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If I Made This Stuff Up No One Would Believe Me

Mark Frank: “PVH is surely right that it is always possible you are wrong about an objective belief.”

Barry:  “Mark, is it possible that that statement is wrong?”

Mark Frank:  “Yes”

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43 Responses to If I Made This Stuff Up No One Would Believe Me

  1. Can anyone explain to me what Barry finds ridiculous about this? I made an assertion. Like all assertions I might be wrong. Clearly I think I am right, but I am fallible.

  2. When someone says “it’s impossible to be wrong about an objective belief”, you’re saying, “yes, that could be true”.

  3. #2 SA

    Absolutely. I might have made a mistake. Perhaps there are some objective beliefs which you cannot be wrong about. I can’t see the flaw in my argument but like everyone else I am fallible. I just don’t see why Barry should think this justified “You can’t make this stuff up”. Surely all of us,including Barry, might possibly be wrong and should recognise that.

  4. Mark:

    Probably it would have been better to say: I am certain that he is right, instead of using “surely” in an apparently absolute way. But OK, language is what it is, and this is a blog, after all :)

  5. Mark Frank,

    PHV’s statement is self-refuting.

    1) The assertion in question is: “It is always possible you are wrong about an objective belief.”

    2) Since this is a belief that encompasses all beliefs about things considered “objective”, it is an objective belief about a quality of all beliefs – that they may be in error.

    3) Therefore, the assertion refutes itself, because PHV could be wrong; it may not always be possible that one is wrong about an objective belief.

    4) You are thus claiming that PHV is “surely” right in his self-refuting statement, even when you admit that you cannot be “sure” about any assertion.

    From Merriam Webster:

    Sure: admitting of no doubt : indisputable

    When one claims that there is always doubt, there cannot be assertions of “always” and “surely”. Those two words exclude doubt.

  6. Materialists/atheists express certainty but need to call it doubt; act and argue as if free will exists but deny that it does; are outraged that others consider their morality objective but then have no problem judging others and forcing their own moral views on others as if their morality was objectively binding.

    When one doesn’t hold to the rules of right thinking, what results is this kind of mental anarchy.

  7. WJM – #5  You seem to be claiming two things.

    1) That PVH’s assertion “refutes itself”.

    The assertion is 

    A) It is always possible you are wrong about an objective belief.

    (I accept that this itself an objective belief.)

    An assertion refutes itself if assuming it is true leads to the conclusion it is false.  If A is true then all you can deduce is that it is possible that A is wrong. It does not follow that A is wrong. So no refutation.

    2) For some reason you seem to think that it is inconsistent to say “Surely X is true – but possibly I am wrong”.  Maybe this a transatlantic thing. In the UK the use of “surely” here means something like “I am fairly certain” it does not mean “I cannot possibly be wrong”.

  8. So the amazement is that Mark Frank misused the word “surely” as “surely” admits of no doubt.

    Only it doesn’t.

    That’s sure. There is a common and generally accepted use of the word surely to give emphasis.

    Much like your use of “no one”.

    Are you really saying that absolutely no one would have believed that Mark Frank said it if you had made it up? Really? No one at all?

  9. GP #4

    Thanks for a sane voice. My #7 may explain a bit about the use of “Surely”. Your English is pretty much perfect but did you by any chance learn it in the USA? Perhaps in the USA it does mean “Certainly” as opposed to “I am fairly certain”. I never ceased to be amazed by subtle differences between the two dialects and how some if them only surface after years of talking to American colleagues and family.

  10. Mark:

    It is true that I am more familiar with US english, but I love very much your country, and have been there many times.

    To distinguish between american and english writers, I strongly suggest to check if they use “kerb” or “curb” :)

  11. F/N: With all due respect, let’s take it from the top. Take the Royce claim, error exists. Is it possible to be in error that this is so? (Hint: try to deny it and see what happens.) ANS: No; this is an undeniably true self evident assertion knowable to absolute certainty. That such knowable and certain truths exist is denied because of a priori ideology held in the teeth of frequently presented definitive evidence otherwise. Evidence that those who insist on the denial know, or should know but choose instead to cling to absurdity. KF

  12. #10 gpuccio

    Not half as much as I love Italy!

