I sometimes despair of even the possibility of rational discourse with the ID opponents who post regularly on these pages. In this post I will try to give you a template for rational, logical discourse using my last post as an example. Before I do that, I will give you a couple of hints about the basics.
All arguments rest on premises. Here is the classic:
1. All men are mortal
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Socrates is mortal.
In order to refute an argument you must do one of two things: Show that it is invalid or show that is unsound. “Invalid” means the conclusion does not logically flow from the premises. In other words, an invalid argument is an illogical argument. “Unsound” means that the premises are faulty. In summary, therefore, to show an argument is wrong, you must show either that it is illogical or that the premises are false.
Here’s a hint for RDFish, who apparently does not understand this: Responding to an argument that is not made does not refute the argument that is made. So, for example, if an argument is that materialism does not ground morality, a counter that says “neither does objectivism” does not respond to, far less refute, the original argument. There is even a name for this fallacy (tu quoque, which is the formal name given to the 2nd grade playground taunt “same to ya”).
Now for the example. Here is the challenge in my last post:
Materialist premises lead ineluctably to the following conclusions. There is no such thing as “good.” There is no such thing as “evil.” There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences, and all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.
My challenge to materialists was to show how any of the conclusions I’ve reached based on materialist premises are not in fact compelled by those premises.
If you are going to refute the argument, you are going to have to show how one or more of the premises is an error or you are going to have to show how the logic fails.
Another hint for RDFish: Arrogant, dismissive condescending asshat statements like “any freshman knows that is wrong” do not count as a refutation of a premise.
My argument rests on three main premises:
1. On materialism there can be no such thing as “good” and “evil.”
No fair equivocating on those words, which is the usual dodge we get. It is clear that in this context I am using the terms in the same sense that Dawkins used them: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden : A Darwinian View of Life (London: Phoenix, 1995), 133.
If you are going to refute the statement, you will need to show how Dawkins was wrong.
2. There is only my personal preferences competing with everyone else’s personal preferences.
Here I am appealing to the same concept as Bertrand Russell when he said, “I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it.” Russell on Ethics 165/Papers 11: 310–11.
If you are going to refute this premise, you are going to have to find the refutation that eluded Russell.
3. Finally, I say on materialist premises all of those personal preferences can be reduced to the impulses caused by the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain.
If you are going to refute this premise, you are going to have to show how on materialist premises there is something else other than the electro-chemical processes of each person’s brain that result in preferences. Your refutation must be strictly monist, for materialism, by definition does not allow for appeal to dualism.
Another hint for RDFish: Appeal to “immaterial fields” is not a refutation unless you can actually show how “immaterial fields” result in the phenomenon you are trying to account for. Without demonstrating the chain of causality, such appeals are no better than saying “it’s magic!”
Finally, if you cannot defeat any of the premises, you must show how my argument does not hang together logically. You must show how the premises do not lead to the conclusion.