Monday, January 24, 2011

Is P. Z. Myers a sorry excuse for an atheist?

In his "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," C. S. Lewis' senior devil Screwtape addresses a banquet of tempters in training and apologizes for the poor quality of the souls on which they are having to dine. "[I]t would be vain to deny," says Screwtape, "that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skillful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid."

Screwtape compares the souls of contemporary sinners unfavorably to those of bygone days:
Oh, to get one's teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there, something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you'd got it down.
Scott Stephens makes a similar point--a point made earlier this year by David Bentley Hart--about the intellectual quality of modern atheists.

I have said many times before that the New Atheists are a pale imitation of the old atheists of late 19th and early 20th centuries who were not simply cultural barbarians, but men widely learned beyond science, most of whom actually understood much of what they criticized. The Thomas Huxleys and H. L. Menckens have, alas, been replaced by the likes of Myers and Richard Dawkins.

Huxley, of course, claimed to be an agnostic, an intellectual character George Barnard Shaw once called an atheist without the courage his convictions. But Huxley was just as much an enemy of the Church.

Where are the atheists now who can come with lines like Huxley's, "extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science like snakes around the cradle of Hercules"? Or Mencken's "Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing"?

They were wrong, of course, but they were magnificently, gloriously wrong--unlike Myers and his ilk, who, when they go wrong (which is not infrequent), do it with an unfortunate lack of rhetorical sophistication. If you're going to be wrong, you should at least provide your audience with something to marvel at. To read Mencken's Treatise on the Gods is, if not to be philosophically impressed, at least to be wondered at for its creativity (he basically makes up the history of religious belief as he goes along).

When the old atheists missed, you could at least admire the impressive explosion, but when the New Atheists miss (which they do at least as often), you find yourself standing there disappointed, gazing on a logical dud.

When the old atheists fired a barb, you often found yourself tipping your hat. With the New Atheists, you just find yourself shaking your head. To read Myers is to have to wade knee high through sophomoric vitriol that someone like Mencken would scorned as juvenile, if not simply insipid.

They also had stouter constitutions, these paleo-atheists. Today's atheists--like the ones now suing the state of Kentucky over God language in its Homeland Security statute--have even taken to claiming to be emotionally traumatized by mentions of God. The expression "put on your man pants" suffered severe overuse in the last election, but if it has a legitimate use, it would be here.

No self-respecting atheist of yore would claim he experienced "mental pain and anguish" because of theism. He would instead have tried to inflict it on his theistic opponents.

Hand it to Myers, he at least tries to do this, if he doesn't exactly succeed.

In a new post at his blog, Myers complains about these unfavorable comparisons of him and his fellow New Atheists to the Great Atheists of Old:
This is such a dreary and dishonest approach; it involves puffing up dead or less popular atheists into demigods who strode the earth with cosmic seriousness, while anyone new and slightly less moribund is sneered at as inferior, the weak and enfeebled scions of a diminished age, and therefore deserving nothing but dismissal.
Well, at least he produced a mildly competent alliteration in that first sentence. And I do like the "strode the earth" bit. Oh, and the "scions of a diminished age" isn't too bad either.

Maybe there's hope.

But it's all downhill from there. Myers retorts that he and his New Atheist friends place greater stress on science--something he apparently thinks the old atheists knew nothing about:
I disagree — these New Atheists are simply basing their ideas more strongly on science, something the theistic critics don't seem to comprehend — and I don't consider them less than the Old Atheists, just different, and even there, we're all making the same argument that gods don't exist.
The point Myers seems to miss is that at least the Old Atheists knew enough about science to know the difference between science and philosophy, a distinction people like Myers, Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking run roughshod over without apparent notice. In fact, Myers seems to have a generally troubled relationship with philosophy, the one discipline competence in which is required to conduct the kind of discussion in which he thinks he is competent to engage.

So Myers, seemingly unequipped with a philosophy gland, beats his chest and let's loose the atheist yell which he hopes will resound throughout the religious forest, attracting an opponent:
And if the New Atheists are such scrawny, flabby specimens, why aren't you simply clobbering us with those powerful arguments you developed to crush our predecessors?
Um, maybe because he wouldn't recognize a powerful argument if it had a sign saying "Powerful Argument Here" on it? There are a multitude of arguments offered by thinkers far more substantive than Myers that have been presented over the last 2,000, and the fact that Myers isn't impressed with them tells us very little about the quality of the arguments themselves. They tell us more about Myers.

