Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Archive for the category “Philosophy”

Answering 36 Questions for Atheists

Every now and again, I stumble across a list of questions posed by a person on one side of an argument towards those on the other side. These questions are intended to be somewhat Socratic, leading a person towards an intended conclusion solely through his or her own answers; however, they very rarely actually have that effect.

I came upon just this sort of list from a blog called Adherent Apologetics. I’ve interacted with that blog’s author a few times before and found him very respectful and sincere; as such, I decided to take a few minutes to set my answers to his questions to page in the hope that we might begin to get a better understanding of one another.

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A review of the Dillahunty v. Jones debate, Part 2

In my first post on this debate, I focused on the issues which I had with Matt Dillahunty’s performance in this debate, particularly in the ways in which he responded to Michael Jones’ claims. Matt generally did not deal directly with Jones’ positions, but rather attempted to undermine them on foundational reasons and, unfortunately, I think he missed the mark with his responses.

In this second article on the debate, I intend to discuss the arguments which Michael Jones raises, despite the fact that he does not really get much time to discuss their nuances directly in the particular debate. His arguments are interesting and different than the usual rehashing of the Kalam or Fine-Tuning or Anselm’s Ontological arguments. That, alone, is often more than enough to grab my attention. After having been interested in apologetics for 20 years prior to being an outspoken atheist for another 10 years, it’s a rare thing, indeed, to be presented with an entirely unfamiliar argument for the existence of God.

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A review of the Dillahunty v. Jones debate, Part 1

As anyone who has read much of Boxing Pythagoras will likely already know, I am rather fond of debate. I quite enjoy listening to, reading, and watching debates between two people on a great variety of subjects– all the moreso when the subject happens to be one with which I am heartily interested. Recently, two YouTubers got together for just such a discussion. Matt Dillahunty is the president of the Atheist Community of Austin and one of the hosts of a broadcast called The Atheist Experience. Michael Jones is a Christian apologist who created a YouTube channel called “Inspiring Philosophy.” Both men are very intelligent and I have greatly enjoyed listening to both, in the past. When I heard that they were going to debate the topic, “Are there good reasons to believe in God?” I was quite excited to give it a listen.

Unfortunately, I was very let down by the debate. I spent a great deal of the two-hour long discussion cringing and yelling at my computer. While it might be easy for one of my readers to think my discomfort was caused by the Christian conversant, the truth is that it was the atheist who had me so upset. This was honestly one of the worst debate performances on the part of Matt Dillahunty which I have ever seen.

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Classical Limits vs. Non-Standard Limits

One of the most important and fundamental concepts taught in modern Calculus classes is that of the Limit. I have discussed this idea once before, but I thought I would revisit it, here. In that first article, I noted that the classical definition for a Limit is fairly complex and that we can utilize a more intuitive notion of infinitesimals to accomplish the same task, insofar as derivatives are concerned. However, there are other uses and purposes for limits, in mathematics, so we would not want to simply omit them entirely, even using a non-standard approach to Calculus lessons.

Thankfully, even the very difficult and complex definition of “limit” can be simplified and made easier to understand by use of non-standard infinitesimals.

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Intuitionism and the Excluded Middle

Introductory lessons on Logic often make note of three basic, but powerful, principles which are so universally recognized that they are commonly referred to as the Laws of Logic. The first is the Law of Identity which states something like, “A thing is equal to itself.” The second is the Law of Non-Contradiction, sometimes phrased as, “A proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time.” The third is known as the Law of the Excluded Middle which declares, “Either a given proposition is true or else its negation is true.”

A classic example of the Law of Identity might be, “Socrates is Socrates.” An illustration of Non-Contradiction could be, “Socrates cannot both be mortal and not be mortal at the same time.” For the Excluded Middle, we would say, “Either Socrates is mortal or else Socrates is not mortal.” This all seems perfectly obvious and simple, even to complete beginners in the study of Logic.

However, one might be surprised to learn that the Law of Excluded Middle is actually a source of some controversy in philosophy– particularly in the Philosophy of Mathematics, where there exists a small but strong community which rejects this principle vehemently.

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On Causal Simultaneity

Several times over the life of this blog, I have discussed the Kalam Cosmological Argument– as well as other, similar cosmological arguments for God. They are exceedingly popular topics within theistic apologetics and are therefore levied quite often. As a reminder, the Kalam is often formulated as follows:

  1. Anything which begins to exist has a cause for its existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.

The theistic apologist will usually then argue that the only possible cause for the universe’s existence must be God. Detractors and critics of these cosmological arguments, like myself, often point out that this doesn’t seem to make much sense when applied to the universe, as a whole. After all, “the universe” includes time, and if the universe began to exist, then that implies that there must have been a first moment of time. However, if there is a first moment of time, the universe exists in that moment; and since there are no moments prior to the first, there is literally no time prior to the universe’s existence during which it could have been caused.

