Grump tank for disgruntled atheists.


Those who seek to deceive in argumentation often equivocate on the meaning of words. So, to avoid the fallacy of equivocation, we wish to be clear about terminology.

Some of the entries have expanded from simple dictionary definitions into mini-essays.

abductive reasoning : argument : belief : biological evolution : cogent argument : consciousness : deductive reasoning : existence : explanation : fact : falsifiable hypothesis : idea : inductive reasoning : inference : intelligence : opinion : predicate : premise : premise in argument : problem of induction : proposition : reality : science : theory : thought : truth :

Labels: ,

argument vs explanation

An argument (not to be confused with the vernacular term for an acrimonious quarrel or dispute) is an assertion offered as evidence that some conclusion is true. In a cogent argument (many are not cogent), a set of premises (fact-based propositions or statements) are linked according to rules of logic in order to support a conclusion.

Arguments fail for one or more of a variety of reasons:
a) unacceptable, inaccurate, or irrelevant premises
b) faulty linkages (fallacies of logic) between premises and the conclusion(s), which fail by virtue of deviation from rules of logic
c) unsupported or irrelevant conclusions, or correct conclusions that are not logically supported by the argument presented (ignoratio elenchi)

An explanation is any statement that renders something comprehensible by describing the relevant structure, or operation, or circumstances. Explanations, for example would include an explication of the operation of the internal combustion engine, or the homicidal activities of Cho Seung-hui. An explanation is different from an argument in structure, components, and intention. While an argument can commit the fallacy of circularity, an explanation cannot.

Explanations point to links between general laws and observed effects. Ideally, explanations confer an understanding of causes, contexts, and consequences of processes, phenomena, state of affairs, objects, terminology, etc. Explanations have been variously subdivided into Deductive-Nomological, Inductive-Statistical, Functional, Historical, Psychological, Reductive, Teleological, and Methodological.

Explanation is one of the three aims of scientific research (the others being exploration and description). Although scientific theories must logically connect empirical observation to explanation and prediction, scientific hypotheses, theories, and laws are not arguments per se. Arguments concerning values and ex-scientific metaphysics fall within the realm of philosophy. The early philosophers concerned themselves with metaphysics. However, after scientific method was applied to examination of the physical (natural) world, scientific explanations rendered much of metaphysical speculation irrelevant and superfluous – philosophers ceased to speculate about metaphysical questions for which science had provided a highly acceptable explanation and the scope of metaphysics (ontology) shrank.

external links : explanation within glossary : ignoratio elenchi : search 'lander' :

Labels: , ,

biological evolution

A collage of fossils.Scientific theories of evolution seek to explain the mechanisms of the observable fact of biological evolution.

Yes, organisms have indeed evolved over time – most former species are now extinct, many species remain much as they are in the fossil record, and new species continue to evolve. Before the discoveries of science, it was intellectually excusable to believe that a God planted all those bones, but to believe so nowadays is a sign of ignorance.

Historically, scientists observing biological evolution first sought to explain observed morphological (body shape) changes over time – the phenotypic evidence of changes in body structure found in the fossil record.

Microfossils dating from more than 3 billion years ago demonstrate that bacteria were the first life-forms on the planet. Bacteria and Archaea, both prokaryotic, ruled until the advent of nucleated cells with membranous organelles, such as those of which we are constructed (eukaryotic cells). The earliest known fossilized evidence of early life forms are found in stromatolites – large reef structures created by communities of Cyanobacteria. Mistakenly called ‘blue-green algae’, the Cyanobacteria are bacteria that evolved relatively late. They are believed to have “invented” oxygenic photosynthesis over 1 billion years ago. As oxygen levels rose, organisms were forced into endosymbiotic unions as – to them – toxic levels of oxygen threatened their continued existence. (Anaerobic bacteria, which are killed by oxygen, persist to this day in environments with very low levels of oxygen.) These serial endosymbiotic transfer events paved the way for evolution of eukaryotic cells, which in turn enabled multicellular assemblages.

Since the advent of modern molecular genetics, biological evolution has come to be understood as a change in genotype – a genetic variation resulting from mutation and alteration in the intergenerational frequency of alleles in populations. That is, an alteration in the frequency of alternative forms of genes between generations. By this definition, the human species is demonstrably still evolving.

