Was denial of the Laws of Thought a myth?

Discussion of A = A seems to have died down some here. As much as people find the topic a fun exercise in logic and philosophy, it might be worth reminding everyone how all this got started here, on a site largely devoted to critiquing creationist and ID arguments.

It started when the owner of the site Uncommon Descent declared that some basic Laws of Thought were being regularly violated by anti-ID commenters on that site.

In a post on February 16, 2012 Barry Arrington wrote, in justification of his policy,
that:

The issue, then, is not whether persons who disagree with us on the facts and logic will be allowed to debate on this site. Anyone who disagrees about the facts and logic is free to come here at any time. But if you come on here and say, essentially, that facts and logic do not matter, then we have no use for you.

The formal announcement of Barry’s policy was four days earlier, in this UD post where Barry invoked the Law of Non-Contradiction and declared that

Arguing with a person who denies the basis for argument is self-defeating and can lead only to confusion. Only a fool or a charlatan denies the LNC, and this site will not be a platform from which fools and charlatans will be allowed to spew their noxious inanities.

For that reason, I am today announcing a new moderation policy at UD. At any time the moderator reserves the right to ask the following question to any person who would comment or continue to comment on this site: “Can the moon exist and not exist at the same time and in the same formal relation?” The answer to this question is either “yes” or “no.” If the person gives any answer other than the single word “no,” he or she will immediately be deemed not worth arguing with and therefore banned from this site.

The example of the moon’s existence and nonexistence called to mind quantum mechanics, and led to lots of people qualifying their answer, and getting banned. The present era of discussion at TSZ began when Elizabeth Liddle offered her site as a home for discussion among the banned, with others welcome too.

Ever since then, the topic has been a favorite here.

But I always wondered: exactly who were the opponents of ID who based their argument on the assertion that True = False? Did anyone there, ever, commit that particular sin? When I argue, I base myself on ordinary everyday logic. If I contradict myself, I hope that I will admit it. If I misunderstand the matter, this will become apparent. But the one thing I don’t do is to argue that because my argument is false, therefore it is true.

I think that this is true of everyone who ever commented on UD, or here. Can anyone find the mythical commenter who Barry was guarding against when he announced the Laws of Thought test?

[Please note that this thread is not for discussion of whether A = A, or even whether B = B].

43 thoughts on “Was denial of the Laws of Thought a myth?”

  1. Gregory

    “ordinary everyday logic”

    Care to define that, Joe? It sounds mythical. Or too general to be meaningful in a pluralistic society. Or rather, maybe it’s just the warm and fuzzy innocence of a natural scientist speaking non-scientifically as a ‘human being’?

    p.s. question context: I’ve been working recently with William of Ockham’s Summa Logicae (1341) and the Port-Royal Logic (aka ‘the art of thinking’) (1662), which unsurprisingly don’t use the ‘postmodern’ terms ‘ordinary everyday’ wrt ‘logic’

  2. GlenDavidson

    You have to deny reason if you’re not a theist.

    That seems to be the “basis” of Barry’s “rationale” for the notion that there’s a bunch of people denying logic. And if anyone brings up ambiguity, well, that just proves it.

    Glen Davidson

  3. MungMung

    But I always wondered: exactly who were the opponents of ID who based their argument on the assertion that True = False? Did anyone there, ever, commit that particular sin?

    I’m confused Joe. Your OP addresses one thing then asks a question about something else. Did Barry ban people claiming they were basing their argument on the assertion that True = False?

  4. Mark Frank

    As far as I know Barry is unable to point to an example where an opponent has supported their argument by denying the laws of logic (unless you include arguing about the nature of these laws and whether they are always true). I think several people have raised this point over the last few months.

    The nature of the laws of logic seems to me rather an interesting debate (as Lizzie wrote – what does it mean to say A=A?) but not if any attempt to discuss it is met with “I am obviously right and you are mad/immoral/dishonest/threatening the basis of rationality to deny it”.

  5. Kantian NaturalistKantian Naturalist

    I remember the incident very roughly but I do not recall anyone actually doing what Arrington accused someone of doing. That is, I do not recall anyone actually denying, explicitly or implicitly, the law of identity or the law of non-contradiction. So I can’t help answer the question.