    It is easy. A kerb is the edge of a pavement. A curb is the edge of a sidewalk :-)

    The most difficult word maybe “quite”. If I quite like something it means I only like it very much. If Barry quite likes it then he thinks its the bee’s knees.

  13. GP: -ise vs -IZE is more useful. KF

  14. I have managed to confuse things with a typo.

    If I quite like something it means I only like it a bit. If Barry quite likes it then he thinks its the bee’s knees.

  15. An assertion refutes itself if assuming it is true leads to the conclusion it is false. If A is true then all you can deduce is that it is possible that A is wrong. It does not follow that A is wrong. So no refutation.

    Yes, it does. If one takes the assertion “It is always possible you are wrong about an objective belief” as true, then one must hold that this assertion itself could be false, that there are some objective beliefs that it is not possible that you are wrong about. This directly contradicts the claim that it is “always” possible, because if the statement is wrong, then it is not always possible.

    Good grief.

  16. So the amazement is that Mark Frank misused the word “surely” as “surely” admits of no doubt.

    One of the points I often make is that these people claim to hold views that they cannot live by. If they wish anyone to begin to believe that they are not just blowing hot air, why not start phrasing your comments as if you actually believe what you are saying? If there is doubt, you cannot say always. If there is reasonable room for error, then you cannot say you are sure.

    What’s really going on is that PHV and MF use the term “doubt” not because they actually, reasonably doubt the assertion or statement (which is why they use the terms “always” and “surely”), like “it is always wrong to torture infants for personal pleasure”, but use the word “doubt” for ideological cover, as a self-induced smokescreen that hides from themselves the absurdity of their stated views.

    Does any sane person really doubt that the above moral statement is true? Of course not. But they must barricade themselves behind hyperskepticism to keep logic from destroying their beliefs. They use the foolish mantra “there’s no way to absolutely know!” to hide from what is beyond rational doubt.

    The other problem is that MF is agreeing with a statement that is clearly self-refuting.

  17. WJM #15

    If one takes the assertion “It is always possible you are wrong about an objective belief” as true, then one must hold that this assertion itself could be false, that there are some objective beliefs that it is not possible that you are wrong about. This directly contradicts the claim that it is “always” possible, because if the statement is wrong, then it is not always possible.

    Your first sentence is a fallacy. It does not follow from the fact that the assertion could be false that is false i.e. “that there are some objective beliefs that it is not possible that you are wrong about”.
    I recommend a short course in modal logic.

  18. Oh – another typo

    It does not follow from the fact that the assertion could be false that it is false i.e. “that there are some objective beliefs that it is not possible that you are wrong about”.

    Gpuccio do us a favour – explain WJM where he is going wrong. He will take it from you but never from me.

  19. @Mark Frank #17

    Wouldn’t a claim of certainty be false if it could be false?

    EG “It is 100% certain that Everton will beat Stoke on Saturday”

  20. Tony Lloyd,

    Thank you for that succinct summation. PHV is employing certainty in an assertion that assertions cannot be certain.

  21. And MF says that “surely” PHV “must” be right in PHV’s certainty that assertions cannot be certain.

  22. #19 and #20

    Luckily, as discussed, I am not claiming certainty. The word “surely” appears to be ambiguous and I apologise for any misunderstandings. It is simply a kind of emphasis and is normally pronounced as if the sentence were a question inviting refutation. Gpuccio understood this and I thought Tony did in #8 – but I am bit confused by your #19.

  23. Mark Frank:

    Thanks for being a good sport about all this.

  24. Luckily, as discussed, I am not claiming certainty.

    PHV is, though. You are claiming that a self-contradicting statement is “surely right”.

    The word “surely” appears to be ambiguous and I apologise for any misunderstandings. It is simply a kind of emphasis and is normally pronounced as if the sentence were a question inviting refutation. Gpuccio understood this and I thought Tony did in #8 – but I am bit confused by your #19.

    Because PHV cannot be right. It is absolutely certain that the assertion contradicts itself. “I’m certain this assertion cannot be certain” is the very definition of self-refuting.

