I’ve been finding it difficult to come up with ideas for blog posts, which is why this blog hasn’t been very active lately. As such, I’d like to leave it up to the readers: what would you like us to write about? Would you like to know something specific about our atheism? Do you have an argument that you’d like us to address? Would you like us to discuss a particular book? Do you have any questions about Philosophy, Biology, or History? Would you like to know our stance on a particular feminist issue? Is there something else you’d like us to write on? Let us know in the comment section.
Tag Archives: reasoning
I can’t help but think that there needs to be a test before one can call themself a skeptic. It’s amazing how many people call themselves skeptics while having no critical thinking skills once so ever. This is the biggest reason I don’t really identify as a skeptic.
Today I received a reply to a comment I wrote on YouTube. The person considered themself a skeptic, but they couldn’t be bothered to supply any evidence to support their claim that masculinity and femininity are biological despite the fact that different cultures around the world hold to different ideas about what is masculine and what is feminine. Skeptics are supposed to be critical of all claims, and they are supposed to look at the evidence before they decide what is true, but so few actually do that. So many skeptics ignore the evidence and determine what they believe to be true on what society accepts, or who they hero-worship, or what they simply feel to be right. But that isn’t being skeptical.
Skepticism is a fine line to walk. It isn’t easy. But it also isn’t that difficult. Somebody says the sky is blue? Look up. Does the sky look blue? If yes, then do you have any reason to believe you are being deceived? No? Then the sky is blue. Obviously not everything is this simple, but it follows the same pattern. Someone says god exists? Can you see god? No? Then what other ways can we know something using our senses? Can we feel god? No? Can we smell god? No? Can we taste god? No? Can we hear god? No? Then how else can we find out if this claim is true? What evidence does the person making the claim have to offer? Can that evidence be verified? If not, then what does this say about the claim? If you can’t verify something using your own senses, and the evidence offered by the person making the claim isn’t verifiable, then the person’s claim can be dismissed.
But skeptics don’t generally have an issue applying this method to gods. It’s other things, more mundane things that skeptics want to be true, where they have difficulty applying their skepticism. But applying skepticism to one area does not a skeptic make. So where do skeptics fail?
Skeptics fail at applying skepticism to claims about sex and gender. It’s widely accepted that men are stronger than women. But how do we know if this is true? Can you see a man lift something that a woman can’t? Probably. But this is one man and one woman. So how do you turn the “this man can lift something that that woman can’t” claim into a “men are stronger than women” claim? First you need a lot of men and a lot of women. Then you need to compensate for weight difference. What do the results show? Obviously the average person doesn’t have time to do all of these experiments to determine what they should believe. Luckily scientists have done much of the research for us. So what have scientists found when they have done these studies? Are there studies that contradict each other? Does one debunk the other one? Are there meta-studies that explain why one is more accurate than the other? And are you sure your sources are good (ie. can you follow the source back to original research?)? Once you’ve done all that, you can be reasonably sure that your belief is accurate. However, to be a good skeptic, you can not say that you are a 100% certain that your belief is true. There is always a chance that you are wrong, and a true skeptic understands this. The problem with most so-called skeptics is they do not understand this.
So do you need to use the process given above to determine if your believes are true if you want to be a good skeptic? Yes. But it is not as daunting as it sounds. We all do the process to a certain degree, but most people don’t look at both sides of an argument, and they aren’t often open to changing their mind. The research doesn’t have to be done all at once. It can be done over the course of months or years, but both sides need to be considered, and you need to be open to changing your mind. That’s how we learn and grow.
So please, if you call yourself a skeptic, please make sure that you are as willing to apply your skepticism equally to all of your beliefs. And please make sure that you are willing to accept that you might be wrong. Because as soon as you say “I know x for certain” you cease being a skeptic. And as soon as you fail to apply the rigorous research needed to accept a belief you cease to be a good skeptic.
As in the previous post, this will once again be an overview. There are many different methodologies and factors to keep in mind and I cannot be conclusive here. I suggest looking into all of these matters further should you be interested in strengthening your skills at argumentation.
There is my process in which a logical argument can be formed. Some are better then others, and some can only be used in specific circumstances. I will state it again: I won’t be covering all of them, instead I’ll be focusing on a few important logical processes: the Syllogism, and logical connectives.
A Syllogism formally is three lines where first you make a universal claim followed by a particular claim which is predicated (based on, directly related too) on the first universal claim. The third sentence is then composed from those first two sentence. As an example, I will use the most famous form of Syllogism posed by Aristotle:
1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
I hope everyone can see how the third sentence here follows logically from the first two. We know from the first line (for the sake of this argument) that all men are mortal, so when we are also told that Socrates is a man, we know that Socrates must then be mortal.
Going back to my previous post it would be easy to rewrite the format of this argument in premises and conclusions, which I will do below:
P1. All men are mortal.
P2. Socrates is a man.
C. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
This is one of the most basic forms of a logical argument and is based around the definitions of those terms it uses. It’s useful because, when we try to misuse Syllogism, it tends to be quite obvious. This is because the concluding line will not be predicated from the first two lines. For example:
P1. Some Greeks are mortal.
P2. Socrates is a Greek.
C. Therefore, Socrates is immortal.
Again I hope it’s clear why this doesn’t work. In the first premise we see there is room for some Greeks to to be not moral, so for the sake of this argument we could say that it is the case that any given Greek could be mortal or not moral (perhaps immortal perhaps something else, since it is not specified). So when we are told Socrates is a Greek we know there is some possibility he is not mortal, but that’s all we know. We cannot say he is moral or otherwise based on this argument. All we could say is C. Socrates is possibly moral. Nothing more.