The term 'microevolution' refers to small-scale evolutionary events that involve changes in allele frequencies from one generation to the next, and that results in slight changes in affected organisms. The term 'macroevolution' refers to that accumulation of microevolutionary events that is associated with the origin, diversification, extinction, and interactions of organisms. Macroevolution, being cumulative, involves large scale evolutionary change such as the evolution of new species, genera, and families (or even higher taxa). Some creationists favour the ridiculous, fallacious straw man argument that microevolution occurs, but that macroevolution could not have occurred by the same mechanisms, or is impossible.

Biologist Ersnt Mayr suggested that a biological species be defined by its inability to produce fertile offspring when mated with another species. Mules are an example of such a mating – between a horse and a donkey. Mules do rarely produce offspring, but the gene-based, phylogenetic classification of species remains more useful than taxonomies based on physical characteristics. Molecular geneticists are able to compare the genomes, the total complement of nucleic acids, of different species and to estimate the evolutionary distance between species. This is time since the compared species last shared a common ancestor.

Speciation depends upon genetic mutation and alteration of allele frequencies, yet morphologic changes may reflect alterations in the regulation of genetic expression without a major alteration in genotype – body type may appear very different without considerable change in genes.

If this seems unlikely, just consider the considerable differences that selective breeding has wrought in size and configuration within one canine species. Mechanics might prevent the union of a Chihuahua with a Great Dane, but such a union could produce fertile offspring.

Similarly, the paramount importance of gene regulation almost certainly explains much of the morphological difference between humans and chimps – two species who share more than 98% of their DNA. Just a comparatively few regulatory genes are responsible for the developmental changes that render us distinct from our closest relative.

Along the same lines of modification of genetic expression, epigenetic mechanisms, such as alternative splicing or alternative promoters, enable a single gene to give rise to multiple versions of a protein. Thus, through epigenetic mechanisms, the biological complexity confered by genes is greatly expanded. Proteins are much, much more variable in structure, and hence in biochemical activity, than are nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA. Formed from amino acids, proteins regulate cellular metabolism (as enzymes), regulate genetic expression (cofactors), and regulate communication between cells (ion channels, pumps, receptors). Structural proteins form the cytoskeleton that supports cells, and specialized transport proteins move materials and organelles within cells and effect muscular contraction.

There are two basic types of mechanism involved in biological evolution. First are the genetic causes of alteration of genes within the genotype of individuals. Most genetypic alterations are not the result of point mutations, which may, or may not result in abnormal proteins through alteration of a single nucleobase in the genetic code. Creationists create fallacious straw man arguments by focussing their arguments on point mutations, conveniently ignoring the other, more important mechanisms of genetic change, such as duplications.

Single nucleotide polymorphisms, as point mutations are correctly termed, as well as alteration of longer segments of DNA may be neutral, beneficial, or deleterious. Clearly, neutral or beneficial alterations, whatever their genetic mechanism, will persist while deleterious alterations will ultimately be eliminated if they render the organism less capable of reproductive success. Gene duplications, while guaranteeing a functional copy of a gene also provide duplicate copies of the gene that may be altered without destroying the organism's viability, thus providing opportunity for the accumulation and transmission of a variety of mutations.

This brings us to the second type of mechanism operating in biological evolution, the statistical population mechanisms that determine the fate of an altered gene. These are the mechanisms that increase or decrease frequency of an allele – an alternate gene at a particular chromosomal position –within a population. Natural selection, the Darwinian explanation for biological evolution, remains one of the mechanisms acknowledged by biologists, yet not the only recognized mechanism. Genetic drift, gene flow, and horizontal gene transfer in prokaryotes have also been demonstrated to have operated in bringing about evolutionary change. Creationists typically focus their fallacious straw man attacks on "Darwinian" evolution, avoiding dealing with the much stronger "Modern Synthesis of Evolution", which combines understanding of population genetics and molecular genetics.

"Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."
~ Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker.
"No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature (though Newton's clock-winding god might have set up the machinery at the beginning of time and then let it run). No vital forces propel evolutionary change. And whatever we think of God, his existence is not manifest in the products of nature."
~ Stephen Jay Gould

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ignorance vs knowledge

Ignorance versus Knowledge. Ignorance can be defined as the state of lack of knowledge, or as the willful refusal to increase one's knowledge.

It is, of course, impossible to know all that could be known of the store of human knowledge, so the term 'ignorance' is often applied to willful ignorance.

Knowledge can be defined as means comprehension of truth, that is, a cognitive awareness and understanding of facts, truths or information. Where beliefs are logically justified by facts, those beliefs are elevated to knowlede from the level of mere opinion.

Rationality and knowledge are linked in so far as cognitive awareness cannot exist without the capacity for rational thought. However, the mere ability to generate ideas does not necessarily lead to rational concepts since ideas can have a particularly silly content.

Knowledge can be acquired through experience, through semantic learning (a posteriori knowledge), or through introspection (a priori knowledge). Most useful knowledge falls into the a posteriori category, while very little outside self-knowledge can be regarded as useful a priori knowledge.

With regard to religion, the term 'knowledge' can apply only to awareness of the content of religious belief systems because there is no logically necessary connection between the facts of reality and the various claims made within religious systems. That is, even beyond the mutually exclusive and internal contradictions of the various religious belief systems, no system provides the best available explanation for natural phenomena. So, religious claims of providing the 'Truth' fail to provide any incontrovertible truth.

For this reason, religious systems resort to claiming to provide knowledge of the supernatural, of phenomena that do not exist in nature or are not subject to explanation according to natural laws. This retreat into magic-thinking is a retreat from direct disproof as well as from validation. The fact that a belief cannot be disproven is not good grounds for any claim for veracity for that claim, particularly where religious beliefs claim to intersect with the material world ("God works in mysterious ways" when referring to Earthly manifestations, claims for miracles). Equally, claims for such supposed, wishful thinking, or fear-imbued supernatural phenomena as an afterlife are ludicrously out of line with anything within the natural world. These natural facts include the connection between the brain and consciousness, and the phenomenon of death despite the persistence of the physical body.

The fact also remains that there are motive-based explanations for the claims of various belief-in-afterlife systems – they provide either positive emotions by reducing the fear of death, or they provide positive controls on behaviour by threatening eternal damnation for those who disobey authority. Such emotions are useful to both the believer and to leaders who wish to send their subjects into battle, have their subjects perform politically directed self-destruction, or merely to decrease undesirable behaviours. These emotional primary and secondary gains alone would render claims for a supernatural afterlife highly suspect.

. o .

Labels: , , , , ,



● having the capacity for thought and reason especially to a high degree
● possessing sound knowledge
● exercising or showing good judgment
● endowed with the capacity to reason

The term 'intelligence' refers to the mental capability that includes the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend ideas and language, and to learn. It has been confirmed that an individual's potential intelligence is much more strongly related to his or her genetic endowment than to environmental factors. That is, when environmental factors are removed, intelligence most closely relates to genetic inheritance. Environment, specifically educational experience, however, does play a role in whether or not an individual realizes his or her intellectual potential. Thus, scores on IQ testing are higher in nations with higher levels of education.

To attribute biological complexity or natural physical phenomena to operation of a supernatural 'intelligence' is fallacious equivocation because such usage is outside the acceptable definition of intelligence.

IQ testing is intended to provide a standardized measure of an individual's capacity for analysis and comprehension in comparison to calibrated population-norms. IQ tests are designed as predictors of academic and vocational performance, and they have proven to correlate with scholastic and career success. Tests are designed in such a way that most subjects will score close to the average in a normal (Gaussian) distribution on most scales – an IQ of 100.

While most IQ tests are designed to test capacity for analysis and comprehension, a high score does not guarantee that the individual will function at a commensurate level and practice critical thinking, nor that he or she will achieve logical thinking in all aspects of daily life. Conversely, an average score does not indicate that the individual will not exercise good judgment. Accordingly, some psychologists prefer to consider the individual's level of emotional intelligence or to classify capacity for intelligence into different sub-areas (multiple intelligences).