  6. waltowalto

    “Can the moon exist and not exist at the same time and in the same formal relation?”

    I just wanted to point out that the ‘and in the same formal relation’ is just nonsense. Arrington likes to sound like he has some idea what he’s talking about, but he often (as here) is betrayed by his desire to…well…sound like he knows what he’s talking about when he has no real idea what he’s talking about.

  7. fifthmonarchyman

    FYI

    I don’t know if anyone ever explicitly denied the laws of thought but I once had a long discussion with AIGuy in which he denied the law of non contradiction and supported his argument by explaining how a square could be a circle.

    peace

  8. Mark Frank

    fifthmonarchyman,

    That sounds like an interesting discussion. But did AIGuy use his claims to support his case in any other respect or was it simply a discussion about the laws of thought?

  9. fifthmonarchyman

    Mark Frank: was it simply a discussion about the laws of thought?

    I don’t recall.

    It started as a regression like most stuff in the ID universe. I vaguely remember it was in reference to my comment that in general laws of “nature” are a given an can not be violated by anyone.

    peace

  10. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein Post author

    I am incompetent to describe my own philosophical position, but I do know that I have never argued that something was true because it was false.

    I have never seen anyone argue that at UD.

    And no one else here has seen that either, apparently.

    So Barry’s test, and the bannings that he did based in it, was an attempt to make UD safe from unicorns.

  11. REW

    But I always wondered: exactly who were the opponents of ID who based their argument on the assertion that True = False? Did anyone there, ever, commit that particular sin?

    If I recall correctly, BA ( or another regular) was making one of the unsupported axiomatic assertions that forms the bedrock of the ID arguments ie. ‘new information can only be produced by a mind’ ..etc etc. When several ID opponents challenged it BA took that as a basic flaw in their ability to think logically and started the thread to build a logical foundation to support ID. I cant remember the name of the main offender but it wouldn’t surprise me if they wander in here sooner or later under a different screen name. I think 2 or 3 might have been banned for suggesting BA’s logic was a bit too simplistic for the real world ( I suggested something recently and didn’t get banned). I don’t remember how reasonable the arguments were but writing anything but ‘yes’ was enough to get some people banned.

  12. Reciprocating BillReciprocating Bill

    Joe:

    But I always wondered: exactly who were the opponents of ID who based their argument on the assertion that True = False? Did anyone there, ever, commit that particular sin?.

    I posed exactly that question to StephenB, years ago (as Diffaxial, may he RIP):

    Would you please provide an example of a facet of contemporary evolutionary theory that is defective due to the failure of the scientists involved to respect the principles of right reason?

    and…

    What I was hoping you would provide is an examplar of an argument within evolutionary biology that is defective specifically due to a failure (you claim a motivated failure) to observe the “rules of right reason”, as you submit above. I’m not aware of any posit with evolutionary biology that hinges upon necessary violations of causality, nor of the law of non-contradiction, nor of your postulate that both the universe or our minds are rational, etc. Yet you have submitted that greater problems arise within evolutionary theory due to such failures than to deficiencies of evidence. Even were your suggestion correct that Darwinists are motivated to embrace counter-intuitive theories and findings, it fails to provide a specific example of the impact of such a failure of “right reason” within evolutionary theory.

    Of course, Diffaxial never got an answer.

  13. Gregory

    Alan Fox: I’m guessing Professor Felsenstein is a pragmatist.

    Though I’ve never met him or spoken with him, I’m guessing Joe’s an empiricist, ‘fun’-loving atheist gardener nice guy who professionally collects ‘samples’ of dung.

    Of course he’s a ‘pragmatist’! What else could he be, Alan? He’s USAmerican.

    That nation’s folk have precious little other ‘philosophy’ (or philosophistry, as some here regularly demonstrate) in USA (and almost none that such natural scientists as Joe would likely be aware of). (Do you not know of Homer Simpson, duh?) No idealism, no realism, no ‘enlightenment’, no ‘personalism’ comes with the territory of Joe’s profession, that’s obvious.

