[Topics: Biology, Ethics, Logic, Fallacy]
It’s 1483 and People Still Think This Way?

What’s Wrong with the Current-year-based Shaming of Ideas and Practices, and How to Salvage It

 

Introduction:

Detail of Woodcut by P. Wohlgemuth, Adapted by André Koehne - current-year argument - Anti-vaxxers and vaccines - logic and argumentation

Detail of Woodcut by P. Wohlgemuth,
adapted by André Koehne

Imagine that someone in a disagreement with someone else opines that, “It is insane that you still think that way, in this day and age.” Now imagine that an individual on a television program exclaims, “How is this still happening?! It’s [current year]!” These two sentiments might strike you in one of a few ways. Perhaps one of them seems more plausible than the other, or you feel that one or both could be appropriate in some cases, but not others. Conversely, it may strike you that neither of these is a meaningful notion.

I intend to argue in this article, however, that both statements could be logical and that both statements could be fallacious, depending on the context. These are both forms of the ‘current-year argument.’ And, indeed, my reason for writing this article is that—while I am sympathetic to those who recognize the philosophical error being committed by most who use such arguments—I notice that folks often go too far in shooting down the concept of current-year-based-shaming of ideas and practices, when there are contexts that would make such exhortations logically sound.

First, I will give a precise account, with attention to the philosophical fundamentals of logic and argumentation, as to why these current-year statements are often (perhaps the majority of the time) meaningless and fallacious. Second, I will switch gears and describe cases wherein the statements could be legitimate, appropriate, and logically consistent.

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[Topics: Biology, Ethics, Logic, Fallacy]
It’s 1483 and People Still Think This Way?

What’s Wrong with the Current-year-based Shaming of Ideas and Practices, and How to Salvage It

was last modified: February 16th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Logic, Logical Fallacy]
The Microevolution Fallacy:

How a Mistake in Formal Logic Provides Otherwise Scientific Minds a Basis for Denying Evolution

 

Introduction:

Alfred Russel Wallace - microevolution macroevolution - philosophy of evolution denial - I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist - Frank Turek and Norman GeislerToday’s article is fairly straightforward, as it deals with an exercise in philosophy’s bedrock: logic and argumentation. The actual content of what follows concerns the fields of biology and religious apologetics, but you don’t need any background in either in order to understand it. All that is required is an attention to the arguments themselves.

In particular, this article refutes a rebuttal that is present in religious apologetics in response to modern experimental evidence for evolution by natural selection[1]. But I’ll be focusing on the philosophical and logical angle, and leaving most of the relevant scientific responses in the footnotes.

In light of such evidence, one prominent response from those who seek to deny evolution as an account for speciation of all extant life (including humans) is to grant that such evolution occurs without granting that it occurs on a large scale; such an individual would contend that what has been proven is not evolution per se, but merely microevolution. But taking this path means committing a simple logical error by failing to follow a line of thinking to its conclusion.

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[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Logic, Logical Fallacy]
The Microevolution Fallacy:

How a Mistake in Formal Logic Provides Otherwise Scientific Minds a Basis for Denying Evolution

was last modified: June 16th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

 

Carl Sagan Sketch by M.R.P. - The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence - Brandon Carter - Anthropic Principle, physical laws

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

I should start by saying that I am well aware that Carl Sagan was not (in the strictest sense) a philosopher. His areas of expertise, as you may well know, were biology, physics, and mathematics. But he was a scientist who, unlike many of today’s most famous science advocates, had a deep respect for and interest in the humanities.

Indeed, in Sagan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on contemporary neuroscience and anthropology, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, he writes (when concluding a section on the research results concerning the partial specialization of the two halves of the brain), “I think the most significant creative activities of our or any other human culture—legal and ethical systems, art and music, science and technology—were made possible only through the collaborative work of the left and right cerebral hemispheres” (Sagan 195).

And in that same book, Sagan references and engages with philosophical work by Plato, St. Augustine, Sigmund Freud, and Henry David Thoreau (among others). I have striven in this series to stress the need for mutual respect, mutual education, and even fruitful overlap between philosophy and science, and have upheld other individuals who endorse that confluence. Carl Sagan was one such individual.

Toward the end of The Dragons of Eden, Sagan engages briefly with the topic of the comprehensibility of the universe (in a passage from which I draw a lengthy quotation below). When I first read that part of his book, it occurred to me quite suddenly that Sagan, while not spot-on in my reckoning, was pointing toward a very promising low-level explanation for the seemingly remarkable notion that the fundamental physical laws strike us as mathematically simple—or at the very least comprehensible. In order to explain my interpretation of Sagan’s thought, I would like to first briefly discuss a closely related subject: the Anthropic Principle.

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[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

was last modified: May 12th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Logic, Mathematics, Pascal’s Wager, Philosophy of Language]
A Logical Infinite:

The Constrained Probabilistic Definitions of Chance and Infinity in Blaise Pascal’s Famous Wager

 

Introduction:

Blaise Pascal - Pascal's Wager - chance - infinityThe reasons for the lasting impact of Blaise Pascal’s writings, and specifically ‘Pascal’s Wager,’ are not difficult to discern. That piece represents at once the work of a devout Christian and a thoughtful, if self-assured, philosopher (for a work that pits a devout Christian against a thoughtful, if self-assured, philosopher, see my article on C.S. Lewis and James Rachels). In existing as such, Pascal’s Wager seems a seasoned pontification which has stood up to much historical as well as modern criticism of its mathematics and its logic, regardless of how its flaws yield a failure by scope (detailed below).

Despite being famous as an exercise in reason, Pascal’s Wager is a passage grounded on the unstable foundation of chance and built of the inherently unknowable within theology. This text’s utilization of chance is particularly fascinating due to the fact that it shares meaning between an older conception of chance as pure randomness—arising from the potentially providential turning of some wheel of fortune—and a newer conception implemented in probability theory—wherein that same purity of randomness begets a clarity of logic in cases of ever-mounting complexity.

Indeed, despite its having been written by a man supposedly holding to the tenets of fatalism under the umbrella of Jansenism, ‘chance’ is therein nearly conflated with ‘probability,’ as it would later come to be understood. In Blaise Pascal’s Wager, his use of language turns chance itself into a predictable and knowable tool in the application of logic, and in doing so presents a discourse concerning chance which remains relevant to a modern society of dubious piety to the Wager’s ultimate conclusion.

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[Topics: Logic, Mathematics, Pascal’s Wager, Philosophy of Language]
A Logical Infinite:

The Constrained Probabilistic Definitions of Chance and Infinity in Blaise Pascal’s Famous Wager

was last modified: January 25th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski