Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Begging the question

Andrew Loke replied to my post:

In his rejoinder, Loke repeats the allegation that presuppositionalists, or Frame in particular, are guilty of "circularity". I'll have more to say about that later on, but for the moment I'd like to focus on Loke's usage. What does he mean by circular argumentation? Here's one explanation:

In reply, while some authors may think that circularity is necessary, this does not imply that circular arguments of the sort which Presuppositionalists use — the sort which presuppose the conclusion as the premise (e.g. ‘God exists [presupposition], therefore God exists [conclusion]’49) — are therefore valid.

Here Loke seems to be defining circularity in logical terms: a premise/conclusion relation. But one problem with Locke's explanation is failure to distinguish between a premise and a presupposition. A premise is an element in a logical syllogism. For instance, many philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments take for granted the existence of other minds, the external world, sense knowledge, &c. Those are presuppositions rather than syllogistic premises. They don't figure in the actual argument. Rather, they function as necessary background conditions or background assumptions. 

Here's another explanation: 

to show by non-circular argument (i.e. without begging the question)

In my article, I explain why his circularity implies begging-the-question, and why his claim ought to be rejected.

i) Here Loke seems to define circularity in terms of begging the question. If so, that's a different definition than a premise/conclusion relation. So he appears to oscillate between two different explanations. How do these relate to each other?

ii) Is his claim that circular reasoning is the same thing as begging the question, or is circular reasoning a general fallacy while begging the question is a specific kind of circular reasoning? How do these relate to each other?

iii) To say circular reasoning begs the question only pushes the issue back a step, because that raises the question: what does he mean by begging the question? Here's how he seems to answer that question:

My use of hypothetical alternatives is to demonstrate the fallacy of the question-begging type of argument used by Frame. An evidentialist argument for Christianity does not beg the question against non-Christian accounts of reason, evidence, and experience, and thus is not beset by the problem.

Which even sceptics of the Bible would need to rely on, thus it is non-circular in the sense that it doesn’t beg the question against the epistemology of the sceptics of the Bible...

i) So he appears to define begging the question by making the epistemology of non-Christians the standard of comparison. A presuppostionalist begs the question by failing to meet the non-Christian on his own grounds. Their accounts of reason, evidence, and experience is the yardstick. Presuppositionalism is fallacious because it doesn't measure up to that benchmark. 

ii) So the relation seems to be: circularity>begging the question>coming up short according to non-Christian epistemology. 

iii) If that's what he means, then he thinks the Christian apologist unilaterally shoulders the burden of proof. The onus is not on the non-Christian since non-Christian epistemology is the criterion. The way to avoid begging the question is for the Christian apologist to operate according to non-Christian accounts of reason, evidence, and experience. If that's what Loke means, then the non-Christian controls the terms of the debate. The game is played on his turf by his rules. You can only win if you beat him by his own rules. 

iv) If, however, that's what Loke means, it's unclear how that constitutes a fallacy. While it may well be unconvincing to a non-Christian for a Christian apologist to operate with a Christian epistemology, persuasiveness is a psychological rather than logical condition. A sound or valid argument can be unconvincing. 

v) And even assuming that's a fallacy, why wouldn't that be a two-sided fallacy? If it's fallacious for a Christian to operate with a Christian epistemology when debating a non-Christian, is it not equally fallacious for a non-Christian to operate with a non-Christian epistemology when debating a Christian? Why does Loke seem to insist on a double standard–where there's a higher standard for Christian than non-Christian? 

Indeed, Loke goes on to say:

I wrote on p.7: ‘Luke portrays Paul as questioning the reasonableness of the sceptics’ presupposition by asking ‘Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?’ (Acts 26:8, NIV). Following the Scriptural example of Paul (to which Frame would be committed) would imply that, when facing sceptics who reject all supernatural claims from the onset (such as Bultmann and Hume), the Christian should not argue for his/her view in a circular manner. Rather, he/she should show the unreasonableness of their rejection without circularity.’

i) So here he concedes that a non-Christian epistemology is not automatically the standard of comparison. But if a non-Christian epistemology is not necessarily the default criterion, then what does it mean for Loke to say the presuppositionalist begs the question against non-Christian accounts of reason, evidence, and experience? If that's not the benchmark, how do you beg the question against it? 

ii) Maybe his point is not that non-Christian epistemologies set the ground rules, but that presuppositionalists fail to even engage the other side. He concedes that it's sometimes necessary to challenge non-Christian accounts of reason, evidence, and experience. So perhaps he believes there's epistemological common ground that isn't distinctively Christian or distinctively non-Christian. A generic epistemology independent of any particular worldview. 

