Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

FYI-FTR, # 4: You can’t make this up . . . KeithS and ilk dig in further — StephenB asks, is there any one there (apart from KeithS) who is uncertain of his self-aware existence?


Some things you can’t make up in a novel, they would be too implausible to be salable. But reality itself has no such constraints.

As onlookers know, over the past several days — cf. here and here, we have been back to the issue of KeithS and his fellow evolutionary materialists (and their fellow travellers and enablers) and their struggles with first principles of right reason, starting with say seeing a bright red ball on a table and noticing the obvious about such a situation:


StephenB has been making a basic argument to KS that it is worth highlighting again (NB: KS is busily pretending that this does not exist and/or has no cogency):

SB, 491 in the Meanningless world thread: >>keiths, please do not say that no one has found a flaw in your argument. I have found two in your number 2 formulation alone:

2. If God (or Satan, etc.) exists, then it is possible that he has the power to deceive us.

[a] While it may be logically possible for a supernatural agent to deceive us about many things, existence is not one of them. It is not logically possible to deceive someone that doesn’t exist into believing that he does exist. Thus, your argument that deception can prevent us from being certain of anything fails.

[b] Even the IF, THEN portion of your assertion assumes and depends on the Law of Non-Contradiction for its validity. IF God exists, >>>THEN he can…..” So, if you are not certain about the Law of Non-Contradiction, then you are not even certain about your own argument.>>

I have of course incorporated this into my own discussions, which KS continues to dismiss and ignore as “spamming.” (I think rather, this indicates that KS has a basic problem with facing unwelcome facts.)

After a few days, SB is back again, this time in an exchange on the implications of this:

SB, 656: >>

I am just curious. Other than keiths, is there anyone else here that is not absolutely certain of his/her existence? Is there anyone else here that allows for the possibility that he/she may not exist?

Kantian Naturalist?


KS, 658: >>


If I were absolutely certain, with a literally 0.0% chance of error, that the rules of logic were perfect and error-free; and

if I were absolutely certain, with a literally 0.0% chance of error, that I was applying the rules of logic perfectly; and

if I were absolutely certain, with a literally 0.0% chance of error, that thoughts invariably require the existence of a thinker,

THEN I would be absolutely certain that I exist.

Without absolute certainty of those three premises, would I be absolutely certain, with not a scintilla of a sliver of a shadow of doubt, that I exist? No way. That would be pure hubris.

It’s quite surprising how casually some people in this thread, including you, have claimed absolute certainty. It’s as if you don’t really understand the difference between a probability in the high 99.99…9s, versus a probability of literally 100.0%.>>

SB, 664: >>


I’m not excited, Stephen, just surprised. It really does seem odd to me that you can’t see, or don’t acknowledge, the important difference between a probability that is equal to 1 and a probability that is merely close to 1.

keiths, You appear very excited. I know the important difference between high probability and one. What is your purpose for insulting me with a strawman argument? Can you just allow Kantian Naturalist and Elizabeth Liddle answer the question about their level of certainty about their own existence? Everything is not all about you.

Other than keiths, is there anyone else here that is not absolutely certain of his/her existence? Is there anyone else here, other than keiths, that allows for the possibility that he/she may not exist?

Kantian Naturalist?


EL, 666 [ooh . . . ]>>

My answer I know will irritate you, Stephen, but I’ll risk it anyway :)

It depends what you mean by “my” and “existence” :)

I am overwhelmingly confident that there has been an organism known as Lizzie (sometimes as other things, but in possession of birth certificate in the name of [redacted]) living on earth for 61 years. I am also overwhelmingly confident that the referent for the signifier of the word “I”, when I use the term, refers to that organism.

But I am not 100% confident, where 100 is an integer.

This is because I am aware that it is possible to be deceived about such matters – that delusions are all too real, in the sense that people really are deluded (or appear, with not quite 100% confidence to be deluded!)

And I cannot be 100% that I am not suffering from such a delusion.

But let me anticipate your followup: “But Lizzie, surely, even if you could be deluded about being Lizzie, you cannot be deluded that you exist!”

Well, maybe, but that raises the question “what does it mean for a person to exist? To be alive? But a dead body still exists. To be metabolically stable? But a brain-dead body is metabolically stable. To be conscious? But conscious of what?

You probably know of the case of Clive Wearing, the musician, who had a massive bilateral lesion that affected both hippocampi. I actually knew him slightly, and know his daughter, as well as a number of people who knew him far better.

