Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Are Osborne and Little Dodging Tax?

Éoin Clarke is asking questions about the family firm, Osborne and Little Group Limited, that George Osborne has an interest in.  Reading his post (and especially a reply to a comment) suggests that Éoin is not just  asking question but “just asking questions”: his questions aren't questions but accusations.  These accusations boil down to Osborne and Little making a large Gross Profit, from which you would expect Corporation Tax to be paid, but “the accountants” have set to work artificially depressing the profits so that very little is paid.

My comments don't appear on Éoin's blog, so I'll have to comment here. 
Gross Profit
First off, in looking Gross Profit, Éoin is choosing the wrong measure.  Companies pay tax based on profit, not on Gross Profit and Gross Profit is no guide to Profit.
Profit is Turnover less expenditure. Gross Profit is Turnover less a part of that expenditure; the expenditure that directly varies with Turnover.  Gross Profit is Profit ignoring overheads.   You can’t tell how much Profit a company makes, or should make, by looking just at Gross Profit.  I you try then you’re trying to judge Profit by looking at Profit ignoring overheads:  you've just missed out half the equation.
Compare it with coming up with an estimate of Betelgeuse’s gravitational pull on the Earth just by considering Betelgeuse’s mass.  Without consideration of Betelgeuse’s distance from the Earth you haven’t got a “rough” estimate, or “some idea”, or a lower limit on what to expect, you've got a load of bollocks. 

Are “the accountants” artificially depressing the profits?
Éoin implies that they are:
if you examine each of the three years you will see that after gross profit is calculated the accountants proceed to deduct all of that sum in various liabilities including "miscellaneous" liabilities of £1.7 million+ for 2011 and a total of £5 million for the 3 year period.”
This is nonsense.  “Liabilities”, miscellaneous or otherwise, are debts: you owe people.  Borrow money, don’t spend it all and you owe more than you spent.  Repay some of a loan used to fund expenditure and you owe far less than you spent.  Make profits, and losses, transfers and repayments and your liabilities bear no relation to your expenditure.  Debts are not expenditure and expenditure not debts
Whilst the statement that £1.7m was deducted from profit in 2011 is nonsense the claim that a total of £5m was deducted over three years is nonsense on stilts. 
A “liability” is something you owe at a certain point in time, rather like you are a certain height at a certain point in time.  Take your mortgage and how much you owe on it right now.  Take how much you owed a year ago, and the year before that, and so on.  Add up all these numbers.  Now, did you buy your house for that amount?  If you’re tempted to say “yes”, consider your height at six years of age, seven years of age, eight years of age and so on.  Add those numbers together, look me in the eye and tell me that you’re as tall as a house.

How Companies Avoid Tax
Ok, we know that Osborne and Little aren't making up liabilities to deduct from income because that makes about as much sense as accusing them of storing incandescence in jealousy.  But are Osborne and Little otherwise avoiding tax?
We can assume that companies want to make money.  It’s easy making a loss, but then you've, well, made a loss.  If you want to avoid tax by posting losses you want to actually make profits but make it look as if you’re losing money.  This, outside of fraud, is extraordinarily difficult.  And so companies do not tend to even attempt it.
A far, far easier way to for a multi-national company to reduce tax is to report all the profit they make fairly but to vary where they say they made their profits.  Say you make £100m, all over the globe, of which around £50m is made in the UK and £1m or so in a tax haven.  You’re going to be paying 24% on the £50m and the square root of nothing on £1m.  But you realise that, as you’re a multi-national, all your subsidiary companies are dealing with each other all the time.  And they charge each other for it.  So why not look at those intercompany invoices?  Maybe the subsidiary in the tax haven supplies all the coffee, or the web-site services, or owns the patents to your medicines.  So you bump up the price of the coffee, or the web-site services of or patent royalties by, ooh, £49m and suddenly you’re making £1m in the UK to be taxed at 24% and a nice big £50m to be taxed at the square root of nothing. 

Are Osborne and Little doing this?
 The short answer is “no”.  The slightly longer answer is “no, not even close”. We can tell this by looking at page 18 of the group accounts where there is a reconciliation of the expected taxation on profit (in this case, loss) at the UK rate and the actual tax.  It’s difficult for companies to pretend that expenses that didn't happen did, it’s very easy for tax authorities to do the reverse and, as mentioned, different jurisdictions have different rates of tax.  This statement shows the effects of all these varying little rules and rates.  In there is this entry:
“Foreign tax charged at higher rates”. 
The effect is small, £3,000, but notice the direction. That’s right, far from shipping profits away from the high to low tax jurisdictions, Osborne and Little leave profits in higher tax jurisdictions; decidedly not playing with intercompany charges to shelter profits.
Whislt I was writing this post Éoin commented on the proportion of Pricewaterhousecoopers LLP proifts paid as corporation tax. 
Why have Pricewaterhousecoopers LLP made £665m with a tax charge £23m (3.5%)?
Do you notice the letters "LLP"? It stands for "Limited Liability Partnership".  For taxation purposes a Limited Liability Partnership is a partnership not a corporation.  Partnerships do not pay corporation tax: the profits are divided between the partners and the partners pay income tax on their share of the profits. 
Support my research
Éoin has a "donate" button on his website asking us to "support" his research.  It would be good if he actually did some.  To an accountant, or anyone who knows about taxation, the basic errors, misunderstandings and not-even-being-wrongness are of a standard that rivals even this tweet:
Fair enough, Éoin isn't an accountant.  So ask one Éoin! Next time you have what looks like a great story of tax shenanigans find an accountant, buy her a beer and just check that you're not talking drivel.


Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Progress without Knowledge (or truth, justification, belief...)

