Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Alvin

Today’s Jesus and Mo is a repost of an older one, but it’s still relevant, as theological arguments never change.

2013-11-20

Well, it’s not really an argument for God—it’s an argument against reason (and therefore science). And, as I noted in my recent Slate piece, we don’t have “faith” in reason, we use reason as a tool, and we use it because it works. In other words, we have justified confidence in it, not the religiously based “faith” that means “belief based on either no evidence, not enough evidence to convince a nonbeliever, or against the evidence.”

Actually, I’m not sure this strip works, for the use of reason is not a circular argument (you might as well argue that using a hammer instead of a noodle to drive in a nail is based on “faith”), and circular arguments are logically invalid. In other words, the refutation of Jesus and Mo’s claim isn’t in this strip.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I importune the Jesus and Mo artist to update the panel.  I’d love to see something on our supposed “faith” in science.

h/t: Linda Grilli

25 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Mr. Twelve
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    I think the strip works perfectly. When the barmaid asks what’s wrong with circular reasoning, she is setting Jesus and Mo up. Their refutation of her claim (circular reasoning is logically invalid) is based on reason, therefore invalidating their previous attack on reason. Essentially, J&M are refuting themselves and the barmaid is leading them along.

  3. Posted November 20, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    I think Author’s point is that the claim that using reason requires faith itself requires reason to make that claim, thus the claim is self-refuting — they are assuming reason in order to claim that assuming reason is unreasonable.

    This is quite apart from your point that reason is actually validated by evidence, and thus we don’t “assume” it.

    • Posted November 20, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Perhaps you and the other commenters are right (and yes, I did make that point), in which case I stand corrected if that was indeed the artist’s intent. (And since he’s smart, it probably was!)

      On the other hand, if they are using reason to make their argument, which they are, they could still claim that they have faith in it! The main problem, not touched on here, is that use of reason is NOT based on a religious-like faith.

      But this is all very academic! Enjoy the LOLz.

      • Posted November 20, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        But if they (J&Mo) accept the use of reason, as they do in Panel 2, then they’ve invalidated their claims in Panel 1 that reason can’t be trusted.

        So Author’s strip stands up — but is making a different point from your one.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted November 20, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

          The clue is in Mo’s “And “therefore” means “for that reason”.”

          • eric
            Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

            Right on. Similarly, the “logically” in Jesus’ “logically invalid” answer shows that Jesus is valuing logic.

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

              I wonder what argument jeebus was getting ready to rehash…

              Always leave ‘em hanging. :-)

  4. Roberto Aguirre Maturana
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    It is circular indeed to say that logic and reason *truly* work.

  5. Vaal
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    I think the commentators here (e.g. Mr. Twelve, Coel) AND Jerry have got it right.

    That “faith in reason” attack is absurd and Douglas Wilson used it continually in his debates with Christopher Hitchens. The thing is, as absurd as it is, it’s a bit of a trap if not refuted the right way, it seems to me.

    And on that note I find that Jerry’s post get’s it perfect at this point: “we don’t have “faith” in reason, we use reason as a tool,

    Exactly. This cuts off the trick the apologist is attempting, getting us to “justify the use of reason.” The problem is (and the trap is) that you can’t justify reason without appealing to reason – hence assuming the very conclusion you are supposed to establish, resulting in vicious circularity/question begging.

    The right response is the one Jerry gives right up to the point above. You don’t “justify” the use of reason; you point out that reason IS the method (tool) BY WHICH we justify our beliefs. You may have a desire, or even a belief that was not arrived at via reason, but you can’t JUSTIFY that belief without recourse to reason, because that’s what “justifying” a belief is: reasoning about it.

    It’s like the difference between asking Jerry how he “justifies” his belief that his mass is attracted to the earth (gravity) vs asking it in the manner “How do you justify your mass being attracted to the earth?”
    The former is a legit question; the latter
    is silly since it’s unavoidable – something we simply observe to be a fact, not something that occurs once we’ve gone through “justification.” and “Justification” plays no role in whether Jerry obeys gravity. Same with asking someone to “justify” the use of reason; reason isn’t justified, it’s just a bare fact about how we operate that reason is THE MANNER in which we justify beliefs. And that any attempt to “justify” some “other” method of reason will necessarily employ reason as we already know and use it. Reason is a description of how humans behave when justifying their beliefs just as “being attracted to the mass of the earth” is a description of how our bodies behave when standing on the earth.

    So, while I believe Jerry to be right on track up to the point of explaining DESCRIPTIVELY that reason is the tool we use in justifying our beliefs, I think he falls into the apologist’s trap when he goes further to say:

    “…and we use it because it works. In other words, we have justified confidence in it,”

    Which is an attempt to justify the use of reason. You can’t say “I’m justified in using reason because…” when reason IS already the method you’ve assumed to justify in the first place.

    Best to just point out that reason is how we justify our beliefs, and that if you aren’t using reason, you aren’t justifying a belief.

    Vaal

    • Vaal
      Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      “est to just point out that reason is how we justify our beliefs, and that if you aren’t using reason, you aren’t justifying a belief.”

      …meant to add: and that is essentially the point made by that Jesus ‘n Mo cartoon; that their calling into question the atheist’s justification of reason is silly, because
      reason IS the method of justification, as exemplified by their answers to the bar-maid’s prodding questions.

