Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Some confusions about truth and religion

A redated post.

I think I am seeing people fall into some common confusions about objectivity, subjectivity, absolute truth, provability, and faith.

First, something can be absolutely true without it being provably true. Let's take the Jack the Ripper murders in England during the last century. There is an absolute truth about who committed those murders. There was an individual or group of individuals who killed those girls. However, we can't figure out who the perpetrator was. There are still books being written about it today to try to solve the murders. It's unprovable by us, and we probably never will know, yet there is someone who committed those murders.

With respect to the question of God, there have been attempts to prove that God exists and attempts to prove that God does not exist. I have studies these arguments, and I happen to think that neither side has such a stong case that every reasonable person ought to be convinced. However, there are reasons to believe and reasons to disbelieve, and I think that the claim that God does exist has stronger support than the claim that God does not exist. However, if we define God as an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then either God exists or God does not exist, and if God does exist, then the people that believe that God exists are correct, and the people that do not believe that God exists are mistaken. On the other hand, if God does not exist, then the people who believe that God does not exist are correct, and the people who believe that God does not exist are mistaken. The idea that if you truly believe in God, then God exists for you, but if you don't believe in God, God does not exist for you, is nonsense. God is not Tinkerbell, the fairy in Peter Pan who continues to exist so long as people believe in fairies.

With respect to religion, there are plenty of claims made by these religions which have to be either true or false, and about which it is possible to be correct or mistaken. (I like saying correct or mistaken better than saying right or wrong, simply because I don't want to make any moral judgments concerning the people, but I only want to talk about whether they believe, or fail to believe, the truth).
Judaism claims that there "The Lord your God, the Lord is one." So if atheism or polytheism is true, then Judaism is in error.

Christianity claims that Jesus was resurrected by God from the dead. He was either resurrected or he was not resurrected. Paul says if he wasn't resurrected, the Christians, of all people are most to be pitied.

Islam claims that Muhammad is the final prophet of Allah and that the revelation he presented is the final, perfect revelation of Allah. They've either got that right or they don't.

Hinduism says that we are all on a cycle of birth and rebirth, and that I am the reincarnation of a person who lived and died before I was born. I either was, or I wasn't.

Buddhism says my sufferings are caused by cravings, and if I stop craving, I will stop suffering. That is either true or false.

Atheists say that God does not exist. They either have that right, or they have it wrong.

Etc., Etc. Etc.

To believe that one's beliefs in the area of religion are true and those that contradict it are false is not to be dogmatic are intolerant. It is simply to understand what it is to have a belief. A belief is something you think to be true. And to believe that something is true is to believe that the contradictory is false. If I say "I believe in Christianity, but I don't believe that its claims are absolutely true" is not to be tolerant, it is to contradict oneself.

Faith is not belief in the absence of evidence, although perhaps it requires the absence of overwhelming evidence.

C. S. Lewis: I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in.

11 comments:

Ilíon said...

Exactly.

Except for this: "With respect to the question of God, there have been attempts to prove that God exists and attempts to prove that God does not exist. I have studie[d] these arguments, and I happen to think that neither side has such a stong case that every reasonable person ought to be convinced."

Haven't you yet grasped that the AfR *is* the strong case for God's existence such that any reasonable person ought to admit that there is a God and that he is a person?

To deny that a Creator-God exists (or to deny that that God is a person) logically entails the denial that one's own self exists.

One can escape *that* absurdity only be retreating into other absurdities; non-exhaustively:
* solipcism
* denial that anything at all exists
* denial that reason can deliver us truth
* denial that we can know truth
* etc

Doc_Savage said...

I'm sorry, I've only been skimming this discussion. I follow quite a few blogs. Could you define AfR for me, and/or perhaps provide a clarifying link? I apologize for the inconvenience.

Ron said...

illion,

The AfR isn't an argument for theism but a defeater for naturalism. Not-naturalism does not automatically equal theism, just some mind-first worldview as Vic stated in his book.

Ilíon said...

Doc_Savage,
The Argument from Reason shows that natural entities, where 'natural' is understood in terms of 'naturalism,' cannot reason ... or think, or learn, or know truth (or know that they know truth), or freely choose (that is, they cannot choose as all), etc.