Bristol University’s Alexander Bird has defended the good old cumulative epistemic approach to scientific knowledge:

Science (or some particular scientific field or theory) makes progress precisely when it shows accumulation of scientific knowledge; an episode in science is progressive when at the end of the episode there is more knowledge than at the beginning. ("What is Scientific Progress?" Noûs 41 (2007) 64–89. available here).

I, like other mad-dog Popperians, do not think that science can progress like this.  Science, the Popper-nutter argues, does not produce “knowledge”, in the sense of “justified/warranted true belief”.  Now, Bird has a different definition of “knowledge” from the “standard” view of knowledge as “justified/warranted true belief”, but on Bird’s view of knowledge, knowledge does entail justification.  The Popperian view is that justification cannot be had: thus no knowledge. I’d go further and deny that any of our theories (especially the interesting ones) are true.

And I’m a bit iffy about the “belief” bit.  What need to go around believing stuff: just provisionally adopt them and get on with it.

What any form of enquiry, not just science, produces is “conjectures” or, if we want to be brutally frank, “guesswork”.  Yet the average Popperian is also convinced that our enquiries do progress and is also convinced that they progress quite a bit.  In fact, a lot.
Now how would this be possible if enquiry is guesswork?  I want to sketch out a way that we can secure a progression in our enquiries without conditions I think cannot be met, implied by the cumulative knowledge view.  There are conditions, three, that I hope to show are sufficient to entail a progression.  Two of these conditions can be readily met, the third needs, to say the least, a little work on.  Whether this progression can be thought of as progress (a progression from social drinking to alcoholism is hardly progress) is largely a matter for elsewhere, but I will have a little bit to say on this later.

What it is a progression of

First, though, I want to say what it is a progression of. It is a progression of Popper’s “Objective Knowledge”.  The ‘objectivity’ of the ‘knowledge’ Popper discussed lay in its abstraction from any knowing agent.  This ‘knowledge’ lies not in the minds of individuals but in libraries, journals, in computer records and, in so far as they entail declarative statements, in the traditions and norms of a society.  The genome of the gorilla, for example, is not “known” by anybody; though, as it is recorded in an accessible manner, it is “known”.

Whilst this is in contrast to other concepts of knowledge that concentrate on just those questions of whether and how S knows p the contrast is not problematical.  It is generally accepted that there is ‘this type’ of knowledge and ‘that type’ of knowledge and all that is required is make sure everyone is clear on which type is the current subject of debate; which I hope I have done above.

More of an issue is whether it is “knowledge”, being neither true nor, consequently, justified. The calor theory of heat, spontaneous generation of life, that matter is made up of four elements and so on are just plain false.  Yet they were treated as being true, were taught, accepted, used in calculations and held their place in the body of statements society at a particular time called ‘knowledge’.
To avoid confusion and, perhaps, dodge a difficult and tangential debate I will divert from Popper’s terminology (gasp as he avoids the Duhem thesis! Thrill as he sidesteps the Quine thesis!).  The totality of the declarative statements of a society, generally accepted by that society, taught, used in calculations and held to be ‘knowledge’ will be called a ‘world model’ and denoted by W.

How the Progression arises

Let us take a feature, F, of World Models and create a structure by showing all possible World Models as points on an imaginary graph.  Where one World Model has more F than another it is shown as “higher” than that other World Model.  Where World Models are equal in F they are represented as at equal height.

We won’t stipulate exactly what F is, but assume that the more F a World Model has the better it is. As there are a lot more terrible World Models than “vaguely satisfactory” ones; more that are “vaguely satisfactory” than “quite good”; more “quite good” than “good” and just the one best World Model, our structure will resemble a (perhaps not very regular) triangle.

Now let us begin by formulating a World Model, W0, by any irrational or unreliable method you wish to adopt.  We may use astrology, legend, or (my own favourite) drinking lots of Real Ale and blurting out the first thing that comes into our head.  For the purpose of the argument it matters not which “method” is used, just that it is equivalent to pure guesswork; resulting in  W0  occupying an essentially random position in the structure and being, decidedly, not formed of knowledge.  W0’s position in the structure will have a vertical component and a horizontal component. We can call the value of the vertical component, more likely than not towards the lower part of the structure, “α”. A total guess of a World Model will, on average, give us a World Model with an F-rank of α.  (We can ignore the horizontal component.)

We can either stick with  W0, or we can adopt a new world model, W1. If we stick with W0, we remain with a World Model with an F-ranking of α.  If we produce a rival World Model,  W1, de nuovo, by repeating in its entirety the process used to formulate  W0, we are likely, also, to end up with a World Model with an F-ranking of around α.  Of course, we may guess repeatedly, choosing the highest ranking of our guesses and end up with a  W1  with an F-ranking of α + x. If we continue guessing we may find a World Model ranked still higher.  As, though, the de nuovo guesses will average around α most will be lower ranked than  W1 and the higher the ranking of  W1 the more improbable any “pure” guess will be an advance.

An alternative is not to formulate new World Model’s de nuovo but by adding new elements to and removing existing elements from  W0 . Whilst the same irrational guess may be the sole “basis” of both the formulation of new elements and the decision to reject old elements, the distribution of new World Models will be not quite so random as a de nuovo guess: the guess is not “pure”.  The new World Models will form a “cloud” around  W0 : some higher, some lower, but all in proximity to α.  Most will be lower than α. Similar comments to those made with regard to the shape of the overall structure will apply to the cloud.  It is a lot easier to come up with theories that are worse than our current theories to create a new world model than it is to improve on current theories.  The cloud, then, will be vaguely triangular weighted to “not as high as α”.  Some of the World Models, though, will be higher that α and there will likely be a highest World Model that is not  W0 .  Each time we repeat the process of generating a number of World Model’s the highest generated World Model may form a different differential in ranking to the original World Model, but let us introduce the concept of a typical differential, “ß”.  Choose the highest ranked model and we end up with a  W1 with an F-ranking of, typically, α + ß.

