Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fallacies I: Unworkable definitions - can grammar depend on truthfulness?

Fallacies I: Unworkable definitions

I find logic to be a thing a lot of people lack any kind of proficiency with. Certainly my takes on these issues may be a bit too strict (in one sense), and I get the feeling if you linger too much on the topic of logic, people will think you are Spock or Data and dismiss you. Of course, Spock/Data logic is not really logic either, but rather a pastiche of logic, made up by scifi authors not much better informed than the general public. Sadly enough, this has reinforced the mistaken notions among the public.

This will tie into the main topic here in a way that is relevant - it is basically a survey of fallacies in logic. This particular fallacy is not common in Acharya's books, but fallacies of a semantic nature do occur a lot of the time, and explaining why these kinds of fallacies are problematic is necessary to show why her reasoning fails even if some of the data backing it up were solid (and some of it undoubtedly is, but as we have already seen, a significant amount is not).

I recently ran into a discussion on an atheist forum, where the following exchange was reported:
  • Christian co-worker presented dumb arguments in favor Christianity. 
  • Atheist justifiedly retorts that those arguments are flawed.
  • Christian, now exasperated, throws his arm in the air and asks "why do you hate God so much?!"
  • Atheist responds "I don't, it's impossible to hate him as he does not exist".
  • Other atheists congratulate the atheist by pointing out the correctness of the reasoning and how the Christian was being stupid by not realizing this.
This reasoning seems solid, no? With the notation of modal logic, "the non-existence of God implies that it is not possible to hate God":
¬∃(God) → ¬◇(Hate(God))
This reasoning is not solid, though. Further, the notion that it is possible to hate the idea of God, but impossible to hate God is often presented as the explanation as to what emotion actually is happening in the mind of the believer

Even though I agree with the premise that God does not exist, I do not agree with the conclusion that one therefore cannot hate God. If we agree with that conclusion, we make the word "hate" useless. We make its meaning too reliant on the world external to the relevant context for it!

If this were true, would it not also be impossible to believe in, love, praise or disdain God? Should not all verb phrases applying to God as an object be untrue by definition?

Hate is a state our mind is in - when we say X hates Y, we say that X's mind is in a state of hate for Y. It is of course possible that X hates Y for some reason that does not correspond to reality. A lot of nationalist hatred comes from prejudiced ideas about other nationalities, ideas that do not correspond to reality. If someone hates Jews because he thinks they have characteristics they do not really have, does he really hate the Jews? We end up in an infinite regress, where we never really hate anyone or anything, but hate ideas of things. We would be obliged to say that the Nazis did not hate the Jews, they hated the misconception of the Jews they had in their own mind.

It becomes unworkable to make the logic surrounding words such as hate rely on the realities of the hated person or thing. We must just ignore the realities of the thing and accept that the object of the hate need not even exist for the hate of it to be a real thing. This makes the entire argument that one can not hate God since he does not exist a fallacious argument, and fallacious arguments of this type do not help out in trying to get along with strongly religious people or in debunking their stuff - it just serves to dig trenches on the battlefield, to show that we ignore logic and are ready to present shoddy thinking in favor of our position. Not a mark of  willingness to utilize reason.

The point I want to make here, really, is that well-formedness of a statement cannot rely on the truth-value of the statement. The opposite must be the way it works, or we could have a language where all lies are ungrammatical. A silly proposal even at first sight!

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