Tag Archives: Logic

Project Logicality | The Appeal to Nature


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This entry deals with an error in reasoning known as The Appeal to Nature, often confused with the Naturalistic Fallacy, and its reverse, the Moralistic Fallacy.

To keeps things short n’ simple, the Naturalistic Fallacy is the confusing of a statement of fact with a statement of subjective worth, a value judgment, an ought from an is, without sound justification, while the Moralistic Fallacy is the confusion of a value judgment with a statement of fact, an is from an ought with an equal lack of good reason.

Is does not by necessity imply Should be, nor does Should be imply Is.

Either of these is an informal fallacy.

The Appeal to Nature typically takes the form of an argument that because something is natural, and of similar use are the familiar marketing buzzwords organic and holistic it is therefore right, good, safe or better than something that is artificial or more efficiently produced, or because something is artificial, it is therefore implied to be inferior, undesirable, bad or wrong…

…For example:

  • Someone tripped over an invisible turtle and staved in his skull on a rock. It is therefore correct to assume that the natural causation (gravity, and impact with a large piece of rock, a naturally-occurring substance…) of the damage to his cranium means that the damage is therefore right or desirable, and should thus not be treated by a physician.

The above is perhaps an extreme example, and then there is the following:

  • Vitamin A, when artificial, is harmful to the body, though not when it is natural, in any arbitrary amount for either.

The above is fallacious because whether natural or synthetic, vitamin A is exactly the same molecule regardless of how or where it is produced, and whether it is safe or harmful depends entirely on the dosage.

Because these last two examples are concerned with the goodness/badness or rightness/wrongness of something based on its origins they also constitute variations of a genetic fallacy.

There are a great many things of completely natural origin that are nonetheless rather unsafe. A few are below:

  • Arsenic, Cadmium, and Uranium are three highly toxic natural elements…
  • There are the herbs Hemlock, Foxglove, and Belladonna
  • …in addition to all other animal, mineral, and plant toxins, such as the venom of certain species of trapdoor spiders, curare, rattlesnake venom, platypus venom, a huge host of poisonous fungi such as species Amanita muscaria

A common argument using this fallacy is the assertion that behaviors and practices “found in nature” are good or more desirable than modern behaviors, such as some of our more detrimental evolved social instincts being “right,” even though in our modern technological society they no longer convey the survival benefits they did to our ancestors on the plains of Africa, now that we are a global species. The following is one such argument…

  • Before we were a technological species we were one with the natural world, but soon we shall pay for our continuous crimes against nature. For every illness we’ve bought temporary respite from through modern medicine, another, more resistant strain takes its place. How long can we keep at our unnatural and invasive medical procedures, when all we are doing is living longer and longer and getting sicker and sicker with each new ‘advance’ in treatment. The only way we can be truly healthy is to return to our roots, to return to nature and relinquish the evils of science and technology.

First, humans have always been a technological species, and we’ve been that even before we were human.

Second, we were then mostly ignorant about the natural world, and saw the supernatural everywhere.

As a species that better understands Nature now than we once did, instead of attributing everything to mystical influences in our ignorance, praying and chanting to invisible and probably nonexistent spirits in invariably failed attempts to cure horrible illnesses, with that better understanding comes a closeness to nature unparalleled by our ancestors even a century ago.

We understand better how nature works, and our scientific and medical advances, limited though they may be in some areas, have given those with access to them greater health and quality of life, and the greater modern life-expectancy and standards of living are reliable indicators of this.

Those belonging to a typical middle-class family live longer and in greater luxury on the average than a medieval king, though perhaps with less gold stashed in the cellar.

Yes, scientific advances are a double-edged sword, but we can’t solve the problems brought about by knowledge by replacing it with ignorance. A problem caused by misuse of knowledge can only be remedied by the use of better knowledge than that which caused the original problem.

Have fun looking for this fallacy in everyday discussions and in the media, especially advertisements for questionable ‘food supplements’ and medical products using the previously mentioned buzzwords, products which tend more often than not to have a high price tag, at least in cash if not in possible health consequences.

Consider: Despite what mystics and quacks will tell you, it pays to be skeptical.

Project Logicality | Zikky the Imp & The Inconsistency Fallacy


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Objects-of-faith themselves are now outside the scope of my blogging. But arguments regardless of original purpose are fair game as they are logically testable. Thus do they open themselves to meaningful critique.