Creating new World Models by guessing elements to add to  W1 and guessing elements of  W1 to remove will produce a cloud of World Models in proximity to α + ß with one, typically, at a location ß higher than α + ß.  Choose this World Model and we end up with a  W2  with a rank of, typically, α + 2ß.  Repeating the process produces a cloud around α + 2ß, a World Model ß higher than that and a  W3 of rank α + 3ß.


So we have a clear progression, (α, α + ß, α + 2ß α + 3ß… α + xß) dependent on:

  1. a decision to formulate new World Models by partial removal and addition of elements of the currently adopted World Model;
  2. our ability to reliably rank World Models on the basis of their F;
  3. a decision to change the World Model adopted only on the basis that the new World Model has a higher F-ranking than the currently adopted model.

Now I would say that “F” is “being like the truth” (“verisimilitude”) and, if I could ever get my act on it together, explain the nice neat clear exposition of it sitting in the back of my mind that shows just how easy it is to compare rival World Models for their verisimilitude.  Others would also identify F with verisimilitude, but be a lot less sanguine about saying what it is and how to recognise it (some trivial things about lots of great minds trying to figure it out and, so far, failing).

It is desirable that World Models increase in verisimilitude over time and that desirability of verisimilitude would mean any progression of increasing verisimilitude would be progress. But the current fuzzy nature of our understanding of the concept must call into question whether we can reliably rank World Models on this basis.

That is unless we tweak our definition of F.  We do take World Models to be more or less like the truth than other World Models.  A World Model that holds the earth to be a sphere appears more like the truth than a World Model that differs only in thinking the earth to be flat.  A World Model that holds “homeopathy is junk” appears more like the truth than one that holds “there’s something in it. It helped my aunt with her hayfever so maybe it’ll cure cancer”.  Ranking in terms of apparent verisimilitude may not reliably rank World Models in terms of actual verisimilitude.  But it sure does rank them in terms of apparent verisimilitude.

We can, therefore, secure a progression in terms of apparent verisimilitude without accumulating justification, without accumulating truth, whithout “believing” our theories (just adopting them for use); in short without accumulating knowledge.  And, as apparent verisimilitude is desirable in its own right, that progression is progress.  


Monday, 23 July 2012

Bryony and Ruby on Youtube

Well I've had to put up with that ****ing ukulele for ****ing months so you might as well:


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Is Presuppositionalism Un-Biblical?

Certain forms of "Presuppositional Apologetics", including most of the forms floating around the internet, hold

1. The Bible is the inerrant word of God
2. To take anything extra-Biblical as evidence for God (“evidentialism”) is sinful

The same presuppositionalists are also rather fond of quoting 1 Romans 20 in support of a claim that atheists do, despite their protestations, believe in God every bit as much as the devout:

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse
Now, from 1, this is the inerrant word of God. And this inerrant word of God cites extra-Biblical evidence for the existence of God. “(T)he things that are made” are not exhausted by the Bible: we would have a poor creator whose only work was a book. Yet “the things that are made” are presented as reason the non-Christian should or, indeed, does believe in God.

It seems that God is an evidentialist. And that presuppositionalists think He's wrong.



Sunday, 17 June 2012

Antigone at the National Theatre: We have learnt nothing.

There is a story that Picasso, on seeing the cave paintings at Lascaux/Altimara said "we have learnt nothing in 12,000 years".  On the one hand, like many of these little stories, it may be apocryphal. On the other; if he had said it, he would have been right:

I thought the same thing, yesterday, on seeing Sophocles' "Antigone" at the National Theatre.  Fair enough, it is not 12,000 years old.  But it is still 2,500 years old.  It doesn't though, feel "dated" at all.

There has been a civil war in Thebes (Greek Thebes, not the Egyptian one) following the death of Oedipus.  Oedipus' two sons have been on opposite sides of the the war and, before the play opens, have managed to kill each other.  A chap called Creon (also related to Oedipus) becomes King and decides to restore some order.  He orders the burial of one brother, Eteocles, who was a good chap.  The other, Polyneices, though:
came back from exile, and sought to consume utterly with fire the city of his fathers and the shrines of his fathers' gods, sought to taste of kindred blood, and to lead the remnant into slavery
Not a nice guy.  Something must be done. Or rather, nothing: Creon decrees that no one should bury him.  

Antigone, daughter of Oedipus (we're talking Oedipus here: everyone's going to be related) disagrees.  You should bury the dead.  I hear your arguments about punishment and the security of the state and, well, you can stick them up your arse.  You should bury the dead and, you know what, I'm going to bury him.

Creon has a point.  For crying out loud, Polyneices was trying to destroy everything.  Burial, like a fair trial or not being tortured is all well and good; but aren't Antigone's objections like those "airy-fairy civil liberties" idealist liberals go on about?  Let us repeal the right to a burial act safeguard the lives and liberties of the citizens of Thebes.

Antigone also has a point.  You've just got to bury the dead.  Not to, like detention without trial, torture, suppressing civil liberties or allowing Bill Cash to decide what "rights" you have, is just immoral.  

Morality versus practicality: off we go.  Throwing in a few gods and the ancient Greek obsession with prophesy Sophocles just lets the story unfold from there.

And Sophocles not only lets a story run based on around major concerns of a society 2,500 years after his death but does it way better than most would do it today.  This is a Greek tragedy: it all ends horribly.  Nobody today seems to be able to "do" anything but a happy ending.  Hollywood, in particular, doesn't seem able to cope with anything but "uplifting".  This "it all works out well in the end" nonsense absolves the characters and, by proxy, us of responsibility for their and our actions.  In a Greek tragedy the consequences of actions come home to roost. Big time.

