Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to talk to Rand haters

This is a discussion that happened on an ex-Muslim forum. The discussion starts out about who can find mistakes, to whether that requires philosophy courses, to the world caring about authority, to me posting a Rand essay on how to lead a rational life in an irrationality society (which is an essay about the morality of pronouncing moral judgements), to someone pronouncing a moral judgement on that same essay (which is a contradiction), to me pointing out that contradiction, to her evading my criticism with hostility. Topics that come up are Aspergers and tactfulness. Enjoy.

Bernard: Rami I noticed you talked about an essay you're writing on the logic of miracles, but I didn't find it.

Rami: I haven't made it public because it's not finished. If you're interested I could post it. It'll help me fix the problems with it.

Bernard: I am not sure how much I could help by pointing out any problems considering I only have one philosophy course under my belt.

Rami: I've taken zero philosophy courses. It doesn't matter how many courses you've taken. Anybody can find flaws in ideas. Here's an unfinished version of my essay on _Miracle claims about the Quran_:

Rami: If you want to learn philosophy, I suggest that you don't do it by taking courses. Instead, consider reading this: (by Elliot Temple), and posting your understanding of it at the email list so that you can expose your understanding to external criticism. Or read _The Beginning of Infinity_ (by David Deustch), and post your understanding to the 'fallible ideas' email list.

BernardThe world loves those little pieces of paper that prove one has at least taken a formal course within a field. We love our arguments from authority.

Rami: Well, that's a mistake. It's an irrational way to choose between rival theories. The rational way is to reject authority, and to judge ideas by their merit (i.e. by whether or not they survive criticism). Do you want to know how to live a rational life in an irrational world?

Izzy: sure.

Rami: k, check out _How Does One Live a Rational Life in an Irrational Society_, which is chapter 8 of _The Virtue of Selfishness_, by Ayn Rand

Izzy: Meh. False advertising. I want my money back.

Rami: Declaring that what I did/said is false advertising means declaring that I lied. What do you think I lied about?

Izzy: I assumed you was gonna come up with some thoughts on psychology or epistemology or some other approach to rationality. Not copy-paste some Randian egoism trash.

Rami: The essay is about morality. Morality and epistemology are linked in the sense that *if a person (fallibly) knows that an idea is true or best (epistemology), then one should act on it (morality)*. Your reply is confused. You are saying that Rand's essay is trash, which is a moral judgment about her ideas, and in that very essay, Rand's idea is that people should make moral judgements. So you are doing exactly as Rand said you should do (in her essay), while you're calling Rand's essay trash. I don't get actions like this. Did you even read it? Did you judge it to be trash without even reading it's content?

Izzy: There is little I could say about Ayn Rand and her "philosophy" that hasn't been said before.

Rami: So you did not read the essay AND judged it to be trash?

Izzy: [blank out]

Rami: Everybody take note. What Izzy just did is an example of living irrationally.

Izzy: I didn't say I hadn't read that trash. I said I was expecting something else other than that trash. Stop being irrational. 

Izzy: Everybody who read this, notice how he follows his own bullshit trails of reasoning and projects them onto others.

Rami: AFAIK I haven’t been irrational, and if I'm wrong, you haven't explained how I’m being irrational. As I told you in the previous post: the essay says that people should make moral judgements, and you made a moral judgement about the essay, so you are doing exactly what the essay says you should do, yet you think the essay is trash. So your own actions contradict your claim that the essay is trash. And you didn’t clarify anything. You didn’t explain why you were right to call the essay trash. You just ignored what I said. So you were given an explanation that shows that you said something contradictory, and then you ignored this explanation. This is another example of irrationality.

Izzy: Do I even need to be here for this conversation you're having with yourself?

Rami: What do you mean? I've been talking to you, not myself. Why don't you just answer my questions? When you make a moral judgment, you should back it up with an explanation. Blind assertions are not persuasive. And when you get called out for your irrationality, you should address it, take ownership of your mistake, correct it, and move on. Or if you actually weren't acting irrationally, then explain how I'm wrong, otherwise you are misleading people (including me). Everybody who is reading this, this is yet another example of irrationality.

Izzy: Things that are irrational according to Rami:
1. Not writing enough words about an Ayn Rand essay he copy-pastes.2. Calling an Ayn Rand essay trash.3. Not offering a lengthy point-by-point rebuttal when he accuses you of irrationality.
Rami: Those are all lies.
1. I never said anything remotely close to that.
2. I never said it's irrational to call an essay trash.
3. You did not give ANY rebuttal. 
Rami: Lying in order to evade criticism is another example of irrationality.

Izzy: 4. Summarising his mini-rants.

Rami: You are still evading criticism. Everybody, notice how she lies, gets called out for lying, and then ignores it as though it didn't happen. This is living irrationally.

