Friday, March 23, 2007

Of Straw and Men

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There are several appalling tricks atheists use to deny logic, but one of the most vexing is the use of straw man argument in relation to questions of origin.

Theist says: Where did the universe come from?

Atheist says: where did God come from?

Theist says: God did not come from anywhere God always was

Atheist says: that is special pleading.

.the Nizkor Project

Description of Special Pleading

Special Pleading is a fallacy in which a person applies standards, principles, rules, etc. to others while taking herself (or those she has a special interest in) to be exempt, without providing adequate justification for the exemption. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

Person A accepts standard(s) S and applies them to others in circumtance(s) C.
Person A is in circumstance(s) C.
Therefore A is exempt from S.
The person committing Special Pleading is claiming that he is exempt from certain principles or standards yet he provides no good reason for his exemption. That this sort of reasoning is fallacious is shown by the following extreme example:

Barbara accepts that all murderers should be punished for their crimes.
Although she murdered Bill, Barbara claims she is an exception because she really would not like going to prison.
Therefore, the standard of punishing murderers should not be applied to her.
This is obviously a blatant case of special pleading. Since no one likes going to prison, this cannot justify the claim that Barbara alone should be exempt from punishment.

From a philosophic standpoint, the fallacy of Special Pleading is violating a well accepted principle, namely the Principle of Relevant Difference. According to this principle, two people can be treated differently if and only if there is a relevant difference between them. This principle is a reasonable one. After all, it would not be particularly rational to treat two people differently when there is no relevant difference between them. As an extreme case, it would be very odd for a parent to insist on making one child wear size 5 shoes and the other wear size 7 shoes when the children are both size 5.

It should be noted that the Principle of Relevant Difference does allow people to be treated differently. For example, if one employee was a slacker and the other was a very prodictive worker the boss would be justified in giving only the productive worker a raise. This is because the productive of each is a relevant difference between them. Since it can be reasonable to treat people differently, there will be cases in which some people will be exempt from the usual standards. For example, if it is Bill's turn to cook dinner and Bill is very ill, it would not be a case of Special Pleading if Bill asked to be excused from making dinner (this, of course, assumes that Bill does not accept a standard that requires people to cook dinner regardless of the circumstances). In this case Bill is offering a good reason as to why he should be exempt and, most importantly, it would be a good reason for anyone who was ill and not just Bill.

While determing what counts as a legitimate basis for exemption can be a difficult task, it seems clear that claiming you are exempt because you are you does not provide such a legitimate basis. Thus, unless a clear and relevant justification for exemption can be presented, a person cannot claim to be exempt.

There are cases which are similar to instances of Special Pleading in which a person is offering at least some reason why he should be exempt but the reason is not good enough to warrant the exemption. This could be called "Failed Pleading." For example, a professor may claim to be exempt from helping the rest of the faculty move books to the new department office because it would be beneath his dignity. However, this is not a particularly good reason and would hardly justify his exemption. If it turns out that the real "reason" a person is claiming exemption is that they simply take themselves to be exempt, then they would be committing Special Pleading. Such cases will be fairly common. After all, it is fairly rare for adults to simply claim they are exempt without at least some pretense of justifying the exemption.

Examples of Special Pleading

Bill and Jill are married. Both Bill and Jill have put in a full day at the office. Their dog, Rover, has knocked over all the plants in one room and has strewn the dirt all over the carpet. When they return, Bill tells Jill that it is her job to clean up after the dog. When she protests, he says that he has put in a full day at the office and is too tired to clean up after the dog.

Jane and Sue share a dorm room.
Jane: "Turn of that stupid stereo, I want to take a nap."
Sue: "Why should I? What are you exhausted or something?"
Jane: "No, I just feel like taking a nap."
Sue: "Well, I feel like playing my stereo."
Jane: "Well, I'm taking my nap. You have to turn your stereo off and that's final."

Mike and Barbara share an apartment.
Mike: "Barbara, you've tracked in mud again."
Barbara: "So? It's not my fault."
Mike: "Sure. I suppose it walked in on its own. You made the mess, so you clean it up."
Barbara: "Why?"
Mike: "We agreed that whoever makes a mess has to clean it up. That is fair."
Barbara: "Well, I'm going to watch TV. If you don't like the mud, then you clean it up."
Mike: "Barbara..."
Barbara: "What? I want to watch the show. I don't want to clean up the mud. Like I said, if it bothers you that much, then you should clean it up."