He is unable to recall being conscious for more than the last few minutes. So he is in a continuous state of thinking he has just woken up from a state of unconsciousness – and has no conscious knowledge of, or retrievable access to, of anything he has been told, prior to the last few minutes, or since his stroke. He is always delighted to see his wife, whether he last saw her a few minutes ago, or several months ago – it is always a surprise to him to see her.

Does he know that he exists? In a sense, yes, but in a sense, no. The man he was before his stroke no longer exists, and even the man he was a few minutes ago, with the knowledge he had then, no longer exists.

Indeed he exists in a continuous state of “delusion” that his life consists of his life up to his illness, plus the last few minutes. Despite the fact that to anyone else, it has consisted of a great deal more conscious life that that, in which he has had intelligent conversations, and played long pieces of music on his piano.

So all I can say is: depends what you mean by “I” and “exist”. In neither case am I 100% I know what they mean, and so I am not 100% confident that the statement is true.

Fortunately, there are a great many nines after the 99.9999…% in that statement!>>

Translation: when KS and ilk say that they “agree” with the first principles of right reason or with the Royce proposition and surrounding argument, they really mean, they will go along with the little game called logic based on arbitrary rules where it suits them, and will reject the conclusions where they are inconvenient.

Let us take due note and due caution.

Now, I made my own response, in light of the above [at 665], which I also wish to share, FTR:


KF, 665 (adj): >>One of the key lessons to be drawn from this thread, is how evolutionary materialism, as Plato warned so long ago, corrupts or enables corruption of both mind and conduct.

The underlying problems are that it undermines foundational principles, and leads to a self-serving relativism in which might and manipulation expressed through domination of institutions of influence, make ‘truth’ and ‘right.’

We can hardly say we have not been warned in good time, as Plato wrote 2350 years ago.

Going to the next step, the sort of selective hyperskepticism that abuses subjective certainty and pushes it in the place of objective warrant that we are seeing, leads to a situation where one is going to reject what one wishes and accept that which one ought not to, because one’s criteria for evaluation have become warped and inconsistent. In effect, such ideologues are picking what they wish to be so and feel certain about it, often because it is presented as the “Consensus” of “Science.” (And, we all “know” that Science, duly dressed in the holy lab coat, e4ncompasses all of ‘real” or at least ‘respectable’ knowledge. [But of course, such a knowledge claim is an exercise in poorly informed epistemology, a branch of philosophy, not science. Such an affirmation refutes itself. Science cannot be the be all and end all of knowledge or respectable knowledge. To affirm or imply that, is to be in ignorance that has the conceit of being knowledge.])

They also then proceed to carry the possibility of error that is embedded into science into making it a sort of party-flag for that selectively hyperskeptical subjectivism and radical relativism.

When such come up against things they do not wish to accept, they predictably then swivel around and suddenly are all skepticsism.

For instance, following SB, take self- and world- awareness, due to consciousness.

Is anyone here failing to recognise that rocks have no dreams or beliefs, that they have no awareness and so cannot be mistaken about their state?


By contrast with a rock, we are aware that we can make mistakes, but that means that we can be and are in fact, undeniably so, aware. We may err as to our exact nature and as to the exact nature of the real world [more on that . . . cf. image], but the first fact of consciousness is something we cannot be mistaken or deceived about.

In short, we live in a situation where all of us have a world partition:

W = { I | NOT-I }

That distinction is all we need to see that it is immediately self-evident that my identity as a self aware entity is real, I cannot at once in the same sense be NOT-I, and that (per X-OR) I cannot be both I and NOT-I or neither.

The same holds for the red ball on yon table, and it holds for why we look both ways before crossing the street. Or else, SCREEECH, CRASH!

The selective hyperskepticism we are seeing fails the first test, that of self-aware conscious existence.

Plato's Cave (Source: University of Fort Hare, SA, Phil. Dept.)
Prisoners in Plato’s Cave are still self-aware and may even recognise and correct errors by using common sense and first principles of right reason (Source: University of Fort Hare, SA, Phil. Dept.)

(And kindly note, we have not said anything about what that conscious I may be, it matters not if we are brains in vats or dream-state prisoners in the Matrix or even chained up denizens in Plato’s Cave, we are self aware, incorrigibly and undeniably so, so before any inference is made [and as a condition of being able at all to make inference], immediately so. He who tries to deny such betrays his incoherence and self-refutation by necessarily being self aware enough to recognise that there is something he or she disagrees with and objects to. The refusal to address this seriously, itself is telling on the degree of willfulness involved in what we are seeing. Such are clinging to absurdity because that which is absurd points where one is ever so desperate not to go. Self-evidence is not something one cannot deny if one is sufficiently insistent, but denial carries a price: clinging to absurdity. Let us note, and let us understand the foundational rot in any worldview that leads one to cling to such absurdities as we are here seeing.)