Rami: lol, oh also notice how she calls what I'm doing "ranting". More irrationality.

Izzy: 5. Poking him occasionally to see how far his little meltdown will go.

Rami: Why would I be upset ("meltdown")? Do you seriously think that I would be upset? Or are you just saying meltdown for a different reason? What game are you playing? Instead of playing this game, why don't you address what we were talking about? One rational thing you could do is to retract your blind assertion that Rand's essay is trash. Don't forget that you actually did exactly what Rand's essay says you should do. So if you retract your blind assertion that Rand's essay is trash, then you wouldn't have a contradiction anymore. Will you choose rationality? Or irrationality? Well, just to take a guess. I think you'll continue playing your game.

Izzy: Because I struggle to take you seriously. I find your insights shallow and underwhelming, and your fastidious nature and complete lack of a sense of humour makes conversing with you a chore. So I am indulging my less serious side until I get bored.

Rami: Because your feelings told you? Or because you have an explanation?

Izzy: Because they send me to sleep.

Rami: I take that as code for "yes, my feelings told me". Since you've chosen irrationality, over and over and over again, even after being given many many chances to choose rationality, I want to make clear that I prefer that you don't waste my time again (i.e. I prefer that you don't talk to me). 

Rami: Everybody who reads this, part of living rationally is choosing to interact with people in win-win interactions, and choosing to get away from interactions that are win-lose.

Izzy: I'd prefer that you retract your accusation of lying before you fuck off.

Rami: I won't retract my accusation because you actually lied. You listed off a bunch of things that you claim I said, all of which were lies. If you disagree with me, then quote me and explain how the quote says what you said in your list.

Rami: And why are you cussing at me? Why can't you be civil?

Rami: Note that one way to approach a situation where somebody is being irrational, is to continue the interaction as a means to learn about irrationality. That makes it 'win' for me.

Izzy: Ah right, I thought by lying you meant seriously lying, not just making fun of you.

Rami: Whether you did it seriously or to make fun of me, you lied in order to evade criticism (moral judgement).  The epitome of irrationality.

Izzy: If by evading criticism you mean I couldn't be bothered to enter into a serious discussion on the merits and flaws of Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness with someone like you, sure.

Rami: This is another straw man argument. That's not what my criticism was. I didn't say anything about the whole book. I only talked about the one essay. I'll remind you.
Izzy: Meh. False advertising. I want my money back. 
Rami: Declaring that what I did/said is false advertising means declaring that I lied. What do you think I lied about? 
Izzy: I assumed you was gonna come up with some thoughts on psychology or epistemology or some other approach to rationality. Not copy-paste some Randian egoism trash. 
Rami: The essay is about morality. Morality and epistemology are linked in the sense that *if a person (fallibly) knows that an idea is true or best (epistemology), then one should act on it (morality)*. Your reply is confused. You are saying that Rand's essay is trash, which is a moral judgment about her ideas in that essay, and in that very essay, Rand's idea is that people should make moral judgements. So you are doing exactly as Rand said you should do (in her essay), while you're calling Rand's essay trash. I don't get actions like this. Did you even read it? Did you judge it to be trash without even reading it's content?
Rami: That last part is my criticism of your moral judgment of Rand's essay.

Izzy: Ok, so let me see if I've got the logic right. The essay is broadly about moral judgement...

Rami: The essay is ONLY about pronouncing moral judgement and nothing else.

Izzy: ...and me saying the essay is "egoist trash" is construed by you, somehow, to be a moral judgement of my own, in turn construed by you to be a moral judgement against the concept of moral judgement since moral judgement is what the essay is about, therefore, in judging the quality of an essay about moral judgement negatively I am morally judging moral judgement negatively, therefore I am contradicting myself. Is that about right?

Rami: Sort of. Recall that I thought that maybe you didn't even read the essay. I thought that if you had read the essay, you wouldn't say that Rand's essay is trash because that would be doing the very thing that you're calling trash.

Izzy: Hmm, so that didn't work. I was expecting you to see how absurd it looks when spelled out like that, not agree with it.

Rami: Again without explaining anything. Why do you think it's not irrational/contradictory to do something which you call trash?

Rami: Don't forget the other criticism I gave you. When you make assertions, you should explain them. Saying that Rand's essay is trash is an assertion, and you should back that up with an explanation. Otherwise, you are living irrationally.

Izzy: No it doesn't. You have approximately zero insight into how my mind is working by me merely saying an essay is trash. To assume or extrapolate my state of mind or thinking patterns based on that alone, to think you have a handle on me just from that, is an astonishing level of arrogance and complacency.

Rami: I don't need to know anything at all about you in particular. Anybody who does what you did is living irrationally. Anybody who makes unexplained assertions is living irrationally. Anybody who calls an essay trash while doing the very thing the essays says one should do, and then deny that it's contradictory, and then evading criticism explaining the contradiction, is living irrationally.

