over at JP's blog. Not from friends I respect! Holy crap! I flat out refused to carry on the discussion with Ex because he started dropping "murder" like he did in that proof. Yeah, that sounds like we can have a rational discussion. HA! So if you don't like being compared to a theist, well don't blame the observer. it's not an ad hominen if it's a report of what I see.

As for the proof, Barefoot Bum sums up my reaction, only I have the added bonus of the email back story, so I went livid. So ha ha, you skunked me, but your reason for doing it is bullshit. I still think it was a vindictive stunt because I pointed out your sacred cow. I also think Ex at least is upset because he didn't like the realization that he even had a sacred cow, so instead he has to fabricate this crap that I was "blowing loud and hard about [my] superior logical ability", and still isn't over it because he had to sneak in the "I think his “demonstration” of the flaws in my argument is itself extremely flawed".

Yes, tell yourself it's me being arrogant. That's right. That's much easier to deal with than facing the fact that you have a sacred cow and I pointed at it. Whatever works for you.

The Exterminator said...

Horrifying Confession:
After years of giving the death penalty much deep thought -- I actually used to be a supporter -- I'm now against it in all instances.


John Morales said...

This is an entertaining thread.

I particularly like the apparently acrimonious nature of this argument.

I have encountered theists and (ahem) one apologist in particular that loftily claim atheists' mores are no more than passing whims of convenience, or have no strong foundation.

I note that the passion evinced in this thread and its antecedents are strong evidence otherwise.


Since I take posts pretty much at face value*, I feel compelled to make it clear that I too did not know Exterminator was taking the mickey.

Do I get credit for nonetheless trying to play him at his game?



PS interesting blogging, to me, is good blogging. I'm probably not alone in this opinion.

* well, until I feel I have some familiarity with the poster; not the case here.

Alejandro said...

Who's mickey?

Alejandro said...

And what's his position on the death penalty?

John Evo said...

Philly: Yes, tell yourself it's me being arrogant. That's right. That's much easier to deal with than facing the fact that you have a sacred cow and I pointed at it. Whatever works for you.

Indeed, indeed. Whatever works for you. So glad you finally came back to respond. I suppose one would have to call their blog "NO MORE ATHEISTS" if they wanted a quick response with endless follow-ups.

Excuse me... I have to go scrub my sacred cow. LOL. Anyway Philly, don't you ever again say in my presence that you are for capital punishment - now that you understand my irrational reaction to hearing that you demur. As in this highly accurate representation of reality:

You two got so bent when I said I wasn't against the death penalty that I was shocked

I remember that so vividly. I was thinking, FUCK, do I really want to be friends with a guy like this? Whatever works for you.