It's a great play and a great production.  A better, more relevant and more honest story than any likely to be served up today.  We have learnt nothing: and forgotten much.


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Faith as "pretending to know things you don’t know", a tiny suggested change.

Peter Boghossian has suggested that we should replace the word “faith” with “pretending to know things you don’t know”.  There's a great little talk he did on Youtube.   Seriously, it's great.  Funny, incisive and impassioned.  Take a look.

He wants us to be clear on what faith is.  In particular to remove the muddled confusion of faith with “hope” and (presumably) “guessing”.  The resulting clarity in the term makes it clear what is really being claimed when “faith” is invoked and often shows the claim to be nonsense (and, often, very funny).  "I'm having a crisis of faith" might elicit sympathy.  You're probably not going to be very sympathetic, though, to someone who says "I'm having a crisis of pretending to know things I don't know".  That's one of Peter's examples and I won't spoil the talk by listing any more.  Not that I need to, they're easy to come up with:

  • People of faith: People who pretend to know things they don't know
  • Interfaith initiative: Initiative of people pretending to know things they don't know combined with other people pretending to know different things which they don't know either
  • The Faith Community: Community of Pretending to Know things you don't Know
Or my current favourite:
  • The Tony Blair Pretending  to Know Things you don’t Know Foundation

The amended name is not quite so catchy, not quite so enticing and has a tendency to raise the question of whether, since Tone pretending to know about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was an utter disaster,  he shouldn't drop the pretending to know things he doesn't know altogether.

It's a very powerful technique.

But it's a tad authoritarian

One problem, though, with Peter’s suggestion is that he takes it that faith just is “pretending to know things you don’t know”.  Of course, Peter is entitled to his own usage of a word.  But then so is the “person of faith”.  The “person of faith” is quite entitled to retort that “pretending to know things you don’t know” is not how she uses the term and Peter is not entitled to force his definition on her.  "Bog off Boghossian, that's not what I meant at all!"

An amended Boghossian Technique

I think we can achieve the effect Peter is after, without being authoritarian with respect to language, by asking anyone using a “faith” claim to rephrase the claim with either:
1.       “pretending to know things you don’t know”.
2.       “hoping”
3.       “guessing”

Peter is entitled to ask that the “person of faith” clarifies her own meaning.  And those three pretty well cover all that she could mean. 

We might think that this reformulation emasculates the power of the technique.  ”Hoping” and “guessing” are perfectly acceptable and are not going to render some statements nonsense.  Consider “I have faith in God and that Methodism is the true path to Him”. "I pretend I know that God exists and that Methodism is the true path to Him when I know neither" is perfectly awful.   “I hope that God is real and I guess that Methodism is best path to Him” doesn't sound so bad.  In fact it sounds absolutely fine and that the speaker is perfectly entitled to her hopes and guesses.

I think that is because it is absolutely fine and that the speaker is perfectly entitled to her hopes and guesses.

Try replacing faith in any statement that involves messing around in other people's lives, though, and it's a different story.  That is because “hoping” and “guessing” just do not support messing around in other people’s lives.  You are perfectly entitled to guess x and hope y, you are not entitled (for example) to restrict access to public services because you have a funny feeling that x, or fervently long for y.

Far from emasculating the technique, I'd argue that it makes it more precise; we'll expose what we should and leave what we should leave unmolested.  We can also do it without leaving ourselves open to accusations of authoritarianism.

An example

Take "faith schools".   There are, of course, many existing techniques of facing the faith school proponent with what they are really proposing.  One of Stephen Law’s techniques is to draw an analogy from “faith schools”  to imaginary “political schools”.  How would we react if little Johnny didn’t go to Saint Tony’s Roman Catholic Junior School but to Comrade Stalin’s Marxist-Leninist Primary?  Only children of party members get in, teachers must sign up to a statement agreeing to the principles of Marxist-Leninism and the children are taught they must agree with Das Kapital. (Four pupils were expelled last term for visiting a Trostkyist website).  Makes you think, doesn't it?  

As will the amended Boghossian-technique.  The faith school proponent may balk at  "pretending to know things you don’t know schools", but are "hoping schools" or "guessing schools" any better?  In some respects it's even worse.  We could possibly make a case that it's ok to insist that parents of prospective pupils share the same hopes as the school; if, of course, we don't pay too much attention to the metaphysical nature of those hopes.  It's surely, though, horrendous to brainwash the children into hoping the same as the school.  Not "accepting that x is true", but actively hoping, really wanting x to be true.  Can you make it a requirement that teachers guess a certain way on certain topics?    

That's what we allow with faith schools.  We allocate the benefit of public money, both education and employment, based on whether you guess that transubstantiation happens,  or really really hope that transubstantiation happens or are happy to pretend transubstantiation happens.  None of these options are acceptable and merely insisting that the proponent of faith schools choose rather than equivocate is enough to expose her.


Friday, 4 May 2012

A little review you may enjoy

Colin McGinn has published a book  "The Meaning of Disgust".

After reading this review, I can't recommend reading the book.  I can recommend reading the review.

Sometimes criticism reaches the level of high art.


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

It goes like this Hesekiah

Hesekiah made an important concession on his blog:

I agree. I see we have something in common.

I don't mean "important concession" in the sense of "dumb pre-supper has admitted something he shouldn't have. Hah hah hah!" but that it is a concession that might allow us to have a dialogue; something that the standard pre-suppositionalist position (tactic?) of denying any common ground with an opponent prevents.