    Even Joe’s question in this thread reveals naivety at best, insensitivity as the norm, ignorance at worst. But ‘insensitive,’ no, never tell a natural scientist that. The atheists among them will whop, holler and cry foul because they of course think that they just use ‘rationality,’ called ‘common sense’ without wisdom or ethics in their specialisation.

  14. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein Post author

    Gregory, I am sure that if I hired you as my “life coach” I would benefit greatly.

    But in the meantime, I was just asking whether anyone at UD actually engaged in the behavior that Barry alleged.

    I never dreamed that I would get all this bonus advice. Thanks!

  15. sean samissean samis

    I was commenting frequently at UD when this all came up, and I never understood what the purpose was; but then much of what management at the UD does is mysterious to me.

    For what it’s worth, I thought KF started the topic and Barry just picked it up from KF.

    sean s.

  16. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein Post author

    sean samis,

    Do you mean the use of “self-evident” or the original invocation of the Laws of Thought which critics of ID were supposedly violating?

    The Laws of Thought stuff comes from early 2012, when Barry started his dramatic (and hilarious) purge.

  17. sean samissean samis

    Joe Felsenstein,

    Joe;

    I’m not surprised that this goes back that far or farther, I found some old instances in my search for the genesis of this; but I’m only familiar with the recent episode so I limited my efforts to that one.

    I’m sure it’s like any other immunization strategy: it needs booster shots every now and then.

    sean s.

  18. Reciprocating BillReciprocating Bill

    fifthmonarchyman: I don’t know if anyone ever explicitly denied the laws of thought but I once had a long discussion with AIGuy in which he denied the law of non contradiction and supported his argument by explaining how a square could be a circle.

    One might start with the axioms of spherical geometry as one’s working assumptions (presuppositions) rather than the axioms of Euclidian geometry. Then it would follow that there are squares that are circles.

  19. hrun0815

    I’m pretty sure in his mind Barry sees the A=!A crowd all the time. For example anybody who claims to support abortion, but also claims not to support chopping up babies and selling them like cheap meat at the butcher commits this fallacy (in his mind). And surely there are many, many more examples like that.

  20. MungMung

    Are you going to answer the question, Joe?

    I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, to not immediately accuse you of erecting straw man.

    It would help if you could say how your accusation against Barry relates to some actual action by Barry.

    Here, again, in case you missed it and weren’t just ignoring it:

    Mung: Did Barry ban people claiming they were basing their argument on the assertion that True = False?

  21. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein Post author

    Mung: Yes, I was ignoring you, because for our purposes there isn’t much difference. You are technically right, he didn’t ban people based explicitly on whether they said that True = False. Barry banned people based on his test as to whether they agreed that an object, such as the moon, could exist and not exist at the same time. (You can read the quote here in the Original Post or in Barry’s post to which I link above).

    So if I say “It is true that the moon exists” and I also say that “It is false that the moon exists” then I am in effect saying True = False. Barry invoked the Law of Non-Contradiction and was banning anyone who did not simply say “no” to his question as to whether the moon could both exist and not exist at the same time.

    Our whole discussion here is whether anyone at all, among the critics of ID at UD in that time, was so dishonest or deluded that they were explicitly basing their arguments on violations of the LNC, and were arguing that that was OK. Barry was implying (loudly!) that there were many critics of ID at UD who did that.

    As far as I can see these dishonest or deluded people were mythical. Barry was engaged in purging real critics on the grounds that they were unicorns.

    Do you agree?

  22. MungMung

    Joe Felsenstein: You are technically right, he didn’t ban people based explicitly on whether they said that True = False.

    Indeed. And yet you wrote:

    But I always wondered: exactly who were the opponents of ID who based their argument on the assertion that True = False? Did anyone there, ever, commit that particular sin?

    So whether any opponent of ID ever based their argument on that assertion or committed that particular sin is pretty much irrelevant. It’s a straw man.

    Barry banned people based on his test as to whether they agreed that an object, such as the moon, could exist and not exist at the same time. (You can read the quote here in the Original Post or in Barry’s post to which I link above).