Let us take up a second example, the child’s exercise with pushing counting sticks or the like together, to physically express addition:

|| + ||| —–> |||||

We routinely symbolise 2 + 3 = 5.

Once we understand what the symbols mean (with reference to the exercise or the like) we see immediately that it is so and must be so, all we have done is to join two join-able sets of given cardinality and thus form a set with a higher cardinality that is the sum of the first two.

But now, let us suppose the child has made an error [oh, dear . . . there’s that stubborn little fact again, that error blatantly and undeniably exists], and thinks that 2 + 3 = 6.

Joining is reversible, so we have a simple exercise:

6 – 2 = ?

|||||| –> ||, ||||

Count: 1, 2, 3, 4.


||, |||

Count, 1, 2, 3.

Oops, we cannot match the two operations, so there must be an error.

No, no no, all of this can be a deluded pipe dream of a brain in a vat!

It cannot ground certainty!

Of course the first thing to be said of a deluded brain in a vat or the like, is that we are undeniably self aware, so the making of an error is not able to overturn that fact.

The second, is that when we have made an error, we face the situation that the error is detectable by leading to patent absurdity, when we are dealing with self-evident truths. As our child found out.

Indeed, let us imagine the child is a figment of imagination, in some dream state that we mistakenly think is real. Did that make 3 = 4, that it is not an extra-mental operation? Nope, even in the dream world, 3 = 4 is a mistake.

So, let us imagine further, that the dream is at another level, so that we cannot even perceive the difference between ||| and ||||, not even by the dream child putting the two together and seeing one is extra.

What have we implied here? That error exists. (Which directly entails that the denial of this claim, is an error, or at least that he conjunction of E and its denial ~E would be an error. But, we don’t know that LNC holds in all cases! — usually announced as a triumphant dismissal of an Aristotelian, black and white thinking ignoramus. Oops, an error, as to make the symbolic representation to so object, you have had to build on the foundation of identity and world partition, thus LOI, LNC and LEM, which you would deny — i.e. contradict and assert it is not the case that. And, to be aware to do so, you are already in a state of distinct identity, thence again the applicability of LOI, LNC, LEM.  And the incoherence leads to reduction to patent self-refuting absurdity. You may cling to absurdity if you want. We will know to ring fence you off as a clinger to the absurd, undermining self awareness, ability to communicate,and to be reasonable in the real world. Ironic isn’t it, it is the despised allegedly irrational theists indulging a losing war against “Science” and “Rationality” who are standing up for reason and common sense balance of reasonable faith and healthy awareness of the possibility of error so the need for reliable tests. Starting with self-evident first principles of right reason.)

The third point, is that we see here where error exists as a matter of brute fact, and that as a rule it leads to incoherence and absurdities if error mistaken for truth is taken as a basis for onward thought and work. (Even in science, we take it as a given that if a theory cannot account for credible observations, then it has been falsified to the relevant degree.)

Now, of course, fourthly, we have been communicating here, using symbols.

At every step, we have depended necessarily on those symbols being distinct and being able to be arranged in meaningful ways.

This again effects the world partitions we have discussed and the matter flows right back into the first fact of awareness as a part of the foundation cluster of self evident truths.

CONCLUSION: Something that is self evident and foundational cannot be evaded, and to deny it is to saw off the branch on which we must all sit.

Zip, zip, zip . . . CRAACK!

But also, we come back to the Royce proposition: error exists.

This is a consensus of fact, and should not be controversial at all.

For, we have all been in the position of that little child making a mistake with sums.

So also, it is obviously important that we identify tools for correcting ourselves, first reliably detecting our errors, at least as reliably as possible.

In the case of science, that comes down to recognising a key formal fallacy in its heart, and the resulting inherent provisionality of science.

For, where T = theory and O = observation, we reason:

IF T, THEN O, O (we speak of empirical confirmation or support) so T

But, let us make a different substitution: T = Tom is a cat, O = Tom is an animal:

IF T (Tom is a cat) THEN O (Tom is an animal), O (Tom is an animal) so T (Tom is a cat)

Intuitively, on common sense [we are going-concern thinkers after all and reasonableness must pass the test of the ordinary man standing in the Clapham bus stop . . . ], we see something is very wrong.

Patently, because we have many ways to be animals, so implication is not equivalence. That is, necessary and sufficient conditions are not the same. And as a result a single well established disconfirming instance in principle suffices to expose the failure of a hypothesis or theory.