If so, doesn't that entail an artificially compartmentalized view of reality? If Christianity is true, then ultimately a true theory of knowledge must be grounded in Christian reality. Suppose a non-Christian epistemology is partially true. But to be consistently true, it must be developed in a Christian direction. The task of a presuppositionalist is to trace out the interconnectedness of that Christian reality. Reality as a tapestry of interwoven threads. 

I'll have more to say about this further down. I'm just attempting to clarify Loke's categories. 

I illustrated the kinds of experiences I have in mind using examples of the a posteriori Cosmological Argument, the resurrection of Jesus, etc.

Of course, most humans haven't experienced the Resurrection. Most Christians haven't experienced the Resurrection. 

Steve missed the point I mention on p.23 of my paper: to argue that our rationality requires God as a cause is different from arguing that our rationality depends on presupposing God for the justification of our beliefs.

To begin with, his web document lacks pagination. But this is apparently what he's alluding to:

Additionally, to argue that our rationality requires God as a cause is different from arguing that our rationality depends on presupposing God for the  justification of our beliefs. While one might argue that one’s ability to know the reality that one is in pain (for example) is dependent on God (in the sense that the ultimate origination of the human conscious mind depends on a Personal Creator 64), one does not need to depend on God in order to justify the belief that one is in pain (one’s direct experience is enough to justify it)! Since presupposing God is not necessarily nor undeniable for the justification of our beliefs in the same way that presupposing reason is necessary and undeniable, the assumption of God in response to atheists is a gratuitous importation but the assumption of reason is not. 

It's unclear what Loke thinks is mean by presupposing God for the justification of our beliefs. Consider two different senses of justified belief:

i) To be in a state of justified belief

ii) To provide a philosophical justification for your belief

An unbeliever can have many natural beliefs that are justified because his beliefs were formed by a reliable process that God designed. That's different from saying he can justify his beliefs without recourse to God. 

I use ’assume’ in the sense intended by Frame (see below)

i) It's unclear what Loke thinks presuppositionalists mean by that. To take a comparison, when Aquinas wrote the Summa Contra Gentiles, he had the conclusion in mind before he began. He didn't go into it wondering if God exists. He wasn't in suspense, waiting to resolve the question until he worked through all the arguments. Rather, the arguments were formulated to support a foreordained goal. When William Lane Craig debates atheists, he doesn't go into the encounter undecided. 

ii) One technique in presuppositionalism is to ask the atheist to assume the Christian viewpoint for the sake of argument, then study the explanatory power of Christian theism from the inside out. Comparing and contorting the explanatory power of Christian theism to non-Christian alternatives. But to adopt the opposing viewpoint for the sake of argument is not a fallacy. Rather, that's a standard tactic in philosophical argument. 

If Steve affirms reasons as the basis for believing Scripture, then how is his approach different from that of Classical/Evidential Apologist?

Reason and evidence are value-laden concepts. They don't exist in a vacuum. 

That is because there were already evidences to regard the Mosaic revelation to be from God in the first place, see e.g. the contest of miracles between Moses and the magicians of Pharaoh in Exodus 7, which took place before Deut 13 was written. 

Which takes for granted the historicity of Exodus. It's not as if Loke has direct access to the reported miracles in Exodus. So he's depending on a literary record. But why doesn't that beg the question against non-Christian accounts of reason, evidence, and experience? Most non-Christians don't concede the historical accuracy of that narrative.

’Could’ as understood from the perspective of people in the Isaiah passages who doubt whether YHWH is the true God; they are challenged to check out whether YHWH says X will happen but not-X happen instead.

Here I am using the word God to refer to ‘God of the Bible’. The issue is epistemological: how do we know that ‘God of the Bible’ is indeed the perfect and true God who never errs? The Scriptural passages I cited above indicate that one can use verification and falsification to answer this question.

But that's confused. It fails to enter into the viewpoint of the text. If the speaker is actually Yahweh, then his predictions cannot prove false. And Isaiah has no doubt that Yahweh speaks to and through him. From the standpoint of the text, this is not a hypothesis. That Yahweh might be wrong is not a realistic scenario. Rather, it's an argument ad impossibile. Per impossibile counterfactuals. 