But, if 'naturalism' is true, then *we* are natural entities; and yet we do reason and we can do those other things I listed. Therefore, we understand that 'naturalism' is necessarily false in part or in whole.

So, either we are not natural entities, after all -- in which case 'naturalism' can tell us nothing of significance about ourselves; or, we are natural entities and 'naturalism's' definition of 'natural' is false (which is to say, 'naturalism' itself is wholly false).


In a nutshell, here is the AfR:
* 'Naturalism' is the metaphysical stance that *all* existing things (entities, events, states, forces, etc) are wholly explicable, without remainder, in terms of 'nature,' which is to say, wholly in terms of matter/energy relationships in space-and-time.
* Thus, the "thoughts" of natural entities are wholly explicable, without remainder, in terms of matter/energy relationships in space-and-time.
* Thus, the "thoughts" of humans (who are natural entities) are wholly explicable, without remainder, in terms of matter/energy relationships in space-and-time.
* Thus, when a human being experiences a "thought," the "thought" is caused by, and is a reflection of, a mechanistic electro-chemical movement of molecules in his brain.
* That is, should there happen to be any correlation between some specific "thought" and the content of that "thought," the correlation is mechanical, rather than logical -- it is not the "thought" which causes the mechanistic electro-chemical movement of molecules in his brain, but rather the movement of molecules which causes the "thought."
* Nor can any human being *know* that there is a positive between some "thought" and the mechanistic electro-chemical movement of molecules in his brain which gave rise to that "thought," for that attempted knowledge is *also* involves "thought."
* Thus, if a human being experiences one "thought" followed by a second "thought," then the second "thought" is not caused by, nor is it logically correlated to, the first "thought." Rather, it was caused by a second mechanistic electro-chemical movement of molecules in his brain, and which second movement may or may not have been caused by the first movement.

* Thus, according to 'naturalism,' a natural entity cannot engage in "reason." For, to reason is precisely to examine the logical correlations of a set of thoughts (and to reject some thoughts as not being logically compatible with others).

Eric said...

"On the other hand, if God does not exist, then the people who believe that God does not exist are correct, and the people who believe that God does not exist are mistaken...Atheists say that God does not exist. They either have that right, or they have it wrong."

It's getting more and more difficult to find 'atheists' as you define them. It seems to me that most atheists are using the 'atheism is only the lack of belief that god exists' bit, and so it doesn't seem to be the case that if god does exist, atheists are wrong.

However, more interestingly, it's also not the case, given this redefinition of atheism, that if god doesn't exist then atheism is true. Strangely, we can't speak about whether atheism is true, probable or rational, but only whether it accurately describes some specific person's psychology. In other words, atheism has been redefined as a description. So, we can't say, 'atheism is rational'; rather, we can only say, 'it's true (false, unlikely, etc.) that Jones is an atheist.' I don't think many internet atheists have thought through the implications of this very common redefinition.

Ilíon said...

Ron: "The AfR isn't an argument for theism but a defeater for naturalism."

Ron, I didn't say the the AfR proves Christianity, nor did I say that it proves the Judeo-Christian conception of God is the correct one; I said that it proves atheism to be false.


Atheism is the denial that there is a God. But, what does it mean to deny that there is a God?

It means to assert that the world -- the Cosmos -- exists non-intentionally.


That is, the question of God's existence is a question about the nature of reality and of existence simply; there are two, and only two, options:
1) The Cosmos exists intentionally
2) The Cosmos exists non-intentionally

To say that "The Cosmos exists intentionally" is to say that there exists a mind, the intender of that intention, upon which the existence of the Cosmos is contingent. Biblical religion, some "primative" religions, Islam, and perhaps Hinduism, fall under option #1: the assertion that the Cosmos is intended.

To say that "The Cosmos exists non-intentionally" is to say that there exists no mind, no intender of the non-existent intention, upon which the existence of the Cosmos is contingent. Atheism, along with most pagan systems, falls under option #2: the denial that the Cosmos is intended.

And then there is Buddhism: which, as best I inderstand it, asserts that nothing at all exists.