Gordon: Giving an explanation would not necessarily mean you weren't living irrationally. 

Rami: I didn't say it would. I said that making blind assertions is irrational. That doesn't mean it's the only way to be irrational.

Gordon: Also, what is your strictly rational reason for wanting to win this argument? 

Rami: I don't agree that what I'm doing constitutes trying to "win this argument". That is what debaters do. What I'm doing is philosophy. Part of this means to defend the truth when the truth needs to be defended. I think this is one of those cases. I am pronouncing a moral judgement on evil.

Gordon: You're fucking what? This is unbelievable. You couldn't make this shit up.

Rami: I'm unbelievable? For what? For pronouncing judgment on evil? This is interesting. Did you also find it unbelievable that Izzy pronounced judgement on evil? She thinks Rand's essay is egoist trash, which means that she thinks egoism is evil and she said it publicly which means she's pronouncing moral judgement on (what she thinks is) evil.

Gordon: Surely your desire to win is emotional, and therefore irrational.

Rami: I gave you an explanation as to why I continued this discussion. So you have 2 rival theories (your emotional one, and the one I gave). How did you rule out the one I gave? If you don't have an answer to this question, then you're wrong.

Rami: Note that whether or not something is obvious to someone depends on whether or not he has sufficient knowledge to understand it. So consider the case of my motivation to continue this discussion. You think it's obvious that my motivation is emotional. But you haven't given a criticism of the rival theory that I proposed ("What I'm doing is philosophy. Part of this means to defend the truth when the truth needs to be defended. I think this is one of those cases. I am pronouncing judgement on evil.")

Gordon: Man you seriously need to go back to school. Your logic is pathetically bad. Even if don't bother to answer your question, that is no guarantee that I'm wrong. I could still be right. Even if I did answer your question, you could still keep insisting that you were right (and probably would). I ruled out the one you gave because I think you're full of shit. This is a rational judgement based on observing your behavior.

Rami: Your school comment is stupid. Schools don't teach logic, let alone how to discuss. I think you did it to try to belittle me.

Rami: To your point about guarantees, I didn't claim any guarantees. So you've misinterpreted me. Yet you're saying my logic is bad. When I said "If you don't have an answer to this question, then you're wrong" you should have known that I meant "If you don't have an answer to this question, then you're wrong [as far as I know]."

Rami: If your answer was actually flawed, and if I found that flaw, then yes I would explain to you your flaw. If your answer was actually correct, and if I understood it, I would correct my mistake -- why would I want to stay wrong after learning that I'm wrong? That's irrational. 

Rami: And you're lying now. You did not rule out the theory I gave. How do I know? Because you didn't even understand it (correct me if I'm wrong). I said that I'm pronouncing judgment on evil, and you were shocked and said "You're fucking what? This is unbelievable. You couldn't make this shit up."  So as far as I can tell, you were not shocked when Izzy did the same thing that you're surprised that I did. So I'm guessing (correct me if I'm wrong) that this means that you didn't even realize that what Izzy did constitutes pronouncing judgment on evil (which means that you didn't understand what I'm doing, which means that you didn't rule it out the theory that I gave you about my motivation for continuing this discussion).

Rami: Note also that your assertion (that I'm emotional) is unexplained. Unexplained assertions are false for being unexplained. Do you have an explanation that you've hidden from us (for why you believe that my desire to continue this discussion is emotional)?


Rami: So Izzy rejects rationality/philosophy. She hates it. Now I know why she hates Rand.

Izzy: Right. Because not liking Ayn Rand amounts to rejecting philosophy and rationality. Fucking logic, how does it work?

Rami: Now you're lying again. I did not say that not liking Ayn Rand amounts to rejecting philosophy/rationality. I said that your comment "ERROR. UNEXPLAINED ASSERTION. PLEASE DEMONSTRATE LOGIC" amounts to rejecting philosophy/rationality. What you said, and my criticism of it, has nothing to do with Ayn Rand.

Izzy: >>

Gordon: >>

Rami: So instead of addressing your contradiction, you resort to making social vibrations.

Izzy: I'm sure I can live with whatever petty contradiction you think you've found.

Izzy: I'm starting to feel uncomfortable. It feels like I'm picking on an Asperger's kid or something.

Gordon: Yeah I know. I'm gonna give it a miss.

Rami: If an Asperger's kid explained a contradiction in your ideas, would you ignore the contradiction because he's Aspergers?

Gordon: Maybe we should all just tell him he's awesome, before he has an embolism.

Rami: Earlier you said that my motivation is emotional, and I thought you meant that I had an emotional attachment to the ideas of the discussion. Now I realize that what you meant was that I was emotional in the sense that I am upset ("embolism"). Why do you think I'm upset?