In practice, there will be a long search to see if there is a way to fit the new observation in, and then it will take a fair amount of time for there to be a new consensus, especially where deeply held core views are in question and there are sufficiently determined defenders. In extreme cases, paradigms shift one funeral at a time, as was said in response to the physics revolution at turn of C20. (BTW, that is probably what is happening with Biology related areas on Origins and the design inference as we move ever deeper into an information systems age and learn more and more that somebody was there long before us, at the origin of life and of body plans.)

But notice, to examine disconfirmation in science, we were forced to rely on the first principles of right reason, especially non-contradiction.

Indeed, our argument pivoted on the matter that T => O means in key part, NOT-[T and (NOT-O)].

LNC is not to be evaded.

So, why saw off the branch on which we must all sit?

The analysis of scientific findings leading to disconfirmation also pivots on our ability to recognise distinct things that yield a world-partition, and so also inevitably — again — LOI and LEM not just LNC.

The three are inseparably joined at the hips.

We cannot operate without accepting these implicitly, and even the exercise of trying to debate a matter implicitly and immediately entails their acceptance.

One would think that a common sense approach would be to recognise this, and to if anything also point out that if there is no discernible distinction, we may not apply the three laws.

That is fine, and in praxis it does not make a practical difference as we cannot think without marking distinctions. In Zadehan, fuzzy border situations [full head of hair vs baldness, hot/ warm/ cold etc], we then find a way to agree as to where the border lies and live with it, e.g by making a weighted sum and then triggering a crisp response at a given threshold. Atoms do not have crisp borders, and neither do balls or planets, but there is sufficient definition that we can live with that. (So much for one of AF’s favourite objections — as has been repeatedly highlighted and just as repeatedly, predictably ignored in the agenda to push objecting talking points.)

A fire illustrates how the PSR applies to cause and effect of a contingent entity T, in light of enabling ON/OFF causal factors F

Going on just one step more, we also see that science is deeply caught up in the [weak form] principle of sufficient reason [PSR] and its corollaries: if a thing T exists, we may ask, why and seek/ expect a reasonable answer. Where if T had a beginning, it was caused and is dependent on one or more enabling ON/OFF factors F. Similar to how a fire depends on heat, fuel, oxidiser and heat generating chain reaction. So also, we may logically ask what if T has no such factors? Then, T would have no beginning, and no possibility of ending. For instance the number 2 is like that, as is the truth affirmed in the proposition 2 + 3 = 5. (We can construct mathematics starting from the empty set and collecting sets in succession then defining mentally, operations on such.) A serious candidate to be such a necessary being, then would be either impossible or possible. Impossible, if the core attributes stand in mutual contradiction and cannot hold together, such as a square circle. But if there is a serious candidate — it cannot be composite or made of matter etc [no flying spaghetti monsters or pink unicorns beloved of YouTube skeptics need apply], and it is possible , it will exist in a possible world, and so also in the actual one, indeed in all possible worlds; as say S5 affirms. (BTW, as a side-note, since God is a case of a serious candidate necessary being, this logic implies that objectors to the existence of God need to warrant the claim that God as commonly understood, the greatest possible, eternal, spiritual, inherently good being and the ground of being, our Creator, is IMPOSSIBLE. Not that they doubt and wish to dismiss his existence, they need to show cause that such a being is impossible. Let’s just say, that the favourite attempt of former years, the problem of evils, has collapsed post Platinga’s Free Will Defense.)

But, we are dealing with the Royce proposition E, that error exists (a point of consensus, as Mr Royce emphasised).

The Royce proposition is not just morally certain [sufficiently warranted that one would be irresponsible to act as though its denial were true], it is undeniably true.

At simplest level, try to deny it, ~ E. This means, “It is an ERROR to affirm that E: ‘error exists.’ ” That is, the attempted denial affirms the truthfulness of E. Even, trying to deny that error exists necessarily affirms that error exists.

Plead all you want that we are prone to error, in an attempt to reject the undeniability of such a truth claim as E.

Oops, you have in fact again affirmed, E.

That is, you have in saying that error is possible, indicated that there are possible states of affairs in which there are in fact errors; something that can only be sustained by reference to actual cases [which are of course legion], given that as a hyperskpetic you are in part doubting logical first principles. Moreover, you imply the correctness of the claim, as in fact you are implying that the person who asserts E and claims that E is undeniably so, is in such a state of affairs, of error. So either that person is in error or you are.

However, we may show the matter, as has been done several times (e.g. in FTR # 2), through a slightly symbolised analysis:

in steps of thought:

1: Let us take up, Royce’s Error exists, and symbolise it: E. (Where the denial would be NOT-E, ~E. Error does not exist, in plain English.)