    I did read it, before I ever responded to your OP. And you also fail to accurately represent the test. From your own source:

    For that reason, I am today announcing a new moderation policy at UD. At any time the moderator reserves the right to ask the following question to any person who would comment or continue to comment on this site: “Can the moon exist and not exist at the same time and in the same formal relation?”

    Do you think the portion you left out is not important?

    So if I say “It is true that the moon exists” and I also say that “It is false that the moon exists” then I am in effect saying True = False.

    It depends. But who was banned from UD for claiming the moon exists and the moon does not exist?

    Our whole discussion here is whether anyone at all, among the critics of ID at UD in that time, was so dishonest or deluded that they were explicitly basing their arguments on violations of the LNC, and were arguing that that was OK.

    I think that’s a straw man. Who was banned and why were they banned?

  23. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein Post author

    Mung, not sure what you meant there.

    Banning for denial of the Law of Non-Contradiction definitely happened, as many people here can testify, and as can be seen in Barry’s infamous April 12, 2012 thread at UD.

    However the bannings were declared for answering Barry’s question in any way other than “no”. The interesting question is whether any of those banned UD commenters ever used denial of the LNC in their arguments critical of ID. So far there is no smoking gun.

    Barry was arguing that people were using denial of the LNC in their arguments. I have yet to see a real example of this.

    My interest is not to beat up on Barry for the bannings. To me they are fairly hilarious, and with them he’s done damage to UD. It is more to wonder why so many people here at TSZ are arguing about A = A. It’s really for a fun philosophical argument. It is not that denial of A = A actually played any role at UD, other than as a strawman that Barry used to justify the bannings.

  24. stcordova

    I don’t think Barry can demonstrate anyone has ever started with the premise:

    True = False

    and then made an argument, thereafter. No one here would do that.

    Barry suspended my posting privileges for supposedly not accepting the law of non contradiction and not reciting it with the extraneous philosophical BS that he insists I must recite.

    It’s not enough for me to utilize the LNC for systems that obey classical logic. I have to recite extraneous philosophical BS according to a creed he specifies and using words and ideas that I was never exposed to in disciplines that actually use formal logic like math, computer science, and physics.

    To show Barry’s way of doing business, note, I said this in comment #195:

    I agree with the strong form of LNC

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/atheism/understanding-self-evidence-with-a-bit-of-help-from-aquinas/#comment-482246

    just a few comments later he announces to the world my posting privileges were suspended because I didn’t agree with the LNC, or at least used the phraseology acceptable to him

    scordova is in moderation until he answers the question posed at 198. See the policy announced here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com…..gue-at-ud/

    I got tired of his bullying. I don’t need it. The ID community at this point doesn’t get much benefit from Barry and KF and StephenB’s postings at UD.

    TSZ is a superior venue despite the fact I’m usually quarreling with others here and I’m not liked, it’s an intellectually stimulating place where people actually know math and science and where some of my ideas have gotten valuable criticism and correction and for which I’m indebted to my critics for.

    Barry then tossed me for good on the pretense of me posting a news item about Mark Armitage where I didn’t even use the word, “YEC”, yet only 5 days later or so, Denyse posted basically the same article I did and additionally used the term creationist:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/evolution/developing-story-young-earth-creationist-microscopist-fired-in-wake-of-finding-soft-tissue-from-dinosaurs-sues/

    I’d say it’s fine to have a website by invitation only, that’s how I run my own websites.

    But I don’t pretend I follow some due process through a kangaroo court editorial process. That is, no need to say, “you’re a liar a charlatan a Nazi enemy of truth” and then follow on with a ceremonial banning that says, “so and so has been banned because he’s an idiot and liar.”

    At least during a long past era a UD Bill Dembski simply said something like, “you’re boring, goodbye.” And that was it.

  25. Reciprocating BillReciprocating Bill

    Mung:
    Was banning for denial of the Laws of Thought a myth?

    Probably.

    Not to put too fine a point on it:

    Barry:

    Liddle denies the universal applicability of the three laws of thought. And people wonder why I refuse to countenance her self-repudiating incoherence masquerading as rational argument on this site. Why? As has been said, anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction doesn’t need an argument; they need therapy. Someone else said, “Do not answer a fool according to her foolishness lest you be like her.” Liddle is a fool. She will no longer be spewing her folly on this site.