There cannot have been anything which existed before the universe because there is literally no such thing as “before the universe.”

The prolific philosopher and theologian, Dr. William Lane Craig, addresses this issue in a manner which I find to be rather curious. Dr. Craig acknowledges that it is nonsensical to assert that there must have been something before the universe which caused the universe to exist. Instead, he invokes the notion of causal simultaneity— that is, the idea that a cause can be simultaneous with its effect. With such a notion in place, Dr. Craig argues that the implications of the Kalam are salvaged and that God must still be the cause of the universe.

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The Axiom of Infinity

In my previous post introducing the concept of Set Theory, we discussed one method for constructing the Natural numbers– a method often referred to as a Von Neumann construction. Using that method, we start with the Empty Set (\emptyset) and then systematically build the Natural numbers by following a rule. As described in that post, this was a step-wise process: look at a number, find its successor, look at the new number, find its successor, repeatĀ ad infinitum. Now, obviously, given a finite amount of time there would be no way to perform this process enough times to generate every Natural number, since every new number we create would still have yet another number succeeding it.

But what if we want to discuss the whole set of Natural numbers?

As we just noted, we cannot construct the Natural numbers in a step-wise manner in order to get all of them. However, mathematicians like Ernst Zermelo, Abraham Fraenkel, and Thoralf Skolem devised a very clever way to take the very same ideas from our step-wise construction in order to discuss a whole, completed set. We refer to this notion as the Axiom of Infinity, and it is one of the premises which underlies the vast majority of modern mathematics.

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Theology and Indeterminate Infinity

Apologists often claim that actual infinites are logically impossible. One of the arguments which they utilize to support this claim deals with subtracting quantities from infinite quantities. One example of this comes from Blake Giunta’s Belief Map:

Infinity minus an infinity yields logically impossible scenarios. Notably, one can take away identical quantities from identical quantities and arrive at contradictory remainders.

On the face of it, this claim appeals to our intuitive understanding of subtraction. If I were to claim that there exists some Integer, x, such that x-4=7 and x-4=19, then we stumble upon the contradiction that 11=23. Subtracting identical quantities from identical quantities should yield identical results.

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Regarding Biblical Slavery

In general, I attempt to avoid topics of morality in my discussions of theology and religion. This is not because I think the topic is too difficult or too complex to discuss, but rather because it seems like an exercise in futility to argue about morality when the foundational metaphysical views upon which we frame morality differ so greatly. I’ve found that such discussions very frequently either end up with one person expounding on the virtues of apples while the other extols the dangers of oranges; or else they end up regressing backward until we are discussing the foundational metaphysics instead of the moral topic.

However, today, I’m going to break that trend. I was recently directed to an article written in November of 2017 entitled Nine Points about Biblical Slavery and Skeptics’ Condemnation of the Bible. The author of the article intends the piece to be a defense of the Bible against complaints regarding the manner in which its constituent documents treat the institution of slavery. The topic is an understandably sore one for a great number of people. Opponents of religion are quite often quick to point out that the Ten Commandments, a list of some of the supposed most important tenets of morality, includes things like, “Keep the Sabbath holy” and “Honor thy father and mother,” but omits something like, “Thou shalt not own another person as your property.” In fact, the Bible never offers any clear proscription against slavery, and indeed seems to sanction the practice in a number of places. Given the incredibly strong modern moral aversion to the idea of slavery, Christian apologists have attempted to take up the task of showing that these modern detractors hold deep misunderstandings of what the Bible actually says about slavery.

The reason I’m breaking my usual avoidance of topics of morality to discuss this one is that I honestly don’t care about the metaphysical foundations of our ethics, in regards to slavery. All I care about, regarding this topic, are the answers to two, simple questions.

Is it morally acceptable to own another human being as property? Does the Bible sanction the owning of another human being as property?

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Finding Jesus in your Philosophical Toast

On a blog called Theolocast, Christian apologist Todd Clay recently published an article entitled “31 Reasons to Believe in the God of the Bible.” In the article, Mr. Clay discusses a plethora of different ideas by which he claims that “the God of the Bible has made himself obvious to the world.”

Despite Todd Clay’s assertions, God’s existence is still not obvious to me. In fact, the arguments which he presents are quite bad. Indeed, it seems to me that he is claiming to have found Jesus in his philosophical toast.

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