    Self-refuting statements are examples of something you can be certain are not true because they are logically absurd.

  25. #23 Eric thanks – to be honest it is easy to be cheerful when the accusation is so clearly wrong.

  26. #24 WJM

    But PVH doesn’t say:

    “I’m certain this assertion cannot be certain.”

    He just asserts that all objective statements (which would include this one) cannot be certain. He doesn’t attribute any specific level of certainty to it.

  27. Surely you jest, Mark?

    It’s self-evident that there are at least two nations divided by a common language. Obviously, nay, objectively true. Surely?

  28. Didn’t this get discussed somewhere before?
    The Myth of Absolute Certainty

  29. Alan you are right! If I deny this and believe that the two nations are united in a common language then I have to accept that WJM and I are talking the same language – which is clearly absurd.

  30. Oh I’m quite clear on “surely” (and I still think Barry Addington owes us a defence of “no one”).

    If you reword the claim to be clearly “certain” though there is an interesting paradox. On one reading it seems to conjure up certainty merely by making a statement about certainty: not very unsatisfactory. On the other hand at least one belief is absolutely certain. But which one? We’re not certain! So we’re not certain that a certain statement is certain, which seems to mean that it’s not certain.

    It’s going to need to be a long course in modal logic.

  31. He just asserts that all objective statements (which would include this one) cannot be certain. He doesn’t attribute any specific level of certainty to it.

    “All” + “Cannot” + “Always” = “no specific level of certainty”.

    The madness continues.

    Perhaps MF would like to direct us to where “specific levels of certainty” are enumerated and defined specifically, and where the words “All”, “Cannot”, and “Always” reside on that chart?

  32. I think the real question here is not whether one can cling to hyperskeptical doubt about all assertions, even to self-contradiction, but rather what is the reason to do so?

    Is it reasonable to deny certainty that “error exists”? Is it rational to deny certainty about 2+2=4? What is the purpose behind denying one’s certainty about the principle of identity, or of non-contradiction?

    Why is it so important to atheists/materialists to deny certainty that they will embrace the absurd just to insert uncertainty in a proposition that is patently certain?

    IMO, the reason so many materialists/atheists insist that they are not “certain” of “anything” (apparently, not even certain that they are not certain of anything), is out of an overpowering, irrational fear of certainty (which is probably a psychological equivalent of “authority”, which so many despise).

    Many of these people are anti-theists, and more specifically anti-Christians, and often refer to the “religious” atrocities that have been committed (arguendo) out of a certainty of correctness about “objective beliefs” (beliefs about things held to be objective commodities, such as morality).

    Perhaps they believe, deep down, that since such certainty can lead to error and bad outcomes, it’s best to simply never be certain (or, at least, never formally admit it – it’s always best to have some leeway for denial, whether others find it plausible or not). I think this irrational, extreme rebellion against certainty is another case of throwing the baby out with the dirty bath water by atheist/materialists.

  33. William, you’re priceless! You write comment 32 and elswhere describe someone else as “bloviating”. :roll:

  34. Hi WJM

    Accepting that there is certainty, what is certain? Is it anything interesting? So far we seem to have established:

    1. Something is certain
    2. Something is uncertain (as error exists)

    I suppose there is an argument that those two statements are certain. But they’re not very exciting: what non-trivial propositions follow from them? Interesting excercise in logic, but not a lot else.

    So, given a certain reading of Mark’s statement, he’s not quite totally precise. It’s a bit like saying that the odds of “heads” with a toss of a fair coin are 1/2. There is a neglible though non-zero chance of the coin landing, and staying, on it’s edge. Let’s say the odds are actually 1/(2 – 10^-200). What do we say to someone who quotes odds of 1/(2 – 10^-200) as 1/2? Nothing. What would we think of someone who reacted by saying “Wow! How stupid! You couldn’t make it up!”?

  35. Accepting that there is certainty, what is certain? Is it anything interesting?

    Apparently, you’re unfamiliar with the arguments that led to this thread. PHV employed self-contradicting hyperskepticism to avoid agreeing that there are moral truths one can be certain are self-evidently true, such as “it is wrong to torture infants for personal pleasure”. Inserting that claim of doubt prevents PHV and MF (in their minds, apparently) from having to account for the existence of a certain, self-evidently true moral statement that they hold applicable and binding on others, even if others disagree.

