Tuesday, July 07, 2015

It's so obvious, or is it dogmatism? The Presumption of Amatterism

One of the differences you will notice in reading the writings of C. S. Lewis, if you are someone familiar with present-day philosophy, is the extent to which, in his time, Idealism simply had to be taken seriously. When Lewis accepted the Argument from Reason, he went, not to traditional theism, but to Absolute Idealism. 

At one point, philosophers not only were idealists, but thought it was obviously true, as Ed Feser points out in an entry from 2009. 

But has idealism been disproved? Consider this comment from a commentator at Debunking Christianity: 

I've been hanging around Mr. Loftus' Debunking Christianity for many years, and now my default position is that Christianity is thoroughly debunked since no Christian can show any Christianity-specific claim to be true. 

Hmmm. A position is fully and completely debunked if no one can demonstrate that any of its basic posits are true. 

Well, how about the existence of matter, the central posit of philosophical materialism. Has anyone refuted idealism, which denies that matter exists? So, by this reasoning, materialism is debunked, since no one can prove that matter is real. If we ought to accept the presumption of atheism, the view that we should be an atheist unless we can prove that God exists, shouldn't we equally accept the presumption of amatterism. 


29 comments:

Crude said...

No one can prove atheism is true either. And despite what atheists think, 'But you can't prove a negative!' is not only wrong - it's also not an endorsement of the additional claim 'Therefore you should just believe a negative!'

That may well establish that there's never any good reason to believe atheism is true.

John Moore said...

That commenter on Debunking Christianity is wrong, as you clearly recognize. One doesn't debunk a basic assumption just by pointing out that it's unproven. If you could prove or disprove them, then they wouldn't be foundational assumptions.

Likewise, you are wrong if you think atheists say you should be atheist unless someone can prove theism. Atheists don't believe in proof. To be an atheist, you just need to be unconvinced. It's certainly possible to be convinced with less than absolute proof.

Is God's existence a foundational assumption of Christianity? In that case, there's no point discussing whether God exists. We should just be talking about the ramifications and the details.

B. Prokop said...

I wonder if atheists ever stop to realize that protesting "But you can't prove a negative!" is in effect an admission that atheism is therefore a negative. Yet they get all huffed up whenever anyone points out that atheism either is or leads to nihilism and despair.

So if they counter by insisting that atheism is not nihilism or despair, but is rather something positive, then they open themselves up to the quite reasonable request that they prove it is true.

Jezu ufam tobie!

B. Prokop said...

"no Christian can show any Christianity-specific claim to be true"

Setting aside for now the fact that the Resurrection of Christ has long been proven beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt (the atheist willfully persists in denial, because he doesn't wish it to be true), I can think of at least one other "Christianity-specific" claim that even atheists now admit is true - that the universe had a beginning. Contemporary atheists conveniently forget that mid-20th Century atheists stubbornly resisted the idea of a "Big Bang", not because of any observational evidence against it, but rather because of its philosophical ramifications. British astronomer and cosmologist Fred Hoyle, principle spokesperson for this line of thinking, championed his "Steady State" cosmological model for years solely on the grounds that he did not want to leave room for a Creator, despite the fact that he had not the least shred of evidence for it. In fact, we're now stuck with the unartful term "Big Bang", thanks to Hoyle coining the phrase as a term of derision for the model.

Epilogue: Fred Hoyle eventually recanted his opposition to the Standard Cosmological Model (a.k.a. the Big Bang), and subsequently renounced his lifelong atheism after he could no longer deny that the universe had been designed. Besides coming up with the term Big Bang, Hoyle was the originator of the saying which compares an undesigned universe to "a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard [and] assembling a Boeing 747 from the materials therein." Or even more colorfully, he said that not believing in intelligent design was like imagining "a solar system full of blind men solving Rubik's Cubes simultaneously."

Jezu ufam tobie!

B. Prokop said...

Please read my second comment in the thread below this one.

