USS Clueless - Inductive logic

Stardate 20030518.1537

(On Screen): In response to a pair of posts I made last week, regarding the question of whether mechanism is a provable fact or a belief, The Raving Atheist has made a series of posts (1 2 3). In them, he makes certain statements about what he inferred from my writing about what I believe, in some cases quite incorrectly. For instance, he seems to have concluded that even if I don't agree with him that all religion is subject to outright disproof that I nonetheless do agree with him that Christianity specifically can be.

He seems to have been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism by third parties who have been referring to my posts, because he seems to go out of his way to try to claim that in almost all fundamentals he and I do agree. For instance:

It’s interesting how many bloggers who agree with Steven Den Beste on the topic of atheism disagree with me, even though there’s not the slightest practical difference between Den Beste’s atheism and mine.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Den Beste agrees that the existence of the Judeo-Christian god may be disproven. That god can be shown, depending upon the precise definition, to be internally inconsistent or empirically false, just like a square circle, an invisible pink unicorn, or the Wizard of Oz.

In the end, he dismisses the apparent differences between his point of view and mine as being due to my unwillingness to actually stand up for what I believe, thus appends the following:

To further fuel your righteous rage against Den Beste's traitorous, pandering conduct, read Jason Malloy's comments here and here.

I guess I can see how he might interpret what I wrote as pandering, but it's difficult to see how it could be traitorous. That presumes that I'm part of some formal group and had given some sort of promise to it of loyalty, and then turned around and broke that promise. But I am part of no such group. I do not owe any loyalty to any kind of global atheist cause.

After seeing all these claims about me, I felt the need to set the record straight and posted the following brief comment:

I do not agree with you that it is possible to disprove the existence of the Christian God. Nor do I "share your disdain for a tooth-fairy God" etc.

In response, Jason Malloy said:

Way to leave a comment completely lacking any sort of content SDB. If you're not going to challenge any sort of basic premise or logical platform to support your position what's the point of even saying anything?

No one cares what you agree with or don't agree with Den Beste, if you don't have any intelligent arguments to support yourself.

I was not in that comment attempting to justify my statement; I was trying to correct what I saw as mischaracterization of my point of view by RA. I simply wanted to include my demurral as part of the overall thread, for historical reasons. Malloy's comments are mocking, but in a sense his point is a valid one, and I think I'm going to have to make more clear the real source of the fundamental disagreement between RA and myself. What it comes down to is confusion about the difference between deduction and induction.

In many ways, deduction is the crown jewel of the body of human intellectual achievement. All of mathematics is based on it. It is formalized in the studies of sentential logic, set theory and Boolean algebra. Deduction permits actual proofs, and it is highly objective and repeatable. If several people start with the same body of axioms and procedures within a mathematical system and are asked whether a given statement is provably true within that system, then if they are skilled in the art they'll all arrive at the same answer. Of course, they may not all be equally skilled, and if it's a tough problem some may get answers and others may not, but if two such people arrive at contradictory answers than it means one of them made a mistake. If an answer in mathematics is right, it's all the way right; if it's wrong it's all the way wrong. Mathematics presents us with a virtual conceptual space in which is crystal clear and where "true" and "false" are absolutes. (Yes, I know about Gödel.)

Deduction is extremely powerful, and it can be applied to the real world in many important ways. Sentential logic can be used directly, and various other kinds of mathematics can be applied through isomorphism.

But for all its utility, deduction is subject to considerable limits, and there are many real world situations which are outside of its scope. For one thing, deduction cannot operate on insufficient data or on data of doubtful reliability.

In such cases, we fall back on induction. Deduct

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004