The atheist charge of special pleading is actually a straw man argument.

The atheist is insisting "you must accept my straw man!" It is so because it's not what we believe! you cant' call theistic belief "special pleading" because that's the belief itself. Now it could be used as special pleading at some point but this is not that point!

Well its not exactly a straw man. Straw man usually entails someone making an argument which is supposed to be that of an opponent but is actually not the argument the opponent makes, but rather a version the debater really wants to answer because he can answer it.

.Nizkor project

Description of Straw Man

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person's actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of "reasoning" has the following pattern:

Person A has position X.
Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
Person B attacks position Y.
Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.

Examples of Straw Man

Prof. Jones: "The university just cut our yearly budget by $10,000."
Prof. Smith: "What are we going to do?"
Prof. Brown: "I think we should eliminate one of the teaching assistant positions. That would take care of it."
Prof. Jones: "We could reduce our scheduled raises instead."
Prof. Brown: " I can't understand why you want to bleed us dry like that, Jones."

"Senator Jones says that we should not fund the attack submarine program. I disagree entirely. I can't understand why he wants to leave us defenseless like that."

Bill and Jill are arguing about cleaning out their closets:
Jill: "We should clean out the closets. They are getting a bit messy."
Bill: "Why, we just went through those closets last year. Do we have to clean them out everyday?"
Jill: "I never said anything about cleaning them out every day. You just want too keep all your junk forever, which is just ridiculous."

Here the atheist is not ignoring the real argument, by trying to correct it.. Rather the atheist is saying "this is what you should believe." But it has in common with the straw man the fact that the proponent is saying "this is the argument I would rather answer." Its' an attempt to divert one fro the actual argument used.

The answer of Gods' eternal nature is not special pleading by any means. Rememer what the above quote told us:

From a philosophic standpoint, the fallacy of Special Pleading is violating a well accepted principle, namely the Principle of Relevant Difference. According to this principle, two people can be treated differently if and only if there is a relevant difference between them.

There is a huge rlative difference between God and the univrse. The atheist is saying if God can be eternal why can't the universe? The fact is they are two different things. The universe is contingent. It is made up wholly of constituent parts and every one of them is a contingent part. The concept of God is that of eteranl necessary being. This is not something made up to answer this arugment it is the basis of what Chrsitainity and judaism have always believed. God is a fundamentally different type of thing than is the universe. This is the basis of our belief system.

think about it, what am I supposed to say? There are only two alternatives that could be said aside from "no wrong, God is eternal" and the atheist wants to force either alternative:

(1) O ok there can't be an eternal God, so I don't believe that anymore, now I'm an atheist.

(2) Ok I guess god was created by another god. so there's an ICR of gods.

Theist:I worship god 489.

Atheist:why don't you worship god 487?

Theist:O god 487 doesn't know what he's doing,he's a dum. 489 is my guy!

Theist #2: 487 may be a bumb, but he's a divine bum!

Either of these responses are unthinkable for a Christian and neither come close to describing our belief. Here is the key, the atheist is in fact asking us to give up what we believe for no better reason than that he can ask a question which is totally wrongheaded and nothing more than a straw man anyway. Well, akin to a straw man, perhaps a 'stick man.'

We believe that God is eternal. that is our belief system. It is a given. you can't change it, and you can't disprove it's unfair not to accept the fact that this is what we believe. The atheist is in fact begging the question. Begging the question to clear the way for a straw man argument. Begging because it assumes that any origin alternative must follow the same rules as the naturalistic universe. But then in the final analysis the atheist is still just trying to force a situation where the theist grants the same eternal status to the universe and disrupts the argument form cosmology.

That will avail them nothing. Let's assume both origins have parity. There is no reason to assume that God is subject to rules like the physical universe he created, that's illogical, but let's assume they are both eternal.

Now does that mean there is no origin argument to be made for God's existence? No, not at all. Even an eternal universe is still a contingent one and must demonstrate how it could be. How can it be eternal? It's made up of contingencies, so it's eternal nature is an arbitrary necessity, because it's putting a contingency in the place of a necessity. that is a logical "no no."

But we know why God is eternal because God is being. God is the thing that being is, the basis for all reality. God is the mind, and reliaty is a thought in the mind.

that God is eternal is our belief. You have to accept it, it's a given.

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