It has been my personal observation that those with a combination of high IQ and high educational level tend not to hold dogmatic religious beliefs. In my personal experience, those whom I know to hold dogmatic religious beliefs invariably have a very low level of science education, usually a low level of education, and generally display average intelligence. However, I have also met atheists and agnostics with average intelligence and low levels of education.

Obviously, personal experience is always somewhat biased simply because one usually chooses to mix with people both with similar opinions and with similar educational status. I am also thrown into contact with people with whom I might not otherwise mix, allowing a sampling of more diverse opinions and attitudes. However, regardless of the breadth of our contacts, we must be cautious in extrapolating from personal experience. Far better to base any assumptions about possible connections between religiosity and intelligence upon impersonal measures:

"According to a study by Paul Bell, published in the Mensa Magazine in 2002, there is an inverse correlation* between religiosity and intelligence. Analyzing 43 studies carried out since 1927, Bell found that all but four reported such a connection, and he concluded that "the higher one's intelligence or education level, the less one is likely to be religious or hold 'beliefs' of any kind."[1] A survey published in Nature in 1998 confirms that belief in a personal God or afterlife is at an all time low among the members of the National Academy of Science, only 7.0% of which believed in a personal God as compared to more than 85% of the US general population.[2]"[w]

Presumably the spectrum of intelligence within the US is much the same as that in England, northern Europe, or the Antipodes, so intelligence alone cannot account for religiosity versus secular beliefs. The US's peculiar immigration history, generally poor educational levels, and peculiar religious history of evangelicism and indoctrination set against a background of anti-intellectualism probably combine to explain the high levels of religious dogmatism in the US.

Similarly, the range of intellectual capacities in other nations afflicted with religious fundamentalism is probably similar to that of the secular Western nations – there is, however, a marked difference in educational levels.

1. Bell, Paul. "Would you believe it?" Mensa Magazine, Feb. 2002, pp. 12–13
2. Larson, Edward J.; Larry Witham (1998). "Leading scientists still reject God". Nature 394 (6691): 313. Available at, Stephen Jay Gould archive. Retrieved on 2006-12-17
3. IQ - Genetics or Environment
4. Explaining the Relation Between Birth Order and Intelligence (NYT subscription required)

* correlation does not necessarily indicate causation.

Labels: , , , ,

predicate premise propositions

In grammar, the predicate of a sentence makes the assertion about the subject, and comprises a finite verb (required), with or without other related words. Thus, the predicate comprises any part of the sentence that is not a part of the subject, but that provides information about the subject.

In logic, a premise is a statement or assertion that forms the basis for a rationale, approach, or position. Thus, a premise is a proposition that is offered in support of the truth of the conclusion (another proposition) in an argument. A premise of an argument is assumed to be true, though it may in practice be false in arguments that lack validity. The argument proceeds from the premise or premises to the conclusion, and a cogent argument proceeds logically from premise/s to conclusion. Critical thinking aims to discern the cogency and validity of arguments by assessing the acceptability of premises, the logic by which the arguments moves from premise/s to conclusion, and the validity of the conclusion.

In logic, a proposition is a statement, couched as a declarative sentence, that affirms or denies the predicate, and that is either true or false. In logical positivism, propositions are often related to closed sentences, distinguishing them from the content of an open sentence (predicate). Propositions comprise the content of assertions, and are sometimes expressed as non-linguistic abstractions derived from the linguistic sentence that constitutes an assertion. Because propositions can have different functions (names, predicates and logical constants), the nature of propositions is a subject of debate amongst philosophers. Many logicians prefer to use sentences and to avoid use of the term proposition.

"We say that a sentence is factually significant to any given person, if and only if, he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express-that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject is as being false."
~ A. J. Ayer

Labels: , , , ,


Proof can refer to the factual evidence that helps to establish the truth of something, the act of validation or testing for truth, or to a formal series of statements showing that if one thing is true something else necessarily follows from it. We toss the word 'proof' around in vernacular usage, yet rigorous usage of the term 'proof', outside alcoholic spirits, applies only to mathematics and to philosophical syllogisms.