Abductive arguments

Now to construct a mutually convincing argument in favour of any proposition would require a whole heap of common ground between us.  As “proof” sets up an infinite regress to mutually “prove” a proposition would require infinite common ground: which is impossible.

We need very little common ground though to find out that things are not correct.  That allows us to argue not in a standard manner from common ground to agreement of how things are but from common ground to agreement of what is not.  It enables us to argue abductively:

Schemata of an abductive argument
1. E1
2. If A then E1
3. If B then E1
4. If C then E1
5. A or B or C
6. E2
7. E2 then not B and not C
8. Not (E2 then not A)
9. Thus A

Step 1 is our evidence.  In steps 2 to 4 we try to explain E.  In step 5 we give up trying to come up with more explanations.  In step 6 we introduce more evidence and note that it contradicts B and C (step 7), but not A (step 8) leaving us to conclude A.

It is crucial that we interpret step 5 correctly.  If we interpret it as saying there is no other explanation than A, B or C then it is almost certainly false.  At the very least we have no idea whether it is true or not.  If we interpret it as “we can’t, at the moment, think of any other explanation” then it is true and it is this that is carried to the conclusion.  The argument establishes that A is the only thing we can think of that is not evidently junk.

The argument is valid.  Not only is it valid, it's secure.  The evidence, obviously, is …well... that’s the evidence, that's the common ground.  Steps 2 to 4 are just analysis of the meanings of theories A to C, as are steps 7 and 8.  The argument also ought to be persuasive: what are you going to do, accept the theories that are evident junk or the one that at least stands up to scrutiny?

So it’s valid, it’s secure, you ought to accept A.

But A is not necessarily true, it’s just the best we have available at the moment.  A then is not proven.  Where A is not true, “A” is not “knowledge”: but you should still accept A (everything else you can think of is evidently junk).  It’s not proven, it’s not knowledge but you should still accept it: neither knowledge nor proof are necessary.

And it’s a valid argument that is not circular.  The conclusion, A, appears nowhere in the premises.  We have not assumed A to establish A. 

Now when we say it’s secure, it’s temporarily secure: 

New evidence may come forward, E3, that also contradicts A. 
Of course we may still prefer A to B or C as A, at least, copes with E1 and E2; which is better than either B or C do.  (Newtonian Mechanics is false, as shown by relativistic effects (the Newtonian mechanics “E3”) but we still use it for everyday tasks where it does work (the “E1” and “E2”)

Or we, or someone else, might extend step 5. 
“What about D?” says someone.  “Ooh, we hadn’t thought of that. 

Mind you this just changes the conclusion from “A” to “A or D”.  What really works as a refutation is providing both falsification of the existing theory (E3) and a new theory (D) which explains all the evidence.

What doesn’t remove the security is questioning the basis for A.  There is no “basis”:  the evidence, E1 and E2, does not “support” A in any inductive or probabilistic sense.   

Asking for a basis for anything is a non-argument: show where it’s wrong and what’s better.  The same goes for the entire style of argument.  I do not need to show a “basis” for thinking it true; it’s the best position I can manage, if you have a better one show it to me (D) and show how it is better (E3).  I don’t need to show a “basis” for logic: it’s the best position I can manage, if you have a better one show it to me (D) and show how it is better (E3).  I don’t need a basis for either of those two statements, I just think:  they're the best positions I can manage, if you have a better one show it to me (D) and show how it is better (E3)

The Transcendental Argument for God (TAG)

Above is a long (though not as long as I could make it) demonstration of an alternative theory to the "pre-suppositions" underpinning TAG.  The above is to TAG as D is to the model abductive argument: we don't need proof, certainty, or "knowledge"; this is how we can do things.

Have I got an E3 for TAG?  Why yes.  You see TAG is in much the same form as an abductive argument, a form that does not show that its conclusion is true, but that others are false.  But the "evidence" it takes is that an abductive argument isn't good enough, you must establish proof, certainty and "knowledge". Now if an abductive argument is not good enough then TAG, which is an abductive argument, is not good enough.  TAG argues for it's own rejection.


Friday, 20 April 2012

A Quick Thought on "Began to Exist" in the Kalam Cosmological Argument

The little finicky bits around "begin" and "exist", normally of no import, are crucial for the Kalam Cosmological Argument. A quick reminder of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (“KCA”):

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Why "everything that begins to exist" and not "everything that exists"? Because the role the KCA plays in arguing for God depends on differentiating God from the universe. There needs to be a causal problem with the universe that is not a problem with God so God can be invoked to solve that problem.  “Everything”, though, includes God; the argument would fail if “everything that exists” were the first premise.

What “began”?

Now we could take something "began to exist" as meaning that
Condition 1: that thing exists
Condition 2: there is an earliest time when that thing existed.
If one accepts the arguments William Lane Craig (the main contemporary advocate of the KCA) takes from philosophy and modern physics then one has to accept that, in this sense, the universe did have a beginning. Modern physics theorises that not only did the universe begin, but time itself began.

The philosophical arguments Craig refers to also posit a beginning of time:
- “In other words, the series of past events must be finite and have had a beginning.”
- “an actually infinite series of past events could never elapse; since the series of past events has obviously elapsed, the number of past events must be finite.”
If time began then there is an earliest time. If there is an earliest time then there is an earliest time when the universe existed. The universe exists (condition 1) and there is an earliest time when the universe existed (condition 2): the universe began to exist.

And so, if He exists, did God.

If He exists He fulfils condition 1. As time itself began there is an earliest time when He existed, fulfilling condition 2.

If time itself began everything that exists began to exist. There is no difference between “everything that exists” and “everything that begins to exist” and, so, the argument fails.

An earliest time but no X

If the argument is to be saved another condition, condition “X”, must be added to the concept of “begins to exist”. Condition X must also be applicable to the universe but not applicable to God.

