Monday, June 01, 2009


Read an annoying Scott Adams piece this morning, where he makes a simple metaphysical linguistic error.

"Given that science can't find evidence for either God or time, it takes a leap of faith to assume either one exists. Therefore, anything in our daily life that depends on either God or time is built on a foundation of faith and not science."

The simple error is three separate applications of the word "exists". It is obvious that the normal meaning is to say whether something physically exists or not. My computer exists. My yacht does not exist. Time is obviously different from a physical thing. Time is not something that exists in the same way. "Time" is a term that describes an aspect of the way the physical things that do exist change. Therefore, no leap of faith exists in believing in time, because no one ever said time "exists" in the same way as my computer.

Adams furthers the equivocation by suggesting that belief in gods is of a similar nature. However, most people suggest that gods exist in some way that is different than describing a property of the arrangement of physical things. Neither term applies, so there must be some third meaning of exists, if it were to be true.

So what? A Wittgenstein-style diagnosis of equivocal statements, which attempt to fuzzy the use of terms is quite productive in exposing most philosophical blatherings as pure nonsense.