Summarizing the Argument on “Defining Irrationality”

Illustrating the Difference In Action

I’d like to illustrate this by way of ongoing discussion here on this blog. (I’m sorry to single you out, Bob, but I think this is instructive and I hope you’ll take it to heart. Note also my closing sentence in this blog post: I could be wrong, and I want this to be the continuation of a dialogue, not the end of one through a pronouncement.) The following quotes are taken from a thread about the movie God’s Not Dead, starting at comment 45This exchange is very long. If you like, you can jump past it to the section titled “Circular Reasoning,” but then you’d miss the basis for the conclusion I express there.)

Bob S. (#45)

I’m going with: when we have an adequate natural explanation for things, the supernatural explanation has no more value.

BillT (#48); note that “you have to explain” is based on prior conversation. There’s no need here to explain further where that came from, since it’s what follows that counts.

It’s you that have to explain how all this order, all these laws, all these constants that ensure life and the very existence of the universe came from the randomness and chaos of nothing. How does all this just appear out of nowhere Bob? I’m sure you have a fascinating explanation for us.

Bob S. (#49)

I doubt it: I don’t know.
Why? Am I obliged to have answers to the open questions of science?

BillT (#50)

But the existence of adequate natural explanations somehow renders other possible explanations without value. For a guy who admits he doesn’t know anything at all about how all this came to be your certainly not shy about drawing conclusions. Just what are they based on Bob besides you not knowing anything?

Bob S. (#51)

I’m simply following the evidence. There is insufficient evidence behind the supernatural claim, so I reject it. But I guess that’s standing in quicksand from your standpoint?

BillT (#53)

But Bob, you weren’t taking about insufficient evidence behind the supernatural claim. That wasn’t the argument you proposed. You said because adequate natural explanations exist that supernatural explanations were without value.

Bob S. (#55)

You claimed that I drew conclusions though I admitted to not knowing all the answers. I explained why my position is justified.

Here we begin to see Bob defending his conclusion without having reasons for it. It’s only beginning to develop, however, so stick with it a while longer.

BillT (#57)

If supernatural claims are without value because of the existence of adequate natural explanations, as you said, then what does your belief of the insufficient evidence behind the supernatural claim have to do with anything. You’re not explaining why your position is justified, you’re giving two different explanations for the same proposition. Is it the existence of adequate natural explanations or the insufficient evidence behind the supernatural claim that makes the supernatural claims without value?

Melissa (#59)

“God did it” is not the form of the arguments of say Aristotle or Aquinas but rather begin from aspects of our experience and argue for the necessary existence of a First Cause of a particular type. They do not propose that this particular thing is mysterious therefore God did it.

Bob S (#60)

And yet they nevertheless say that God did it. They don’t tell us how he did it—what laws of physics he broke to create the universe or what laws of physics he used that we simply don’t know about. We’re indeed no smarter after learning that God did it than before. “I don’t know” has been replaced with “God did it” and we’re no wiser—that’s the problem I’m raising.

Summary to this point:

  1. Bob has said that if there is a natural explanation for things, the natural has no value (#45), and that “God did it” is virtually equivalent to “I don’t know.” BillT has begun to explore the premise, “if there is a natural explanation for things,” and whether Bob can really affirm it. I’m about to respond to another question his position raises.

Tom G (#65)

Bob, you seem to be implying that “God did it” is no advance in knowledge, regardless of whether it’s true. That can’t be right. If it’s true, then to know it is to advance in knowledge beyond, “We have no idea who or what did it.” … Could you explain how it is that “God did it” could not be knowledge unless it included, “by physical method x”?

I drew out that question, formalized it, and combined it with BillT’s question, in #71:

Your point in #45 seems to be:

1. If we have an adequate natural explanation for things, the supernatural explanation has no more value.
2. We have an adequate natural explanation for things.
3. Therefore the supernatural explanation has no more value.

But your point in #49 is that you doubt we have adequate natural explanations for many things, and that as far as you know, we do not. You contradict your own position (which I’ve re-written here as premise 2).If premise 2 cannot be positively maintained, then the conclusion (3) doesn’t follow, and logic would call on you to retract what you said in #45.

Bob answered in #73:

I never claimed that all scientific questions have been answered. I’m saying that in the case where a particular question does have a natural explanation, we must go with that. The supernatural explanation has no value.

But that doesn’t address the question. I wrote in #76,

Bob, when you say, “The supernatural explanation has no value,” you’re saying one of two things:

1. There is definitely no supernatural explanation, or
2. If there is a supernatural explanation, it has no value.

There are no other logical possibilities, as far as I can see. Which is it?

And I revised that in #78,

I think you’re saying one of two possible things, and I’d like to know which it is:

1. There is definitely no supernatural explanation for anything, even for things we do not yet understand naturally, or
2. We don’t know whether there could be some supernatural explanation for some phenomena, but if there were, it would have no value for us—not even if it were true.

Which is it? (Am I missing a third logically possible position, based on what you’ve said so far?)

(While this was going on, G. Rodrigues and Melissa were exploring the question of evidences for God in terms of universals rather than particulars. BillT touched on it briefly as well. Bob S. admitted in #60 he didn’t understand what G. Rodrigues and Melissa were talking about–though he disagreed with them anyway. I’m skipping that, and considerably more, to focus in on one line of discussion.)

Bob’s answer to my #76 was this, in #86:

If there is a natural explanation, the supernatural one can’t compete.

Notice the if. Recall what he acknowledged in #73 that there is not always a natural explanation. Notice that he didn’t answer the questions I posed in #76 and #78. Soon he will, however. ‘

In #78 I had also asked,

In your opinion, could a supernatural explanation conceivably have any value in explaining any of those phenomena, if that explanation were true?

To which Bob responded in #87,

Of course. If substantial evidence pointed to a supernatural explanation and it became the scientific consensus, I’d have no option but to accept it as the best provisional explanation of the truth.

There’s a problem with that, however. Let’s detour through a question JAD asked him in #82:

Is there an ultimate explanation for why anything at all exists?

Bob’s reply in #90 was,

I dunno. And don’t lose much sleep over it. Should I?

So again he’s acknowledging that natural explanations are not comprehensive.

And I wrote back to him in #96,

Bob, you’re still begging the question, requiring “scientific consensus” before a supernatural explanation could be of any use to you. This is equivalent to saying there is no supernatural explanation unless it’s a natural explanation.

Or, there’s no supernatural explanation because there’s no supernatural explanation.

Rather circular, don’t you see?

To which he answered in #101

I’m saying that when a supernatural explanation is the scientific consensus, then I’m obliged to accept it. I said nothing about the supernatural explanation that wasn’t.

But tell me, what do you suggest I do with a supernatural explanation?

Do you see any sign there that he recognizes the circularity of his position? I don’t. I continued in #136 by pointing out,

Bob, your answer in 101 doesn’t relieve you of the very obvious logical fallacy you’re committing, which I pointed out to you in #96.

You ask what I suggest you do with a supernatural explanation? I have two suggestions. First, drop your fallacious reasoning, repeatedly identified here. You do yourself no favors, logically or otherwise, by reasoning in a circular manner.