Gordon: Ok, you're awesome. Every one of your arguments is infallibly rational and indisputable.

Rami: That's stupid. Every idea is fallibly rational and disputable. Izzy (and the rest of you) just didn't dispute it (the contradiction that I pointed out in Izzy's response to the Rand essay I posted).

Sam: I'm not naming names but I wish that those of you who are being hostile would stop it.

Gordon: We weren't angry with Rami. It's just that he was being so bombastic that we couldn't help laughing at him. He's still perfectly happy too, since he knows he's vastly superior to anyone who doesn't take him seriously. Net result is that he had his opinion of himself confirmed, and the rest of us had some good laughs. No problem.

Rami: Sam, I'm interested to know who you think was being hostile. (if you don't want to talk about it, then nm.)

Doug: Rami, he's not naming names, so why assume it was you?

Rami: Doug, why did you assume that I assumed that "it" was me?

Doug: My bad, I read it as you saying you were interested to know how you were being hostile. Still, he said he doesn't want to name names...if everyone in the world were like Sam, we wouldn't need to be here right now!

Rami: It seems that you are you saying that pronouncing moral judgement is bad (correct me if I'm wrong). I disagree. I'll explain by quoting the first 3 paragraphs from the Rand essay I linked earlier:
Quote from _How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?_, VoS
I will confine my answer to a single, fundamental aspect of this question. I will name only one principle, the opposite of the idea which is so prevalent today and which is responsible for the spread of evil in the world. That principle is: One must never fail to pronounce a moral judgment.

Nothing can corrupt and disintegrate a culture or a man’s character as thoroughly as does the precept of moral agnosticism, the idea that one must never pass moral judgment on others, that one must be morally tolerant of anything, that the good consists of never distinguishing good from evil.

It is obvious who profits and who loses by such a precept. It is not justice or equal treatment that you grant to men when you abstain equally from praising men’s virtues and from condemning men’s vices. When your impartial attitude declares, in effect, that neither the good nor the evil may expect anything from you—whom do you betray and whom do you encourage?

Rami: So if Sam believes that Izzy was hostile to me, and that I was not hostile to Izzy, and then Sam also decides to say that people are being hostile without calling out Izzy for doing it, and without saying that I (Rami) was not being hostile to Izzy, then who does Sam betray and who does Sam encourage? And what does Sam say to the other members of this forum? Isn't Sam's action misleading to the other members of this forum?

Sam: Quite a big deal it became. I'm not putting any names as it usually just makes more problems. I put names only when there happens something serious. Now I just saw persons responding to each other in a way that could have been nicer (though it's possible that as non-native speaker I got wrong impression). It's up to everyone if they want to read their posts again and look if they could have answered nicer. No further comments about it from me.

Rami: But if everyone did that then no one learns anything. No one learns from their mistakes. No one improves. No one evolves. If I made a mistake, I want to know about it so that I can fix it. I can't improve without having my mistakes explained (by me or others).

Izzy: Rami, for future reference, *Everybody! Look! Izzy is being irrational!* like some snide little teachers pet is not the way to solicit respectful discourse.

Rami: That's your defense for being hostile to me?

Izzy: No. I'm letting you know that your hostility towards me was not the best way to solicit respectful discourse.

Rami: But I was not hostile at all. I was pronouncing moral judgment. Just because you felt hurt doesn't mean that my actions were hostile. If somebody does something irrational, and if I say so, that's not hostility.

Izzy: You say that like those things (hostility and pronouncing moral judgment) are mutually exclusive things. Also don't mistake my dismissive mockery of you as an expression of hurt. 

Izzy: Whether or not you were hostile would depend on the manner in which you do it. But maybe hostile is the wrong word. Maybe hostility requires intent in order to be a meaningful description. Maybe a better description would be socially retarded and oblivious to how your lazy, shallow, tactless, unschooled "philosophical" proclamations are perceived in the context of actual human interaction.

Rami: So you think pronouncing moral judgement (specifically about someone acting irrationally) can be hostile? Or are you saying that the specific instance of me doing it to you in exactly the way I did it was hostile? If you think it was hostile, why do you think that?

Rami: Note that the discussion was about irrationality. I suggested an essay about irrationality to Bernard. You replied saying you're interested. So I posted it. Then you said it's trash. I asked you for an explanation. You didn't explain. So I explained that your actions are an example of irrationality (which is what the discussion was about because that's what the essay was about).

Rami: So how do you think I should have said it instead? Do you think I should have used a word different than "irrationality"? Or what? [in case you don't answer me: If you don't have an answer to this question, then why do you think you're right to expect me to do anything other than what I did? Why don't you blame yourself for your actions (being hostile to me), instead of blaming me for mine?]