Condition X1: and there must be a prior time when the thing did not exist

This seems fine. Almost everything, except God, fulfils the three new conditions. They exist, there was an earliest time that they existed and there was a time earlier than when they existed. Almost everything, though. There is no time earlier than the earliest time the universe existed. If we accept condition X1 then God did not begin to exist, but neither did the universe.

Craig’s “Solution”

Craig’s “solution” is along the lines of God “existing timelessly”.
Condition X2: and it must not exist timelessly.
WTF, though, is “existing timelessly”? “Existence” seems to require persistence in time. Neanderthals, though they do not exist now, persisted for some quarter of a million years. Exotic particles produced in particle accelerators exist for nanoseconds. There is no time when Hobbits existed. Did Hobbits exist “timelessly” whilst Neanderthals and exotic particles happened to exist timefully?

It seems that Neanderthals and exotic particles do not so much exist in a certain time-related way but exist because they existed in time. Existing “timelessly”, à la Bilbo Baggins, is another way of saying “not existing”.

Let us, though, allow this idea of “existing timelessly” and allow that something that “exists timelessly” does not begin to exist. Why believe that the universe does not exist timelessly? After all, we’ve such little idea of what existing timelessly amounts to, we can hardly rule it out.


So there we have it. The KCA depends on the universe beginning to exist and God not beginning to exist.

But if we say that the universe must have begun, well so did God. If we say that God did not begin to exist, then neither did the universe.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

A Question on the Transcendental Argument for God

I have a question on the Transcendental Argument for God.  Greg Bahnsen boiled it down to:

The transcendental proof for God's existence is that without him, it is impossible to prove anything.
My question is this: what is the argument?  Seriously.  I can accept, in its entirety, the alleged proof and absolutely nothing follows from it.

"Without [God] it is impossible to prove anything" can be rephrased as:
"God exists or it is impossible to prove anything."
With the "or" being an inclusive "or": the statement is false only if both phrases are false.  The statement is true when either:

1. God exists and it is possible to prove something
2. God exists and it is impossible to prove anything
3. God does not exist and it is impossible to prove anything

Now a conclusion follows from its premises if its negation generates a contradiction, if the negated conclusion and the premises cannot be true at the same time.  So what conclusion follows from "God exists or it is impossible to prove anything"?

It's not "God exists".  The negation of "God exists" is "God does not exist", and "God does not exist" can be true at the same time as "God exists or it is impossible to prove anything." (it's situation 3)

It's not "it is possible to prove something".  The negation of "it is possible to prove something" is "it is impossible to prove anything" and that is the second situation.

It's not "it is impossible to prove anything".  The negation of "it is impossible to prove anything" is "it is possible to prove something" and that is the first situation.

Is there a missing premise? Or is the argument just bollocks? Will any presuppositionalist reply to a question rather than just asking them?


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Draft Note on a Presuppositionalist Argument

There is a forthcoming paper that argues that God is a necessary precondition for the Laws of Logic.  The argument, from the paper's conclusion is:

The laws of logic are necessary truths about truths; they are necessarily true propositions. Propositions are real entities, but cannot be physical entities; they are essentially thoughts. So the laws of logic are necessarily true thoughts. Since they are true in every possible world, they must exist in every possible world. But if there are necessarily existent thoughts, there must be a necessarily existent mind; and if there is a necessarily existent mind, there must be a necessarily existent person. A necessarily existent person must be spiritual in nature, because no physical entity exists necessarily. Thus, if there are laws of logic, there must also be a necessarily existent, personal, spiritual being.

I've drafted a note responding to the argument and would be grateful for any feedback.


Anderson and Welty[1] seek to establish that “(t)he laws of logic imply the existence of God”.  There is, however, an equivocation in a key step in the argument.  Any univocal re-statement of the argument fails.  

The step in question is given in the summary of their argument in the conclusion to the paper:
 “Since [the laws of logic] are true in every possible world, they must exist in every possible world.”
Now, how are we to take the two sub-clauses, “true in every possible world” and “exist in every possible world” as being logically connected?

If and only if («)

If a law of logic exists in a possible world if and only if it is true in that possible world then the step is, obviously true.  However, given Anderson and Welty’s characterisation of the laws of logic as necessarily true; their conclusion, that they entail the existence of God, is contradictory. 

 “The laws of logic entail the existence of God” entails that if there were no God then the laws of logic would not exist.  Given, though, that the laws of logic are necessarily true and that they exist if and only if they are true then the laws of logic necessarily exist. If the laws of logic necessarily exist then they would exist whether God existed or not.[2]

If (®)

So we must abandon the idea that a law of logic “exists” in a possible world if and only if it holds true in that particular world.  Perhaps it is meant that if, (but not “only if”), a law of logic holds true in a world then it exists in a world? This does not remove the contradiction.  The laws of logic are necessarily true, they hold in every possible world whether or not God exists in that possible world.  As their holding true entails their existence the laws of logic exist in every possible world whether or not God exists in that possible world.

Only if (¬)

Anderson and Welty’s conclusion, that the laws of logic imply the existence of God, is not contradicted if we assume that “only if” is meant:  the laws of logic are true in every possible world only if they exist in every possible world.  Indeed, on this reading, Anderson and Welty’s conclusion would be supported. Given Anderson and Welty’s characterisation of what it means for a law of logic to “exist”, were God not to exist in a possible world the laws of logic would not exist in that possible world.   If the non-existence of the laws of logic in a possible world entailed that they failed to hold in that world then an agreement that, say, the law of non-contradiction does hold entails the existence of God. Whilst this may seem like an improvement, the “only if” reading either contradicts other vital premises in the argument or renders the step itself contradictory.  The step claims that the laws of logic hold true in every possible world.  Why is that?  If it is because they exist in every possible world (maybe because God exists in every possible world) then the laws of logic are not necessarily true; their truth is dependent upon their existence and were they do not exist they are not true.  The first premise in Anderson and Welty’s, summarised, argument is that the laws of logic are necessarily true: the argument contradicts itself.   So let us assume that the fact that the laws of logic hold true in every possible world is because they are necessarily true.  This contradicts the assertion that they are true “only if” they exist: the step, itself, is contradictory.