Myers has confronted the theistic enemy before, only to come away scratching his head. He complains that Stephens doesn't offer any real arguments and then compares him in this regard to Terry Eagleton and David Bentley Hart.

It's interesting that he should mention Hart, who is one of the theists Myers has ham-handedly tried to confront, only to walk away thinking he has encountered the enemy successfully when in reality he has only encountered his own philosophical inadequacies.

The technique Myers and others (I'm thinking especially of Ed Brayton here) use is this: they troll the Internet for stupid things Christians say, present them to their readers as representative of theistic thought, shoot them down, and then high five each other as if they had really accomplished something. Call it the Shooting Fish in a Barrel Method of atheistic apologetics.

It's sort of like going down to the local pay lake, catching a big fish and thinking that you're God's gift to sportsmanship.

If he were really interested in competent theistic opposition he could go over to Frank Beckwith's blog--or Ed Feser's. But no. That would require some actual intellectual exertion. Or maybe it's because every time he does do this, he simply embarrasses himself.

As soon as Myers encounters a competent thinker like Hart, he seems to experience some sort of intellectual breakdown that causes him to rhetorically wander around mumbling imprecations against his target that indicate he knows nothing about what the person is talking about or simply become oblivious to what the person is saying, not understanding the person' simplest statements.

Myers recent responses to two of Myers posts on Hart have been dealt with in detail by my co-blogger Thomas here and here. But suffice it to say they are not exactly inspiring intellectual displays.

Nope. Stephens is right. They just don't make atheists like they used to.

24 comments:

Singring said...

...'you find yourself standing there disappointed, gazing on a logical dud.'

The irony is almost too much to take. I am to this day waiting on Thomas to complete his argument for the first cause, have been told that personal 'intuitions' are sufficient grounds for telling others what their bodies are for and that the universe is contingent because its 'self-evident'.

Oh...and don't forget the claim that inductive reasoning is irrational which was contrasted with deductive reasoning which turned out to be based on...inductive reasoning! Or the attempt to claim that human C02 emissions should graphed against mean English temperatures somehow disprove global warming.

Or what about the good times when it was claimed that atom's aren't phsical? That was a precious moment indeed. Especially since it was made over a device that is made up of...atoms by a being that is mad up of...atoms!

Or the charming claim that 'science isn't the only path to truth' is a statement sufficient to show that philosophy is a path to truth? (A little like claiming that there are creatures other than frogs shows that there must be unicorns).

The list goes on and on.

You can say about Dawkins and Hitchens and Myers whatever you like, but I have yet to hear them claim they know something is absolutely true because of their 'intuition' or because its 'self-evident'.

'...an atheist without the courage his convictions.'

I see. Much like an pro-lifer without the courage to state what he thinks the punishement for abortion should be then.

'...have even taken to claiming to be emotionally traumatized by mentions of God.'

Ah yes. This is of course completely unlike Martin Cothran, who puts on his 'man pants' when the government changes a form to suit children of gay parents, for example. No, wait...Martin Cothran whines and complains about these things on a daily basis as if they were the downfall of civilization. My mistake.

aimeecat said...

"Myers retorts that he and his New Atheist friends place greater stress on science--something he apparently thinks the old atheists knew nothing about."

The Myers quote you use to supposedly substantiate this claim says nothing of the sort. It refers to 'theistic critics' not 'critics of theism'.

"...not understanding the person' simplest statements."

As Singring said - the irony is almost too much to take.

You seem more interested in criticizing style over substance - but after reading you post and noting the lack of examples to back up its weak attempt at character assassination, I presume that is the best you can do. I concur with Meyer, "this is such a dreary and dishonest approach."

Martin Cothran said...

aimeecat:

You seem more interested in criticizing style over substance - but after reading you post and noting the lack of examples to back up its weak attempt at character assassination, I presume that is the best you can do.

So you didn't read the links to the posts where the substantive problems with Myers arguments have already been addressed?

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

You keep rehashing several issues on which you clearly do not understand what you are talking about and demanding that Thomas and I relieve you of your ignorance. You need clear up your own ignorance and not depend on other people to do it for you.