Izzy: I quickly and freely admit being hostile. I am not trying to distance myself from my behavior or my intentions.

Izzy: Irrationality, to me, means defective reasoning (or defective reasoning faculties) that leads to words or actions. That is what I have in mind when I say irrational, in short.

Izzy: If I was to post an essay and you responded with "What a load of trash" I wouldn't leap to the conclusion that your reasoning faculties are deficient. I'd think that you might have reasons for thinking that, perhaps good reasons, perhaps not. It would be assumptive, premature and complacent of me to immediately conclude your reasons must be deficient and that there are no other kind of potential reasons for why you might think it's trash. In fact, to conclude that you must just be being irrational is itself deficient reasoning, in light of it being so presumptive. And so, is a better example of irrationality than merely saying something is trash.
Rami: That's a straw man argument. I did not make that argument. This is effectively lying about what happened. I never said that your act of saying something was trash was irrational. I said that saying an essay is trash, while doing the very thing that the essay says you should do, and while insisting that you're not contradicting yourself, and refusing to explain to me how it's not contradictory, is irrational.

Rami: And that's not what irrational means. Rational means willing to change one's mind (in the face of criticism/evidence). Irrational means unwilling to change one's mind (in the face of criticism/evidence). This reminds me of something I quoted in my honor violence essay. As Elliot Temple said:
Quote from _Rational People_, from Elliot's blog (
Rational people are systems of ideas that can temporarily remove any one idea in the system without losing identity. We can remain functional without any one idea. This means we can update or replace it. And in fact we can often change a lot of ideas at once (how many depends in part on which).

To criticize one idea is not to criticize my rationality, or my ability to create knowledge, or my ability to make progress. It doesn't criticize what makes me human, nor anything permanent about me. So I have no reason to mind it. Either I will decide it is correct, and change (and if I don't understand how to change, then no one has reason to fault me for not changing yet), or decide it is incorrect and learn something from considering it.

The way ideas die in our place is that we change ourselves, while retaining our identity (i.e., we don't die), but the idea gets abandoned and does die.

Rami: Rationality is best explained in an essay by Elliot Temple. I'll quote a small part of it:
Quote from _Why is Reason Important?_ (
Reason (or rationality) is a tradition about how to think properly. It tries to avoid bias and find the truth whether we like that truth or not. It avoids superstition, magical thinking, parochialism, faith, hardheadedness and whim. Reason requires people be open to changing their mind. Reason also rejects the idea that authorities can or should tell us what the truth is. Instead, we should judge ideas ourselves, and based on the content of the idea not the person who said it. Even if I am the person who said an idea, and I have a PhD, that doesn't count for anything, it could be mistaken and should be judged on its merits.

Reason is not about which ideas are true. It's a meta-tradition. It's about how to treat ideas, and how to treat disagreements. You aren't unreasonable or irrational if you believe something false. I'm irrational if I believe something false and justify it with "because I said so" or "look at these certifications on my wall". With an attitude like that, if I am mistaken I will never find out and never improve. What violates the requirements of reason is assuming I know the truth from the outset. Doing that cuts off the possibility of learning I am mistaken or learning a better idea.

Izzy: That might be what you have in mind when you say rational and irrational, but that's not what those words mean in most contexts. So do you understand that the word is not restricted to just one narrow definition, right? And that it most often pertains to the quality of one's reasoning in general, right? Rationality has a broad scope and is not restricted to the question of whether a person is closed-minded or not.

Rami: What does that have to do with anything? Are you saying that because the word "irrationality" has other meanings, then that means that I should refrain from using the word on the off chance that somebody might not like me saying the word?

Izzy: About your straw man argument claim, you're just picking out one sentiment from the essay, divorced from its context and divorced from Rand's broader "philosophy", and insisting since I did something resembling that sentiment, I must therefore not find the essay of poor quality if I want to be seen as consistent.

Rami: The sentiment (of the morality of pronouncing moral judgement) is the only context in that essay. It doesn’t say anything else. It doesn’t say anything about egoism. So I did not divorce the essay from Rand’s broader philosophy because it was already divorced (it was never married to it). The essay stands on it’s own. The essay does not need egoism to be true in order for the essay to be true. 

Izzy: If, in your view, all it takes for someone to follow suit with Rand's system of ethics is to make some form of qualitative proclamation, you have a very shallow understanding of the position she actually held to. You're apparently suggesting that anyone who makes a qualitative judgement of something is an Objectivist for all intents and purposes. I don't have the motivation to put you right, since I don't have the time or energy to school you on Ayn Rand 101 and it seems like it would be required in order for you to understand some of the points I'm likely to make if we explore this in-depth.

Rami: Huh? I didn’t say that you agreed to ALL of Rand’s system of ethics. I was ONLY talking about that one essay about the morality of pronouncing moral judgement. That position is utterly stupid and I don’t understand why you think I took that position.