2: Attempt a conjunction: { E AND ~E }

3: We have here mutually exclusive, opposed and exhaustive claims that address the real world joined together in a way that tries to say both are so.

4: Common sense, based on wide experience and our sense of how things are and can or cannot be — to be further analysed below, yielding three key first principles of right reason — tells us that, instead:

(a) this conjunction { E AND ~E } must be false (so that the CONJUNCTION is a definite case of an error), and that

(b) its falsity being relevant to one of the claims,

(c) we may readily identify that the false one is ~E. Which means:


(d) E is true and is undeniably true. (On pain of a breach of common sense.)

5: So, E is true, is known to be true once we understand it and is undeniably true on pain of patent — obvious, hard to deny — self contradiction. [ –> Let’s add, to make it even plainer: to say in effect that it is an error to say “error exists” necessarily implies that error exists.]

6: It is therefore self evident.

7: It is warranted as reliably true, indeed to demonstrative certainty.

8: Where, E refers to the real world of things as such.

9: It is a case of absolute, objective, certainly known truth; a case of certain knowledge. “Justified, true belief,” nothing less.

10: It is also a matter of widely observed fact — starting with our first school exercises with sums and visions of red X’s — confirming the accuracy of a particular consensus of experience.

11: So, here we have a certainly known case of truth existing as that which accurately refers to reality.

12: Also, a case of knowledge existing as warranted, credibly true beliefs, in this case to certainty.

13: Our ability to access truth and knowledge about the real, extra-mental world by experience, reasoning and observation is confirmed in at least one pivotal case.

14: Contemporary worldviews — their name is Legion — that would deny, deride or dismiss such [including the point that there are such things as self evident truths that relate to the real world], are thence shown to be factually inadequate and incoherent. They are unable to explain reality.

15: Such worldviews are, as a bloc, falsified by this one key point. They are unreasonable. (And yes, I know this may be hard to accept, but if your favoured system contradicts soundly established facts and/or truths, it is seriously defective.)

16: Of course the truth in question is particularly humbling and a warning on the limits of our knowledge and the gap between belief and truth or even ability to formulate a logical assertion and truth.

17: So, we need to be humble, and — contrary to assertions about how insisting on such objectivity manifests “arrogance” and potentially oppressive “intolerance” – the first principles of right reason (implicit in the above, to be drawn out below) allow us to humbly, honestly test our views so that we can identify when we have gone off the rails and to in at least some cases confirm when our confidence is well grounded.

So — while we can be mistaken about it — truth exists and we can in some cases confidently know it on pain of absurdity if we try to deny it. In particular, it is well warranted and credibly true beyond reasonable doubt or dispute that error exists. Truth therefore exists, and knowledge — i.e. the set of warranted, credibly true [and reliable] claims — also exists. (As noted already, but it bears repeating as it is hard for some to accept: this cuts a wide swath across many commonly encountered worldview ideas of our time; such as, the idea that there is no truth beyond what seems true to you or me, or that we cannot know the truth on important matters beyond conflicting opinions.)

The shrilly announced objections are legion, you are an ignorant idiot posing weak arguments, you are assuming LNC which is possibly mistaken, you are lying (this last is from KS, who is being uncivil here) etc etc etc.

Indeed, most tellingly: you are using logic, which is under question here as potentially riddled with error!

All of these objections have one fatal defect: they directly imply that error exists as whether the objector is wrong or I am wrong. (I cannot help if the objector whats to have his cake and eat it and insists on that futile exercise, but I can point it out and identify the problem: fundamental irrationality, instantly recognisable by the proverbial man standing in the Clapham bus stop.)

On either leg, in short, error exists.

Error exists is undeniably true, on pain of absurdly affirming what you wish so hotly to deny.

So, where does that leave the matter?

The first principles of right reason are common-sense reasonable, but there are ideologues aplenty afoot who would deny, even if they disguise the denial by the equivalent of saying they play an arbitrary little game called “logic” in which they accept these rules — except where they don’t want to follow where the rules inconveniently point. To do so, they have to cling to the most patent absurdities, starting with refusing to see that they cannot be deluded about being self-aware and conscious beings.

We cannot prevent such absurdity, but we can identify it and ring fence it off as the consequence of the self-destructive mentality of our post-modern hyperskeptical secularist evolutionary materialist world.

And then we can decide that we do not want to go there, into a world of the absurd.

So, instead, we start afresh from a basis of common sense realism, and see where that takes us.>>


So, having seen what is plainly a dead end of self referential absurdities, can we not now turn back and correct our path, beginning again? END