  26. MungMung

    Allan Miller: Yeah, people were actually banned for not saying ‘no’ to Barry’s dumb question. So that’s OK then.

    I sincerely doubt that people who just kept their mouths shut were banned for saying nothing.

  27. MungMung

    Joe Felsenstein: Barry was arguing that people were using denial of the LNC in their arguments. I have yet to see a real example of this.

    So my point is why do you connect this with the bannnings when your own OP indicates the basis of the bannings was the responses to a simple question:

    At any time the moderator reserves the right to ask the following question to any person who would comment or continue to comment on this site: “Can the moon exist and not exist at the same time and in the same formal relation?” The answer to this question is either “yes” or “no.” If the person gives any answer other than the single word “no,” he or she will immediately be deemed not worth arguing with and therefore banned from this site.

    p.s. And isn’t this like old news? Wasn’t everyone who was banned at that time later unbanned?

  28. petrushka

    Mung: p.s. And isn’t this like old news? Wasn’t everyone who was banned at that time later unbanned?

    I’m still banned.

  29. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein Post author

    Mung, sorry but you are engaged in ridiculous quibbling. Look at the two quotes from Barry that are up in the OP for this thread. There are links there to their source too, so you can explore the context.

    Yes, the question that Barry asked was about whether the moon could exist and not-exist at the same time. But he was using that as a test to enable him to ban people for whom “facts and logic do not matter”. He also describes the people who he wants to ban as “a person who denies the basis for argument” and immediately says that “Only a fool or a charlatan denies the LNC, and this site will not be a platform from which fools and charlatans will be allowed to spew their noxious inanities.”

    It is not the case that Barry was just exploring issues regarding the presence of absence of the moon. He was claiming that anti-ID commenters were being deeply illogical, and were openly justifying being deeply illogical.

    I wondered whether these openly-illogical UD commenters really existed. It appears that they did not exist. They were just an excuse for Barry to ban people who he didn’t want to comment at UD.

    I have not posted here to complain about the bannings. When Open-Carry Barry pulls out his six-gun and ventilates his foot, that is just plain funny. Instead I wondered why people here at TSZ wanted to spend so much effort discussing whether A = A. It appears that the answer is not that someone at UD was claiming that it was OK if they violated the LNC. Barry’s assertions just opened up discussion of some fun issues in philosophy — but they did not correctly describe the basis for any argument at UD.

  30. MungMung

    Joe Felsenstein: Mung, sorry but you are engaged in ridiculous quibbling.

    Just in case it’s escaped your attention, my claim is that you are engaged in ridiculous quibbling.

  31. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein Post author

    Mung,

    People can judge for themselves from my previous comment whether it is ridiculous quibbling. I think it isn’t, and your approach to the issue of whether violation of Laws Of Thought were openly justified by anti-ID commenters at UD is ridiculous quibbling.

    Nyaa-nyaa-nyaa so there.

  32. Allan Miller

    Mung,

    Me: Yeah, people were actually banned for not saying ‘no’ to Barry’s dumb question. So that’s OK then.

    Mung: I sincerely doubt that people who just kept their mouths shut were banned for saying nothing.

    ‘Not saying no’ and ‘saying nothing’ are not the same thing.

  33. stcordova

    Was denial of the Laws of Thought a myth?

    Yes it was a myth, if that meant anyone there or here ever made an argument whose starting premise was:

    True = False

    I got banned and moderated for even thinking out loud about the possibility of systems that didn’t obey LNC since there are worlds where in one world a statement is true and in another world it is false, and it is not clear which world takes priority, much like Schrodinger’s cat.

    My graduate advisor was pre-eminent in the science Quantum Computing where the Schrodinger cat phenomenon is at the heart of what makes it work.

    Even if I’m wrong in the end, it is against UD policy to ponder to re-examine out loud, to question in good faith, to have critical analysis of this question.

    I have no problem with the owner of a site deciding who is and who is not allowed to participate in a discussion any more than someone deciding who gets invited to their home.

    But we are free to comment about the owners behavior and knowledge and ability to deal with and promote ideas.