Doug: Izzy, you are being irrational. Look at the evidence available to you. It is obvious he is getting this much mileage, therefore you should believe it. Your lack of belief probably means you're evil too.

Rami: You don't think this is being hostile?

Doug: Not particularly, no. How about you write an essay explaining why it is.

Rami: So you're making fun in order to derail the discussion. You're helping Izzy evade criticism.

Izzy: There isn't any discussion. There is you ranting and beating your chest, and a few other people looking on with mild amusement and wondering when the batteries will run out.

Rami: Now you're lying again. You made an argument about my position, which I then showed you is false. And that was only a few replies ago (it's the stuff about you thinking that I incorrectly divorced the essay about pronouncing moral judgement from Rand's wider philosophy). This is a discussion.

Izzy: I honestly can't believe you're getting this much mileage out of me saying an essay was crap.

Rami: Don't you realize that almost of this "mileage" was caused by you evading my questions and criticism? The discussion could have been over in 2 or 3 replies if you had done that. Instead you decided to be hostile to me while refusing to retract your bald assertion that Rand's essay about pronouncing moral judgement is trash. All you had to do was, for example, retract your assertion that it's trash. You could have done this on any one of the replies you gave. But you chose not to. You're still choosing not to. Why? No reason given. Do you think this is rational?

Izzy: But it is trash.

Rami: You're pronounce moral judgement on an essay that says that you should pronounce moral judgement. You're doing the very thing that you're calling trash. And then you don't retract that it's trash, or otherwise correct your error. You are living irrationally. The first time that I told you this you reacted with hostility. And now here we are again. I don't know why this is so hard for you. What's the big deal? When you say something is trash, don't you think you should have an explanation for WHY you think it's trash? Or are you ok with calling an essay trash just because your feelings told you it's trash?

Izzy: (4) I think it's trash.

Rami: But you weren't thinking. Thinking involves making guesses and criticisms and explaining stuff. You did no such thing. What you did was feel it's trash. That's not even close to the same thing.

Izzy: But I was thinking.

Rami: If you did, you didn't make it known to me or any other poster here.

Izzy: But you know now.

Rami: Ok, so your thinking was contradictory and you're not going to fix it? You pronounced a moral judgement on an essay whose only content was that it's moral to pronounce moral judgements. You don't think this is contradictory?

Izzy: Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

Rami: Why are you being hostile now? Or do you think this isn't hostility?

Izzy: No.

Rami: So why did you ask me if I'm still beating my wife? Is it to get me to stop on this thread? Why don't you just stop yourself? Why do you expect me to be responsible for the things you want?

Izzy: No. 

Rami: So you asked me if I stopped beating my wife in order to derail the thread again (i.e. evade criticism). This is what irrationality is about. Evading criticism.

Andy: If a dead goat is fucked in a forest, and nobody is around to see it, would it still be immoral? Moving swiftly on..

Doug: [posts picture of a goat fucking]

Everyone: [more people chime in with pictures of goat fucking and other stuff]


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Miracle claims about the Quran

An interesting argument by Muslims goes like this: "I believe that the Quran is the word of God because no human could have made it." Maybe this isn’t exactly how they would word it, but basically this is what they mean — they think the Quran is full of miracles. So I want to shed some light on this issue by addressing some of the most commonly claimed miracles, and the reasoning that Muslims use for why they believe these things are miracles.

“Scientific” facts claimed as miracles

One miraculous claim is that the concept of mountains acting as stakes is mentioned in the Quran. Now, in order to understand why they think this is a miracle, we need to try to understand the reasoning, or logic, of their claim. As far as I can tell, their logic goes like this: Since the Quran contains this fact about physical reality, the Quran must be the word of God. Now, for this to make sense, the concept of mountains acting as stakes must have been something new — something that was revealed to mankind by the Quran. Now, one way to refute this miracle claim is to find evidence that rules out the possibility that the concept was new at the time that the Quran was revealed to mankind. Note that I’m not saying that this is the only way to refute the miracle. I’m just giving one way that could do it. And in fact, we do have evidence of this mountain stake concept being mentioned in Arabic text many decades before the Quran:
 وقَولا له هل أنتَ سويت هذه ….. بلا وتد حتى اطمأ نت كما هيا 
''Did you straighten this [earth] without a stake until it was reassured how it is,'' [1]
Now let’s compare that to the verse in the Quran that talks about the mountain stake concept:
وَالْجِبَالَ أَوْتَادًا
"And the mountains as stakes?” [2]
So the word stakes (plural: al awtaad, singular: al watad), in the context of a mountain, was used in Arabic literature before Mohamed revealed the Quran — which is evidence that refutes this miracle claim.