Now, Loke might say the very question at issue is whether Yahweh exists. Is Yahweh in fact the speaker? How do we distinguish true from false religious claimants? But while that's a legitimate question, the Isaian passages aren't inviting people to test Yahweh's claim on the open-ended assumption that Yahweh might be a nonentity and Isaiah a charlatan. Loke is appealing to the text in a way that cuts against the grain of the text. Whether the viewpoint of the text is correct is something to consider, but the text itself is hardly undecided on the question. Loke is blurring an outsider perspective with the insider perspective of the text. 

And this repeats his failure to distinguish between verification and falsification. At best, the claims are only hypothetically falsifiable. If (per impossibile) Yahweh made a false prediction, then Yahweh would be a false god. 

The Biblical authors only challenged them to use their reason and senses simpliciter without mentioning that they have to presuppose the Biblical God. 

That's so silly. Willfully shortsighted. The God who issues the challenge is the biblical Creator who made their mind and senses. That's the context. The challenge is coming from the Biblical God. It's not coming from Zeus or naturalistic evolution or deistic evolution.  

The fact that their reasoning is often irrational does not imply that human cognitive equipment has been affected to the extent that it is no longer able to arrive at some truth of God by reasoning.

The noetic effects of sin primarily impact the will rather than the intellect. Although the unregenerate can understand the Bible, they hate it or find it incredible. 

No, because Paul already had reasons to believe that the God of Jesus is the true God before writing Romans. Paul was converted because he saw the resurrected Jesus, and he wrote 1 Corinthians 15 prior to writing Romans. As I explain on p.12: ‘The reasoning of Paul, Luke, John etc. seems to be as follows: to show by non-circular argument (i.e. without begging the question) that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed sent from God based on logical inferences from evidences (i.e. miracles, including his resurrection), and then to regard Jesus’ words and wisdom as the highest standard.’ 

i) Paul's belief in Yahweh and OT Scripture antedates his Christian conversion. And so far as we know, he witnessed no miracles to validate his belief in Yahweh or the OT prior to his conversion. 

ii) Notice that Loke is appealing to Paul's Damascus road experience. But that's an appeal to Scripture! 

Concerning the Romans 9 passage, see my article ‘Is the Saving Grace of God resistible?’ 

That's irrelevant to how the passages function in my initial response to Loke. Moreover, his article recycles cliche arguments and objections that I've addressed on multiple occasions. 

Steve missed Chalmer’s point, which is we do not need to debunk that skeptical thought- experiment in order to know that we have hands.

No, I didn't miss Chalmer's point; rather, I disagree with his point. He said: 

Even if I am in a matrix, my world is perfectly real’ and that we could still know that we really have ‘hands’, only that our understanding of the underlying metaphysics need to be adjusted. For example, instead of understanding the hand as being fundamentally constituted by unobservable quantum entities, we understand the ‘hand’ as fundamentally constituted by computer inputs.

i) That's equivocal since simulated hands are hardly equivalent to physical hands. 

ii) Moreover, that distinction relies on knowing the difference between the illusion generated by the program and the real world outside the program. But the very question at issue is whether someone in the Matrix can discover that difference. 

Very briefly, I explained on p.188 of my book God and Ultimate Origins (Springer Nature 2017) that even the radical sceptic who doubts the existence of the world external to his/her mind cannot avoid the conclusion that this Personal First Cause exists. The reason is because such a sceptic must still grant the existence of changes and causes, e.g. in his or her own subjective mental states, and/or in the computer inputs of the Matrix causing our sensations. Given the impossibility of an actual infinite regress of changes and causes (see Chapters 2 and 3 of that book), as well as the truth of the Causal Principle that everything that begins to exist has a cause (the violation of which would entail that his/her subjective experiences would be very different from what they are; see Chapter 5), the conclusion that an initially changeless and Personal First Cause (=Creator) exists would still follow (see Chapter 6). In which case the ‘experiences of resurrected Jesus’ noted in Lk 24:39-43, Jn 20-21, or 1 Jn 1:1- 2 should still be regarded as ultimately caused by the First Cause Creator. Even though, as in the hand example, our understanding of the underlying metaphysics of Jesus’ resurrection would need to be adjusted if it turns out that we are in a Matrix, we can still affirm Jesus’ resurrection just as we can still affirm we have hands as Chalmers explained. In any case, given that there is no good reason that we are living in a Matrix and that there must be a Creator regardless of whether we are in a Matrix, following Occam’s razor one should affirm that God (the Creator) raised Jesus from the dead.