Other logical connectives and conclusion

Other logical connectives are not only more of a stretch in interpretation but fail destroy the step as any link in chain of reasoning.  “And” turns the step into two simple assertions. “Or”, excluding combinations of “or” and “not” that are equivalent to connectives discussed already, simply asserts the truth of one of the sub-clauses.

There may be other logical connectives that haven’t been considered or have not, even, been thought of yet.   No logic is liable to correct the argument, though, as the two sub-phrases of the step simply talk about different things. 

Anderson and Welty must establish that laws of logic are capable of being contingent in order to argue that they are contingent upon God.  Thus the laws of logic are characterised as thoughts.  Thoughts require a mind and, thus, are contingent on minds. “Exist” in the second sub-phrase refers to being thought of by a mind.  Anderson and Welty also need to establish the laws of logic as necessarily true in order to argue that the mind thinking the laws of logic must be necessarily true.  

However being true and being thought are wholly independent properties of propositions.  The one is dependent on a mind, the other dependent on the world outside that mind.  No logical connectives will bridge the gap.   Differing logical connectives may save the argument from saying something contradictory, but at the expense of saying anything at all.

The assertion that God is a necessary precondition for the laws of logic is either necessarily false, or meaningless.

[1] Anderson, J. N., & Welty, G. (Forthcoming). The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic. Philosophia Christi .

[2] It may be objected that God is, Himself, necessary and thus there is no possible world where He does not exist.  The objection, however, is not only question begging but proves the counter argument.  God is necessary for the laws of logic if and only if for all possible worlds were God does not exist there are no laws of logic.  The universal statement, “all possible worlds x”, can be recast existentially as “there does not exist a possible world without x”.  God, therefore, is necessary for the laws of logic if and only if there exists a possible world were God does not exist and neither do the laws of logic.  If God is necessary there is no world were God does not exist and, thus, no world were God does not exist and neither do the laws of logic.


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What's so great about evidence?

I’ve just read a paper, Why Do We Value Knowledge? by Ward E.Jones, that poses the question: if we are concerned with truth, why bother with knowledge?  If knowledge is factive then all knowledge is true, but not all truths are known.  Why value a p which is known more than a p’ which is merely true?  Why do we, and it’s pretty evident that we do, think less of the lucky guesser as opposed to the knower?  Both have truth, both believe the proposition in question, the lucky guesser just lacks warrant, or justification, or reasons, or evidence for the proposition.  What’s so great about evidence?

Jones examines the instrumentalist answer to the question; that we value evidence (or warrant, or justification, or reasons...) because it is a means of getting true beliefs. As Jones points out that is a cracking explanation of why we like evidence but no explanation of why we like true beliefs brought about by evidence above those that we just happen upon.  An example from Jones is getting across a river.  We want to be on the other side and nice, safe, reliable method can be depended upon to get us there.  So we will use one. But the state of being on the other side is no sweeter because we got there by a safe and reliable method. 

My own way of putting it is this: we want money, in part, because it lets us buy beer.  But free beer is not valued any less.

Jones’s suggestion is to look at the incidental attributes of knowledge.  In order to get a robust definition of knowledge the concept has been pared down as far as possible, anything non-essential removed.  According to Jones, it may well be in this cloud of non-essential attributes of knowledge that its real value is found.

I think that there is a simpler and more straight-forward explanation.  We value neither truth nor knowledge.  Of course we will say that we value both, but our actions do not bear our statements out.  Rather like my saying that I am fond of a low fat, alcohol-free diet with plenty of exercise is not borne out by my sitting in a pub eating crisps and drinking beer.

Consider four propositions; e1, e2, g3 and g4. The “e” propositions have as much evidence (or warrant...) as you like whilst the “g” propositions are complete guesses. The odd numbered propositions, e1 and g3, are true.  The even numbered propositions, e2 and g4, are complete rubbish.  Our attitude to the propositions will be divided by evidence rather than truth.  We will think e1 and e2 are true, be inclined to believe them and consider them examples of knowledge.  Our attitude will not change dependent upon whether they are knowledge or whether they are true or false.  Similarly we will be wary of both g3 and g4, further investigate both the true and the false, deny both of them the title “knowledge” and be reluctant to believe them to be true.  Whilst we are avowedly all for truth and knowledge, dispositionally our attitudes track evidence.

We do not have access to the truth of propositions beyond the evidence we have for them. And so, the evidence we have for propositions stands as a proxy for truth, it is something we can aim our beliefs at and adjust our attitudes on the basis of. 

Now on the traditional view of knowledge, knowledge is evidenced, or warranted, or justified or reasoned true belief.  Where we have that evidence (or warrant...) we also believe the proposition to be true and, so, believe that all the ingredients of knowledge are there.  Where we do not have that evidence (or warrant...) we do not call our position in relation to the proposition “knowledge”.  Our attitude to propositions tracks our use of the term “knowledge” and, so, we believe that we favour knowledge when, in fact, we favour evidence.


Jones, W. E. (1997). Why Do We Value Knowledge? American Philosophical Quarterly , 34 (4), 423-439.


Monday, 13 February 2012

The Efficacy of the Evidential Argument from Evil

After Stephen Law’s debate with William Lane Craig there was a lot of discussion on the web about the efficacy of Law’s argument, the Evidential Problem of Evil, in countering Craig’s arguments.

