Are You Playing the Fool?
Part 6 BONUS -- The 'Agnostic Argument'
posted over 9 years ago
Worldviews and Preconceptions
Everyone has a worldview. A worldview is simply the set of all presuppositions/axioms/preconditions that you have through which you see the world and by which you interpret everything in your experience.
Anyone's worldview is open to scrutiny. For this reason, some people attempt to pretend that they do not have a worldview. We'll look at a few of these worldviews (for they are themselves worldviews) below.
The claim is often made that 'I don't believe God exists' is somehow distinct from 'I believe God does not exist,' to the effect that the person hopes to not have to give a reason for why they believe that.
Most people except fundamentalist atheists and 'strong' agnostics acknowledge that there's no fundamental distinction between those two phrases, and that they are the same claim.
There was some discussion on this topic on another post, so if you're interested in seeing some arguments posted for and against this view, see here: http://my.umbc.edu/discussions/476?page=1.
I'll offer a refutation of this below, for my audience to think over.
1. The statement 'I believe [X is true]' is meaningfully indistinct from the statement '[X is true].' This is because a) one's belief has no bearing on the truth or falsity of a statement, and b) claims are always assumed to be believed by the claimant. If you are saying 'X is true,' but don't believe it, then why would you say it? You should be saying 'X is not true,' or nothing at all. If you are saying 'X is true,' we assume that you are trying to convince people that your claim is correct. This is generally what people intend to do when they make a claim. If you don't intend to convince someone, then there is no reason to make your claim, since you expect your audience to assume that your words have no meaning, and if they did not, then there would be no difference between not stating your claim and stating it.
2. [X is not true] and [It is not the case that X is true] are the same claim. [X is not true] and (NOT)[X is true] is the same claim. (I'll write that last one as (-1) later, for simplicity's sake).
3. If you do not believe that [X is true], then you must believe that [X is not true], since this is a contradictory claim, and contradictions can't both be true (they can't both be false, either). Since you say that it is not true that X is true, then it must be true that X is not true. For you to profess otherwise would be to adopt a contradiction into your worldview. Someone who believes things that contradict each other is being irrational, and their worldview may be false, because it contains a contradiction.
4. Since 'I believe X is true' is equal to 'X is true,' then we can treat 'I believe that' as a mathematical operator that can be canceled from either side of the equation. Also, a 'not' can be added to one side of the equation, as long as it is added to the other side of the equation (or negated by an equivalent negative, such as (-1)). For example, 'X is true' = (-1)'X is not true.'
Based on the above, we can see that 'X is true' = 'I believe X is true' = (-1)'I do not believe X is true' = (-1)'I believe X is not true' = (-1)'X is not true.'
This knowledge refutes the agnostic excuse and demonstrates that an agnostic does have a worldview. He is not actually an agnostic, but MUST CHOOSE whether he believes that claim A or claim (-1)A is true. He may claim that he is 'open' to changing his mind upon receiving new information, but that's special pleading regarding future events. We're in the present. You may of course be open to changing your mind, but at any moment, you must have a default position of belief in the positive or negative of any given claim, because it is logically impossible to believe in both or neither. Anyone who wishes to introspectively perform a practical experimental analysis of this fact will be able to demonstrate this truth to themselves (as long as they're rational, of course).
The relativist excuse is similar to the agnostic example above, in that it attempts to purport that it's either impossible to know what's true, or that two contrary things can be true, or that two contradictory things can both be true or false (remember that two contrary things can both be false, but both can't be true, but of two contradictory things, one must be true and the other false).
Relativist: It's impossible to know what's true with 100% certainty.
Truth: Do you know that with 100% certainty?
If he doesn't know it to 100% certainty, then by definition it's possible to know something to 100% certainty. But his claim states that he can't know anything with 100% certainty, and his claim is included in the set of things that can be known. Therefore, if his claim is true, it's false. If it's false, it's still false. Therefore, it's false.
Relativist: What's true for you is true for you; what's true for me is true for me.
Truth: What's true for me is that what's true for you is absolutely false, and what's true for me is absolutely true.
The truth of a proposition is defined, in logic, as the correspondence of said proposition with factual reality. If it's true -- in reality -- that [X is true], then if the Relativist believes that [X is not true], then X is NOT not true for him, no matter what he thinks, because it's NOT not true in reality. One's personal wishes have no relevance to the actual state of reality.
So, the Relativist doesn't get away with not believing things. We can conclusively demonstrate that he is wrong, and therefore he must choose to adopt a position. Most people aren't hardcore relativists, but sometimes you get the example given above. Relativism is an inconsistent worldview that refutes itself by definition; therefore, it cannot be correct.
The Empiricist claims that all knowledge is gained through experimentation. An example statement might be 'You can't know anything outside of scientific investigation for a fact!'
Does this claim hold up to scrutiny? Well, can you perform an experiment to determine that all knowledge is gained through experimentation? No, you can't. This is a presupposition that must be proved through logical reasoning--logic is immaterial and cannot be experimented upon. You cannot do the 'scientific process' on a piece of knowledge. What's the independent variable, for example?
I'm going to leave the rest unsaid, hoping that my audience will be prone to accept the fact that empiricism is inconsistent due to the reality that knowledge is often gained through reasoning, which is not solely an experimental process.
The Skeptic claims that the negative of a truth claim is the most reasonable position to take, or in many cases, that anything contrary to what the majority, or experts, or the majority of experts believes in, is unreasonable, and adopt, by default, a negative position with regard to that contrary proposition.
Does this hold up? Well, one could formulate a hypothetical argument in which the negative claim is unreasonable, for example: 'It is true that you can use words to express yourself,' in which case the negative position is the claim that 'it is not true that you can use words to express yourself,' which is a self-refuting claim. Alternatively, one can point out that in history, the true claim has often been a positive one, and that the negative response, whereas it was held by the majority of people, turned out to be false. This is an inconsistency with their position that demonstrates that it is not always true that the majority is correct.
Moreover, the appeal to majority, authority, and majority of authority are informal logical fallacies. Arguments should be evaluated based on their soundness, not based on who's putting forth the argument.
There's more that can be said for the skeptic, but that's all I'm posting for now. :)
(edited over 9 years ago)