That's very slippery:

i) Yes, some theistic proofs could be retooled to apply in a Matrix scenario. However, someone in the Matrix has no basis of comparison. He's in no position to compare the ubiquitous illusion with objective reality. Even if he suspected that something undetectable is causing his perceptions, he can't discover what that is. 

ii) A Biblical narrative that only happens in the Matrix is imaginary. 

iii) I agree that there's no good reason to believe we're in the Matrix. But I wasn't the one who brought that up. 

I grant Frame’s statement and Steve’s, my ‘counter’ is merely to point out that Frame’s statement does not prove his case against the Evidentialist Apologist, i.e. Frame’s statement does not imply that human cognitive equipment has been affected to the extent that it is no longer able to arrive at some truth of God by non-circular reasoning.

They aren’t perfectly symmetrical, but the point remains that the question-begging type of argument used by Frame is fallacious. In order to answer the question ‘How do we know that the Christian Bible hasn’t been distorted as the Muslim claimed?’, we need extrabiblical historical evidence.

Presuppositionalism doesn't reject extrabiblical evidence. 

The fact that reason is unavoidable shows that one is not begging the question by using reason to argue for reason, while the reliability of reason in many (not all; e.g. not mentally ill) cases of reasoning is demonstrated by its ability to arrive at true conclusions (e.g. there cannot be shapeless cubes)

It begs the question if naturalistic evolution supplies the the backstory for human reason. For even if human reason is unavoidable under that scenario, it doesn't follow that human reason is reliable. 

Steve goes on to discuss some complications concerning evidence. I agree that there are complications involved, but we need to focus on the specific cases relevant to Christian apologetics which is what Frame and I are discussing. Various philosophers have explained the evidences used by the Cosmological argument, the Teleological Argument, the historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection etc. and formulated these arguments in a way which indicate that these arguments do not need to presuppose the existence of a Christian God (see e.g. Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, my book God and Ultimate Origins, etc).

Ironically, a number of theistic proofs are transcendental arguments. The moral argument, the argument from reason, the argument from abstract objects, the argument from counterfactuals, &c., are transcendental. 

Sometimes that requires multiple steps. It may first be necessary to argue for the thing in question before considering the necessary background conditions. Or one might argue that if X is the case, then that commits us to Y. Yet transcendental arguments are the stock-in-trade of presuppositionalism. 

Frame himself uses the term ‘circular’...

There's a formulaic quality to Loke's objection because he constantly repeats the charge of "circularity". But as I pointed out in my initial response, that's a metaphor. Argumentation or reasoning isn't literally circular or noncircular. So belaboring a metaphor, and constantly using a metaphor as the frame of reference, inhibits rational analysis. That does nothing to advance understanding. As Peter van Inwagen explains in another context:

These philosophers have fallen prey to what I may call verbal essentialism. That is to say, it is essential to their discussions that they involve certain words … It would be impossible to translate their discussions into language that did not involve those words. "Some Thoughts on An Essay on Free Will", The Harvard Review of Philosophy 22 (2015), 17.

Now let's revisit the question of whether "circular reasoning" and "begging the question" are necessarily fallacious. As one source explains:

However, if the circle is very much larger, including a wide variety of claims and a large set of related concepts, then the circular reasoning can be informative and so is not considered to be fallacious.

Begging the Question

A form of circular reasoning in which a conclusion is derived from premises that presuppose the conclusion. Normally, the point of good reasoning is to start out at one place and end up somewhere new, namely having reached the goal of increasing the degree of reasonable belief in the conclusion. The point is to make progress, but in cases of begging the question there is no progress.

Insofar as the conclusion of a deductively valid argument is "contained" in the premises from which it is deduced, this containing might seem to be a case of presupposing, and thus any deductively valid argument might seem to be begging the question. It is still an open question among logicians as to why some deductively valid arguments are considered to be begging the question and others are not. Some logicians suggest that, in informal reasoning with a deductively valid argument, if the conclusion is psychologically new insofar as the premises are concerned, then the argument isn't an example of the fallacy. Other logicians suggest that we need to look instead to surrounding circumstances, not to the psychology of the reasoner, in order to assess the quality of the argument. For example, we need to look to the reasons that the reasoner used to accept the premises. Was the premise justified on the basis of accepting the conclusion? A third group of logicians say that, in deciding whether the fallacy is present, more evidence is needed. We must determine whether any premise that is key to deducing the conclusion is adopted rather blindly or instead is a reasonable assumption made by someone accepting their burden of proof. The premise would here be termed reasonable if the arguer could defend it independently of accepting the conclusion that is at issue.

So it's not a given that circular reasoning or begging the question is a fallacy in principle. That depends on other considerations. 