    LNC is used a lot in mathematics. Classical logic is used a lot in mathematics.

    But there are other kinds of “logics” like MV logic where statements are neither true nor false.

    I pointed out the problem of using LNC since many of the UD crowd are Trinitarians to point out how loosely they actually apply it to their own theological beliefs in terms of the way they use language.

    LNC is not easy to apply to non-formal systems such as ethical systems or theological systems. They seem to think they can go from LNC and then deduce all sorts of thing RDFish and others pointed out are impossible to deduce from the LNC.

    If we are dealing with physical objects, in order to apply LNC strictly, it will permit only trivially useless conceptualization. i.e. Simple common sense conceptions like:

    4 quarter = 100 pennies

    are called into question. In one world (finance) it is true, in another world (physics) it is not. Which world takes priority? If there is not universal adjudication as to which world takes priority, then there isn’t much point in making so big a deal out of LNC.

    “Can the moon exist and not exist at the same time and in the same formal relation?”

    Trivial philosophical BS question. Can Shrodinger’s cat be alive and dead at the same time in the same formal relation? Heck, it depends on how one defines formal relation much like the questions about does “4 quarters = 100 pennies”.

    If one wants an LNC system of thought, juts say, “LNC applies to the symbols in question” and move on. Why raise the question, “Does LNC always apply?”

    Heck, I don’t know, I don’t care, it works for me for most of what I do, and I’ve done far more formal math and logic proofs than Barry and StephenB combined.

    Consider this statement:

    “You can only be certain of uncertainty.”

    Seems reasonable enough, but is it absolutely true? Can that statement be true and false at the same time in the same formal relation?

    I took RDFish’s side of these debates because I’m quite convinced some questions are undecidable by finite minds, one has to make some faith assumptions as to what is right and wrong on certain questions.

    I thought RDFish correctly demonstrated Barry’s arguments for self-evident ethics was shown to be little more than what Barry subjectively views as self-evident, which really isn’t self-evident.

    StephenB and others over at UD are catholics, I’m not. To me, it is self-evidently true Catholic priests who molest young boys don’t have a right to claim to have the power to transform bread into the physical body of Jesus Christ.

    Saying that would pretty much be unforgiveable at UD.

  34. Kantian NaturalistKantian Naturalist

    There are three different issues that need to be kept apart here:

    (1) Does the law of non-contradiction express something importantly right about the norms of rational discourse?

    (2) Are there formal systems in which the law of non-contradiction does not hold?

    (3) Are there physical systems to which the law of non-contradiction does not always apply?

    The whole fracas got started in part because the Uncommon Descent crowd wanted to insist that anyone who said anything other than “no” to (1) and (2) was thought to deny (1).

    But this is simply a mistake on their part.

    One can think that the LNC expresses something important about the norms of discourse — something like Thou shalt not endorse incompatible assertions! — while at the same time acknowledging that there are paraconsistent logics and even dialetheism, and also that the LNC might not work when we stray too far from the terrain of medium-sized objects traveling far below the speed of light.

  35. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein Post author

    The question that I was trying to raise when I posted the OP was whether anyone at UD, in the period before the 2012 crazed banninations, was basing their arguments on denying Laws of Thought.

    In other words, were there really any commenters there who, as Barry put it, “come on here and say, essentially, that facts and logic do not matter”?

    As far as I can see this was a strawman invented by Barry.

    My reason for raising this now was that people seemed to think that it was important to extensively discuss here whether A = A. I think that they are doing that here for the fun of it, not because it was a live issue at UD in the period before the 2012 banninations. Rather, it was raised by Barry as a strawman.

  36. stcordova

    My reason for raising this now was that people seemed to think that it was important to extensively discuss here whether A = A. I think that they are doing that here for the fun of it, not because it was a live issue at UD in the period before the 2012 banninations. Rather, it was raised by Barry as a strawman.

    Agreed. And his obnoxious policy got me tossed because the question is fascinating to me, especially in the reaches of meta-mathematics and quantum mechanics and alternative formal logical systems like MV Logic and paraconsistent logic.

    And I was a UD author, not an anti-ID guy.

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