Now before I go into some of the other commonly claimed miracles of the Quran, I want to examine the reasoning of these so-called miraculous claims so that we can identify what’s wrong them. This is important because by having a general explanation about what’s wrong with the reasoning, we can refute all claims that use this same false reasoning. In this way, all claimed miracles, since they use the same reasoning as above, are already refuted without having to go find any evidence.

So the reasoning of the miraculous claim of the mountain peg concept goes like this: If the Quran contains a verse that expresses a fact about physical reality, then the Quran must be the word of God. This reasoning is flawed because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. In other words, the conclusion (that the Quran must be the word of God) does not follow from the premise (that the Quran contains a verse that expresses a fact about physical reality). One way to show that the conclusion does not follow from the premises is to come up with another possible conclusion that is consistent with the premises. One other possibility is that a human wrote the Quran and that he learned the fact from existing human knowledge. So here we have two possible conclusions following from the premises. I’ll summarize them below:
If the premise (the Quran contains a verse that expresses a fact about physical reality), 
Then the following conclusions are possible,
(1) The Quran is the word of God, OR
(2) A human wrote the Quran and he borrowed the fact from previous human knowledge.
Note that the premise alone cannot select one of the possible conclusions from the set of possible conclusions. In other words, the premise alone does not rule out any of the possible conclusions. This is what is meant by the idea that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. So what we have here is a situation where there’s another possible conclusion that Muslims are ignoring without ruling it out — which is irrational. So this means that at this point, all the possible conclusions are refuted. In order to choose a conclusion rationally, we would need more information in order to rule out one of these possible conclusions leaving the other one unrefuted.

So, what we can conclude is that any claim that uses this same logic is already debunked because we already have a refutation of it’s logic. In other words, since we already know that the claim’s logic is refuted, that means the claim itself is refuted — and this is true for all claims that use this same false logic.

Now to reiterate what I said about evidence, even if we didn’t have any evidence, that does’t mean we can’t come to a conclusion about whether or not the miraculous claim is true. The miraculous claim is concluding that humans couldn’t have done it, and that god must have done it, which is a false conclusion. The fact that there exists the possibility that humans did it, and since this possibility hasn’t been ruled out, is a refutation of the other possibility that god did it. In other words, both possibilities refute each other, since neither of them has enough information to refute it’s rival. So the miraculous claim is refuted since it chooses one possibility over it’s rival without giving any information (in the form of reasoning or argument) for why one possibility is being chosen over the other.

Beautiful literary usage claimed as miracles

Another commonly claimed miracle is that the Quran’s literary usage is so beautiful that it’s beyond what a human can create. Muslims often claim that for the past 1,400 years no human has been able to create a verse that is as beautiful as the Quranic verses. But for this to make sense, we should first rule out the possibility that all of the verses in the Quran originated in the Quran. So what we have here is the following reasoning: 
If the premise (the Quranic verses are so beautiful and no one has created verses like it since then),  
Then the following conclusions are possible, 
(1) The Quran is the word of God, OR 
(2) The verses in the Quran were written by humans before the Quran, and there exists even more beautiful Arab text before the Quran.
At this point we can consider some implications of these theories (possibilities). If theory (1) is true, that means that there couldn’t have been beautiful literary usage in Arabic text before the Quran — because if that were the case, then it wouldn’t make sense to say that the Quran’s literary usage is a miracle. And if theory (2) is true instead, that means that maybe there was previous Arabic text that was as beautiful, or more beautiful than compared to the verses of the Quran. So let’s summarize the theories again, together with these implications.
If the premise (the Quranic verses are so beautiful and no one has created verses like it since then), 
Then the following conclusions are possible, 
(1) The Quran is the word of God and no previous Arabic text was as beautiful as the Quran, OR  
(2) The Quran was written by humans and there exists even more beautiful Arabic text before the Quran.
Now using the explanation from above, notice how there isn’t enough information here to select one possibility from the set of possibilities. So what we have is a situation where all the possibilities are refuted since none of them has enough information to refute it’s rivals.

At this point, let's take this a step further by finding some evidence that rules out one of these theories. What if we found some grammar mistakes in the Quran? Well that would rule out the theory that the Quran was created by an omniscient being. And sure enough, the Quran does have grammar mistakes. Now some Muslims answer this by saying that the Quran set the Arabic grammar rules, and they use this as reason to believe that the Quran doesn’t have grammar mistakes — i.e. that the Quran is perfect in grammar. But, as my mother pointed out to me, this is circular logic. She said:

"If Muslims are going to claim that there cannot be any grammatical errors since the Qur'an is the standard by which Arabic Grammar is held up to, then they have no basis for claiming it is grammatically perfect since there is no objective standard to test this claim. To say the Qur'an is grammatically perfect because the Qur'an sets the standard of Arabic grammar is a circular argument."