Gyan said...

Idealism was disproved by Dr Johnson.
Isn't there something odd in a philosopher writing a book in which he denies the reality of objects. For what is a book but an object?
This kind of problems I faced while reading Russell's Problems of Philosophy.
A consistent philosophy, not to mention science, must start with accepting reality of the objects.

Gyan said...

Similarly the physicists are wont to talk about quarks and electrons while disparaging the reality of the objects--"this table is largely empty space" (Russell).

This forgets that all the talk of quarks and electrons originates in the fundamental act of registering some object i.e. some scientific instrument. Hence the object is prior to quarks and electrons. Indeed, the quarks and electrons belong to a different space altogether-the space that is defined by the mathematical formalism.

Gyan said...

John Moore,
" One doesn't debunk a basic assumption just by pointing out that it's unproven. If you could prove or disprove them, then they wouldn't be foundational assumptions."

When one is talking about the real world and not just playing logical games, then the axioms should be self-evident.

Gyan said...

B. Prokop,
That universe has a beginning, why is this claim Christianity-specific?
Don't Jews and Muslims also believe it?, Not to mention Hindus who believe in cycles of creation and destruction. Indeed, the more modern cosmological theories would support Hindu picture more.

Drew Zi said...

The projecting of proving things to be true is a failure of philosophical insight. Ever since fries we have known of the insurmountable trilemma of justificationism. Scientists would be better to mount a more rational criticism of religion, one that accepts its own fallibility and the impossibility of justificationism. Induction is either the science equivalent of an optical illusion or, at best, useless. What we need is a science that aims at truth through criticism, not at plausibility through induction.

Materialism is false, it was refuted by the splitting of the atom. Materialism has now been trivialized (or generalized) to physicalism. You cannot say fields of force are material, but you can say they are physical. Both (materialism and physicalism) cannot be proved, because nothing can be proved or confirmed or justified in anyway. The problem with physical-ism (but not with materialism) is that it is not clear what is claimed to be the underlying substance, whereas materialists conjectured that it was atoms, so because of this triviality it is not clear what would refute physicalism. Popper claims the underlying substance is actually an irrelevant non-problem that should be abandoned with its metaphysical counter part - essentialism.

B. Prokop said...

"That universe has a beginning, why is this claim Christianity-specific? Don't Jews and Muslims also believe it?"

Gyan,

I suspected someone might respond with what you wrote. But neither of the two religions mentioned in your question have a developed theology of creation. They assert it and move along. The Jews rightly call God the "Creator of Heaven and Earth" and leave it at that - their Big Story is the Exodus. It's pretty much the same for Muslims, with their Big Story being Mohammed. But the creation narrative is imbedded and interwoven into the New Testament to a point where it is much more in the forefront. Subsequent theologians took up the ball and placed far more importance on creation than in any other religion (where the event is often little more than a pretty story of small import).

I totally agree with you that the idea of a multiverse fits right in with Hindu cosmology. But unlike the Standard Cosmological Model, the multiverse is sheer speculation on the part of some people, who freely admit that not only is there no evidence for it, but that there can be no evidence. No responsible scientist would ever claim more than that the multiverse is an elegant mathematical construct for which there isn't a shred of proof. The debunker's claim was that there was no Christianity-specific concept that was proven. Creation (the "Big Bang") has been proven, to the same order of confidence that the Heliocentric Solar System has been. You can't say that about the "more modern cosmological theories".

Jezu ufam tobie!

Drew Zi said...

"Creation (the "Big Bang") has been proven, to the same order of confidence that the Heliocentric Solar System has been. You can't say that about the "more modern cosmological theories"."

Who cares? confidence in a theory is simply not a good indicator of that theories truth, because it is not clear what counts as confirmation of a theory, because evidence is neutral unless interpreted through some theory (which means that confirmation is confirmation bias, ie circular). Heliocentric theory makes prediction that can, in principle, conflict with some possible observation. Creationism does not, so it is uninteresting.