You clearly have an inaccurate understanding of quantum physics that has been demonstrated repeatedly on this blog and you want Thomas to explain to you the argument from contingency when you not only clearly don't understand what contingency is as it is discussed in philosophy, but willfully resist any attempt to explain it to you.

You then go on and repeat several blatant falsehoods that have already been pointed out to you are, in fact, falsehoods. You say I posted a graph of CO2 emissions and rising global temperatures to try to "disprove global warming," when, as the title clearly states, and as I corrected you before, the post had only to do with whether global warming is human-induced. I have never said on this blog that there is no global warming and the graph I posted itself shows it.

Then you say I "claim that inductive reasoning is irrational." This is another false claim. I say it cannot be rationally justified, just like the law on non-contradiction--that doesn't mean it is "rational," it just means there is nothing rationally prior to it.

I am not going to leave your posts on these things on my blog unanswered, thereby misleading others as to what I really said. And I have better things to do than repeatedly correct you on things you know are not true.

So here's what we're going to do. I'm going to let you retract the falsehoods or prove that I really said them. With the actual quotations.

On the other issues, I'm going to ask you to demonstrate that the majority view of quantum theories is that atoms are actually physical objects rather than theoretical constructs. I have provided several from prominent physicists to show the latter. I want the actual quotes from real physicists showing that what you claim is the view in quantum physics is really the view of quantum physics.

There's no more discussion from you on the contingency argument until you come forth with your view of contingency and necessity and show us that this is the accepted view in philosophy--or at least define your terms so that we can rationally discuss it with you.

I want this in four posts, one for each issues. If you can't do this, then you're banned from commenting on these things further on this blog. If you can't do it and I see a post on that topic. I'll delete as soon as I see it.

We have better things to do here than keep feeding your lust for attention.

So go for it.

Thomas said...

"I am to this day waiting on Thomas to complete his argument for the first cause."

The argument was finished as I recall. Contingency was defined in this way:

"X is necessary if it, by definition, would not depend on the possibility of something else were X to exist concretely, either for X's own concrete existence or the particular character thereof.

"X is contingent if it is not necessary."

We then proceeded to look at different things in the universe to see whether the universe as a whole was contingent. We got to the point where I asked:

"So presumably if the big bang never occurred, because of the impossibility of spacial extension, the character of the universe would be different?"

You answered:

"There would most certainly be a qualitative difference, if that is what you mean by 'character'. And I would also say that matter as we know it would probably not exist in this universe."

Therefore, the universe is contingent by the definition we were working with.

Singring said...

On induction:
http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-atheist-follies-more-discusion-on.html

This is what you claimed was an example of rational deductive reasoning wholly removed from induction:

'A deductive argument runs something like this:

All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
Therefore, Socrates is mortal

It begins with a universal statement ("All men are mortal") and ends in a more particular statement ("Socrates is mortal"). Induction goes the other direction. It begins in particular observations and ends in a universal statement:'

How do you know that 'all men are mortal'? Induction. Because every man who has ever lived has also died.

You contrast this with 'non-rational' inductive reaosning by using the following premise as an example:

'On every past day, the sun has risen in the morning'

So we see that the premises 'all men are mortal' and 'the sun has always risen in the past' are both derived 100% from induction.

Strike 1.

Singring said...

You know what? I've got better things to do than repost stuff I have already posted over and over (two instances of Paul Davies, your source, saying this, for example):

'On the scale of atoms and molecules, the usual commonsense rules of cause and effect are suspended. The rule of law is replaced by a sort of anarchy or chaos, and things happen spontaneously-for no particular reason. Particles of matter may simply pop into existence without warning, and then equally abruptly disappear again. Or a particle in one place may suddenly materialize in another place, or reverse its direction of motion. Again, these are real effects occurring on an atomic scale, and they can be demonstrated experimentally.'

If you simply will not even acknowledge evidence contrary to your position, why are you even debating.

All the other points you bring up have been adreaased before, for example on global warming:

http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2010/01/is-global-warming-caused-by-humans.html

Singring said...

Feel free to ban me if you feel that is necessary. The record is there for everyone to make up their own mind.

It's been fun, thanks for engaging in spirited debate and take care.