Whereas disproof is an achievable certainty, "proof" is technically much less easily attained. A person who was demonstrably in Hong Kong at the time of a shooting in New York city could not have committed the crime, whereas we can be much less certain of the innocence of those capable of wielding a gun among the seven million or so people who were in New York city at the time.

Scientific method involves a closing in on the best possible explanation for observed phenomena, which is ideally achieved by discarding experimentally disproven falsifiable hypotheses. The lack of absolute certainty inherent in "best possible" does not sit well with those with a rigid need for a psychological sense of certainty, yet highest probability is the best that we can reasonably demand of most of our important questions.

By comparison, all religions are invented religions (despite claims of received dogma) and demand belief without any incontrovertible evidence to support religious claims. Religious dogmatists, particularly creationists, attempt unsuccessfully to suborn facts to fit their religious dogma. Whereas science moves from fact to explanation, religion moves from dogma to distortion. Because religions are only very loosely based on observable reality, attempts to twist empirical realities to fit religious dogma are necessarily fraught with illogic and falsehoods.

Received notions of deities do not provide the best explanations for observed facts, so scientific knowledge unintentionally runs counter to, or disproves, religious claims. Claims that "God performed a miracle" do not provide any explanation at all for empirical data.

As a result of this lack of foundation in reality, there are many invented religions, yet almost universal agreement about internally logical, replicated, scientific knowledge. New information might necessitate a slight modification of scientific hypotheses to better fit the data, but scientific theories carry a high degree of likelihood, and scientific laws signify near certainty.

Fallacious argument from ignorance are much loved by creationists and advocates of intelligent [sick] design theory. In these fallacies, the arguer erroneously claims either that lack of proof must render a claim false, or that lack of disproof must render a claim true. Referring back to the shooter analogy – disproof may render false any claim that a person who was actually in Hong Kong could have shot someone in New York city, but it does not prove that a particular individual in New York was necessarily the shooter. Conversely, not knowing who shot the victim in New York does not mean that the victim of the shooting could not have been shot.

When proponents of intelligent [sick] design theory demand an explanation for evolution of a complex, functioning system they are committing the fallacy of argument from ignorance (in addition to the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof).

Labels: , , , , , , ,

reality & truth

A broad definition of reality includes all of our experiences, which determine how things appear to us.

However, our experiences can never encompass all that exists, all that is actual or real whether or not it is observable, accessible, or understandable to us. In this broadest sense, our methods of analysis cannot reveal all of reality to us.

Does matter comprise, at the quantum level, vibrating strings of energy? On the basis of mathematical formulations, theoretical physicists postulate that it does. Yet we cannot know as a certainty that this conceptualization is accurate unless and until experimental verification is devised. However, there is much more basis for belief that reality includes vibrating quantum strings than that the God of the Bible or any deity is a reality outside the idea of such. That is, ideas exist, but it does not necessarily follow that the thing proposed has any real existence beyond the concept. God or deities rank as highly improbable as explanations for the universe, for life on planet earth, or for events in our physical world.

"A fact or factual entity is a phenomenon that is perceived as an elemental principle."[w] Thus, a fact is not subject to personal interpretation, rather it an observed phenomenon in the natural world. On the other hand, definitions of 'truth' vary. For the purposes of this site, truth will be regarded as corresponding to fact and reality.

Labels: , , ,



Thought or thinking is a brain-dependent, mental process that allows the thinker to generate a model of the external environment. Thought allows the thinker to sort, arrange, classify, identify, and differentiate ideas concerning the external world so as to deal effectively in accord with goals, plans, ends and desires. Concepts akin to thought are sentience, consciousness, idea, and imagination.

Consciousness is a quality of the mind that is generally regarded as comprising qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between self (sensation) and the external environment. Philosophers divide consciousness into phenomenal consciousness (experience itself ) and access consciousness (processing the content of experience).

Any person capable of reading these words knows what it is to experience consciousness. However, consciousness is constructed by the brain and is experienced solely as the construct and not as the mechanism. Similarly, any person reading these words is experiencing visual perception without perceiving the neurophysiological processes that construct visual perception. The reader might be so educated as to understand the mechanisms without ever perceiving the mechanisms per se.