B. Prokop said...

Drew Zi,

I'm curious. How do you define "creationism"?

Drew Zi said...

I don't define it.

B. Prokop said...

Then how can you say what it does or does not do?

Drew Zi said...

Because I have read about it.

B. Prokop said...

Well, then you ought to know quite well that the Doctrine of the Creation does have a huge "predictive" influence on other areas of theology. A Creator God is incompatible with the idea of pantheism, for example. It is also the basis of many other doctrines, such as the Lordship of Christ and way, way too many others to list in a blog posting.

What, you protest? These are not scientific predictions?! Well, who said they had to be? After all, the Doctrine of the Creation is not, a "scientific" theory; it is a theological proposition. It has to be judged on its effectiveness in theology, not in the natural sciences.

It's just the icing on the cake that it also predicted that time would have a beginning, as we now know it did. No atheist model of the universe ever predicted that!

Jezu ufam tobie!

Drew Zi said...

Well, that was less than insightful and not a little dogmatic. It does not make predictions that can, in principle, contradict any observation. You have conceded this point. The rest of the little religious in-fighting you have is not interesting. The fact that you qualified your statements so much indicates that you have no criticism of what I am saying. In fact you concede but protest. Which is a little strange.


B. Prokop said...

"You have conceded this point."

I have most certainly not! Did you miss the point that the Doctrine of the Creation predicted that the universe had a beginning? No atheist ever made such a prediction. On the contrary, they fought tooth and nail against such an idea. (Read my posting here from July 08, 2015 6:59 AM.) Yet we now have libraries full of solid observational evidence that the universe did indeed begin in time approximately 13.7 billion years ago. If that isn't observational proof of a prediction, I don't know what is.

But more importantly, such proof is irrelevant. Naturally, no observation of phenomena within the natural universe can ever contradict correct theology. (Just as there is quack science, there is (unfortunately) quack theology. Stick with the Catholic Church, and you can't go wrong!) But that is not the only source of theological truth. Yes, we are assured by St. Paul that an honest study of the natural world will assuredly lead us to an understanding of the true nature of God. But there are other, equally valid means of arriving at such knowledge, such as revelation. Just as the good carpenter needs to make use of every tool in his toolbox, and to only use the appropriate tool for the task at hand, the serious seeker after truth requires a full toolbox, filled with empirical observation, history, literature, art, music, liturgy, revelation, personal encounters, life experience, prayer, and a Sense of Wonder to have the faintest hope of actually learning anything worthwhile. To restrict one's self to the hammer of empiricism while so much of the world is composed of screws is to guarantee failure.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Gyan said...

"Creation (the "Big Bang") has been proven, to the same order of confidence that the Heliocentric Solar System has been"

1) Big Bang is NOT creation in the sense of Genesis. Science correlates one configuration of matter with another, Genesis, in the sense of creation out of nothing is not in the province of science. What Big Bang hypothesis or theory says is a) the galaxies are mutually drawing apart (b) Extrapolated into remote past, it is concluded that the whole universe must have had a very small volume approx 14 billion years ago.
Thus, the big Bang theory is entirely silent about creation out of nothing or even just creation. It does not say that the universe was created 14 B years ago.

Limitations of the Big Bang theory--like any scientific theory, the Big Bang theory is provisional and depends upon futher assumptions, some hidden and metaphysical assumptions. One key assumption is that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic on large scale. Hawking in Brief History of Time says that these assumptions of homogeneity and isotropy are aesthetic preferences. The aesthetic preferences of scientists have proven wrong in past. Eg ancients had this preference that orbits of the heavenly bodies must be circular.

Gyan said...

"Creation (the "Big Bang") has been proven, to the same order of confidence that the Heliocentric Solar System has been."