  • bad grammar [3] [4]
  • better Arabic text previously [5]

Mathematical correlations as miracles

Another type of miracle claim is about mathematical correlations within the Quran. This type of claim is that there are a lot of things in the Quran that count up to something meaningful, and that no human could have done it because it’s too hard for a human to make meaningful verses while also making sure that all of these things count up right. One example is that the number of occurrences of the words belief and it’s opposite, disbelief, are equal. So the reasoning is something like this: Since there exist mathematical correlations in the Quran, that means the Quran is the word of God. But again, just as before, there isn’t enough information here to rule out the possibility that a human did it. So these miraculous claims are debunked too.

Now just to satisfy the people that really want to see some evidence, I’ll show 

Mohamed’s illiteracy as a miracle

Another miracle, and this is the only claim of it’s type, is that Mohamed was illiterate, and so the fact that he recited the Quran means that the Quran is the word of God. What’s interesting here is that if you question a Muslim about why he believes that Mohamed was illiterate, he’ll say that the Quran says so. And if you question him about why he believes that the Quran is the word of God, he’ll talk about the miracles that “prove” it (this Mohamed being illiterate miracle being one of them). But this is circular logic. They are saying that X is the argument for the conclusion Y, and Y is the argument for conclusion X.
X (Mohamed is illiterate) is the argument for the conclusion Y (Quran is the word of God). 
Y (Quran is the word of God) is the argument for the conclusion X (Mohamed is illiterate).
So there are two possibilities here. Either (1) X and Y are true, or (2) X and Y are false. And there isn’t enough information in this miraculous claim to be able to rule out either of these possibilities. So the miraculous claim is debunked since it chooses one of them arbitrarily (without argument).

One way to describe how this reasoning is wrong is to make a comparison: Quoting a book to prove the existence of god is like quoting the author of the Harry Potter book's to prove the existence of Harry Potter. 

The bar is so low

An interesting thing about these miracle claims is that Muslims today are still coming up with new ones. A recent one I’ve heard of is the existence of honey — the implication being that honey's nutritious value is so great that there is no way an omniscient being wasn’t involved. But this miracle claim just ignores the possibility that biological evolution is the cause of the creation of honey. The miracle claim doesn’t contain any information in it that refutes evolution, so why does it choose an omniscient being as the cause without having ruled out evolution as the cause? Because it’s irrational. It irrationally chooses one theory from a set of possible rival theories.

Another issue with these miracle claims is that they don’t contain any information arguing against the theory that an omniscient being is the cause. So it’s just ignoring that it might be wrong. What’s needed is to argue on both sides of the debate so that one can find the flaws in one’s own position. Consider Elliot Temple’s analysis of God vs Evolution [6]: 

In the famous watchmaker analogy, William Paley said that if you find a watch on a heath (area of uncultivated land), you can tell the watch had a designer because of its complex inner workings. He further argued that the complex inner workings of human beings imply that they had a designer too (God). 

This is an important problem and a good question. There are several other formulations: Where does "apparent design" come from? Where does complexity come from? Where do adaptations come from? Where do useful or purposeful things come from? 

All of these questions are fundamentally asking roughly the same thing: Where does knowledge come from? 

One place Paley said knowledge does not come from is randomness. We need a genuine explanation. I agree with him. 

Everyone agrees that people can create knowledge. We can be designers, and invent watches as well as nuclear power plants. But where did people come from originally? And where did animals come from? People didn't invent penguins. 

Paley answered that people were designed by God. This is a bad answer. God, like a person, is a complex, intelligent being. God contains knowledge. So where did God come from? Paley hasn't solved the problem, he's just added a layer of indirection. 

Besides the God answer, which doesn't work, there were no obvious answers to Paley's problem. It's a hard question.

Today, we have found one and only one answer to the question. It's conceivable there are others which we haven't discovered yet, but no one is even close to finding another answer. There are no breakthroughs on the visible horizon.

We found a mechanism by which knowledge can be created which does not assume any knowledge as a premise. It's called evolution.

Consider reading Elliot’s whole essay to find out how evolution works, and how it’s responsible for knowledge creation.

On a final note, I should mention that all miracle claims use the same false logic. They are all based on the premise that the thing in question couldn’t have been done by a human, or couldn’t have happened by chance, or by some other mechanism  — and so it concludes that God must have done it — but without including any information explaining why a human couldn’t have done it, or why it couldn’t have happened by chance, or why it couldn’t have happened by some other mechanism. So all miracles, since they use the same false logic, are debunked. 


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[1] peotry peg

[2] Quran 78:7, translated by Sahih International. [link:]

[3] The Qur’an Grammatical Errors, by Rafiqul-Haqq and Newton. [link:]

[4] title, authors

[5] Previous arab poetry beautiful

[6] Evolution and Knowledge, by Elliot Tempe. [link:]