One thing I'll say is that Vital Remnants has given me a fascinating isnight into the conservative mindset.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Is Myers' claiming that one ought to base one's beliefs on science? If so, then we ought not to believe him, since the belief that one ought to base one's beliefs on science is itself not a deliverance of science, but a belief about science.

Apparently, the custodians of reason never got the memo that self-refutation is irrational.

Moreover, Myers's claim means that rationality is a property had by human beings. But it is not a physical property, since it can be in more than one place at the same time. When I say Fred is rational and Bob is rational, I mean to say that they each have the property of rationality. If Fred ceases to be rational, he does not cease to be Fred and rationality does not cease to exist. On the other hand, if Fred ceases to be, Fred ceases to exist, but, again, rationality does not cease to be. Fred is a particular, while rationality is not.

Myers, a materialist, therefore believes that there are universals, such as rationality, that we can know. But universals are not material particulars, and thus not the object of scientific inquiry, though presupposed by it.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

So how does that prove I ever said "induction is irrational" which is what you said I said? All you even try to demonstrate here is that I said that deductive premises are not the products of induction, which I never said either.

This is what you claimed was an example of rational deductive reasoning wholly removed from induction

I never said deductive reasoning is "wholly removed from induction." Not once. It is not "wholly removed from induction," it is a wholly different kind of reasoning than induction, and it contains a premise which cannot be justified either by deduction or induction.

This has nothing to do with whether deductive premises may themselves be conclusions of prior inductive arguments. Of course they can. As I recall, you charged me with saying this before (because you didn't understand what I said the first time), and I corrected you, and once again you're repeating something about which I have already corrected.

The fact that a premise in a deductive argument may be the conclusion of a prior inductive argument has no effect on the formal reasoning in the inductive argument itself. It is a material consideration not a formal one.

You dance round and round this issue charging me with saying things I never said and never deal with the real issue which was outlined by Hume. You need to read the sections in Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and understand what he is saying before you can intelligently address the issue.

This is a problem in the philosophy of science about which you are clearly unfamiliar, which is why you are having so little luck trying to explain why it's not a problem.

You are simply very confused about the issue of formal reasoning (either kind), so it is hard for you even to understand what someone else says about it.

You're free to continue to post on this issue here on this thread, but until you can at least acknowledge the point I was making and not keep telling me I was saying something I didn't say, you're restricted on this issue to this thread.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

You simply punted on the anthropogenic global warming issue where my post had specifically to do with that aspect of the issue as the very title of the post indicates.

I will conclude you have no proof that I said anything else, since I have NEVER said that global warming does not occur.

To refute me here would not involve anything complex. Just a simple quote of where I ever said this.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Your quote from Davies is worth a response. If you quoted it before, I didn't see it. I'll respond when I'm home later this week and have those books in front of me.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

I should add, however, that that quote still doesn't address the larger issue of the prevailing opinion of quantum physicists on the matter.

Singring said...

'This is a problem in the philosophy of science about which you are clearly unfamiliar, which is why you are having so little luck trying to explain why it's not a problem.'

I am certainly not unfamiliar with it. As I recall I openly acknowledged that inductive reasoning cannot and will not lead to the kind of logical or absolute proof of something you seem to desire. But that's not the issue.

The issue is whether your claim that a conclusion reached by deductive argument is any better at doing so than a conlusion reached by inductive argument.

I honestly fail to see how the premise 'all men are mortal' is in any way different from the premise 'the sun always rises' - both can only be made as the result of inductive reasoning.

I will grant you that the the outcome of your two examples is a different one...i.e. that in one case you go from a general premise to a specific conclusion and in the other from a general premise to a general conslusion...but for me that simply does nothing to change the fact that both are arguments that build upon a premise that is derived from inductive reasoning and are thus equally subject to doubt.

It's a bit as if someone who is ecologically concerned were to buy an oak table and said to me: 'this table is 100% pure oak and it was made without any oil-based products at all!'. I would simply have to point out that while this was strictly seaking true, the truck that transported it to the shop, the saw at the sawmill etc. all used oil to make the table.

Singring said...

'I should add, however, that that quote still doesn't address the larger issue of the prevailing opinion of quantum physicists on the matter.'