      Vaal

    • eric
      Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      The problem is (and the trap is) that you can’t justify reason without appealing to reason

      No, the problem is that when you interpret “reason” so broadly, you can’t justify anything without appealing to reason. “I have faith because I feel the presence of God.” What connects your conclusion to your expenience? A form of reason. Heck, what makes a believer think that the bible in front of them is even real? That this isn’t the Matrix or last Thursdayism? Empiricism and induction…which is reason.

      You can’t even make cogent faith justifications without reason, if ‘reason’ is broadly interpreted. And that is what the J&M cartoon is pointing out (albeit, fairly opaquely).

      The structure of human jutification is not:

      faith -> reason.

      Its:

      general reasoning -> faith, science (by different paths)

  6. Sastra
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Yup, that nails it. The Jesus ‘n Mo strip is pointing out that the Argument From Reason (for the existence of God) contains a trap.

    “Justify justification.”

    If you try to do this you run into a wall. You can’t rationally defend reason without assuming it. Circular. Ha ha — look how atheists are logically forced to contradict themselves! Reason is an unjustified faith … but God is the ground of reason and makes it authoritative.

    The mistake however is in the atheist sliding over the self-contradiction in the challenge itself. Before you try to answer, look at the QUESTION. Unpack that one.

    Years ago I learned a term: the Fallacy of the Stolen Concept (yes, it came out of objectivism but I still find it useful.) This error in reasoning consists of using a concept –and/or what it rests upon — in order to deny the validity of that concept. Thus you get an ill-formed question.

    The classic example is using reason — accepting the rules, the framework, the ideas behind it — in order to doubt it. The demand that the atheist rationally support reason is the self-contradiction. They’re using common ground to argue against common ground.

    There is also of course the problem of how God establishes the “authority” of reason when God’s own authority would itself have to be grounded in rationally sound reasons.

    You can play this game for days.

    • eric
      Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      You can’t rationally defend reason without assuming it. Circular. Ha ha — look how atheists are logically forced to contradict themselves! Reason is an unjustified faith … but God is the ground of reason and makes it authoritative.

      The statement “God is the ground of reason and makes it authoritative” requires the assumption of some form of reason. You can’t get from [God is the ground of reason] to [makes it authoritative] without some assumptions about what counts as a good reason for deciding something makes something else authoritative.

      Its quite an intelligent comic. Hard to fathom initially, but very insightful.

      • Vaal
        Posted November 20, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        ^^

        Ezactly. We agree. Which is why I’m puzzled by your response to me above, where you say I’ve got it wrong.

        Vaal.

  7. krzysztof1
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I am not a professional logician, so you can correct me if I am wrong about this. It doesn’t seem like a simple issue. But here’s what I have so far. What Mo said is that Reason (R) requires Faith in Reason (F(R))in order to sustain it. I think that F(R) is equivalent to the proposition:

    R iff R

    which is itself an instance of R.

    • krzysztof1
      Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Another way to say it is that in order to believe that R iff R is TRUE, you first have to believe that it is TRUE.

    • eric
      Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Yep. Though I would say it differently: Mo’s (and other theists’s ) assertion that “R requires F(R)” is a claim that can only be concluded using R. If there’s no R, there’s no justification for the claim “R requires F(R).”

      • krzysztof1
        Posted November 20, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        How about R iff (R iff R)? lol

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted November 21, 2013 at 2:58 am | Permalink

          I’m sure Achilles and the Tortoise have had something to say about this.

  8. bacopa
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I have to point out here that “valid” has a very precise meaning in logic. Interestingly according to the usual definitions of validity, circular arguments are always deductively valid. There are systems of logic such as intuitionistic logics and relevance logics that address this problem, but all classical logics count circular arguments as valid.

    In the context of the study of logics it is important to remember that “valid” is not a synonym for “good” or “satisfactory”.

    • peterr
      Posted November 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      I take a circular argument to be one in which the conclusion is also one of the hypotheses. If that is what is meant, then in propositional logic:

      1. A —> B

      2. A —> (B and C)

      3. A —> B

      is circular, but is not valid in general, since the step from 1 to 2 has no justification for many choices of C (though that from 2 to 3 does have). So a circular argument in the sense above is sometimes invalid (and of course there is always the very trivial valid circular argument, and others).

      Instead of “choices of C” above, one could just take A, B and C to be (distinct) propositional variables.

      Maybe circular means something else to some people.

      Or perhaps what was meant was that for any choice of conclusion, and of hypotheses which include the conclusion, there are many arguments of course which are valid (though rather uninteresting, to say the least!)

      I don’t think intuitionistic or relevance logics have much to add to this (or to anything at all IMHO in the latter case!)

      • bacopa
        Posted November 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        Or perhaps what was meant was that for any choice of conclusion, and of hypotheses which include the conclusion, there are many arguments of course which are valid (though rather uninteresting, to say the least!)

        Yes, I was interpreting “circular to be equivalent to begging the question, petitio principii. if the premises contain the conclusion or some statement less obvious than the conclusion while directly implying the conclusion, the argument counts as valid by classical logics.

        Such arguments are of course as you say, ‘uniteresting’ as they completely fail to support their conclusions in any way.

        Intuitionistic logics can deal with the obviousness problem, and relevance logics simply toss out question begging arguments.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Not only are circular arguments valid, but you can map empiricism onto them: observations can be modeled by hypothesis tests, and the test is based on the observations.

      Of course, all what naive modeling shows is that using philosophy on reality is Not Even Wrong. =D (Logic OTOH has its uses.)

  9. Dawn Oz
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all the discussion – I kept rereading the cartoon and its point wasn’t clear to me.


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