These simple syllogisms can be extended into more complex forms, but the take away here is that you should be making sure that your conclusions are predicated on your premises. Otherwise you’ll at best end up making mistakes and at worst end up speaking nothing but gibberish as your conclusions end up lack any cohesion with your premises. It’s best to avoid that if you can.
Next are logical connectives which do not serve a propose in this post more than to lay the ground work for other posts.
I’ll briefly list them going into a bit more detail below. If you want to know a bit more about how they work I’d either Google logical connectives, or go play with red stone logic circus in Minecraft (make a locking door but make sure you look up the wiki: you need at least an and, and or gate, but I like to use xor gate for mine 😉 ).
As to what logical connectives are, they function basically the same way we use them in language: by connecting different statements together, and trying the truth of both statements in a particular way. Technically you can create a system which contains all of the following connectives with only “and” and “or” connectors, but it’s far easier to talk about these logical relationships without trying to tie them altogether:
… and… (&)
The whole statement is only true if both sides of the and connective are true.
The whole statement is true when at least one side of the statement is true.
“If…then” statements works such that if the “if” statement is true, then the “then” statement must be true for the whole connected statement. If the “if” is false, then the “then” can be true or false to no effect. If x happens, then y happens. The statement remains true even if y happens with out x. The statement is only falsified when x is true, but y doesn’t occur as well.
… if and only if…(iff)
This is like the “If…then” statement, but instead x can only occur if y occurs and vise versa. The statement is false only if one occurs without the other. Iff can also, in some cases, indicated equivalency, but this is not necessarily the case.
… Elusive or… (xor, either)
Opposite to iff, this statement is only true when only one side of the statement is true. You can either have pudding or cake, but not both.
negation… (-, not)
Negation is reversing the meaning of the statement. Where (n) is a cat (-n) is not a cat.
… Equivalency… (=)
When two or more things are the same. They are equivalent. 2+3 = 5 = 1+ 1 + 1 + 1 + 1
I’ve included formal logic terms, short hand, and math symbols above many of which double as grammar. Each of the above can and are regularly used in English. I’m certain if you’re unsure of how to figure any of this out, you can manage it with a Google search or two. The biggest reason to include this early on is to clarify some of the common terminology and expose those reading this to some common ways people talk about these connectives. Besides, all of these connective are used in language and argument, so it is important to understand how we ought to use them within our arguments so that others will understand what we mean.
Hopeful I haven’t bored you all out of your minds. Next time I’ll get to induction and deduction. Which I feel is far more interesting.
It’s always good to look back at the basics, and I know some folks need the lesson. For this post I’m going to talk about the general shape of a proper argument.
First I’ll start the basic structure of an logical argument. This is no single type of logic, but most logics anyone will be exposed to will follow the following format. I’m not getting into formal logic, but will be using some formal logic ideas to hopefully help make some of this clearer.
Some number of premises.
A conclusion or conclusions.
Formally show in the following manner.
Pn. (where n is the total number of premises)
C (often there is only a single conclusions and this is more manageable then trying to defend many conclusions)
Cm (where m is the number of conclusions)
Premises are the base for your conclusions and are what the conclusion stands on. They are the foundation, so if your drawing a big conclusion you best build a sturdy foundation
Premises can take a few different forms. Contextual statements, assumptions, and evidence.
Contextual statements set the scene. It’s it fair to say the certain conclusions can only be drawn under.
Generally such premises sound like. “In the case that…” Or “It is the case that when A happens and B happens” or a wide variety of If Then or other conditional statements. If you argument is in some way context depended they it’s in your best interest to point out clearly what the context is.
Assumptions are best called necessary evils. You ought avoid them where ever you can. Though it basically impossible to avoid them altogether, but I’ll get into that in my next post where I discuss inductive and deductive reasoning. Also never assume your conclusions. That is a horrible argument are will only convince the extremely gullible. Assumptions should only be used when unavoidable, and then only when you can defend those assumptions. If you can’t then you best take a step back and look into it deeper.
Evidence is somewhere in between assumption and context. Such premises are basically arguments in themselves, and each need case where evidence is brought in it is up to the arguer to make sure that it’s both relevant and reliable, and once again are able to defend both points. There is such a thing and strong and weak evidence. Where thing like anecdotal, hearsay, eye witlessness testimony are weak evidence, and thing like Peer reviewed research, expert testimony, and the personal writing of a person when arguing about what they thought on a given subject. Though Evidence deserves a whole post to itself so I’ll leave that for a more in depth discussion for later.
Well these can be tricky, you have to make sure that you arguments are valid and sound.
An Argument is valid if the true premises always lead to a true conclusion. This is a fancy way of saying does your argument even make sense?
P1: It is the case that I have only seen purple eggplants.
C: Cats are the best animal.
I hope it’s clear to everyone here that this sort of argument makes no sense. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise, and they are independent from each other.
But the following example is also invalid because while the premise might well be true, not all eggplants are purple (some are white), so the conclusion is incorrect independent on the truth value of the premise.
P1: It is the case that I have only seen purple eggplants.
C: All Eggplants are purple.
An argument is sound if it is valid, and all of it’s premises are true. Now it is not always going to be clear if an argument is sound, and that’s why (hopefully) we argue. To determine the soundness of our and others arguments.
Now for example here is a valid and sound argument.
P1:Based on observations made by astrophysicists it’s is likely that some Planets are tidally locked with their suns. (evidence)
P2: Such Planets have one side perpetually facing the sun and another in darkness rotating at a rate which prevents a day night cycle. (context)
P3: To experience sun rise and sun set on a planet. That planet needs a day night cycle. (context)
C: It is likely that some planets do not experience sun rises and sun sets.
That’s it for now. More later. I haven’t decided if I’ll talk about inductive and deductive reasoning, or evidence. I am taking suggestions though.