Well, you have critiqued Hawkings on the issue, so you should be aware that the most respected figure in cosmology today supports the notion that entire universes, let alone particles, can arise from nothing without cause.

If you have the time, thsi lecture by Lawrence Krauss is fascinating and extremely iluuminating about current physics as well - I believe the operative part relevant to our discussion is at exactly 40:35.

I quote (its almost as if he was adressing us specifically):

'The universe is flat. It has zero total energy and it could have begun from nothing. And I've writtne a piece although of course I've gotten a lot of hate mail saying that in my mind this answers that crazy question that religious people are always throwing out which is: Why is there something rather than nothing? The answer is - there had to be! If you have nothing in quantum mechanics you'll always get something. It's that simple. It doesn't convince any of those people, but its true.'

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

I also highly recommend the BBC docuemntary 'Parallel Universes' which features many of today's leading physicists discussing the origin of the universe.

Singring said...

My response to the GW issue has been lost, but if you got it via eMail, no need to post it - if you can read it, that's good enough.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"I honestly fail to see how the premise 'all men are mortal' is in any way different from the premise 'the sun always rises' - both can only be made as the result of inductive reasoning."

Because men are by nature mortal is like all triangles are plane figures with three angles. It's a claim about a thing's nature, not it's accidental characteristics. That the sun rises is not essential to the sun's nature. The earth could vanish and the sun would still be the sun.

Also, you are confusing the extension and comprehension of a concept. That all men are mortal is about the concept's meaning, it's comprehension. That all men live on earth is about the concept's extension, it's population, for when there are men in space not all live on earth.

Singring said...

'Because men are by nature mortal is like all triangles are plane figures with three angles. It's a claim about a thing's nature, not it's accidental characteristics.'

Saying that men die 'by nature' but the earth does not rotate 'by nature' is simply absurd - if you are trying to compose arguments that map onto reality, that is.

You can deductively reason all the live long day based on the arbitrary assignment of what is the 'nature' of X. But it will tell you nothing about reality and will therefore be about as useful as a salt shaker on a raft. If that is what you want to do - go ahead. Enjoy yourself. But don't tell me or anyone else that what you come up with is 'true' in any way shape or form until you have shown how the conclusions you derive from premises based on
pure, unabashed assertion and ad hoc definition apply to observable, physical reality.

I mean, I could just assert that all men are immortal - and therefore refute the premise of the argument. I could do that with any deductive argument you could care to come up with, thus rendering deductive reasoning absurd.

Now tell me, how would you refute my counter-assertion that 'all men are immortal'?

I predict that it will rhyme with 'shminduction'.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

As I recall I openly acknowledged that inductive reasoning cannot and will not lead to the kind of logical or absolute proof of something you seem to desire. But that's not the issue.

I don't desire nor do I expect absolute proof from induction. Again my only comment was on the justification of induction itself, which basically relies on a non-rational faith that things in the future will be like the past.

When I said this, you repeatedly charged me with somehow slighting induction. I was not slighting it, I was simply point out what it was. I think it's fine to have confidence in induction on the basis of non-rational considerations.

I just think its kind of silly for scientific rationalists to pretend it has some kind rational justification, when there are only two ways anything can be rationally justified--by deduction and by induction, and neither can do the job, the first because there simply isn't any deductive justification for induction and the second because to try to attempt it is to argue in a circle.

You you have claimed to have some kind of rational justification for induction that is outside both deduction and induction.

But if it's neither deduction nor induction that justifies induction, then what other rational procedure is there? Repetition? That seems to be all you got.

Just admit that induction relies on faith in causality that cannot itself be proved through rational means.

It's not as bad as you think it is.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Of course, you could just accept that God has created an inherently orderly universe, with built-in causation, along with intrinsic nature and purpose, but we should probably take this one step at a time.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

The issue is whether your claim that a conclusion reached by deductive argument is any better at doing so [being a logical or absolute proof] than a conclusion reached by inductive argument.

No actually, that has nothing to do with what I was talking about or what I was claiming. That is covered in the previous two posts.

But I think you are simply confused here about what deduction does and what induction does. From a formal perspective, the conclusions of deductive arguments always follow necessarily from their premises/ But from a material perspective, the conclusion itself only has the strength of the premises, which may either be probable (in the case of dialectical arguments) or certain (as in the case of demonstrative arguments like those in geometry).