First, the laws of logic demand consistency in their use. You do not get to cherry-pick what reasoning supports your conclusion nor dismiss as silly or absurd what doesn’t. Absurdity is often claimed through the use of disingenuous rhetoric. The claim that actual infinities are impossible because they lead to absurdity are a case in point. Asserted most often by Dr. William Lane Craig, the claim is easily falsified merely by consulting a book by any professional mathematician who regularly works and writes on set theory. The fact that infinities can lead to absurdities in certain arithmetic operations does not prove their actuality impossible, only that you cannot perform those operations using infinities. There is dangerous equivocation to be committed by toying with the semantics of words like ‘actual.’ There is much difference between ‘actual’ in a physical context, and ‘actual’ in a mathematical one. Also, if you declare actual infinities impossible, you must declare all actual infinities impossible including those that favor your argument. You do not get to invoke nonsense, such as ad hoc ‘qualitative infinities’ to save your claims from your own line of reasoning. This is why I refuse to debate apologists; I’ve little patience with dishonest argumentation in a debate partner, and I find it annoying and frustrating. The trouble here is, they just don’t seem to know, or possibly know and don’t care. It matters little. That’s bad for keeping my stress levels down, so no.

Onward, then…

So, let’s say there’s a mischievous imp. We’ll call him Zikky. Zikky (not to be confused with Zippy of pinhead fame…) is a very special sort of imp, a Cartesian demon. He’s a diabolical master of illusion and delusion who can make anyone see and think whatever he likes them to. He’s a virtuoso at mucking with peoples’ heads. He can create whole, self-consistent virtual worlds in any and all minds he wants to. For all functional purposes these virtual worlds cannot be told from ‘the real thing.’ Let’s assume an agnostic position as to whether Zikky really exists. Let’s also assume he has a following, a fan club who idolizes their hero and collects his trading cards.

Despite those pesky doubters who require his existence be shown to some reasonable standard of logic and evidence, Zikky’s fans claim that those are all completely irrelevant to his existence. ‘We don’t need evidence, or logic,’ they say. They also argue that there is both rational and empirical evidence for this; supposedly self-evident reasoning and evidence throughout the natural world. Many of his fans say they’ve met and talked to him personally at conventions. And there is the allegedly rock-solid proof of personally signed Zikky the Imp collector’s cards. Hmmm. It looks as though they are trying to have their chapattis and eat them too!

Fallacy! But while the fact of a fallacy doesn’t show a claim false, it does show that a claim does not follow from the arguments given. Throw those arguments out; they’re at cross-purposes, and so no good!

Relevance works both ways, not just in one direction. If X is relevant to Y, then Y must be relevant to X. The same for irrelevance. They are symmetrical. There is a causal chain that necessarily links both ways even when moving in only one direction.

So if logic and evidence are irrelevant to Zikky, then Zikky is irrelevant to them. Just as you cannot absolutely disprove Zikky’s reality using reason or facts, you also cannot use them to show that he’s real. After all, he’s a master of fiddling around with peoples’ minds not bound by any natural laws. How could anyone possibly know? How would a world with or without Zikky in it appear? No conceivable observation, no knowable brute fact, is inconsistent with either possibility. It cannot be tested, and philosophically, it’s not useful in any practical sense. Whatever you perceive looks and feels real no matter what’s perceived. So it doesn’t really matter whether Zikky exists or not.

Sure, the arguments for his reality are fairly weak on their own, but what if we offer them together to make our case? Can we prove our case with reason alone, using allegedly true premises and a lot of quotations as our evidence? But in fact, while argument is useful to explain evidence, it cannot substitute for it, even with supposedly true premises. Especially in formal logic, determining the actual truth of the premises is the hardest part of evaluating any argument, however valid we find its structure. It’s easy to bamboozle with out-of-context quotes and dubious factoids.

That’s why science uses logical argument in its explanations for natural and human phenomena, and carefully gathered evidential data to support those explanations. Logic alone, outside of a context of maths or pure logic is empty. For claims about anything existing in the real world, you need the data to show it. That’s what counts. Reason serves to organize and make sense of the data, but it cannot replace it. This should not be news. It’s been obvious since modern science began, and our reasoning and data-gathering have only gotten better over the centuries. Science no longer adheres to the naive overconfidence in pure reason of even a few hundred years ago. If the data don’t support it, it’s of no scientific use. No matter how persuasive the reasoning, or rationalizations, as the case may be. That’s why we’ve moved on.

It’s why science has made genuine progress, while apologetics and pseudoscience have not. If there’s no actual data supporting one’s claims, if one’s forced to make a case using the same fallacies dressed up, retooled, and rebranded with questionable data points, then they’ve not come very far at all.

Good luck convincing anyone who doesn’t already accept those claims, no matter their nature. Any fallacy, formal or informal, is enough to disqualify an argument as reliable support for any claim. But the inconsistency fallacy is among the most obvious, and among the most egregious.

Avoid it whenever possible. It will save you the effort of making up excuse after excuse to explain away those same inconsistencies.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

References:

Philosophy of Religion: Lecture 25: Evidence is Irrelevant to Faith

The God Distraction, Chapter One: Arguments

The Big Questions of Philosophy: Lecture 3: How Do We Reason Carefully?