    Difficult to do when one is a moral subjectivist.

    IOW, “I’m denying all certainty, because if I admit certainty exists, this is clearly a case of it, but the rational consequence of that admission would undermine my materialist/atheist beliefs, so …. nyaaahhh!!! Certainty certainly doesn’t exist!!! nyaaahh!!!”

  36. That, WJM, is why people are so worried about “certainty”. Other people leap from “there is certainty” to “[substantive claim] is certain.”.

    No proposition other than “there exists a certain proposition” is established as certain by the premise “there exists a certain propositiion”. Near enough nothing is established by “there exists a certain proposition”: “there are moral truths” is not established, still less “there are self-evident moral truths”. As it has no bearing on moral discourse it’s best to ignore it when discussing morality. The trouble is that many commit the howler of using a claim about the existence of a class of things that are x to “prove” that their pet candidate is a member. “There exists a certain proposition” is irelevant to the discussion you mention.

    Some will then deliberately misinterpret a statement (I don’t believe the US/UK English explanation) to genreate an “error” to sneeringly cover up their howler.

  37. #13 WJM

    “All” + “Cannot” + “Always” = “no specific level of certainty”.

    The madness continues.

    Perhaps MF would like to direct us to where “specific levels of certainty” are enumerated and defined specifically, and where the words “All”, “Cannot”, and “Always” reside on that chart?

    I will give it a try. It requires a certain  precision of thinking which I suspect you are not used to and you may well call it sophistry – but that’s OK.

    Basically “certain” is a description of degree of belief. It doesn’t even have to be justified although it is kind of perverse to be certain for no good reason. “all”, “cannot” and “always” are words that describe the frequency that things happen in rather broad terms. The two are orthogonal. So I can have any degree of belief from “it just might be true” through to “I am absolutely certain” about any of these propositions:

    A) It is always the case that X

    B) It is sometimes the case that X

    C) It is possible that X

    D) It is never the case that X

    So for example I might think that

    - it just might be true that it is always the case that X

    - it is absolutely certain that it is sometimes the case that X

    What maybe confusing you is that A, B, C and D confer different degrees of justification on the proposition X. So that if I am certain that A is true then it would be strange not to be certain that X is true. But X is not the same as A.

    Does that help?

  38. WJM @ 6

    Shoud be the quote of the week. :)

  39. MF attempts to make the case that these claims:

    1. It is always the case that if X, then Y

    and

    2. I am uncertain that it is always the case that if X, then Y

    are not incompatible.

    I dont’ think further comment here is required.

  40. TL,

    “there are self-evident moral truths” is established by the existence of self-evident moral truths. Others attempt to find room for denial of those self-evident, certain truths by diving into the hyperskeptical, self-refuting waters of “all assertions can be in error”, and thus there can be no true “certainty”.

    This thread was begun by Mr. Arrington exposing just such an attempt, using hyperskepticism in order to avoid admission of certainty in the moral arena.

  41. WJM
    Do you acceot that nothing pertaining to that discussion arises from either:
    1 There exists a proposition that is certain, and
    2 There exists a proposition that is uncertain?
    Does not the non-refuting statement “all statements declaring a moral injunction are uncertain” serve the same role in the discussion. Was not this thread started with an exercise in snarky and hypocritical pedantry?

  42. #39 WJM

    I thought you might find it a bit too hard.

    I am uncertain that all snakes are carnivores.

    and

    All snakes are carnivores.

    Are clearly compatible. Not only are they compatible but for many people they both are true.

  43. #39 WJM

    I am being a bit mean not providing more explanation. I think what is confusing you is that it is implausible that someone would sincerely and simultaneously assert both:

    I am uncertain that X

    and

    X

    because asserting that X is a shorthand for expressing a rather higher level of certainty that X is true.

    However, both of these are obviously true:

    A) People often assert that X without being absolutely certain X is true.

    B) Someone may be uncertain that X is true and yet it is the case that X is true.

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