Thus, we cannot be simultaneously perceive the construction (consciousness) and perceive the mechanism by which we assemble the construction. Neuroscientists have deciphered most of the mechanisms, from photon to visual cortex, by which we construct visual perception of the external world. Precise neuroscientific explananations of the specific construction of consciousness are not yet formulated. This lack of a precise model does not provide a logical foundation for biased claims that thought and consciousness are not based in brain-centered neurophysiological processes. This particular piece of illogic would be equivalent to claiming that a person stabbed repeatedly in the back could not be a murder victim simply because the murderer has not yet been identified.

consciousness: an alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself and your situation

belief: any cognitive content held as true (not necessarily true, merely held as true)

idea: the content of cognition; the main thing you are thinking about.

thinking: the process of using your mind to consider something carefully.

opinion: a personal belief or judgment that is not founded on proof or certainty.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Much experimental science is conducted with the laboratory, whereas observational science is conducted in the field.The commonest misconception about science involves equating science with the areas in which scientific method is applied. Thus, people mistake the topics investigated by scientific techniques as being the sum total of science. Biology, for example, is a science, but "biology" does not delimit the meaning of science.

In fact, science is a method by which knowledge about the physical world is attained. Scientific 'knowledge' inheres both observed, empirical data and the best possible explanation regarding the mechanisms by which the observed phenomena came about and the prediction, where appropriate, of any future manifestations that can reasonably be expected. This scientific method is most appropriately applied to natural, physical phenomena, so it defines the subject areas appropriate to investigation.

Scientific method is akin to formalized skepticism in that it ideally proceeds by rigorous scrutiny of falsifiable hypotheses. To achieve this, postulated explanations for observed phenomena must be expressed in such a way that they can be tested and disproven. An analogy would be determining whether a suspect in a crime has an alibi – if the suspect can be demonstrated to have been in Beijing at the time that a stabbing was committed in San Francisco, then the suspect cannot have perpetrated the stabbing (unless, that is, the suspect had impossibly long arms).

Any hypotheses that are demonstrated to be faulty will be discarded, and alternated explanations for empirical observations will be formulated and tested. (Expanding the analogy, another suspect will be sought for the stabbing.) Eventually, any reasonable hypotheses that are not disproven will be regarded as so acceptable as to be elevated to the level of scientific theory.

Scientific predictions, however, represent a subset of experimentation and are propositional – if this hypothesis is correct, then we will observe such and such a phenomenon. Failure to observe the predicted phenomenon might be taken to disprove the hypothesis. However, the failure might be a result of experimental or observational error, or might result from faulty predictions based upon a reasonable hypothesis. Alternatively, the hypothesis may be incorrect, but the predicted phenomenon is observed because of a mechanism not yet hypothetically considered.

For these reasons peer-reviewed scientific papers include analyses of current thinking, descriptions of methods, and statements of results so that other researchers might attempt replication. In science, unlike the case for mathematics, proof is not possible, while disproof – falsification – is possible. For this reason, hypotheses to be experimentally tested are ideally framed in such a way that they may be disproved – falsifiable hypotheses. When an empirically based, logical hypothesis, which has not been disproved after repeated testing, is deemed satisfactory by consensus within the scientific community, then the hypothesis graduates to the status of Theory (capitalized to differentiate the scientific term from its vernacular usage).

In practice, much of science proceeds upon positive results – repeated observations of a phenomenon under particular conditions. In the softer sciences, such as the social sciences, statistical analyses of results play an important role. Some sciences, such as paleontology are by their nature outside the possibility of experimentation – we cannot resurrect dinosaurs or recreate meteor impacts – and must proceed on the basis of accumulated empirical evidence.

We all toss around vernacular 'theories' – unproved ideas or theoretical speculations that are not necessarily even so well formulated as scientific hypotheses. Even some elaborate theories, such as intelligent [sick] design theory have considerably less conceptual merit than their promoters will ever acknowledge. For biblical literalists, such a 'theory' may have emotional appeal, but in terms of speculation concerning reality, ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’ has no more merit than the belief system of the Lambayeques.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

. . . launched (sans champagne, alas) 10/22/06