Inductive conclusions always only follow probably from their premises.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Saying that men die 'by nature' but the earth does not rotate 'by nature' is simply absurd - if you are trying to compose arguments that map onto reality, that is.

Once again, you're not understanding basic philosophical vocabulary. When you say that men die "by nature," you are saying that it is part of the intrinsic essence (nature) of human nature to die--and part of the definition of "man." If a man were not mortal, then he wouldn't be a man; he would be something else.

There is nothing in the intrinsic nature of the sun that requires it to have planets revolving around it. If it did not have planets revolving around it, then it would still be the sun.

You are using an equivocal definition of "nature," specifically confusing the philosophical definition of the term--a things intrinsic essence, which is what Frank is saying with the scientific definition--what a thing happens to do in the accidental course of its existence in the world.

Martin Cothran said...

Sinring,

I mean, I could just assert that all men are immortal - and therefore refute the premise of the argument. I could do that with any deductive argument you could care to come up with, thus rendering deductive reasoning absurd.

Now tell me, how would you refute my counter-assertion that 'all men are immortal'?


Well, for one thing, it would nothing to do with whether deductive reasoning was rendered absurd. It would only mean you had a false premise in an argument.

And for another, I guess I could just say that triangles had four sides instead of three. How would that either render deductive reasoning absurd or prove anything at all--other than that you don't understand what Frank is saying?

Singring said...

'I don't desire nor do I expect absolute proof from induction. Again my only comment was on the justification of induction itself, which basically relies on a non-rational faith that things in the future will be like the past.'

If we agree on the first sentence then I see no further need for discussion. Deductive argument is as uncertain as inductive argument when it come to statements about reality.

The second sentence is nonsense, though. It is not 'faith' to believe that things in the future will happen as they did in the path. It is based on observation and repeated testing.

Martin - thijnk just for a moment. You yourself rely on this very premise in all of your 'first cause' argument. Why do you believe an event will always be preceded by a cause? For exactly the same reason I believe that things in the future will always occur as they did in the past.

Yet somehow, when you use this line of reasoning its sound and bullet-proof and allows su to make claims about the origin of the universe, but when a scientist relies on it for his claims you somehow make them out to be purely speculative as if they had been plucked from thin air.

You can't have it both ways.

'I think it's fine to have confidence in induction on the basis of non-rational considerations. '

Then we're settled.

'Once again, you're not understanding basic philosophical vocabulary. When you say that men die "by nature," you are saying that it is part of the intrinsic essence (nature) of human nature to die--and part of the definition of "man." If a man were not mortal, then he wouldn't be a man; he would be something else.'

I understand that very well, Martin. I simply pointed out that there is nothing at all to stop me from asserting that the 'nature' of man is that he is immortal.

Your response was exactly what I thought it would be:

'And for another, I guess I could just say that triangles had four sides instead of three. How would that either render deductive reasoning absurd or prove anything at all'

This is just my point, Martin: anyone can make any assertion about what the 'nature' of X is and concoct any premise he or she wants. You know you can't invoke induction as a measure of accuracy for a premise because that would mean you'd be admitting to relying on exactly the same basis inductive reasoning is.

Moreober, I clearly pointed out (as you once again conveniently ignored) that basing premises on mere assertion as you delight in doing does not render deductive arguments inherently absurd - it renders them absurd if you want to use them them to derive truths about reality without testing them against said reality. This process of testing would once again contain a component of inductive resoning.

For example - mathematics is a system built wholly on arbitrary assumptions. The reason it has been so successful at modelling reality is that it maps very well onto reality. We can test its predictions against reality. It is very easy to counter mathematical claims by simply changing the axioms they are derived from. It would still lead to valid logical conclusions. So how do we decide which axioms to pick if they all give us logically sound conclusions? Well, we see how well the outcomes from choosing a set of axioms matches with reality. In other words - we use inductive reasoning as a validation.

However, in instances where such testing is not possible, any refutation of a deductive argument based on axioms (or claims about something's 'nature') becomes trivial, because all someone has to do is claim the opposite of what the premises are claiming (i.e. all men are immortal).

The reason we can confidently say that 'all men are immortal' is not a very good premise is because we have empirical, inductively based evidence that in fact all men are mortal.