Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Proceeding from a False Premise

One of my favorite lines from all of the Star Trek movies was in Star Trek 4. Spock was technically the Capitan. Kirk, then an Admiral, wanted to take command of the ship. He was tip-toeing around Spock’s feelings in even bringing up the subject. Spock responded,
“You proceed from a false assumption. I have no ego to bruise.”
I’ve always remembered that lesson from the fictional master of logic and tried to apply it in my life. Before I make something more difficult than it has to be or before I take something for granted I should make sure that all the information that I’ve used to make my decision is correct.

Suppose I was always losing my keys. If I had already accepted the premise that leprechauns exist then it would be easy for me to conclude that leprechauns were to blame every time I misplaced my keys. Accepting this solution would likely prevent me from identifying and correcting the real problem. Obviously the existence of leprechauns is a pretty far-fetched example. However, less silly examples happen all the time. People make assumptions that are based on no more proof than the evidence for existence of our little green Irish friends.

The other day I was listening to a speaker give a presentation about a new program that was available for those fighting various forms of addiction. He lost me early in his presentation because he proceeded from a false premise. He proudly announced that the program was “based on the proven effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous”. His false premise? That Alcoholics Anonymous has been proven effective. It’s very hard to objectively measure such results. It’s even more difficult when AA is very tightlipped about their effectiveness and resistant to outside studies to evaluate it. Some studies show that 95% of those who start AA end up drinking again. This makes me wonder what the rate is for those who just try to quite without AA. A recent study determined that,
“No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or TSF approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.”

Now all this AA business aside; I have no idea how effective the program that was presented really is. I have no evidence either way. The point of this post was not to discredit that program at all. I only wished to point out the logical fallacy in the reasoning used to promote it.


  1. I wanted to ask you a question, but can't find anywhere on your site that will allow me to email you, so this is my solution.

    I have been reading your blog for awhile. I enjoy your logical point of view and yet you are religious. I admire your ability to view religion logically and with reason, yet see the value in it.

    I came across this article today And wondered what you thought of it. I'd like to hear what you have to say about it.


  2. I found that article very confusing.
    First of all the title was odd. I didn’t see any reference to the Book of Mormon or Yale in the whole article.
    Second: Who is Taylor? Boyle references writings on secularism by someone who shares my name yet there are no links or references to the original work. Much of the article is criticism of Taylor’s work. I hesitate to agree or disagree with Boyle’s critique until I’ve read Taylor’s work. If you have a link to Taylor’s work I’d like to read it.
    That being said Taylor seems to be claiming that secularism is “dangerous” if we get too selfish and don’t learn agape. If that is Taylor’s point I couldn’t agree more.
    I part ways with Boyle when he claims that, “…secularism is stuck without any solution to meet the moral standards secularism promotes.” I’m sure some secularists believe this, but from my experience not all of them do. In fact none of the ones I read or correspond with do. He needs to do a little more research on secularists before he paints with such a broad brush. Boyle seems to be making the claim that secularism is, by definition, amoral. I simply disagree with the premise. Morality is independent of belief in God as I illustrated in a previous post.

  3. Boyle is referring to Charles Taylor, the philsopher,

    The link I posted before was actually the link to page 2 of the article sorry about that. The title may make more sense now.

    Thank you for your time.

  4. It does make more sense now that I’ve read the whole article. I’m going to have to read more of Taylor’s work.
    From what little I’ve read I disagree with both Taylor and Boyle about secularism. They both seam to be insinuating that agape is impossible without a religious support structure. I just disagree with that. I’ve seen far too many examples that disprove that claim.

  5. What I got from the article is that without agape we cannot sustain moral behavior, that eventually we will fall short or even become arrogant with our level of benevolence. Also, without agape, if we fail to continue moral behavior (make a mistake) then we cannot recover from it. With agape we are able to continue on with life and try again.

    I have another question for you. What is your understanding of faith? How can faith become knowledge? Children have a sort of faith in Santa Clause, but that doesn't make him true or real. Feel free to email me marciehunter at gmail dot com. Thanks

    I too would like to read Taylor's work.