Many of those who think the Evidential Problem of Evil ineffective argue that it is a probabilistic argument that, at best, shows that God is unlikely. (e.g. Chab123 2011) Others (e.g. Stuart 2011) felt that insufficient attempt was made to show what was wrong with Craig’s arguments for God, especially the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Craig’s opposing arguments for God are deductive arguments.  If the premises are true and the logic valid the conclusion is conclusively established:  it is simply impossible for the conclusion to be false. 

The best a “probabilistic” argument can do is make it very, very unlikely that the conclusion is false.  And, as Sherlock Holmes pointed out to Dr. Watson, no matter how unlikely a conclusion seems if nothing else is possible then it must be true.

This is Chab123’s complaint. Law claimed that the Evidential Argument from Evil, when plugged into the Modal Ontological Argument, demonstrated the impossibility of God:

“His confusion on this point is breath-taking. His evidential argument from evil, at its very best, shows, at most, that it is probable that God does not exist. The probability is less than 1. To defeat the ontological argument with an argument from evil, his argument would have to entail that God does not exist. The probability that God does not exist would have to be 1. It would have to prove, as he says, that the conclusion of Craig’s argument is false. But Law’s own argument, as a matter of logic alone, cannot achieve this goal. It is a probabilistic argument. As such, it leaves open the possibility that God exists, even if the probability is quite low.”

Nothing probabilistic about modus tolens

Craig’s arguments make use of a rule of logic called modus ponens.  The rule is:

  1. If x then y
  2. x
  3. Thus y

The picture many people have of a “probabilistic” argument is along the lines of:

  1. The first swan seen is white
  2. The second swan seen is white
  3. The third swan seen is white
  4. The nth swan seen is white
  5. Thus all swans are white

It can seem that the Evidential Problem of Evil follows this pattern.  Just as the first white swan is not enough to establish that all swans are white the first bit of gratuitous suffering is not enough to cast doubt on God.  The seemingly endless succession of uniformly white swans seems to make it likely that all swans are white and the endless widespread pointless suffering seems to make it likely that there is no God.

In fact not all swans are white, despite how overwhelmingly improbable that seemed before the discovery of Australia.  “y” in the example above, cannot be wrong, “all swans are white” both can be, and is

The Evidential Argument from Evil, though, is not a “probabilistic” argument.  It is just as deductive as Craig’s arguments; making use of a rule of logic called modus tolens.

Modus tolens runs:

  1. If x then y
  2. Not y
  3. Thus not x

And the Evidential Problem of Evil runs like this:

  1. If God existed then there wouldn’t be so much pointless suffering in the world
  2. There is so much suffering in the world
  3. Thus God does not exist.
This is just as “logically airtight” as any of Craig’s arguments; if the premises are accepted then the conclusion must be accepted.    We can, of course, dispute the premises (I am, though, persuaded by Law’s “evil god hypothesis” (Law 2009) that rejection of them would be irrational).  As for the comparison arguments from Craig: though in the above example of modus ponens the conclusion was absolutely certain, the premises were just assumed to be true and the logic was kept simple to ensure its validity.  Craig's premises, and the validity of his logic, are both at risk: they are not at all certain and that uncertainty carries through to the conclusion.

The idea that the Evidential Argument from Evil is a member of some poor-relation-species of argument compared to Craig’s is erroneous.

But you haven’t refuted Craig’s arguments!

The complaint that Law did not adequately argue against the Kalam Cosmological Argument is equally erroneous.

When criticising an argument we could “undermine” it: dispute the premises or find fault with the logic.  Or we could show it to be false. Law certainly did not explain why the Kalam Cosmological Argument concluded falsely but he did give a good argument that it does conclude incorrectly.

If the Kalam Cosmological Argument is a sound deductive argument then no evidence will count against its conclusion.  That evidence does count against its conclusion is good evidence that it’s not a sound deductive argument!   

Similarly, with the Modal Ontological Argument.  This, very briefly, assumes the possibility of God and concludes with His existence.  If one accepts the logic of the argument (I don’t) then, far from showing “breath-taking” confusion Law’s claim is perfectly cogent:

  1. If God is possible then God exists (Modal Ontological Argument)
  2. God does not exist (Evidential Argument from Evil)
  3. Thus God is not possible

Of course we would like to know where the argument falls down, knowing where the argument falls down may expand our knowledge and that knowledge may help us avoid error in future arguments.  But look at this, readily criticised, argument:

  1. All elephants are pink
  2. Socrates is an elephant
  3. Socrates is mortal

The “logic” is hardly worthy of the name, the premises are junk but the conclusion is true.  A demonstration of the falsity of the premises or the invalidity of the logic does not establish that the conclusion is false; a demonstration of the falsity of the conclusion, obviously, does.

The Evidential Argument from Evil is a better counter argument than picking holes in Craig's logic and questioning his premises.  Whilst direct criticisms of Craig's arguments may cast doubt on those arguments the Evidential Problem of Evil shows them to be false.


Craig, W. L. (2010, February 4). Five Arguments for God. Retrieved February 8, 2012, from The Gospel Coalition: http://thegospelcoalition.org/publications/cci/five_arguments_for_god/

chab123 (2011, October 24) The Missing Ontological Argument in the Craig vs. Law Debate. Retreived February 13, 2012, from Ratio Christi-at The Ohio State University:

Stuart (2011, October 20). How Stephen Law Failed in His Debate with William Lane Craig. Retrieved February 13, 2012, from THINKINGmatters:

Law (2009, November 30) Draft of PART of chpt 3. VSI Humanism. Retrieved February 13, 2012, from Stephen Law (blog):