Ron: "... Not-naturalism does not automatically equal theism, just some mind-first worldview as Vic stated in his book."

There is no such thing as 'intelligence' if there is not at least one actual mind. There is no such thing as 'intention' if there is not at least one actual mind. There is no such thing as 'mind' if there is not at least one actual mind.

There is no such thing as a coherent mind-first worldview which posits that minds "arose." To put it another way, a coherent mind-first worldview must posit that there is at least one actual and non-contingent mind.

Doc_Savage said...

Huh. Thanks Ilion, I will have to ponder that for a bit. One thing, if thought is caused by electrical-chemical events, isn't saying electro-chem leads to a thought which leads to another electro-chem which leads to another, related thought, close enough to saying one thought leads to another?

If there is a feedback mechanism, the dichotomy between naturalism and reason would appear to be false. But I suspect this thought (heh) is unoriginal there's something I'm missing.

Ron said...

Doc_Savage,

I agree with you that non-rational causes (i.e. electro-chemical events in the brain) do not necessarily connect to irrational beliefs but can just as easily connect with rational beliefs. The point is that there are two types of causes at work when we compare reason and physical causes. The first has to do with what C.S. Lewis called Ground and Consequent reasoning. It is deductive and inductive reasoning. The second it purely Cause and Effect. A vase shattering when I drop it is neither rational nor irrational, it is just something that happens. The problem with naturalism is that in reducing all the first kinds of causes to the second kind is that we no longer have a rational basis to belief that naturalism is true! Our belief in naturalism/atheism is absurd because it is akin to an event like breaking a vase.

Thus, there has to be something more than just Cause and Effect. Ground and Consequent need to be real and binding. The validity of logical inference is thus more consistent with a theistic framework rather than a naturalistic one, at the very least.

illion,

I'll ponder what you said. You seem to think this argument a lot stronger than Victor does. From what I understand Victor draws a more humble conclusion than you because he thinks that Anscombe's criticism in regards to linguistic paradigms is somewhat valid. I admit that that part of Victor's book was difficult to fully understand since it has to do with Wittgenstein language games; a topic I am most unfamiliar with.

Doc_Savage said...

Ok, I'm sure some of that went over my head. I'll take away however that naturalism cannot be used as a basis for any sort of argument or reason, because in reducing the world to mechanism there is nothing to argue any more.

I was trying to see if free will/self consciousness could be made compatible with naturalism only to discover that wasn't the source of incompatibility.

Ilíon said...

Doc_Savage (to me): "One thing, if thought is caused by electrical-chemical events, isn't saying electro-chem leads to a thought which leads to another electro-chem which leads to another, related thought, close enough to saying one thought leads to another?"

Doc_Savage (to Ron): "I'll take away however that naturalism cannot be used as a basis for any sort of argument or reason, because in reducing the world to mechanism there is nothing to argue any more."

I'm taking this to mean that you've grasped why the question you asked me won't work and can't salvage naturalism from its inherent incoherency.

===
In truth, our thoughts cannot be *caused* by the movement of molecules in our brains. For, thoughts have content, they're *about* something, they *mean* something ... whereas matter and the movement of matter does not.

Consider:
If I ask you "Wie viel ist eins und eins?" and if you are the typical American, you're going to ask me "Huh?"

If the movement of matter *caused* thoughts, should you not answer "Zwei" rather than "Huh?"

Ilíon said...

Ron: "You seem to think this argument a lot stronger than Victor does. From what I understand Victor draws a more humble conclusion than you because he thinks that Anscombe's criticism in regards to linguistic paradigms is somewhat valid. ..."

It seems to me that the important difference between us in this regard is that VR has formulated a version of the AfR as an inductive (and perhaps probabilistic) argument for the truth of Christianity, whereas the version of the AfR which came to me in a flash (*) is a deductive argument showing the falseness of atheism.

Or, to look at it slightly differently, my version of the AfR is a modus tollens and "proof by contradiction" argument which establishes the truth of "mere theism."

(*) I wasn't trying to solve the problem; I wasn't even consciously thinking about it. Then, boom! there was this stunning understanding in my mind. It was in trying to see if others have been thinking the same thought that I discovered VR.