Here's what a specialist on logical fallacies has to say:

Circular reasoning is very important and characteristic of all kinds of everyday argumentation where feedback is used. So it is often quite correct and useful — not fallacious, as traditionally portrayed in the logic textbooks. Studying circular reasoning, for example, is very important for artificial intelligence, e.g. in expert systems. Circular reasoning can be used fallaciously, however, in arguments which require the use of premises that can be shown to be better established than the conclusion to be proved. The requirement here is one of evidential priority (see INFORMAL FALLACIES: Arguing in a Circle). Arguing in a circle becomes a fallacy of petitio principii or begging the question where an attempt is made to evade the burden of proving one of the premises of an argument by basing it on the prior acceptance of the conclusion to be proved (See Walton, 1991). So the fallacy of begging the question is a systematic tactic to evade fulfillment of a legitimate BURDEN OF PROOF by the proponent of an argument in dialogue by using a circular structure of argument to block the further progress of dialogue and, in particular, to undermine the capability of the respondent, to whom the argument was directed, to ask legitimate critical questions in reply. Douglas Walton, "Circular Reasoning," A Companion to Epistemology, ed. Jonathan Dancy & Ernest Sosa (Oxford, Blackwell, 1992), 66. 

So it's necessary to distinguish between vicious and virtuous circular reasoning. Therefore, it's incumbent on critics of presuppositionalism to demonstrate that insofar as presuppositionalism engages in circular reasoning, the kind of circular reasoning falls into the vicious rather than virtuous category. 

And here's an example he gives of valid circular reasoning:

In mathematics, it is common practice to start at proposition A and then prove B, then start again at B and prove that A follows. An equivalence proof in mathematics, of the if and only if type, often takes this form. Although the form of proof is circular, in many instances such a proof is rightly thought non-fallacious. D. Walton, Are Circular Arguments Necessarily Vicious? American Philosophical Quarterly 22 (1985), 263.

And here he unpacked the distinction:

The conclusion to be drawn is that begging the question is a fallacy where `fallacy' means an argument that fails to perform a useful function in contributing to a goal of dialogue. So conceived, begging the question a pragmatic fallacy, a failure that needs to be evaluated in relation to how an argument has been used in a context of dialogue. In particular, one function of argument is the probative or doubt-removing (or doubt-reducing) function which presupposes the following framework of dialogue. One participant, the questioner, has doubts or questions concerning a particular conclusion. The other participant, the arguer or proponent, has the job or role in the dialogue of proving this conclusion to the satisfaction of the questioner, according to the requirements of burden of proof appropriate for the type of dialogue and the particular case. Now if the proponent puts forward a circular argument, of such a type that the only way the questioner could possibly resolve his doubts, or back up one of the premises by some line of proving or supporting it, would be to prove it from the conclusion, then the argument begs the question. The determination of petitio in a given case, according to this analysis, is a matter of the lines of argumentation leading into the proponent's conclusion available to the questioner. If no lines into a premise are open that do not already presume the truth of the conclusion, then the argument cannot fulfill its proper probative function in the dialogue. For this reason, an argument that begs the question can be properly evaluated as fallacious in a given case. D. Walton, "Begging the Question as a Pragmatic Fallacy", Synthese 100 (1994), 127-8.

So, in order for begging the question to be fallacious, certain conditions must be met over and above "circularity". 

i) Assigning the burden of proof. Does only one or each side have a burden of proof? If, in a debate, Christian and atheist share a common burden of proof, then the atheist can't dictate the criteria. He can't legitimately impose on the Christian the terms of a successful argument. He is not the referee. Naturalism is not the presumptive position which a Christian must overcome. 

ii) In addition, there's a distinction between defensive and offensive apologetics. What if the aim of the Christian is not to satisfy the atheist, but to explain and defend the Christian rationale, in response to outsider objections? He'd like to be able to convince the atheist to see it his way, but that's not a condition for a successful defense. The atheist may have arbitrary standards. Persuasion requires sufficient common ground, which varies from one disputant to another.

iii) Furthermore, persuasion is psychological. A Christian apologist has no control over the mindset of an atheist. He can't make him believe. What if the atheist is unreasonable? What if the atheist is willfully intransigent? It's not the responsibility of the Christian apologist to be convincing, but to present good arguments. It's the duty of the atheist to be amendable to good arguments for the opposing position. You can't reason with someone who's unreasonable. Their mindset is not the standard of comparison. While persuasion is an ideal goal, it's not how to judge the quality of evidence. 

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