Very doubtful. A key difference between geocentric and heliocentric cosmography was that the geocentric world has a unique up-and-down direction. We KNOW that things on Earth fall towards Earth. We DID NOT knew that things on Moon or Mars fell towards Moon or Mars resp.
Now we KNOW, directly and not inferentially, that there is no unique up-and-down direction in the universe. Thus, the geocentric idea is disproved directly. And heliocentric solar system rules.

But Big Bang is all inferential. It is a theory, and not direct observation. We DO NOT know that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic for one. Do we have 100% certainty on Genera

Drew Zi said...

"But more importantly, such proof is irrelevant. Naturally, no observation of phenomena within the natural universe can ever contradict correct theology."

Because when there is a contradiction there is a strategy of reinterpreting ones own theology, in order to make it correct. this is precisely why it is irrational. I do not care for your prejudice against so called "atheists" and what they fought against. Atheists are diverse and they fought against a lot of things that were actually true. This is due to the fact that people are fallible. Many relgious people on the other hand, never admit falsities; they just reinterpret it to agree with any falsifying data - this is called a reinforced dogmatism.

As for this prediction you talk about, the reason it was testable at all was due to scientists developing a testable theory. There are many ideas that science has made into testable theories, that now people go into the annals of guesswork and go "see, my religion said that".

"solid observatial evidence" none of which your theology can explain with a testable theory.

I am not an empiricist. I am a critical rationalist.



Thanks for the sermon, what you call revelation; I call guess work.

B. Prokop said...

"this is precisely why it is irrational"

Revelation is not "irrational". It is "super-rational", in that it contains and enfolds reason - never contradicting it. To use an admittedly very poor (but still useful) analogy, reason is like the ordinances of a county, while revelation is akin to state law. One is a subset of the other, and neither (in an ideal world) is in contradiction.

"was due to scientists developing a testable theory"

Uhh.. You do realize that the Big Bang theory was developed by Georges LemaƮtre, a Catholic priest, right?

"your prejudice against so called "atheists""

Where did you get that from? I have no prejudice against atheism at all. My opinion of it is the result of judging, after the evidence both for and against it has been weighed and examined - the very opposite of prejudice (which forms an opinion prior to such, and thus the etymology of the word).

Jezu ufam tobie!

Drew Zi said...

"was due to scientists developing a testable theory"

Uhh.. You do realize that the Big Bang theory was developed by Georges LemaƮtre, a Catholic priest, right?

But not because of revelation, but in his capacity as an astronomer. His catholocism is incidental.

The development into a testable theory was due to Hawking and other scientists and the revolution into einsteinain physics. Your prejudice is simply that all atheists go by the same model is a prejudice.

Drew Zi said...

The origins of a theory are interesting, but irrelevant to them as theories. It is what is done to with them through argument, criticism and testing that is relevant. All ideas are first in myths, it takes criticisms and ingenuity to create testable theories; it does not validate the origin of the idea. Which would mean that all theories are correct always, which is a type of relativism.

Drew Zi said...

"Revelation is not "irrational". It is "super-rational", in that it contains and enfolds reason - never contradicting it."

This exactly the kind of maneuvar I am thinking about. The problem with this "super-rational" is that no criticism can contradict it, not observation can falsifiy it. This is a vice of any point-of-view, not a virtue, if someone came along with a theory (science or philosophical) you would see immediatly the problem with a theory that explains everything even contradictory statements. All theories like this are "super-rational" and therefore are all of them are true, because they all claim the same thing, that they cannot be contradicted by reason. That is a vice of a theory and people get trapped into this type of dogmatism too easily.

B. Prokop said...

Drew,

Since you seem to be rather enamored of Hawking (you've mentioned him a couple of times already), you really ought to watch THIS - without "prejudice".

Drew Zi said...

I am not enamoured of Hawking (I mentioned him once); I disgaree with his view on the scientific method and his pessimism. I simply mentioned him to give credit exactly where it is due, no more.

B. Prokop said...

You are correct; the first mention of him was by Gyan.